Andrew Stanton's live-action debut is giddy epic fun
- Critic's Rating B+
- Readers' Rating B+
It still seems surreal to me that there really is a mega-budget bigscreen live-action film based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories about Barsoom and John Carter, since as long as I've been paying attention to Hollywood, and even well before that, there has always been a John Carter movie in some stage of development.
The good news is that Andrew Stanton, one of the cornerstones of Pixar and the director of both "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E," has made a nimble jump to live-action, and much of his movie is imbued with a wild, thrilling pulp energy and a genuine sense of wonder. It is a charming science-fiction adventure that makes no apologies for what it is. This is the sort of film where there is talk of Jeddaks and Tharks and Barsoom and you're supposed to just pick it up and understand, and where we accept that Mars doesn't look a thing like modern science tells us it does because that's the conceit. It will be interesting to see who gets hung up on the difference between reality and this film's conception of Mars, because there's nothing about this that plays as "real," but there is such a strong sense of voice that I think Stanton sells the reality beautifully.
A look into the past through an amazing cache of film art
"The Berwick Discovery" sounds like the Dan Brown book, but it's actually a very cool new find that would make me even happier if I had stupid amounts of money laying around waiting for me to spend it on pre-Code movie posters.
On March 23, Heritage Vintage Movie Poster Auctions will evidently be putting around 30 very rare movie posters on the block, all part of the same incredible find last fall. I didn't hear about it then, but reading the details now, I'm blown away and, more than anything, it reminds me how much I love the evolution of the movie poster and how random and strange and occasionally wonderful the world of the hardcore collector can be.
When I was writing "Cigarette Burns" with Scott Swan, we talked to print collectors and memorabilia collectors and we collected way more stories than we could use. One of the things that seemed to run in common between all of them though is that the thrill of the hunt and the excitement of the accidental discovery is a big part of what compels them. If you could just go to the store and buy a pristine 35MM print of "Suspiria," it wouldn't be special, but when Quentin Tarantino tracked down a gorgeous IB Technicolor and screened it at the original Drafthouse and Tim League cranked the soundtrack so loud it made my fillings shake, part of what was magical about that night was knowing how rare that experience is.
Why doesn't that worry me?
I'm not sure I'd make too much of the news that Disney has signed a deal with James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller to start development on a sequel to "The Muppets" without Jason Segel attached to co-write.
First, even last year, when I visited them on the set of "The Five-Year Engagement" (and we'll have more on that this weekend), Stoller and Segel said they'd already brainstormed ideas for a sequel. Those guys make great collaborators, and I have no doubt that at this point, Stoller would be able to take those ideas that they'e discussed and execute them quite ably.
The big news here is that Disney feels good enough about the performance of "The Muppets" to officially start development on a sequel. I think it's amazing that the characters have finally made their pop culture comeback in a way that stuck, and I hope this is the beginning of a real return to the sort of omnipresence they had when I was a kid in the '70s.
Illumination Entertainment makes some interesting missteps in their new film
- Critic's Rating B-
- Readers' Rating A+
It is an unenviable task to adapt the work of Dr. Seuss from page to screen, and for the most part, I think his work has resisted full-length feature adaptation with a vengeance.
I mean, when you look at a film like "Cat In The Hat," it's hard to imagine that the source material is any good at all. It's a coarse, gross, vulgar fart joke of a movie, and it should have, by any conventional wisdom, killed the idea of making Dr. Seuss movies. But "Horton Hears A Who" seemed to be a major course correction, and their expansion of the world that Seuss created felt like a fairly organic way to approach his work.
With "The Lorax," Illumination Entertainment has done a solid job of trying to preserve the most important parts of the book and its themes, and there is a lot of it that honors Seuss. I think kids will enjoy this film, and my own kids, who have been raised as Seuss-faithful as possible, liked the way the story expanded to fill out a feature running time. I had more issues with the new material, and I think adults will be less likely to just accept the film as a whole.
Paul Weitz adapts an acclaimed memoir to fascinating effect
- Critic's Rating B-
- Readers' Rating B
You know, you should never count the Weitz brothers out.
Both Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz made their names early. "American Pie" put Paul on the map as a director, and they seemed to indicate that their careers were headed to a more personal and heartfelt place with 2002's lovely "About A Boy," which they co-directed. Since then, they've both had some pretty big creative misfires, although no one could accuse them of being anything less than ambitious. I may not like "The Golden Compass" as a movie, but I can see what drew Chris Weitz to it, and I respect the effort. For Paul, the nadir of his film work so far would have to be the one-two punch of "Cirque du Freak" and "Little Fockers," both movies that felt corporate and calculated.
Last year, Chris made the piercing "A Better Life," featuring an amazing performance by Demian Bichir, and it felt to me like he had roared back to life as a filmmaker, besting whatever his own high-water mark was so far. While I don't think Paul's new film, "Being Flynn," reaches the same beautiful heights as "A Better Life," it strikes me as authentically observed and deeply felt, and a huge step in the right direction for him as a filmmaker.
His latest stop-motion film feels like a summation of everything he does
- Critic's Rating B+
- Readers' Rating A-
I like this trailer a lot.
When Tim Burton first announced plans to take his 1984 short film and turn it into a stop-motion animated feature film, I sort of dismissed it as a weird late-career indulgence and haven't thought much about it since. After all, once a director makes a billion dollars for a studio with one movie, he's in a position to get any random weird-ass dream off the ground as a movie, and it felt like the sort of thing where Disney was just allowing him to do it as a thank you for the Scrooge McDuck style vaults full of money they were swimming in thanks to "Alice In Wonderland."
But looking at this trailer, it strikes me that if George Lucas would have just been honest with himself and remade 1977's "A New Hope" instead of endlessly tinkering with the original film and giving it weird digital face lifts, my guess is the outrage would have been more pronounced at the beginning, but it eventually would have settled down because they would exist as different movies.
Why don't more studios celebrate with this kind of dedication?
"The Deer Hunter." "Charade." "To Kill A Mockingbird." Over the last few weeks, it's felt like a bit of an avalanche of titles have been arriving at my house from Universal, all on Blu-ray, all part of their 100th year celebration, and so far, my only question is why more studios don't celebrate their legacies like this.
Universal has gone above and beyond with these releases. I know that some of the films, like "The Blues Brothers," have already been out on Blu-ray, but most of them are new to the format, and the studio appears to be shelling out for some full-scale restorations. I have not yet seen "All Quiet On The Western Front," but I've heard amazing things about the work they did on it, and I can vouch for the "Deer Hunter" transfer, which has never been better.
The sad truth about Hollywood is that as much as they pay lip service to legacy and nostalgia, they are very bad about taking care of their treasures. One only need look at the way the various movie palaces of Los Angeles have been treated over the years to see how little history means to most of these people. Maybe it's because it's a job where there is a high turnover rate and a near-constant game of executive square-dance going on. Maybe it's because the people who work at studios now aren't the ones who made those older films, so there's no emotional attachment. Whatever the case, I've been frustrated by this attitude since I arrived in LA in 1990.
Guess who our interviewer is smitten with now
I like being surprised by someone when I walk into an interview.
I do not pay much attention to pop music of any kind at this point. I have a few trusted friends who recommend things to me that I might like listening to, and I have older artists whose new work I'll pick up because I'm a fan, and every now and then, something punches through the haze of pop culture and catches my attention. For the most part, though, I know names more than I know the actual sound, and that was certainly the case with Taylor Swift.
I know who she is. I know she's very young. I know she has a reputation for writing songs about dudes who have done her wrong. Beyond that, she's not really on my radar. That's not a negative judgment on my part… it's just a confession that when it comes to blind spots, she occupies one of mine.
So when we sat down at the recent press day for "The Lorax" to talk about her work in the movie as Audrey, the girl whose obsession with trees kicks off the quest by Ted (Zac Efron) to find one for her, I walked in a blank slate. I was there to talk to an actor about her latest film, end of story.
Lionsgate kicks off the last twenty-four days before release with a new contest
There are just a few weeks left until the opening of one of the year's most-hyped gambles, the big-screen adaptation of the Suzanne Collins novel, "The Hunger Games."
I'm actually seeing the film very soon so I can sit down and interview the cast and crew, and I'm excited to see what they've done. I've said a few times now that I admire the Collins novels, and I think there's real potential here for a film trilogy that is visceral and thrilling and emotional, and it all depends on whether or not they get this first one right.
I will say this… a friend of mine recently got in touch after a screening of the film, and his succinct reaction was "Buy Lionsgate Stock." Seems like a bit of an endorsement, eh?
But you don't care whether a film critic gets to see the film early. You want to know when you get to see it. And if you're in Philadelphia or Chicago, then I am pleased to report that HitFix may be able to help you with that.
A simple documentary about a simple lunatic makes for good times
Good documentaries have a very simple and direct appeal. We engage because we are watching something true, and often, something we had no idea about. I have always been drawn more towards documentaries about people or places than issues, because I find people endlessly interesting, and documentaries capture us in all our freaky glory.
In the case of "Beauty Day," a Canadian documentary that is arriving on video in that country this week, I was hooked immediately by the the story of Ralph Zavadil, who made a name for himself as a local cable access celebrity in Ontario decades ago. As "Cap'n Video," Zavadil was willing to do anything for a laugh, putting himself in harm's way over and over again before one stunt ended the laughter.
Or… did it? Because the stunt that broke his neck was also the first stunt of his I ever saw, without knowing who it was or what the circumstances were. I didn't realize it was from a show or that this was a guy who did this on a regular basis. I was introduced to Zavadil via the magic of YouTube and a friend who sent me a video in an e-mail with the header "OMG THIS IS THE STUPIDEST PERSON ALIVE EXCEPT HE MIGHT BE DEAD NOW!!"