Has it really been nine years since "Shaun Of The Dead"?
In some ways, it feels like that just happened, but when I consider how much ground Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have covered in those nine years, it's sort of amazing. After all, when "Shaun" went into production, they were best known for a small cult English television show, and they were working completely independently, off the radar. That film's release was a gamble for Focus/Rogue, at least in part because of just how very English the humor is, and it paid off for them. "Hot Fuzz" in 2007 was equally local in its sensibility, and it also showed that Pegg and Frost weren't interested in just playing the same characters in different situations.
One of the hardest things about the position that Wright finds himself in now is the simple difference between surprising people with a small movie and then delivering on a decade's worth of expectations, and I suspect that no matter what, "The World's End" will frustrate some viewers. It's not a movie designed to simply punch the pleasure button and comfort fans by repeating what they've done before. In fact, it may be a direct refutation of that idea, by design, and in some ways, it feels like it's going to be a bitter pill for some people to swallow.
Has it really been nine years since "Shaun Of The Dead"?
Why do I have the feeling that "Drive" is going to turn out to be the rare semi-commercial hiccup in the larger filmography of Nicolas Winding Refn?
Refn's identity as a filmmaker has been coming into gradual focus for the past seventeen years, but when you read pretty much anything written about his new film, "Only God Forgives," it seems to exist only in contrast to "Drive" and nothing else in Refn's entire career. The truth is that from "Pusher" on, Refn is a guy who is driven by some very particular and identifiable fetishes, a guy who has alway seemed to have a strong aesthetic voice but a marked disinterest in narrative. He paints with violence, and he does not seem particularly interested in over-explanation or in traditional ideas of character. "Drive" struck a nerve with many audiences, people who may not have seen any of the "Pusher" films or "Bleeder" or "Valhalla Rising" or "Bronson," people who have no sense of the almost relentless nature of the brutality of those films. "Only God Forgives" fits neatly into a list of the things he's made. "Drive" is the anomaly, not the standard by which to judge the rest of his work.
SAN DIEGO - Vin Diesel is one of those people who has cultivated a larger-than-life reputation for himself, either intentionally or accidentally, and as a result, I genuinely didn't know what to expect from our encounter during the San Diego Comic-Con this year.
Several weeks ago, Universal approached me about moderating their panel at Comic-Con, and they told me that they'd be bringing two films. "Kick-Ass 2" is a natural fit for Comic-Con, of course, but they faced some special challenges dealing with the language and the brutal nature of some of the violence in the film, since you always have to assume that there are going to be kids in Hall H when you make your presentation. And while I've been covering "Kick-Ass 2" for a while now, including my visit to the set in London, I have to confess that it was the other title they mentioned that made me smile the most, if only because I know what a long uphill battle it's been for David Twohy and Vin Diesel to make "Riddick."
We've got plenty more Comic-Con coverage today coming your way, as well as a review of one of this summer's biggest geek events, but before we get into any of that, I want to direct your attention to one of the best movies of 2013 for a few minutes.
"Short Term 12" was a film I almost skipped at this year's SXSW festival because when I glanced at the title on the schedule, I assumed it was a shorts program. No offense to anyone who makes short films, because I certainly think it's a valid form and an important training ground for people who want to make features, but when I'm at a festival, there is rarely time for me to cover shorts. It's just a matter of how to spend my time. It wasn't until the SXSW jury gave "Short Term 12" an award for its performances that I realized it was a feature, and when I read the description of it, I realized it sounded like something that I might like.
SAN DIEGO - By far, the worst kept secret at this year's Comic-Con was the planned "X-Men: Days Of Future Past" panel, but I will give 20th Century Fox this much. While everyone was sure the film would be part of the panel, I don't think anyone knew quite how far Fox planned to take things, or how much of an emotional charge it would pack.
The "X-Men" films in general hold an odd space in the evolution of the genre. They are absolutely pivotal in terms of pushing the entire idea of superhero movies forward. The first film was a game of Russian Roulette as far as Fox was concerned. Even after they greenlit the movie and watched dailies as they came in, they panicked and cut the budget and forced the filmmakers to adapt on the fly. The studio made choices out of fear regarding costumes, marketing and even casting. They held their breath when they released "X-Men," sure they were about to get clobbered…
… and then people liked it. It wasn't massive, but it was a hit. And it was a big enough hit that they moved forward with a second film. And again, just as soon as they started into production, they started losing their nerve, and it turned into another corporate game of chicken with filmmakers pushing hard to do something cool and execs pushing hard to make sure it wasn't all too damn "comic book." It was a fascinating era, and as much as fans are sure they know the story of how the first three "X-Men" film got made and what the decisions behind those films were, they don't. Not really. There were battles about everything. There is a reason you still haven't seen the Sentinels in the movies, and that reason left the studio not too long ago. A comic book with decades of history was held hostage by any number of outside influences, and the results are movies that genuinely try to capture the spirit of a world, and they succeed in ways, and they fail in ways, and they are all covered in development battle scars that define the movies.
SAN DIEGO - I was here for the first-time presentations that Marvel made for both "Thor" and "Captain America," and I thought they were both very confident panels that did a good job of conveying (A) the casting and (B) the general tone of each of the movies. They were good. Solid. Did the trick.
Today's presentation for "Guardians Of The Galaxy" was easily better than both of those combined. I am going out on a limb here, but I think this looks like one of the most genuinely fun things Marvel has ever made. I find something about the entire notion of Marvel just suddenly doing space fantasy ballsy and weird in the first place, but this particular property, done this particular way, by this particular filmmaker? That's just insane. It's an insane proposition on paper. I have no doubt there are execs at other studios just waiting to see this one stumble, and I also have no doubt those same people are going to be dumbfounded when they see what it actually is.
SAN DIEGO - At this point, Saturday has become the big day for fan-gasms in Hall H, the day the studios all compete to see who can make the biggest noise, and for the last several years, Marvel has walked away victorious.
This year, their panel started with moderator Chris Hardwick taking the stage for the second time that day, still dressed as Booker DeWitt, and he immediately brought out Kevin Feige, all-around head poobah of Marvel Studios.
Kevin walked out, sat down, and as he was in the middle of his introductory banter with Chris, said one word about "Thor: The Dark World," only to be cut off mid-sentence as the entire Hall H plunged into darkness.
"Humanity," a suspiciously familiar voice said over the Hall H speakers. "Look how far you've fallen. Lining up in the sweltering heat for hours. Huddled together in the darkness. I am Loki of Asgard… and I am burdened with glorious purpose."
SAN DIEGO - For the second year in a row, Legendary and Warner Bros. came to San Diego's Comic-Con so they could promote one of the biggest films they have on their release schedule, next summer's "Godzilla."
As they did last year, Warner Bros. blew everything out to three screens that surrounded the front end of Hall H. It's a very clear sign that they want to overwhelm the audience that's gathered here at the start of the day. The presentation began with black and white footage of nuclear bomb tests, filling every screen until a logo emerged from the ash, the single word. "Godzilla."
Chris Hardwick, the panel moderator for the day, introduced the mood piece that was shown last year. It really is a gorgeous introduction to what director Gareth Edwards hopes to accomplish with the film, with Oppenheimer's narration placed over visions of mass destruction, evidence of something that has already happened, holes in skyscrapers and derailed trains and bodies positively everywhere. And then, at the very end, just a hint of Godzilla himself looming up out of some smoke.
SAN DIEGO - Evidently, Andrew Garfield spent his day charming people.
I wasn't in Hall H during today's presentation of footage from "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," but I did have a chance to sit down with Garfield pretty much the second I stepped off stage from moderating the "Kick-Ass 2"/"Riddick" panel.
While I wasn't crazy about "The Amazing Spider-Man," I think highly of the casting in the movie, and I was very clear in my review that I look forward to seeing if they can turn the sequel into the slam dunk that it should be. When I was asked if I wanted to talk to Garfield even though I wouldn't get to see the presentation, I didn't even hesitate. Of course I did.
One of the most charming moments I've ever seen in Hall H took place the first year Garfield came here for "The Amazing Spider-Man," and I wrote about it that year. It convinced me that no matter what, Garfield really did believe that it was an honor to be tapped to play the iconic character. Now he's gone through the entire process once, and he's just wrapped up his second time playing the character, and I was curious to see if it was starting to feel like just another job to him.
SAN DIEGO - The thing that I take away each year from San Diego is that it doesn't matter how much you plan or how hard you work to organize things. When Comic-Con wants to beat the crap out of you, Comic-Con will beat the crap out of you, and all you can do is smile, take it, and hope you make it through.
This morning was a perfect example. What should have been a nine-minute bus ride took 55 minutes, so by the time I arrived at the Convention Center, I had less than ten minutes to the scheduled start of the Universal panel I was moderating. I wanted time to say hello to everyone, chat a little to break the ice, organize my questions. Nope. I ran in, ran backstage, ran upstairs, put my bag down, and then walked out onto the stage, still scattered from the crazy ride over.
Thankfully, the materials that they brought for "Kick-Ass 2" today speak very loudly for the film. While the first ten or fifteen minutes of this one feel very much like an extension of the first film, once it starts to establish its own voice, it is that rare sequel that actually seems determined to shake things up and really push the characters in new directions.