Reviews and interviews are fine, but what's Sundance really like?
Just as we drove into Park City on Wednesday afternoon, the first flakes of snow were starting to fall, and now, as I prepare to get a few hours sleep on a very, very early Friday morning, we've seen that snow and a fair amount of sleet pile up quickly. And if there's snow, then as far as this Los Angeles resident is concerned, it is time for Sundance.
Now that my year is built around film festivals, I'm starting to really enjoy the way each festival has its own clear identity. Sundance is not SXSW which is not Cannes which is not Toronto which clearly is not Fantastic Fest. Those five festivals give me milestones by which to measure my year now, and so for me, Sundance means the film year is starting from a clean slate, and my first impressions of what sort of year in movies lies ahead start here. This is where I test the wind, read the tea leaves, and dig in for the first real challenge on each new calendar.
I've come to grow quite fond of Sundance overall. I like their mix of films, I like the way they break things down and the different categories, and I like the taste they show as programmers. As with most film festivals, what they program is entirely dependent on what's ready, what's available, and how things time out, and what Sundance has going for it is that it's such a major milestone for filmmakers to show something here that people will intentionally set their post-production schedules on movies around the submission dates for Sundance.
George Lucas finally finishes a long-time dream project to mixed results
- Critic's Rating C
- Readers' Rating n/a
Anyone who watched "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" probably has a pretty good idea of what they can expect from the long-rumored George Lucas production of "Red Tails" now that it's actually opening in theaters.
The story of the Tuskeegee Airmen is a significant one, and worth telling. HBO took a shot at it a while ago, and Lucas has been trying to get his version made for what feels like decades now. I admire the intent, because a film like this and a story like this can be inspirational and connect young African-American audiences to a history they may not know about. If that's the only thing the film accomplishes, then I'm sure Lucas will count it as a success, and I do hope parents take their kids to see it.
I also hope it is the start of a conversation, and not the entire thing.
Australian drama offers some solid performances but uneven narrative
- Critic's Rating C+
- Readers' Rating n/a
At heart, "Wish You Were Here" is an effective piece about the way secrets can serve as a cancer in a marriage. It's well-performed across the board, it's incredibly well-shot, and I think much of it works in terms of tone and mood. There are some major plot issues that you have to forgive, though, and it might be enough to derail the experience for some viewers.
Directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith, "Wish You Were Here" fractures time to tell the story of a group of Australians who take a trip to Cambodia. During the trip, one of them vanishes, and the rest of them return home to deal with the emotional fallout. Not everyone is working with the same information, though, and little by little, the truth comes out, with some devastating fallout. Dave Flannery (Joel Edgerton) and his wife Alice (Felicity Price, who also co-wrote the film) are parents, and they step back into this life they've built, with their four-year-old and their five-year-old and another one on the way. Alice's sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) was the one who was dating Jeremy (Antony Starr), the guy who disappeared, and she's the one who seems to be most directly affected at first. Gradually, though, Dave and Alice are forced to deal with something unspoken, something that threatens their family, and that's the real driving force in the film.
A viewing of a post-apocalyptic exploitation film sets off an unexpected reaction
This was originally supposed to be a review of the Xavier Gens film "The Divide."
That will not be happening.
Over the course of my life, I'd wager I've seen at least 10,000 movies. Maybe more. I've had years where I've mainlined as many as 500 movies, many of them older catalog titles. I have a voracious appetite for all types of movies, both high art and low. I love smart sophisticated movies, I love experimental films, and I love genre junk. I love any movie that offers me a genuine experience of some sort, where there's something that moves me or that I recognize as true and well-observed or where someone just plain surprises me. I am open to pretty much anything when I sit down to a new film.
But at the age of 41, at about 94 minutes into "The Divide," I reached a breaking point, and I realized that I am pretty much incapable of sitting through one more cheap, pointless, exploitative rape in a movie.
His future's looking brighter than ever based on the films he's in this year
Now that I've seen both "21 Jump Street" and "Haywire," I am officially prepared to say that 2012 is the year Channing Tatum turned the corner.
I've known people who are fans of his work since "A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints," and I've certainly seen most of his films up to this point. I've always felt like he was tough to cast just right, and whatever his most vocal supporters saw in that work, I wasn't seeing it. I thought he showed signs of life in things like "Stop-Loss" or his supporting freakshow role in "The Dilemma," but he still wasn't connecting for me across the board.
Now, with this one-two punch, I'm seeing a much looser, funnier, alive presence onscreen, and I think the same is true of our interview when we sat down to talk about "Haywire." I'm not sure what happened, but it can't just be that the material is better. It's like something opened up inside of him, and suddenly he's able to project whatever that new energy and joy is, and it's really apparent in the work.
What's young Obi-Wan up to these days?
Ewan McGregor was, at one point, on track to be a gigantic movie star.
Instead, his career has become something much more interesting and unusual and hard to pinpoint, and I'm glad. McGregor made such a strong impression with his first few major film roles in the Danny Boyle films "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting," and by the time he was cast as Young Obi-Wan in "The Phantom Menace," he appeared to be on track to be one of the biggest actors of his age.
His heart does not appear to lie in the blockbuster mainstream world, though, and he's spent years now moving back and forth between the indie world and Hollywood, and his choices seem to me to be genuinely motivated by his own particular interests. Well before Michael Fassbender was getting teased about his equipment on the Golden Globes by George Clooney, Ewan McGregor was the Guy Who Liked To Show His Junk, and the contrast between that and his appearances in the "Star Wars" films and a "Nanny McPhee" sequel and "Robots" is pretty startling. Not many people are able to effortlessly switch modes like that, but I think it's in no small part because McGregor is so quietly charismatic.
Jeff Smith's cult comic epic also gets a writer and an animation studio
The most unusual thing about this story is the idea of Warner Bros. getting back into feature animation, something that has not been a great strength of theirs in the past.
As much as I adore "The Iron Giant," I can acknowledge based on what I know about that process that it is a good thing Warner shut down their feature animation division in '99. Every now and then, you'll see a studio get the idea that they should be making animated films so they can get a slice of that financial pie, and they'll spend a lot of time and money to do so, and inevitably we'll get one or two movies that cost way too much and underperform, and then the studios get right back out of that business. Remember when 20th Century Fox bought Don Bluth a giant animation studio in Arizona? You know… the one that was supposed to replace the giant animation studio that Bluth ran into the ground in Ireland? And do you remember when that entire thing went belly up about a year and a half later?
Steven Soderbergh and MMA Gina Carano make sweet music together
- Critic's Rating B+
- Readers' Rating n/a
The last time Steven Soderbergh and Lem Dobbs collaborated, the result was "The Limey," one of my favorite of Soderbergh's films overall. It's a tough-minded, broken-hearted little revenge thriller, and Terrence Stamp is awesome in it. It's got style to spare, and it's really lean. Gets in, gets it done, and then gets out.
When I first heard about "Haywire" and heard that the film was created specifically to showcase Gina Carano, a well-regarded MMA fighter in real life, I admit that I sort of wrote the film off immediately as "lesser" Soderbergh. The last film he made where he built a film around a real-life personality was "The Girlfriend Experience," an only slightly successful movie that is more experiment than experience, so I admit my hopes were not especially high.
I would argue that part of why "Haywire" works so well is because Lem Dobbs is the screenwriter, and he approached this with a wicked pulp spy movie sensibility that pays off in a film that works first as a spy film, second as an action film, and then also as a drama. It's genuinely well-written. It's clever. And while there's plenty of room in the film for Carano to snap into her own skill-set and start beating holy hell out of anyone within arm's reach, which she does in spectacular fashion several times, those moments are character punctuation. There's not a single unmotivated or gratuitous action beat in the film.
In other words, forget what your calendar tells you. "Haywire" is no mere January movie.
This fighter-turned-actor seems at home discussing her new movie
Gina Carano has charisma to spare, and it's little wonder Soderbergh felt driven to make a film in which he could showcase her.
I'm not a fight fan. Well, that's only part true. I don't watch MMA or UFC or really any sort of fighting, but that's because there are only so many hours in any given day, and I have to prioritize about what I do with my time. I always have more movies to watch. I always have something to read. I always have something I could be writing. I am constantly able to find something that I should be doing, and so the idea of spending a night watching fighting just doesn't fit into the timetable I've got set up.
I do like the actual sport of fighting, though. I grew up a boxing fan, and I see how boxing has evolved into these other major forms of organized fighting now. I can see why the audience is drawn to the other forms, and I can see why the stars that have emerged from this world are considered stars. There is a different level of physical engagement we see from these people, a different level of abuse that they seem willing to subject themselves to, and that's part of the thrill of MMA. We're impressed by these people because it seems completely deranged to voluntarily step into a ring where someone could beat the holy hell out of you and leave you unconscious with a torn rotator cuff within 45 seconds of starting. That's not a tornado I want to stick my arm into, thanks, so those who do it and who do it well are definitely to be admired.
We begin a year-long look back at the biggest action series of all time
Fifty years ago today, Terence Young stood on a set in Jamaica and rolled film for the very first time on a feature film about Ian Fleming's creation, James Bond. It was the scene where Bond arrives at the Kingston airport and tries to avoid being photographed. It was a significant day at the end of a long search for the right man to play the part and even though Ian Fleming wasn't convinced at first, Sean Connery not only turned out to be a nascent movie star, but he made Bond an icon that endures even now.
Fifty years later, EON Productions and Sony are in production on the latest film in the series, with Daniel Craig playing Bond for the third time. And today, Sony Pictures released a terse but interesting summary of what we can expect when "Skyfall" opens later in the year.
I've been a Bond fan since my first exposure to the character. I was seven years old when my dad took me to see "The Spy Who Loved Me" in the theater, and it was love at first sight. Sure, part of the kick was the idea that my dad was taking me to see a "grown-up" movie with him, just the two of us. And part of it was because I could tell how important the character was to him. Mostly, though, the whole thing was just so damn cool.
After all, he had a car that turned into a submarine. When you're seven, that's the most insanely mind-blowing idea possible.