I am not remotely surprised that they're skipping "The Lost Symbol" completely.
Actually, maybe I am a little surprised. After all, Tom Hanks and Ron Howard both made mountains of cash for the first two Robert Langdon films, "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons," despite the fact that very few people seemed to genuinely like either of the films. Dan Brown's books are pop culture juggernauts, and that combination of talent combined with the omnipresence of the books made the movies as close to a can't miss proposition as you can get in modern Hollywood.
"The Lost Symbol," though, tarnished the brand pretty thoroughly, because it seemed to reveal the mechanical structure behind the franchise too nakedly. It is a formula book to such a deadening degree that it's almost a parody. It's so by-the-numbers, and it covers the exact same ground as the not-terribly-subtle also-ran series of "National Treasure" movies that Bruckheimer made for Disney. Those films seemed to stake a pretty firm claim on the idea of Washington D.C. as a big giant Rubik's Cube ready to be solved, and Brown's book felt thin even by his own standards.
I am not remotely surprised that they're skipping "The Lost Symbol" completely.
When I saw this film at last year's Toronto Film Festival, it was called "Imogene," which is the name of the main character in the movie, played by Kristen Wiig. At that point, the film did not have a distributor lined up, and I decided to wait to see if they were ever going to release it to theaters before writing a review. Since it will actually be seeing a limited release this Friday, I guess now it's fair game to write about it and to try to explain what a frustrating near-miss the whole thing turns out to be.
Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have a very uneven overall filmography. I think they always seem to be totally engaged with what they're doing, sincere about it, but it doesn't always connect. I think "American Splendor" is pretty great, a lovely variation on the biopic genre, and their early documentary "The Last Days Of Chasen's" was a fairly wise look at the struggle for status in LA culture and the impermanence of Los Angeles. "The Nanny Diaries"? Not so much. Not for me. And I thought "Cinema Verite" was decent, but ultimately felt like a thin version of something much meatier. "The Extra Man" is uneven, but Paul Dano and Kevin Kline are so in tune playing off each other that it pushes it over in the end.
Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor aren't really the first names that would leap to mind if you asked me to name horror stars, but that's precisely what makes them such potent casting in James Wan's terrifying "The Conjuring," which opens this Friday.
We held a special screening of the film a few weeks back, and Ron was good enough to come do the Q&A with me after the film. He's a great spokesman for the film and a really easy interview, all things considered. I think of Ron as one of those great utility actors, a guy you can plug in anywhere who will give you a grounded, honest performance. He's having a particularly great summer, though, between this and his work in Joe Swanberg's wise and well-observed "Drinking Buddies," and it's great talking to someone as they're in the middle of a completely deserved victory lap.
On July 12, director Spike Lee took a little time out from whatever he's doing in Marrakech to write the following:
@SpikeLee I Want To Thank One And All For The Love And Support You Have Given Me Over The Course Of My Film Life. Monday I Will Be Making Announcement.
I am absolutely overwhelmingly pro-Spike Lee. I have been fascinated by him and by his work since "She's Gotta Have It," and one of the things that made Spike so interesting in those early days was the books he would publish for each film, very frank books about how he got the movies made that also included his screenplays. It may be hard for younger viewers to understand just how big of an impact he had on independent film. And when I say that, I don't just mean African-American indie films. I mean any indie films. Spike was just as crucial as Steven Soderbergh or Jim Jarmusch or Kevin Smith or anyone you want to point to as a symbol of the explosion that took place in the '80s. Honestly, it never occurred to me to think of Spike as a black filmmaker first because he, like many of the guys who helped blow things up at that point, was just a filmmaker with a big voice. Watching how he got his personal material made was inspirational.
If I were a betting man, I'd put a little money down on the possibility of 20th Century Fox featuring "Days Of Future Past" at their Comic-Con panel this weekend.
For one thing, it's the single most important franchise that the studio owns at the moment. They are determined to figure out how to keep "X-Men" movies churning out for the near future, and a big part of that game plan is getting this next movie right. Sure, they're hoping "The Wolverine" is a hit with audiences, but the one that has to work is "Days Of Future Past." After all, it's based on arguably the biggest storyline to ever be published in that series, and if they do get it right, they'll be able to cross their original trilogy with the rebooted "First Class" in a way that means it is all part of one big series.
One of the things that filmmakers would do well to take away from this year as an important lesson is that we have reached the point of apocalyptic overload as a collective audience.
It makes sense. One of the things that special effects crews have gotten very good at is destroying cities. At this point, it's such a familiar image that it almost doesn't register in terms of how horrifying it would be if it were real. Last night, my oldest son was in my office and a preview for "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" came on before whatever movie I had put in the player. He hasn't seen the film, but he stopped to look at the trailer, and the big "money shot," if you will, is the total and immediate destruction of London. Looking at it out of context like that, as a thrown-away bit of mayhem designed to get you to buy a ticket, it struck me as really distasteful.
One of the biggest sticking points regarding "Man Of Steel" for many of you appears to be the way the chaos and destruction of the final battle with Zod escalates and the sheer scale of the destruction. As violent as that fight is, what I found upsetting in the film was the effect of the World Engine, the terraforming device that consists of two machines, one on either side of the planet. The destruction caused by that device is truly horrible to witness, and I don't think Zack Snyder downplayed that at all. You see cars and buildings and people sucked up into the gravity field and then slammed back to Earth with such brutality that you know nothing could survive it.
At the start of this summer, I decided to finally read "The Casual Vacancy" by JK Rowling, and I burned through it quickly.
I think it's a great read, a very angry book about the definition of community in today's England. It's well-observed, it's adult, and it doesn't pull any punches as it barrels towards a painful, upsetting finish. It is not what you would expect from her, and it suggests that the England of her Potter books is even more of a fantasy construct than one might think.
After all, she wrote a series of books about the coming of age of a powerful boy wizard and, just as importantly, the generation of magicians his own age, all of them shaped by the events of all seven of the books. She did so without ever suggesting more explicit relationships as the kids grew older, hormones kicked in, and they got ready to graduate from Hogwart's.
One of the worst things about the miserable "Alice In Wonderland" was the way it served as a needless sequel to the original story, casting Alice as a warrior who was part of some ancient prophecy, returning to "Underland" after a long absence. Because of that structure, the notion of a sequel to that film becomes even more narratively useless than normal.
But, hey, at least Johnny Depp can count on another $50 million or so.
I wouldn't care as much if it seemed like Depp was still doing a "one for them, one for me" sort of thing, but it's been a while since he's been that guy. Sure, he helped Bruce Robinson finally get a film made again with "The Rum Diary," but part of that is the debt that he felt like he owed Hunter S. Thompson, who always wanted a film version made from that book. Most of his credits for the last few years have been brutally mainstream, and it's getting harder and harder to remain a fan of the guy's work when they announce a fifth "Pirates" movie or a wildly unwanted "Wonderland" sequel.
It's not often that my eight-year-old son and my seventy-something-year-old mother are both jealous of me over the same interview, but that pretty much sums up the preposterously broad appeal of Hugh Jackman.
"The Wolverine" marks the sixth time that he has played the character, and he'll do it again next summer for "X-Men: Days Of Future Past," and at this point, I'd say he owns the character in terms of public perception. What makes "The Wolverine" work is the way it builds off of even the less successful films in the series to explore the sadness and pain that drive the character at this point.
I stopped in New York for approximately 24 hours on my way back from London, and within an hour of me getting to my hotel, I was sitting across from Jackman, jet-lagged and punchy and not entirely sure what was going on. Even so, as soon as you start talking to the guy, he's so engaged and enthusiastic that you want to respond in kind.
Last night, a Twitter account called "Phoenix Movie Bears" asked me if I had an opinion about Orson Scott Card and his rabid anti-gay rhetoric. As a group of LBGT movie fans, it is an important question to them, and it looks like they asked the question of a large number of people. Some webmasters wrote back that they will be covering "Ender's Game" because they are interested in it as a movie, and they seemed to accept that without argument. Personally, I have not spent a lot of time on the subject in print because I felt like the most effective way to deal with it was to simply go silent. At this point, publicity is publicity, and "good" or "bad" doesn't really enter into the equation.
But today, Lionsgate sent out an official statement on what is obviously starting to become a problem for them, and it seems like this is as good a moment as any to weigh in. I'm only going to do this once, because I made the decision at the start of the year that I would not be reviewing "Ender's Game" or covering it during production. That hasn't changed. I love the book, and in fact just put it onto my oldest son's Kindle as one of the many science-fiction novels he was given for his birthday. I hope he enjoys it.
When it comes to supporting Card today, though, I'm unable to see my way clear to ignore his nauseating homophobia. And while Lionsgate seems to believe his current attitudes have nothing to do with their film, I'd say that's not true. The book may not reflect his views, but as the author, he's going to benefit from the financial success and high profile of the movie. He is tied to "Ender's Game" on a profound level, and I have a hard time seeing how anyone could claim otherwise.