Without Will Smith, what is "Independence Day"?
That's the question Fox is facing now as they decide how to move forward with their sequel that they are planning to release on July 4 weekend of 2016, at least according to the report today that Will Smith has finally and officially passed on participating in the film.
Actually, Fleming builds in a little wiggle room at the end of the piece, making me wonder why report it again if this still isn't the absolute final total end result decision. Roland Emmerich has stayed busy in the blockbuster game over the last 20 years (has it really been that long?), but he and Dean Devlin did not remain paired in those films. Fox brought them back together to develop a possible sequel/reboot for what is, at heart, a fairly generic premise. Big alien ships roll in. Lots of people get worried. Stuff blows up. Good guys fight back. The aliens don't win. Will Smith was a member of a big ensemble when they made the first film, and while "Bad Boys" certain surprised people in terms of how well it worked, it didn't make him a giant bankable movie star. What worked in his favor in "Independence Day" was that he basically got to be himself, all swagger and charm, and punch an alien in the face.
I'd argue that in the first film, both Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman were bigger movie stars. Goldblum had been the MVP in "Jurassic Park" by being the guy with all the great lines who was smarter than everyone else, and in "Independence Day," they really challenged expectations by casting him as the guy with all the great lines who was smarter than everyone else. Smith popped out of that film because he was hungry and he was ready and he took full advantage of every moment he had. "Men In Black" was his reward for "Independence Day," and he's never looked back. Goldblum, on the other hand, has continued to have the same character career with occasional moments of increased heat, and I think audiences would enjoy seeing him back in the same role for this sequel. Besides, isn't he the one that actually beat the aliens? Don't you think they'd be looking for that human in particular?
Oddly, we are at the first moment in his career where Will Smith is no longer enough to guarantee a film's opening. While I think he could easily headline another monster hit, I don't think he is enough to make that happen anymore. "Men In Black 3" seemed to land on an audience that really didn't remember the first film, and "After Earth" not only failed, it failed because of Will Smith and the audience's reaction to Jaden being the lead. It was a personal rejection. I don't think "Winter's Tale" is in any danger of turning that around, and there's nothing coming from Smith that would suggest to me that him turning this film down is because he's "too big" for it. I think the opposite is true. I think he's afraid to be seen as someone who is coasting only on the past.
Then again, "Bad Boys 3" is in the works, so maybe he just plain doesn't want to do this.
Jamie Vanderbilt, who worked with Emmerich on "White House Down," has been working on two scripts for this, reportedly. One is with Smith's character, one is without. The fact that they can do that and it doesn't really impact the film one way or another would indicate they don't really need him. If you can imagine a draft without him, then how key can he really be to the story you're telling?
You tell me, folks… do you really want a sequel to this movie? Or does this seem like Fox worrying about an anniversary date instead of the actual movie they're making?
Without Will Smith, what is "Independence Day"?
There are few filmmakers working right now who seem as set on the expansion of the very definition of "genre" as Ben Wheatley. Film after film, he throws curve balls at the audience, trusting them to be adventurous enough to follow him as he explores some truly dark and oddball corners of human experience.
Anyone who saw his breakthrough film "Down Terrace" would probably be excused for thinking he was just another English filmmaker in love with working class criminals, a sort of collision of Mike Leigh and Shane Meadows. With "Kill List," though, he made it clear that whatever you expected him to be, that's probably not what he was interested in being. "Sightseers" is the sort of dark comedy gem that can be fiendishly difficult to pull off, but he made it look effortless. They're all films that feel like they are drawn from a very British tradition of storytelling, but Wheatley has his own voice, and he's bending and breaking expectation with a fiendish sort of glee at this point.
Normally, I would ignore anything printed by The Daily Mail, which is notoriously untrustworthy, but they've just posted something that fits in so neatly with other information that we can confirm that it sounds like the broken clock is indeed, in this case, telling the correct time. Besides, I'm seeing other way more reliable folks like The Hollywood Reporter's Borys Kit weighing in, and it's starting to look like this is for real.
According to their report, Paul Bettany will finally play a live-action role in a Marvel Universe movie, and it would make perfect sense based on the way things will play out in "Avengers: Age of Ultron." The long-time voice-only computer butler to Tony Stark will make the jump to playing the long-anticipated character The Vision.
Fans have been assuming since the title announcement was made last year at Comic-Con that Ultron would be the creation of Tony Stark in this film, as opposed to Hank Pym, who has traditionally played that role in the comics. That's a safe bet, and Stark does indeed play a major role in the birth of the character. Fans have also assumed that Jarvis would somehow factor into Ultron's birth, which also makes sense. After all, Stark has apparently had a fully-functioning AI working for him since before the opening of "Iron Man," something that he seems to treat as sort of matter of fact and totally normal.
George Clooney is now five films into his career as a director, which gives us enough room to try to discern a voice or a thematic intent or a unifying vision for the films he's made, and yet, when I look at those five films, what ultimately emerges is a portrait of a somewhat invisible man.
I think "Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind" is a very stylish film, and he navigated a fairly tricky piece of writing there. I understand why so many directors were drawn to Charlie Kaufman's script, and I understand why so many directors ultimately chose not to direct that same script. Clooney has a strong eye for casting, and he also helped figure out how to sell that reality, which wasn't easy at all. I think he also made very strong choices with "Good Night, and Good Luck," a fairly dry piece of writing about a decidedly non-sexy subject. While "Leatherheads" doesn't really work, I can see exactly what sort of screwball tone he's trying to pull off, and I understand the appeal of it. And while I think "The Ides Of March" tries to inflate a fairly simple idea into something more significant, it's obvious that he's a smart guy who wants pop entertainment to grapple with grown-up subjects.
When I attend Toronto, Sundance, and SXSW each year, one of the things I specifically focus on is the midnight programming. I'd say the same thing about Fantastic Fest, except that pretty much feels like an entire festival of nothing but midnight programming.
Last week, SXSW announced the majority of its film programming, but they held off on announcing the midnight titles, and that's finally happened this morning.
From March 7th to March 15th, SXSW will be offering not only the film conference but a major overlap with music and interactive and sports and comedy and everything else they've folded in under the broader umbrella of SXSW.
So what are the midnight titles? Let's dig right in.
It is a relatively uncommon thing for me to have time alone on a set these days as a journalist. For the most part, set visits are orchestrated with between six and twelves journalists together, and interviews are conducted as round tables. Depending on the group of people you're with, that can be a good or a bad thing, but what it ultimately is not is "exclusive" in any real sense of the word.
Occasionally, though, I find myself with a day that genuinely is just me on the set, as I did when I visited "Neighbors." It was a very relaxed day overall. I drove myself down to the set, since it was shooting here in Los Angeles. I followed the directions from the 10 freeway a few blocks south, to where the two houses that feature most prominently in the film were located. In one, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne lived with their baby daughter, and in the other, it was Zac Efron, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and a whole bunch of frat dudes.
Now that Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon are giving interviews promising that the back nine episodes of this first season of "Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D." will be throwing big reveals and twists and payoffs at us nonstop, is it fair to judge the show based on how much forward momentum we get from each episode?
They've certainly made a case in the last two episodes for a new game plan in effect, and we've made some big strides in terms of getting answers to things that have been in play since the first episode of the year. I'm not sure what I think of the answers, but I can't fault them for failing to deliver on the promise to get things moving and start to sort out this season's secrets.
By far, the biggest thread that they've got to follow now involves The Clairvoyant, the shadowy figure behind everything. I've got to believe that they're playing coy with this person's identity so that when we do finally lay eyes on them, it will be a major moment of some sort. The other major thread has to do with Skye, who we now know is an "0-8-4," an object of unknown origin. The "previously on" package this week mentioned both those threads and then also reminded us of Ian Quinn (David Conrad), who has popped up a few times this season, taunting Coulson openly in the last episode.
Any time there's a TV show that becomes a sensation, particularly an HBO show, it seems like a matter of time before feature film casting agents start poaching that talent pool mercilessly.
Daenerys Targaryen herself, Emilia Clarke, for example, beat out some pretty stiff competition to play Sarah Connor in the upcoming "Terminator" rebootquel, which has got to lead to some interesting conversations whenever she's hanging around the sinister Cersei Lannister, Lena Headey, who already played the role for the Fox "Terminator" series. Maisie Williams is starting to book film work between seasons, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is working non-stop these days, Aidan Gillen was just in the much-discussed Sundance title "Calvary," and Richard Madden's already kicked off a new series, "Klondike," and wrapped work as Prince Charming in Kenneth Branagh's "Cinderella," keeping him busy since the Red Wedding occurred.
It is the responsibility of the working film critic to not only offer opinion and context for the newest releases, but also to constantly champion and curate the films that matter, especially if they were misunderstood or poorly released or somehow handled badly the first time around.
Critics should take it upon themselves to rehabilitate the under-loved, to defend the wrongly-maligned, and rehab the films that need it; it is the only way film as a whole can be healthy.
It does not escape me that many of Peter Weir's best films were adapted from novels. In the case of "The Mosquito Coast," it's a Paul Schrader adaptation of a Paul Theroux novel, and Schrader may have been the exact right person to try to wrestle that material up onto the screen.
When I visited the set of "Neighbors," it was still being referred to as either "Townies" or "The Untitled Zac Efron/Seth Rogen Movie." Naturally, one of the first questions I had for director Nick Stoller was about the search for the right title for the film.
"Right now, Evan [Goldberg] keeps pitching me 'Fraternal Deception.' It's so stupid," he laughed.
"That sounds like Glenn Close should star in that and it should be 1992," I replied.
"Totally. Glenn Close and Bill Pullman." Stoller shuddered at the thought.
I've known Stoller for a while now. I spent a week on the set of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," along with a few pick-up days back in Los Angeles, and I also visited him for "Get Him To The Greek" and "The Five-Year Engagement." Stoller strikes me as a guy who has a very particular sense of humor and he is fortunate enough to have found the right collaborators and the right environment where he is able to pursue his vision of what a mainstream comedy can be with the full support of a very talented ensemble of comic performers.