I was told last night by an excellent source that Michael Ritchie‘s Downhill Racer (’69), a first-rate verite drama about a reckless, emotionally cut-off downhill skiier (Robert Redford) vying for Olympic glory, is being prepared as a Criterion Collection DVD. The highly regarded film has never been on DVD. No word about whether a Blu-ray version will pop through or whether Criterion will simply give it an Eddie Coyle or Hit-styled lowball release. I’m presuming the latter.
23 or 24 minutes worth of 3-D Avatar footage were shown at Comic-Con this afternoon. And it should come as no surprise to report that this taste of James Cameron‘s 3-D action fantasy, set on a foreign planet and involving a primal conflict between militaristic humans and a race of ten-foot-tall aliens called Na’vi, played serious wowser. As in “Jesus, this is something…oh, wow!…crap, this is new…oh, that‘s cool…this is so friggin’ out there and vivid and real…love it all to hell.”
Cameron announced at the end of the presentation that the rest of the world will have a chance to sample Avatar in a similar way on Friday, August 21, which he called “Avatar Day.” On that day IMAX theatres coast to coast (and, I presume, in various foreign nations) will show about 15 minutes worth of 3-D IMAX footage of Avatar to the public for free. I guess the footage will be shown at successive shows all day and into the night, and that some kind of ticket reservations system will be set up.
20th Century Fox will open Avatar all over on 12.18.09.
The 3-D photography that I saw this afternoon is clean and needle-sharp and easy on the eyes, and the CG animation looks as realistic and organically genuine as anything anyone might imagine, and which certainly seems to represent the best we’ve seen thus far.
6,000 people watched the show inside the San Diego Convention Center’s great Hall H, and then sat for a brief but informative presentation by Cameron, producer Jon Landau and costars Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang with a video apearance by costar Sam Worthington.
Cameron described the film as both a meditation on the wrongness of any effort by any military to conquer and suppress people in their native land, and a sci-fi adventure that will appeal to the proverbial 14 year-old boy in all of us. (Girls too.)
Avatar director-writer James Cameron during today’s presentation at Comic-Con
Set in the 22nd Century, Avatar (20th Century Fox, 12.18) is an allegory piece about militaristic/industrial-minded humans messing with and thinking about destroying a race of tall blue warrior aliens called Na’vi, who are peaceful unless attacked. In order to head off conflict between the Na’vi and the U.S. military, Weaver’s botanist character invents a technology that genetically engineers human/Na’vi hybrids, called Avatars.
The story involves a crippled Marine named Jake Sully (Worthington) volunteering to be transformed into an Avatar on Pandora in order to mingle with and understand the Na’vi. In so doing he falls in love with a Na’vi princess (Saldana) and gets all caught up in the conflict between her people and the bullshit U.S. military.
I was transported, blown away, melted down, reduced to adolescence, etc. I mean, I saw some truly great stuff.
But I need to share one thing. As drop-dead awesome and mind-blowing as Avatar is in terms of super-sophisticated CG animation — a realm that looks as real as anything sitting outside your window or on the next block or next continent — the bulk of it does appear to be happening in an all-animated world.
Which means that after the first-act, live-human footage (i.e., laying out the plot basics, preparation for the Na’vi transformation, etc.) the film seems to basically be a top-of-the-line animated action-thriller.
Which means that once the visual climate and atmosphere of animation begins to settle in, we’ll be watching something that’s cool but one step removed from a “real” world. Which means that for people like me, Avatar, beginning with the portion of the film in which the animation pretty much takes over, may not finally feel like a really solid and true-blue high-throttle experience because — yes, I realize this dates me — it lacks a certain biological completeness and trustworthiness.
To put it another way the visual dazzle element will be wondrous, but the trust element (a reference to Werner Herzog‘s statement about things have gotten to a point at which audiences don’t trust their eyes any more) will be in constant “hold.”
I’m saying this knowing, of course, that Avatar appears to do a truly amazing job of bridging the gulf between CG and reality, but for me hard-drive compositions will always be hard-drive compositions — they aren’t what God created on His/ Her own. And never the twain shall meet.
Here‘s Luke Y. Thompson‘s description of the Avatar footage on Deadline Hollywood Daily.
A screenwriter friend has heard that Judd Apatow‘s Funny People is either based upon or partly inspired by “a profound crisis of some sort that changed Garry Shandling and sent him into the pursuit of Zen and other pursuits/remedies. He’s one of Apatow’s closest friends and was a major shit during the making/ heyday of HBO’s Larry Sanders Show. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
You can love, like, worship, dislike, piss on, wrestle with, admire or kvetch about Judd Apatow‘s Funny People (Universal, 7.31) but you have to give it this — it’s a major Apatow brand-changer. It darkens, challenges, deepens, reboots and broadens the definition of those cereal-box ingredients that people think of when they refer to Apatow-brand entertainment. It’s not a “great” film but for me it’s a stunningly brave (by which I mean exceptionally candid and self-revealing) one. And funny as shit.
It really is the best Apatow movie so far. Not the warmest of friendliest or feel-goodiest, but unquestionably the frankest and ballsiest. A genuinely funny, corrosive, uncliched, agreeably smartass thing. Not perfect but close enough to what I wanted that I came out delighted. I believed each and every line and attitude and plot turn. I had a few minor beefs but no major ones.
This is very close to the Apatow flick I’ve been waiting for, and which frankly I had begun to think might never come from his workshop. Hats off, smart salute, balls of steel, etc. This is a significant leap forward.
A present-day Hollywood story about a selfish and not particularly lovable comedian (Adam Sandler) going through surges and regressions due to the emergence of a fatal disease, Funny People is an intimate and revealing and self-critical film about what selfish shits comedians can be. And what it is and what it takes to be a mensch. For the first time Seth Rogen plays a fairly interesting and layered character with seriously believable chops. Congrats also to the great Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Eric Bana, Leslie Mann, etc. — everyone’s game surges with this thing.
Funny People is much more of a Billy Wilder film than a James L. Brooks or Cameron Crowe one because it’s a film about values and decency and — you have to at least respect this aspect — a frank look at the selfish, uber-competitive tendencies of many comedian types.
“Take no notice of anyone who says Funny People is too long or doesn’t work,” I wrote/twittered this morning. “What they really mean is ‘where’s my Big Mac?'” They want, in other words, their Apatow meatloaf-and-mashed-potatoes fix — a yawhaw stoner/slacker comedy in the vein of The 40 Year-Old Virgin and, to a slightly more realistic extent, Knocked Up.
Funny People is consistently funny but in a low-key, casual-fuckall “if you get it fine and if you don’t so what?” sort of way. It’s unquestionably Apatow’s finest film. He’ll never go back to the sandbox of The 40 Year-old Virgin after this. At times last night I was telling myself, “Jesus, this is amazing.” Everyone’s game really does go up a lot in this thing. I know, I know — I’m repeating myself.
You know what’s great in this thing? A cameo scene with Eminem. It’s worth it for this bit alone.
Funny People poses a a bit of a marketing problem because it’s about show business types but also because it’s very real as occasionally cold, fuck-off-dickhead, slapdown, take-it-or-leave-it. It’s about a famous and wealthy guy having to deal with the fact hat he has no life and nobody to turn to. It winds up being a kind of love letter to having a family. Ballsy, mean-funny, honest, straight from within.
Most fans of Virgin and Knocked Up, I suspect, are going to have qualms, but that’s what happens when you deepen and darken and expand the brand — people go “hey, this doesn’t taste like the others! Gimme my comfort food!” Most people just want to kick back and watch fucking Seinfeld. Good God! Is there any once-legendary TV series that feels lamer by today’s standards? The fans used to brag about it being “a show about nothing.” Not any more. The let’s-lie-around- and-jerk-ourselves-off easy money days of the ’90s are over.
A voice is telling me, in any event, that the Seinfeld people — a good portion of them — are probably going to complain or feel uneasy about Funny People, and when they do they’ll only be taking their own game down.
I didn’t meet this guy at Comic-Con — I met him yesterday afternoon in front of the Firehouse on Rose Ave. and Main Street in Santa Monica. He just walks around like this. Very cool.
Badge Guy — Thursday, 7.23, 8:15 am.
Downloaded the Comic-Con iPhone app while waiting on the plane yesterday morning.
Bruno ads are still on buses!
Inside a Starbucks adjacent to San Diego’s titanic/gargantuan convention center — Thursday, 7.23, 11:25 am.
I stayed in this little dumpy place last night, partly because I like old places and partly because it only cost $69 plus tax. I’m calling it the Bates Motel. No hot water in the shower, smelled like stale cigarettes and spilled beer. I love places like this, but I’m staying someplace cleaner this evening because I really do need hot water in the morning.
In line for Comic-Con press credentials — Thursday, 7.23.09, 8:35 am.
This morning’s New Moon/Comic-Con press conference began at 9:54 am — almost a half-hour late — inside a super-sized meeting hall within San Diego’s Bayfront Hilton. The film’s three stars — Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner — posed for photos and took questions from a throng of about 75 or 80 journalists. It was my first Comic-Con event, but I have to say that the most heartening aspect happened before it began.
The heart moment happened when MSN Movies’ James Rocchi told me he completely agreed with my Twitter post this morning about Judd Apatow ‘s Funny People being “stunningly good” and “a kind of epic in the realm of selfish, scabrous, pissed-off comedian movies.” I’ll get into this in a subsequent post, but we both agreed it was a ballsy, mostly realistic and darkly funny film that never once took the manipulative, emotionally soothing way out.
Summit will open the Twilight sequel, a romantic triangle piece focusing on the mortal Bella Swan (Stewart), the vampire Edward Cullen (Pattinson) and a hottie werewolf Jacob Black (Lautner), on 11.20.
Lautner is clearly the most ambitiously press-friendly among the three. While Stewart and Pattinson did their usual usual — i.e., giving answers that suggested they’re a lot more complex and aloof and thoughtful than their participation in movies based on the Twilight series might suggest. It’s the age-old “I’ll do this but only if I can answer questions like Marlon Brando” routine. But Lautner, who has a bee-stung Beagle Boy nose , exhibited the personality of a publicist or a glad-hander. He clearly enjoys smiling and wants everyone to like him. He could be the next Regis Philbin if he wanted to go there.
If I was Lautner I would have the schnozzola re-shaped. I’m sorry but it’s an On The Waterfront longshoreman’s nose, or a nose belonging to a Russian wheat-farmer. If he’d come up through the ranks of old 1930s Hollywood studio system the moguls would have said “cute kid but fix the nose.”
(l. to r.) Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner, Robert Pattinson
Stewart was wearing her Joan Jett haircut (for her currently filming The Runaways) and looked, frankly, kind of rock-and-rollish herself with a kind of cigarettes-and-booze attitude with stress bags under her eyes. She’s a fascinating actress, but clearly not someone who’s looking for peace as much as truth, even if it scalds.
Pattinson also looked vaguely seedy and grubby, like he took a shower the day before yesterday. He was in a pleasant-enough mood with a grinning, self-effacing attitude and nice white teeth.
The Summit publicists made the photographers stand back from the talent table about twelve feet or so. Apparently they didn’t want the actors to get all freaked out by a too-close physical proximity to the mongrelish paparazzi. (I’m certain it was the reps for Stewart or Pattinson who asked for the push-back; it sure as hell wasn’t Lautner.) This isn’t the way things are done at the Cannes, Sundance and Toronto press conferences but no biggie.
12:35 pm: In the hour since I posted my video of the New Moon kidz, my inbox has lit up with notifications that dozens of YouTube watchers around the world have watched it.