Well, the sinister professor of all things twisted and evil has taken time off from his depraved ramblings around the sin dens of old Hollywood with the HEAD GEEK long enough to file this typically complex report with Father Geek back here at AICN Headquarters in Austin. Very interesting... Very interesting indeed...
Moriarty's RUMBLINGS FROM THE LAB #20 Re:
Hey, all. "Moriarty" here. I know, I know... I
said I was taking November off. It's not my fault.
Just when I think I'm out, they PULL ME BACK IN!
HOO-HA! Pardon me... I just saw the ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
trailer again and I had the strangest compulsion to
begin chewing scenery. Since I'm still up to my ears
in the experiments that are taking up so much of the
time here at the Labs these days, let's get down to
brass tacks: how much for the ape?
Well, one of the bigger leaks of the week can be credited to the guys over at http://movies.ign.com, who seem to be doing a bang-up job for being such a new site. Den Shewman scored a copy of David Mamet's rejected screenplay for HANNIBAL and has run the first major review of the piece. Sounds like they've kept all the problems of the book without retaining any of its strengths. No wonder Foster's making noises about bailing out. She's got to be nervous about coming back and destroying a character that still stands as one of the most popular of the decade. I hope that she and Hopkins stand their ground until someone delivers something useable to them. When I come back from my hiatus for real -- this column's just a hiccup, one I'm sneaking in -- I'll take a look at the script myself. I'm a big fan of some of Mamet's screen writing -- THE VERDICT, THE UNTOUCHABLES, and his own HOMICIDE leap to mind -- but I don't think he's infallible. I don't necessarily think Steve Zallian's the answer for that kind of film, though. It reminds me of Frank Darabont in the six months after the nominations for SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. Everyone in town offered him everything, and he commented on one particular time, sitting in a meeting in which some producers were offering him a bloody serial killer piece with brutal, graphic murder sequences, when he finally laughed out loud and asked them what in SHAWSHANK made them think there was any reason he'd be interested in that type of film. Just because someone's great at one thing -- and Zallian is indeed that -- there's no reason to think they're right for every assignment. I hope Zallian can find the human heart of HANNIBAL. It's obvious from the amount of attention already focused on the still early development process for the project, people want to see Lechter and Starling again, as long as it's done right.
I also have to give ign.com props for making me insanely happy with one of their stories, in which they outline the development and specs for a new Playstation game called EVIL DEAD: ASHES TO ASHES. Yes, folks, that's right... you're finally going to be able to pick up the chainsaw in one hand, the shotgun in the other, and get groovy on some wicked cabin zombies. Bruce Campbell is providing the voice for the game, recording all sorts of new material. Since there's nothing but the vaguest of rumor about future EVIL DEAD movies at this point, geeks like me will probably rejoice at this announcement that promises some respite for us hardcore addicts to the series. THQ and Heavy Iron Studios have just become my favorite new friends thanks to the promise of new Ash, folks... as if the announcement of the McFarlane Toys Ash figure wasn't already enough to make me cry from joy.
Now let me follow up one last story that IGN ran yesterday, since they only had part of it. Eric Roth has been making sounds lately about writing a FORREST GUMP sequel, making sounds about how Tom Hanks is part of the development, and he's been making really coy sounds lately about the subject of the sequel. All that is true. Wanna know what it's going to be about? Remember... you heard it here first. It's a spoiler, too, so if you don't want to know... RUN, FORREST, RUN!! Gump's little boy is going to pull a Jenny, and Gump is going to be rocked to his very core and have to turn to religion to help him figure out what's happened. This will send him on a trip through all the religions of the world, giving Hanks and (presumably) Zemeckis a chance to make comment as they jump from Catholicism to Judaism to Buddhism, along with every other faith of the world. Can't wait to see Gump in the sure to be hysterical snake handling sequence.
Actually, all kidding aside, Roth and Hanks and everyone else involved should be careful, since they're evidently not allowed to discuss religion to any serious degree. If they say the wrong thing about Jesus, William Donahue and the Catholic League may come down on them. If they say the wrong thing about L. Ron Hubbard, they'll have Scientologists crawling all over them. And if they're really not careful, they could end up like Terrence McNally, who has now joined Salman Rushdie in the dubious honor of having a death fatwah issued against him by an Islamic extremists group over his play CORPUS CHRISTI, which just opened in London. I haven't seen McNally's play, so I'm not going to comment on what I think of his handling of a homosexual Jesus in the piece. I'm sure it's more sensitive and thoughtful than the infamous exploitation film HIM ("Why do you think he hung out with 12 guys?") from the '70s, but of course, there's no way McNally didn't know that the piece would cause controversy when he wrote it. That doesn't mean anyone has the right to kill him over the piece. I'm so saddened when any attempt to bring any alternative viewpoints into a discussion about religion, whether in real life or in art, results in people ending up further apart instead of closer together. It baffles me how the whole puruit of faith -- an attempt to understand one's relationship with mankind and the eternal -- can result in hatred or violence. It does, though. I couldn't even write a review for Luc Besson's magnificent THE MESSENGER (a view I'll stand behind even as other critics jump into a monkey pile on it as the release date approaches) without being bombarded by some truly twisted mail questioning my background and my motives in discussing Joan and her relationship with the Church.
I contend that it is literally impossible in this day and age to write anything of any serious intent regarding religion without causing outrage from someone. When CORPUS CHRISTI opened in London, members of Al-Muhajiroun -- a.k.a. The Defenders of The Messenger Jesus -- handed out copies of the fatwah, signed by Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad, judge of the Shari'ah Court of the U.K. Why take it to that extreme? You don't like the play, you should be free to stand outside and explain to people why. That's the power of art, man. It challenges you, it dares you to react. But the minute that protest becomes the threat of violence, the threat of death... I can't fully describe to you how sad that makes me. Somewhere, some artist read that story about McNally, and they reflected on something, some piece of theirs, something that they may have already created or that they might just be considering... and they had second thoughts. They had doubts. They thought, "Is it worth it?" I don't fault them. Who wants to invite that into their life? It doesn't matter if the fatwah against McNally ever comes to fruition; the one against Rushdie didn't. In the end, the damage is done. If even one artist doubts himself or muffles himself or censors himself out of fear... then we're all poorer for it.
Speaking of censorship, I'd like to address something else quickly. Recently, ACCESS HOLLYWOOD signed a deal with Hollywood Stock Exchange to produce a Friday segment that predicts the weekend's box-office. It's just more meaningless numbers being spouted by more talking heads, exactly what television doesn't need, but there's plenty of people who get their rocks off playing HSX, so it seemed like a decent idea for a regular segment. Instead, the studios freaked out at the idea of someone on TV playing the kind of "fantasy football" prediction games that are so popular online. There was a lot of threatening and posturing back and forth, and the fate of the segment's now up in the air.
I'm not going to pretend like this is a "freedom of the press" issue, since ACCESS HOLLYWOOD is not the press. It's puff piece publicity machine press release fluff, and that's exactly why people watch it. That kind of shows lives and dies based on its relationships with the studios. I mean, for chrissakes, the name of the show is ACCESS HOLLYWOOD. They are freakin' invited. Piss off the people you work for and get uninvited, and the show doesn't really work anymore. I think you'll see the show do exactly what the studios want. If that means losing the segment, it's gone. You'll hear a lot of noise about how television's not ready for the Internet yet, and how it's censorship. Nonsense. It's possible to tell the truth about this industry online and on television, but you have to do it without relying on the old lines of communication and information. I know there was a bit of hubbub here on the site and in the press when USA TODAY ran their recent story about Harry pitching the AICN TV show. Let me just weigh in with this one thought about the plans that AICN has for television: it's nothing anyone expects. It is going to be genuinely thrilling to play with a whole new medium and to try and create something that no one else has done in terms of bringing you a unique insight into the world of film. Harry's got some great ideas up his sleeve, everyone. When he's ready to share everything with you, I promise you'll get as excited as I am.
I don't mean any disrespect, but what's up with Lucasfilm right now? Are they feeling the pressure of EPISODE II? Are they just hurting from the fan backlash against EPISODE I? I hope that the various sniping comments we've heard from Lucasfilm over the last few weeks have been misquotations, but if they're not, I'd like to suggest that they be the last such public quotes made. First Ringbearer.org reported that some Icelandic paper (which never did get named by anyone) supposedly ran an interview with Lucas where he bagged on Peter Jackson's upcoming LORD OF THE RINGS project, subtly (and not so subtly) suggesting that no FX company besides ILM could pull off the pictures. I don't know... that just doesn't sound like Lucas to me. It seems like poor sportsmanship to start taking potshots at someone else's movie that just happens to be opening at the same time as one of yours -- RETURN OF THE KING versus EPISODE II, if all works out correctly. I hope Rick McCallum was more tactful than to actually call MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 a "disaster" when interviewed by AUSTRALIAN INDEPENDENT FILMMAKERS MAGAZINE. The interview is quoted by Mr. Showbiz in an piece about how many of the smaller roles in the next two films will be filled by Australians, introducing a whole new accent into the STAR WARS universe. That's cool, and I can get behind Lucas and McCallum in their decision to go to Australia. I'll be honest... I want to eventually relocate the Labs down under. I think it would be amazing. There's a great film community there, just ready to be worked. For years, independent Australian films and New Zealand films have been among the most interesting and consistent in world cinema. I think it's very, very cool that somewhere, right now, the first day of filming on Baz Luhrmann's MOULIN ROUGE is underway. This could be a glorious experiment, a full-blown musical that works and reinvents the form, or it could be Luhrmann's ONE FROM THE HEART. Either way, what a great and crazy risk. I love that EPISODE II and III and MATRIX II and III and LORD OF THE RINGS and so much more is going to be all shot in this one corner of the world, all at roughly the same time. There's going to be such a fertile cross-polinization of talent and energy that we're bound to get some wonderful things from it. I'm personally praying that M:I2 is going to Woo at his biggest and best. I'm not going to read the script before the film comes out, and I'm not going to be reading spoilers. If you feel like writing me about the movie, don't. I'm waiting for that one. I think it's poor form for Lucas to take shots at the film. He was hammered with enough criticism for his movie that he should be focused on the two films still ahead of him. That's enough for anyone to concern themselves with.
I had the distinct pleasure of reading an advance copy of Bill Zehme's LOST IN THE FUNHOUSE: THE LIFE AND MIND OF ANDY KAUFMAN this week. It's slow going at first, but once it picks up and gets into Andy's actual work, there is a wealth of material here that I'd never heard or read anywhere. The book is filled with personal memories of Andy from everyone who ever met him, worked with him, or even saw him perform it seems. It's meticulously researched, and it offers a portrait of Andy that I had never seen. Between this, Zmuda's book, and MAN ON THE MOON, it's just a preposterously wonderful time to be a Kaufman fan. Now if I could just track down a copy of THE TONY CLIFTON STORY by Andy Kaufman and Bob Zmuda to read, I'd die of bliss.
I assume all of you heard the enormously cool news that Brad Bird has been signed to develop the feature film version of CURIOUS GEORGE for Universal and Imagine. I was never a giant fan of the idea of bringing Curious George to life; big fan as a kid, and there's a delicate nature to the stories that just doesn't seem like it could survive the translation to the screen. Well, with Brad aboard, I'm sold. I'm there opening weekend. I have absolute faith now that it will be a film that honors the spirit of the original books. He's also the only person I'd ever consider apt as a director for a CALVIN & HOBBES film (another project I'm dead set against for reasons that would take too long to explain here). I'm sure Imagine was thrilled when THE IRON GIANT swept the 27th Annie Awards Saturday night. I was. I know the film never broke $30 million at the box office, but the animation community recognized the film with fifteen major awards, including excellence in character animation, effects animation, directing, music, storyboarding, writing, theatrics, individual voiceover and production design. Awesome. Absolutely right on the money. Bird and his team have made a film for the ages, one that will be remembered far beyond this year's various brutal box office skirmishes. Bird is the one who first suggested to me this spring that we could set our expectations higher with our filmmakers, and I've had my expectations met time and time again this year with films that have taken my breath away for one reason or another.
I'm absolutely stone cold sure that you'll agree with me when it comes to Tim Burton's triumphant return to form SLEEPY HOLLOW. This is not a film; it is a spell that Burton casts on the viewer, a child's remembered version of a Hammer film. It is the SLEEPY HOLLOW we all saw after the Irving book had been put away, when we were trying to get to sleep. There are moments of haunted beauty in the film, image after unforgettable image, and the nighttime Horseman rides are truly stunning. The sounds, the sight of the Horseman in full gallop, sword or axe swinging -- god, Tim's created a thing of beauty here. I'm wrestling with whether or not I feel this is Burton's best work. ED WOOD is amazing in a totally different way, and comparing the films may be futile. This is the Burton that I always hoped he would become. In his original BATMAN, I thought one of the film's biggest weaknesses was the mishandling of the action scenes. Burton never really seemed to have the heart for it. Now, though, he's found the heart, and he delivers some astonishing kinetic sequences that really end up being jarring, exhilarating. He's also finally found the perfect balance between horror and humor, knowing just when to tweak the audience this way or that.
Sitting in the Paramount theater tonight, Harry and Robie and Segue all vanished. I had no sense of them. I was transported by the film. It's magic from the moment it begins. Even under the Paramount logo and the Mandalay logo, there's that first hint of Elfman, those first few creeping notes, and then the credits begin, smoke against the darkness, leading us into the first scene, the first ride, the beheading of Van Garrett (Martin Landau). It's shocking, bloody, genuinely scary. When we meet Ichabod Crane, it's quick, his character etched in as we get a quick glimpse at the world he lives in. It's just before the millennium, at the dawn of the 19th Century. He's a man of science, a man ahead of his time. He's almost immediately dispatched to Sleepy Hollow by Christopher Lee in a memorable, wicked little role, and then the credits continue. It's beautiful, propulsive, and it wastes no time in setting the mood, in painting the picture. Burton and Emmanuel Lubezki are a magnificent team, and if the film were ravishing only as a visual confection, that would be more than enough. It's that hypnotic.
That's not it, though; there's more... a lot more. Tim's jammed this film so full of wonders that if I try to list them all, I'll end up spoiling the whole film for you. Jeffrey Jones, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gough, Ian McDiarmid, Lisa Marie -- ESPECIALLY Lisa Marie -- Michael Gambon, and even Casper Van Dien all contribute memorable moments to the film. They've all got great faces, and the film is spilling over with character. In particular, though, let me praise Christopher Walken for his feral work as the Hessian Horseman, Christina Ricci for striking just the right tone as Katrina, and Johnny Depp, who continues to prove himself one of the most consistently fascinating actors working. He is funny, dashing, goofy, daring, and charismatic as Ichabod, but he never once lets you catch him working at it. There's an effortless grace to the performance, and Depp and Burton deliver another classic character to the pantheon. Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and now Ichabod Crane -- I'd say they just became my official favorite actor/director team on the planet. I'm not sure what it is that defines their chemistry, but it's impossible to deny.
I'm genuinely baffled how anyone could walk out of this film disappointed. It is such a fast-paced, confident film, never misstepping, never erring in the choices it makes. Tom Stoppard's uncredited rewrite took the Headless Horseman of Andy Kevin Walker's script and made him a little less Terminator, a little more avenging ghost. It also managed to elevate the film from an action-horror piece to a classic dark fable. I think this film has a magnificent texture that only Burton could have pulled off. He seems more in touch with his gifts as an artist here than he ever has been. Maybe it was the heartbreak of SUPERMAN, but something seems to have changed him in some way, and I'd say it's for the better. I've been a fan since PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, but I've never been blind to Tim's weaknesses. His films have always seemed to be pleasing him than pleasing the audience. That's not the case here at all. This film never once takes the easy way out in any scene. If there's a way to take it one step further, make it one bit better, Tim does. He adds visual flourish to every moment without once losing focus of a scene. There's nothing here for the sake of style; it's all in service of the witty script that balances its ghost story and its mystery with aplomb. Stoppard's sure hand -- the same hand that brought so much to both BRAZIL and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE -- haunts the film as surely as the Horseman does.
I hope this movie does phenomenal business. It deserves to. I hope it stands up to TWINE and TOY STORY 2 and END OF DAYS and all the giant December releases. I hope someone gets me a set of the McFarlane toys for Christmas, since they are literally the greatest movie toys of the year, and I will die if I do not own them soon. I hope Tim Burton contines to dazzle us now that he has reclaimed his place as one of the finest fantasy filmmakers, now or ever. Mainly, though, I just hope I get a chance to see the film again about five more times opening weekend.
Tonight, Tuesday, Harry and I will be checking out another major holiday release, and I'm genuinely dying to know how it's going to be. This one's riskier than the last few I've seen. I go into it with no preconceptions. As always, I hope for the best. I'll check in tomorrow to tell you what film it is and how it was. Until then...