The third season of Homeland has released its trailer. Its tone is working hard to drizzle on your fun Friday mood, so proceed with caution: "To Build a Home" is not the song you are going to want to bump on your drive out of the office today. "To Build a Home" is a Monday-morning sadjam. Brody's daughter gets hounded by paparazzi, Carrie cries on a bed and contemplates her frown in a mirror, and someone's hand caresses kitchen linoleum. Best served with a side of Abilify.
Modern scientists are locked in an intensive search for a unified theory of theoretical physics, something that will connect string theory and general relativity and quantum field theory into an ultimate theory of everything. Will we ever see them reach that magic day in our lifetimes? Chances are slim. But don't despair: At least someone has figured that all out for Pixar.
Last week, blogger Jon Negroni posted "The Pixar Theory," an ambitious, overwhelming attempt to connect the fantastical realities of every movie the good folks at that dream factory have produced. The basic concept: "Every movie is connected and implies major events that influence every single movie." Since he's posted it, he's updated it with additional information, advice, and tidbits from careful readers, fleshing out his Pixar unification and threading the needle from talking animals to sentient robots to the very destruction of the human race. Who knew Pixar had so much in common with Skynet?
Only God Forgives, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
How nice it would be to report that the second teaming of Refn and Ryan Gosling has produced something as ecstatic and electrically nasty as their first. But the nastiness this time isn't nice. It's just ... nasty. This isn't Drive. It's a rib cage rolling on human heads for tires. Gosling is a dude who operates a muay thai gym in Bangkok and dreams of having his hands sliced off. He's not wrong to be scared. Vithaya Pansringarm plays an ex-cop who, starting with Gosling's rapist-murderer brother, hacks his way through anyone who exploits or kills anyone's daughters — or anyone related to Gosling.
Refn usually works on the border between classicism and formal chaos. His shotmaking and choreography are pristine, even when the images are splattered with blood. The film editing is precise. The sound design imaginative. The art direction museum-quality. This is more of the same — the Crayola color would be "viscera" — but all that craftsmanship is put to obvious, indulgent ends. It doesn't take long to deduce that the vengeful slicing and hacking of limbs and the like are Refn living out some kind of castration nightmare. (At 89 minutes, the movie lasts as long as a bad nap.) To put too fine a point upon that dread, along comes Kristin Scott Thomas as Gosling's slum queen with a dirty mouth and filthier intentions. Her participation is as much a stunt as any of the sword work. (The most loving, if grotesque, image happens not to be phallic but vaginal.)
Silver: I find my complete indifference to this trailer vexing. For a film written and directed by Judd Apatow I feel like I should have been laughing more. Even the bits with Apatow ringers like Jason Segel and Melissa McCarthy only elicited a smile from me. In just three films (This is 40 being the fourth) Mr. Apatow has proven that he’s successfully stolen the melodrama torch away from Cameron Crowe (for the time being). Apatow makes such a concerted effort for his films to tonally and thematically slalom down the narrative hill between humor and drama that films like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up felt unnecessarily long, and a film like Funny People played like two different movies. So for a trailer positioning a film as THE holiday comedy it would have been nice to have a few legitimate laugh-out-loud moments (“Ah! Kelly Clarkson!”). Nevertheless, I’m going to chalk this up to bad marketing, this is a film (and filmmaker) I am more than willing to give the benefit of the doubt.
Among my growing list of signs the Mayans are probably right about 2012 — in addition to a Harvard-educated Asian American Christian taking the NBA by storm — would have to be Pixar’s omission from the Best Animated Film Oscar nominees. Sure, pointing out that Cars 2 didn’t make the cut probably stokes as much indifference as hearing your spoiled cousin whine about only getting an Audi for her sweet 16. Nonetheless, Pixar’s sole rep at the Theater-Previously-Known-as-Kodak this year is director Enrico Casarosa, whose La Luna was nominated for Best Animated Short.
As I hope I’ve made clear by this point in our Oscar journey, I love awards. I cover them, I handicap them, I tweet them, I do useless math about them, I would happily volunteer to accept them if the actual winners could not attend, and I watch them. On Sunday I got really excited about the complicated, layered irony of Bon Iver winning Best New Artist at the Grammys even though I’m about 80 percent sure that I don’t know who he is. So when I propose the elimination of an award, please understand that it’s with a heavy heart. That said, when it comes to the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, my strong feeling is, to quote Padma Lakshmi: Please pack your knives and go.
Pixar, that famed oasis of wit, wonder, and imagination, stumbled slightly this summer with Cars 2, the studio’s first movie ever to get beaten up by the critics. But it still made over half a billion dollars (a.k.a. "Jay-Z money") and everybody assumes Pixar will get its swag back with the next one. Which is Brave, a magical Scottish adventure in which the King’s rebel daughter battles some big-time hexes and curses. This is the first Pixar movie to feature a female lead and was conceived by animation OG Brenda Chapman, who was inspired in part by her relationship with her own daughter. Chapman spent six years on the project as director — until she was fired last spring owing to creative differences. She was then replaced by a dude, Mark Andrews. Even without Chapman, though, Brave will still feature a female protagonist and POV. If it’s good, Brave can still be the barrier-busting Bridesmaids of animation.
Over the weekend the critic-proof money-printers at Pixar announced two upcoming, top-secret projects. The first, scheduled for the end of 2013, is about dinosaurs — more specifically a world in which dinosaurs and humans co-exist. (Story credit: Michele Bachmann?) This seems like a slam-dunk for the studio as the only possible subject matter with greater universal appeal to children is GoGurt.
Every summer it happens, as reliable as fireworks or Shark Week: The geniuses at Pixar release a new animated film, delighting children and melting the persnickety hearts of their finicky parents in the process. Nothing has changed in 2011 — except the last part. Today Pixar releases Cars 2, a sequel to what had previously been the beloved studio’s least loved effort. And the early word isn’t pretty. (Quoth the New York Post: "They said it couldn’t be done. But Pixar proved the yaysayers wrong when it made its first bad movie, Cars. Now it has worsted itself with the even more awful Cars 2.” Snarks the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “With Cars 2, Pixar goes somewhere new: the ditch.”) With a Rotten Tomatoes score currently parked at a putrid 36 percent fresh (by way of comparison, Toy Story 3, last year's offering, sports a show-offy 99 percent), not even the wizards of Emeryville can ignore the ominous rattling coming from their animated engine.
This week brings the release of Super 8, director J.J. Abrams’ bighearted tribute to the sort of wide-eyed, family-friendly alien adventure movies Steven Spielberg used to make before he discovered less interesting things such as American history, Oscars, and Tom Hanks. The compelling wrinkle? Spielberg himself is the film’s executive producer and, in Abrams’ words, its "key voice." Imitation, flattery, and outright theft have a long, distinguished, and shameless history in Hollywood — but this strikes us as something different. Rather than merely aping his idol, Abrams is, essentially, making a Spielberg film for Spielberg.
And this got us thinking: What other faded masters could use the vibrant influence of their own artistic descendants — and what current up-and-comers could really use the firm, if graying, hand of an old master? Thus we propose the Director Mentorship Academy, in which younger directors enroll to make a better version of someone else’s movie — with the help of that very someone else. Below are some suggestions for the inaugural class.