Welcome to The Morning Read.
It’s been a genuinely lovely weekend in Asheville, North Carolina. The area is gorgeous, the people were friendly, the food was good, and the movies were plentiful. Not much more you can ask, and now, as I get ready to fly out in the morning so I can get home to my beautiful wife and my baby boys, it’s time to take a look at what’s been going on while I’ve been submerged in ActionFest.
It’s interesting how much information I’ve heard here at ActionFest that I can’t do anything with at the moment, genuinely big news that would get people fired if I printed it. It gives me several jobs to do when I get back to LA this week in order to try to find secondary sources for things, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a frustrating race to pin the stories down before someone else publishes them, which is exactly what happened with the breaking of the news that Rutger Hauer has been cast as the title character in Jason Eisener’s feature film version of “Hobo With A Shotgun.”
If you don’t know the title, that’s fine. When “Grindhouse” was being prepped for release, there was a contest for people to create their own grindhouse-style trailers, and the winner was Jason Eisener. Since then, he’s also made a great short film called “Treevenge” that I reviewed at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, and he’s been working to develop a feature out of the trailer that got him all that initial attention. It’s been a long and frustrating process, but as of right now, the movie is actually shooting, and I think the casting of Rutger Hauer is absolutely amazing. It’s frustrating because just before Quint broke the news over at Ain’t It Cool, we talked about it here at the fest, with the understanding being that we weren’t allowed to write about the casting yet. Oh, well. Good score for Quint. And for those of you who still don’t understand what it is I’m talking about, here’s the trailer that kicked this whole thing off:
Even several years later, that thing makes me smile ever time I see it.
And speaking of fake trailers becoming films, it looks like 20th Century Fox has set an end-of-summer release date for “Machete,” according to Variety. That was Robert Rodriguez’s contribution to the fake trailers in “Grindhouse,” and he co-directed the feature with his longtime editor Ethan Maniquis. It’s set now for a September 3rd release, and I’ll admit… I’m curious to see how he’s expanded it, and what he’s done with a cast that includes Danny Trejo, Robert De Niro, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Jessica Alba, and Lindsay Lohan in what may well be the last film she makes before she vanishes off the face of the earth. It might end up being a total train crash, but I bet it’ll be interesting no matter what. And again, if you don’t remember “Machete” or you’re not familiar with it, here’s the decidedly NSFW original:
Meanwhile, speaking of Ain’t It Cool, Harry Knowles really kicked a hornet’s nest for the third time inside of a week with his article chastising Roger Ebert for his blanket dismissal of “Kick-Ass.” I’m a fan of the film, certainly, but I enjoyed the conversation I had with James Rocchi on my second podcast, in which it was clear that he’s not a fan of the film at all. We bounced several ideas back and forth in that conversation, and at the end of it, I don’t think either one of us was offended or upset by the other’s perspective. With Ebert’s attack on the film, though, a button seems to have been pushed for many people, and I think Harry was desperate to articulate exactly why that bothered him so much. I’ve certainly sparred with Roger over the years on several films. After I published my enthusiastic and glowing review of “Fight Club,” he sent me an e-mail that simply read “You fell for that macho wheezy porn trick – RE.” And when he praised Tarsem’s repulsive serial killer piffle “The Cell,” I sort of lost my mind a bit… so much so that I had to write a second article to address the reaction to that piece. Looking back at those articles and thinking back on those exchanges with Roger, it’s funny how little has changed between then and now. Roger gets very indignant when he is morally offended by something, just as I do, and just as most people do. The difference is that we rarely all agree on the same thing to be offended by, and being complex human beings, we are rarely consistent about what it is that pushes our buttons. Ebert wrote an infamous article back in the ’60s where he described the moral outrage of a viewing of “Night Of The Living Dead,” in which he essentially rejected modern horror films altogether. And yet he’s quoted on the front of many versions of Romero’s “Dawn of The Dead” on home video. How does that work? This is a man who gave “Pretty Baby,” a film I have profound moral reservations about, no less than three stars, and once you’ve done that, attacking any film for how it uses a child actor seems like pretty shaky ground to me.
I don’t have to agree with someone to find a read interesting, though. Ebert launched another attack on the notion of video games as art this weekend, and it’s led to a tremendous response of energy from various other sites and commenters. I think it’s a preposterous conversation in general, and he’s set up a no-win scenario for anyone who wants to debate him on it. I think the most intriguing pieces I’ve read in the aftermath were at Kotaku and at Destructoid, and I’m not sure I agree completely with those, either. I think video games are an intriguing, engaging, entertaining medium, and whether they’re art or not, people have deeply personal reactions to them. Ebert is under no obligation to take them seriously or play them or even pay attention to them, and the gaming community is under no obligation to take his opinion on them seriously at all. I read Roger Ebert for his take on film and culture, and I am well aware of his blind spots. This is one of them, and railing at him over it seems unlikely to do any good for anyone. There are plenty of smart young writers out there who are turning out reviews and editorials about games that are worth reading, and I’m far more interested in their opinions on a medium they love than the words of someone who has said repeatedly that he finds games, as a whole, pathetic.
More than ever, the generation gap seems acutely visible, and perhaps it’s the nature of the modern media landscape. I adore Ray Harryhausen, and I’ve been sharing his films with Toshi for the last year, an experience that has been unfailingly pleasant. I would love to think that Harryhausen is able to look at the modern landscape of FX and see how his work is part of an evolution in the creation of the fantastic on film, but an interview like this suggests that is not the case. That makes me a little sad, but no matter. His work lives on today thanks to Blu-ray, and the argument about which version of “Clash Of The Titans” is the definitive version will be able to continue in the future when both films are able to sit side-by-side on a shelf.
But then you read a piece like this profile of Mel Brooks, and you can see how an artist in their twilight years can stay engaged and spry, and his comments about how comedy has become more conservative since the days of “Blazing Saddles” is dead on. I had a conversation earlier tonight with a distributor about how hard it’s been for the Chris Morris film “Four Lions” to find a release because of its subject matter (it’s a broad comedy about three London jihadists who want to blow up the London marathon), and I’m sure Brooks would be annoyed by the hesitation. He’s been burning down sacred cows for decades now, and given the opportunity, I’m sure he’ll happily go right on doing so.
And finally, if you want to check out Steven Zeitchik’s take on ActionFest, he’s summed it up as an outsider looking in for his blog on the LA Times website. I met Steven for the first time this weekend, and it’s always interesting to read someone’s coverage after being around them face-to-face. I’ll have my own coverage of the festival for you once I’m back in LA, and on that note, I really should pack and get ready to go. It’s been a great three days, but there’s a ton of stuff I want to get ready for you this week, and it’s going to be a really busy next few days as a result.
The Morning Read appears here every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Except when it doesn’t.
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