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Moriarty's GEEK STATE OF THE UNION Address!! Plus Sylbert Remembered!! Julia's MONA LISA SMILE!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

I want to editorialize a bit today, then eulogize a bit, then discuss a few things winding their way through development right now. That's a lot to accomplish, so let's dig right in, eh?


Savor it.

Take this moment to stop and look around you. Realize that you are living in a golden age. Appreciate this remarkable time, and understand that it doesn't happen often. The stars don't always align. The wind doesn't always blow just right. It's a rare privilege, this sort of avalanche of realized dreams, and you're up to your neck in right now.

So savor it.

Today, I want to look at just why this moment has the potential to be so great for fans of film, why I feel that we've hit a stretch here that will be discussed and enjoyed and debated for years to come. I want to take the moment for what it is, and no matter what comes to pass, I want to mark this as a milestone of optimism, a vantage point from which the future looks rosy and amazing and limitless in what can be. Right now, today, more than anything, I hope.

I'd be going nuts waiting for the summer to start if I didn't think there was so much worth seeking out in the weeks between now and STAR WARS. For example, I'm excited about both AMADEUS and Martin Scorsese's ass-kicking rockumentary THE LAST WALTZ coming back to theaters this weekend, and plan to make events out of both. The week after that, Lions Gate unleashes a one-two punch that I think furthers the idea that they're the new Miramax, the one indie out there that's really stretching, with THE CAT'S MEOW and FRAILTY offering radically different rides to viewers. USA is finally releasing the debut film from Michel Gondry, HUMAN NATURE, which I'm excited about because of Charlie Kaufman. He's one of those names you'll see again and again in this article because he's one of the guys who makes this such an exciting time for viewers. His is a voice worth paying attention to, and we're very fortunate, because studios seem to have figured this out. And speaking of singular voices, you can also see THE RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN by John Sayles in theaters that weekend, a wonderful early film by one of the most integrity-drenched men in independent cinema. Sayles is the real deal, and if you're familiar with THE BIG CHILL but not SECAUCUS, you owe it to yourself to get to a theater and see this while you can. A week later, a very different type of classic gets a rerelease when MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE roars into theaters with a restored print. You jonesing for THE MATRIX or the Jedi action of STAR WARS? Try GUILLOTINE and see if you can handle the kick. Or, if you're in the mood for something else that weekend, you can also try MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING or NINE QUEENS, an indie buzz hit and an Argentine import that are both garnering some serious praise already. You can continue to overdose on eclectic pics like DOGTOWN & Z-BOYS (a phenomenal documentary about skateboarding in the '70s), JASON X (as dumb as fun can be), NIGHT AT THE GOLDEN EAGLE (Adam Rifkin's dark and grimy new indie about life in low places in the heart of LA), THE SALTON SEA (DJ Caruso's kick-ass crime noir thriller that I screened recently at the Egyptian Theater), and VULGAR (A View Askew curiousity about a very filthy clown) as the spring finally wraps up, all in an attempt to cleanse the palette before summer begins.

And isn't this the part of the year where NOTHING is supposed to come out? Looks like things are finally changing for the better.

When May arrives, the very first weekend promises both SPIDER-MAN and HOLLYWOOD ENDING. I'll be honest; I want to see both about equally. SPIDER-MAN looks like damn good fun, but HOLLYWOOD ENDING looks like one of the funniest Woody Allen films in a while. I've been waiting for this Dreamworks deal to yield something special, and it may have finally happened. The nice thing is that these are aimed at such different audiences that I don't think Raimi and Co. are going to poach whatever audience Woody would normally have on an opening weekend, and spillover may actually mean a few extra asses in seats.

So often, I hear film fans complain that the summer belongs to children and is only for the infantilized pop culture cartoons that fanboys adore. Nonsense. One of this year's nominees for Best Foreign Language Film comes out the weekend after SPIDER-MAN, and you can bask in all four hours of LAGAAN: ONCE UPON A TIME IN INDIA for yourself. There's also some actual buzz building for UNFAITHFUL, Adrian Lyne's new film about people who fuck. I don't think it's for me, but WARM WATER UNDER A RED BRIDGE by Imamura just might be.

The weekend after that, it's STAR WARS: EPISODE II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES as far as most of us are concerned, and the more I know and the more I see and the more I hear, the more sure I am that this film is going to rock all serious SW fans in a way that we're just starting to fathom. That soundtrack album is incredible, featuring some of the best work that John Williams has done in a long time. If the film can live up that score, we're up for a real treat. And if you're one of those film fans who aren't interested in STAR WARS (yes, I think they exist) or you just don't feel like fighting with crowds that weekend, then both ABOUT A BOY and THE BELIEVER offer decidedly different choices. I saw Henry Bean's THE BELIEVER at Sundance last year, and I love the film and the lead performance by Ryan Gosling. It's been on Showtime already in the interim, but for a lot of audiences, this theatrical run will be their first chance to see the movie. ABOUT A BOY is from the same producers as FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL and NOTTING HILL, the film that did so well as counter-programming opposite THE PHANTOM MENACE when it was released in '99, and the early buzz on the movie is strong.

Memorial Day weekend means we get a new film from Christopher Nolan, who won over so many hearts and minds with MEMENTO last year, and I personally love the script for the INSOMNIA remake. I think it's a really effective retelling of the same basic story as the original, but with great star turns for Robin Williams and Al Pacino. Family audiences will no doubt embrace SPIRIT, the new Dreamworks animated epic about the life of a horse in the American West. Lorna Cook, the film's director, has been working her way towards this for a long time, ever since her days at Don Bluth's company, and I'm betting she's produced something personal and even somewhat poetic. The nice thing about SPIRIT is that it will speak in large part to an audience that hasn't had an animated film of their own for a while, the young girl audience that has been proven to be a powerful ticket-buying base when properly inspired. There's something timeless about the connection that girls have to horses, and this should connect in a big way.

And the rest of this summer is packed with films that I genuinely want to see. I don't have any sort of deep emotional attachment to the work of Tom Clancy. I think he spins good yarns. As a result, I think THE SUM OF ALL FEARS looks pretty good. Besides, I'm always hoping for a good Phil Alden Robinson film every time he works. If you're a stickler for the details in an adaptation, I'd say you should probably skip this entirely, because it'll just give you a headache, but I love this kind of big action film set against the background of the intelligence community. That's the same reason I hope that Doug Liman's THE BOURNE IDENTITY is a winner. Matt Damon's a good choice for this type of film precisely because it's not what you'd expect. Franke Potente also goes a long way towards convincing me to see a movie... any movie... and the script for this was good, with a lame ending that I hear got reworked extensively before it was shot.

I plan to go see THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE with my buddy Patton, who is obsessed with Robert Evans and does a gaspingly funny impression of him, and am pleased to have a documentary to turn to when I get overloaded on blockbusters like MINORITY REPORT or MEN IN BLACK 2 or Disney's sure-to-hit LILO & STITCH. I am going to wish on every star in the sky that John Woo's WINDTALKERS turns out to be something akin to his classic A BULLET IN THE HEAD, and not the miserable train wreck I've been told it is by people who have seen it. I am going to hope that Warner Bros. is smart enough to somehow cut a film that is nothing but Matt Lillard and the spooky talking dog, turning SCOOBY-DOO into something that works despite Raja Gosnell's presence and the hideous James Gunn script. I am going to pray that Jackie Chan delivers playful fun with THE TUXEDO. I want to have a great summer. I want to be able to enjoy all of these films and more.

As the rest of this year unfolds, much of the class of '99 is back with new films. Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who worked so well as the creative team behind ELECTION, are back with ABOUT SCHMIDT, a Jack Nicholson film that is quite beautiful and knowing and funny on the page, and which features a Kathy Bates performance that is already building early Oscar buzz for next spring. Likewise, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman are following up their brilliant BEING JOHN MALKOVICH with the challenging and deranged ADAPTATION, a film that was fearless and terrifying and ferociously funny on the page. And I even confess a desire to see what Jay Roach and Mike Myers have cooked up for the latest AUSTIN POWERS installment. They may not be telling radically different stories each time out, but neither does the Bond franchise, which they're still ribbing mercilessly. Besides, I hear that the MGM maneuvering that forced New Line to drop the GOLDMEMBER title has pissed off Roach and Myers so much that they went back and rewrote the film to be more savage, more pointed. They've turned it up and this time, they're looking for blood. That's when great comedy can happen, fuelled by anger, and I look forward to seeing what they've done. Then there's Sam Mendes, winner of Best Picture that year for his debut feature, AMERICAN BEAUTY. We're going to see if he can do it again, working with Tom Hanks this time on a gangster-era riff on LONE WOLF & CUB, a film with one of the most striking one-sheets I've seen in a while, THE ROAD TO PERDITION. The pressure is on for him to deliver again, just like it is for M. Night Shyamalan, who blew up in August of '99 when THE SIXTH SENSE was released. I had been a fan of his for a while by that point, thanks to my reading of his scripts (thanks again, Den, for pointing the way so early), but no one has had a look at any of SIGNS. He's turned into a security freak now, and is guarding every detail of his crop circles mystery. Are there aliens involved? What do the crop circles mean? On the surface, those questions bore the piss out of me, but it's Shyamalan... I'll give the guy the benefit of the doubt every time out. PTA has been MIA since MAGNOLIA, but he's back this fall with his mysterious Adam Sandler film, and I'm dying to know what the hell it's all about. And, of course, the guys behind the wonderful OUT OF SIGHT are back, both together and apart. Soderbergh's got FULL FRONTAL coming out at the end of the summer, while Clooney's making his directorial debut with CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, a film that was already long-stalled by '99, and which is just now finally making its way to the screen. Then they're working together again on SOLARIS, a new adaptation of the Stanislaw Lem novel, a film I personally can't wait to see. It's a brutally sad and adult film featuring some strong sexual material that really paints a picture of what it is that we all attempt to find in intimacy. It's less SF than inner journey, and I'm dying to see how they slip this by the mainstream.

It's no accident that I mention 1999, either. That was the last really great year of film that we had, and working here at AICN, I turned out over 400,000 words of coverage that year. I was drunk on movies all year long, in love with what was going on. Picking a favorite film from that year is next to impossible for me. And at this point in 1999, we were just starting to realize what sort of year we were in for. I'm getting that same feeling now, and it's got me excited all over again to be writing this coverage for you.

As for the rest of the year, I have no idea how everything's going to turn out, since much of the stuff is still shooting, but I know that I plan to dunk myself headfirst into BULLETPROOF MONK, STARK RAVING MAD, ONE HOUR PHOTO, ECKS VS. SEVER, TREASURE PLANET, WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD, KILL BILL, REIGN OF FIRE, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, SIMONE, and XXX. Will they all work? Who knows? They might all stink. But they've all got something about them... a director, or a writer, or a concept, or an actor... that makes me want to see them, that makes me want to believe they'll be great. At least they're all originals. It's nice to have the choice when we're also getting so many franchise pictures this year. A new Bond film (DIE ANOTHER DAY), a new Jackson/Tolkein epic (THE TWO TOWERS), another visit to Hogwart's (HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS), a new Mariachi action epic (ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO) as well as the return of Carmen and Juni (SPY KIDS 2), and, to top everything off, the final voyage of the Next Generation crew in STAR TREK: NEMESIS.

I am a hopeless sucker for "dream projects." I always root for people when they are finally getting a chance to do their "dream projects." I'm incredibly primed at this point to see Martin Scorsese's GANGS OF NEW YORK. That script by him and Jay Cocks and Kenneth Lonergan is a thing of beauty, and the reports from early screenings have been great. If he delivers with this one, then let's hope Hollywood finally takes the opportunity to reward Scorsese with its highest honors. I think it's insanity that right now, Scorsese and I are tied for how many times we've won Best Director. James Toback has been struggling to make HARVARD MAN for a lot of years, and despite the fact that Toback is a lunatic, he's a talented guy who has made some very good films. He's been carrying this around with himself for a while, and maybe that's paid off in something great. Last year, we watched Steven Spielberg interpret Stanley Kubrick's longtime obssession, A.I., and this year, rising German star Tom Tykwer is bringing the last script of the late, great Kryztof Kieslowski to the screen as HEAVEN, a film co-starring Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi that premiered to hot debate at this year's Berlin Film Festival.

And I know I've railed about remakes on this site, to the point of starting a column just to discuss them as they're announced. But I have to admit an intense curiousity about Dreamworks's remake of RING, the Japanese horror film. I thought that movie was long on mood and concept, and short on delivery. Who knows? They might actually come up with something that improves on the original. The studio's big holiday season release looks to be Steven Spielberg's CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, and I am curious to see what becomes of this Leonardo Di Caprio vehicle based on a very strong script by Jeff Nathanson. Last time Spielberg did the big summer movie/smaller more personal Christmas films in one year, it was 1993 and the one-two punch of JURASSIC PARK and SCHINDLER'S LIST. If this year is anywhere near as good as that one for him, he'll be on top of the world by the start of 2003.

And what of next year and beyond? Is this going to be one of those cycles that burns out within a year? Or could it be that we've caught a wave that might last? DAREDEVIL kicks off 2003, and I don't care what any embittered fanboy says: I've read the script, I've seen the storyboards, I like the casting, and I think this movie's going to rock. I am sticking my neck out there right now and saying that you are going to change your tunes when you see what Mark Steven Johnson's up to. No matter what you think of his work before now, this is one of those "dream projects" I mentioned. This is a guy who remembers being a kid, sitting outside a local store, waiting for it to open because it's the day DAREDEVIL is due, a guy who's been carrying around this movie for 20 years in his head. Hey... if Kevin Smith is excited about it, I'd say he knows his stuff, wouldn't you?

Lawrence Kasdan is a long time fave of mine, and even when he's off his game, he's better than a lot of guys out there. Working from a novel by Stephen King that's been adapted by William Goldman, I'm rooting for him to turn DREAMCATCHER into something great, just like I'm praying that the casting of Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson pays off in ANGER MANAGEMENT in the same way that De Niro and Stiller in MEET THE PARENTS worked so well. Of course, we'll be seeing MEET THE FOKKERS at the same time, so we'll see which combo audiences embrace more.

That's just the tip of the iceberg for sequels in 2003. There's a new X-MEN film, a new CHARLIE'S ANGELS film, and the combined impact of not one, but TWO big sequels to THE MATRIX in the space of six months. RELOADED is in the summer and REVOLUTIONS is in the fall, at least as far as Warner Bros. says right now. We'll see if the Wachowskis are able to pull off this minor miracle; at least Peter Jackson gave himself a year between films. I don't know what I think about TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES, but I know that hiring Jonathan Mostow, as good a B-filmmaker as there is working right now, looks like a step in the right direction since Cameron's not involved in the thing. Now that Nick Stahl is onboard to play John Connor, I'm expecting them to cast William Mapother as the new Terminator any day. We'll see if Universal can get a franchise out of THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK, Vin Diesel's return to the world that was established in PITCH BLACK. I'm hoping early reports aren't true about how Riddick is facing another alien species that likes the dark. In a limitless SF galaxy, it would be a shame if their scope of vision was so limited, no pun intended. SAHARA is Rob Bowman's attempt to give Paramount a big action franchise by adapting Clive Cussler's successful Dirk Pitt character to the bigscreen. I've always thought these books were borderline parody to begin with, so I'm dying to see how they play them onscreen. And the idea of an EXORCIST prequel didn't mean much to me until I read the script that tells the story of Father Merrin's first encounter with the Devil in the sands of Africa. It could well be a powerful, scary film that's worthy of the EXORCIST name if properly shot, and I've certainly got no complaints about someone trying to make good horror films. And, of course, 2003 closes out Peter Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS series with THE RETURN OF THE KING, the film I've always thought was going to be the real powerhouse of the three. If the last forty minutes or so don't break your heart into a million pieces, you may not have one. Isn't that worth looking forward to?

If DAREDEVIL works, here's hoping we are also lucky enough to get a HULK that rampages ably and a FANTASTIC FOUR that delivers the goods. Those properties are better known than THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, but sometimes lesser-known comic book titles loan themselves to adaptation more easily. Stephen Norrington certainly has his work cut out for him, and I hope he's able to realize Alan Moore's extravagant and delightful vision of a Victorian world full of adventure and mystery. Hiring someone like Norrington or Ang Lee seems like the first important step in making these projects work. Strong artists have a better chance of giving us something memorable and worthwhile, something worth rooting for.

The same could be said about Anthony Minghella's COLD MOUNTAIN or Kevin Smith's JERSEY GIRL or Terry Gilliam's GOOD OMENS or Darren Aronofsky's THE LAST MAN or Francis Ford Coppola's MEGALOPOLIS or PJ Hogan's PETER PAN. These are films made by filmmakers with singular voices, guys who have proven themselves to be the real deal at some point. In each of these cases, there's passion behind the projects, and that could translate to films that really speak to viewers, the kinds of films that become favorites, dearly loved, hotly debated at times. Knowing that there's a new Pixar film (FINDING NEMO) or a new Aardman film (TORTOISE VS. HARE) or a new Fincher film (RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA) or a new Coen Bros. film (INTOLERABLE CRUELTY) or even a Jim Carrey film that reuinites him with Tom Shadyac and Steve Oderkirk (BRUCE ALMIGHTY) or that pairs him with Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry (ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS SOUL) just makes me giddy. It's the anticipation that makes this fun. It's knowing that these projects are brewing, out there in the ether right now... that's what keeps me coming back to this page and to CHUD and Coming Attractions and Dark Horizons and every other site I visit in my daily rounds. It's hoping for little bits and pieces of info, puzzle pieces that I can add to my understanding of these nebulous celluloid promises.

I look beyond 2003 and see movies like IRON MAN or WALLACE & GROMIT IN THE GREAT VEGETABLE PLOT or HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN or WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE or THE POLAR EXPRESS or Brad Bird's THE INVINCIBLES or Quentin Tarantino's GLORIOUS BASTARDS or even McG's SUPERMAN, and I root for them. I root for this to just go on and on, this warm and fuzzy glow I've been feeling.

I want it to last through 2005 and the release of STAR WARS EPISODE III. I want it to last through the release of KING CONAN: CROWN OF IRON and INDIANA JONES 4 and BATMAN YEAR ONE and TRUE LIES 2. I want to be surprised all along the way by the little films I never see coming. I want to learn more about international cinema each year, and I want to see guys like Takashi Miike and Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Danis Tanovic and Jean Pierre Jeunet and Alejandro Almenebar all grow into their voices even further and continue to challenge us in ways that American cinema can't.

I stand here today, screaming at the top of my lungs like Veruca Salt, greedy for all of this, even as I acknowledge that I'll be lucky if I really love even 20 of the films I've mentioned here. Damn lucky. I know that. Rationally, I know that despite the best of intentions and the best of source material and the best of ideas and financing and creative elements, things can go wrong. Films are magic because they are an imprecise science. When they work, it's effortless, lighter than air, like it was meant to be. And when they don't, there's nothing you can do about it. They just lay there, beached and bloated, and all you can do is move on to the next thing. I know that, but I choose to look at the future through rose-colored glasses. I hope. I hope with every bit of my being. I refuse to be like so many of the people I see littering our Talk Backs and other message boards around the Web. I refuse to be like the people I talk to in town who just can't find anything to like in films. I refuse to be overwhelmed by the casual cynicism that is so easy to embrace within the industry.

And that's because when I see all the things we have to look forward to, I don't see any reason to close myself off to possibility. Instead, I see every reason in the world to open myself up. No matter what changes occur in my professional life in the days ahead, I'll always return to AICN as an outlet to discuss these things I love, these shared dreams in the dark. As far as I can tell, the state of the Geek Nation is healthy, and there's nothing but blue skies ahead.

And maybe all of this makes me the biggest April Fool of all today, but I plan to enjoy the ride ahead. Here's hoping you all decide to join me.


And now let's turn, having taken a look forward, and take a look back at the career of a truly legendary film artist who passed away Saturday, March 23, finally giving in after a fight with cancer. He was 73 years old, and he's one of those guys whose contribution to film is hard to measure in simple credits. He trained as a painter originally, but was lucky enough to apprentice to one of film's true early visionaries, William Cameron Menzies, eventually becoming a production designer.

He didn't just dress sets, though. Sylbert was one of those collaborators who made every film better by his involvement. His fingerprints are evident on such genuine classics as ROSEMARY'S BABY, BABY DOLL, A FACE IN THE CROWD, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, FAT CITY, CARLITO'S WAY, SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS, LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, THE GRADUATE, CARNAL KNOWLEDGE, THE PAWNBROKER, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, as well as the sizzling six color comic book look of DICK TRACY, the iconic cool of CHINATOWN and SHAMPOO, and the epic winter frost of REDS.

He even spent a brief stint as head of production at Paramount, where he was responsible for greenlighting THE BAD NEWS BEARS. How can you not love this guy?

Sylbert is one of those guys who don't exist in today's film world. He will be deeply missed, and his influence will continue to be felt on films for as long as those movies I listed are available. For that reason, I don't mourn him, so much as I celebrate him, and offer this small testimonial as to how important his influence has been.


I'd like to wrap today up by saying how surprised I was when I read the script for MONA LISA SMILE last week. All I knew going in was that Revolution Studios had purchased the script for Julia Roberts to star in, and a little poking around turned up Mike Newell's name as director. Newell is one of those guys who has been around forever, first working on British television in the '60s. I had no idea what the film was about, though, and the title gave nothing away.

It would be easy to dismiss the script by Larry Konner & Mark Rosenthal as DEAD POET'S SOCIETY in a girl's school, and that's what I started to think as I read the set-up for the piece. Katherine Ann Willis (the Roberts role) is the new teacher at Wellesley, and it's the fall of 1953. Right away, I started thinking of all the cliches in the genre, all the predicatble MR. HOLLANDs and DANGEROUS MINDs that I've sat through, and I wandered for a moment if I even wanted to keep reading.

She's an art history teacher, too, giving her ample opportunity to talk about all of life's big subjects. I decided to read the first 30 pages only and set it aside if the familiarity was too strong.

But after that 30, I read the next 30. Then the next. And before I knew it, I'd burned through all 126 pages, and I found myself genuinely impressed by it as a look at a particular time and place when women were forced to struggle with their roles in the world in a way more direct than anything they face now. The specificity of the setting is what gives this script a real kick, and Julia's role was written smart. Hers is not the journey I thought it would be. She doesn't have all the answers. In a lot of ways, she is learning just as much as the girls in her care, and the fact that she's still young enough to remember being where they were, facing the choices they were, and old enough to regret some of the decisions she made, is what makes her believable, real. She makes mistakes. She tries to live through these girls instead of helping them to find their own way. And eventually, she realizes just how little it is she actually knows, something that many people never achieve. I found myself rooting for Katherine and liking her immensely. I hope the supporting cast around Roberts is filled with fresh faces, actresses who springboard from these great roles into bigger films. It's a true ensemble piece that manages to transcend its subject matter to become more than just "another chick flick," at least on the page. It's a film about how all of us need our particular dreams to survive, and about how unpredictable those dreams can be for anyone else observing us.

On that note, I'm going to take off. I am preparing to try and bring one of my own dreams to fruition a little later this week, and the stress of it has made me a complete freak for days now. Hopefully, I'll be working on some more articles to entertain you and distract me until then. Either that or slamming my head in a door. Whatever does the trick.

Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

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