Saturday, April 29, 2006

United 93

I'm often drawn to movies about the darker side of life. I bought the documentaries "Waco, Rules of Engagement" and "Capturing the Friedmans" and have watched them multiple times. I thought I could handle seeing almost anything on screen.

Then I saw "United 93" today and realized that I, too, have limits. By the time director Paul Greengrass reached the final act, and we all know how it ended, there were several moments that I just couldn't even look at the screen. It's a very well-made, very disturbing movie.

Bear with me, because in order to review it, I'm going to have to look at it two ways: Objectively as a piece of art and subjectively as how it affected me.

Objectively, "United 93" is a very good movie about a very horrible day in American history. From the outset, Greengrass meticulously lays out how it began like any other day, with people going about their business at bustling Newark airport (which I use more often than any airport in the country except Hartzfield in Atlanta.) In this just barely pre-9/11 world, the hijackers don't stand out more than any other passenger, but of course we know who they are.

The air traffic tower scenes from around the country are also meticulously reconstructed, and you can tell that, even before things quickly went way wrong that day, air traffic controllers have just about the worst job in the entire world. As things get more and more chaotic, just before the first plane hits the World Trade Center, I noticed the sound effect of having different bits of dialogue coming from different speakers around the theater, a great way to raise the tension, in case we needed it.

Aboard flight United 93, things are likewise hyperrealistic. Even as they made their eventual move to take back the cockpit, I never thought of these people as anything but regular airline passengers. Greengrass wisely chose not to speculate on what they would have been talking about before the four hijackers took charge of the plane, but we feel an instant connection with them anyway.

All that said, by the end of this one I just felt very, very uncomfortable. I really thought I was ready to watch a real-time, chillingly realistic flight which I already knew would end in disaster. I was way wrong.

Maybe it's because of my experience on 9/11 itself. When the first plane hit the World Trade Center I was asleep. In my defense, I was a night copy editor at the time, and often didn't get to sleep until around 2 a.m. or so.

That morning I was woken up by the phone ringing. I didn't drag myself out of bed fast enough to answer it, and instead ended up playing back a message from my boss at the time, Bill Weaver, that simply said, "Keith, I need you to turn on your TV set and then get down here as quick as possible." Bill is a very nice, very laid-back guy, but I would have appreciated a word of warning before I saw the smoke coming from the tower.

I got to the newspaper as fast as I could, and of course it was pure chaos. As the other planes hit the WTC, Pentagon and then a field in Pennsylvania in succession, I wasn't able to absorb it all because we were simply pulling the info off the wire as fast as we could to get a four-page emergency edition out on the street. After a couple of hours down time, we were back to put out the regular paper. Through it all, I never really had time to digest the magnitude of what had happened. That didn't come until about 2 a.m. or so the next morning, when I stayed up for another four hours or so and watched that footage over and over again.

Even when I grasped everything that had happened, the plight of those passengers who died on United 93 was always secondary to what happened in NYC. No longer. Thanks to Paul Greengrass, for better or worse, their horrid deaths will be etched on my brain for a very, very long time.

I've read many commentaries on this movie, with many writers urging people to see this so we will never forget what really happened on 9/11. Well, I'm as guilty as anyone of sometimes being complacent. I get comfortable in my daily routine and can from time to time forget just what a crazy world we live in.

That said, I can't tell anyone to go see this movie. I normally enjoy giving out my opinion about flicks, or else I wouldn't have started this blog. With "United 93," however, I can only advise you it is a unflinching look at terror, and will stay with you long after you have left the theater.

If you can handle that, buckle up for a movie experience unlike anything you've ever seen before.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Best of Saturday TV Funhouse

I can't remember the last time I sat through a complete SNL, much less stayed up until 1 a.m. to watch TV. This weekend I'll make an exception (or at least program the VCR.)

Finally admitting that the rest of what they spew up every week is, well, crap, Lorne Michaels and his gang have given the entire 90 minutes to Robert Smigel for "The Best of Saturday TV Funhouse," the show's only funny creation in at least five years.

According to a Variety reviewer who has seen the show, The Ambiguously Gay and deliriously funny) Duo are featured prominently and in new segments. We'll also get visits from the ex-presidents and the Divertor, who deflects public attention away from failed GOP policies by directing his powerful scandal-causing ray at Hollywood celebrities.

And he'll again test the limits of taste by taking on the latest made-for-video "Bambi" sequel and affixing anatomically correct genitalia to Hanna-Barbera characters.

My favorite Smigel creations are when he starts with an audio tape, usually something from Stern or at least on that level of maturity, then creates his own visuals which spiral out of control and end up somewhere we never expected.

His cartoons aren't always funny, but they always hit hard and look great with that '70 nostalgia in high gear. And best of all, even if they fall flat, they rarely run more than about 2 minutes apiece.

I miss the real "TV Funhouse" series on Comedy Central. It only seemed to make it for about 10 episodes or so, but it was pure Smigel, and very, very funny. I especially loved his animal creations, which started where Triumph left off and just got more and more foul.

I had heard rumblings that Smigel was teaming up with Tony Millionaire to bring his Maakies strip to Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network. All Tony says on the Maakies site is this: "All of the Saturday Night Live animations are on hiatus, due to an upcoming project!"

Here's hoping that's Maakies on TV, the beginning of Drinky Crow's campaign to rule the earth. For anyone who doesn't know Maakies, here a sample that's (barely) fit for a blog linked from a family newspaper. Click to enlarge and enjoy!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Wu Tang documentary

This one just sounds like pure chaotic fun.

The Wu Tang Clan have to be one of the most fascinating yet frustrating groups in all of hip-hop. At their peak they had even gringos like me hooked on "C.R.E.A.M." and other classics, but their fall has been just as colorful.

Every once in a while, though, we get glimmers of hope like the documentary "Rock the Bells" that make us think it could all (minus Dirty, of course) come back again.

After all, it's not like they've been in hiding all this time. Ghostface has recently set the bar very high for hip-hop in 2006 with his insane masterpiece "Fishscale," and the GZA teamed up with Cypress Hill's DJ Muggs for the fairly great "Grandmasters" just last year.

And they managed to get it together for a brief tour earlier this year (that somehow skipped Atlanta completely, what's up with that?). Now, for those of us who missed it, a documentary has been made about Cali festival producer Chang Weisberg's ultimately successful attempt to reunite the Clan for a show.

From watching the trailer, this one seems to have caught all the craziness that would come with such an undertaking: Frenzied crowd, overcrowded venue, ornery performers and what must have been one hell of a show. As openers we should get to see some solid members of the Rhymesayers stable, including Eyedea & Abilities and Sage Francis.

(As an aside, I attempted to see Eyedea & Abilities at a Pizza Luce in Duluth, Minn., but must admit we didn't make it until their performance. We did, however, see about five other acts, including this duo of white dudes from Wisconsin who made surprisingly cogent rhymes about cheese, a fairly unique experience.)

"Rock the Bells" just aired at the Tribeca Film Festival, and will hopefully get some kind of distribution deal to bring it out somewhere near wide-release world sometime this year. Until then, check out the trailer here and keep hope alive.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Drive-By Truckers A Blessing and a Curse

"Once upon a time my advice to you would have been to go out and find yourself a whore"
- Patterson Hood, "A World of Hurt"

I can still remember when my brother called me and said, "dude, you've got to hear this."

After getting over the embarassment of missing what was going on in my own back yard, I ingested the Drive-By Truckers' two-disc love letter to Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Southern Rock Opera," like musical crack, and have been hooked ever since.

The world's greatest rock band has come a long way since then, and have lost some of its bombast for the new "Blessing and a Curse." I would have written about it sooner, but it's proved to be a hard album to digest.

Whereas the "Opera," "Decoration Day," and "Dirty South" have been great Saturday night records, the kind that, unfortunately feature lyrics that everyone likes to sing along to when the Truckers take over the 40 Watt, "Blessing" is for the morning after.

Which makes it, in its own way, equally great. It's slightly less democratic, with Patterson Hood penning seven songs to two each for Mike Cooley and Jason Isbell.

Under the guiding hand of veteran North Carolina producer Michael Easter, the Truckers have gone pop for this one, and thankfully turned their sights on the human condition rather than spinning any more too-tall tales about Buford Pusser.

Highlights from Hood include the mournful but soulful "Goodbye" and the closing "A World of Hurt," which is actually all about hope. He also shows the Truckers can still crank it up better than anyone as they tear through "Aftermath USA."

Cooley, who proved with "Carl Perkins' Cadillac" and "Marry Me" that he's on a mission to revive the lost art of the Southern pop song, scores again with "Gravity's Gone," which revels in that '70s AM radio sound. Isbell also shows some of his best writing with "Daylight."

One more song worth mention is "Little Bonnie," which delves into family history and marks a welcome return to "Decoration Day" territory.

Overall, it's a great change of pace from a band that has clearly gotten older, probably gotten wiser, and still rocks hard enough to leave the upcoming kids in their dust. Check it out.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Cronenberg and Mortensen, together again

Don't know much about this one yet except what little I could glean from Ain't It Cool News this morning, but I just have to say well yes, it sure is.

In what seems to be a perfect aligning of the stars, director David Cronenberg will reteam with Viggo Mortensen for "Eastern Promises." Plot details are murky, but according to AICN it all has something to with "a Russian prostitute who dies during childbirth, the mafia and a nurse who is dragged into the underworld." Mortensen is signed to play "a mysterious man with ties to the mob."

As if this needed to get any better, it apparently all springs from the mind of Steven Knight, who previously penned the script for Stephen Frears' nearly flawless "Dirty Pretty Things." If you haven't seen that one, a great little semi-thriller about organ smuggling among immigrants in London starring adorable Audrey Tautou and emerging star Chiwetel Ekiofor, rent it now and thank me later.

Cronenberg is that rare director who may have made some missteps in his long career, but has never once, in my opinion, been boring. And his last collaboration with Mortensen, "A History of Violence," was my single favorite movie of 2005, and it just gets better with each viewing. It's not Cronenberg's best work, which I think is 2002's "Spider" with a very disturbed and disturbing Ralph Fiennes, but it asks a lot of smart questions and lets you find your own answers rather than handing them to you. Can't wait to see what he and Viggo cook up next.

Demko's DVD shelf

I normally wouldn't find a commentary track from Roger Ebert anything to celebrate, but in this case I bet it's good.

For a "Special Edition" of Terry Zwigoff's engaging documentary "Crumb," the main draw is apparently a commentary by Zwigoff and Ebert together. For all his many faults, Ebert was an early champion of Zwigoff and this great doco that is as much about the great cartoonist R. Crumb as it is the members of his odd, troubled family.

Timed to promote the upcoming release of Zwigoff's "Art School Confidential," which has me cautiously optimistic, check out this one to see what the director was all about before he teamed up Daniel Clowes to bring "Ghost World" to our world.

I remember well when I saw Woody Allen's "Match Point." My brother and I were driving home from Athens Sunday morning after seeing the Drive-By-Truckers turn the 40 Watt into a pit of sin the night before. A stop in Atlanta for this dark masterpiece from Woody Allen was the perfect counterpoint.

You probably know the story line by now, but if not, it centers on Jonathan Rhys Meyers, a shadowy young man who charms his way into a wealthy family by marrying the daughter (charming Emily Mortimer.) Things get complicated when he has an affair with the son's fiancee (an overmatched Scarlett Johansson,) and things go seriously downhill from there.

Apart from some choice jokes about the rather ridiculous London real estate market, this is an unfunny but very suspenseful tale about the nature of pure evil in the human condition. Not horror movie evil, real evil, and a real return to form for Woody Allen. Think of "Crimes and Misdemeanors," then just think a whole lot darker, and you're getting close. I loved it, and I think you will too.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Cannes Film Festival

With the lineup recently unveiled for the 59th Cannes film fest, the big question is where is David Lynch? (It starts May 17, by the way, if you just happen to have a few thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket and want to do some stargazing.)

His upcoming "Inland Empire," described as a "Mulholland Drive"-style mystery starring Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons and Harry Dean Stanton, was rumored to be a favorite to make the feature competition list. Maybe he just didn't finish it in time.

Even without him, the festival features a strong lineup of filmmakers old and new (I'll only mention the ones I've heard of, but the full list of films in competition is at the end.)

If I had to handicap the field, I'd predict a Latin director will triumph. I'm most excited about Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel," which stars Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Gael Garcia Bernal in three interlocking (I think) stories set in Tunisia, Mexico and Japan. I loved his "21 Grams," and am ashamed to say I didn't manage to see the equally great "Amores Perros" until a week ago.

Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro should also be a favorite with "Pan's Labyrinth," set in Franco's Spain, and don't forget about Pedro Almodovar, who should return to form with "Volver," a drama about three generations of women featuring Penelope Cruz and the welcome return of Carmen Maura. If you're lucky enough to live in one of our bigger cities, keep your eyes out for an Almodovar retrospective featuring remastered cuts of eight of his best flicks.

The Americans are led by Sofia Coppola and Richard Linklater. Though I'll gladly watch Kirsten Dunst do just about anything, I just have a bad feeling about Coppola's "Marie Antionette." Don't know why, especially with Jason Schwartzman, Asia Argento, Rip Torn and Marianne Faithfull in on the fun. I hope I'm wrong, because though "Lost in Translation" got all the (mostly deserved) attention, Coppola's "Virgin Suicides" is one I've watched about five times now and is the work of a first-rate director. See it now.

Linklater will be in competition with "Fast Food Nation," an oddity that seems to be a fictionalized "Super-Size Me." Much more exciting is his upcoming take on Philip K. Dick's "A Scanner Darkly," which only has star Keanu Reeves going against it and will be shown out of competition at Cannes. Keanu's presence should at least guarantee this one makes it out here to wide-release world.

Only one more to mention: The always serious Ken Loach represents Britain with "The Wind that Shakes the Barley," featuring Cillian Murphy in a portrait of Irish Republicans.

There are many more movies in competition, but those are the ones I would want to see if I were, well, going to the festival.

As usual, the jury room sounds like a great place to party. In case he needed more proof that he's the coolest cat on the planet, Samuel L. Jackson gets to hang with Zhang Ziyi, Monica Bellucci and Helena Bonham Carter, among others, and watch and judge flicks. What a hard life.

Here's the list of flicks in competition:

Director: Pedro Almodovar, Spain

Red Road
Director: Andrea Arnold, Britain

La Raison du Plus Faible (The Weakest Is Always Right)
Director: Lucas Belvaux, Belgium

Indigenes (Days of Glory)
Director: Rachid Bouchareb, Algeria

Iklimler (Climates)
Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey

Director: Sofia Coppola, U.S.

Juventude Em Marcha (Youth on the Move)
Director: Pedro Costa, Portugal

El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth)
Director: Guillermo Del Toro, Mexico

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Mexico

Laitakaupungin Valot (Lights in the Dusk)
Director: Aki Kaurismaki, Finland

Southland Tales
Director: Richard Kelly, U.S.

Fast Food Nation
Director: Richard Linklater, U.S.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Director: Ken Loach, Britain

Summer Palace
Director: Lou Ye, China

Il Caimano (The Caiman)
Director: Nanni Moretti, Italy

L'Amico di Famiglia (The Family Friend)
Director: Paolo Sorrentino, Italy

Flandres (Flanders)
Director: Bruno Dumont, France

Selon Charlie (Charlie Said)
Director: Nicole Garcia, France

Quand J'etais Chanteur (I Did it my Way)
Director: Xavier Giannoli, France

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Akeelah and the Bee

There's just something about spelling bees that fascinates me beyond all reasonable attraction. Maybe it's because I'm about as likely to be able to spell the words these kids take on as I am to hit a home run off Curt Schilling.

It's this fascination that, at least for me, managed to lift "Akeelah and the Bee" above all the calculated cliches thrown at it by writer-director Doug Atchison and make it an immensely entertaining flick.

Much of this is thanks to young Keke Palmer, who shows a genuine geekiness (smart geek, not Napoleon geek) we haven't seen in a long time, and Laurence Fishburne, who channels a lot of Morpheus as the zen master/spelling guru who leads the way.

If you can't guess from the title, the story is about 11-year-old Akeelah (Palmer), who rises from Crenshaw Middle School to compete at the National Spelling Bee. Along the way, Atchison shows remarkable restraint in telling her story: He establishes quickly what we all know, that Keke's neighborhood doesn't exactly foster academic excellence, and focuses tightly on the story of Keke and her mentor, former UCLA professor Dr. Joshua Larabee (Fishburne, better than he's been in years.)

Don't get me wrong; we've seen this many, many times before (hopefully you've all managed to forget "Finding Forrester.") What sets "Akeelah" apart is a certain infectious spirit.

There's actually a comment on the IMDB that starts out "Anyone who doesn't like this movie is probably a racist." Well, at least they said "probably." I'm not gonna touch that one, I'll just say that I haven't cheered so much for a character so calculated to be likable as Keke Palmer in a long time. Atchison films the competitions with a real visual flair, using the event's inherent intensity to full advantage.

It does drag quite a bit in parts. As Akeelah and the professor are training, he has to confront the requisite demons that slow things to a halt. Thankfully, the main training montage was set to the Spinners' "Rubberband Man," a song that just makes me smile every time I hear it.

Along the way, you'll see some familiar and friendly faces. Curtis Armstrong, who will still always be best known as "Booger," is just earnest enough as Keke's principal, Earl's "Crabman" Eddie Steeples plays a vaguely menacing neighborhood hood and Angela Bassett (I couldn't remember the last time I had seen her) plays Keke's mother.

After the National Spelling Bee finale that will leave even some of the least cynical among us cringing, a final voice-over from Akeelah let's us know what this was all about. It's agenda filmmaking with a simple message: If we let an entire generation of kids slip away simply because they live in a horrible neighborhood, we're all to blame.

I thought about that as the credits were rolling, until they reached the end of the cast list and I just had to smile again. Several of the kids are identified simply by the words they spelled. This one is just that geeky, and that makes it a joy to watch.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

"American Dreamz"

It's true a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, but with director Paul Weitz this leads to just a minor annoyance.

In "American Dreamz," he knows a little about farce, a little about satire and apparently even less about how the world around him works.

The scenario: Hugh Grant, playing his usual annoying cad, is host of "American Dreamz," an "American Idol" spoof. Contestants include Mandy Moore's Sally Kendoo as a stand-in for Carrie Underwood and Sam Golzari's Omer, an aspiring Arab terrorist who is conflicted because, well, he just wants to croon showtunes. The president, suffering low approval ratings, signs on to judge the finale. There's way too much more going on here, but let's just say it leads to a supposedly explosive finale that's truly a dud.

Having watched, perhaps, five minutes of "American Idol" in my entire life, I nonetheless thought the spoofing on the show was the movie's strongest point. That Bo Bice ringer singing "Rocket Man" was pure comedy, almost as good as Shatner. But, had I gone to get a refill on my coke, I would have missed the five minutes of competition that led to Mandy, Omer and a Hasidic rapper (Adam Busch) being crowned as the finalists.

(There's a joke in here somewhere ... Mandy Moore, a would-be Arab terrorist and a Jewish rapper walk into a bar .. but I digress .. focus!)

One more word about the "Dreamz" stuff: Mandy Moore is a born charmer, and a great singer, and in a so-called spoof of "Idol" we get to see her sing for all of about five minutes? Christopher Guest could have built a solid little spoof around the whole "Idol" phenomenon that would have given her much more to work with, but Weitz apparently had little interest in that.

In another under-developed story line, Dennis Quaid is game to play a sendup of W., but he's given absolutely nothing to work with here. Weitz takes one joke, that VP Cheney (in the movie represented by a fairly funny Willem Dafoe) is the puppet master at the White House.

Well, that is most likely true, but painting the president as a total dingbat misses an opportunity. W. may be many things, but I don't think he's stupid. He knows exactly what he's doing, and much of it is, indeed, scary.

Setting up a more developed version of our current president, whose poll numbers right now are probably enough to make him crave a spot on "American Idol," could have been seriously funny.

The kind of funny Weitz showed flashes of with "American Pie" and even moreso with "About a Boy."

I would have laughed a lot more at either a real spoof of "American Idol" or a "Wag the Dog"-type satire of the Bush gang. I just wish Weitz had picked one and run with it, instead of taking on way too much and just falling flat.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Gilmore Girls creator quits

A dark day indeed. The show, apparently, will go on, but without creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and hubby, executive producer Daniel Palladino.

There will most likely be a seventh season of "Gilmore Girls" on the still-forming CW network, but the duo have told TV Guide they couldn't reach a deal with Warner Brothers to continue, so have quit the show.

Is that a death knell? Probably not, but it's close enough to be worried.

I discovered "Gilmore Girls" about five shows or so into the first season on a friend's recommendation. When I turned it on, mother and daughter Lorelai and Rory were rather petulantly arguing about whose breasts were bigger. I had never seen a show that was so sincerely off-kilter and that moved so fast, and I was instantly hooked.

Since then, as Rory's gone off to Yale, left and come back again and Lorelai has struggled to find happiness in Stars Hollow, the fictional town has been populated with the kind of quirky but instantly identifiable characters you rarely find on TV or anywhere else.

Take the recent run-up to Lane Kim's wedding. It has featured some of the show's best writing ever, and has let a relatively minor character, Mrs. Kim, shine with some of the funniest lines (You let women ride horses?). It features the kind of cast that predecessors like "Northern Exposure" strived for but never found.

It shows that, after almost six seasons, the show is far from getting stale, like "Buffy" did after our heroine died (again) and was brought back (again) after season five.

There are still solid people around the Gilmores, assuming the cast is game for what will probably be a final season on the CW. David S. Rosenthal will stay on as show coordinator, and "Buffy" veteran Rebecca Rand Kirshner, a very funny woman, will still be around to write a lot of the scripts.

But you get the sinking feeling it just won't be the same without the genius who created all this. As for Amy and Dan, they had apparently pitched another show, described as a "Nick and Nora in Manhattan, with kids," to the former WB, but never got anywhere. It will interesting to see where they end up, and how Stars Hollow goes on without them.

And tonight, Kris Benson returns to New York to lead the surging Baltimore Orioles into battle against the Yankees. Bring em on.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Turturro and Baumbach

Where art thou, John Turturro? Scanning his IMDB credits since he last worked for those Coen boys is an often-depressing read, but things are finally looking up.

It seems, according to the Hollywood Reporter, that he has joined up with Noah Baumbach for the director's new project rapidly taking shape at Paramount Pictures' new specialty division.

Jack Black, Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh - Baumbach's real-life wife, lucky bastard - have already joined the cast of what has been described as a multigenerational dramedy. If that cast doesn't entice you, I have to ask: Why do you bother watching movies?

What little else we know is the story takes place over a weekend and follows a mom and her son who visit the mom's sister. Kidman and Leigh will play the sisters (talk about good genes!), and Turturro will play Kidman's husband. Not sure how Jack Black fits into all this, but surely he will be funny.

After "The Squid and the Whale," easily one of the five best movies of 2005, I'll follow Baumbach just about anywhere. His ability to find the comedy and humanity in the autobiographical tale of his parents' divorce was a small masterpiece, and I'm definitely ready for more.

Baumbach's script for "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," an animated take on Roald Dahl's tale being directed by Wes Anderson, is described as "locked" on IMDB, and I'm not sure exactly what that means. Maybe Baumbach's own next project will sneak by it and come out first. Either way, I'll be there.

P.S.: In my surfing, I have found out Turturro has also just finished directing a musical called "Romance & Cigarettes" which sounds like pure fun. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Jason McElwain story?

This one may just prove that I've permanently succumbed to cynicism.

I literally spit up my coffee laughing as I read this on The Hollywood Reporter site this morning, certainly not the correct reaction by most standards.

It seems Columbia Pictures has acquired the "life rights" (what a tacky term) to Jason McElwain, aka the young man who ruined almost a month's worth of Sportscenter with this accomplishment: He made six three-pointers in the last four minutes of a high school basketball game.

Now, this is not something I could ever do, and I, unlike Mr. McElwain, am not autistic. But the only thing seeing him do this every time I turned on what is supposed a sports highlight show inspired in me was exasperation.

Given Hollywood's Oscar love affair with afflicted characters, the idea of a movie about this drove me to even darker thoughts. Could this fairly remarkable young man's true story be just the right break to finally snare that Oscar for Heath Ledger or maybe even a master thespian like Freddie Prinze Jr.?

The evil genius behind this impending disaster is, apparently, Magic Johnson, who will serve as an executive producer.

"When I first saw the highlights on ESPN and then heard Jason's backstory, I said, 'Man, I've got to be a part of this.' This story touched me, my kids, my wife," Magic Johnson said, according to THR. "When we go to the movies, this is the type of story we want to see."

Well, your talk show was probably something you wanted to see too, but luckily noone else did.

But enough ranting from me. I really am, usually, a nice person. Really.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"Breakfast on Pluto"

Rarely does a director capture the essence of a great book as well as Neil Jordan did with Patrick McCabe's "Breakfast on Pluto."

For the many of you who missed out (it never played anywhere near our Southern outpost of America), you can catch up on DVD today.

The story centers on Patrick "Kitten" Braden, who discovers at an early age that he enjoys dressing like a girl, not a terribly well-accepted thing to do in Northern Ireland in the 1960s.

Patrick is played as a young adult with spirit by Cillian Murphy, who managed to snag a Golden Globe nomination for getting all dragged up.

It is deliberately, and occasionally annoyingly, episodic, with no scene lingering for longer than a few minutes. But that's how Patrick deals with "the troubles," choosing to live in a fantasy world that repeatedly gets shattered by the reality of life.

On a quest to find out his father is, Patrick travels to London and elsewhere, befriending along the way characters like Stephen Rea as an odd magician and Brendan Gleeson as a children's entertainer with an amusingly short fuse. It's all fairly light but very entertainng fare.

McCabe has written some bad books, but this one struck just the right balance between whimsy and woe, and Neil Jordan kept that alive in this little flick. Check it out.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Anticipating United 93

I still can't decide what to think about this one, coming to wide-release world April 28.

On the one hand, Paul Greengrass is a first-rate director. His "Bloody Sunday" re-created that moment in Irish history with a storyteller's flair that kept you riveted even though you knew the horrible outcome. He also made a movie about the Omagh bombing for the BBC which my parents saw over the weekend and recommended highly.

I have confidence he can retell the story of the tragic flight that ended in a field in Pennsylvania on 9/11 without being exploitative.

However, will I want to watch it? Just the trailer gave me chills, so I expect it will be an intense experience, what I usually enjoy at the movies.

If this were fiction, I probably wouldn't bother to go. Seeing Harrison Ford or Steven Seagal battle terrorists (not snakes!) on a plane just isn't my idea of entertainment. Knowing this actually happened - and didn't end well, despite the heroic actions of the passengers - makes it a different animal. In the end I wish Greengrass would have waited until we have captured Osama bin Laden, but since our idea of fighting terrorists currently only consists of creating more of them in Iraq, that could be a very long wait.

Greengrass and his cast of unknowns, worried about the backlash, have gone out of their way to explain their motives in featurettes. Check them out at

One thing I know for sure, after my experience watching A History of Violence here in Macon, I'll try to see Flight 93 with as few people as possible. If anyone lets out a hoot or holler of any kind - like the lady directly behind me did twice when the son turned to violence in Cronenberg's great flick - when they hear "Let's roll" I may just lose it.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

"Scary Movie 4"

Bill Pullman: I'm not long for this world
Regina Hall: Pussy

One of the hardest things in writing movie reviews, at least to me, is how much of the story to reveal.

Thankfully, with Scary Movie 4, there's nothing to worry about because there is no story at all.

Director David Zucker and writer Jim Abrahams (with Craig Mazin), who have made a living on spoofs, just throw jokes around faster than Jackson Pollock splattering paint, just to see how many will stick.

So, does it work? Almost half the time, in my opinion, a better ratio than I would have expected going in.

The spoofs here center on five movies: Two I had seen and mostly enjoyed War of the Worlds and Million Dollar Baby) one I simply detested (The Village), and two I skipped (The Grudge and Saw.)

The War of the Worlds stuff, an easy target thanks to Tom Cruise, is very funny. The Saw and Village jokes not so much. I'd say my favorite joke had to be the ipod/tripod one. Stupid? Maybe, but I try not to let thinking get in the way of the fun at movies like this.

The real plus here is Baltimore's own Anna Faris, who plays such a convincing dingbat you think she really must be one until you remember she's stuck it out through four rounds of gamely delivering lines like "It's OK, I've taken balls to the face before" and surely cashing a bigger paycheck with each movie. She and Regina Hall are clearly having fun, and I mostly did to.

However, can we, please, bring to an end to the Brokeback Mountain jokes? The mashups were pretty funny at first, but it's getting old very fast. And besides - a word of warning - Anthony Anderson and the guy who used to play Bud on the Cosby Show in assless chaps is just something I never needed to see.

And seeing Leslie Nielsen as the president - complete with a fairly funny sendup of Bush's reaction to hearing the news about 9/11 in that classroom, if you can stomach that - just made me long for the days of Naked Gun or, even better, Airplane. Those Zucker/Abrahams movies were funnier than this, and at least bothered to have a plot. Scary Movie 4 is like watching a series of "SNL" skits, though it's often much funnier than that dreck.

But critizing Zucker movies is the definition of an exercise in futility: You can't stop him (Scary Movie 3 made $110 million in domestic box office alone, I believe), and I don't think we should.

The Hardest Part of Hope

On a different subject entirely, I'd highly recommend this article "as told to" Telegraph writer Joe Kovac Jr. It's a first-person account from Linda Tillery about her battle with ovarian cancer, dutifully transcribed and reconstructed well by Kovac, and it's truly compelling reading. The first of three installments is on the Telegraph's site here, and look for the rest of the story Monday and Tuesday. I know I will.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Thank you for Smoking

Joey Naylor: Dad, why is the American government the best government?
Nick Naylor: Because of our endless appeals system

After seeing "Thank You for Smoking," I had the urge to say "thank you" to director Jason Reitman, but, of course, I don't actually know him.

It's not perfect, but it's often laugh-out-loud funny (as I did, since there were maybe 10 other people there with me in the theater) and uncomfortable to watch, as the best satire should be.

What's really funny? The dialogue, always the first thing I look for in a movie, is very fast and often very sharp. The performances, with one exception I'll discuss later, are dead on. Aaron Eckhart was born to be smug, and Maria Bello and David Koechner keep up with him as his fellow "merchants of death," lobbyists for the alcohol and firearms industries. William H. Macy as an anti-tobacco crusader is flustered and funny from the start, and Adam Brody (Lane Kim's Dave Rigowski, of course) is up to delivering some of the best lines as an ass-kissing Hollywood assistant.

For anyone who doesn't know, here's the basic story, what little there is: Eckhart is Nick Naylor, a cocky and very competent spokesman for big tobacco. I won't tell you any more except, in his mission to keep America smoking, Eckhart works with a Hollywood uber-agent (a game Rob Lowe) to get cigarettes good placement in flicks and is dispatched to bribe the former Marlboro man who has come down with cancer (the always-welcome Sam Elliott). His overmatched nemesis is Macy, a senator from the great state of Vermont.

What I liked most was that Eckhart's Naylor doesn't "see the light" and repent for his evil ways. He knows exactly what he does, and he does it well. Christopher Buckley, who wrote the novel from which director Reitman adapted the flick, didn't set out to expose the underbelly of Washington. He really just scratched it with a very light touch, just enough to make you think a little and laugh a lot.

The two main complaints I've heard have been about Katie Cruise and the story line with Naylor's son Joey, played by Cameron Bright. First, about Katie, I can't manage the level of vitriol she inspires in most people, but they're right. Would Nick Naylor want to, well, nail her? Of course he would, but she never looks or acts remotely like the kind of person who would use that to her tremendous advantage. She's just annoying, but she doesn't do enough damage to ruin the rest of it.

With the kid, I thought he was key in showing just enough of Naylor's conscience, but not enough to spoil the image that he's basically a scumbag. Even under his son's admiring gaze, he remains so, which I thought was crucial.

As for smoking, it's something I did enjoy briefly in my youth and again in my adulthood for a while. I won't deny it: there's something inherently enjoyable about inhaling tobacco smoke. It's something I gave up quite a while ago because, well, it will eventually kill you, and I'm not particularly interested in that.

I still won't ever tell anyone not to light up in my presence. It's their decision, and to me that is the essence of liberty. What right do I have to tell them not to? None, so I don't.

But enough of that. Go see "Thank You for Smoking," laugh a lot, maybe learn a little and, if you want to and still can, smoke one for me.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Dave Chappelle in Esquire

So it really was The Man's fault after all.

After hinting at why he walked away from a $50 million deal with Comedy Central last year, Dave Chappelle spells it all out clearer than ever in the May issue of Esquire, which hits newsstands Saturday. (Disclosure: The quotes here are via E!Online).

"The bottom line was, white people own everything," Chappelle told Esquire, "and where can a black person go and be himself or say something that's familiar to him and not have to explain or apologize?"

"I felt like I was really pressured to settle for something that I didn't necessarily feel like I wanted," he continued. "The thing about show business is that, in a way, it forces dysfunctional relationships in people."

OK, fair - and true - enough, but here's what I still don't understand and would love to know: What exactly did Comedy Central keep him from doing? As an addict of his weekly exploits there, I thought he was really pushing the envelope pretty far already. Clayton Bigsby? The racial draft? "I'm Rick James, bitch"? Where else on TV, could you have seen such outrageously entertaining stuff.

The sad answer, of course, is nowhere. If he wants to put his money where his always welcome mouth is, why not take his act to BET? New president for entertainment Reginald Hudlin has promised the network will focus on original programming rather than the music videos that have sustained it thus far. I can't imagine he would turn Dave away.

"Hot Fuzz" from the "Shaun" team

My love for the movie "Shaun of the Dead" is unconditional. A funny movie about zombies is a natural draw for me, and this one was one of the funniest I've seen.

Now, in good news from Variety, it seems we'll be getting a new dose of fun from the team that created "Shaun."

Rogue Pictures has nabbed North American distribution rights to "Hot Fuzz," a police comedy featuring "Dead" stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, director Edgar Wright and producer Nira Park. Wright and Pegg penned the screenplay for the estimated $12 million film, in which Pegg plays a successful London cop whose jealous co-workers transfer him to a podunk British town and place him with a hapless partner (Frost). The pair stumble upon a series of suspicious accidents.

This one gets my guarantee: There is no way it won't be funny.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Anticipating "Thank You for Smoking" and the art of satire

Great news for those of us stuck in wide-release world: After it cracked the top 10 on a limited number of screens, "Thank You for Smoking" has been deemed worthy of gracing our theaters.

It won't be here until Friday, and only at the AmStar here in Macon, but early word from bloggers is positive. I'm hopeful that, for once, the satire will be sharp and no one will be spared.

The New York Times has posted the trailer and four very funny clips here, so click and judge for yourself.

In honor of this welcome change of pace, here, in order, are my favorite political satire movies (and one TV show, it's my list after all.)

10. "Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb": What could be funnier than the end of the world? You'll see Peter Sellers' name on this list more than any other, and his multiple roles were all great in this one, but even better was George C. Scott as Gen. Buck Turgidson. Pure madness from the mind of Stanley Kubrick.

9. "The Mouse that Roared": How could a little movie made way back in 1959 be so silly and yet still so relevant? Sellers again in multiple roles in the tale of a small European country that declares war on the U.S. in hopes of reaping the benefits of losing. How sad that since the end of the Cold War things have only gotten worse.

8. "Citizen Ruth": Long before he wowed the world with "Sideways," Alexander Payne brought us this too broad but often deadly look at the war over abortion. This one is almost worth it just for the cast, especially Laura Dern as our glue-sniffing "heroine" and Burt Reynolds in full bluster as an appropriately ridiculous right-to-life crusader.

7. "Duck Soup": The best Marx Brothers movie is so funny I almost forgot how political it is. Watching Groucho woo and then go to war for Mrs. Teasdale reminds us that American humor has always been as lowbrow as it is now, it just used to be a lot more funny.

6. "Clockwork Orange": Kubrick again in a movie that disturbed me too much to enjoy it the first two times I saw it. After you get over the shock, however, Anthony Burgess' novel about a futuristic Britain and what means it employs to control crime makes a nearly perfect movie.

5. "Bob Roberts": These days it's hard to believe that Tim Robbins was once a very funny guy. Witness "Tapeheads" with John Cusack, and later this skewering of right wingers. Roberts is scary enough as the candidate himself, but I especially liked Giancarlo Esposito as the quite-possibly-crazy journalist who, of course, knows the truth.

4. "South Park": Like I said, it's my list, so TV counts too, especially when it's this good. I think one episode sums up its power perfectly, the one where the late Christopher Reeve not only gains the power to walk again but even superpowers, all from sucking the blood from discarded fetuses. It's hard to watch, as the sharpest satire should be.

3. "Being There": Sellers again, in my favorite of all his roles, Chance the gardener, aka Chauncey Gardiner, who ascends from his servant's role to the presidency spouting lines he garners from TV. At the time it could have been seen as a mockery of President Carter's homespun wisdom, but it fits even better with the White House's current resident.

2. "Mash": Not my favorite Robert Altman movie, which would be "Nashville", but damn close. I admit I didn't see this until well into the TV show's run, near the end when Alan Alda had turned it into a preachy mess. It was so refreshing then, and still is, to see how easily Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould made the only real Hawkeye and Trapper John come to life in the Chaos that was Korea.

1. "Election": The second Payne flick is easily one of my favorite movies of all time. A war between arguably the two most adorable people in America - Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick - in the hell that is high school. Witherspoon's Tracy Flick is pure evil, and the screenplay based on Tom Perrotta's novel is deadly. Rent it now.

All right, enough from me. Now go see "Thank You for Smoking" this weekend so we can keep more good movies flowing into wide-release world.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Terry Schiavo and other, better news

If that name means nothing to you, count yourself lucky, I guess. Though I tried my best to ignore the whole unfortunate situation involving Mrs. Schiavo, it was virtually impossible.

Now comes news that can only make things worse. Apparently her husband, whose name I never need to know, wrote a book called "Terri: The Truth," which has been optioned for a movie by former Tarantino producer Lawrence Bender and Mike Farrell.

I can't see anything but a TV movie for this one, and I haven't watched one of those in many, many years. However, there are two - albeit remote - ways this just might not suck.

Flash back with me, if you will, to Pedro Almodovar's "Talk to Her," a touching, at times funny movie about, well, women in comas. It can be done, but probably not twice.

Even better would be a look at the hypocrisy of the Washington politicians who rallied to keep her alive or advocated pulling the plug - though they had no actual connection to the situation. If I'm not mistaken, even Jesse Jackson was involved somehow by the end. Now that would be fascinating, but it probably won't happen.

In the end, we don't know yet what we'll get, but I just can't see it being anything good.

"Arrested" alumni update

This pretty good nugget of news comes courtesy of the Hollywood Reporter.

Following in the footsteps of Jeffrey Tambor, Will Arnett has made plans for his immediate post-"Arrested Development" career. DreamWorks and Paramount have picked up "The Ambassador," a movie pitch by Arnett and Michael Schur.

The story centers on a former U.S. vice president's privileged son (Arnett), who is assigned an ambassadorship in Europe, where he quickly becomes the quintessential ugly American. This sounds to me a lot like Gob Bluth takes on the world, which would by default have to be funny. Schur is a writer for the American "Office," a surprisingly funny and skewed offering, so these two should make a good match.

Chandrasekhar update

With "Beerfest" wrapped, Broken Lizard's Jay Chandrasekhar also has a new project, but maybe one without his comedy troupe mates.

According to the always reliable Ain't It Cool News, he is going to direct a flick called "Ambulance Chasers" for Warner Bros under the Broken Lizard production company. It's about two rather unreputable lawyers who fight over clients.

Good premise, good director, so why any worry? Well, first of all, this isn't a Broken Lizard movie. Jon Zack, whose few writing credits include a movie called "Perfect Score" about cheating on the SATs, has been hired to write the script instead. Somehow, even with the promise of Scarlett Johansson, I managed to miss that one.

The last time Chandrasekhar ventured out on his own we got, well, "The Dukes of Hazzard." He has nowhere to go but up.

Monday, April 10, 2006


This may not be news to anyone but me, but it made my morning.

Broken Lizard, the comedy troupe behind the very funny "Super Troopers" and somewhat less funny "Club Dread," have just finished filming their next movie, "Beerfest."

With a title like that just about anything is possible, but here is the summary available on the IMDB: "Two brothers travel to Germany for Oktoberfest, only to stumble upon secret, centuries-old competition described as a "Fight Club" with beer games."

If you don't think that could be funny, move on. Personally, I was laughing already as I read it. "Super Troopers" is, for me, a cathartic kind of movie, one I can watch at the end of a long day and just laugh from start to finish. If this comes even close, I'll be happy.

Here's a little from the guys posted a little while ago at Myspace:

"We're about a week away from finishing shooting Beerfest. Great stuff so far. Everyone is sick and exhausted. Looking forward to being done.

Warner Bros. has set a release date of Aug. 25. So you won't have to wait long before you see our latest epic saga of mirth and vomiting. Of course, these dates can change, so don't start camping out for tickets yet. Ah, fuck it. If you want to camp out for 6 months, who are we to stop you?

We're trying to get up and running again, so keep checking back. And we've got a deep bin of unread messages, so we apologize for not being great pen pals.

Rock and Roll."

An epic saga of mirth and vomiting? Bring it on. The Broken Lizard guys - Erik Stolhanske, Jay Chandrasekhar, Steve Lemme, Kevin Heffernan and Paul Soter - just seem like the kind of guys you'd want to drink a lot of beer with.

In a parallel move, my brother and I, accompanied by at least five members of his army of Minnesota soccer geeks, will be travelling to Germany ourselves for the World Cup. I don't anticipate joining in any "Fight Club" beer-drinking activities, but I'll let you know if I find any.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Georgia Bulldogs at G-Day

I know, I know, this is supposed to be a blog about movies.

Well, looking at my options this morning, I decided there was nothing new at my multiplex that I could with a good conscience pay to see. That really left only one option: G-day in Athens.

For those of you unfamiliar with the rituals of the Bulldog Nation, G-Day is the culmination of spring practice, a fairly hands-on scrimmage for the fans.

Although coach Mark Richt went to great lengths this morning to tell us in the Telegraph that you can't learn much from spring, I made the drive anyway and joined a fairly large crowd of curious fans in Sanford Stadium.

OK, to get right to what everyone wants to know: Matt Stafford, on his first play from scrimmage with the second-team offense, through a 64-yard TD bomb to Mikey Henderson. That's 64 yards in the air, mind you ... just amazing to watch. Dead accurate, and best of all, Henderson, unlike many of last year's options, CAUGHT THE BALL. You'll be hearing his name a lot this fall.

As for Stafford, he looked comfortable in the pocket and is obviously fundamentally sound, executing play-action smoothly. He just looked as game ready as you can expect an incoming freshman to be. He didn't play much (if at all) in the second half due to the QB rotation, but he made his mark.

And starter-for-the-moment Joe Tereshinski. I felt bad for him because he made some fairly accurate throws into tight spots and had his receivers drop the ball. Tight end Martrez Milner, in particular, has a LONG way to go to be a top-shelf TE. That said, Tereshinski didn't seem to be thinking fast enough, and he clearly would have been leveled several times by Hawkinsville's own Charles Johnson if he wasn't wearing that no-contact jersey.

Redshirt sophomore Joe Cox, though, probably, had the most time at QB and he looked, well, acceptable. None of them were able to lead a genuine drive down the field, but that is to be expected this time of year: the defense is always further along.

The verdict: I think Joe T will be on a very, very short leash, and will probably lose his starting job by, if not before, the South Carolina game. However, thankfully for everyone involved, I'm not the coach.

Oh yeah, before I forget, the red team (starters) won, 14-10.

Other thoughts: There were two pick-sixes, Ramarcus Brown and Asher Allen. Brown, in particular, is a speed demon on defense, and Allen was all over the field. As I mentioned, Charles Johnson also had a great day, breaking into the offensive backfield seemingly at will. He and Quentin Moses will be monsters on the D-Line in the fall.

We didn't see too much of ringer receiver Mohammed Massaquoi, but the aformentioned Henderson, recently converted from defense, and T.J. Gartrell both should be solid second options this fall. Tripp Chandler had a lot of balls thrown his way on the second team, but only caught about half. Milner, as stated earlier, was simply atrocious.

At running back, Kregg Lumpkin was fun to watch, showing all the speed and power we expected when he arrived in Athens. And a vision of the future: youngster Jason Johnson ran like his britches were on fire with the second team, and looked fearless. The stable will never be empty.

These, of course, are only my observations, not those of an actual sports reporter. For that, turn to Josh Kendall in tomorrow's Telegraph.

One further note, I've forgotten the young lady's name, but UGA apparently has a baton twirler who is representing the U.S. at some kind of world championship. During halftime Saturday, she twirled four batons at once. I had planned to just read the paper at halftime, but she was much more entertaining to watch.

Tomorrow, it's back to movies, sort of: I plan to go to the Tubman African American Museum to see their blaxploitation movie poster exhibit.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Steven Spielberg gets real?

Maybe he just really needed the money.

For whatever reason, what I keep hoping beyond hope is a dying TV genre got a big boost today when It was announced that Steven Spielberg will team up with Mark Burnett for "The Lot," a reality series for Fox aimed at discovering the next big Hollywood director.

It's due to premiere next winter or spring, with 16 finalists competing for the big prize: a development deal with DreamWorks.

I, and I know I'm far from alone here, consider Spielberg the reigning master at storytelling that builds suspense to its height, with his worthy successor being Peter Jackson. To see the master pimp himself out like this is as shameful as it is just downright depressing.

Maybe I would watch more reality TV if it was about reality. Go to McDonald's and hold a competition to see who can deep-fry the most taters without splattering themselves with scalding hot oil. Or, even better, a grave-digging competition in which the losers all have to be buried alive. And go ahead and make Paris Hilton one of them.

I won't even get into this as a method for discovering new directors because, it's early, and I can't get that depressed before a busy Friday.

In much better news, Kris Benson was stellar in his debut for the Orioles Thursday night, even though they lost 2-0 to the Devil Rays. Despite his on-again-off-again marital problems, Benson kept his head in the game long enough to yield just four hits in seven innings. If that continues, expect him to win a lot more than 10 games this year with that lineup behind him.

Tonight, young Daniel Cabrera takes the mound against Matt Clement and the Boston Red Sox in a battle of teams tied for first place in the AL East. Man, does that sound good to me.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Blaxploitation and Macon Film Fest

It's a big weekend for movie lovers in Macon, having nothing to do with the sludge that hits the multiplexes this weekend.

First, kicking off with an opening reception Friday night, is an exhibit featuring great posters from the height of blaxploitation cinema in America, organized by Separate Cinema and on display at Macon's Tubman African American Museum.

I readily admit I haven't supported the Tubman like I should. I enjoyed the Black Panthers exhibit several years ago, though captions on the photos would have gone a long way to educate this gringo, and went to see a good exhibit of giant portraits by a photographer whose name escapes me. I will definitely be there though, probably more than once, for this one.

I haven't seen all these movies, but love the ones I have, especially "Shaft" (of course) and just about anything featuring Pam Grier, particularly "Coffy" and "Foxy Brown." What makes them the most appealing, at least to me, is that they dramatized what was in the '70s a simmering rage and still managed, for the most part, to be tremendously entertaining.

Granted, there were missteps. Though I love listening to Rudy Ray Moore's recordings, especially his battle with Big Daddy Kane, "Dolemite" is just pure garbage. Not nearly as funny as many people claim, and for long stretches just plain stupid.

That said, this exhibit will showcase the vibrant posters from many great movies, some I've seen and more I will now rent. The only thing that would make this better would be to have some of the great music piped into the museum, maybe Marvin Gaye's "Trouble Man" or "Man Enough" by The Four Tops, but that's probably too much to ask.

No matter what, if you live anywhere near Macon, check this one out for sure.

Macon Film Fest

Also, starting tonight, is the Macon Georgia Film and Video Festival. If you can get past that rather ponderous name, you'll get three days of short films in competition and special screenings of movies related to Georgia or the South.

It all takes place at the still-fairly-newly renovated Capitol Theatre, which has given cinema in Macon a shot in the arm with its weekly indie night and weekend double features.

Here are some of the special screenings you can enjoy:

Tonight at 8, the Oscar-winning short film "The Accountant," and then at 9, "29th and Gay," the directorial debut of former Maconite and actress Carrie Preston which is about a man struggling to reconcile his homosexuality with his Hispanic heritage.

Friday night starting at 7 p.m. there will be films by Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton, with screenings of some of the 40 short films in competition in between. The nightcap comes at 10:30 with a screening of "Deliverance," for those of you who can take it.

Saturday will be a day of short films beginning at 2 p.m., followed by a screening of "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus," which follows alt-country oddball Jim White on a road trip through the South's back roads. Don't miss this one at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, after a 5 p.m. awards ceremony, will be the real highlight, a 7 p.m. screening of John Huston's "Wise Blood," filmed right here in the Mactown. I first had to watch this one in a class at Catholic University, and it has stuck with me since. It's creepy, at times funny, and very entertaining.

Ticket prices vary depending on how many days you want to attend. For details, consult this morning's Telegraph or tomorrow's Out & About, or visit the film fest's Web site here.

Please, please, please support this new addition to our downtown. It's a great start, and the organizers have promised bigger and better things if it's a success. We owe them at least that much.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

50 Cent goes to "The Dance"

Would you pay to watch 50 Cent get hit in the face a lot? Maybe. But, the more important question is, has Hollywood just completely run out of new ideas?

The latest disturbing trend is taking perfectly good documentaries and remaking them as fictional works. It didn't work with "Lords of Dogtown," which butchered the fun of out of "Dogtown and Z-Boys." This weekend, Antonio Banderas conspires to suck the life out of the vibrant "Mad Hot Ballroom" as he teaches misguided youths all they need is dance in "Take the Lead." A wretched idea from the start.

Now Nicolas Cage and 50 are linked to "The Dance," which was once a little-seen 2003 documentary about former prize fighter BIlly "the Kid" Roth, who volunteered his time coaching boxing in Louisiana's toughest prisons. 50 will play a lifer who Roth (Cage) thinks has the chops to be a champ.

I haven't seen "The Dance," but I love boxing movies. And if you ever thought it might be fun to spend a little time in prison in Louisiana, Netflix "The Farm," a look at life inside Angola thats as compelling as it is terrifying.

So why does this leave me cold? Not so much for this specific project. 50 is a surprisingly good actor, and I can take Cage in moderate doses. This could be great.

It's just the idea of taking great documentaries and, seeing how well they worked, simply stealing not just the idea, but the whole story. I'm sure a fictional take on "Murderball," possibly featuring Tom Cruise's return to a wheelchair, is in the works somewhere. "March of the Penguins" is most likely bound to become an animated tale featuring smart-alec penguins voiced by John Leguizamo and Chris Rock. I'm gonna stop now before I get queasy.

In much better news, all hail the mighty Lady Terrapins, pictured celebrating above as a conquered Dukie hangs her head in shame. I love it anytime Maryland beats Duke in anything, but to come from 13 down to win the title? Fear - and cheer - the Turtle, indeed.

Young Kristi Toliver is already a better clutch shooter than JJ Redick, and could definitely whip him in a boxing match. Man, would that be fun to watch.

And finally, Erik Bedard takes to the mound tonight against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in a bid to keep the Orioles in first place for at least one more day. Keep hope alive.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Joe Wright and "Atonement"

Though this was pegged as news about James McAvoy by the Hollywood Reporter, it will always be Keira Knightley's name that catches my eye. I just can't help it.

Either way, this is great news all around. McAvoy, aka Mr. Tumnus with those crazy legs in "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," has signed up to co-star with Knightley in an adaptation of Ian McEwan's "Atonement." Even better, director Joe Wright is back in charge. None of this even comes close to sucking.

I admit I haven't read many McEwan novels, and don't read as much of anything besides newspapers and magazines as I should, but I have read "Atonement," and it is great.

Scot McAvoy will play Robbie Turner, accused of raping a 16-year-old in 1930's Britain. Knightley will play one of the alleged victim's sisters, Briony, who makes the accusation, or Cecilia, as an adult. If I'm getting any of these details wrong, forgive me .. it's been a while since I read the book.

The best thing about all this is what Wright brought out of Knightley in his directing debut, "Pride & Prejudice," one of my five favorite movies of 2005. Under his guidance, the adorable girl from "Bend it Like Beckham" became an actress who should have won an Academy Award. Can't wait to see what they do next.

In even better news, to me at least, my Orioles remain in first place for at least one more day. After a rocky start by Rodrigo Lopez, the bullpen held and the O's got homers from Luis Matos, Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada and Jeff Conine to beat the Devil Rays 9-6. And now we have a day off, for some reason. But the Lady Terrapins will wipe the floor with Duke tonight to win the national championship, so it's all good.

Monday, April 03, 2006

"Simpsons" movie

Some of you who went to see "Ice Age: The Meltdown" this weekend (and I'm pretty sure, looking at the box office numbers, I'm the only one in America who didn't) got big news about "The Simpsons" movie.

It's been rumored for years,and Harry Shearer recently let loose some tidbits about working on it, but the teaser trailer attached to some prints of "Meltdown" finally confirms it will be released July 7, 2007. It was shown again during sunday night's episode, and you can see it by clicking on "The Simpsons" above.

I've been wary of this project because, although I love "The Simpsons" (and my DVD collection can prove it), I'm just not sure there's just enough juice in the tank to fill a two-hour movie. This season, it often seems they can't come up with an idea good enough to sustain a half hour (though it was great to see Ricky Gervais recently.)

For the moment, though, I'm just pretty geeked up about the whole thing, just as I am about opening day for my beloved Orioles.

Here's a synopsis for the one other person who might have missed it: Playing off the hype for "Superman Returns," we slowly zoom in on a giant S, eventually finding out its on Homer's T-shirt. Sitting in his familiar spot on the couch, he says "I forgot what I was supposed to say," then the narrator intones "'The Simpsons Movie,' coming to the screen, July 27, 2007."

"Uh, oh," said Homer, "we better get started."

Indeed. Nothing too revealing except the date, but pretty funny stuff. Though I'm rapidly exceeding the target demographic for animated TV shows, like most white males, I just can't get enough of them. My current fav is the reincarnated "Family Guy," but I'll always have love for "The Simpsons." Let's just hope they don't somehow screw this up.

In slightly tangential news, my brother, a devoted Maakies fan as we all should be, reported (well, it was news to me, anyway) that Tony Millionaire is working on bringing Drinky Crow and his other creations to TV's "Adult Swim."

Maakies is just about the funniest thing I've ever seen in a comic strip, but far too profane to share in this site which is linked from a family newspaper like The Telegraph. But, if your sensibility can take it, click here and enjoy.

And, remember, Baltimore kicks off the season today at 1 p.m. with Rodrigo Lopez facing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Play ball.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


Nathan Fillion is at a crossroads, but whichever way he turns should be great.

Known to Joss Whedon fans everywhere first as Caleb on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and later used much better as Capt. Mal Reynolds on "Firefly" and in "Serenity," he has the chops to play the lead in first-rate science fiction. And now, in the blissfully gross and almost always funny "Slither," he proves he has the facial expressions down for a Bruce Campbell quality B-movie career.

Either way, he's reached the point now where I'll go see just about anything with his name attached to it.

As for "Slither," knowing that it was directed by James Gunn, who perfected his ability to make you squirm and laugh at the same time while helping create gems like "Sgt. Kabukiman" and "Citizen Toxie" for Troma, I had high hopes going in. And, this time at least, I wasn't the least bit disappointed.

The plot is fairly standard B-movie fare: A meteor crashes to Earth, unleashing a being that, instead of procreating in any standard sense, breaks up into little slug-like creatures that infect most of the people they encounter, and impregnate a few to keep the creatures spreading. If you're not laughing already, this probably isn't for you, but it certainly was for me.

What sets "Slither" apart is the stars and the dialogue. It starts with Fillion, who as the sheriff of the Southern town of Wheelsy (actually Vancouver, Canada, apparently) manages to look like he's in on the joke from the beginning as things fall apart rapidly around him. Cutie Elizabeth Banks is also great as the requisite leading lady who, when forced to, can hold her own against an army of mutants, always a good skill to have in situations like this.

In the supporting cast, you'll find many familiar faces, starting with longtime heavy Michael Rooker. Ever since he played "Henry the Serial Killer," he's always been able to mine the darkly comic side of evil, and I knew right away he would be the first one infected. Jack MacReady, known to "Gilmore Girls" fans as Mitchum Huntzberger, is also hilarious, and uses more f-bombs and other assorted vulgarities than I've heard used so well in a very long time.

It wasn't until about halfway into this crazy mess, when the uninfected have formed a posse to track down Rooker and his mutants, that it hit me just how profane the script is. I said hit me, mind you, not offend me. How would you react if creepy sluglike creatures were infecting everyone you know? Well, I would probably let a profanity or three fly.

The very funny dialogue at first reminded me of Kevin Smith, but then Roddy Doyle back from his "Barrytown Trilogy" days. His characters used the f-word freely and naturally in discourse, as the characters in "Slither" do.

It's the humor that makes the grossness (and believe me, you will squirm) go down a lot easier. It's what missing from the spate of slasher flicks that have invaded movie houses lately, and it's what worked best for me.

I give "Slither" a solid B in every sense, a letter Gunn, Fillion and all their co-conspirators can wear with pride.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


How is T.I.'s rap career gonna survive when the world finds out he's just a big softie?

When the records sound as great as his (though I haven't purchased "King" yet), he's probably built enough of a rep to thrive despite this only mildy disappointing flick.

For anyone who doesn't know, he plays Rashad, supposedly a 17-year-old high school student forced to look out for his little brother after their parents died in a car crash. Strike 1: Despite his small stature, T.I., at 25 or so in real life, makes Luke Perry's turn on "Beverly Hills 90210" look hyperrealistic. It just doesn't work.

Strike 2: Director Chris Robinson just can't decide what story he wants to tell here. Keep up if you can. There's the aforementioned story of Rashad trying to keep his little brother Ant (Evan Ross) from becoming a dope boy; Rashad's romance with "New New" (Lauren London), a rich girl who's slumming on the other side of town; Rashad's friend Esquire (Jackie Long), who is struggling to reconcile his desire to go to an Ivy League college without abandoning the hood; and finally what should have been the main focus, four friends growing up together in Atlanta's Mechanicsville hood and hanging out at the Cascade roller rink. Take a second to catch your breath, then we'll continue.

Had Robinson and screenwriters Antwone Fisher and Tina Gordon Chism chosen to stick to this last story, I think I would have been more interested. The roller rink scenes are the most electric in the movie, full of colorful characters and sleek camera work that fit Robinson's strengths as a music video director. I know we saw that before in "Roll Bounce" (which I enjoyed more than this one), but it was the most interesting story line in "ATL."

The story of Ant's flirtation with the streets and working for drug-dealing heavy Antwan "Big Boi" Patton is also fairly well told, though even surrounded by his own pitbulls, Patton just isn't all that menacing. Still, it has an urgency to it that is lacking in other parts of the movie.

Where it really drags is when T.I. and London are on screen together. Bottom line, neither of them can act very well at all, especially T.I. The trademark of his burgeoning career as a thespian thus far seems to be squinting, his not-so-subtle way of telling the audience he is either angry, sad, or just annoyed, much as I was as the movie started to drag in the middle.

As this remarkably boring story line unfolded, I couldn't help but think about the memo sent out by the company General Growth, which owns several Atlanta malls, warning theater operators that the movie may cause "behavioral problems" in audience members. I had to stop from laughing out loud as stretches of "ATL" that were milder than the most vanilla romantic comedy unfolded in front of me. For the record, none of the 10 or so people in attendance Saturday at noon down here in Macon appeared to be acting up, though one person did forget to turn off the cell phone.

In the end, I was disappointed with "ATL" mostly for what it could have been with a little more focus and better stars.

To their credit, they gave Atlanta more soul than I've been able to find in it. Ever since I moved down here, I've complained that I can't get a feel for Atlanta because everyone there (like me) is from somewhere else. Maybe I never will, but I'm gonna try.

As for T.I., please, please, please don't quit your day job. As I've said here before, your "Urban Legend" album is one of my favorites, so please just stick what to you do best.