Friday, June 30, 2006

"Superman Returns"

This "Superman" may have its flaws, but for me they're just quibbles, because for the first time this summer I just had tons of fun watching a movie again. It's been far too long a wait, but the payoff was huge.

Bryan Singer's take on Superman is in many ways a valentine, both to "Superman: The Movie" director Richard Donner and to us fans. You'll smile through the old-school credits as you hear John Williams' familiar theme re-emerge (for me, the best movie music except for maybe "Star Wars.") You'll even see Marlon Brando again. But from there what you'll see is Singer's vision alone, and it's often a joy to behold.

I've seen it said by one blogger that this "Superman" was a "chick flick." Fair enough, but so what? At the core of "Superman" has always been the story of Lois and Clark, and it's never been told better.

Without giving too much away, when Superman (Brandon Routh) returns after a five-year absence exploring the remains of his home planet of Krypton, he finds Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) with a long-term fiance (James Marsden) and a 5-year-old kid (Tristan Lake Leabu). Who the father is you won't learn from me, but this storyline gives Singer a solid framework for Superman to deal with his own issues of identity.

And its in these quieter scenes that we slowly forget the great Christopher Reeve (though we never really will) and start to believe that Routh can be Superman. He takes over the role with a cocky charm and never lets it go. As for Kate Bosworth's Lois, I think she's taken an unfair beating in the blogosphere. She's not Margot Kidder, but no one can be. Luckily for us, though, she's not Katie Holmes either, and for me she made a very believable investigative reporter.

Marsden was also great as the third side of this bizarre love triangle. The only role I thought was wasted, at least on the side of the good guys, was Frank Langella's performance as Daily Planet editor Perry White. Langella is one of my favorite actors, but Singer gave him next to nothing to work with here.

How's the action? At times, stupendous. Singer spends a lot of time on his dramatic story arc, but when he lets loose his biggest tricks, it's pure fun. The crash of the 777/space shuttle is a one-of-a-kind set piece that will literally take your breath away for about 10 minutes, and watching Superman foil some heavily armed bank robbers is very funny.

So, if all that's good, what's bad? Well, Lex Luthor simply didn't do it for me in this one, though it's not Kevin Spacey's fault. He delivered what Singer asked for, a man so bitter after being sent to prison that he's ready to take out the world. And he does it with flair to spare.

My beef with Lex's plan was this: What could he possibly gain from it? His plot is to make a new continent using Superman’s crystal technology, and in doing so, destroy most of North America. Fair enough, but why? I understand that Luthor is evil, and this is clearly an evil act, but there seems to be no benefit for him in its execution. After wiping out North America, all he will have is a huge, uninhabitable land mass. Useless at best, pointless at worst.

But those are small complaints to me. Singer has created his own solid version of Superman, with heavy doses of Donner thrown in for good measure. Now he can work on giving us a better villain in the next movie, which can't come soon enough for me.

One final note about Singer's Man of Steel before I go: The Superman saga has always had religious aspects to it, and Singer doesn't shy away from this one bit. As Lois wrestles with the issue of whether the world needs Superman, it will make you think, something I didn't do once in X-3 (except for thinking "Where is the nearest exit?").

Does the world need a savior? That question's too big for me to answer, but I know one thing: I need Superman, now more than ever. Welcome back, old friend.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

DiCaprio taking a long, strange trip

Turn on, tune in to Leo?

It seems our young Mr. DiCaprio, who met Timothy Leary before his death in 1996, will now play the LSD guru in an upcoming biopic.

I laughed for several minutes before deciding this might not be all that bad after all. In my mind, Leo has one hit and one miss when it comes to biopics. Scorcese's "The Aviator" was robbed of the Oscar for best picture, and Leo's manic moodswings as Howard Hughes had a lot to do with its success.

What he did to Jim Carroll in "The Basketball Diaries," however, was a completely different matter. I used to love that cheeky "These Are People Who Died" song by Carroll, but couldn't listen to it for years after suffering through that disaster. It took the Drive-By Truckers to save that song in concert as part of their blistering encore at the 40 Watt last year, but nothing can redeem the flick.

I have a feeling this one will turn out more like "The Aviator" though, because writer-director Craig Lucas is on board to oversee the whole thing. Though he's written many minor Hollywood flicks, I had never heard of him until he directed last year's oddity "The Dying Gaul." Starring Peter Sarsgaard and Campbell Scott, it's a surprisingly effective psychological drama about a screenwriter who gets in a three-way relationship with a woman and her film executive husband.

The Leary pic will evidently focus on his life between his enrollment at West Point in the early 1940s and his escape from prison in 1970.

Leo on acid? There's lots of room for fun here.

'Pittsburgh' calls Miller, Sarsgaard

I'm ashamed to admit it took me a few years to warm to "The Wonderboys." Despite it's perfect cast and script, I had to watch it four or five times before I came to love it. The dialogue is consistently sharp, and heck, even Katie Holmes fares well in it.

In that process I also discovered Michael Chabon's book, which is only slightly better than the movie. Now comes very welcome word that Sarsgaard and Sienna Miller will star in the big-screen adaptation of an earlier Chabon novel I'm unfamiliar with entitled "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh." Attached to write and direct is Rawson Marshall Thurber of "Dodgeball" fame; I guess everyone has to mature sometime.

The story, as far as I can tell, chronicles the last summer of a young man's youth and revolves around his eccentric circle of friends including Jane (Miller) and Cleveland (Sarsgaard).

I know I'm not alone here, but Sarsgaard is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actors. Though he's had many great roles, my favorite would have to be his turn as Zach Braff's grave-digging sidekick in "Garden State."

As for Sienna Miller, to me she's so far just two things: An extremely pretty face and the woman who Jude Law cheated on with the nanny. Looking at Miller (which is far from a painful thing to do) just makes me have to ask: What the heck did the nanny look like? Sheesh.

Anyways, I've got Superman on the brain, so I'll have to go now and try to get some work done before hopefully seeing it tonight. I can't wait!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Are all critics noodleheads?

Jeez, it seems like a month since I've been to the movies (except for a sneak peek at "Marie Antoinette" in Amsterdam).

I plan to end this drought in a big way with "Superman Returns" Thursday night, so look for the good (at least it had better be!) word Friday morning.

After that, I'll probably catch up on "Cars" and "Nacho Libre" in a quest to prove one thing: Critics are noodleheads. All three of these flicks got lukewarm receptions at best from the critics we run in the Macon Telegraph, but I'm certain I will like them all.

We'll see soon, but in the meantime, here's the word on two upcoming flicks that peak my interest.

The sad saga of Jeff Buckley

Jeff Buckley's "Grace" is one of those records I keep going back to (I am, in fact, listening to it right now). His soaring voice was the key to his appeal, as best evidenced in his brilliant takes on Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and Benjamin Britten's "Corpus Christi Carol" (my favorite "Grace" track).

Like too many stars that burn so bright, however, Buckley's didn't burn nearly long enough. On May 29, 1997, while in Memphis, he decided to go swimming in the Mississippi River, fully clothed. While we can never know for sure, I've always thought it was his intent to kill himself, which he accomplished in those muddy waters at the age of 30.

Now it seems that Buckley will follow in the footsteps of Ray and Johnny and get his own biopic. Though I'll definitely see it, I'm not sure his tale will have the mainstream appeal of his predecessors. While Buckley was a hero to many who love great music, he was by no means a national icon. But we can at least hope his too-short life is treated with respect and with an eye on entertaining.

Brian Jun, whose "Steel City" was nominated for the grand jury prize at January's Sundance Film Festival, will write and direct the Buckley feature, with input from Buckley's mother, Mary Guibert, as executive producer.

This is just getting off the ground, so no word yet on who might play Buckley, but I would opt for Billy Crudup. He's got the look, and proved in "Almost Famous" that he's got the soul. Who would you pick?

The wacky world of the Cosmos

Man do I wish I was old enough to have a lucid memory of the New York Cosmos, but I'm afraid I don't. All I know is the legend.

And what a legend it is. At a time when America cared even less about soccer than it does now (if that is even possible), Warner Communications Chairman Steve Ross assembled what was easily the most glamorous soccer team to ever play on Randall's Island, underneath the Triborough Bridge in the East River.

Among the players he somehow lured into this pit were Pele (perhaps you've heard of him), Franz Beckenbauer, the German great who organized the 2006 World Cup, and the Italian idol Giorgio Chinaglia (no word yet on how good his diving skills were, but being Italian ...).

The misfit toy in this crazy chest was Shep Messing, a native New Yorker who played goalie for this band of aging greats. He provides much of the input for "Once in a Lifetime," a new documentary about the Cosmos. I think it's out now, but the odds of it ever reaching my little corner of the world are remote at best, so Netflix will strike again.

In the meantime, I'll have to settle for this World Cup, which remains fun despite the referees' best efforts to destroy it. I loved watching Les Bleus take out Spain, especially with Vieira putting the dagger in and Zidane adding an extra twist.

My co-workers are even watching the Cup, and I think it's more than an effort simply to mollify me. They actually seem to be enjoying it. Miracles never cease!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Will Harry Potter die?

Death is never something J.K. Rowling has shyed away from in her "Harry Potter" books. Now, as the saga winds to a close with book seven, things are getting even more ominous for our heroes.

During a live interview on Channel 4's Richard & Judy show in the UK, Rowling revealed that two characters will die in the seventh and last book in the franchise. Though she, of course, didn't tell us which two characters, she did say this:

"The final chapter is hidden away, although it's now changed very slightly. One character got a reprieve. But I have to say two die that I didn't intend to die," she said. "A price has to be paid. We are dealing with pure evil here. They don't target extras do they? They go for the main characters. Well, I do."

Amen, sister. What has made the "Potter" books so appealing to adults as well as kids is that Harry and friends are battling true evil, which will have consequences. The books have gotten darker and better with each volume, so this is only a natural progression.

Will Harry, Ron or Hermione die? Who knows, but a hero's death for Harry would make perfect sense, even if it would turn off a few true believers.

So, when will we see this final chapter? Rowling didn't let that cat out of her black bag, but she did say this:

"The last book is not finished. But I'm well into it now. I wrote the final chapter in something like 1990, so I've known exactly how the series is going to end."

I can't wait to find that out for myself.

Yimou's "Curse" coming to America

For fans of epic martial arts movies, there's no one better than Zhang Yimou.

Following the success of his beautiful "House of Flying Daggers" (which even managed to play here in Macon for a few weeks!), Sony Pictures Classics has now picked up the Latin and North American rights to his new project, "Curse of the Golden Flower."

Described as a "martial arts romantic drama," the medeival saga features Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li as the heads of a dysfunctional royal family engaging in a power struggle with their three sons and each other. It is currently being shot in China, and "Daggers" action choreographer Tony Ching Siu-Tung is back on board.

Shakespearian palace intrigue and great martial arts action? In my mind, I'm already there.

"We Jam Econo" - The saga of the Minutemen

For me, no band lived up to the title of three-minute hero better than L.A. hardcore band the Minutemen (even though many of their best songs lasted no longer than a minute). Mixing jazz, folk and funk into their pulsing punk sound, D. Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley were angry young men who channeled their rage into pure poetry.

I was nothing more than a poser when it came to punk, but I loved it all the same. Though X was always my favorite, the more serious sounds of Husker Du and the Minutemen found plenty of love from my ears. I have a worn-out cassette of their epic "Double Nickles on a Dime" that I break out once a month or so, and it never gets old.

Unfortunately, the Minutemen would only release one more full-length album, "3-Way Tie (For Last)", before their tale ended in tragedy. D. Boon and his girlfriend died in a car accident in December 1985, leaving Watt and Hurley ready to give up music for good. They would eventually reemerge with Ed Crawford as fIREHOSE, but it was never the same.

Now a documentary detailing this great American band's saga, "We Jam Econo - The Story of the Minutemen", comes to DVD today. From the extras alone, you can tell that for director Tim Irwin this was a true labor of love.

According to the IMDB, along with the movie, you get:

Original music videos for: "This Ain't No Picnic" "Ack Ack Ack Ack" and "King of the Hill"; 19 deleted scenes and interviews; an uncut 56-minute interview at Bard College; 62 songs from three live performances: The Starwood Los Angeles - November 18th, 1980, 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C., 1984, and Acoustic Blowout (Cable Access Show), 1985; and a 16-page booklet with full color photos, flyers, filmmaker notes and liner notes by David Rees, creator of "Get Your War On".

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go rearrange my Netflix queue so this gem will show up in my mailbox in a few days.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Jar Jar the most hated ever? Who's yours?

Poor Jar Jar Binks.

After hearing about his latest dis from the UK, I tried to think of something redeeming to say about Lucas' worst creation ever, but I just couldn't. I'm afraid the voters at the British DVD rental site got it just about right.

It seems poor Jar Jar barely edged out Andie McDowell's Carrie from "Four Weddings and a Funeral" as the most annoying film character of all time in a poll of 5,000 UK movie fans. In my mind, this race may have been closer than expected. Jar Jar is definitely the better actor. I'm fairly sure that if you made it Jar Jar vs. Andie McDowell's entire oeuvre, including gems like "Green Card" and "Greystoke", I think she just might have pulled off the upset.

The list continues thusly: In third is Rowan Atkinson's Bean, followed in fourth place by Jim Carrey's "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" character and in fifth place by Ben Stiller's White Goodman in Dodgeball.

I can only take "Bean" in the smallest of doses, but Rowan Atkinson has my unconditional props for "Black Adder", so I was a little surprised at the animosity. And it may just be my inner fourth-grader talking here, but I thought Jim Carrey was very funny in "Ace Ventura".

Anyways, what do you think? If you care to, share the characters you find most annoying. Take this opportunity to vent your frustrations. I guarantee you'll feel better afterwards.

New "Futurama" ... yippee!

Forgive me if this news is old ... I've been in an all-soccer haze for the last two weeks, and am just now catching up on things. This struck me as the best news I found this morning in the Hollywood Reporter.

For the first time since 2003, it seems that, thanks to Comedy Central, we will be getting new episodes of "Futurama"! ... I'll pause just in case one person is as geeked up about this as me ... OK, continuing.

I just love "Futurama". For me, it blended light sci-fi and great humor as good as Joss Whedon's "Firefly", which ranks with "Freaks and Geeks" as my favorite one-season-only series. I never thought it would get the "Family Guy" treatment and come back from the dead.

We will have to wait a bit, however. Thirteen new episodes, along with the 72 old ones, will begin airing in 2008 on Comedy Central. Actors Billy West, Katey Sagal and John DiMaggio have agreed to return as voices.

I guess there's hope for great TV after all.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get ready for my first day of work in two weeks. It will be a bit hard to concentrate with the mighty Socceroos scheduled to take out the diving Azzurri at 11 a.m. on ESPN. But I'll soldier through somehow.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

U.S. at the World Cup, now and future

Returning from a fantastic trip to Germany with a group of soccer fanatics from Minnesota, I had my own "Almost Famous" plane moment that I couldn't help think fit well with the performance of Bruce's Army at this World Cup.

After spending about five hours in the Newark airport (which did, at least, allow me to watch the Argentina-Mexico game in its entirety and see Maxi Rodriguez's simply beautiful goal in overtime), I boarded for a truly rocky ride back to Atlanta.

With it storming throughout, I thought it was over when the pilot delivered the always-welcome "flight attendants, prepare for landing." Between that point and touchdown, however, came two dips of what felt like 100 feet each and enough twists and turns to put a great roller coaster to shame. As someone who already doesn't particularly enjoy flying, I didn't find a single minute of it amusing.

But roller coaster is the only way to describe the U.S. performance at the 2006 World Cup. After witnessing what, for me, was the most spirited show by a U.S. squad ever to achieve an undermanned tie against the perpetually diving Azzurri, watching the Ghana game was just an exercise in frustration.

After the Italy game there were calls for the referee's head, and overly aggressive officiating would reappear at the end of the first half in a penalty kick for Ghana following a "foul" by the great Oguchi Onyewu. It was, at best, two aggressive players going after the ball, and should have resulted in no whistle at all.

As we all know now, the U.S. would never recover, and instead go on to lose 2-1 for an early exit from the Cup. However, I place much less blame on the referee than on the U.S. team itself which, after going down, showed no fire at all and never mounted any kind of attack to regain the advantage. When that many talented players deliver such a listless performance with so much on the line, the blame lies squarely with them and their coach, Bruce Arena. But more on that later.

In spite of the U.S.'s depressing demise, I have to say I simply had a blast in Germany. The populace was under strict orders to be welcoming to the world, and everyone apparently got the memo. Even on our first night in Frankfurt, when the streets in front of our hostel were filled with about 40,000 English fans without tickets, I witnessed nothing but the world having a hell of a lot of fun.

And it was refreshing to see the Germans, with understandable tentativeness, start to show some national pride as their squad kept winning. I would be happy to see them prevail but, with the U.S. out, my support goes to Les Bleus.

Though I concede Ronaldinho is the best football player in the world, my favorite is Thierry Henry, and I would love to see him help bring home another Cup title for the great Zidane and Vieira. My upset pick is Guus Hiddink's spirited Socceroos taking out the Italians in the second round.

No matter who pulls it out, however, I know I'll be watching every game.

As my nightmarish return home was coming to a close, I encountered a fellow football fanatic on the Groome shuttle from Atlanta to Macon. I was intent on sleeping for that last 75 minutes or so, but gladly took this chance to chew the fat on the future of U.S. soccer.

My fellow traveller was an American who grew up in Northern Ireland and had now somehow ended up in Warner Robins. As we discussed how the U.S. could possibly recover for the next World Cup in South Africa (see you there!), the conversation quickly turned to a much bigger picture.

He asked me how it is that, with tons of Hispanic-Americans playing soccer, so few of them make it through the pipeline to the national team? I didn't have an immediate answer, but we eventually turned to the English Premier League as a possible model for the future.

We lamented the lack of a network of junior squads you see with Arsenal, Man United and others, which allow these teams to nurture talented kids for the benefit of the whole country. Why, we both wondered, can't we do that here?

Well, I say we can. I got the chance to see the last MLS Cup in the new Dallas stadium, which I believe bears the rather unfortunate name of Pizza Hut Park. Surrounding it is a network of at least 20 soccer fields, the perfect setting to launch a junior program. With similar facilities being built around the MLS, it's now time to look at how they can be used to discover the hidden stars of the future.

In the shorter term, however, I fear this is the end of the road for Bruce Arena. I proudly wore my Viva Bruce! T-shirt in Italy (get yours here.), but he had clearly lost control of his squad by the end of the match against Ghana.

A meeting with U.S. Soccer officials is surely in his near future, but if he steps down, where do we go? Two names were most often bandied about among the Minnesota Volunteers in my travelling party.

The first was Philao Scolari, whose Portugal squad is in action on my TV against Holland as I write this. Big Phil, however, has apparently signed a lucrative deal to lead Portugal through at least the next World Cup, so he's out.

The second name, and the one that intrigues me most, is the aforementioned Guus Hiddink. Before leading Australia into battle this year, he led South Korea to great success in the 2002 Cup.

From Viva Bruce! to Viva Guus! It may be a long shot, but until the next world party kicks off in South Africa four years from now, all I can do is dream.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

World Cup post

Greetings from Cologne, Germany, where I am just starting to recover from the most gallant performance I think Ive ever seen from the U.S. national team. It was something I can say with certainty I will never forget.

The tradeoff for us getting World Cup tickets with ease was we agreed to take far from the best seats, which this time meant way up in the endzone corner, with the opposing corner obscured from view. But it didnt matter one bit. I was in Germany, watching the U.S. play Italy. My world almost never gets this good.

Even before kickoff there was an energy which was missing from the pasting we took from the Czechs. Kaiserslautern, where the Italy game was played, is basically an American Army base with a few streets built around it. Packing that many fairly crazy people in such a tight spot made for a chaotic but very fun party.

But, of course, onto the game. I think it is the American spirit to be optimistic even in the face of ridiculous odds, and Im as guilty of this as anyone. I truly believed we could hang with those diving Italians, even after an early Azurri goal showed my folly.

This was a different American team, however, from the one that barely showed up against the Czechs. They bounced back almost instantly to tie it up at 1-1, even after the referee forgot he isnt the star of the game. I never want to blame the refs for the outcome of the match, but when its so bad that we have 10 Italians vs. 9 Americans for much of the match, you kind of have to. And the Italians, who are blessed with a natural talent on the field, play a spineless, unprincipled game of football, diving at every opportunity to delay the match as much as they can.

But though the ref tried to take this night away from us, he couldnt. The beauty of being cheap is that, every once in a while, you also get lucky, and I wouldnt have wanted to be anywhere else in the world than behind Kasey Keller as he repelled volley after volley on his way to his well-earned distinction of Man of the Match. The last 15 minutes were the most intense time Ive experienced at a live sporting event. I know Im in the vast minority, at least in the Peach State, but for me, it puts any Georgia Bulldog football game to shame.

As the final whistle blew, our undermanned squad had managed to hold on for the tie and, with a victory over the Ghanians and a little luck, a birth in the second round. I couldnt leave my seat for about 30 minutes, so we just soaked it all in as the U.S. squad came by to thank us for braying like idiots for two hours. Even from a half-mile above, I still sometimes give in to the delusion that theyre applauding just for me, and this was definitely one of those times.

Our motley crew of 10 or so (we seem to pick up a couple of more people and maybe lose one every few days) is now gearing for the Ghana match in Nuremberg later this week. For me, however, its all about the soccer, so Im off to Dortmund tomorrow to try and scalp a fairly cheap ticket to watch Togo play Switzerland. The Africans play the game with seemingly endless energy, so it should be a blast.

And, oh yeah, I have seen one movie, while in Amsterdam. It was Sofia Coppolas "Marie Antionette," which was truly odd but more than a little disappointing.

A review, however, is not on my agenda now, however, so Ill give the full dirt when it comes to the U.S. this fall. In the meantime, I have a rather big party to get back to, so, peace out.

Friday, June 09, 2006

World Cup bound

To anyone who stops by here to read my ramblings - and apparently there at least a few of you out there - I offer a hearty thank you.

For the next seventeen days or so, however, don't expect to hear anything from me, because I'm headed to Germany for the world's party, the World Cup.

If anyone will be there, you may run into a ragtag little faction of Sam's Army known as the Minnesota Volunteers. Though I'm not from Minnesota, they've graciously taken me into their band of brothers (and one sister) for this adventure.

I'll be returning just in time for "Superman," but will have to catch up later on "Cars" and "Prairie Home Companion." I hope some of you will come again when I return!

Peace out.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"Junebug" and "Daniel Johnston"

Middle Georgians have two great movie-viewing opportunities in the coming weeks, thanks to the the Macon Film Guild and the Capitol Theatre.

This Sunday, June 11, the Macon Film Guild presents "Junebug," hailed in the latest issue of the Oxford American as the best Southern movie of 2005. I'd have to agree with that assessment.

It's that sense of place in the Piedmont area of N.C. that makes "Junebug" work so well. It tells a very familiar story about the prodigal son, in this case Alessandro Nivola, who has moved to Chicago and married an art dealer, played by Embeth Davidtz. None of his family members were invited to the wedding, so his is not the most comfortable of homecomings.

If I had to pick a movie to compare it to, I'd say it's most like "You Can Count on Me" in its realistic yet charming portrayal of small-town family life. First-time director Phil Morrison and screenwriter Angus McLachlan inject color and charm into these characters without ever resorting to cliche.

Though there aren't any easy answers to be found, that let's you bring your own experience to the movie, and we all will find someone we can identify with here. Holding it all together is Oscar-nominated Amy Adams as the very pregnant sister-in-law of Nivola's character. Although I love winner Rachel Weisz, Adams deserves all the hype she received for her portrayal of this determinedly upbeat woman in decidely downbeat times.

Don't miss your chance to see this one on the big screen Sunday at 2, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Douglass Theatre in Macon.

"The Devil and Daniel Johnston"

I haven't seen this one, but it sounds absolutely fascinating.

The Capitol Theatre has done a great job of bringing us movies about music. Following on the heels of the Neil Young concert flick "Heart of Gold" comes this documentary about Texas musician Daniel Johnston, who suffers from Schitzophrenia.

Though hailed by many musicians as a genius, he's also a very troubled soul, prone to violent outbursts. My only exposure to Johnston is the blissully silly pop gem "Speeding Motorcycle," sung best by Mary Lou Lord on her subway set "Live City Sounds."

You can decide for yourself what to make of this odd but very talented artist when this doco makes it Middle Georgia premiere for several nights at the Capitol in downtown Macon. It's showing Wednesday, June 14, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, June 16 and 17, at 9 p.m.; and Sunday, June 18, at 7:30 p.m.

Although the Capitol still has some issues with sound, it is a beautiful venue for music and movies, especially when the two converge so well.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Ziyi Zhang and the Weinsteins

I never thought there would be bad news about Ziyi Zhang, but I guess everyone has bills to pay.

It turns out that while she was judging movies at Cannes, she was also in talks with the Weinsteins, and has now signed a three-picture deal with them at their new company.

Good for her, and hopefully good for us, but for someone who says she wants to uphold the integrity of Asian cinema, this is a curious move at best. In their days at Miramax, the Weinsteins seemed to almost be at war with genuine martial arts movies, grabbing up whatever they could get their hands on and mangling them for a quick U.S. release. Now, with the help of Ziyi, their about to commit an act of grand larceny.

Before I get to the big bad news, and in case there's anyone out there who doesn't know this already, Ziyi Zhang is CHINESE!! Just as this meant nothing to the makers of "Memoirs of a Geisha," it apparently means even less to the Weinsteins, who have signed her to star in a remake of (shudder!) Akira Kurosawa's "The Seven Samurai."

I feel dirty just writing that, but remember, I'm just the messenger (or, to be accurate, the Hollywood Reporter is.) This is awful news all around.

Just as they are apparently unaware that Ziyi is Chinese, the Weinsteins also don't know that, for several years now, she has been a very beautiful WOMAN! Before shooting begins on "Samurai," in which Ziyi will play the peasant girl who hides from the bandits by donning boy's clothes, she will star in a live-action version of "Mulan" as - you guessed it - a girl who dresses as a man to do battle for her ailing father.

At least they got her ethnicity right for this one, but without getting too crude, I'll just say that Ziyi could turn heads walking down the street in overalls and a straw hat. I love to watch her kick ass, especially in "House of Flying Daggers," but she is one of the world's sexiest women, not a little girl to be androgynized by these freaks.

Oh well, I guess it could be worse. She could be yelling at Chris Tucker and jumping out of exploding cars, but I guess that job is taken.

And there's only three days until the World Cup, so until then, I'm just gonna Keep On Smilin'.

"Pee-Wee's Playhouse"

And beginning July 10, I'm gonna be laughing too, because Pee-Wee is coming back to TV!

The Adult Swim subsidiary of Cartoon Central has nabbed all 45 episodes of "Pee-Wee's Playhouse," and will be airing them Monday through Thursday at 11 p.m. starting July 10.

In Pee-Wee's honor, I hereby declare the secret word for today to be "funny."

Monday, June 05, 2006

Still "Dazed and Confused"

"All I'm saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself."
Randall "Pink" Floyd

It's beginning to look like this will be the year of Richard Linklater, and man do we need him.

Coming later this year we will get "Fast Food Nation," a fictionalized take on Eric Schlosser's best-seller, and before that the trippy, animated Philip K. Dick story "A Scanner Darkly." And before all that, we now get the Criterion treatment of "Dazed and Confused."

I can still remember that, when this came out, I had only the vaguest idea who Linklater was. As I was passing through the Tate Student Center at UGA, however, my friend Eric Rayburn, not a noted film afficionado but an all-around good guy, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into a long line with the promise of "a free movie about the '70s." Well, not needing any more incentive than that, I went along for the ride.

We've all seen this story about Texas high school kids on the last day of school in 1976 by now, and it's classic moments are almost too many to list in one post. Matthew McConaughey in that sleazy mustache, trying to pick up high school girls. Ben Affleck looking like he belongs in "Deliverance," out to paddle anyone he can find. Parker Posey barking at all those "freshmen bitches" and falling down drunk at the moontower. If you somehow haven't seen it, trust me, there's nothing bad here.

Although I loved it instantly, I do remember having the nagging sensation that noone ever had this much fun in high school. Well, at least, I didn't, but we won't get into that.

Here, according to the IMDB, are the Criterion goodies: An audio commentary by Linklater; "Making Dazed," a 50-minute documentary by filmmaker Kahane Corn; A 72-page book featuring new essays by Kent Jones, Jim DeRogatis, and Chuck Klosterman, plus character profiles, and memories of the film from cast and crew; the original film poster designed by Frank Kozik; on-set interviews and behind-the-scenes footage; footage from the 10-year anniversary celebration; audition footage, deleted scenes and the original trailer.

Unless someone wants to buy this one for me, and I won't stop you, I'll have to wait until I get back from Germany. All my money and mojo are focused on going there this Friday for the first round of the World Cup, so the blog will be going on hiatus for about two weeks starting then.

The Boys of Baraka

For a cheaper DVD alternative this week, don't look past "The Boys of Baraka."

My brother convinced me to see this little documentary, and I'm glad he did. It focuses on a group of 12-year-old boys from Baltimore, which unfortunately has never been Charm City for them. They all volunteer to leave their rather depressing surroundings to go to a special school just for them in rural Kenya.

There's plenty of opportunity to manipulate our emotions here, but filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady want none of that. They mostly just let the boys tell their stories as they have plenty of trouble adapting to being in, well, the middle of nowhere. You get to decide for yourself if any of this was a good idea.

As an extra, you get a conversation with Bill Cosby, who never misses an opportunity nowadays to talk about black men in America, usually in starkly unflattering terms. Even if you're tired of him, and I'm certainly getting there myself, this one is still at least well worth a rental.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Break-up

I don't usually care for romantic comedies, because most of them are neither terribly romantic or terribly funny. I say that in case you think that disqualifies me from reviewing "The Break-up," which I will now do my best to do.

Why did I go see this one? Because I like Jennifer Aniston and I like Vince Vaughn. His schtick does get tiresome occasionally, but he's usually very funny, and he has moments to shine in "The Break-Up." And, like almost everyone, I like to see Jennifer Aniston in movies.

And this one almost worked for me. It starts out promisingly enough, with a flashback to Vince in pure "money" mode trying to pick Jen up at a Cubs game. From there, however, we flash-forward, in an instant, to the night they break up. The backstory, apparently, was the polaroids we see of them together in the opening credits, apparently having fun together.

It's established early that they are complete opposites, but that wasn't the problem for me. Cliches like opposites attract don't become cliches because they aren't true. They definitely can be, but here we're given no one to cheer for because five minutes into it, they're screaming at each other.

Which can, in a dark way, be very funny, but it isn't here. It's often just painful, but not in any real way, because we have no idea why they wanted to be together in the first place. At one point, about two-thirds of the way through, a weeping Jen asks Vince, "how did we get here?" As a viewer, I have to say, I have no idea.

And it's a shame, because, you get the sense that individually, if you found out anything about these two people, you would like them.

The supporting players bring much-needed life to this one, however. Jon Favreau, though he looks like he was auditioning for "Supersize Me," is funny as usual as Vince's sidekick, and when they're on screen together it brings back fond memories of better movies. Judi Davis is wonderfully over the top as Jennifer's artist-diva boss, and Vincent D'Onofrio is a welcome sight as Vince's brother who is trying to hold their family business together during the break-up/meltdown.

I won't tell you how it ends, but you may find it to be a surprise. As I said, they're charming as individuals, and Vaughn is from time to time very funny, especially while he is taunting an 8-year-old online opponent in a game of Madden NFL. I just wish we had some reason to want them to be a couple.

What saddens me is that this isn't nearly good enough to knock Ratboy's "Last Stand" from atop its box-office perch, and that, at least in my little corner of the world, we seem to be getting only one new movie a week this summer. What's up with that?

Friday, June 02, 2006

X-Men future comes into focus

Just where will the X-Men go after surviving Brett Ratner and "The Last Stand"? Thanks to USA Today, we now know of four possible directions.

Not surprisingly, the first spinoff will be Hugh Jackman's Wolverine. Jackman has signed on to star and co-produce, and X-Men producer Lauren Shuler Donner says it will likely head into production next year.

Fair enough, but these next two ideas, previously unknown to me, are pure joy.

What are the two things that would best right the X-Men course? For me, it would be a great director and a great lead character. I never would have guessed it would be David O. Russell ("Three Kings") and EMMA FROST!

Frost, who hasn't made an appearance in any of the X-Men movies thus far, is simply a fascinating character. Her saga is far too involved to sum up here, and it's been a while since I read about her, but I'll do my best.

Emma is a telepathic mutant who, once she grasps the nature of her powers, becomes the White Queen and the leader of a band of rebellious young mutants at the Hellfire Club. Her Hellions served as a counterpoint to Charles Xavier's New Mutants, and the two forces were often at war with each other. After all her young students are killed in an attack by the robotic Sentinels, however, Emma is taken in by Xavier and brought back to good health by the X-Men, eventually joining up with them.

Two other tidbits about Emma, if I'm remembering this right, is she eventually plays some sexual mind games with Cyclops, therefore incurring the wrath of his wife, Jean Grey, who was again manifesting her Dark Phoenix powers. And finally, she starts out at the Hellfire Club as a stripper, using her mind games to manipulate clients in all kids of crazy ways.

There's much more to the saga of Emma Frost, and a lot for a great director like Russell to work with. Here's hoping he gets this right.

Another movie possibility mentioned by USA Today was one focusing on the kids at Xavier's school, which could be really fun too.

The fourth X-Men flick in development focuses on Magneto, and is described as being in "script phase."

The film will follow Magneto from his youth, and will obviously require a much younger actor than Ian McKellen, but he will definitely be involved in some way.

So, there's a lot to look forward to. Emma Frost, if it ever happens, would be amazing, but anything they come up would have to be miles better than "Last Stand."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

"The Hitcher" redux; wild "Superman" news

I'm almost embarrassed to admit how much I love "The Hitcher," but why should I be? It's a great B-movie, Rutger Hauer was just plain scary and seeing poor Jennifer Jason Leigh stretched out like that in a twisted take on the rack is a singular vision that gets instantly burned on the brain.

But why would you bother to remake it? Well, given what sells nowadays, it actually makes a lot of sense. My increasingly old-fogey perspective on the world leads me to instantly dismiss gross-out fare like "The Hostel" or "Final Destination," which were huge hits.

Then a person I trust about movies said something eloquent to me about "Wolf Creek"; something along the lines of "Dude, you've got to watch this." And I did, and it is great. It starts with a true story, takes on all the edge of "The Hitcher" and then just goes into darker places than I was ready for. But it is a fantastic addition/tribute to the B-movie canon.

So, in this environment, why not remake the hitcher? Rutger Hauer's role will be taken over by Sean Bean, who at least has the look down right. Our young damsel in distress will be played by Sophia Bush, who apparently stars on the WB's "One Tree Hill." For those of you who, like me, pretend to be above watching TV shows aimed at teenagers, I've included a photo of her.

No word yet on what new ways they will come up with for Bean to torture her, but it could be really fun. No word yet either on who will play her young companion, who the hitcher tries to frame for all his murders, but I'm sure it will be another member of the WB stable.

Production is set to begin this month in Austin, Texas, and Santa Fe, N.M., with "veteran music video director" Dave Meyers as the director. Not the best of credentials, perhaps, but remember they used to also apply to Spike Jonez and Michel Gondry too.

Keep your eyes on this one.

"Superman Returns" in 3D?

Being the uber-geeks they are, the folks at have been doing a great job keeping on top of news and rumors about "Superman Returns," which will be known from here on as "Singer's revenge."

If this word sent in from one of their henchmen (why can't I have henchmen?) is true, it's gonna be really, really cool.

A dude who claims to be an Imax projectionist sent in word that four sequences of the movie equalling about 20 minutes will be in Imax 3D.

Your visual cue to put on your 3-D glasses, which will be needed, is apparently Clark taking off his glasses and turning into the Man of Steel. I'm in geek-overload area here, so forgive me if I start to gush or misspell words.

This just sounds like the coolest thing in years, but I had one question (if you know the answer, and care to share it with me, please be kind in doing so if this turns out to be a stupid question.) If only portions of the movie are in Imax, and you have to put on glasses to see them, does that mean you have to see the movie in an Imax theater to enjoy them? We don't have one of those in my little corner of the world, but I'll gladly drive an hour up the road to Atlanta to enjoy this goodness. If any of you are more technically proficient than me, let me know please.

Anyways, couple this with the fact it's been pushed up to Wednesday, June 28, and it's all good. I haven't been to a midnight screening since "King Kong," but I'll be there if we have one that Tuesday night/Wednesday morning in Macon. See ya there!