Monday, July 31, 2006

Leno & Roeper?

For full disclosure, let me just start by saying I've never much liked Jay Leno, so view whatever comes next through that prism.

With Roger Ebert still recovering from cancer surgery earlier this month, "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno will fill his chair this weekend with co-host Roeper for "Ebert & Roeper." The movies under discussion for that show will include "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," "Miami Vice," "Little Miss Sunshine," "The Night Listener" and "Shadowboxer."

If you'll excuse me for just a second, I just had one of those moments like Christine Taylor in "Dodgeball" where I threw up in my own mouth. ... OK, I'm back, but it's gonna take much more than a glass of water to wash the foul taste of this out of my mouth.

Where do you even start with this one? Well, I guess the conflict of interest is as good a place as any. After seeing Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Steve Carrell and Toni Collette get their asses kissed by Leno the late-night host, you can watch them get "reviewed" by that same ass-kisser Saturday morning. I know it's an extremely incestuous business, but this is still just downright filthy.

And I know that "Ebert and Roeper" is already fairly irrevelant anyway, but I still tuned in most Saturday mornings to see Ebert. He does like almost every movie that comes out, but you can still tell in his reviews that he has the true passion of a real movie fan. As for Roeper, well, he just makes me miss Gene Siskel every time he opens his mouth.

After Leno's done with his week pimping for his Hollywood buddies, it should get much better for the week of Aug. 12. Director Kevin Smith will join Roeper that week, and though he probably won't launch into anything as salty as his rejoinder to "critic" Joel Siegel's rejection of "Clerks II," it should be anything but boring.

"The Departed" trailer

I just love Hong Kong movies, and "Mou Gaan Dou," aka "Infernal Affairs," is one of the best.

Being far from an idiot, Martin Scorsese apparently likes this movie too, enough that he's making an American version, titled "The Departed," which should be out around the end of the year.

For those unfamiliar with the 2002 flick, it stars Tony Leung Chiu Wai as a cop assigned to infiltrate one of Hong Kong's notorious triad gangs, and Andy Lau as a triad member who becomes a mole in the police department. The lines blur more and more as they conduct their parallel assignments, and it all unfolds in thrilling fashion.

Scorsese's version takes the action to Boston and its notorious Irish gangs. Leonardo DiCaprio (before you snicker, remember "The Aviator") will play the undercover cop, and Matt Damon will play the mole. Toss in Jack Nicholson as the big mob boss, and I'm sold. This is easily the flick I'm most looking forward to for the rest of this year.

Check out the trailer for yourself here and let me know what you think.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"Miami Vice"

For a brief moment in the opening scene of Michael Mann's "Miami Vice," it seems like time has just stood still since the show was on every Friday night.

We first see Crockett and Tubbs, now Farrell and Foxx, entering a neon-lit disco, complete with pulsating music and glittery go-go girls grinding to the beat. But it doesn't last too long.

Because, as Mann obviously knows, this isn't the cocaine-crazy South Beach we fell in love with on TV. This is something much more scary. It's the afterparty.

Gone is the pastel pastiche of yesteryear, but Mann still sets a definite mood. Shot in somewhat grainy digital video, it's a much harder place that still manages to suck us in and keeps the tension high almost troughout.

And how have Crockett and Tubbs changed over the years? Not much. The major change is that, although they nominally work for the Miami PD, they're much more like the Saint (Roger Moore, of course, not Val Kilmer; they seem to have no bosses other than themselves, and although they clearly want to take out the baddies (who still, of course, deal drugs), it seems to be more for the sport of it than out of any sense of civic duty.

But so what. Mann's movie plays like a two-hour TV show, with a slightly too complicated plot that comes to a suitably messy resolution. Along the way we get several signature Mann touches that show he's at the top of his game. Its at its best in the final act, when Crockett and Tubbs are closing in on a trailer park where some nasty white supremacists have kidnapped Trudy (the suitably sultry Naomie Harris.) I have trouble calling such an orgy of violence "operatic," as A.O. Scott did in The New York Times, but if you can stomach it, it is indeed riveting to watch.

Before we get there, however, Mann loses course a little as Farrell's Crockett gets entangled with Isabella, the lady friend of our chief baddie, played by the always radiant Gong Li. They do sizzle on screen, and she outshines him in every scene they share. But their little side trip to Cuba, right in the middle of the movie, brings the action to a grinding halt at a crucial moment.

But the 20-minute-or-so stretch doesn't ruin the rest of the fun. And how are Farrell and Foxx? Well, Farrell does indeed act like a vice cop who's been working a tough city for at least 20 years. He looks and acts beaten down, and can't even look like he's having fun when delivering a line as sublimely silly as "I'm a fiend for Mojitos." But it works for the part. Foxx is more passionate as Tubbs, though often with comic results. Watching him ham it up while discussing the minutae of police work in full jargon mode is a hoot.

I think I would enjoy watching Gong Li just wash dishes, but luckily she has much more to do here, and fares well. Harris is going to be a major star very, very soon. Barry Shabaka Henley fills in ably for Edward James Olmos as Lt. Castillo, and it was nice to see Isaach de Bankole again, even if for the only first few minutes.

Mr. Mann has managed to make an entertaining summer flick with sometimes serious (bordering on silly) undertones. It's no small feat, and well worth a Saturday matinee.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

World Trade Center

Going into "World Trade Center" I was more than a little worried - maybe even terrified - about what amazingly talented but just as wildly uneven director Oliver Stone would do with 9/11.

When I mentioned to Atlanta Journal-Constitution features writer Bo Emerson, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the screening, how conservative columnist Cal Thomas had raved about WTC, he said, "so, it's gonna be a flag-waver, huh?" Well, kind of ...

Telegraph entertainment writer Maggie Large, taking a somewhat more wisened view, said Paramount was screening this one well in advance in red states to generate some patriotic fury and get back all the cash they lost on "M:I:III." Maybe ...

But what it really is is simply the tale of two very ordinary Port Authority cops caught in a truly extraordinary situation, told with remarkable restraint and a storyteller's skill.

From the very beginning, you can tell this isn't going to be your average Oliver Stone film. As the tragedy is slowly unfolding, he largely skips the gotcha moments which would have been so easy to grasp in this hell on Earth, instead telling the story from the view of the cops who had the duty and nerve to run into it. The image that most sticks in my mind was the paper streaming down, along with ashes, as the PA cops arrive on the scene. It reminded me again, as it did when I watched it on TV that day, of some kind of bizarro ticker-tape parade of carnage.

And the cops we meet walk and talk like, well, cops. The funniest moment in the calm before the chaos comes as they're on the bus ride down to the Towers, trying to figure out just what's going on. As they trade nuggets of news, one mocks the other who shares what his wife told him with the withering rejoinder, "Who the hell gets their news from Hot 97?"

Our leader is John McLoughlin, a veteran PA cop who had already responded to terror at the Towers once before, when they were hit by a truck-bomber in 1993. He's played by Nicolas Cage, who I frankly haven't much liked since "Raising Arizona" and "Wild at Heart." Here, however, he plays it very low-key and likable, not unleashing any screams until his character is in unbearable pain under a pile of rubble.

Since the tagline for this one is "The world saw evil that day, but two men saw something else," I hope I'm not giving too much plot away here. Shortly after entering the scene, a building comes crashing down on Cage and the small band of cops brave enough to join him, trapping them, and killing most in the group. Cage and one of his young charges, Will Jimeno, played by Michael Pena, survive and are left clinging to life, still not really sure exactly what's going on around them.

At this point, with our two heroes motionless, bloody and covered with ash and soot, the movie definitely could have started to drag, and it kind of does. Two things, however, keep the story moving along. The first thing is the back-and-forth banter, as much as they can muster, between Cage and Pena. It's full of fear, false bravado and even humor, as when Pena talks about how much he liked "Starsky and Hutch" and how many times he "arrested" his sister as they ran around the house. We get a vivid glimpse of who these two men, who shared their stories with Stone, really are.

The second thing that holds our attention is the parallel stories of the wives and children impacted by these events. Stone wisely realizes this is the real core of the story, and he has two great actresses in top form. Maria Bello proved in "A History of Violence" that she can play a woman struggling to keep control as her world crumbles around her. She should have won an Oscar for that role, and here she's almost as good as Donna McLoughlin.

The real kudos, however, go to Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays Jimeno's very pregnant wife, Allison. She pulls us into this awful experience and takes us right along with her through a remarkable performance. As Jimeno's large family is gathered at their house, clinging to every bit of information, a dazed Gyllenhaal stumbles into the kitchen to find one of her many in-laws kneeling on the floor and fervently praying in Spanish. It's a quiet moment that makes a subtle but powerful point about immigration that a younger Stone would have been incapable of achieving.

In the end, there is some flag waving, but why not? Stone earns the right by delivering this harrowing tale of survival without any of the wild touches that would have turned it into a mess. Will it be a big money-maker? I don't think so. Though it is a story of true American heroes, it's still one that for many people will be very hard to watch, and I fully understand where they're coming from.

For this great movie, at least, it seems that Oliver Stone really was changed by 9/11, but hopefully not too much. I love the conspiracy-chasing side of him, and it should be in top form for his next project, the story of Custer at Little Big Horn. I can't wait to see what he does with that.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Gilmore Girls" premiere script

Now that's what I call a scoop.

TV Guide's Michael Ausiello, the lucky (and well, good) bastard, has gotten his hand on the teleplay for the first episode of the seventh season of "Gilmore Girls," aka the first episode of the post-Amy Sherman Palladino era.

Most important thing first: He says of the script, by new show runner David S. Rosenthal, "yes, it's good."

As all fans will remember, the sixth season ended with our heroines in rather precarious positions. After having her impulsive offer to elope rejected by Luke (who, it must be said, has turned into a first-class weenie), Lorelai ran back to Christopher. Rory, meanwhile, was forced to bid au revoir to Logan as he shipped out for a year to work for one of his father's newspapers in London.

It was a suitably downbeat finale to what, for me, was the most disappointingly uneven season of the Gilmores. I really need Rosenthal and his gang to inject some life back into the show, and it seems they have, at least according to Ausiello.

Here's a direct quote of his blunt assessment: "Besides nailing the banter, several of his one-liners were classic, laugh-out-loud Palladino." Amen, brother.

He also says that, inevitably, it will be a tough episode to watch for fans of Luke and Lorelai, but will offer some hope for those of us who think they belong together.

I won't tell you everything he revealed, but I was happy to hear that Rosenthal, like me, is also a big fan of Liza Weil's Paris Geller. Along with the Kims, Paris has grown into my favorite character on the show because Weil has showed her humanity as much as her, well, lesser traits. If you like Liza Weil, I urge you to check out a little flick called "Whatever" from a few years back. It's about two young ladies Weil being one of them) coming of age and following different paths in and out of New Jersey. It's very funny, very real and very entertaining. In "Gilmore Girls" 7.1, Paris apparently becomes - what else- a SAT coach. Should be a hoot.

Mr Ausiello, apparently under threat of severe violence from hired goons at CW, couched these two other nuggets in a sort-of riddle. I couldn't fill in the blanks on any of these, but if you can, please let me know:

Rory and Lorelai spend some quality time together at a *a********* c****

There's a very silly subplot involving Michel, Sookie and *r* ********g.

To read the rest of Ausiello's savory scoop, click here.

Hopefully that will help anyone else out there, who, like me, has been going through serious "Gilmore Girls" withdrawal. Relief is indeed in sight. The show returns Sept. 26, to be followed one week later by "Veronica Mars" in the 9 p.m. slot, giving the CW the best programming bloc of the week, for my money.

"World Trade Center" screening

Though I'm still far from an actual film critic (rumor has it that these lucky people actually get PAID to watch movies), I somehow did manage to finagle my way into a press screening of Oliver Stone's "World Trader Center" tonight in Atlanta. Even if it is Cal Thomas' new favorite movie, I'm really looking forward to it.

It will end later than my brain can function, but I'll have my impressions up by Thursday, so please feel free to come back and check them out.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Superman news; Boondocks on DVD

Until I find some way to get paid to just be a geek, I'll have to continue to exist on the scraps I find from Comic-Con rather than getting to go myself.

There must be so many cool things to sift through there, but this one stuck out to me. At a panel Friday, Bryan Singer let it slip that if he has his way, he will get to direct another Superman flick, but it won't be coming for quite a while.

He said he has had discussions with Warner Bros. Pictures about directing a sequel, but that it probably wouldn't be ready before Summer 2009.

"I plan to get all 'Wrath of Khan' on it," Singer said. "We haven't concluded a deal. That's always iffy," Singer added. "The intention is to do it for 2009."

Sounds good to me. It's probably good that he takes his time on this and works out the few bugs that plagued the mostly satisfying "Superman Returns." He'll definitely need a better villain, and hopefully he'll find a forceful editor to trim this next flick to a less butt-numbing length.

His former friends with the X-Men are, clearly, going in a different direction, spinning off new flicks fast and furious. By next summer we'll have a Wolverine movie, then one for Magneto and (keep your fingers, crossed) maybe even one for Emma Frost.

If he indeed takes his time and pours his heart into the next Superman flick, my money is on Singer to beat them all.

"Boondocks" on DVD

It's pretty slim pickings on DVD this week, but I've already rearranged my Netflix queue to put the first season of this animated series based on Aaron McGruder's great comic strip, out tomorrow, on top.

For my money, if you can get past a certain word that flies through this faster than a tornado in a trailer park, it's the best show in the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim bloc of programming.

It got off to a rough start with a pilot notable only for the unedited version of Kanye West's "Gold digger," but really hit its stride in episode 2, in which grandpa Freeman unwittingly brings home a ho to be his new lady friend. Sure, it's thoroughly rude, but also very funny.

Besides, when you've got the always funny John Witherspoon as Grandpa and Regina King doubling as the voices of his two young charges, angry brothers Huey and Riley Freeman, how can you go wrong?

Once you get past the controversy, what you get is an often touching story about an old man forced to raise these two little hellions and barely getting by. It also has very rude humor in the in-your-face way pioneered by Richard Pryor and later Dave Chappelle.

Along with 15 episodes on 3 discs, you get audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, animatics, unaired "Adult Swim" TV promos and printable storyboards.

If your sensibility can take the hit, I highly recommend this politically charged pop nugget for your DVD menu this week.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Monster House

I know what the title promises, but I was still happy (and admittedly more than a little scared) to find there was indeed something spooky in this house, not just in the minds of our young heroes.

"Monster House," which I thoroughly enjoyed, is an oddity from start to finish. Sure, there are always jokes aimed at adults thrown into animated movies, bones for the grown folk who have to sit through all these movies with their kids.

But "Monster House" is a movie for adults masquerading as an animated summer flick for kids. Don't get me wrong ... there's nothing inappropriate about this movie (except for that scary house for the truly young!). But in its nostalgic look at the spirit of adventure that drives youthful curiousity, I think it will work best for grownups.

Heck, I'm not even sure the kids I see today have that spirit anymore, but that's another topic for another time. I've seen "Monster House" many many times compared to "The Goonies." While it never reaches those heights, it does have a clear view of the summit.

The voice work in "Monster House" is solid throughout, starting with our three young heroes. Though Mitchel Musso as DJ and Spencer Locke as Jenny fare well, just as with "Goonies," it's up to the fat kid to steal every scene he's in, and Sam Lerner is up to the task as Chowder.

Among the adults, Steve Buscemi is great as neighborhood crank Mr. Nebbercracker, and Maggie Gyllenhaal is perfectly haughty as the babysitter Zee. Luckily I had forgotten that Jon Heder was in this one, so when he finally did pop up as the video game guru Bones I was caught off guard and just couldn't help but laugh very loudly as soon as he started talking.

Zemeckis and his crew of animators have come a long way from "Polar Express," but the characters still have an odd, otherworldly look about them that I'm still getting used to. They just don't look real to me, but that was only a minor annoyance. The house itself, once it really came to life and started chasing after our heroes, was a real gas, even if it did look more than a little like "Howl's Moving Castle" (sorry, I just can't help but compare all animated movies to Miyazaki .. it's an annoying habit, I know.)

It's a fun ride, and for my money a lot more entertaining than "Cars." Still, the prize for best animated flick for this summer has to go to "Over the Hedge," which just had a manic spirit to it that had me instantly hooked.

Unfortunately, it looks like its all downhill from here as far as animation this summer. The only preview before my screening of "Monster House" was for "Open Season." Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher in yet another domestic-animal-entering-the-wild flick? I think I'll pass. And "Barnyard" looks like it will mostly be about some of the more unfortunate sounds you might hear coming from an overfed cow. Sheesh.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Clerks 2

It makes me feel a little dirty picking on Kevin Smith even the tiniest bit.

I mean, we've been through so much together. I stuck with him through "Mallrats," which, unlike almost everyone else in the world, I just loved. Heck, I even thought there were some good things about "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back."

So, before I even begin to quibble with "Clerks 2," I feed dutybound to say that it got many, many things right. First and foremost, like its predecessor, it's at its funniest when it's at its foulest. I can't mention all the great lines because many of them are too blue for this blog which is linked from a family newspaper, but believe me, you'll be laughing and squirming at the same time as newcomer clerk Elias tells Randal about his lady friend's "pussy troll." It's classic Kevin Smith, and it's very, very funny.

And the banter between our lead clerks, Brian O'Halloran's Dante and Jeff Anderson's Randal, is still fairly fresh, even if "Transformers" (which, by the way, is just going to suck!) and "Lord of the Rings" have joined "Star Wars" as the focal points of their world. Randal's defense of the term "porch monkey," as Wanda Sykes and the comedian Earthquake are trying to order, is the funniest thing I've seen on screen this year, and Randal's "Porch Monkey 4 Life" movement had me laughing so hard the person behind me must have been tempted to kick me in the back of the head.

Rosario Dawson, who until now I've always just thought of as an extremely pretty face, deserves special mention also. This is the first time I've seen her actually both having fun and really acting on screen. Her Mooby's manager is funny and frustrated, and she really shines in this one.

So, what's wrong with "Clerks II"? Well, for me at least, the third act was almost a disaster. I'm not talking about the "interspecies eroticism," about which you can draw your own conclusion, but what came afterward.

For the fifteen minutes or so that our heroes are locked in prison, they confront each other with the kind of dialogue I would expect to hear on an afternoon soap. It's sappy and silly, and it almost ruins the vibe. Dante and Randal work because, along with being very funny, they are very real people who talk like real people. But this scene just shattered that for me.

But after that it all wraps up neatly (though you won't hear how from me.)

There hasn't been a movie I've looked forward to more this summer than this one, and overall it lived right up those very lofty expectations.

I don't care what Joel Siegel (who walked out of Clerks II in a fit to draw attention to his own fledgling career) or any other highminded critics have to say about Kevin Smith. He makes me laugh out loud, and that will always be good enough for me.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Clowes' new project; big Batman rumor

Daniel Clowes and Jack Black? Now there's a pair to make fanboys and girls everywhere just drool.

In an attempt to recover from the disaster of his first feature-length screenplay, the simply awful "Art School Confidential," comic book hero Clowes will be adapting another of his graphic novelettes, "The Death Ray" from the Eightball series, for the big screen for Jack Black's Black and White company. Black will produce and take a small role.

From what I remember of the Death Ray, it is far more suited to Clowes' strengths than "Art School," which was just far too ambitious for its own good. Just as Clowes created the ultimate anti-heroine in Enid for "Ghost World" (come back Thora Birch .. we all miss you), Andy in Death Ray could just be the ultimate anti-hero.

In Clowes' story, Andy is a serious loser who wakes up one day to find, after puffing on a cigarette, that he has superpowers. So does he instantly become a superhero? Not in Clowes' world. He's just a loser who sees his new powers mostly as a burden.

However, goaded by his pal Louie, our hero ultimately takes up the vaporizing ray conveniently left behind by his absent father and lays waste to all things that annoy him.

This could be the funnest flick in years. Everyone gets a mulligan, and Clowes got his with "Art School Confidential." Here's hoping this new chance turns out much better.

The new joker?

It's hard to doubt the folks over at Latino Review, who figured out Brandon Routh would be the next Man of Steel well before anyone else, so I'm going to take this tantalizing tidbit as fact.

They're reporting that the primary villian in the next Batman flick will be the Joker, who will be played by Heath Ledger.

Maybe its just that I can't get past how he channelled the spirt of Karl Childers to be so sullen in "Brokeback Mountain," but I just can't see Ledger as the Joker.

Here's hoping I'm wrong (and believe me, that has happened well more than few times before.) He did seem to be having a lot of fun in "Casanova," which I was scared to see on the big screen, but was pleasantly surprised by on DVD.

Whatever he does, let's just hope he doesn't try to imitate the only real movie Joker, Jack Nicholson. That would just be a disaster.

Mr. Ledger has been on quite a roll, and it looks like it won't be stopping anytime soon.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

"Miami Vice" clips and John Sayles news

When I was about 15 years old, I just couldn't get enough of "Miami Vice." It just had more style and attitude than anything else on TV, and I was hooked on it.

So when I heard that MV executive producer Michael Mann, now an accomplished movie director, was bringing it to the big screen, I was definitely wary. How could you re-create the excess of the '80s and transport it to 2006?

Well, now that it's almost here, I'm a lot less worried. Over at a site called Rope of Silicon, they've managed to finagle 10 clips from the flick starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, and they look great.

These are only small snippets, of course, but you can see in them that, like in his best work, Mann sets a definite mood for MV the movie, and never lets it go. It should be a gritty, realistic look at undercover work, something you never really got from the TV show. Plus, you apparently get Ciarin Hinds, which is never a bad thing in my book.

Anyways, click here and enjoy. Let me know what you think.

Sayles set to bring the rock

Any news about John Sayles is good news to me, but this nugget sounds like it could just turn out great.

According to this morning's Hollywood Reporter, Sayles has written and will direct "Honeydripper," a period musical drama starring Danny Glover, blues guitarist Keb' Mo', R&B singer Ruth Brown and Gary Clark Jr., a Texas blues guitarist.

Set in 1950s Alabama, Sayles' script centers on Tyrone (Glover), owner of the Honeydripper juke joint. When business at Tyrone's blues club begins to drop off, against his better judgment, Tyrone hires Sonny (Clark), a young electric guitarist, in a last-ditch effort to draw crowds during harvest time.

"It's about that Bo Diddly moment, when music moves from the blues to rock 'n' roll," Maggie Renzi, Sayles' longtime producing partner, told the HR. "John would say he likes to make movies on subjects he doesn't already know, and he knows there's lots of room to explore here."

This definitely sounds like it could be indeed be electric.

Sayles is at his best when he uses his ability to tell entertaining stories that put you right in a specific time and place, and at his worst when he just lets his considerable conscience take control. (Think "Casa de los Babys," which, remarkably, turned out to be even worse than its horrendous title.)

This one, thankfully, sounds like it will definitely be the former. It's description reminds me of a mix of "Lone Star" and "Passion Fish," his bayou drama about a wheelchair-bound former soap star (Mary McConnell) and the nurse who cares for her (Alfre Woodard), which remains my favorite Sayles film along with "The Secret of Roan Inish."

Plug it in, John, and definitely just let it roll.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Buffy, the Eighth Season?

Before you fanboys and fangirls get too excited, there's not an eighth season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" coming to TV or DVD anytime soon. Buffy's saga is continuing, however, in a new series of Dark Horse comics being written by none other than Joss Whedon himself (hurrah!).

This was presented as old news at Aintitcool - via the great popwatch blog from Entertainment Weekly - but it is new to me and very, very welcome.

Though I love "Buffy" more than any grown man should, I found the seventh and final season to be highly disappointing. They were clearly in a hurry to wrap things up, and it never really developed a cohesive feel.

The finale, however, was fantastic. To refresh your memory, just as Buffy is about to go into her final battle, Willow works her Mojo to make all potential slayers into actual slayers, creating a whole new army of superbad young heroines. And then, after a great battle, it ended ... until now.

According to EW, Whedon's comic will pick up right where the story left off, and even though she has plenty of help in the fight against evil, our Buffy apparently still has plenty to keep her busy.

Though I usually "borrow" any image I want to share with the good people who read this blog, the cover image for issue No. 1 nabbed by EW had a genuine feel of exclusivity to it. Check it out for yourself here.

Your more highminded critics might put out that artist Georges Jeanty put the "Buffy" logo right where most fanboys were drawn on the show, but on the upside it definitely seems he hasn't let Buffy follow the road to bulimia with Sarah Michelle Gellar.

To me she just looks tough as hell, and she still has that axe, ready to do battle once again. Welcome back, old friend.

Frank Miller and "The Spirit"

Apparently its just a red letter day for comic fans. Word comes this morning from that comic book artist extraordinaire Frank Miller will adapt and direct "The Spirit," based on Will Eisner's classic strip.

Miller is apparently a man with endless energy. As he casts his eyes on this project, he's still working with Robert Rodriguez on a "Sin City 2" and "Sin City 3," based on his own fantastic graphic novels.

I'm not terrribly familiar with The Spirit, but here's what Comingsoon had to say about the character: The comic, which debuted in 1940, tells the story of a masked detective who is believed to be dead. Using a mausoleum as his home base, Eisner's character fights crime in the dark shadows of Central City, using cunning and ingenious forms of punishment.

Sounds right up Miller's alley. Like almost everyone I know, I just loved "Sin City." I thought it started a little slow, but once it got going I was hooked and definitely wanting more.

Thankfully, Mr. Miller seems plenty willing to deliver the goods, again and again.

T.I. and used cars

Apparently no longer satisfied with being simply the self-proclaimed king of the South, none-too-modest rapper T.I. now wants to be king of the world.

According to Variety, T.I. and his partner Jason Geter have sold a pitch to New Line set in the world of used cars. It will be the first project for the film division of T.I. and Geter's company Grand Hustle Entertainment.

"For Sale: is set at an Atlanta used-car lot considered the last place in town a car would go; T.I. would play one of the salesmen.

Though this has the potential to be very funny, I can't get too excited after having to sit through "ATL." The movie was just a huge disappointment, mostly but not only because T.I., though a charismatic rapper, is simply a horrible actor. His modus operandi in "ATL" seemed to be that to show an emotion, any emotion, all he had to do was squint.

No one, however, could have saved that disaster. Maybe with better material he'll loosen up and learn how to cut up on screen. Here's hoping.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Brisco County on DVD; Eureka begins tonight on Sci-Fi

On paper at least, "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr." should have been the coolest show in the history of TV. And for one season or so, it proved to be so.

Maybe, like so many other great but short-lived shows, "Brisco" was just too cool for network TV. Now, for fans of crazy Westerns everywhere, Bruce Campbell and his co-conspirators ride again on DVD, with all 27 episodes captured on eight discs and slathered with extras.

If you're not familiar with "Brisco County," I'd best describe it as a cross between "Firefly" and "Buckaroo Banzai," a sci-fi Western that was often very, very funny. B-movie hero Campbell played Brisco, a Harvard Law graduate-turned bounty hunter tracking down members of the infamous John Bly gang, the same men who killed his father, a famous marshal and Western legend.

Along for the ride is former rival-turned partner Lord Bowler, played with great comic flair by Julius Carry, and the slightly solacious showgirl Dixie Cousins, a constant distraction brought to life by Kelly Rutherford.

What made the show so much fun was its total lack of respect for the notion of time. Mad scientist John Astin was always popping up to provide Brisco with futuristic gadgets that would make James Bond drool, and while on their steeds our heroes would riff on pop culture nuggets that had nothing to do with the Old West.

The extras on the last disc include, according to the IMDB: Commentary by Bruce Campbell and Carlton Cuse on the pilot; Brisco's Book of Coming Things: a video catalog of the show's signature references to future items and ideas; "The History of Brisco County" - a retrospective documentary; Tools of the Trade: an interactive Brisco lore featurette gallery; A Reading from the Book of Bruce; A Brisco County Writer's Room: round table with key series creative personnel, and booklet liner notes by Campbell.

At its best, "Brisco County" worked like the old Western serials that once brought kids to movie theaters each week to find out what happens next. Take this trip back in time and be ready to laugh a lot. I promise you'll enjoy the ride.

"Eureka" tonight on Sci-Fi

I don't have much time for dramas on prime-time TV because, like Emily Gilmore, I just don't find forensic work as fascinating as the rest of the world. I do, however, love most of the original programming on the Sci-Fi Channel, and tonight's premiere of "Eureka" at 9 should add another winner to the pack.

Here, according to Sci-Fi, is the plot synopsis:

With the help of Albert Einstein and other trusted advisors, President Harry S. Truman commissioned a top-secret residential development in a remote area of the Pacific Northwest, one that would serve to protect and nurture America's most valuable intellectual resources. There our nation's greatest thinkers, the über-geniuses working on the next era of scientific achievement, would be able to live and work in a supportive environment. A community was created to rival the most idyllic of America's small towns — with one major difference: this town would never appear on any maps. At least, none that haven't been classified "eyes only" by the Pentagon.
Most of the quantum leaps in science and technology during the past 50 years were produced by Eureka's elite researchers. Unfortunately, scientific exploration is rarely what one expects, and years of experiments gone awry have yielded some peculiar by-products.

Looking at the cast list for this one, the one name that stands out is the always-welcome Joe Morton, who I haven't seen in years. This being TV, you can expect the requisite eye candy for both sexes to go along with the big brains.

The premise, eerily reminiscent of "Twin Peaks" in ways, intrigues me, so I'll definitely tune in tonight. If it doesn't get shifted this fall, however, it will be up against "Veronica Mars" on the new CW schedule. Now there's a dilemma. I look forward to the fight.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Previews: "A Scanner Darkly" and "Volver"

The kind folks at aren't just geeks; they're very proud to be geeks and very good at it.

Thanks to them, I can at least get a glimpse of movies like "A Scanner Darkly," which has yet to grace my little corner of the world. Apparently a cartoon about the dangers of the drug culture is too subsersive for our eyes and ears (though we just did get Al Gore's surprisingly addictive "An Inconvenient Truth," so I guess I should keep hope alive.

I loved Richard Linklater's "Waking Life," which debuted his pioneering animation style and just came at you from about a thousand different trippy directions. For those out there who don't know, "A Scanner Darkly" uses and improves on that same style to tell Philip K. Dick's story about the government's war against the extremely powerful drug Substance D. It features the voices of Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Winona Ryder and Woody Harrelson, among others.

Those of you who, like me, don't have access to this potentially great work of art, can now check out the first 24 minutes over at IGN. It will put your computer through a workout (I could hear my old HP weezing, but it made it), but I think you'll find it worth the effort. Check it out here.

"Volver" trailer

When I'm pressed to pick out one favorite director, which I hate to do, the answer nine times out of 10 will be Pedro Almodovar. To me, he just has a signature style that is instantly recognizable, and almost always delivers extremely entertaining flicks.

It really pained me, therefore, when I was so disappointed with "Bad Education," his last flick starring a dragged up Gael Garcia Bernal. The plot, which just kept taking more and more turns, turned out to make little sense at all in the end, at least to me.

"Volver," his newest offering which should be hitting our bigger cities soon, looks like a welcome return to top form. Almodovar has always been at his best when he writes funny roles for colorful women, which he has returned to here.

It features the always bella Penelope Cruz, but also a welcome return from Carmen Maura, his greatest discovery and an impeccable actress. The story about one family's struggles in working class Madrid seems to have an air of magical realism to it, and is as usual for Almodovar filmed in vibrant colors.

Check out the trailer here, and let me know what you think.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

There's something oddly poetic about going to see Al Gore's great movie about global warming on a day hot enough to choke a horse. The heat index in my car alone must have been 120 degrees.

I was wary going into this one, despite the almost univeral acclaim. Though I voted for Al Gore and am glad I did, I've never particularly liked him. I just always thought there was something phony about him, and it always rubbed me the wrong way.

In "An Inconvenient Truth," however, be ready for a different kind of Gore than we've seen before. Global warming is clearly an all-consuming passion for him, and he somehow manages to make that highly infectious.

What we get in the movie is, essentially, one lecture from Gore, with only brief interruptions but featuring some truly impressive slides. An entertaining lecture from Al Gore? How is that possible? Because what he's talking about is - without exaggeration - the destruction of our planet, and why we are all responsible for it.

As he made his case, I was only bored once, about an hour into it when he started to drone on about moulins, which apparently move meltwater through glaciers. But, just as my mind started to drift, he hit me with the gotcha moment of this great movie: What would happen if a large of chunk of Greenland were to break off and melt away ... I won't spoil it for you, but the results are chillingly catastrophic, and the way he demonstrates it is highly effective.

And, as he scares the hell out of us, Gore is at times charming and funny, things I had never seen before. As it came to a close (in a brisk 1 hr, 45 minutes), I couldn't help think what would have happened if Mr. Gore had become president six years ago. I'm certain the world would be a better place, but it's painful to dwell on it, so I won't.

As I was driving home, it also hit me that in a case of high irony, I hadn't been terribly "green" in my mission to see his movie. I drove a half-hour each way to get there, with stops along the way to buy the fabulous new Pimp C album and nosh at Caribbean Paradise, and sat in a very well air-conditioned theater (Galleria Cinemas in Centerville, Ga.) to listen to his words of wisdom.

Oh well. Tomorrow I'll be better. I was tentatively planning to go see "You, Me and Dupree," which I'm almost certain will just suck beyond all comprehension, but instead I'm gonna save the gas and just say no. I guess every little bit helps.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Apatow and Rogen go back to school

In a great high school reunion of sorts, Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen are joining forces again for the upcoming comedy "Super Bad." Apatow is producing the high school-themed film, while Rogen is penning the screenplay and will co-star.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Greg Mottola,,who directed several episodes of Apatow's short-lived TV series "Undeclared," will helm "Super Bad," with Jonah Hill and Michael Cera on board to star.

The story revolves around two co-dependent high school seniors (Hill and Cera) who set out to score alcohol for a party, believing that girls will then hook up with them and they will be ready for college. But as the night grows more chaotic, overcoming their separation anxiety becomes a greater challenge than getting the girls.

If I'm not mistaken, this is Rogen's first attempt at writing a feature film, but he's already proven he's a very funny guy. He wrote some episodes of "Undeclared," the second-best one-season-only TV show ever. I've heard several theories on why "Undeclared" failed, the most popular being that no one wanted to laugh when it debuted right after 9/11. My personal theory was best put by the lovable Cramps: People Ain't No Good.

Rogen and Apatow also worked together,as star and producer respectively, on the single-best one-season-only TV show ever, "Freaks and Geeks." I love this show unconditionally, and did something really foolish: Having missed the show during its brief run on TV, I bought the rather expensive DVD set anyway, sheerly on word of mouth from friends. I'm glad I did. For me, it captured the hell and occasional heaven that was high school better than any other movie or TV show.

"Super Bad" looks like it will be a lot sillier than "F&G," but it could also be a lot of fun. George Michael Bluth (Cera) on an epic beer run? I'm there.

"Beerfest" trailer

Speaking of beer - and who doesn't like to on a Friday? - the Web site for Broken Lizard's "Beerfest" is up and running, and it features a new trailer.

A lot of people I know have mixed feelings about the Broken Lizard crew, but with "Super Troopers" they made one very, very funny movie, so they've still got a lot of goodwill stored up with me.

Here, from the site, is the plot summary for "Beerfest." If you don't at least snicker while reading this, get thee a sense of humor transplant:

"When American brothers Todd and Jan Wolfhouse (Erik Stolhanske and Paul Soter) travel to Germany to spread their grandfather's ashes at Oktoberfest, they stumble upon a super-secret, centuries old, underground beer games competition — Beerfest - the secret Olympics of beer drinking. The brothers receive a less than warm welcome from their German cousins, the Von Wolfhausens, who humiliate Todd and Jan, slander their relatives and finally cast them out of the event. Vowing to return in a year to defend their country and their family's honor, the Wolfhouse boys assemble a ragtag dream team of beer drinkers and gamers: Barry Badrinath (Jay Chandrasekhar), the consummate skills player with a dark past; Phil Krundle (Kevin Heffernan) AKA "Landfill," the one-man chugging machine; and Steve "Fink" Finklestein (Steve Lemme), the lab tech with a Masters degree in All Things Beer. This Magnificent Five train relentlessly, using their hearts, minds and livers to drink faster, smarter and harder than they ever have before. But first they must battle their own demons... as well as a bunch of big, blond, German jerks who want to destroy the team before they can even make it back to Munich. Revenge, like beer, is best served cold."

This one should be a definite respite from the soul-deadening heat of August. Wanna see more? The trailer is up on the official site here.

Even if this was filmed in Arizona rather than the great republic of Allemagne, I'll be there. Now if they would only serve beer ...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

HBO: "Sopranos," "True Blood" and Spike Lee

It looks like even mighty HBO is afraid of NFL football. As it unveiled its plans for the upcoming seasons, the cable network announced it would move its original programming, except "The Wire" at 10 p.m., away from Sunday nights, opting instead to have movies go up against fan-consuming football.

In even bigger news, the return of "The Sopranos" for the conclustion of season six has been pushed back from January to March. The reason given was knee problems for tuto cappi James Gandolfini, but I suspect that, once again, not competing with football may also have been a factor.

I really dug the first part of season six. It all just seemed to move at a leisurely pace, with small moments of greatness thrown in from time to time. I especially enjoyed Paulie's season-long flipout and Christopher's illicit courting of the always-welcome Julianna Margulies.

Since I gave up HBO to help pay for the World Cup, I guess I can wait two more months before I pick it up again rather than mooch off my co-workers.

"True Blood"

Also announced by HBO were plans for a new series from "Six Feet Under" creator Alan Ball. Titled "True Blood," it will be based on Charlaine Harris' novels about "vampires in Louisiana."

"True Blood" takes its name from the brand of synthetic blood that the Japanese have patented in Harris’ novels. Vampires can actually drink it, thereby bypassing their need for human blood.

In an interview with the BBC, Ball was clearly having fun talking about his plans for this. Here's what he had to say.

Having shed one of their more antisocial habits, the vampires "decide to make their presence known, hire PR firms, and sort of ... come out of the coffin. A lot of churches are horribly against them, but they are very wealthy, and contribute a lot of money to Republican politicians so that they can legitimise their holdings." He had fun with subtexts: "Vampires are a great metaphor for minority groups that struggle for rights and recognition, but also for Republicans, in that they’re vicious and bloodthirsty and will destroy anything that gets in their way."

I often had trouble appreciating "Six Feet Under." I found all the characters to be way too self-absorbed, and was only able to stand it in small doses.

I do, however, love TV shows about vampires, primarily "Buffy" and "Angel." Ball's series, if it does gets picked up by HBO, sounds like a different kind of animal, but potentially still a lot of fun.

One final BBC quote from Ball leaves me optimistic: "It’s more popcorn TV than Six Feet Under. It’s very raucous, more entertaining, much, much funnier. I’m done peering into the abyss for a while."

Glad to hear it. If HBO picks up "True Blood," and I can't imagine they wouldn't, look for its debut in fall of 2007.

A big dose of Spike

I'm not sure the world is ready for this, but I certainly am.

Spike Lee's four-hour documentary on the Hurricane Katrina disaster, "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts," will have its Aug. 16 world premiere at the New Orleans Arena in front of an audience of 10,000. "Requiem" will have its HBO premiere five days later.

There's still a lot of unanswered questions in the Gulf Coast rubble, and I can't wait to see what Spike can dig up there. Two of his documentaries, "Four Little Girls," about the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church, and "The Original Kings of Comedy," which brought Bernie Mac to the world of white people, are among his best movies in my opinion. If you haven't seen "Kings," it's worth a rental just too see Mac's truly evil but still very funny riff on child abuse. Fairly far removed from his tame TV persona.

Spike in August on HBO? Looks like I'd better go now and call the cable company to push up that HBO reorder to right away.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Is the FCC insane?

To paraphrase the work of swearmasters Park and Stone, the FCC has finally, it seems, gone nanners.

In its eternal quest to rid the airwaves of any whiff of profanity, the Federal Communication Commission has apparently requested numerous tapes from broadcasters that might include vulgar remarks from coaches, athletes and spectators at live sporting events.

According to the always reliable Hollywood Reporter, "tapes requested by the commission include live broadcasts of football games and NASCAR races where the participants or the crowds let loose with an expletive."

All I can really think is don't they have anything better to do? That, and who the hell has to do such an awful job?

Can you imagine some pure sap sitting there, slowing the frame down to a crawl in search of that elusive expletive? Ludacris is the cleanest word I can come up with.

Imagine trying to do this with the World Cup, where, I can assure you I let loose with more than a few choice profanities watching the U.S. melt down in the second half vs. Ghana. Will they have an international contingent, young interns from around the globe scouring footage for every last swear word most Americans don't even understand?

If this is really what our federal government was intended to do, can they at least use their energy to find out what that dirty Italian Materazzi said to make Zizou go off his head in the Cup final? Sheesh.

In much better news for profanity fans everywhere, Comedy Central has apparently relented and will air the banned "South Park" episode about Scientology, "Trapped in the Closet," next Wednesday, July 19. Huzzah.

"Night at the Museum"

OK, anyone who had to sit through that rant deserves a reward.

The best I can come up with today is the trailer for this fun flick, which I believe is scheduled to come out in December. In it, as you'll see in the trailer, Ben Stiller plays a guard at a museum where the exhibits come to life after closing time. It also apparently stars la bella Carla Gugino, giving me reason enough to rather shamelessly post a picture of her.

It's a concept that has always intrigued me. Every time I walk in to the lobby of the National Museum of National History in D.C. I expect to see that giant elephant break free and trample everyone in sight. And I love that early episode of "Buffy" where Zander finally gets a date but its with a mummified Incan princess who has come back to life.

Anyways, it all looks like a big ball of "Jumanji"-style fun. Click here to see for yourself.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"Tristram Shandy" and "Yi yi" on DVD

There are few subgenres I hate more than movies about making movies. "State and Main"? Simply painful to watch. "Living in Oblivion"? Even worse.

Until recently, the only one I enjoyed was Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night". Last year, Michael Winterbottom added one more gem to the list, the surprisingly entertaining "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story", which comes out on DVD today.

Two things make Winterbottom's movie stand out. First, we're told that the novel they're trying to adapt, "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Esq.", is a rambling mess and therefore unfilmable. Watching the participants live out this truism is extremely entertaining.

The second thing is star Steve Coogan, who is all misplaced ego and very funny. He's played this character plenty of times before, but this time he adds more humanity for a much more well-rounded performance.

I reviewed this one when it was presented by the Macon Film Guild in March. To read the full review, click here.

DVD extras include an extended interview with Coogan conducted by Tony Wilson, who Coogan played in Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People," plus deleted scenes, scene extensions and behind-the-scenes footage. There is also a commentary by Coogan and co-star Rob Brydon.

Rent it today.

"Yi yi"

Criterion has been on a real roll lately. After last month's simply stellar treatment of Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused", now Taiwanese director Edward Yang gets the honor for his 2000 movie "Yi yi".

Although on paper it sounds like it would be painful to watch, Yang's 3-hour movie about how one Taiwanese family deals with the intrusions of modern life plays out like a liesurely paced soap opera missing much of the melodrama.

Nien-Jen Wu, as the family patriarch N.J., has the face and demeanor of the Everyman (think Bruno Ganz in "Wings of Desire"), and his performance is subdued but sublime. There's a long sequence in which he goes to Japan to meet with a video game designer that plays out like a dream and is more effective than anything Sofia Coppola produced in "Lost in Translation".

Much more happens to the members of N.J.'s family, and as it plays out it never gets boring. The cover for the Criterion edition is simply fantastic, playing cleverly off the fact that the youngest member of the clan has a habit of taking pictures of the backs of people's heads.

Unfortunately, if, like me, you already own this on DVD, Criterion doesn't exactly pile on the extras this time to tempt you again. There is a commentary by writer-director Yang and noted Asian-cinema critic Tony Rayns, a new video interview with Rayns about the "New Taiwanese Cinema" movement and a booklet with a new essay by Kent Jones and notes by writer-director Yang.

If you don't own it already, however, I'd recommend adding this gem to your library.

As I was writing this, I began to wonder what happened to Edward Yang. According to the IMDB, he hasn't released a movie since "Yi yi," but that will soon change. He's teamed up with Jackie Chan for an animated movie titled "The Wind", due out in 2007. The lead character is a young man with amazing kung fu skills, modeled and based on Chan himself. All the characters will be drawn and created by Edward Yang and his team of animators, while the action and martial arts in the film will be supervised by Jackie Chan and his crew.

Sounds a little troubling, but still all I can say is welcome back, Mr. Yang. Don't stay away so long next time.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Johnny Depp and Terry Zwigoff

Noone is in more need or is more deserving of a good movie than director Terry Zwigoff, and now it seems he may have found it, thanks to Johnny Depp.

This summer got off to a rotten start for me with Zwigoff's highly disappointing "Art School Confidential," but this project sounds much more tailored to his wierd view of the world.

Depp (through his production company, Infinitum Nihil) has apparently picked Zwigoff to co-write and direct an adaptation of a French novel called "Happy Days," which thankfully has nothing at all do with Ron Howard. In the novel by Laurent Graff, a 30-something man decides to leave his wife and children and check himself into a rest home. There he develops a special bond with an old woman suffering from terminal cancer, taking her on a special journey as her last wish.

"Johnny Depp asked me to do the film," Zwigoff said. "He said he chose me because I'm very Hal Ashby-like," referring to the late director of the intergenerational romance "Harold and Maude." "I took that as a compliment. It's a very quaint, fantastical story."

It is indeed, and like I said, one that seems tailormade for Zwigoff. It sounds to me like equal parts the aforementioned "Harold and Maude" and "Big Fish," both movies I adore. No word yet on whether Depp would play our hero, but I can't imagine he would front the money for this if he weren't interested in taking the part.

Here's hoping this one lives up to its very great potential.

New "Rocky Balboa" footage

Rocky won't return until December 22, but as more and more footage comes out he just begins to look better and better.

All I had seen before this was a fairly cool teaser trailer, with the old-school Philly soul and blue caste giving the whole thing a great vibe.

In this new footage from Insider, we get tons of new details. Sly will apparently be coming out of retirement, once again, to fight a man who is clearly much younger, faster and stronger than him. The smart money, of course, would have to be on Rocky, but I think Sly may just be betting he has enough left in him for another Apollo Creed-style story arc. We'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, take a look at the Insider footage for yourself here.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm still just too depressed about the classless behavior of the world's greatest footballer, Zinedine Zidane, in yesterday's World Cup final to write any more today. Although it pains me to say it, congrats to the Azzurri, who just made one hell of a run through the tournament.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

"Chappelle's Show: The Lost Episodes"

A friendly reminder for those of who love to laugh and are not at all easily offended: funnyman Dave Chappelle and friends return to Comedy Central at 9 tonight with "Chappelle's Show: The Lost Episodes."

This is the first of three, I believe, episodes featuring material filmed before Dave's $50-million flameout. Here's hoping they even come close to the "Chappelle's Show" standard.

In a nice touch, these "new" episodes will be hosted by "Chappelle's Show" regulars Charlie Murphy and Donnell Rawlings.

Tonight's episode will reportedly include a sketch featuring sadistic merchants who wildly overcharge Dave once they learn he's a multimillionaire, and one in which Dave hatches brutal revenge plots against people who did him wrong before he hit it big.

Tune in and be ready to laugh .... I know I will.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Saying anything, good or bad, about this mostly very enjoyable sequel is like trying to pick on the most popular kid in school: Noone's going to listen, and you know in your heart everyone's right anyway.

Packing in more action and almost as much fun as its predecessor, Pirates 2 is everything a summer popcorn movie should be, very pretty people doing very crazy things just for our entertainment.

What story there is is definitely secondary to the spectacular effects. In it, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and longtime love Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) are planning their wedding, but they're disrupted by lawman Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), who has charged them with aiding the escape of a known criminal, Capt Jack Sparrow, of course.

In order to gain their freedom, Will must track down his old buddy to obtain a certain object that is in Jack's possession. At the same time, Jack and the crew of the Black Pearl are fleeing from the legendary Flying Dutchman and its evil skipper, Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). As it turns out, Jack made a devil's deal to receive his captaincy, and now the supernatural-powered Jones wants to collect his "payment."

It's all great stuff that director Gore Verbinski almost manages to weave into a coherent story line. My favorite action sequence was a death- and logic-defying sword duel atop a mill wheel, but there are plenty to choose from.

And of course,like the first Pirates movie, this one is all about Johnny Depp's manic performance as Capt. Jack Sparrow. I kept waiting for him to reach that moment of saturation, like Bart Simpson's "I didn't do it" character on the "Krusty the Clown" show, but for me at least, it hasn't come yet. Whether he can keep it up through a third - and apparently fourth - Pirates movie remains to be seen, but you can't make me bet against him. La Bella Keira and Mr. Bloom hold their own, but this is all about Johnny.

My only quibble with Pirates 2 was that, at 2 1/2 hours, it's awfully long for a summer flick. This is, after all, a movie based on an amusement park ride. Like a ride, it should be short, fast and sweet. But I was rarely bored in Pirates 2, mostly because it often moved at a manic pace.

I haven't quite managed to erase the foul taste of "X-Men: The Last Stand" from my mouth, but with this making four consecutive mostly great flicks (after "Superman Returns," "Nacho Libre" and "Cars"), this summer is starting to get its shimmer back for me.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

"Nine Lives" and "Hard Candy"

I'm ashamed to admit it's been a rather long time since I've gone to see a movie presented by the Macon Film Guild. This Sunday, however, I'll be breaking this streak, and not just because I promised guild honcho Camp Bacon I would.

This month's offering is Rodrigo Garcia's "Nine Lives," which I haven't seen yet. I have, however, seen Garcia's "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her," in which Garcia showed an Altmanesque flair of weaving together various vignettes together with a common theme.

To tell you about "Nine Lives," however, I'll turn to guest critic Stephen Holden of the New York Times (who doesn't know he's been given this honor). Here is what he said about it in his October review:

During the final vignette of "Nine Lives," Rodrigo García's extraordinarily rich and satisfying suite of fleeting but intense moments in the lives of nine women, Maria (Dakota Fanning), a girl visiting a cemetery with her mother, Maggie (Glenn Close), notices a cat wandering on the lawn and wonders out loud if cats really have nine lives; her mother answers that she doesn't think so.

Maggie has spread out a picnic blanket in front of a modest tombstone that marks the grave of her husband or a close relative (the inscription is never shown nor is a name mentioned). Later, she stands guard behind a tree while her daughter urinates. At another point, she remarks at how amazing it is that people make it through life carrying so much heavy baggage.

This is how the moments unfold in the movie and in life, like the shadows of clouds skittering across the lawn. While Maggie converses with her daughter, there is a split second in which her grief suddenly wells up, but she catches herself and swallows it. And in one slow, breathtaking shot, the camera pans 360 degrees to observe the trees and grass and to drink in the quiet of an eternal resting ground.

Although the vignette is set in a cemetery, it doesn't offer the sort of weepy closure that people go to the movies expecting to find. Nor do any of the film's eight other vignettes end in snug little epiphanies. Together, however, they add up to a film that may be the closest movies have come to the cinematic equivalent of a collection of Chekhov short stories. The film's reward for intense concentration is a feeling of deep empathy and connection. For once, you don't harbor the uneasy suspicion of having been emotionally manipulated.

"Nine Lives" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). It has profanity and sexual situations. It is presented Sunday, July 9, at 2, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Douglass Theatre in downtown Macon by the Macon Film Guild. I'll see you there.

"Hard Candy"

A more troubling but equally welcome flick is being presented soon at the Capitol Theatre.

"Hard Candy" tells the story of a teen girl who takes her revenge on a would-be pedophile after the two meet via the Internet. For those who are looking for lurid scenes of extreme torture, wait for the next in the line of B horror flicks; word is that this one mostly focuses on the mind games played by the two main characters. Its setup reminds me of Roman Polanski's "Death and the Maiden," which I loved.

Here to tell you all about "Hard Candy" is our second guest reviewer, Eric Campos of Film Threat:

“Hard Candy” opens with the innocent meeting of two online daters. Hayley (Ellen Page) is a shy teenage girl and Geoff (Patrick Wilson) is a suave, handsome guy in his early 30s. This public meeting seems to be going well and Geoff appears to be a nice enough guy that Hayley decides to accompany him back to his house. The two have drinks, but, using her best judgment, Hayley does not drink anything that she hasn't mixed herself. Geoff completely understands and to show a little faith in her, he agrees to drink one of her concoctions.

“Hard Candy” is an excellent title for this film, but “Bad Move” would've been just as suitable.

Geoff passes out and awakens to find himself tied down and at the mercy of this fairly angry young girl who has a razor sharp grudge against Geoff and she has no reservations in letting him know all about it. So begins the feature-length physical and mental torture as we're slowly dipped into Geoff's past, leading us to figure out just what exactly this axe is that Hayley has to grind.

“Hard Candy” is a tough sit, but it attracts more than repels you. It commands your attention. Once it lands its hooks in you, there's no tearing away. Being a part of the Sundance 2005 film festival, this is so far the only film I've seen that's had the entire theater firmly in its grip with many an audience member leaning forward in their seat anticipating but dreading the next awful deed.

Yeah, this candy is hard to handle, but at the same time it's oh so sweet.

So there you have it.

"Hard Candy" is rated R for disturbing violent and aberrant sexual content involving a teen, and for language.

It is being shown at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Macon at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 12, 9 p.m. Friday, July 14, 9 p.m. Friday, July 15, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 16. And, if a potentially great psychological drama isn't enough to lure you in, word is that Ingleside Village Pizza is fully up and running at the Capitol to tempt your tastebuds.

What a great combo!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Best soccer movies

I think I frightened my father a bit last night when he asked me if I had watched the Italy-Germany match. I had to assure him that my rather strong dislike of the Italian squad (hate is such a harsh word, after all) did not extend to the Italian nation as a whole, who I find to be fine, fine people.

It's just their style of football I can't stomach, even though I have to admit that Fabio Grosso goal was a real thing of beauty. The Cup just evokes strong emotions in me, and I have trouble keeping them to myself.

I'm the only person I know who wants the French to win. Now that it could be France v. Italy, I want it even more.

Anyways, in honor of the beautiful game, here are my five favorite (and one least favorite) fictional flicks about soccer, ranked from worst to first.

5. "Victory" It's hard to believe this rather bizarre movie was directed by John Huston. All I remember about it now is that it had both Sylvester Stallone and Pele, and when I was 11 years old I just loved it.

4. "Shaolin Soccer" I was very skeptical (sp?) about this one, but it's as entertaining as it is ridiculous, and very fun throughout. All you really need to know is that the bad guys are actually called Team Evil and the ball, at various times, changes into a ball of fire or causes the earth to tremble. Stephen Chow is a comic genius.

3. "Gregory's Girl" OK, so this one's only marginally about soccer, but this is my list, so deal with it. Bill Forsyth is simply one of my favorite directors. With "Local Hero" and this little gem about a young man who becomes infatuated with a young lady who happens to be a great soccer player, he crafted two of the best movies from the 1980s.

2. "Bend it Like Beckham" How sad is it that just as this great movie about English girls who want to play pro soccer in the U.S. was released, the women's pro league was shutting down? You all know this one. It brought Keira Knightley, and for you E.R. fans, Parminder Nagra to the world, and it's just great sappy but empowering entertainment.

1. "The Cup" I just love this one. It's about young Tibetan monks-to-be, in exile in India, who will do anything to watch the 1998 World Cup. Starring actual monks with no acting experience, it gets right to the heart of why we (or at least I) get obsessed with what is, after all, just a game. If you can find it, rent it today.

Those are the good, and here's the bad.

Nick Hornby's book "Fever Pitch" is an even more entertaining look at obsession than "The Cup." All soccer fans have surely read this chronicle of his undying - and often very frustrating - love for the English football club Arsenal. I've read it three times, and probably will again someday.

They recently transformed it into a fairly successful romantic comedy about the Red Sox starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. Before that, however, it was made into a truly dreadful British flick, apparently penned by Hornby himself, which virtually ignored the football and just focused on the romance.

No sparks flew between leads Colin Firth and Ruth Gemmell, and with virtually no Arsenal in it, there's no dramatic tension whatsoever. Just an all-around rotten flick.

But enough of that. What's your favorite soccer movie, if you have one? Let me know.

Now I have to get to work early today. Having a holiday on Tuesday is just a dastardly idea, so I have to catch up and finish early to watch Les Blues take on Portugal. My call: Zidane to Henry, then Zidane to Vieira (viva Arsenal!), and the French win 2-0.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


To celebrate Independence Day, I finally caught up with "Cars," a fairly great Pixar flick that loses a little gas in the middle before finishing with a flourish (I'll try to drop the racing lingo now, but I make no promises).

The first thing to mention about any Pixar movie is how it looks, and this one sets a whole new standard. "Cars" co-director John Lasseter (who shares credit for "Cars" with the late Joe Ranft) always pops up to introduce those great Miyazaki movies released on DVD thanks to the largesse of Disney (I believe). For the first time, he seems to have learned from the Japanese master for his own work.

(A brief digression before I continue. If you are a fan of animated movies and are unfamiliar with Miyazaki, get thee to a video store (or Web site) immediately. I'd recommend starting with "Kiki's Delivery Service," but my personal favorite is "Porco Rosso.")

Ok, I'm back on track, I think. Miyazaki's influence is most noticable after our hero Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) runs afoul of the law in the small town of Radiator Springs. The desert vistas look like a beautiful painting, and though I doubt there's a waterfall that wondrous anywhere along Route 66, it's also a joy to behold. The races that bookend the story are also a load of fun.

And most of the cars, despite of course only having limited facial features, have plenty of personality. Paul Newman's aging "Hudson Hornet" named Doc is just cool, and Bonnie Hunt (who finally has movie she won't have to be ashamed of) works as the sultry Porsche Sally Carrera. Even Larry the Cable Guy is fairly funny as Mater the tow truck, though I'm sure glad my mechanic doesn't talk like that.

However, do we really need Cheech Marin as a low-rider with a loud paint job or George Carlin as, here's a stretch, a hippie VW bus? All those big brains at Pixar, and that's the best you can do? Sheesh.

But as a unit, the cars, and the town they inhabit, are quite charming. So what's my beef with the middle of "Cars"? The lesson.

Why is it that movies for children always have to have a lesson? Don't kids have the right to simply be entertained? As "Cars" starts to impart its wisdom - which, without revealing too much, pretty much boils down to slow down to smell the roses and get by with a little help from your friends - the story grounds to a halt.

"Cars" clocks in at just under two hours. I can't imagine being 5 years old and sitting through the 45 minutes or so of "lesson time" in the middle of this one, and several of the younguns indeed had to be led out of the theater multiple times.

But, overall, I liked "Cars," mostly for its innovative look and the charming town of Radiator Springs.

Maybe if I loved cars more I would have unconditional love for "Cars." As it is, I drive a 1998 Honda Civic I bought from my parents for $1,000 under the Kelly Blue Book value, and it's the snazziest ride I've ever had.

For me, my car is simply a means to an end. If I've learned anything at all from my ride its that few things are more important in life than a great mechanic. Mine, the irreplacable Bob Tyson, has a habit of scolding me when I don't know that my check engine light is on because my fuel filter is filthy and something called a heat sensor needs to be replaced.

I know nothing about cars, but he does, and he shares his knowledge with me for a very fair price. Get a good mechanic. Now there's a valuable lesson to impart, but probably one that will go over the heads of the target audience for "Cars."

Now, if you'll excuse me, Italy and Germany are about to kick off in the first 2006 World Cup semifinal. I'm hoping for a German rout of those diving Azzurri, and a Germany-France final this Sunday. Viva futbol!

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Nacho Libre

Precious Father, why have you given me this desire
to wrestle and then made me such a stinky warrior?

The last time Mike White and Jack Black teamed up we got one of the most charming, funny movies in years, Richard Linklater's "School of Rock." Their follow-up collaboration, "Nacho Libre" with director Jared Hess, falls short but is still at times very, very funny.

What makes it work, when it does, is Jack Black. This may be sacrilege to many, but the spirit with which he embraced the role of friar Ignacio/Nacho Libre reminded me most of Peter Sellers' Pink Panther. His Mexican/Scandinavian accent is suitably ridiculous, and he looks right at home in Nacho's wrestling tights and my favorite outfit, the powder blue jump suit with a mini-cape he dons at the end.

This easily could have been one of those movies, like Anchorman, that seems like it would be funny as a SNL sketch but wears thin after about 15 minutes. Most critics, and several people who comment on this blog, felt that way about "Nacho," but I was never bored and laughed very often throughout.

Plus I liked Nacho Libre in the spirit that I liked the Three Stooges. Great physical comedy, in which Black is ably abetted by tag-team partner Esqueleto, played with an odd verve by Hector Jimenez.

It's probably good that I waited on this one and that I almost always go to movies at noon on Saturday, when practically no one is there, because I had at least two practically uncontrollable fits of laughter that lasted several minutes.

Both of these moments came in the ring, when "Nacho Libre" is at its best. The first was when Nacho and Esqueleto are fighting those hairy little midget creatures who flew around the ring like winged monkeys, and then at the end, when Nacho's beloved orphans show up in their luchador masks to watch him battle Ramses.

During this last battle, as I stopped to catch my breath, I could hear that the other four or so people were laughing at least as hard as me. It's good to know I'm not the only one who enjoys Mike White's warped view of the world.

So, how would I sum up "Nacho Libre?" It's like my cubicle colleague Dan Maley said when I asked him if he liked it or not. Dan just shrugged and said "I thought it was funny." Well, so did I, and that's enough for me.

I'm gonna cut this one short because Les Bleus kick off against Brazil in a few minutes, and I don't want to miss one second of it. I taped the England-Portugal game, but already know that Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates took out the Three Lions squad in penalty kicks 3-1. Huzzah to them.

I may even, in honor of Nacho, don the luchador mask I picked up from the Chivas USA folks at the last MLS Cup.