Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Steven, Benicio and Che

Few filmmakers frustrate me more than Steven Soderbergh. Capable of greatness ("Out of Sight," "King of the Hill"), he too often gets distracted by form over substance ("Bubble") or pure popcorn (did the world really need three "Ocean's Eleven" remakes?)

Now, however, it seems he's back in a big way. Coming soon will be the World War II flick "The Good German" with George Clooney and Cate Blanchett, and according to Daily Variety this morning, he's finally ready to take on Che Guevara with the help of Benicio Del Toro.

Come to think of it, it's been quite a while since Benicio's done anything of note either, so this is doubly good news. Benicio, of course, will play Che, and he may be joined in a great cast by Javier Bardem, Franka Potente and Benjamin Bratt.

Che's story is so grand, in fact, that Soderbergh will be making two movies, shot back-to-back in Mexico and other locations.

The first movie, "The Argentine," begins as Che and a band of Cuban exiles (led by Fidel Castro) reach the Cuban shore from Mexico in 1956. Within two years, they mobilized popular support and an army and toppled the U.S.-friendly regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The second film, "Guerrilla," begins with Che's trip to New York, where he spoke at the United Nations in 1964 and was celebrated in society circles.

Soderbergh has already shot that opening footage with Del Toro and Julia Ormond, who plays TV journalist Lisa Howard, who acted as an informal intermediary between the Kennedy White House and Cuba.

Soderbergh definitely has the skills for an epic biopic (or two). I'm just glad he's finally decided to use them.

"Rescue Dawn" trailer

It pains me to admit that until I saw his great "Grizzly Man," Werner Herzog was nothing but a name to me.

That documentary, however, has quickly become one of my favorite flicks, and now Herzog is back with something called "Rescue Dawn."

The utterly familiar-sounding "true" story is apparently about a U.S. fighter pilot who gets shot down behind enemy lines during the Vietnam war, and organizes an amazing escape. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies.

This doesn't sound terribly promising, but from watching the trailer, which I think I've managed to imbed here, I think it will be done with enough passion and style to be entertaining. As usual, feel free to tell me what you think, and have at least a bearable day.

Rescue Dawn (2006) - Trailer

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Arrrgghhhhh ... I've been tagged!

Mostly because I view it as little more than a high-tech version of the chain letter, I've up until now managed to avoid taking the bait and being "tagged."

So, what's changed that? Well, the charming Emma of All About My Movies tagged me yesterday, and since she operates my current favorite blog about movies, I had to comply.

As far as I could tell, the topic was "Nine Weird Things People Might Not Know About Me," so here goes:

1. I once worked as an intern for Gordon Brown, currently Britain's chancellor of the exchequer and most likely its next prime minister. This was for about six months in 1992, when he had a lot less power than he does now. I was one of only four employees, and we actually shared one office with the staffs of Tony Blair (perhaps you've heard of him) and Jack Straw. A truly odd experience, but one I never fail to include in my resume now.

2. Though I am a 36-year-old gringo, and fairly comfortable with that fact, I have a growing obsession with Southern rap music. Not sure exactly why, but it's definitely the style of music that fits my mood now. I like Ludacris, T.I., Eightball and MJG, the Geto Boys, just about any Southern rappers you can think of, and especially David Banner.

3. Though I can cook almost anything by following a recipe, I am terrified of trying to whip up a concoction of my own making. I guess I just like the order of following a set list of instructions, and the lack of risk in it. Maybe one of these days I'll get over this culinary hurdle.

4. Though I've never hunted, and only fired a .22 rifle once at a Boy Scout camp, I have a painting over my mantlepiece of three sporting dogs on the trail of their master's fallen prey. I just like it.

5. The wierdest job I've ever had, hands down, was dealing blackjack in the back of a "gentleman's club," Toppers in Athens, Ga. I have to confess it was fun, though luckily I managed to move on and not make a career of it.

6. The book I've read more than any other is Bill Buford's "Among the Thugs," which details his time spent with English soccer hooligans, primarily the most rabid fans of Manchester United. It's not my favorite book, which would be Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch," just the one that I pick up most often when I'm going on a trip and don't have anything to read.

7. For nine months after I graduated from high school, my parents sent me to France to live with a host family in the tiny town of La Plaine Sur Mer and go to another year of high school. I think their main motivation was that I finished high school with about a 2.5 grade point average, and therefore needed something to make my college application stand out a bit more, but I'm certainly glad they convinced me to do it. I lived with a Swiss couple who were in their 60s, Charles and Suzanne, and their son, Yvan. Charles, in particular, was just a very strange man. Among his many quirks were that, though he was an extremely smart man, he just couldn't understand how the score is tabulated at a tennis match, and he refused to let anyone turn on the radio in the car. But I had a blast living with them, and am eternally grateful.

8. Though you would never know looking at me now that I have ever done anything particularly athletic, the summer after my freshman year at Catholic University I actually did the Cycle Across Maryland. It was 300 miles of cycling in six days, and though it was fun at the time, it's certainly not anything I ever need to do again.

9. Though under intense questioning I will admit that it's not high art, I simply love that talking-pig movie "Babe." Heck, I even liked "Pig in the City" quite a bit too.

And there you have it. I've been tagged, and I've survived. Though I'm now apparently supposed to put several more people through this exercise, I can't bring myself to do it. If you choose to, and post the results, please let me know. I have to admit, it is oddly cathartic.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Catch a Fire

With "The Quiet American" and now "Catch a Fire," Aussie director Phillip Noyce has managed to make back-to-back movies about, respectively, America's war in Iraq and then it's broader war on terror, without ever mentioning either.

It's quite a feat, and it's lead to two thoroughly compelling flicks. Just as Noyce's take on "The Quiet American" drew silent but obvious parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, "Catch a Fire" takes on the true story of South African freedom fighter (or terrorist, depending on your perspective) Patrick Chamusso and turns it into a treatise on the use of torture in dealing with terrorism.

But, is it entertaining? Without a doubt. Noyce cut his teeth on back-to-back Tom Clancy adaptations with "Patriot Games" and then "Clear and Present Danger," so he knows how to craft a political thriller that keeps the tension high.

Without giving too much away, the story here, from a fine script by Shawn Slovo (son of the late ANC activist Joe Slovo), is that of Chamusso (Derek Luke), who by almost anyone's standards has a nearly perfect life: He's a foreman at a nuclear power plant, and has a radiantly beautiful wife named Precious (Bonnie Mbuli) and two young daughters. The main arc, which I'll try not to reveal too much about, is what leads him to abandon this comfort zone to join the ANC and take on the Boers who ruled South Africa at the time.

And what gives the movie both heart and soul is the performance of young Mr. Luke, who tells more with his eyes than most actors can even when they're screaming. He carries the movie on his shoulders, and so far I'll add his name next to Leo in "The Departed" as my two sure-fire locks for a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

As his nemesis, Tim Robbins' anti-terrorism agent is often a cartoonish painting of evil, but Noyce brings him back from the brink of that with one key act. WARNING: IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS MOVIE, DO NOT READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH. SKIP IT AND THEN KEEP READING SO YOU WON'T SEE A SERIOUS SPOILER.

The act I'm referring to is what makes Noyce's movie such a compelling study of the use of torture and whether or not it just leads to creating more terrorists. Having driven Luke's Chamusso to confessing to a terrorist act he didn't commit, Robbins' character lets him go, realizing the confession just couldn't be true. It's this Catch-22 that is the crux of this difficult issue. By letting this formerly peaceful man loose after making him endure hideous treatment while in captivity, it only creates a dedicated soldier in the ANC army that would, of course, eventually triumph. It's a powerful punch right to the viewers' gut.


Since Mr. Noyce, unlike Clint Eastwood, knows how to end his movie while he's ahead, I'll now try to do the same. Just go see this one if you like smart political thrillers, and if not, see Saw III with the rest of the world, I guess.

P.S. Dear Hilary Swank: The trailer for your new movie, "Freedom Writers," just looks atrocious. Playing the cliched white teacher who steps in to save a group of kids from the 'hood just worked wonders for Michelle Pfeiffer's career, so I guess you just wanted to follow in her footsteps. But I like you, so I hope you survive this bomb unscathed.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Is there life after "A.D."?

For the longest time, it has seemed like the answer might just be no for Mitchell Hurwitz and Richard Day.

Almost a year after the cancellation of "Arrested Development," however, it now seems series creator Mitchell Hurwitz and writer Richard Day are finally getting back in the TV game.

They've apparently signed on with Sony Pictures TV to adapt the BBC4 series "The Thick of It." Now, before anyone whines about why we keep copping so many Brit shows for American TV, remember there's at least one, "The Office," that works extremely well. And I have high hopes this one will too.

The British series centers on a put-upon member of Parliament who is continually harassed by inept bureaucrats working for the prime minister and other politicians and civil servants. I haven't seen it, but it sounds a lot like the old "Yes, Prime Minister" (at least that's what I think it was called) with Nigel Hawthorne, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

It also sounds like the perfect mix of ineptitude and privelege for Hurwitz and Day to set their sights on. The Hollywood Reporter didn't make it clear, but I can only assume this will, assuming it is picked up by a network buyer, be transported from Whitehall to Capitol Hill.

And, if this actually works, we may even be able to take the sitcom format off life support for at least a few more years.

Baron Cohen's next coup

Even before Sasha Baron Cohen's "Borat" hits movie screens in the U.S., his next potential project, "Bruno," has sparked a Hollywood bidding war.

By early evening Thursday, Universal Pictures had made an offer of more than $42 million for worldwide rights to the film and was believed to be the leading contender to snare the movie. Other contenders believed to be eying the project included DreamWorks, Sony, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. Pictures.

Wow. All this attention for a very strange comedian who has yet to even prove he can fill movie theater seats.

In "Bruno," for which he will again collaborate with Jay Roach and most likely begin filming next summer, Baron Cohen will call upon another of his comic alter egos, Bruno, a gay fashionista from Austria. Bruno fancies himself as "the voice of Austrian youth TV." If anything, judging from his appearances on "Ali G," he might even be more offensive than Borat. I say bring it on.

Is Roman really that hard up?

This one made me laugh before I wanted to cry. It seems Ratboy has persuaded Mr. Polanski to appear in "Rush Hour 3," currently shooting in Paris.
Polanski's been cast as a French police officer who harasses Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in several scenes while the stars battle a wing of a Chinese organized-crime family.

Now, I realize that the inability to set foot on American soil would limit Mr. Polanski's choice of roles, but this is kind of pathetic.

Ratboy apparently told Daily Variety that he persuaded Polanski to appear after a chance encounter while in pre-production in Paris.

"Roman is my favorite director and my favorite actor, so I asked Jeff Nathanson to write him into the movie," he added.

I can't even think of how to respond to that. I just hope Mr. Polanski is getting well paid for this, and laughing all the way to the bank.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Viva Mr. Fox

Variety was kind enough this morning to answer one of those little questions that had been slowly gnawing at my busy brain: "Whatever happened to Wes Anderson's 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'?"

Since I first started hearing about this two years ago but had heard almost nothing recently, I just assumed the project was dead and Anderson had moved on to his India road movie, "The Darjeeling Limited."

Well, sort of. Anderson is well into production on "Darjeeling," but now Fox Animation has also picked up the rights to the "Mr. Fox" script he penned with Noah Baumbach. As to the long break in action, the movie was apparently first acquired by Revolution, which has shut its doors.

Even after the debacle that was "The Life Aquatic," I have nothing but love for Anderson, so two movies in the works can only be a good thing.

"Darjeeling" will apparently come first. Though the IMDB has decided that its plot summary is now priviliged information, if I remember correctly, the flick will star Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody. I seem to remember that the three of them are brothers who set out on a trip across India after the death of their father, but I could be slightly off about that.

And "Fantastic Mr. Fox," of course, is Roald Dahl's story about a fox who uses its wits and cunning to outfox three dimwitted farmers to steal their chickens. Though Anderson toyed with animation in some of the odder stretches of "The Life Aquatic," this will be his first full-fledged foray into the game, and I can't wait to see what becomes of it.

Of course, that wait may still be quite long. Fox has a July 27 date on "The Simpsons" movie, followed by a March 14, 2008, release date on "Horton Hears a Who." The hope is for "Fantastic Mr. Fox" to be Fox Animation's next entry, ready for release prior to the next CG-animated film by "Ice Age" makers Blue Sky.

I'm just happy it's alive at all.

Clooney and the Coens, together again

This news is a couple of days old by now, but it's so good that I had to share it anyway.

It seems like George Clooney is determined to make us all forget that, when he wants to, he can be a very funny guy. Luckily, the Coen brothers haven't forgotten that, and want to bring it back again.

Joel and Ethan will once again serve as co-writers for "Burn After Reading," a spy caper about a CIA agent who loses the disc of the book he is writing. Clooney is obviously fairly obssessed with the CIA, starring already in one awful ("Syriana") and directing one fairly good ("Confessions of a Dangerous Mind") flick about spooks.

And of course Clooney and the Coens have already generated a movie that just gets funnier each time I watch it, and I confess it's probably been at least 15 times now, "O Brother Where Art Thou?". And the highly underrated comedy "Intolerable Cruelty" with Catherine Zeta Jones.

"Burn" is slated to start principal photography in August to mid-September, after Clooney completes directing his 1920s football film "Leatherheads," in which he is expected to star with Renee Zellweger.

As for the Coens, they've backburnered "Suburbicon" as well as the period comedy "Hail Caesar," about a '20s Shakespeare troupe, in which Clooney was planning to play a hammy actor with a pencil mustache. Their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men," starring Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem, is slated for release next year by Paramount Vantage (I just hope they have better luck with McCarthy than Billy Bob did with the dreadful "All the Pretty Horses.")

In the meantime, though, I can only say welcome back, old friends.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Demko's DVD Shelf

Competition was tough for my pick of the week, but by a nose I had to give the nod to Jack Black and "Nacho Libre" for a singular feat: They saved my summer.

A trio of fairly awful flicks, "Poseidon," "X-3" and a player to be named later (at the end of this post), had left a really bad taste in my mouth at the beginning of this summer. The end, with "Little Miss Sunshine" and other late gems, was much sweeter, but the first great confection was "Nacho Libre."

It's no "Napoleon Dynamite," but Jared Hess' flick about the orphanage cook who just yearns to don the stretchy pants of a chupa libre wrestler is simply fun to watch, and Jack Black is as charming as he is funny.

For the initial DVD release, we get a commentary by funny men Black, Hess and writer Mike White; deleted scenes; five "behind-the-scenes" featurettes and, apparently, something involving Jack Black singing, which always works for me.


This B-movie madness from Troma vet James Gunn, which performed criminally poorly at the box office, is my runner-up for pick of the week.

What more do you need in a movie? You get superfunny Nathan Fillion, supersexy Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker being consumed by some kind of really creepy slugs. I guess horror and comedy just aren't the potent mix they used to be, but it certainly worked for me.

Supplements: Deleted scenes; extended scenes; a gag reel; several featurettes, including "Bringing 'Slither's' Creatures to Life", a Slithery set tour with Fillion, a "Making Of" and "The Sick Minds and Slimy Days of 'Slither' ", plus a commentary by Gunn and Fillion.

Many, many of you apparently skipped this one in theaters, but it's definitely worth a rental.

Monster House

There were only three animated flicks I really liked this summer: "Over the Hedge," "Open Season" and this oddity, which is actually aimed more at nostalgic adults than kids.

This style of animations still kind of creeps me out, with the people looking something other than human, but the story had heart and a lot of great voice work from the likes of Steve Buscemi and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Once in a Lifetime

This doco about the crazy New York Cosmos soccer team easily gets the award this week for worst title. But with Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and a host of other soccer greats telling this story, it's well worth checking out, which I will soon seeing as it's No. 1 in my Netflix queue right now.

Highlights in the supplements are, well, soccer highlights, from the1980 Soccer Bowl: Cosmos vs. Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, 1981 Soccer Bowl: Cosmos vs. Chicago Sting, and from Pele's farewell game. I could watch Pele play soccer all day and not get bored, so this should just be cool.

Body Heat - Deluxe Edition

When I was 11 years old, "Body Heat" was forbidden fruit, so when I finally got to see it I thought for a short time that it was just about the coolest movie in the world. Subsequent viewing has knocked that assessment down more than a few notches, but you still get Kathleen Turner and William Hurt in a better-than-average modern film noir.

And in this new edition, you'll get three new featurettes: "Body Heat: The Plan," exploring the script and the cast, "The Production," about the making of the film, and "The Post-production," focusing on the editing, the music and the theatrical release; lifted scenes, plus 1981 interview footage with Kathleen Turner and William Hurt.

Saturday Night Live: The Best of Saturday TV Funhouse

These wicked creations from the mind of Robert Smigel, really the only good reason to tune into SNL for many years now, are also my TV pick of the week.

Smigel apparently has something in the works for FOX's Sunday night animated lineup, but until then you can pick this up and get Steve Carrell and Stephen Colbert as "The Ambiguously Gay Duo," "X-Presidents," "The New Adventures of Mr. T" and other favorites. It also promises some cartoons that haven't aired yet.

That's My Bush! The Definitive Collection

Can you really have a definitive collection of a show that only lasted eight episodes?

This fairly funny spoof from "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone couldn't have had worse timing, debuting as it did shortly after 9/11, but Timothy Bottoms does a very funny take on W, so I say give it a second look.

Creature Comforts - The Complete Second Season

I can only imagine that this one is timed to coincide with next week's release of "Flushed Away," but that move may backfire for the newer flick. Though it looks like a souped-up Aardman flick (as it sort of is), it won't have the wit of Nick Park.

For that, take a trip to the zoo in this stop-motion creation for the BBC. It's sometimes a little too cute, but more often very funny. Also this week, in a separate release you can get the holiday special "Creature Comforts: Merry Christmas, Everybody."

Dog of the Week

It pains me to give this title to Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff, both of whom I usually like quite a bit, but "Art School Confidential" was just plain awful. It was never as funny as it thought it was, instead opting for just being mean, and that murder plot tacked on at the end was just stupid.

Surely we will get much better offerings in the future from the men that brought us the sublime "Ghost World." The IMDB is silent on what Zwigoff is up to at the moment, but Clowes has his name attached to intriguing projects.

He is definitely writing a script based on Rudy Rucker's novel "Master of Space and Time" for director Michel Gondry (huzzah!). He's also apparently messing around with a script for a flick about those three crazy fanboys who made their own shot-by-shot remake of "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

I'll definitely be keeping my eyes on these, because I'm certain Daniel Clowes can do much, much better than "Art School Confidential."

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Borat -The first 4 minutes of his Movie

Ever since Telegraph entertainment scribe Maggie Large (author of the great music blog Amped, linked at right) showed me how to embed YouTube on this site, I've been itching to do so.

So what better excuse could there be than the first four minutes of "Borat," Sasha Baron Cohen's politically incorrect creation? From watching this glorious clip, I can tell that Americans are gonna get it just as hard as anyone else in this equal-opportunity offender, and I can't wait to see it.

Word comes this morning, however, that thanks to the geniuses at Twentieth Century Fox I may have to wait beyond the initial release date of Nov. 3. Unable to grasp the concept of a hit comedy (has it really been that long since they've had one?), the studio has decided on a "tiered" release for "Borat," with its first run limited to only 800 theaters.

"The reaction to this movie has been incredible and we know that the word-of-mouth will be excellent," said Bruce Snyder, Twentieth Century Fox President of Distribution. "Not only is there an existing audience that can't wait to see the film, what we have here is a movie with an incredible amount of playability. Through a tiered release pattern, we'll be able to build a huge amount of momentum."

OK, I understand the notion of hype, but this is beyond stupid. Please hear this plea from those of us who live only in wide-release land and reverse this crazy course now. The world needs more laughter. Or, at least, I'm damn sure I do.

Anyways, enjoy the clip, and please let me know what you think.

Howard, Bana and the BTK Killer

I'm a big fan of true-crime movies, but this is one wound that may just be a little too fresh.

Eric Bana and Terrence Howard are attached to star in "Factor X," a thriller being written by Gregory Allen Howard for New Line Cinema telling the true tale of how the BTK Killer was captured. Ridley Scott is a producer, and I can't imagine he would pass up the chance to direct this one.

The serial killer known as BTK murdered people in and around Wichita, Kan., from 1974-91 and was finally caught in 2005. "Factor X," which takes its name from what the killer described in taunting letters to the police as his motive for murder, tells how a young, black counterterrorism expert (Howard) from Washington teamed up with a Wichita police detective (Bana), who spent his career trying to chase down the killer.

Like I said, this sounds more than a little creepy to me, but I have unconditional love for Terrence Howard, so I'll be curious to see how this all turns out.

An early win for Cruz

Though early Oscar handicappers have already handed the Best Actress prize to Helen Mirren for her performance in "The Queen," the recent Hollywood Awards just put up a bump in the road.

Penelope Cruz was hailed at the recent ceremony, which kicks off the awards season ridiculously early, as Actress of the Year for "Volver." Huzzah to that. I can't wait to see Pedro's great movie when I hit New York for Thanksgiving.

Other winners included Forest Whitaker as Actor of the Year for "The Last King of Scotland" and Oliver Stone as Director of the Year for "World Trade Center," both fairly predictable choices.

But the one that made me smile was Cruz. Here's hoping this is the beginning of an unstoppable Oscar run.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

"George A. never saw John Wayne on the sands of Iwo Jima."

Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood's words about his uncle are also very fitting to Clint Eastwood's war flick at its strongest points.

What makes it hit hard is, though he had a bevy of young stars to work with, he makes two things clear at the outset: These were ordinary people and they were headed into a serious clusterfuck. There's no more polite way to accurately portray the earliest stages of the Battle of Iwo Jima as Eastwood re-created them.

Though he occasionally overreaches for a gotcha moment, the battle is intense and appropriately hard to watch, especially through the eyes of two of our "heroes," played by Ryan Philippe and Adam Beach. After an opening battle sequence, much of the movie bounces back-and-forth between the two of them and Jesse Bradford on tour as "the heroes of Iwo Jima," who raised the flag in that unforgettable photo, and flashbacks to the battle in the minds of Beach and Philippe. This segmented approach keeps the story moving along briskly until the end, which I'll mention later.

It's on the homefront, pimped out in front of large crowds to raise money for war bonds, that these men go through their real hell. And it's where Eastwood's skills as a filmmaker shine even brighter than they did on the battlefield.

Even if you had read the book and knew all of this story going in, I guarantee you'll still be jarred seeing them on stage in front of a roaring crowd in Times Square. It's Jon Polito, not Adolf Hitler, on stage to introduce them, but it's still a moment that would have made Leni Riefenstahl proud.

And it's on the homefront that the actors really shine too. I went in fully expecting to be annoyed by Ryan Philippe, but he did fine. Adam Beach, however, is worthy of all the hype he's getting for this one and more. I've liked him ever since "Smoke Signals," and I'll be smiling when they call his name on Oscar night. On the front, Barry Pepper is outstanding also, and is deserving of a supporting actor nod.

OK, so far so good, right? If it had ended there, I'd be putting "Flags of Our Fathers" on my Top 10 list for this year (though there are many great ones I haven't gotten to yet.) But Eastwood wouldn't be Eastwood if he didn't have to pound us over the head with his message, just in case anyone missed it along the way.

I blame Steven Spielberg, co-producer of "Flags," for this one, because I had the same reaction to "Munich." After a taut story well told, he tacked on at least five too many endings. As Eastwood does here.

The tone shifts abruptly when he lets the voice of "Flags of Our Fathers" author James Bradley, played in the movie by Thomas McCarthy, take over and tell us, several times in voiceover, what the point of the movie was supposed to be. In case this wasn't enough infantilizing of the audience, Eastwood then feels the need to wrap up every single loose end, sucking any remaining mystery and life out of the flick.

I'm sorry if that sounds a bit harsh, but I hate getting treated like an infant at the movies, especially since it comes so close to destroying this otherwise worthy entry to the World War II flick canon.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Prestige

At the beginning of the Nolan brothers' flick "The Prestige," Michael Caine tells us there are three parts to every magic trick, the pledge, the turn and the prestige.

In a movie about magic tricks, you need a fourth part, the reveal, and that's where they lost a little bit of steam in this mostly satisfying flick.

What's the pledge? Well, just as in Christopher Priest's fantastic novel, it's the story of two competing magicians so consumed by rivalry that it takes over their lives. In the movie, it's Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, who each bring enough heft to the roles to make us care about their oneupmanship.

I, at least, was hooked as they raised the stakes, no small feat given that the book itself is told through a series of diary entries made by each magician. Without revealing anything else about the rather complicated plot, the Nolans work the diaries into the movie well while fleshing out the story with some of their own liberties.

The turn is where we learn more about each man, and where you have to pay the most attention or quickly be left behind. I have trouble even talking about this because I don't want to give anything away, but it builds on the themes of identity and the loss of it that Christopher Nolan has mastered in all his best flicks.

What they work toward is the prestige, and for its time, its a doozy. The Transported Man, which they each adapt in their own way, involves the magician seeming to teleport across the stage or even the theater. If we were watching an actual magic show, we'd be left with that, mouths agape in wonder.

But this being a movie, of course, there has to be a reveal, and I'm sure this is what will divide viewers of "The Prestige." As each magician reveals to the other how he mastered the feat, many will be left with a resounding "huh?"

It's the same reaction I had to "The Usual Suspects" and "Donnie Darko," two movies I've learned to love after multiple viewings, especially "Donnie Darko." I apologize that I can't reveal more than that myself, but I want anyone who hasn't read this great book to go into the movie knowing as little as possible.

Because with this movie, like with any great magic trick, its all about the thrill of discovery.

And the Georgia Bulldogs have just held on for a 3-point victory over the lowly Mississippi State Bulldogs, which with the way this season has gone so far is quite a trick in itself.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Kill Ahmet Zappa

I'm normally a fairly peace-loving guy, but after hearing this news this morning, I see no other possible course of action. No longer happy with simply living out his days in a d-list daze, Ahmet Zappa has now become an active danger to others and must therefore be eliminated.

If not, he'll actually follow through with this threat: A "Fraggle Rock" feature film. Yes, you heard me right. Apparently he woke up at 3 p.m. one day, lit up a fat one and happened on an old episode on TV. No longer content with simply living off his father's money, he's decided he just has to pen a feature film for our beloved furry friends.

And, much worse than that, key people actually want him to succeed. Lisa Henson, who serves as co-CEO of the Jim Henson Co. with her brother Brian Henson, brought Zappa on board as exec producer after a pitch meeting with him.

"I'm very excited to be working with The Jim Henson Company on this project," said Ahmet Zappa. "So much of my childhood was spent watching 'Fraggle Rock' ... I never missed an episode! I'm also really looking forward to using music to tell the story; it played such a central role in the original series and truly helped create the 'Fraggle Rock' that we know and love today."

Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. After all, "Fraggle Rock" was all about peace and love. So maybe we shouldn't kill him, but if you have any other way to stop this project right now, I'm certainly listening.

Buffy alum update

Michelle Trachtenberg, who didn't even become a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" regular until the fifth season, has surprisingly had more post-Buffy success than any of her co-stars (even poor emaciated Sarah Michelle Gellar).

Now she'll be co-starring with Kelly Preston in "The Possibility of Fireflies." Dominique Paul is making her directorial debut on the film, an adaptation of her novel.

Preston will play a single mother struggling to keep her life in order after her husband abandons her, forcing her to raise their two daughters on her own. Trachtenberg will play the older daughter. The drama will shoot in January in South Carolina.

Sounds like a souped-up Lifetime movie of the week to me, so I'll most likely pass, but huzzah to Michelle anyhow.

Trachtenberg next appears in the horror movie "Black Christmas," due Christmas Day. She recently completed "Beautiful Ohio" with William Hurt and Rita Wilson.

"King of the Hill" returning

Variety was kind enough to answer a query that enters my cluttered mind about once a week or so, usually around 7 p.m. each Sunday: What the heck happened to "King of the Hill"?

Well, Fox apparently shut down production on the show last spring before having a change of heart. So, after a brief hiatus, "King of the Hill" will return for its 11th season Sunday, Jan. 21, at 7:30 p.m. The midseason start means, for once, it won't get bumped week after week by the NFL behemoth.

Finally, some good news for Mike Judge. Watching the shoddy treatment of his "Idiocracy" flick has only depressed me, especially since everything I've read from people who have seen it has been positive.

Looking at the clock on my monitor, in honor of Hank Hill and directed squarely at myself, I'll simply close with this: "6 a.m., and already the boy ain't right."

P.S.: Having already managed to see "Marie Antoinette" way back in July (a good thing since it isn't even opening in my little corner of the world), I urge everyone else to do the same, even if it is a train wreck. As for me, I'll be seeing "The Prestige" Saturday and "Flags of Our Fathers" Sunday, so please feel free to check back for reviews of each. Man, do I love the fall.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Darabont and King, together again

With one certified classic ("Shawshank Redemption") and one sure miss ("The Green Mile") springing from their partnership so far, here's hoping the third pairing of Frank Darabont and Stephen King churns out a real winner.

Signs are high that it will. Darabont is set to direct for Dimension "The Mist," which he has written from the King novella of the same name. Published in 1985 as part of King's short story collection "Skeleton Crew," "The Mist" takes place in a small town where a thick mist engulfs the area, killing those caught in its darkness. Terrified survivors seek refuge in a supermarket, while a swarm of murderous critters tries to get in.

Sounds like fun to me. One sure thing a King horror tale should deliver, which the current crop of slashmeisters seem to have forgotten, is actual characters we care about before they're in peril.

Of all the King novellas turned into movies, and there are too many now for me to keep track of, Bryan Singer's "Apt Pupil" remains my favorite. I just can't get creepy Ian McKellen out of my mind.

Dimension now has three films based on King fiction. Dimension has wrapped "1408," based on King's short story, with Samuel L. Jackson and John Cusack starring. "Hostel" helmer Eli Roth is working on an adaptation of "Cell," King's bestseller about a cell phone signal that makes zombies of everyone gabbing on mobiles at a particular cataclysmic moment in time.

As much as that last idea just makes me smile, my money's still on Darabont's flick to be by far the best of the three.

Terminator 4 tidbits

Although we can't seem to get rid of Ahnold the politician, it seems his days with The Terminator really are finished.

" 'Terminator 3' kind of closed the book on Schwarzenegger, as did his gubernatorial career," Michael Ferris, who wrote the fourth film with John Brancato, told Entertainment Weekly.

Am I alone in thinking its just time to put The Terminator to rest? T3 was an average film at best, funny at times but hardly worthy of following its predecessors. Now T3 director Jonathan Mostow, who was supposed to be on board for this project, has yet to take the reins and is rather solidly attached to write and direct Marvel's "Sub-Mariner."

But for anyone still interested, and by the time this finally comes around in 2008 I just might be again, Ferris offered this plot tease: "You will learn about Skynet and what that postapolyptic future is like."

Good luck with that

While I'm all for political protest, and am certainly no fan of W's war in Iraq, this move just seems like a boner to me.

Producer-director Aki Kaurismaki has withdrawn his "Lights in the Dusk" from contention for the foreign-language film Oscar, reportedly because his permission wasn't sought to submit it.

In 2003, when Kaurismaki's great "Man Without a Past" was nominated for the foreign-language kudos, Kaurismaki did not attend, telling then-Acad president Frank Pierson that his boycott was part of his protest against the U.S. war in Iraq. "The argument from 2003 still stands accurate," Ilkka Mertsola, a producer in Kaurismaki's Sputnik shingle, added.

Now, I readily concede that a movie can be great without any kudos from the academy, but this is just plain silly. If I'm missing the connection between the Academy Awards and W, and that is entirely possible, please let me know what it is.

In the meantime, Mr. Kaurismaki, get over yourself. With "Pan's Labyrinth," "Volver," "Curse of the Broken Flower" and many other great films already in contention, somehow I think we'll be just fine without you.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Black Movie Awards

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of the Black Movie Awards, which will be handed out at 10 p.m. tomorrow night on TNT (not TBS, as I originally and mistakenly posted.)

This is the second year for the BMA's, and this year they've landed a certainly charismatic host in Tyler Perry.

One gnawing question this raises for me, however, is do we really need these awards? I get the same sensation every time I hear it's black history month, women's history month or latino culture month (which, if I'm not mistaken, just recently ended; for whatever reason, it begins and ends in the middle of an actual month.) Doesn't this breaking us down into groups do more dividing than uniting? And are we really only supposed to celebrate black, women's or latino history for only one month of the year?

But enough of that. Hollywood still has a ways to go in rewarding great accomplishments in film by black people, so the BMA's get a vote of support from me.

Here are the nominees, and of course, who I would like to win:

Presley Chweneyagae (as Tsotsi) – Tsotsi
Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Lola ) – Kinky Boots
Tyrese Gibson (as O2) – Waist Deep
Cuba Gooding, Jr. (as Mikey) – Shadowboxer
Denzel Washington (as Keith Frazier) – Inside Man

I like Ejiofor quite a bit, but Kinky Boots was just too cute for my tastes. Though it came out quite some time ago, I have to go with Chweneyagae in Tsotsi for this one. It's a magnetic performance that gets burned in your brain.

Mos Def (as Eddie Bunker) – 16 Blocks
Laurence Fishburne (as Dr. Larabee) – Akeelah & the Bee
Jamie Foxx (as Staff Sgt. Sykes) – Jarhead
Hubert Koundé (as Arnold Bluhm) – The Constant Gardener
Jeffrey Wright (as Bennett Holiday) – Syriana

I like every actor in this category, but simply detested both 16 Blocks and Syriana. It comes down to a choice between Fishburne and Koundé in this one for me, and I'll give it to Koundé by a nose.

Halle Berry (as Ororo Munro/Storm) – X-Men: The Last Stand
Meagan Good (as Coco) – Waist Deep )
Sanaa Lathan (as Kenya McQueen) – Something New
Queen Latifah (as Georgia Byrd) – Last Holiday
Keke Palmer (as Akeelah) – Akeelah & the Bee

This one is a no-brainer for me. Young Keke Palmer was tremendous in Akeelah, one of the movies that most surprised me this year, and I think you will be hearing her name on Oscar night too.

Angela Bassett (as Tanya Anderson) – Akeelah & the Bee
Rosario Dawson (as Mimi Marquez) – Rent
Lauren London (as New New) – ATL
Lynn Whitfi eld (as Victoria) – Madea’s Family Reunion
Alfre Woodard (as Joyce McQueen) – Something New

I'm gonna just skip over whether Dawson is black or hispanic, and how the female lead of the atrocious ATL is considered a supporting actress, and just give this one to Angela Bassett, who held her own with young Ms. Palmer in Akeelah.

Tina Gordon Chism – ATL
Rob Hardy – The Gospel
Tyler Perry – Madea’s Family Reunion
Kriss Turner – Something New
Norman Vance, Jr. – Roll Bounce

Three solid offerings here, but I'll have to pick Vance for Roll Bounce in this category. I just loved that flick, and his script gave it a solid sense of time and place.

Vondie Curtis-Hall – Waist Deep
Malcolm D. Lee – Roll Bounce
Spike Lee – Inside Man
Chris Robinson – ATL
John Singleton – Four Brothers

This one just bugs me. I just have to assume that Akeelah and the Bee is not on this list simply because its director, Doug Atchison, is white (and ditto for Tsotsi). Whatever the reason, what you get is Akeelah nominated for Outstanding Motion Picture but without a nomination for its director, which also happens a lot at the Oscars. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed Roll Bounce, so the other Mr. Lee gets my vote.

Akeelah & the Bee
Four Brothers
Inside Man
Madea’s Family Reunion

Though I get the feeling Tyler Perry as host will make this one a big win for Madea's Family Reunion, I would vote for Akeelah and the Bee by a nose over Tsotsi. It's just that rare breed of family film that's at least as entertaining as it is instructive.

But no matter who wins, with Perry on hand, it should be a lively and entertaining night. I urge everyone to tune in, if for only a few minutes, and to sound off with your picks.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Trailer Tuesday .. with Hot Fuzz!

"Is it true that there is a place in a man's head that, if you shoot it, it will blow up?"

There have been plenty of great movie duos over the years. Bogie and Bacall. Woody and Diane. Leo and Scorsese. Now I'm beginning to suspect we'll soon be able to add to that list Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

I laughed throughout, and for much of the week after watching, "Shaun of the Dead." If you somehow haven't seen this zombie comedy stop reading now and go rent it. I guarantee you won't be sorry.

Now "Shaun" stars and buddies Pegg and Frost, along with writer/director Edgar Wright, are soon to return with "Hot Fuzz," which so far looks like pure fun.

In it, a London top cop (Pegg) gets reassigned to the small English town of Sandford and reteamed with a rather dimwitted partener (Frost, natch). A series of grisly adventures ensues, and of course our boys are on the case.

From what I've seen so far, I really like that they're taking big shots not at cops, but at how cops are portrayed in the movies. And, of course, it all looks very funny.

But don't take my word for it. Click here and here to enjoy two teaser trailers and, of course, let me know what you think.

Web site of the week

I can't tell if this a joke, a wild dream or an actual movie in the making. All I know for sure is that this site is a great place to waste more than a few minutes.

I have to confess I never would have bothered watching "Billy Jack" if they hadn't riffed on it on "Gilmore Girls." For anyone unfamiliar with Tom Loughlan's crazy character, he's sort of a hippie Rambo, an ex-Green Beret who now fights in the name of peace and love. It's sublimely silly, but I had no idea it was to become his life-consuming passion.

Be prepared before you click on the link above. While it claims to be (and may actually be) a Web site for a new Billy Jack movie called "Billy Jack's Moral Revolution," in which Billy Jack takes on George W. Bush, it's also no less than a manifesto. Don't click until you have some time set aside to explore this madness.

News about people I like

Imagine being a TV studio exec listening to this pitch: "It's like Sex and the City meets Batman." Who could turn that down?

Well, the CW couldn't, so it's given a put pilot commitment to a one-hour action-comedy from "Veronica Mars" writer-producer Diane Ruggiero. It will center on "two very different young women and best friends who unite to fight crime after a mysterious event gives them superpowers they can use only when they are together."

I'm still hooked on "Veronica," whose now in college and on the CW tonight at 9 after "Gilmore Girls," so I'll definitely be tuning in to see what comes of this one.

In other good news, "Firefly" star Nathan Fillion has inked a talent-holding deal with Fox Broadcasting Co., which guarantees the studio and network will develop a comedy or drama script for him. If it doesn't go to pilot, Fox and 20th TV would cast him in an existing project.

What's missing from this picture, at least so far? Joss Whedon, of course, but I like Nathan Fillion quite a bit anyway, so I hope this works out well for him.

A really bad day

Warning: Any fans of England won't want to watch this (although you've probably already seen it by now).

My brother sent me this YouTube video, via soccer-blogging madman Bruce McGuire (Du Nord, linked at left). It stars, if you can say that, England goalkeeper Paul Robinson in every goalie's worst nightmare during England's loss to Croatia in qualifying (or most likely not qualifying, actually) for Euro 2008. Watch out for the great ad for "Borat" playing in the background as well.
For me, at least, it's a lot more therapeutic than any poster of cats clinging to a tree branch. If you think you're having a bad day, click here for a little perspective and, if you're not a fan of England, a good laugh.

Monday, October 16, 2006

"Studio 60" in trouble?

Wow. Fortunes seem to change faster on primetime TV than they do in the schoolyard. Barely a month after it was all the critics' darling, it seems "Studio 60" may be in trouble.

What are the signs? Well, there's the 30 percent of "Heroes" viewers it loses each week, and just a feeling in my gut. Plus, Michael Ausiello, on his great TV Guide blog, gave it a thumbs down on survival. After all, he (unlike me) gets paid for this kind of stuff.

But back to me. When did I turn on "Studio 60"? Well, I haven't completely yet, by any means, but last week's show contained one seriously nausea-inducing storyline.

For anyone who may have missed it, the episode revolved around a sketch that turned out to be plagiarized from a standup comedian. Here's my beef. I realize this is a fictional TV show, but in what world would a writer be able to pull crap like that and not get fired? None. It was incredibly stupid, and put my support for the show on life support.

But, tonight they get a chance to redeem themselves with a visit from the fabulous Lauren Graham (who, despite what those Esquire hacks say, is a hell of a lot sexier than Scarlett Johansson can ever hope to be). She will, I assume, be hosting the show-within-a-show, meaning back-to-back days of Lauren Graham in prime time. I couldn't have programmed it better myself.

And, on the remote chance that Joss Whedon is reading this, she would, as commenter Jeremy pointed out, make the ideal Wonder Woman.

Say it ain't so, Marty

Ever a showman, Martin Scorsese took his moment at the podium at Rome's inaugural film festival to drop a bomb.

After a screening of "The Departed" (his best film in many, many years), he said this: "I think I am figuring out that when a film has a very big budget that means that fewer risks can be taken. I don't know how much longer I can hold out in regard to the kind of movie the major studios would like to make and the kind of film I would like to make."

Now, I realize that's even less of a retirement statement than Jay-Z's, but following on George Lucas' declaration that he was abandoning feature films to focus on TV, it can't be good news for moviegoers.

But not so fast ... a quick visit to the IMDB revealed he has two projects in the works, at least one of which would have to be a big-budget affair.

That would be "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" (surely the name will change). With Leo set to star as Teddy himself, it's described as "a look at the formative years of the 26th president of the United States, from his transformation from a privileged New York politician to commander of the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War." I thought "The Aviator" was a damn fine flick, so another grand Scorsese biopic sounds great to me.

The second project is "Silence," with Javier Bardem rumored to be one its big stars. It's apparently about two Jesuit priests who travel to seventeenth-century Imperial Japan to see how the evangelical mission is going. They witness severe persecution of the Christians there, and the movie deals with their reaction to that. This too would sound tailor-made to Scorsese.

These are both listed as 2008 releases, so I guess we'll be stuck with Mr. Scorsese for a little while now.

Now that's a bold move

What did it finally take for Fox Sports to fire Steve Lyons? Apparently being obnoxiously unfunny for several years now wasn't enough, so luckily he took it upon himself to add stupid to the mix as well.

I've enjoyed listening to Lou Piniella's commentary, especially for cryptic gems like this: expecting a player to repeat a hot performance was like "finding a wallet on a Friday night and looking for one on Sunday and Monday, too."

A little while later, when Piniella said Oakland A's infielder Marco Scutaro was "en fuego," Lyons responded: "Lou's hablaing some espanol there, and I'm still looking for my wallet. I don't understand him, and I don't want to sit close to him now."

Well, congratulations, Mr. Lyons. I don't know if anyone stole your wallet, but you talked your way right into unemployment in grand Lyons style.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Welcome back, Roger

No matter what you think of Roger Ebert as a film critic, his return to print today can only be hailed as good news.

In his first submission since he entered the hospital for treatment of salivary cancer in June, he reviews "The Queen" on his Web site here. Rather predictably, Helen Mirren got a rave review.

But more important than any of that is that he's back at all. His absence from TV has only highlighted the fact that his TV partner, Richard Roeper, is a dingbat. No one could have properly replaced Gene Siskel in my eyes, but Roeper is nothing but a pimp for the studios, and I simply can't stand him.

It was kinda fun to see Roger's stand-ins give the show a try occasionally. Kevin Smith, in particular, was very funny and let his love of movies shine, and even Jay Leno did much better than I expected. But they were no substitute for the real thing. Ebert plans to return to the show full-time early next year.

Here's a sample from Mr. Ebert's review published this morning (and thanks to Annie in Austin for pointing out to me that the second review on his site, of "Infamous," was actually written by someone else):

Told in quiet scenes of proper behavior and guarded speech, "The Queen" is a spellbinding story of opposed passions -- of Elizabeth's icy resolve to keep the royal family separate and aloof from the death of the divorced Diana, who was legally no longer a royal, and of Blair's correct reading of the public mood, which demanded some sort of public expression of sympathy from the crown for "The People's Princess."

Very well put, Mr. Ebert. Welcome back.

"Letters" release date set

This is in response to a commenter on this site, Tyler Durden, who inquired when the second of Clint Eastwood's two Iwo Jima movies would be coming out. Warner Brothers announced this morning that "Letters from Iwo Jima" will be released Feb. 9.

In the meantime, it seems Mr. Eastwood may have a simmering controversy on his hands. It seems some folks are upset that he would have the nerve to tell the story of this pivotal battle from the perspective of the Japanese.

For me, this one falls solidly as proof that opinions are like .. well, you know the rest. Personally, I'm glad Mr. Eastwood used his considerable stones to take this on. I always want to hear all sides on any subject, and I think the second flick in this series will turn out to be better than the first, which of course opens next Friday. 'Nuff said.

Cohen vs. Depp in Sweeney Todd

Count this one as good news about a project I'm quickly starting to warm to. Sacha Baron Cohen is apparently about to join Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's adaptation of "Sweeney Todd."

I'm dying to see "Borat," after watching Cohen be easily the funniest thing about "Talladega Nights" and for years now as Ali G. He should be a good counterpart to Depp's Sweeney Todd as Signor Adolfo Pirelli, his rival in the haircutting world.

This one is set to begin shooting in early February at Pinewood Studios near London. For me, whether this succeeds or fails will most likely come down to Danny Elfman. If Mr. Burton just lets Stephen Sondheim's songs star in the flick, it should definitely be a winner. If he, instead, lets Mr. Elfman rewrite them all like he did with those awful Oompa-Loompa songs in the "Charlie" remake, that will be a deal-breaker for me.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Trailer Thursday ... with Grindhouse!

Before I go any further, a quick word of praise for YouTube. Whatever it was originally designed for, it has quickly evolved into my single greatest time waster at work, and for that I can only say thank you.

Especially when it brings something as wild as this. For anyone somehow still in the dark, ubergeeks Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have teamed up for "Grindhouse," which will actually be to back-to-back short features, complete with fake trailers in between the two.

Count me as at best mildly excited about this project. Don't get me wrong, I love them both, Quentin unconditionally and Robert, well, about half the time. He's made some truly great flicks ("Spy Kids," "El Mariachi" and, of course, "Sin City"), but he's also made some real dogs (the "Spy Kids" sequels and the two awful flicks that followed in the "El Mariachi" series).

However, he's a guy who clearly has fun making movies. The key question is always will anyone else have any with his finished product. After watching the trailer for his half of "Grindhouse," which will be called "Planet Terror," I can only offer a tepid "I think so."

What does it have going for it? Well, a scantily clad Rose MacGowan doesn't exactly turn me off, and the hero is Danny Trejo's Machete, who has turned up in most of Rodriguez's movies and who is, without getting too technical, a very bad man. Plus, who wouldn't want to ride a motorcycle loaded with very heavy artillery off a ramp, taking out all your nemeses on the way?

What's bad? Well, you can tell right away it's gonna be very, very bloody, so if that's not your thing, look away. Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion that the cheesy '70s look will wear thin well before the end.

Anyways, I promised you a trailer, so here it is. I can no longer find it on YouTube, so click here and enjoy it courtesy of AICN. And, as always, tell me what you think.

Terry Gilliam takes to the streets

Just as often as YouTube can bring us something fun like that, it can bring something truly tragic. Like Terry Gilliam begging on the streets of New York, just for the right to get his films seen.

Now, Terry Gilliam is, first and foremost, a prankster, and you can definitely look at this as a stunt. But if you think about it for even a second, it's also really depressing.

Gilliam's troubles securing distribution for "Tideland," his new movie about a girl who turns inward and starts talking only to her own dolls after her mother's death, have been well-documented. It will get an opening in at least one theater in New York tomorrow, but probably very few more after that.

The most depressing thing about this whole mess is that Gilliam has brought much of it on himself by being so obstinant. "Lost in La Mancha," the great documentary about his failed attempt to make a Don Quixote flick, shows that once he gets an idea in his head, he sticks to it, even if no one else is willing to go with him.

But no filmmaker should be forced into this stunt he performed recently outside the studios of "The Daily Show." If you can take it, click here to see for yourself. Just remember, I did warn you that it's fairly painful viewing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Power of the Dark Crystal"

Wherever he is right now, Jim Henson has to be smiling about this, and even though it's Wednesday morning, so am I.

Almost in time for the 25th anniversary of his 1982 film "The Dark Crystal" (which I have a feeling a few of you geeks out there may just have heard of), it seems there is a sequel in the works, "Power of the Dark Crystal." And though that news may give you the initial shudder it did me, this project seems to be in just the right loving hands to make it the wonderful creation it should be.

For "Power," Russian director Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of the "Clone Wars" TV series, is teaming up with Henson's daughter Lisa, co-CEO of the Henson Company, and English illustrator Brian Froud, conceptual designer for the original "Crystal."

Here's what Tartakovsky had to say on the MTV site: "I love the first movie. I saw it [when I was young], and it's resonated with me throughout my life. Through all the jobs I've had, we always referred to it. We would go, 'You remember that scene in "Dark Crystal"? That was great the way that shape was put in,' or something like that. [I'm determined] not just to relive it, but also to honor it."

Sounds like a true believer to me. And while Henson dedicated much of his energy to the original project, he knew well the technological limitations that hindered the original movie. As long as they don't go overboard with CGI, all the breakthroughs since then should make this one a beauty to behold.

"Puppetry has come a long way since 'The Dark Crystal,' " Lisa Henson told MTV. "When 'The Dark Crystal' was made, it was the first time that all those techniques were really refined to the degree that they could be put in a feature film. Since then, puppetry has come so far that the puppets we're going to use are going to be much more emotive than the originals. In addition to that, we can augment them with digital effects, but very subtly."

Per MTV: The "Power" script continues the tale of elfin heroes Jen and Kira (shown at top in a Henson Company pic from "Power"), last seen returning the shard to the evil crystal and seemingly abolishing the vulture-like Skeksis from their land. Set many years after the first flick, "Power" casts Jen and Kira as king and queen, now overseeing a kingdom whose peace is disturbed by a visit from the underground-dwelling U-mun people. After the Gelflings refuse their request for a shard of crystal that could preserve the U-mun race, a desperate visitor takes it anyway, threatening their world with another thousand years of chaos.

"[David Odell], who wrote this film with his wife, is the original writer of 'The Dark Crystal,' and he had discussed this sequel concept with Jim," Lisa Henson said. "They didn't get too far into it, but [Odell] had a pretty good memory of the basic bones of the sequel idea."

So, when will we get to see possibly get to see all this? "We have a lot of conception design done," Tartakovsky told MTV. "We'll start pre-production this fall, and then by next fall we will probably have a release." It's listed on the IMDB as being a 2008 release, but I'm certainly ready right now.

To read more of the original MTV article and see some storyboards, click here and enjoy all the geeky goodness.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Iron Man" taking shape

The buzz about Jon Favreau's "Iron Man" flick just keeps getting better and better.

After the news that Robert Downey Jr. would don the "Iron Man" suit as Tony Stark, now comes news that Terrence Howard, aka the new hardest working man in show business, will play Stark's best friend, military pilot Jim Rhodes.

I suppose there's still a way Favreau could still screw this up, but the odds are certainly piling up now in his favor.

As for Howard, his next two flicks will be the upcoming "The Brave One," a Neil Jordan movie with Jodie Foster, and "Spring Break in Bosnia" with Richard Gere. The latter, about journalists hunting for a major war crimal in Bosnia, should be fantastic. And of course he's reteaming with "Hustle and Flow" director Craig Brewer for a biopic about Charley Pride.

Whew! Now that's what I call a workin' man.

A new Bionic Woman?

Is there a master list somewhere of crazy '70s and '80s TV shows that are crying out to be brought back to life? First Joss Whedon sets his sights on "Wonder Woman," then they hatch a "Knight Rider" movie, and now "The Bionic Woman"? Sheesh.

It seems "Battlestar Galactica" executive producer David Eick is teaming with feature screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis to reinvent "The Bionic Woman" for NBC.

According to Variety, "instead of focusing on terrorism and militarism, the new "Bionic" will explore the role of professional women in contemporary society and how they juggle their various roles."

Ha. Who needs an Equal Rights Amendment when you've got the Bionic Woman fighting for respect for women? Sounds fairly ludicrous, but "Battlestar," which recently returned to Sci Fi on Friday nights, is still perfect, so maybe something good will come out of this after all.

Second City back to TV

The Chicago improv troupe that brought Saturday Night Live many of its funniest performers is headed back to TV, this time with NBC.

A two-year pact will give the studio access to all Second City shows and talent as well as the company's library for the development of comedy content for television and different digital platforms.

I'm not sure anything can save the suffering American sitcom, but a return of actual comedians to the format could only be a good thing.

DVD pick of the week

It's hard to believe Warren Beatty's "Reds" hasn't gotten the full DVD treatment it deserves before this. Out today is a "25th Anniversary Edition" that will remind all of us how ambitious directors once were when allowed to take real chances.

In the 1981 flick, Beatty played John Reed, reporter and author of "10 Days That Shook the World." You also get Diane Keaton as Louise Bryant, the housewife who follows Reed to the front lines of the Russian Revolution, and Jack Nicholson as Eugene O'Neill. It's well worth a second look, and easily my DVD pick of the week.

Also out today is the first season of "Everybody Hates Chris," the only good sitcom on the CW. It's funny and often insightful, and can now be seen in its second season Mondays at 8 on the new network.

Monday, October 09, 2006

All hail fall

A solid huzzah to Martin Scorsese, whose "The Departed" was the huge winner this weekend at the box office, taking in a well-deserved $27 million over the weekend for the #8 October opening of all time (for my rather glowing review, please see my previous post.)

And an even heartier word of thanks for what it means out here in the movie hinterlands: Fall has finally arrived for the masses. Though some of you fine folks get good movies year round, I have to wait for this time of year to finally catch up on them, and I can't wait.

Even better than Scorsese's triumph is the beatdown he put on Leatherface, who still managed to have a very solid opening at $19.2 million. Call it a teenybopper daycare center to keep the kids occupied as the rest of us enjoy "The Departed."

For Scorsese, its his first #1 opening movie since his rather abysmal 1991 remake of "Cape Fear," previously Mr. Scorsese's highest opening movie with just $10.2 million. "The Departed" made more than that amount on Saturday alone.

And in what can only be called a victory, MGM/Dimension Films' "comedy" "School for Scoundrels" took a nasty 60% plunge from its opening to 7th place, taking in only $3.4 million. I look forward to this one leaving theaters this week to make way for, hopefully, a much better movie.

All three big opening movies were actually winners this week, according to their production budgets. The "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" prequel has already made more than its production budget of $16 million, while the silly "Employee of the Month," which finished fourth at $11.8 million, cost only $10 million to make.

And in a sign of much better things to come, "The Queen," "The Last King of Scotland" and Todd Field's "Little Children" are all doing well enough in rather limited release to raise expectations that all three might soon make it out here to the movie boonies.

Here's a brief look at the upcoming, wide-release movies that pique my interest:

Friday the 13th of October
"Man of the Year" - Robin Williams is certainly no Peter Sellers, but with this one about a political comedian who makes an unlikely candidate for president having been penned by Lewis Black and co-starring Laura Linney, I'm still holding out hope. If it turns out to be wretched, I guess I can always catch up on "Jackass."

Friday, Oct. 20
"Flags of Our Fathers" - Fall is Clint Eastwood's time to shine, and though I have doubts about the cast for this movie about Iwo Jima (Ryan Philippe!?!), I'm still looking forward to this one.
"Marie Antoinette" - I've already seen Sofia Coppola's oddity, and though I'd have to call it a failure, it's a noble one that everyone should check out and judge for themselves.
"The Prestige" - From the great Christopher Nolan, this pic about magicians starring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johansson apparently has something "The Illusionist" lacked - magic.

Friday, Oct. 27
"Saw III" - With this slasher the only wide-release opening this week, I will officially be taking the week off.

Friday, Nov. 3
"Borat" - I can only hope the "wide" tag sticks to this Sasha Baron Cohen flick that looks like it will offend just about everyone and thoroughly entertain, well, me.
"Flushed Away" - I'm not sure how many Aardman folks are involved in this one, but hopefully enough to make this animated toilet tale (literally, it's about rats in the sewer) be funny.

Friday, Nov. 10
"Stranger than Fiction" The trailer for ths Marc Forster comedy starring Emma Thompson (huzzah!) and Will Ferrell was enough to hook me.

Friday, Nov. 17
"Casino Royale" - Count me as convinced that Daniel Craig will beat back his haters and deliver a return to form for the Bond franchise.
"Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny" - I'm afraid I just don't get the Tenacious D thing yet, but I like Jack Black and Kyle Gass quite a bit, so I'll take a chance on this one.

Wednesday, Nov. 27
The Fountain - To be honest, I have no idea what this is really about, but it's a sci fi/fantasy flick from Darren Aronofsky, and that's good enough for me.

There are plenty of limited-release movies that I also want to catch ("Volver," "Pan's Labyrinth" and Phillip Noyce's "Catch a Fire" top the list), and I will manage to see some of them when I hit NYC for the Thanksgiving weekend (I can't wait!)

All hail fall, indeed.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Departed

After watching my beloved UGA Bulldogs suffer a complete meltdown (and, let's be honest) beatdown at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers, I was sorely, sorely in need of a good movie today. Luckily for me, Martin Scorsese had just the perfect remedy.

I was worried going in that, having gotten only four hours of sleep, I might have trouble keeping up with this fairly complicated flick, but I had nothing to worry about. The dialogue is fast and often funny, and the story, penned by William Monahan and based on the Hong Kong flick "Infernal Affairs," kept me rapt until the last man standing (who it is, of course, you won't hear from me). In case you can't tell yet, this isn't gonna be a review. I'll apologize in advance. This is gonna be a full-fledged rave.

What Scorsese and Monahan have accomplished here isn't simply an Americanized remake of a foreign flick. As we well know by now, any Hollywood hack can - and does - do that. Instead, it's a transformation, taking the potboiler premise of the equally great "Infernal Affairs" and recasting it completely on their own terms.

From the outset, in Jack Nicholson's opening shadowy introductory speech, what you get is a strong sense of place. And though they're the streets of Boston now rather than New York or New Jersey, they're the "Mean Streets" Mr. Scorsese used to know so well. Just as Woody Allen adapted London and brought it to life in "Match Point," Scorsese has taken to Boston and made it seem like his natural home turf.

I guess I should at least mention the plot, for anyone who may have no idea what I'm talking about. The story here is one of undercover police work and taking on the Boston mafia. Without giving too much away, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio play two Massachusetts state police academy graduates. One is a plant from the mob, however, and the other is recruited to go undercover and infiltrate said mob. You won't even hear from me which is which, but just as in "Infernal Affairs," it's interesting to watch as their identities continue to blur.

What you would have here, if it weren't so well written by Monahan, would be a B-movie at best. And Monahan and Scorsese know that. As the story gets more and more complicated, they never forget that this is supposed to be fun. And it is.

To bring this home, you need men acting manly, so why not get the baddest man (except maybe Samuel L.) of all. As mob boss Frank Costello, Nicholson is cool, more than a little crazy and almost a cartoon. I say almost because he plays it right to the top, but never over.

As for Leo and Matt, they're both very good, but I'll give the edge here to Leo. From his first big scene with cops Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg (yes, there are a ton of A-listers in this one, but none wasted), he just looks like the angry young man he should be. He looks like the kind of dude who could have taken on Daniel Day Lewis' Bill "The Butcher" Cutting, which he never effectively did in "Gangs of New York." And as the sole chica with any kind of role in this tale of men being manly, Vera Farmiga shines as the woman trapped between these two converging forces.

A final note about cell phones that crossed my mind as this one ended. I've never much liked thrillers in which they played a prominent role, until now. Before "The Departed," I had never seen a movie where text messaging played such a key role. Scorsese has his characters wield their phones as weapons, and I was surprised at just how well it worked.

In the audience, however, I didn't hear or see one cell phone through the whole movie. Just a packed house of viewers engrossed enough to keep silent throughout a movie made for adults who love watching movies. The first thing I heard anyone say until the closing credits was when the person with me leaned over and said, in language Mr. Monahan would have surely appreciated, "that was f-ing awesome." I couldn't have put it better myself.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

No movies for me

Though I should probably be going to see Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" instead, today I'm making the two-hour trek up to Athens to see if my Bulldogs can somehow pull one out of their hat against the hated Vols of Tennessee.

All signs point to no, but on a Saturday night in Athens, anything can happen.

I am curious to hear what people thought of "The Departed," though. If you have managed to see it, please feel free to respond and let me know what you thought.

If I get back in time Sunday, I might just get around to it myself. Go Dawgs!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Altman gets "Hands On"

Count this as the first (and probably only) time that i'm excited about a documentary I love getting the fictional treatment.

"Hands on a Hard Body," the 1997 documentary by S.R. Bindler, took an unlikely premise and made it into a real charmer. In an event that could probably only originate in Texas, 24 people compete to see who can stand upright the longest with their hand on a new Nissan truck, with the winner getting to take home the truck. As the event goes on for several days, it becomes a fascinating study of what would drive people to put themselves through this ridiculous hell just to get a vehicle.

Now, Robert Altman has set his sights on making a fictional flick about this mythic contest, with the help of screenwriter Stephen Harrigan. For Harrigan, who apparently has so far only worked on telefilms for Hallmark and Lifetime, this would have to be called a big step up.

And it seems like a natural fit for Altman. He excels at large ensemble dramas that have a lot to say about America, which this premise could, with the right treatment, definitely deliver.

Altman is apparently talking with Billy Bob Thornton and Hilary Swank to star in this one. I'd imagine when Robert Altman calls very few people would be able to turn him down.

Jack Black on the gridiron?

Now that's what I call a good day's work. New York Times sports scribe Pete Thamel has had his article, "In College Football, Big Paydays for Humiliation," picked up by Universal Pictures.

Jack Black will produce the flick, which will take the rather sorry practice of big colleges paying little ones big bucks to travel across the country to get slaughtered on the playing field and make it into a comedy. It's a subject ripe for satire, if they can land the right writer and director.

With Black already involved, and set to play a small role, why not Mike White and Jared Hess? The trio's "Nacho Libre," while much more than a little goofy, was also charming and very funny. Though Black and White's production company (Black and White Productions, natch) has dissolved, they are apparently still buds, and Hess would be a great director for it. I guess we'll have to wait and see ...

"Chris" gets some respect

Though I have no conclusive proof that I had anything to do with this, it makes me so happy that I'm gonna go ahead and take credit anyway.

When the CW announced it was moving "Everybody Hates Chris," easily one of my favorite shows, to the graveyard slot of 7 p.m. Sundays, I was, well, a little pissed. Now, after only a week, they're wisely changing course.

Though it's still the lead-in to a string of silly shows I rather snarkily called "Ghetto Night," the move to Mondays at 8 p.m. is definitely a well-deserved correction. Next Monday, the season premiere will be rebroadcast, with new shows returning beginning Oct. 16.

Call this one a rare victory for good TV.

BET on the 'Wire'

The only things I really miss after dropping HBO a couple of years ago are "The Sopranos" and "The Wire." Now, BET is about to bring the latter to us common folk.

HBO is finalizing a deal with BET to make it the syndicated home of "The Wire." The pact is expected to give BET all five seasons of the show, which would amount to 62 episodes (it is currently in its fourth season on HBO, with one additional and final season on order). BET is looking to begin airing one episode per week in primetime as soon as the first quarter next year, with multiple runs for each installment.

Nothing can take the place of my beloved "Homicide," but this drama from its creator, former Baltimore Sun crime reporter David Simon, did a lot to fill the void. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and catch up on DVD.

When Reginald Hudlin became BET's president for entertainment in July of 2005, he promised to turn the channel into more than a home for rap videos deemed too nasty for MTV. With this pending acquisition, it seems like he's finally starting to deliver on that promise.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Oxford American music issue

I've stuck with the Oxford American through a lot. As they've cut the number of issues and even pulled up stakes from Oxford, Miss., to Arkansas, I've remained loyal for two reasons: The music issue, with its painstakingly compiled CD, and the fact that the writing is uniformly first-rate.

Now, however, I'm calling it quits. The latest music issue arrived in my mailbox recently, and it's been irking me ever since (I have it on right now, just to make sure my ire isn't misplaced.)

It's not. My beef with Oxford, which started with last year's music issue, is its extremely limited view of the world. The entire Southern music axis, according to the Oxford folks, can be summed up as country-blues-jazz, with a little rock thrown in, as long it doesn't rock too hard or didn't come out anytime in the last 30 years.

What's left out from that list? Well, funk, represented on the new CD by just one track, Sharon Jones' stellar "How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?" Soul, with the exception of one predictable nod to Sam Cooke. And, even more glaringly, rap.

No other genre has shaped Southern music more in the past five years than hip-hop. Toiling in OutKast's broad shadow, Ludacris, David Banner, T.I. and loads of others have been cranking out hits that have the eyes of the world tilted South for the first time in many years.

It would have been nice, in particular, to see a nod to the hard work that Banner and others have put in to help the Gulf Coast recover from Katrina. Instead, we get "Goin' Back to New Orleans," a '30s (I think) jump-jive by Joe Liggins and His Honeydrippers. A perfectly fine song that says nothing about what's going on the Crescent City now.

There are, of course, still some gems in the 24 tracks offered in the latest installment. Tex Williams' "Smoke!Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)" is as funny as ever, and Katharine Whelan joining the 6ths for "You You You You You" is pop perfection.

But overall, it's all just safe choices that, like far too many people down here, look to the past out of apparent fear of both the present and, God forbid, the future.

I'm out, Oxford. It's been nice knowing you, but I've had enough.

Luda coming to Macon

If anyone has seen this morning's Telegraph, you'll already know that Ludacris is coming to the Macon Coliseum Saturday, Oct. 28, and I will definitely be there (well, I guess that last part wasn't in the newspaper.)

In honor of this news, I went out last night and bought a copy of Luda's latest, "Release Therapy," and I'm happy to report that it lives up to all the hype. At times serious but just as often as funny as ever, it's Luda in top form.

Now comes news this morning that his alter ego, actor Chris Bridges, has joined the cast of "Fred Claus" with Vince Vaughn. This one sounds like it could be lots of fun.

In it, Vaughn will play Santa's loser brother living in New York who returns home to the North Pole and almost ruins Christmas. Ludacris will play an angry elf. Paul Giamatti, Kevin Spacey, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks also are in the cast.

Summing up Bridges' acting career, my rather smart-alecy cubicle mate Dan Maley quipped, "Isn't he the guy that got the hell beat out of him twice by Terrence Howard?" Well, yes, once in a good movie ("Hustle and Flow") and once in a wretched one ("Crash.") Having survived both beatdowns, it now seems his acting career is taking off full steam.

And if you're anywhere near Macon, Ga., come out to the Coliseum for his show. I guarantee it's gonna be a great party.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Brewer and Howard, together again

Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Well, luckily for the rest of us, it also appears to be so for Terrence Howard and Craig Brewer. The two are reteaming for a biopic about black country star Charley Pride. After their successful collaboration with "Hustle and Flow," this can only be good news.

When I tried to think if I knew any Charley Pride songs, all I came up with was "man, do I like that song Behind Closed Doors." However, as many of you no doubt know and I soon figured out, that great song was actually a hit for Charlie Rich.

So all I really know about Pride is he was a black man who found great success in what was (and is) definitely a white folks' world, which should play right to Brewer's strengths. I know the movie has its detractors, but count me as amazed at how he infiltrated the world of Memphis rap in "Hustle and Flow." He definitely has a love for Southern music that shows through on screen. (And I'm definitely amped up for his "Black Snake Moan," even if that one just sounds plain insane.)

As for Terrence Howard, even in movies I haven't cared for much at all (like "Idlewild"), I have yet to see a performance by him I didn't like, so this one sounds like an all-around home run to me.

Wright to Die Hard?

Just call this a good day for news about actors I like. Though this one is so far only a rumor, since it comes from Jewreview.net, which proclaims itself to be "the entertainment Web site for the chosen people," I've chosen to believe this.

One of their spies reports that Jeffrey Wright (huzzah!) has been cast as the main villian in "Live Free or Die Hard," the fourth installment in the Bruce Willis action series due out around the Fourth of July.

True or not, this all makes sense. It's being shot on Wright's D.C. home turf, and the big bad in this one, rather than a thug, is the head of a government agency. From what I've heard so far, it still sounds too much like a rip-off of "24" to me, but Mr. Wright should definitely bring a little class to the project.

Lining up as it is directly against "Transformers" and Pixar's "Ratatouille," "Live Free" is gonna need all the help it can get, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Page, Cera in Reitman flick

Ellen Page, the young Canadian star of "Hard Candy," has joined Michael Cera in director Jason Reitman's coming-of-age comedy "Juno."

All I could get about the plot from IMDB is this rather cryptic plot summary: "Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, an offbeat young woman makes an unusual and bizarre decision regarding her unborn child."

Unusual and bizarre? Beyond being more than a little redundant, it also doesn't reveal much about the actual plot, which is just fine with me. After "Thank You for Smoking," Reitman's directing debut just out on DVD this week, I have faith that whatever comes of it will be very funny and entertaining.

And the casting seems pitch perfect. Page is a definite star on the rise, and Mr. Cera more than held his own with some very funny people as George Michael Bluth on "Arrested Development." I know it's still early in the new TV season, but that one is already sorely missed by me, and so far there's no proper replacement in sight.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Big news for Braugher

Count the recent "Fantastic Four" movie as one that made me think I may be becoming too much of a movie, or at least comic-book, snob.

I avoided it completely in the theaters because it just looked way too silly for me. However, several people I trust told me it was worth checking out on DVD, so I did, and was pleasantly surprised. Not a great movie by any stretch, but quite a fun popcorn flick, and it's not a story I hold as dearly as, say, the "X-Men" saga, so it didn't immediately piss me off like "X3" did (more on that later).

Now, this morning comes word that one of my favorite actors has joined the upcoming sequel. "Homicide" vet Andre Braugher, desperately in need of a good movie after thoroughly embarrassing himself in "Poseidon," has joined the cast of Tim Story's "Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer." The titular four are all back, and Braugher joins the cast as a military man charged with capturing the Silver Surfer. Beau Garrett of TV's "Entourage" is also on board as Frankie Raye.

It's high time Andre had some fun, so I wish him all the best with this.

Bernal for 'Bourne'?

OK, here's one just for the ladies. Gael Garcia Bernal, who those of you living in actual cities can now see in "The Science of Sleep," has been offered the role of the big bad for "The Bourne Ultimatum," the third installment in the spy saga.

In what can't be a good sign, filming has already begun in Tangier, even without a proper villian. However, Paul Greengrass is back in the director's chair, and he's proven he knows a thing or two about making very good movies. Matt Damon, Joan Allen and Julia Stiles are all back, and David Strathairn (huzzah!) has joined the mix, most likely as some kind of handler, I'd imagine.

I've liked Mr. Bernal quite a bit ever since "Y Tu Mama Tambien," but I just can't see him playing the heavy here. I'm sure plenty of people will disagree with me, so please feel free to sound off.

Seeking more info

Here are two nuggets which, since I don't bother to pay for Variety, I only found out the slightest bit about this morning, but they caught my eye nonetheless.

Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki has started production on his latest as-yet-untitled animated film, according to Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli. The release is scheduled for summer 2008. Definitely keep your eyes on this one.

Amy Heckerling, who created easily the best high-school flick ever with "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," is flashing back to the '80s for a series on NBC. I seriously doubt lightning can strike twice, especially within the strictures of network TV, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

If anyone knows any more about these two intriguing projects, please let me know.

Foreign Language Film nominees wrap-up

Monday was the final day for countries to submit their entries in this Oscar category, so here's a short list of some more that made the deadline, per Variety.

Emanuele Crialese's Ellis Island immigration drama "Golden Door" is Italy's candidate.

Fien Troch's "Someone Else's Happiness" will represent Belgium. The Dutch-language pic revolves around the hit-and-run killing of a child in a close-knit village outside Brussels.

Marcelo Gomes' "Cinema, aspirinas e urubus" (Movies, Aspirin and Vultures), is Brazil's entry. The road movie set in 1942 is based on the life story of Gomes' uncle.

Fyodor Bondarchuk's Afghan war drama "9th Company" has been selected as Russia's entry. Hungary's entry is Szabolcs Hajdu's "White Palms," which juxtaposes a gold-medal gymnast's training under a regime of brutal corporal punishment with his experiences in Canada.

India's submission is UTV Motion Pictures' "Rang de basanti" (Color It Orange), which revolves around a young British filmmaker who travels to India to make a film on the revolutionaries who influenced her grandfather.

Thailand has submitted Pen-ek Ratanaruang's arty gangster thriller "Invisible Waves," and Vietnam has chosen "Pao's Story," the debut feature from Ngo Quang Hai.

Finally (whew!) Luxembourg has chosen Franco de Pena's human-trafficking drama "Your Name Is Justine."

Good luck to all.

DVD picks

Because I've already gone on more than long enough today, here are my DVD picks for the week, rather than a full DVD shelf.

To buy or rent:

Thank You for Smoking (my pick of the week)
21 Grams: Collector's Edition
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: Locked 'n Loaded Director's Cut - Unrated
Humphrey Bogart: The Signature Collection Vol. 2 (featuring The Maltese Falcon Three-Disc Special Edition, Across the Pacific, Action in the North Atlantic, All Through the Night and Passage to Marseille; The Maltese Falcon available seperately)
Scarface: Platinum Edition
Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Extraordinarily Deluxe Edition (runner-up for pick of the week)

And one to please avoid

Please, please do not rent or buy Ratboy's peurile "X-Men: The Last Stand," also out on DVD. Beyond how it abused key elements of the X-Men story, it's just a bad movie to boot.

Now that's definitely enough from me for today. Peace out.