Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Departed, take two?

When I first heard this crazy news, I had to just scratch my head and ask "who the heck was left standing at the end of "The Departed"?"

Just in case any of you somehow haven't seen this great return to form for Martin Scorsese, I won't answer that directly, but the general answer is not many at all. Now, however, screenwriter William Monahan, unable to let go of a good thing, is apparently working on a sequel to star Mark Wahlberg and ... Robert De Niro?

I have no idea how in the world this could work. I guess Wahlberg, whose performance as the quick-tempered copper Dignam snagged him a deserved Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, would get some new men in blue to help him take on a mob boss, possibly played by De Niro.

Scorsese would apparently need to approve any take before development was to move forward. "Infernal Affairs," the Hong Kong movie from which "The Departed" was adapted, actually had two sequels: "IA 2," which I've seen, was a great prequel, and "IA 3," which I have not, apparently combined elements of the first two.

As I chew on this with a strong cup of coffee, I'm beginning to think it's just crazy enough to work. What Monahan really has here is the opportunity for a fresh start with a great character. Warner Bros. bought the rights to all three IA movies, but that doesn't mean he can't, with their permission, take the Dignam character and just roll with it anywhere he chooses. His script for "The Departed" is a worthy Oscar nominee in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, though I'm definitely cheering loudly for Alfonso Cuaron and friends with "Children of Men."

What do you think? Is this idea crazy? Am I? I'm perfectly willing to accept that the answer to both is yes.

Aardman gets flushed

In unsurprising yet still fairly depressing news, Dreamworks has severed its ties with Aardman Animation, after three pictures completed in what was to be a five-picture deal. The problem? Two of those movies were box-office bombs, at least in the U.S.

"Flushed Away" cost more than than $100 million to make, but grossed only $63.4 million in the U.S. The far-superior "Wallace & Gromit" feature, amazingly, only made $56.1 million domestic, but did better around the world. Both fell fall short of the first Aardman/Dreamworks collaboration, "Chicken Run," which grossed $106.8 million stateside.

Aardman is back in development on several films inhouse, but how they will get any of them distributed is an open question. Possibilities could include slate financing from private equity money, a one-off deal with a studio for its next pic or a new multifilm deal.

The best hope for Aardman in the U.S. lies in its reprise of "Creature Comforts" as a claymation series pitched to CBS. The network has ordered seven episodes so far, but has yet to schedule them. They could air as soon as this spring or be pushed back to summer or fall, so keep your eyes out for them (I know I will).

"Knocked Up" posters

Before the world found out just how funny Judd Apatow is with his "40-Year-Old Virgin," he proved it solidly on TV with both "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared," both of which, maddeningly, only lasted less than one season.

One partner in crime who has been with him is actor Seth Rogen, and now Apatow's about to make him a big star. As you can tell from these posters I found at (especially the first one), he's clearly the man in Apatow's new comedy, "Knocked Up," due June 1. Katherine Heigl has replaced Anne Hathaway as Rogen's surely much better half.

Click on each one for a bigger view (the third, the international poster, is particularly funny) and enjoy!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

People funnier than Will Ferrell

OK, that may be a bit mean. I like Will Ferrell, and I think he is a genuinely funny man, but one of his greatest strengths is surrounding himself with even funnier people. Here's proof in reports about two TV people who deserve big-screen success.

It's been a rocky road for Will Arnett since he left the funniest show on TV for the last 10 years, "Arrested Development." Let's see .. there was "Let's Go to Prison" and "RV," neither of which I even bothered to see.

Now however, with an assist from Mr. Ferrell, things may be starting to look up. Arnett has signed on to be one of the main stars of "Semi-Pro," an upcoming comedy about the waning days of the American Basketball Association. I like the premise, and he joins Ferrell, Woody Harrelson and Andre Benjamin in the project.

In "Semi-Pro," Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, the owner-player-coach of the fictional Flint, Mich., Tropics. Arnett plays team announcer Lou Redwood.

Before that, he'll be in another flick with Ferrell that doesn't look nearly as promising. Coming soon, Ferrell and Jon Heder (no!) will play ice dancers in "Blades of Glory," and Mr. Arnett will be on hand for the mayhem. I sincerely want this to be funny, but I just can't see it happening.

Fischer walks the 'Walk'

What became the funniest show on TV after "Arrested Development" bit the dust? "The Office," by a wide margin. And now "Office" cutie Jenna Fischer has landed a plum role in what should be a very funny movie.

To keep piling on Will Ferrell, there were at two least people funnier than him in "Talladega Nights," both Sacha Baron Cohen and John C. Reilly. It's high time for Reilly to get his own starring role in a comedy, and he's getting it from "Freaks and Geeks" creator Judd Apatow.

Apatow and Jake Kasdan have written the flick "Walk Hard," a sendup of the music biopics that have set upon us like kuzdu. Kasdan will direct, with Reilly playing troubled music legend Dewey Cox, and now Fischer joining the cast as his love interest.

And, in case you doubted I can tie things together just as smoothly as Guillermo Arriaga, yes, Fischer is also one of the stars of "Blades of Glory," insuring that I will see it.

Has Katie Holmes disappeared?

Admit it ... we all at least read the headlines on those tabloids at the supermarket cash register. Now, apparently, I've found at least one that's proving to be true.

I can't remember which one it was, but one I saw recently had a simply horrific looking Katie Holmes on the cover, calling her a "Stepford Wife," locked away and unable to see any of her friends or family.

Well, according to my favorite froggie movie site,, she will at least be absent from the upcoming Batman flick. Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Gary Oldman will all be back for "The Dark Knight," but some other actress will be playing Rachel Dawes.

That's the first good news I've heard involving Tom Cruise in a long, long time.

And in case you may have forgotten just how funny "Arrested Development" was, here's a little "Afternoon Delight" I found on Youtube. Enjoy!

Arrested Development -Maeby & Michael sing Afternoon Delight

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Smokin' Aces

I'm not sure I was ever hip. Maybe for a week or two when I was in college, but I doubt it. But apparently Joe Carnahan is, and it's certainly gone to his head.

Four years ago, he delivered a very entertaining and unsentimental tale in "Narc," and apparently people noticed. A lot of pople. And Carnahan apparently put every single one of them in the mess that is "Smokin' Aces."

The first sign of trouble comes right away when he feels the need to introduce the main players to us with name tags on the screen. As if he himself lost track of them somewhere along the line.

In the end it didn't matter a lick, because you (or at least I) end up hating them all. I know that's kind of the point, if there really is one, but even in a story as "gritty" as this one there has to be at least one person to cheer for, or else why would you even care?

But back to the story. Jeremy Piven, who has somehow managed to stretch the five minutes I thought he had used up with "PCU" into a lifetime of bad movies and TV, is Buddy "Aces" Israel, A Las Vegas magician who has worked way deep into the mob and is now about to turn state's witness against the big boss. So, we hear at the outset that a $1 million price is put on his head, and an endless series of hitmen descend on the hotel he is holed up in to take him out.

Fair enough. I like stylized violence as much as the next person who owns True Romance on DVD, and Carnahan delivers it with flair. What he fails to deliver, in the 90-minute-or-so build up, is more than about three laughs. Jason Bateman, who gets about three minutes of screen time, is simply hilarious, and Taraji P. Henson, who played Shug in "Hustle & Flow," gets the best lines as the deadlier half of a duo of hitwomen that also includes Alicia Keys. Henson is a real star on the rise.

But that's about the only good things I can say about "Smokin' Aces." It's not that Joe Carnahan wants to be Quentin Tarantino or even, God forbid, Guy Ritchie, as many critics have complained. If he doesn't get a good writer to help him soon, he's not even gonna be Brett Ratner.

But I've gone on long enough about a movie that really doesn't even deserve this much attention. In the last five minutes there's a reveal that's supposed to make it all make sense, but that's not nearly enough to save this bomb. Nothing can.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The sad saga of Adrienne Shelly

Just who was Adrienne Shelly, and why should you care? Well, there are many reasons, but the late actress is back in the news this week with her movie "Waitress" getting a huge deal at Sundance.

For anyone who doesn't know, Shelly was murdered in New York in November, apparently by a construction worker who punched her in the face after she complained that he was making too much noise. If anyone can make any sense out of this disgusting story, please explain it to me, because it just makes me so angry and sad all at once that I have trouble just typing it.

Shelly had been waiting to hear if "Waitress," which she wrote and directed, would be selected for this year's Sundance Festival. Well, I'd like to think she somehow knows it was, and now Fox Searchlight has picked up the rights to distribute it for about $5 million. A price like that should get it a pretty good distribution, and Fox Searchlight, the engine behind "Little Miss Sunshine," knows more than a little about marketing "indie" films.

The movie itself sounds pretty entertaining, and has a fantastic cast. Keri Russell plays a pregnant waitress who is in an abusive marriage. Seeking some kind of escape, she enters into an affair with her doctor, the always welcome
Nathan Fillion (aka Capt. Mal Reynolds, of course).

And before she was a director, Adrienne Shelly was a very good actress who worked on the fringes of the film world. She last appeared in the Bukowski flick "Factotum," but many people might also know her from those great Hal Hartley flicks "Trust" and "The Unbelievable Truth."

I don't really know how to pay tribute to this great woman whose life was cut so tragically short because that's all I really know about her. Jeremy, a frequent and always welcome visitor here, sent me a very moving one written by a good friend of his, but being a very disorganized person, I've managed to lose it. If you happen to pass through here today, Jeremy, please post it so it can be read by me again and maybe some others.

All I can really say is go see "Waitress" when you get the chance, and if you haven't seen those old Hartley flicks, do so right away. I was pleasantly surprised to find out you can get at least "The Unbelievable Truth" from Netflix.

Here's a nice video salute to her work I found at YouTube. Enjoy, and have an entirely nonsucky weekend!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Gilmore Girls news?

There are few people in the world more obsessed with television than TV Guide's Michael Ausiello, and even fewer who write about it with as much style as he does.

I don't watch too many shows any more except in DVD form. If it's not movies, almost always my first choice, it's sports, NBC's Thursday night comedies (tons better than the '80s block with the Cos and Cheers, really), and Gilmore Girls.

On the latter subject, this latest season without creator Amy Sherman-Palladino has been uneven at best, but delivered a very solid return episode this week. There's no way that even little Lane pregnant with twins would be as big as a doublewide trailer, but it was still funny and touching. Like it used to be.

Now, however, comes some simply crazy news from Mr. Ausiello via the latest TV press tour. If you watch the show, be warned, these are some pretty serious spoilers. Divinity (aka Diana Keng) once showed me how use invisotext, but I've lost that, so I'll just use italics.

David Rosenthal is seriously considering ending the season (or series?) with Lorelai and Luke not only married but expecting a baby.

The buzz in Stars Hollow is that the key to an eighth season may rest in Alexis Bledel's petite hands. Unlike Lauren Graham, who appears to be somewhat amenable to the idea of continuing on for another year, Bledel is proving a tougher sell. As a result, Warner Bros. and the CW are allegedly developing a Plan B that would focus an eighth season on Lorelai, Luke and their new baby, with the occasional sweeps-month guest appearance by Rory. Wow, that sounds like a disaster.

Question: Do you know how Gilmore Girls plans to deal with Melissa McCarthy's pregnancy?— Katherine
Ausiello: Scoop! They're dealing with it by making Sookie pregnant for a third time. Not sure how Dave R. is gonna pull that one off, considering Jackson had that vasectomy and all. Maybe Taylor's the daddy? I kid. I kid.

Matt Czuchry thinks Rory and Logan should eventually (yikes!) go their separate ways. "I would love to see Rory single at the end. I just feel like that's the way the show began, with the mother-daughter relationship. It's kind of like Sex and the City with Sarah Jessica Parker and the big question of, 'What is she going to do at the end?' I thought she should have been by herself, because that was the whole through-line of the show. The most important thing for me is that Rory and Lorelai are there together at the end. It should be about the Gilmore girls and them going forward." You know what? As much as I love Logan and Rory, I kinda agree with him.

As do I, Mr. Ausiello. There's some juicy stuff there. Sounds like the show could go just about anywhere in the 10 episodes or so left in this season, and I'll definitely be tuning in.

Eight minutes of "This Film Is Not Yet Rated"

James Choi at ifilm has been giving me video footage to embed for some time now, but I've been remiss in getting around to using this rather cool tool. Here, finally, are the first eight minutes of Kirby Dick's documentary "This Film is Not Yet Rated."

I just saw the flick on DVD, and though Mr. Dick is very heavy-handed in making his point, it is a very valid one. Enjoy! (This clip may be NSFW.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Are the Academy Awards racist?

It pains me to even think such a thing the morning after the announcement of an extremely diverse slate of Oscar nominees, but the Best Picture snub of "Dreamgirls" just made me mad when it was first announced, and time has not softened my ire. (And, just for the record, I am an increasingly ornery white dude who, as far as I know, has suffered no racial bias in my thus-far fairly pleasant life.)

That said, I can't help but wonder: If I'm this angry, there must be millions more people who feel the same way and worse. Can you imagine the reactions of all the black people who lined up to see "Dreamgirls" when it went wide on Christmas Day? Who applauded this gift several times during its unveiling, even offering a standing ovation after Jennifer Hudson's signature song?

How in the world could this movie be treated so coldly? For the record, it did get the most Oscar nominations, eight, including the expected supporting acting nods for Hudson and Eddie Murphy. And Hudson will win. And so will Forest Whitaker (I hope) for "The Last King of Scotland."

So I'd be willing to let the Best Picture slight go if it were an anomaly. A one-time omission that could be excused with an "aw, shucks, we'll get it right next time." But it's not. It's part of a proven pattern of racial bias when it comes to the giving out of nominations and awards for Best Picture.

Can you think of even one Best Picture winner with an all - or even mostly - black cast? There isn't one.

The most obvious oversight is Spike Lee who, with both "Do the Right Thing" and "Malcolm X," created two pictures well worthy of Best Picture love. Instead, they each got two nominations, none for Best Picture. One of the nominations was for Danny Aiello in "Do the Right Thing," who, the last time I checked was an even older white dude than me.

But the most egregious slight would have to be "The Color Purple." I didn't care a lick for what Spielbergo did with this great novel by Alice Walker, but how could it possibly get 11 Oscar nominations and walk away with none? And what won Best Picture that year? Of course it was the colonial drama "Out of Africa."

It's a sorry, sorry, record which only continues with yesterday's big goof. I haven't seen Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima," and apparently I won't anytime soon, because amazingly enough, a nomination for Best Picture isn't enough to let it go wide enough to reach my little corner of the world. It at least has to be better than "Flags of Our Fathers," a fairly standard war flick ruined by a disastrous ending.

But I wasn't happier at the end of a movie in all of 2006 than I was after watching "Dreamgirls." It's a real accomplishment, and now this will go down in history as a real shame.

Whew. So much bile really does leave a bitter taste in my mouth so early in the morning, so let's switch to what was great in yesterday's nominations. And there was plenty of it.

All the nominees for Best Picture (again, assuming Clint's movie doesn't somehow just suck) are worthy movies. There's not a "Driving Miss Daisy," "Forrest Gump" or even a "Crash" in the bunch. I'm hoping either "The Departed" or "Little Miss Sunshine" pulls it out.

And as the rather excited Salma Hayek pointed out, it certainly wasn't "A Day Without a Mexican." Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" getting six nominations, including Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay, was nothing I could have predicted. I just wish the third amigo, Alfonso Cuaron, had gotten just a little love for the best movie of 2006, "Children of Men," which just got a big middle finger and nothing else.

And the best race to watch? Definitely Best Supporting Actor. I'd be very happy if Eddie Murphy ekes this out, but even happier if Alan Arkin somehow pulls an upset.

But I've certainly gone on long enough. "Dreamgirls" ill will aside, it was a fascinating morning. And please, if anyone wants to tell me I'm full of it about "Dreamgirls," which I certainly encourage you to do, I only ask that you please keep it civil. Remember, it's all about the love.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Clive Owen and Phillip Marlowe

OK,OK. I know there's something slightly more important going on in the film world today, but they've yet to rearrange everything to fit my ridiculous schedule, so I thought I'd squeeze in a bit of good news before the big Oscars announcement.

I've been accused many times in my life of being inconsistent in my opinions, and that's probably true. When they announced they were bringing Phillip Marlowe back for a new TV series, I railed against it in a fairly cranky post here.

Now, however, an entirely different Marlowe has me totally jazzed. Why? Because of Clive Owen for starters. He proved in "Sin City" and much earlier way back in "Croupier" (if you haven't seen that little gem, do so immediately) that he can play cool, and no one's cooler than Phillip Marlowe.

The producing team behind "Children of Men" has purchased the rights to a Raymond Chandler mystery series that includes "The Big Sleep" and "Farewell My Lovely." Owen will serve as executive producer on what could be a long series of flicks, and of course play the gumshoe himself.

The plan is to keep the noir spirit of the Chandler books, and keep the mysteries set in the 1940s in Los Angeles. All these developments make this project much more interesting than the proposed TV series.

For the show, they were going to (and I assume still will) transport Marlowe to the current day and not actually use any of Chandler's work as source material. In other words, it was Marlowe in name only, and just a horrid idea.

I can only hope that either Clive's team beats them to the punch or makes its debut just after the surely doomed TV show starts, driving the nails in its coffin. Heck, I'd even be game for them to take on "The Big Sleep," which had great work by Bogie, but, let's face it, was one of the most maddeningly confusing movies ever made.

Whichever one they pick, I'm sure of one thing: I have no idea if Justin Timberlake is bring sexy back (or what the hell that even means), but I know Clive owen is bringing cool back, and that's just fine with me.

I'll try and post something later about the Oscar nominations, but I may not get to that until tomorrow. Peace out.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Greengrass going into Iraq

After having more fun with the "Bourne" saga, Paul Greengrass will be getting serious again with his take on Rajiv Chandrasekaran's book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone."

Chandrasekaran's book is drawn from his own experiences as Baghdad bureau chief of the Washington Post, and concerns the chaotic attempts of the Americans to set up a provisional government in the area around Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's palace.

While there have been a slew of documentaries about Iraq, this is the first attempt I've heard of to make a scripted flick about what's going on on the ground. But of course this is hardly new territory for Greengrass.

"United 93," while being extremely hard to watch, was meticulous in its minute-by-minute re-creation of that horrific morning. Even better was his earlier "Bloody Sunday," which shed new light on the Irish civil rights protest march and subsequent massacre by British troops Jan. 30, 1972.

And just in case anyone hadn't heard what Mr. Greengrass thinks of the whole situation, he sums the invasion of Iraq up thusly, with more than a little hyperbole: "the most calamitous decision of our generation."

The timing of this should be perfect. With "Bourne Ultimatum" in post-production, Greengrass has one other project on his plate already. "They Marched into Sunlight," based on the book by David Maraniss, is summarized thusly at the IMDB: "On one day in October 1967, two events, the loss of 61 American soldiers in a Viet Cong ambush and a student protest against Dow Chemical, galvanize opposition to the Vietnam war on college campuses."

Sounds like perfect fodder for Greengrass, but I have to believe he will set this aside and try to finish "Imperial Life" by August or so of 2008, just in time for the presidential election. Now that would just be fun.

More Oscar predictions

The nominations come out tomorrow morning, of course, and you can hear my predictions for the major categories by clicking on the link at right. Here's two more:

Best supporting actress

Abigail Breslin - "Little Miss Sunshine"
Jennifer Hudson - "Dreamgirls"
Rinko Kikuchi - "Babel"
Adriana Barraza - "Babel"
Emily Blunt - "The Devil Wears Prada"

I'd love to see this go to Rinko Kikuchi for her remarkable performance as the deaf-mute Japanese teenager in "Babel," but nothing will stop the Jennifer Hudson express, and I'll enjoy watching her take home the prize.

Adapted screenplay

"Thank You for Smoking" - Jason Reitman
"Little Children" - Todd Field and Tom Perrotta
"Notes on a Scandal" - Patrick Marber
"Children of Men" - Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby
"Last King of Scotland" - Jeremy Brock

My pick would be "Thank You for Smoking," but I think the prize will go to Alfonso Cuaron and the gaggle of writers who assisted him in adapting and transforming the novel by P.D. James for "Children of Men."

We'll soon find out, of course, just how wrong I am. Tune in tomorrow.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Worst movie weekend ever?

I realize it's only the third week or so of the new year, but I'm still ready to predict this will be the worst movie weekend of 2007, if not the worst of all time.

One new movie in wide-release world, and it's a remake of "The Hitcher"? Sheesh. I mean, as a teenager I enjoyed watching the original. If nothing else, the vision of poor Jennifer Jason Leigh stretched between two trucks on some modern version of the rack will linger with you for a long time.

But why in the world would you make it again? And, much more importantly, why does Hollywood keep catering almost exclusively to the teenagers who have already given up on going to the movies?

The story behind this hideous project is even scarier than some of you may know. The team that made this remake is also responsible for not one but two recent rehashings of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," and will soon be turning to something much more dangerous.

I guess you have to admire their nerve, but anyone who would think they can do a remake of "The Birds" should just be removed from this planet immediately. That's exactly what these clowns have in their sights next, so if anyone would be willing to rub them out before this gets finished, I'll gladly stake you.

OK, maybe that was a bit much, but I'm just pissed off this morning as I look at the movie listings. What in the world do we have to do to get Pan's Labyrinth in my little corner of the world? I'm up for just about anything legal.

Oh well. At least Dame Mirren's big Golden Globes win means The Queen gets its first run here in Macon. I think I'll just go see that again, so maybe it won't be such a bad weekend after all, no thanks to Hollywood.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Into India with Mira Nair and Johnny Depp

Today is chock full of news about people I like quite a bit, so let's get right into it.

For years now I've been reading criticism of Mira Nair, principally from Indian movie fans, that she has abandoned her home country to make lightweight Western fare. And it has always pained me. While it is true that she has turned to the West, I count "Mississippi Masala," starring Denzel Washington and the radiant Sarita Choudhury, among my all-time favorite flicks, and "Monsoon Wedding" is a darn fine flick too.

Now, however, comes news that should make everyone smile. Mira is bound back to Bombay, and she's taking Johnny Depp and a great big budget with her. After Peter Weir dropped out on the Depp-starring project "Shantaram," Mira has stepped in and taken over.

That means Johnny will start work on this as soon as "Sweeney Todd" wraps, with a 2008 release in view. In "Shantaram," an Australian heroin addict (Depp) escapes from a maximum-security prison and reinvents himself as a doctor treating the destitute in the slums of Bombay. His drive to procure medicine leads him into counterfeiting, gun-running and smuggling. Sounds just about perfect to me.

And Mira Nair's more immediate project, coming March 9, also sounds pretty friggin cool. Kal Penn makes a serious upgrade from "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" (don't worry, stoners ... a sequel is in the works) to star in her "The Namesake," the story of an Indian man torn between his new life in Boston with girlfriend Jacinda Barrett (huzzah!) and the more traditional lifestyle envisioned by his parents.

Sounds like it will explore many of the same themes as "Monsoon Wedding," so I'll definitely be there to see it.

Aronofsky to direct ballet?

That's what I mistakenly thought when I first saw this story, but luckily I was mistaken. Darren Aronofsky's next movie will instead be "Black Swan," described as a psychological thriller that looks at the manipulative relationship between a veteran ballet dancer and a rival.

I'm ashamed to say - due to some hesitation on my part, a vacation, and the simple glut of movies that came out at the same time - I still haven't seen Aronofsky's "The Fountain," easily the most divisive multiplex movie of 2006. His movies demand a lot from viewers, but with "Pi" and even more so "Requiem for a Dream," the reward was more than worth the effort, so I'll eventually break down and see "The Fountain." and I'll definitely be keeping my eyes on "Black Swan."

Pixar prepping next film

I've heard rumblings about some kind of Michael Bay movie with Transformers in it, but the flick I'm most excited about for the coming summer remains "Ratatouille."

Brad Bird, who directed the best Pixar movie, "The Incredibles," and my favorite animated movie ever, "The Iron Giant," is back in charge for "Ratatouille," so it should be great. Besides, I didn't care too much for "Cars," so Pixar owes me.

After "Ratatouille," however, will come another Pixar project that also sounds like a lot of fun. Titled "WALL-E," it's believed to be about a young robot looking for a home in outer space (see the rather rough photo.) Andrew Stanton, who won an Oscar for directing "Finding Nemo" and co-directed "Toy Story 2," is helming. "WALL-E" will be released June 27, 2008.

Also in the works is a "Toy Story 3," but a robot lost in space just sounds much better to me.

Garner joins 'Juno' cast

Jason Reitman is just on a roll. After debuting with "Thank You For Smoking," he's soon to begin shooting the follow-up "Juno," which is rapidly assembling a first-rate cast.

Already on board for the coming-of-age comedy about a teenager faced with an unplanned pregnancy are Ellen Page (huzzah!), presumably as the young lady in question, and the very funny Michael Cera of "Arrested Development" fame, presumably as the impregnator. Now comes word that Jennifer Garner has joined the cast as the hopeful adoptive mother of said offspring. Production is expected to begin mid-February in Vancouver.

The script was written by St. Paul/Minneapolis City Pages scribe Diablo Cody, who pens the always entertaining Pussy Ranch blog, so it definitely deserves our support. Besides, it's virtually guaranteed to not suck, which can't be said for Garner's upcoming "The Kingdom," which is already in contention for worst movie of 2007 in my mind.

And as for Reitman, he'll go from this to making a movie with Dwight Schute about a ninja with too much downtime on his hands. For some people, life really is just way too good.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

10 directors to watch

I stumbled upon this this morning at Variety, and just couldn't resist "borrowing" their insight. Though none of these directors will have movies playing in my little corner of the world anytime soon, there's some fascinating stuff to set your Netflix queue up with in the near future.

Tauja Waititi
Waititi, a Kiwi Maori from New Zealand, arrives at Sundance this year with his first feature, "Eagle vs. Shark," a deadpan comedy about two social misfits who find love. The film's two leads are Lily, a sexually repressed fast-food waitress played by Loren Horsley, and a tormented videostore clerk named Jarrod, being played by Waititi's former standup partner Jemaine Clement.

Sarah Polley
I just love Canuck Sarah Polley in so many ways, so I hope she finds great success in directing. Her first feature, "Away from Her," chronicles the effects of Alzheimer's disease on an elderly couple. One tidbit from Variety: Sarah turned down the chance to star in "Almost Famous" to make a short film of her own. Sarah as Penny Lane? I can already see it in my mind, and it looks incredible.

Joachim Trier
Count this dude as one former skate punk who has come a long way. Trier, who got his start shooting skateboarding vids, is in Park City with "Reprise," a tale of literary rivalry, romantic agonies and madness that also tracks how young people make the transition from punk rock to parenting.

Jim Strouse
Strouse has also made a rapid rise, from location manager on Steve Buscemi's 2005 film "Lonesome Jim" to now bringing his first feature, "Grace is Gone," to Sundance. It certainly helps when you have a star like John Cusack on board. The flick is about a young father (Cusack) whose soldier wife has just been killed in Iraq. Rather than tell his two daughters the news, he decides to take them on a cross-country road trip to an amusement park. The story was inspired by a similar trip Strouse made with his older brother and his two children several years ago.

Andrea Staka
Staka nabbed the Golden Leopard at Locarno with her flick "Fraulein," and now she's making the rounds with it at Sundance. The movie explores themes of immigration and loss among a community of Bosnians and Croatians, as far as I can tell.

Jarrett Schafer
Count this as one project I just can't get behind because, well, it sickens me. You can't deny, however, that Schafer has huevos for taking it on. His first feature, "Chapter 27," is the story of the days leading up to the 1980 assassination of John Lennon, told from the perspective of his killer, Mark David Chapman. Schafer cast Jared Leto as Chapman and Lindsay Lohan as Jude, a fellow Lennon fanatic who befriends Chapman. Like I said, not much to add because I simply find this abhorrent from the start.

Jorge Hernandez Aldana
In case anyone missed the memo, the Mexicans are taking over the film world, and they're bringing their friends with them. Mexican scribe Guillermo Arriaga, the former writing partner of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (you might just have heard of him), has tapped Venezuelan Aldana to adapt his novel, "El bufalo de la noche," for the big screen. I'm not sure what it's about, but Aldana already has his eyes on a new project: A film about the Mars Volta. Huzzah, indeed.

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Von Donnersmarck has managed quite a coup with his debut feature, "The Lives of Others." The tale of an East German writer under surveillance by a Stasi agent is Germany's nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Nelson George
George has been a prolific writer of nonfiction (his "Hip Hop America" is a must-read) and an occasional screenwriter (the less successful "CB4"), and now he turns to a personal tale for his first stab at directing. "Life Support," Sundance's closing-night film - about a woman, played by Queen Latifah, who is HIV-positive - is based on the life of his own sister.

Andrea Arnold
Now that's what I call a debut: Arnold, a former children's TV host, won the Grand Prix du Jury at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival with her first feature, "Red Road." Set in the bleak housing projects of Glasgow, Scotland, "Red Road" is an emotional thriller about a surveillance camera attendant who becomes dangerously obsessed and entangled with a man from her tragic past.

So, there you have it. I hope you found some new names and flicks here. These are definitely some folks to keep your eyes on.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

More MPAA madness on the way

We're still not sure who will win the Oscar for Best Documentary, but the award for most effective doco has to go to Kirby Dick.

Though I still haven't managed to see his flick, "This Film is Not Yet Rated," apparently Motion Picture Association of America chief Dan Glickman did, and he was taking notes. Starting with an announcement Monday at the Sundance Film Festival, where Dick's movie made a splash last year, the MPAA and the National Association of Theater Owners will unveil a series of planned changes to the ratings system.

"The documentary made it clear that we probably haven't done as much as we can to explain how it all works," Glickman told Daily Variety. Wow .. now that's power.

Unfortunately, as should probably be expected, the new moves won't really amount to much. The two big changes will be a new admonishment to parents that certain R-rated movies aren't suitable for younger kids, period; and, for the first time, a filmmaker will be able to cite another movie when waging an appeal.

Now, on the first one, any further admonishment is welcome in my corner. I can stomach just about anything on screen, but what I can't take is when people take young children to thoroughly inappropriate movies, simply because they can't be bothered to hire a babysitter. The most egregious example in recent memory was "Hustle & Flow," which must have had at least 10 preteen kids there. Just what the hell are they supposed to learn from that?

So, should parents only take their kids to PG or G-rated flicks? Not at all. I'm only asking for a little common sense.

A.O. Scott, in a great article published Jan. 5 but no longer available for free on the New York Times Web site, invoked the words of poet Frank O'Hara: "Mothers of America, let your kids go to the movies!" His very valid point: If you only let your children see the animated fluff generated by the Hollywood machine, they'll really be missing out on a lot. Amen to that, but I'd only add that you please pick the movies with care and be there to make sure your offspring behave themselves and don't disrupt this curmudgeon's movie day.

But even this half-step misses the point about most complaints about the MPAA's decisions of late: That it puts way too much emphasis on sex and not enough on violence. In a PG-13 movie, you can graphically kill an armada of soldiers, but God forbid we move a few steps beyond heavy petting, especially between members of the same sex.

It's a twisted view of the world, and only passes this view on to future generations who will be more and more obsessed with violence as they become more and more sexually repressed. A dystopia indeed.

Talking Oscars

I'm not sure if you can call it a podcast, since I still have no idea what that word means, but you can hear me trying to predict the major Oscar nominations by clicking here.

My only caveat is that I did not lobby for or choose the title of "movie expert." Though I do know more about flicks than, say, rocket science, I can only claim to be a way-too-obsessed fan.

I hope my rambling makes sense. I find it somehow oddly appropriate that I managed to mangle the pronunciation of "Happiness" much the same way the filmmakers did its spelling. Feel free to sound off on whether you think I got it right, and have a perfectly bearable hump day.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

El Aura

Though the story of Fabien Bielinsky, who only managed to direct three films before dying of a heart attack in June at 47, is a tragic one, we're here today not to be depressed but instead to celebrate what he left behind.

His last two movies were "Nine Queens," which the director himself described as an "effervescent" heist movie, and "El Aura," which also involves a heist but has a lot more than that going on.

I managed to catch the latter with my brother last weekend in Atlanta, and I'm certainly glad I did. As much as a heist movie, it's about an ordinary guy who's presented with an odd opportunity, and how far he will go to seize it.

And the movie's strength is that it's central character, a nameless taxidermist played by Ricardo Darin, is actually kind of extraordinary in just how much he's removed himself from life. We see his taxidermist go through the methodical motions of his trade with no change in his expression. It helps that Darin has the face of someone truly beaten down by life. Think Serge Gainsbourg, then add a few more degress of roughness and you're getting warm.

We first sense he harbors some odd notions when, in line for his paycheck, he coolly details to a friend how he would rob the joint, recounting every detail and explaining that if it all went right, "no one need get hurt." When this friend invites him on a hunting trip, our hero soon finds himself presented with the opportunity to take the place of a man at the center of a plot to rob a casino, though to tell you any more than that would be a different crime I won't commit.

The beauty in Bielinsky's movie is seeing how methodically Darin, whose character is epileptic and possesses a photographic memory, picks up on the plan and puts himself right in the middle of it. "El Aura" refers to the state he goes into just before suffering a seizure, which contributes to his remarkable memory. Watching him piece it all together brought back memories of "Memento," and had he not died I'm certain Mr. Bielinsky would be as hailed as Mr. Nolan is today. It's a classic noir with a unique twist, and it almost all works perfectly.

My only beef, and it's a small quibble, is that Bielinsky is a little too in love with the scenery of Patagonia, which he filmed with a technique that renders it almost black and white but still beautiful. The movie does drag, however, when Bielinsky lingers on this set for too long. Cutting out three or so of the long shots of a pickup truck being driven down a mountain road would have trimmed some fat from this 138-minute flick without losing any of its flair.

But that doesn't change the fact that, to trot out a cliche used way too often but rarely correctly, they just don't make movies like this any more. And I guess Mr. Bielinsky won't either, but he did manage to make at least one movie that will stick with me for a long time. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go add "Nine Queens" to my Netflix list.

Oscars podcast coming

I'm still not even sure what a podcast is, but I will apparently be recording one later today. It will basically be Ryan Gilchrest, one of The Telegraph's online editors and a fairly far gone movie geek himself, and me making predictions on whose names we will hear when the Oscar nominations are announced next week.

I think it will be ready by this weekend, and I'll be sure to include a link here. Hopefully it will be at least mildly entertaining. I'll close today with this choice quote from Golden Globe winner Helen Mirren, on whether her penchant for playing royalty means her blood runs blue:

"I'm an Essex girl. You know how you know if an Essex girl has an orgasm? She drops her fries." Well put, dame Mirren

Monday, January 15, 2007

Notes on a Scandal

How in the world could anyone take a story that seems ripped straight from the tabloids and turn it into one of the most engaging and thrilling movies of 2006? After seeing "Notes on a Scandal," I'm still not sure how, but screenwriter Patrick Marber, Dame Judi Dench and others certainly did pull off this rather remarkable coup.

It's easy to forget while you're watching this movie just how salacious its subject is. A teacher at a London public school (Cate Blanchett) starts a fling with a 15-year-old student, risking everything, including her family life with husband Bill Nighy. On top of that, add a lonely, more-than-slighty-off-kilter fellow teacher (Dame Dench) who takes more than a friendly interest in Blanchett's character and pursues that to extreme ends, and you've got the makings of a great psychological thriller.

Besides, you might as well admit it: Even if we don't read the tabloids, we all at least stop on E! or other shows when they're dishing the juiciest of gossip. We all have an appetite for trash, even if we keep it in the closet. The presence of Dame Dench lets you celebrate this yearning without any guilt. It's like Masterpiece Theater with all the starch removed.

And what manages to keep it just inches above the gutter throughout is a remarkable performance from Dame Dench. As she goes to great lengths to destroy the lives of those around her, and possibly her own, you never know exactly what's driving her actions. Certainly, she's more than a little crazy and, quite possibly, evil, but also very lonely and clearly more than a little sick as well. That she manages to invoke sympathy even as she unleashes a wave of destruction is the trademark of how great her work is here.

And the script by Marber, based on a novel by Zoe Heller (which I will soon be reading), gives her plenty of juicy material to chew on, much of which comes in the form of her narrating her inner thoughts. I don't think her performance will be enough to derail the Dame Helen Mirren train, but we'll find out soon enough (with the Golden Globes tonight, don't forget!).

Even though they suffer a bit in her shadow, Blanchett and Nighy still manage to deliver first-rate work as well. Blanchett's performance, while understated, is just flighty enough to make us believe she would jump into the arms of a 15-year-old. And Nighy keeps it all pent up until near the end, when an offhand comment from Blanchett finally sets him off. It's a slow burn well worth following until the explosion.

All in all a very satisfying start to my movie weekend in Atlanta. The next day, my brother and I went to see "The Aura," the final movie from Argentinian director Fabien Bielinsky (who only lived long enough to make two flicks.) I won't get to a review of that fairly excellent flick until tomorrow, so please feel free to check in then. Peace out.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Depp, Cooper ready for spy games

When I first saw this headline this morning, it just made me say "sheesh, not another spy flick." This one, however, has the makings to be pretty great.

Ever since I started reading about Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent who was mysteriously and fatally poisoned in London, I've been hooked. I'm fairly certain that I've read every story the New York Times has printed about it. It's good old-fashioned (and, of course, deadly) spy games, the kind you couldn't make up if you tried.

Now comes word that Warner Bros. has scooped up film rights to a book on the subject for Johnny Depp's shingle Infinitum Nihil to develop, and potentially star in. The as-yet-unpublished tome, "Sasha's Story: The Life and Death of A Russian Spy," will be penned by New York Times London bureau chief Alan Cowell, who has been covering the story.

Cowell will continue to cover the story as speculation still runs rampant that the responsibility may go as high as Vladimir Putin, before then taking a break to write the book. So it may be a long while before we get to see any of this, but I can only enthusiasticly say bring it on.

Even better, coming Feb. 16 will be "Breach," the story of FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who was a long-time double agent working for the KGB. Even better than that, Hanssen will be played by the great Chris Cooper (huzzah!), and the movie also stars Laura Linney (huzzah, again!) and Ryan Philippe.

I've seen the trailer at least three times now, and it just looks like a great psychological thriller, with Philippe's young agent assigned to track Hanssen and get proof that he's a double-crosser. In case you need anymore incentive to get excited about this, it's directed by Billy Ray, who delivered a solid debut with "Shattered Glass," his very underrated flick about New Republic plagiarist Stephen Glass (if you haven't seen it, it's well, well worth a rental.)

So, if spy movies aren't going away anytime soon, and with yet another Bourne flick well under way, they're definitely not, at least we get intriguing entries in the genre. And besides, these are all potentially great flicks for adults, which is certainly reason to celebrate.

I'm taking the weekend off to hang out with the fam in Atlanta, but I'll surely be seeing some movies there. Check back Monday for some reviews, hopefully, and have a great holiday weekend.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Who killed 'The Hobbit'?

Before this rather ugly feud between Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema became so nastily public, I never would have guessed that everyone involved are basically babies.

And it pains me to say that about Peter Jackson, but no one looks good in this. The latest chapter is enough to make schoolyard bullies look like a classy lot.

The latest statement released by New Line's Bob Shaye, essentially barring Jackson from the lot, not just for "The Hobbit" but for any other flick, is beyond juvenile. His latest beef with PJ is, apparently, that the director refused to participate in a 40th anniversary video for the studio, and allegedly told his stars not to participate either.

Are you kidding me? We're not gonna get to see what would be one incredible movie (or maybe two) - and I've always held "The Hobbit" in higher esteem than any of its "Rings" companions - because you got your feelings hurt? In any other place in the world, such infantile behavior would get one fired (and hopefully it still will.)

In his response, Jackson for once tried to remain civil, perhaps sensing how ridiculous New Line now looks, but he's been stoking the fire all along. The lawsuit that started all this is a particularly nasty affair, even by Hollywood standards. Essentially, Jackson's Wingnut company performed an audit on the books after "Fellowship of the Ring" and found some alleged irregularities and money owed. He wants to perform a similar audit on the other two flicks in the trilogy (and who can blame him?), but so far New Line has refused. So here we are. No wiser and a lot more annoyed.

What's amazing in all this is that Shaye, in his latest bit of bile, has gone straight to the geeks. A major studio executive going to Sci Fi Wire to spit venom at a great director. It kind of warms the heart for just a sec before it turns the stomach.

If I've got this right, MGM holds the distribution rights to any "Hobbit" movie, so there's still a chance that New Line could cut and run, allowing Jackson to make the movie with MGM. But, quite frankly, I'm ready to wash my hands of the entire mess.

"The Hobbit" can be made without Peter Jackson. Any number of directors working today - especially Guillermo Del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze (feel free to let me know who I've left out) - have the vision and talent to pull this off. And, at this point, any one of them would be better than the big babies we have now.

Top 10 2006 movie quotes

The fine folks at Reel Life Wisdom have compiled their list of the Top 10 movie quotes for 2006, and even though my submissions didn't make the cut, I've decided to rise above and give them a plug anyway.

Click on the link above to see which quips made the hot list. They're all worthy selections. According to Reel Life's Doug Manning, they got 47 suggestions from 32 people in the Web realm before winnowing it down. Here, for anyone who's curious, are the three I suggested:

"5,000 black people chillin' in the rain. 19 white people peppered in the crowd. Trying to find a Mexican."
Dave Chappelle's Block Party - Dave Chappelle (while playing the bongos)

"Probably. But it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue. 'Thank God we invented the... you know, whatever device."
Thank You for Smoking - Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe)

"You know, if you take the first letter of "Dunkin'" and move it to the end, it becomes Unkind Donuts."
Wordplay - crossword puzzle builder Merl Reagle

I particularly liked the third one because, for me, it encapsulated what was just so charming and creepy all at once about the great documentary "Wordplay."

Are there any movie quotes that didn't make their list but stood out to you? Feel free to add any you really liked this year, and have a thoroughly unannoying day.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Buffy, Season 8 preview

In my rather seriouly skewed view of the universe, there's cool and then there's way cool. And then, on a whole other plane of geekiness, there's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 8, coming soon in comic form from the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics (

Visiting there this morning I was, well, rather psyched to find the first six pages of the first issue, starting with the cover. Buffy 8.1 will be hitting the street March 7, when I'll be picking up my copy at Comics Plus Inc. (

The first four and last four of what should be 25 to 30 comics are being written by Joss Whedon, and he promises to contribute several more in between. The comics should be coming on a monthly basis.

Here are a few other snippets from Whedon's recent interview with What is the giant arc about?
Whedon: I'm not going to tell you that. But I can tell you that it's about the ramifications of everything that happened in Season 7. At the end of the show, Buffy made every girl who might be a potential vampire slayer into a fully realized slayer with all the remembered history and powers, so she's made a big change in the way the world works. The comic will be dealing with that when we pick up the story several months later. Are most of the TV characters featured in the comic?
Whedon: I bring them in slowly. The first one features Buffy and a couple of other characters. In the first four, we basically get the layout of where most of them are. I'm bringing them as a fugue, one by one, to play their part. I'm also leaving some people out deliberately, or mentioning them without focusing on them, so that the other writers who come in can have something new to play with. Instead of just picking up my story, they get to pick up whatever aspect of it interests them. What's happening with the eagerly anticipated Wonder Woman movie?
Whedon: Rewriting, nothing else. Writing, writing, writing. No time period to start casting yet?
Whedon: There is not. Any other TV plans? Or did the shabby treatment of Firefly do it for you?
Whedon: Firefly wounded me really badly, but I love, love, love TV. It's just a question of freeing up time. I have a few commitments, Wonder Woman being the biggest. I can't let any of them slide, so I've got to get through the things I already agreed to do before I can start agreeing to do other things. But I miss TV. I'm not going to lie: I love it. Is the idea of sequels to Serenity completely dead?
Whedon: Nobody's asked me for anything more. They all know that I'm there, and that it's not something I would ever turn my back on. But they do have to ask. I don't have all that money.

Some great stuff there. I'm still hoping that Sci-Fi will wake up and sign Joss up for some more Firefly, which I'm sure he could be coaxed into doing for the right price. But, of course, I promised you the comic pages, and here they are. Click on each one for a much larger view (and to be able to read the script), and please feel free to let me if this is as cool as I think it is or if I'm just a yarnhead. Either way, have an entirely bearable Wednesday, and enjoy these!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Cameron vs. M. Night?

When I first saw this story, I really was hoping poor, embattled M. Night Shyamalan really was gonna take on James Cameron, but it turns to just be a still fairly comical game of coincidences.

Just as James Cameron was revealing details about his long-gestating "Avatar" flick, which will become the first $200 million movie, if I'm not mistaken, M. Night and Paramount were announcing their own plans for a series of "Avatar" movies.

As fun as it would be to see a clash of the titans (well, a titan and a fallen idol, anyway), the similarity apparently ends at the name.'

Cameron's flick, aiming for a summer 2009 release, pits a band of humans in a battle against a distant planet's indigenous population. He will use the 3-D technique he has perfected in documentaries and special-effects help from Peter Jackson's Weta crew.

Young Aussie actor Sam Worthington will play an ex-Marine who ends up leading the planet's indigenous species in battle against the human colonizers, and Zoe Saldana will play a local woman with whom Worthington's character falls in love.

Even with $200 millin behind him, this all just makes me kinda say meh. It's gonna have to look really friggin fantastic to add anything new to this rather tired story line. In fact, I'm amazed to be saying it, but M. Night's "Avatar" may be the more interesting of the two.

His flick will be based on the popular Nickelodoen kids TV series. The show, which i admittedly have never seen, is set in an Asian-influenced fantasy world permeated by martial arts and magic, and follows the adventures of the successor to a long line of Avatars who must put aside his irresponsible ways and stop the Fire Nation from enslaving the Water, Earth and Air nations. M. Night's flick will be a live-action version of the animated show.

The best thing about that description is it could fairly entertaining or just epicly awful (think the disastrous BBC production of the Narnia stories - just wretched.) And M. Night has proven he is capable of going either way. Stay tuned.

"Bandidas" on DVD

When I first read the description of this in a preview of 2006 flicks, I remember turning to my co-worker Renee Martinez and declaring it just might be the best idea for a movie ever conceived. Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek robbing banks across Mexico, with a comedic assist from the always-funny Steve Zahn.

But it never appeared in a movie theater in my little corner of the world, or anywhere else, as far as I know. And it probably was never meant to. Because although this movie could never be called great by any standard, it is fairly good in that category of Saturday afternoon TV movies.

You know what I mean. The kind of movie that looks instantly familiar and comfortable, the kind that you always stop by for at least a few minutes of when it pops up over and over again on TBS. "Bandidas" is destined for heavy rotation in that arena, and I'll tune in for at least a few minutes when I find it there.

The movie's strength is in its comedy, and specifically in the banter between its dazzling leading ladies. Cruz and Hayek were clearly having fun playing rivals who eventually join forces, and it shows. And, of course, they look great doing it.

What silly story there is involves an American robber baron (a completely over-the-top Dwight Yoakam), who runs Mexican farmers off their land to clear the way for a railroad. After their families are attacked, Cruz and Hayek, with help from Zahn as a bumbling criminologist, set out to rob banks to help their countrymen get back on their feet.

Luckily, it's all played out as silly as it sounds. Though it's not nearly as good, the movie it most reminded me of is "Tombstone," which holds a special place in my heart.

One wrong note: Though I will never complain about watching Penelope Cruz showing off her ample cleavage, there's one scene that's just unbelievably degrading. After our pair of bandidas looks to Sam Shepard (wtf?) for help in training for their crime spree, he puts them through a series of physical tests. The oddest of these was having them inexplicably do pushups in a shallow pool, making their already rather skimply outfits - of course - wet.

Why two actresses of this caliber would put up with such nonsense is beyond me, but this wasn't enough to ruin the fun vibe that permeates the rest of this flick. I'd never recommend buying it, but for a weekend rental, you can certainly do a lot worse.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Two tips from the blogosphere

First off, to give credit where credit's due, both these crazy rumors come from the Film ick blog, which I recommend visiting as often as you can. It's just that good.

First comes a very welcome notion: Michel Gondry directing a biopic about Debbie Harry. Another music biopic? I can hear the groans now, but hear me out. Gondry is a top-notch director, and he's showed his love of music with the great "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" and other movies. And putting him in the middle of New York's punk scene in the late 70s would be a wild ride.

There is, however, a downside to all this. In the same post, reported by Brendan Connelly, it was revealed - by Kirsten Dunst - that Ms. Harry will be played by, well, Kirsten Dunst. Sheesh. I have nothing against Kirsten but, the more she works, the more I become convinced she's just a tremendous ditz. She does, however, have a record of success with Gondry in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (though her main contribution to that movie, as I remember it, was dancing around in her underwear, certainly not unpleasant to watch.)

If I had a vote, I'd go with Canadian actress Sarah Polley, who I've just loved ever since "The Sweet Hereafter." Who would you like to see in this plum role? Please feel free to sound off.

Miyazaki's next move

The second Film Ick tip is about the great Hayao Miyazaki, who I admit I always have to check up on at the IMDB to make sure he is still alive.

It seems he indeed is, and has his eyes on a new project that sounds as crazy as it does cool. The next Ghibli film will reportedly be Miyazaki's adaption of the Chinese children's novella "I Lost my Little Boy." The story apparently revolves around a young boy dying from heart disease - but isn't at all downbeat, according to Mr. Connelly.

He reports the oddest thing about the project is that the book is very obviously inspired by Miyazaki's previous films, and even makes mention of the Miyazaki character Totoro as though he actually exists right at the very top of the first page.

It just sounds like a bizarre melding of two worlds that should be suited just right to Miyazaki. My only request would be that, unlike "Howl's Moving Castle," it at least have the semblance of a linear plot. Maybe my imagination is just eroding, but I find myself yearning for the simpler days of "Kiki's Delivery Service" and the even-better "Porco Rosso."

Either way, it's a relief to hear that this great man is still working at all.

"Idiocracy" on DVD tomorrow

Please, please, please take this chance to show your support for Mike Judge by either buying or renting his movie when it comes out on DVD tomorrow (I will, admittedly, be getting it via Netflix because my wallet is kinda empty this week.)

The saga of "Idiocracy" is a sad but all-too-familiar one. After playing in New York, L.A., his hometown of Austin and maybe a few other cities, it just disappeared. What makes this even more frustrating is that the few people who have managed to see all reported that it's quite entertaining.

How can we end this madness? By showing that tons of people want to watch smart fare like this. Every little bit can help.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

My worst movies of 2006

Somehow it only seems appropriate to salute the worst movies of 2006 on a weekend that features Cedric the (former) Entertainer as a janitor-turned-federal-agent and Hilary Swank saving the youth of America. I know you're all strong enough to join me in just saying no.

And, please understand, I'm sure these aren't the worst movies that came out in 2006, just the worst ones I had the traumatic experience of seeing. I'm fairly certain that both "BloodRayne" and "Little Man" are worse than most of the movies that made this list, but until I get paid to watch movies for a living, I won't be finding out for sure. So, here goes ...

"Lady in the Water"
Might as well start with the big daddy, the grand kahuna, the single worst movie I saw in all of 2006. How the hell did M. Night fall so far so fast? The signs were there that he was slipping with "Signs," and "The Village" was even worse, but neither of those could have prepared me for just how bad this movie was. It's all empty and, much worse, arrogant piffle, with M. Night casting himself in the middle of this "bedtime story" as the writer whose dangerous ideas will change the world. Just please, please, please avoid this one at all costs.

"Date Movie"
Being as far removed from the target audience as I am for this one, I should probably be ashamed that I even bothered to watch it, but I did for one reason only: A reservoir of goodwill for Alyson Hannnigan left over from her days on "Buffy." Well, that reservoir is quickly going dry from fare as bad as this. The only time I can remember laughing was when her would-be suitor hoists his boombox Lloyd Dobler-style and blares Player's "Baby Come Back." That joke alone probably shows just how old I'm getting.

I think I was just duped by the marketing campaign for this one. I was expecting a nostalgic look at growing up and roller skating in Atlanta, but this wasn't even close. At the middle of a cast full of wretched performances is rapper T.I., whose technique of showing emotion, any emotion, is simply to squint. Outkast's Big Boi embarasses himself even more as a supposed drug dealer who's about as menacing as Wayne Brady. Just plain bad.

I had high expectations for this one after reading the fairly great novel by Richard Price, but from the outset it had no idea what it wanted to be. With Julianne Moore as a woman who makes the explosive charge that a black carjacker took off with her vehicle and her young son in the back seat, it sets up the opportunity to explore all kinds of issues about race and class, but then tackles none of them. A real shame made only worse because the best performance from Samuel L. Jackson in years is just wasted here.

"American Dreamz"
Even if this one hadn't come out in the same year as the vastly superior satire "Thank You for Smoking," it still would have sucked just as much on its own. Supposedly a satire on both the "American Idol" phenomenon and the Bush white house, it's just so silly that it misses all its targets. Dennis Quaid's Bush, in particular, is just so crudely and broadly drawn that it zaps all the venom right out. It just suckz.

"Art School Confidential"
It pains me to even type those three words for inclusion on this list, but unfortunately this flick is well-deserving of the demerits. Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes have made one perfect movie, "Ghost World," and will surely make many more great ones, so I suppose I should just give them this one mulligan. And I would, if it hadn't started my summer off on such a bad note with its ridiculous plot and vacuous script. I know you can do better guys, and I look forward to seeing it.

Just about the only enjoyable thing about this "disaster" flick is that Fergie dies within the first 20 minutes or so. For a movie that's supposedly about a sinking ocean liner, you get absolutely no sense of doom, just people walking down hallway after hallway, boring us to death along the way. My favorite piece of dialogue has Kurt Russell imploring daughter Emmy Rossum to cover up her "twins." It's just plain creepy.

"X-Men: The Last Stand"
The sins committed by Brett the Ratner with this one are way too many to detail here, so I'll keep it brief. It just seemed like he packed this one full of way too many mutants and even more plot lines, which he just picked up and dropped as soon as he got bored. The worst was his abuse of the Dark Phoenix saga, which was just atrocious. Oh well. Maybe the Wolverine movie won't suck, and we'll eventually be getting a Memento movie too to help wipe this abomination from memory.

How in the world do you make a movie with the tremendously talented Andre 3000 and Big Boi of Outkast playing musicians and then only give them three big musical numbers, one of which doesn't even come until the closing credits? Instead we get a terribly tired gangster plot and a wasted appearance from the great Terrence Howard. The soundtrack album that comes with it is outstanding, but the flick sat on the shelf so long that it only contains a couple of these new songs.

"School for Scoundrels"
After this disaster I'm ready to swear off both any movies directed by Todd Phillips and any starring Jon Heder. How did "Napoleon Dynamite" end up in this completely unfunny movie? Phillips showed some real comedic skill with "Road Trip" but has only gone downhill since, and Heder's one-trick-pony is definitely ready for the glue factory. I'll give Billy Bob Thornton a pass on this one because he's just that good, but he had nothing to do in this waste of celluloid.

Whew. There you have it. The 20 hours or so that I want to get back but never will. So, which movies just made your eyes bleed in 2006? Please feel free to sound off, and please, please, please don't watch any of the movies that made this list!

Friday, January 05, 2007

300 posters

Friday's definitely a day for great pictures and few words, so that's what you get (click on them for really, really big views.) If there was anything cooler than these out there today, I certainly couldn't find it. The slogans are just the ripest slice of cheese, but you can't deny the look is friggin fantastic. I can't wait for this to finally hit in March.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ten best movies of 2006

I had planned to hold off on this list until Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" gets a wide enough release to reach my little corner of the world, but that's looking like an unlikely prospect at best, so here goes (one other disclaimer: I realize there are 11 movies on this list, but I just couldn't decide on the final cut, so just deal with it.)

1. "Babel"
Few movies this year have been as divisive as this gem from Mexican director Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, but you can count me solidly in the camp of its supporters. It has more scenes (the Mexican wedding, the Japanese disco) and characters (played most memorably by Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza) that just burned themselves on my brain than any other movie this year, making it my favorite flick of 2006.

"Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story"
No numbers from here on out, just a list of the movies I loved this year. Michael Winterbottom's movie about making a movie, the impossible-to-film novel of the title, was the funniest movie I saw in 2006, chiefly due to a perfect performance by Steve Coogan as the leading man who's all blustery ego.

"Catch a Fire"
Paired with his "The Quiet American," this smart movie about South Africa has made Phillip Noyce today's top director of political thrillers in my book (rivaled only by perhaps Fernando Meirelles.) Led by a searing performance from Derek Luke, it manages to be both a meditation on what drives men to commit acts of terrorism while never forgetting it's also supposed to be an entertaining flick.

"Little Miss Sunshine"
Call this one the people's champ, and I'm happy to join the crowd. I was sure the word of mouth had to be exaggerated on this one, and before the last 15 minutes or so, I still thought so. It redeems itself from being a fairly standard flick about a dysfunctional family with an ending that was like nothing else I saw this year. It's pure schmaltz that goes straight to your heart, and I'm not ashamed to admit that young Abigail Breslin melted mine.

"Dave Chappelle's Block Party"
Count this as the most fun I had at the movies in 2006. From the outset, you get a laid-back Dave who's clearly having fun after freeing himself from Comedy Central (though I'm still waiting for a satisfying answer as to why.) He's as funny as he's ever been, and the music is just superb (except for that pesky Kanye West, who just won't be denied.) The big finale is a reunion of the Fugees, and it doesn't disappoint, but Dead Prez delivered my favorite performance.

"Thank You for Smoking"
I was sure the art of political satire was dead before seeing this smart comedy debut from director Jason Reitman. Count Aaron Eckhart as my dark horse favorite for a Best Actor nomination, if the Academy isn't afraid to recognize a comedic performance. And watch out for Reitman's next flick, "Juno," based on a script by Minneapolis City Pages blogger Diablo Cody and starring the fantastic Ellen Page.

"Akeelah and the Bee"
Is it OK to love a movie financed by Starbucks? Well, I don't drink their coffee, so I guess I can do so with a clean conscience. Besides, what's not to like about a movie with this much heart and endearing performances from Laurence Fishburne and even more so young Keke Palmer? Like political satire, I thought the smart family film was a dead animal, but this one proved me wrong.

"The Departed"
Once he clears that unnecessary Rolling Stones doco from his plate, I really think we're about to see the golden age of Marty Scorsese, starting with this thoroughly satisfying mob movie. Will it finally bring him his Best Picture Oscar? Probably not. It's just too entertaining to be taken seriously by the Academy, though it will surely garner a lot of nominations. Leo DiCaprio manages to stand out in the most star-studded movie of the year, and even if you've seen the source material "Infernal Affairs," this one will still keep you riveted until the finish.

Though it's apparently not serious enough to get Oscar love, this documentary from director Patrick Creadon is an entirely charming look at the more-than-somewhat creepy subculture of crossword puzzle addicts. Creadon always treats his subjects with respect, no matter how truly geeky they may be, and the National Crossword Competition that wraps it up is a spirited and suspenseful contest.

These last two are only last because they're the most recent I've seen, not because they aren't worthy selections. I'm so glad I went to see this on opening day, with a packed house cheering every minute of the arrival of Jennifer Hudson, an Oscar lock for her breakthrough performance as Effie White. Bill Condon's musical manages to pulse with life as it takes on the daunting task of encapsulating the rise and fall of Motown.

"Children of Men"
Perhaps there is hope for "Pan's Labyrinth" after all, since Del Toro's compadre Alfonso Cuaron has managed to worm his way onto one screen in my little corner of the world this week with "Children of Men." That's kinda surprising, because it's a fairly challenging movie. It's also tremendously entertaining science fiction with a solid performance from Clive Owen, and easily one of my favorite flicks of 2006.

So, there you have it. Anything I missed? Please feel free to let me know, and have a great day.

P.S. If you're interested, here are the 24 other flicks that were in the runnning for this list: Match Point, Tsotsi, Madea's Family Reunion, V for Vendetta, Slither, Hard Candy, United 93, An Inconvenient Truth, Nacho Libre, Clerks II, World Trade Center, Snakes on a Plane, Beerfest, Invincible, Jet Li's Fearless, The Last King of Scotland, The Queen, The Prestige, Borat, Volver, Stranger than Fiction, Casino Royale, Rocky Balboa and Night at the Museum. When they're available, I'd say they're all well worth a rental. Peace out.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Haynes' Dylan pic gets big deal

How many A-list stars does it take to get a Todd Haynes movie released wide enough to reach my little corner of the world? With his upcoming Dylan flick, I think we might just find out.

The Weinstein Co. has scooped up North American and U.K. rights to "I'm Not There," and plan to release it later this year.

The music biopic genre has almost been done to death, but as is his way, Haynes will turn it on its head and start over. A number of actors will play the cranky crooner throughout his life, including Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett (now that should just be fun.)

Add to this mix supporting turns from Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore, Charlotte Gainsbourg (huzzah!) and David Cross, and you've got one fantastic ensemble cast.

The soundtrack will feature artists such as Willie Nelson and Yo La Tengo playing Dylan songs, as well as songs performed by Dylan himself.

In a way, of course, Haynes has already made one fantastic music biopic with "Velvet Goldmine," though that was more the story of the glam world rather than any particular artist. If you haven't seen that wild ride, rent it and then imagine what Haynes will do with the story of Mr. Dylan. Dream with me, people.

I always knew Dame Mirren had soul

Now that the African-American Film Critics have spoken, you can officially declare one Oscar race over: Helen Mirren will win the Best Actress Oscar running away.

While many of their picks were predictable - Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, Bill Condon, "Dreamgirls" and Forest Whitaker all received much love - Dame Mirren's pale complexion surely stood out as their pick for Best Actress. That should pretty much seal the deal.

A much-deserved Special Achievement Honor was given to Spike Lee, who directed HBO's "When the Levees Broke" and the bigscreen "Inside Man," which was his first film to reach $100 in domestic box office.

And in their Top 10, you'll find some, well, more colorul choices than you might elsewhere: The finalists were: "Dreamgirls," "The Last King of Scotland," "The Departed," "Akeelah and the Bee," "Catch a Fire," (huzzah!) "Idlewild," (boo!) "Bobby," "The Devil Wears Prada," "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Inside Man."

Somehow I doubt you'll be seeing "Catch a Fire" and "Akeelah and the Bee" on many more lists, but I loved them both, so it's nice to see them get some respect. If I ever get around to making it, at least one of those will be on my list too.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Best actors of 2006

Now that the ladies have gone first, it's time for the gents, and you'll soon see that I have a definite preference for good comedic performances. So, without any more delay and with the single proviso that I have yet to see Peter O'Toole in "Venus" (though my mother assures me he is amazing), here are 11 actors in 10 flicks that I just enjoyed in 2006.

Steve Coogan - "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story"
Sure, Steve Coogan has made a living out of playing the arrogant, out-of-touch artist, but his act still works for me. In this latest installment in his fruitful relationship with director Michael Winterbottom, he tempers his performance as the titular character with a big dose of humanity to make it all go down that much sweeter.

Aaron Eckhart - "Thank You for Smoking"
Call this one my official long-shot for a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Though the academy did reach out to Johnny Depp's Captain Jack a few years ago, it doesn't seem likely they'll have the sense to recognize this pitch-perfect performance from Mr. Eckhart as tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor in Jason Reitman's very smart satire.

Paul Dano - "Little Miss Sunshine"
Sure, he doesn't have anything to say for about 3/4 of the flick, but even when he's quiet he carries the movie along with young Abigail Breslin, even with the presence of a slew of almost-A-list actors on hand. And when he finally does open up, he and Steve Carell at that hideous pageant are simply hilarious. Keep your eyes on Mr. Dano.

Nathan Fillion - "Slither"
OK, so maybe Mr. Fillion just made this list out of devotion to his role as Capt. Mal Reynolds of the Serenity, but it's my list, so just deal with it. Besides, I know I was only one of about 15 people who bothered to see this horror-comedy flick from Troma director James Gunn, but I still assert that Mr. Fillion was very funny as the sheriff in the middle of a shitstorm of gore and guffaws.

Forest Whitaker - "The Last King of Scotland"
OK, I promise that things will get more serious from here on out as we head into Africa and back again. If not for Mr. O'Toole, Forest would be the hands-down frontrunner for the Best Actor Oscar, and he's got my vote. While you're watching his constantly sweaty Idi Amin, you never forget that it was basically a big kid that led Uganda down its road to ruin. A truly chilling performance.

Derek Luke - "Catch a Fire"
Along with Mr. Dano and the upcoming Daniel Craig and Adam Beach, Mr. Luke delivered the other truly breakthrough performance of the year for me. He definitely does have a fire as the oil factory worker suspected of and eventually driven to terrorism by the apartheid policies of the South African government. Besides, he's from Jersey City, New Jersey, and what's not to like about that?

Adam Beach - "Flags of Our Fathers"
Are American-Indian actors resigned to simply playing American-Indian parts? I hadn't seen the great Mr. Beach since his debut (at least for me) in "Smoke Signals," and he was definitely missed by me. His performance as the soldier battling the bottle and other demons after he returned from Iwo Jima was easily the highlight of Clint Eastwood's rather pedestrian war flick. As far as the movies go, I'm expecting much better things from the second chapter, "Letters from Iwo Jima."

Leo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson - "The Departed"
My apologies to Matt Damon, Marky Wahlberg and the other A-listers who contributed to this great return to form for Martin Scorsese, but these two just rose above the rest of the bunch. I've finally had to concede that Leo is a great actor, though giving him two Golden Globe nods (for this and "Blood Diamond") is just sick. And it was clear from his opening monologue that Jack was just having great fun playing the crazy mob boss Frank Costello.

Daniel Craig - "Casino Royale"
Now, in the homestretch, we get the new Bond and the would-be Bond, who many people wanted to see get the part. I admit I too had my doubts, but Mr. Craig just takes over the role of 007, and breathes new life into the franchise that should sustain it for at least another 10 flicks.

Clive Owen - "Children of Men"
Though he missed out on being Bond, Mr. Owen got a great consolation prize by playing the lead in this Alfonso Cuaron flick, which I just managed to see Saturday. He's on a slow burn throughout this one as civil servant-turned-reluctant-revolutionary Theodore Faron, and its his ability to bring us along on the journey that vaults this into contention as one of my favorite flicks of 2006.

Honorable mention: Limiting myself at the outset to just 10 flicks meant snubbing these fine performances: Ben Affleck, "Hollywoodland"; Michael Sheen, "The Queen"; Sasha Baron Cohen, "Borat"; Will Ferrell, "Stranger Than Fiction"; and Rudy Youngblood, "Apocalypto." My apologies to all.

And there you have it. Please feel free to add any I may have omitted, or any you just thoroughly enjoyed watching this year, and have a great day full of football.