Friday, March 30, 2007

It's all "Happening" for Wahlberg

Just how many lives does M. Night Shyamalan get?

First his "Lady in the Water" (my personal vote for the worst movie of 2006) tanks hard, and then he can't find a buyer for his new script, "The Green Effect." Now, however, his movie's got a new name ("The Happening"), a big studio behind it in 20th Century Fox, and now Marky Mark.

Mark Wahlberg, who I liked more in "Shooter" than most folks who sounded off here, will star in the flick, which is set to shoot in August in Philadelphia (of course) and be released Friday, June 13, 2008.

Though M. Night has rejected any comparisons to "War of the Worlds," its influence can't be denied, according to a lucky spy at Latinoreview.com who got an early look at the script. In the flick, the Earth finally turns against us for abusing it for so long and releases a toxin that causes people to kill themselves. Wahlberg will be the essential man-on-the-run-with-his-family at the middle of all this. It all sounds awfully familiar, but if Marky Mark's on board, I am too.

Get ready to "Chow" down again

No one, except maybe Edgar Wright, seems to have more fun making movies than Stephen Chow. And man do I have fun watching the crazy stuff he comes up with.

Now, Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia has acquired world rights outside China to "A Hope," a new comedy written, directed by and starring Chow. He plays a poor Chinese laborer who is made to learn some of life's important lessons when his son gets a strange new pet.

I don't know about you, but I got a smile just from reading that. After seeing what he did with special effects for "Kung Fu Hustle" and "Shaolin Soccer" I know at least one thing: This new one might not be high art, but it will be high entertainment. No release date has been set, but definitely keep your eyes on this one.

Lurie remaking "Straw Dogs"

Remember, I'm only the messenger. It seems that Rod Lurie, who delivered a solid political drama in "The Contender," has now completely lost his mind and signed on to direct a remake of Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs."

Believe it or not, the news gets even worse. In case anyone has forgotten about or missed the original, it starred Dustin Hoffman and Susan George as a young American and his English wife who move to rural England and face increasingly vicious local harassment. It was, for its time, a tremendously violent movie, and not one that you forget easily.

Unaware of any of this, however, Lurie and his co-conspirators have decided to move this to America, and, I can only assume, to the South. Where else do you go when you need to have deranged locals who are prone to ultraviolence? Sheesh. This all just makes me so mad that I'd better just stop now and move on.

David O. Russell goes "chick lit"?

Well, not quite, but pretty close. Fresh off the leak of his meltdown on the set of "I heart huckabees," Russell is apparently now set to direct "Sammy's Hill," based on the novel by Kristin Gore.

And yes, she is the daughter of that Gore. The novel centers on a young woman who tries to balance a job as a congressional aide on Capitol Hill while searching for the right guy. OK, I can buy that. I worked as an intern for Barbara Mikulski for a short spell (and once saw her throw a telephone receiver at a coworker's head), so I know Capitol Hill can be a crazy place, whether or not you're looking for love. A comment from producer Doug Wick, however, gives me cause for concern.

"It will do for Washington, D.C., what 'Talladega Nights' did for race car driving," Wick said. Huh? Way to set those sights high.

Even so, I have full faith in Russell. "Three Kings," "Flirting with Disaster," "Spanking the Monkey" and "I heart huckabees" are all first-rate in my book, so I'm just glad to hear he's working again at all.

"Grindhouse" tidbit of the day

Whew! It's been a long post today, so anyone who's made it this far certainly deserves a reward. Here, courtesy of Film Ick, are what purport to be two shots from Edgar Wright's "Don't," one of the trailers that will be sandwiched in between the Rodriguez and Tarantino flicks that will make up "Grindhouse," finally set to hit theaters April 6. Enjoy!


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Three sites I'm addicted to

As people who have found my name pop up in the comments sections of blogs know by now, I love to read what people have to say about movies. It's my favorite thing to do instead of, well, working.

It's something I'll never get tired of. There are three sites, however, that rise to the top because I now check them every day, sometimes more than once.

Film Ick

This site maintained by five UK film fanatics, but seemingly most often written by Brendon Connelly, just takes the geeky art of film obsession to a whole new level. They have a particular affinity for Terry Gilliam (and, really, what geek doesn't?), but you can find just about anything here. On my most recent visit, the best thing was the dirt on who might have leaked that clip of David O. Russell's meltdown on the set of "I heart huckabees." It's always loaded with info, and you can check it out here.

I Watch Stuff

This one is a great place to find imbeddable (sp?) trailers, but also just a fun place to visit. I don't know who runs this site, but he or she or they are very witty. You can get the same movie news you find on any site (including, of course, this one), but the often snarky commentary is what really sets it apart. Pay them a visit here.

Cinempire
From the category of things you might never have needed to know about me, I spent a year living in France after high school with an endearingly odd Swiss couple named Charles and Suzanne Bourgnon. It was a blast, but now the French I managed to pick up has become rusty. To keep from losing it completely, I visit this site every day to read movie news in that tongue. Even if you can't understand it, they have tons of great pics from all kinds of movies, including French ones, of course, plus a lot of crazy anime stuff. Highly recommended and accessible here.

Surely there are plenty of great ones I know nothing about. If you have any suggestions, please offer them and help me in my quest to do as little actual work as possible during my workday.

DVD pick of the week

A couple of days late, I know, but this week's pick is so good I just wanted to make sure everyone knows about it. Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" stands as the only 2006 movie that I bothered to see twice in a movie theater. It's still burned on my brain, and it's in a tie with del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" for my favorite movie of the year.

In the edition that hits DVD this week, the extras include deleted scenes; two featurettes: "The Possibility of Hope" and "Under Attack"; and, if I have this right, a commentary from cultural critic Slavoj Zizek.

In case anyone doesn't know by now, the flick stars Clive Owen as a civil servant pressed into duty to protect a young lady (Claire-Hope Ashitey) with a secret that might provide a glimmer of hope to a world put in danger of becoming obsolete by infertility. It's based on a novel by P.D. James, and if you'd like to read my review from way back when, click here and enjoy. Peace out.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Be on "The Lookout" for this one

Sifting through the new movies coming to Macon this week (the best part of my job), I noticed there was a surprise (at least to me) among the usual March misery.

I have to confess the name Scott Frank didn't mean anything to me at first glance, but it turns out he wrote the script for "Out of Sight," possibly the coolest movie of all time. I'm sure that can be debated, but if you add up J-Lo and Clooney flirting, Don Cheadle as a prison boxer who throws all his fights, Steve Zahn in his funniest role and Albert Brooks as the target of their heist, it all just works perfectly for me.

Along with "Out of Sight," he also was a writer for the Karen Sisco TV spinoff starring Carla Gugino that unfortunately didn't go anywhere. Now, with "The Lookout," he makes his directorial debut this Friday.

The story sounds pretty straightforward. According to the IMDB, "Chris (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the least annoying person on the very annoying "Third Rock from the Sun") is a once-promising high school athlete whose life is turned upside down following a tragic accident. As he tries to maintain a normal life, he takes a job as a janitor at a bank, where he ultimately finds himself caught up in a planned heist.

Frank also wrote the script for this one, which also stars Jeff Daniels and Carla Gugino (who I'll gladly watch do just about anything.) Besides, what else is there to watch this weekend in wide-release land? "Blades of Glory"? I'll wait for DVD. "Meet the Robinsons"? Ditto. "Peaceful Warrior"? I think I have the strength to just say no.

But with "The Lookout," we should get a one-week respite from this sea of mediocrity. Don't get too comfortable, though. The only movie in wide release next week? Ice Cube does home improvement. Sheesh.

Spinal Tap tonight in Macon

One of our Web gurus, Ryan Gilchrest, turned to me the other day and said, "I assume you'll be going to see this, right?" Well, if I can get out of The Telegraph by 7, and that's a big if, I indeed will be there for this rare appearance of "This is Spinal Tap" on a big screen.

It's hard to tell from the Cox Capital Theatre site exactly what time it starts, but if you get there by 7 you should be fine. Belgian beer, great pizza and one of the funniest movies ever made? I'm there, and if you live in Macon, you should be too.

"28 Weeks Later" trailer

When I heard they were gonna make a sequel to "28 Days Later" without Danny Boyle as the director I had strong doubts, but I've decided to give in to hope that this won't just suck. Besides, I love zombie movies, and Boyle's still on board in some capacity. Plus you get Robert Carlyle and Harold Perrineau, and in the trailer, the carnage is unleashed with the line "We've lost control. Kill them all." Enjoy the trailer, and have an entirely bearable Wednesday.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Arofonsky the "Fighter"

Not seeing Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain" is easily my biggest cinematic omission of 2006. In my defense, and these are pretty weak excuses I'll admit, Hollywood released about 100 flicks for the last three months of the year and this one only played in my little corner of the world for a week or so.

It's still not out on DVD so I can rectify this, but now comes news of another big-studio opportunity for Aronofsky. He's in negotiations to direct Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon in the boxing drama "The Fighter" for Paramount Pictures. The pic is based on the rise of Boston boxer "Irish" Micky Ward, who nabbed the world lightweight title with the help of his once down-and-out half-brother Dicky, who became a trainer.

If Wahlberg and Damon give the greenlight to a rewtite by Paul Attanasio, filming could begin by early summer in Massachusetts.

This sounds awfully straightforward for Aronofsky, but after "Requiem for a Dream" I'll follow him just about anywhere. Besides, the seedy world of boxing offers all kinds of opportunities for a mind as active as his. I can't wait to see what comes out of all this.

Onion launching video newscast

Bosses of the world beware: The Onion has come up with perhaps the best time-wasting opportunity of all time.

The satirical weekly is launching a video newscast dubbed Onion News Network, or ONN, a 24-hour fake news net marketing itself as, "faster, harder, scarier and all-knowing."

"Our competitors are MSNBC and CNN," said the Onion's Sean Mills. "Those are parody shows, and this is serious news. There's no studio audience, and no one's in on the joke. What we are trying to create is a broadcast-quality newscast on the Internet." Sounds perfect to me.

Starting today, ONN began releasing segments on Theonion.com, and it will encourage fans to disseminate ad-supported clips around the Web.

Clips from the newscast will be available as free podcasts on iTunes, and the Onion is discussing content partnerships with YouTube, Joost, MySpace and TiVo in which they'll split the ad revenue with the distributor.

I'm not sure the Onion schtick can transfer to video, but they make me laugh, so I'm not gonna doubt them now. Round about 2 p.m., when I'm badly in need of a break, I'll definitely be checking this out.

"Ratatouille" trailer

Speaking of wasting time, what better way to do it than by watching the trailer for what just might be this summer's best movie (and yes, I do feel more than a little dirty pimping for Pixar.)

Here, as long as it lasts on YouTube (which, given Disney's clingy hands, probably won't be long) is a fantastic looking trailer. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Shooter


Rarely has a fairly good, no-frills thriller been so soundly undone by its atrocious ending.

I won't go into details about it until the end of this post, to spare those who haven't seen this one yet, but for now I'll just say that it betrays what the hero, Bob Lee Swagger (I don't know about you, but I love the name) is all about.

We have to buy into the fact that Marky Mark Wahlberg's Swagger is a man on the run from the shadowy forces that always control our government in these types of movies in order to believe some of the more ridiculous action sequences he survives. To believe, for example, that he and a sympathetic rogue FBI agent (Michael Pena) can go to the hardware store to find all they need to make some first-class explosives, and then shoot and blast their way out of an ambush by many heavily armed soldiers at a farmhouse.

But, if you're willing to suspend this disbelief, Fuqua, up unil the end, has managed to craft the kind of old-fashioned thriller that I thought had already been wiped out by CGI.

He quickly sets up Swagger's backstory about the army mission that went awry, leading the sharpshooter to live as a mountain man ala Ted Kaczynski, albeit in a much nicer cabin. And his mission is a doozy: Get inside the mind of a would-be presidential assassin and stop him.

My only beef with this fluid setup was that, after telling us the attempt would happen in either Washington, Baltimore or Philadelphia, Fuqua feels the need to tell us - with the words - when Swagger is scoping out each city, even as we see the Capitol building, then the Inner Harbor and then a statue of Ben Franklin. Despite the fact that I might sometimes act like one, I am not an infant, and I don't particularly like being treated like one.

From here on out, it's a fairly intense manhunt that reminded me of 70s thrillers in its pacing and '80s ones in its celebration of seeing things get blowed up good. And that's something I'll always enjoy seeing. The plot for which Swagger, a creation of Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter, becomes the fall guy is appropriately ridiculous. All I'll tell you is that this time the big bad is big oil.

We, or at least I, go along with all this because Wahlberg makes us believe in Swagger's mission to clear his name. Along the way he's abetted by Pena and also by Kate Mara, who plays the widow of his army buddy who didn't make it home. Mara is an astoundingly beautiful woman and a good actress who deserves much more than being leared at creepily by the father of her dead fiance (Ian McShane in "We Are Marshall") or being chained to the stove and tortured as she is here (off-screen, lest you might think that would be fun to watch.)

Danny Glover and Ned Beatty clearly have fun as the rather preposterous bogeymen, but it's Wahlberg's mountain-man mystique and Fuqua's welcome lack of flash that makes this a mostly satisfying thriller and sets up Swagger for at least a couple more flicks, if the box office numbers deliver.

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING: IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE YET, DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS POINT.

OK, here's where I'd like to hear from anyone who has read the book on which this flick is based, "Point of Impact," because I can't believe that Hunter would have ended it by having Swagger hunt down the colonel and the senator and kill them both.

This all-too-neat Hollywood ending comes after he has already cleared his name, which is where it should have ended. Swagger, a free man with a still rather large chip on his shoulder, would have been the perfect character for a sequel or two or three.

But when they tack on the executions at the end, it shifts to becoming all about revenge, and it's a jarring change in course. I'm sure some studio hack asked for this so we wouldn't have any of those pesky loose ends to worry about, but it just didn't work for me.

Friday, March 23, 2007

What - if anything - to see?

I can't remember the last time we had this many movies - six- opening out here in my little corner of the world. Unfortunately, I can't manage to get terribly excited about any of them.

I'm tempted to just write off the rest of March as a lost cause - especially with Sunshine being pushed back in the U.S. - but I'll probably break down and go see one or two flicks this weekend. If you have seen any of these, or know of a reason I should or shouldn't, please feel more than free to sound off in the comments.

1. Shooter
If I do go to the movies this weekend, it will be for this one first. I don't have much time at all for Antoine Fuqua, but this one is based on a novel by Washington Post film critic Stephen Hunter and had my favorite critic, Roger Moore, almost apologizing for enjoying a movie that so romanticizes the lone gunman. I like Mark Wahlberg, so hopefully this will just be a good popcorn movie.

2. Pride
I'm not sure Bernie Mac and Terrence Howard, for whom I have nothing but love, will be enough to make me watch what looks like yet another sports underdog movie. It's a genre I usually get jazzed for, but can you really build up drama for the big swim meet?

3. Reign Over Me
I once played a game of pool with Adam Sandler, when he was still on SNL and came to play a show at Catholic University, but I'm still not sure I want to watch him philosophize about the impact of 9/11 in a goofy wig. Don Cheadle is always a welcome sight, but according to a good friend of this blog, Nell Minow - coincidentally, also Yahoo's Movie Mom - he is oddly lit throughout this flick.

4. The Last Mimzy
I was wondering just what the hell this might be about, but I never expected the answer to be buddhism. How it inspires the two gifted kids who just happen to be the offspring of Dwight Shute is something I'll probably never find out.

5. TMNT
The turtles were never much more than a minor diversion for me, and they really look bizarre in the footage I've seen of this latest adventure. And, as my cubicle mate Dan Maley pointed out, it's hard to tell them apart when they look exactly the same except for the different colors of their masks.

6. The Hills Have Eyes 2
I have absolutely nothing to say about this one. See it at your own peril.

And there you have it. I'll most likely be going to see Shooter and posting a review Sunday, and maybe Pride. If I've got this wrong, or if you've seen either one and they're simply awful, please feel free to let me know.

Wonder Woman cast?

Without Joss Whedon on board, this one officially resides in the "I don't care" folder, but being a man of the people I'll share the news anyway.

According to the always reliable Film Ick blog, Cobie Smulders (great name) has been cast as our heroine. I had to go to the IMDB to find out she's apparently the star of the show "How I Met Your Mother," which I have never seen. All I can tell you, therefore, is that she does indeed seem to have the requisite hotness for the part.

So, there you have it. Joel Silver still has no director or script for this project, but he apparently does have his star. Interestingly, according to Film Ick, Smulders was Whedon's choice too, so at least they kept one thing he wanted.

Oh well. Enjoy your trainwreck, Ms. Smulders.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Streep, Blanchett and Thatcher

When I first heard about plans for a Margaret Thatcher biopic, I have to admit it just made me say meh, but if I correctly understand the report this morning from my favorite froggy film site, Cinempire.com, it's about to get a lot more interesting.

It's hard to tell if the two actresses have been signed or are just in negotiations, but any time you can attach the names Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett to a project you've got my full attention.

Pathe Films and BBC Films, the production team behind "The Queen," are eyeing Streep to play "The Iron Lady" in her later years, and Blanchett the younger. Although the script is a work in progress, again if my rusty French has this right, it will focus more on Thatcher's private rather than public life, much like "The Queen."

This also has me intrigued. This may be unfair, since I've never much wondered what the wives of male politicians do to fill their days, but I can remember being very curious about what Denis Thatcher did for the 12 years that his wife ruled the country. Not sure why, but it always intrigued me.

And I have to wonder, do you Brits ever get miffed - as I do when they cast people like Nicole Kidman and Jude Law in a movie like "Cold Mountain" - when they cast non-British actresses for such prime parts? Don't get me wrong, you can't do much better than Streep and Blanchett, but I have to wonder.

Cate Blanchett, actually, is pretty much the gold standard for me. Put her in a movie (and luckily, she does like to work often), and I'm virtually guaranteed to see it. So, if this story holds up, I'll definitely be going to see "The Iron Lady."

'Pan's' dominates Mexico's Ariels

With his two friends (I've decided to never use the word "amigos" in this way again) Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu cheering him on, Guillermo del Toro was a big winner at Mexico's version of the Oscars, the Ariels.

In all, "Pan's Labyrinth" won nine awards, including best picture and director for del Toro, plus awards for cinematography (for Guillermo Navarro), art, make up, costumes, special effects and music. Most of the other major awards went to two other movies, the documentary "En el hoyo" (In the Pit) and "El Violin."

"Violin," written and directed by Francisco Vargas, was honored as best first work and for its screenplay. The black-and-white drama follows a wizened one-armed violin player from a mountain village as he cons a military commander fighting rebels, including the old man's family.

My favorite winner of the night, however, would definitely have to be Maribel Verdu as best actress for "Pan's Labyrinth." She actually split the honors (wtf?) with Elizabeth Cervantes, for "Mas que a Nada en el Mundo." I've been smitten with Verdu ever since "Y Tu Mama Tambien," so it's nice to see her getting recognition for her great work as the enabler of Ofelia's fantasies in "Pan's Labyrinth."

And, of course, a hearty huzzah to del Toro. He's at work now on another Hellboy movie, which should just be a blast, but a quick check of his IMDB sheet gave me a real reason to smile. His next project, called simply 3993, is described as a ghost story about "the hostages left to fortune by the past" set in 1990's Spain and with connections to the Spanish Civil War in 1939.

Let's see, a fantasy about ghosts from the Spanish Civil War? Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'll be tuning in for that one. Peace out.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Baseball on the brain

On the first day of every Major League Baseball season, my beloved Baltimore Orioles, by sheer power of alphabetical order, are in first place in the American League East.

Unfortunately, for almost 20 years now, that's about as close as we O's fans can come to bragging. But, with spring around the corner, that's all about to change (yeah, right.)

The Orioles have bolstered their simply woeful bullpen with Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, Scott Williamson and Chad Bradford. The Orioles also traded for right-hander Jaret Wright and signed first baseman/designated hitter Aubrey Huff to a three-year, $20 million deal; outfielder Jay Payton to a two-year, $9.5 million pact, and right-hander Steve Trachsel to a one-year, $3.1 million contract.

OK, I know that not one of these comes close to an A-List player, but baseball is all about dreams, so let me enjoy my moment of delusion. And, for one day, the Orioles being in first place.

From "Half Nelson" to the minors

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks the world needs more baseball. In what could be a very intriguing project, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the team behind "Half Nelson," will write and direct a pic about Dominican baseball.

"Sugar" will look at the promise and broken dreams of a Dominican baseball prospect plucked from his native country to play in the U.S. minor-league system. It will be a fictional tale based on creators' research; it focuses on Miguel "Sugar" Santos, a teenager who ends up far from home playing for a team in the Midwest after showing baseball aptitude in his native country. It's described as a dramatic and cautionary account of the baseball scouting machine with a good-natured character at its center.

And here I thought the definitive movie about minor league baseball had already been made with Brendan Fraser's turn in "The Scout." (In case you have doubts, I am kidding. Give me "Bull Durham" any day.)

Five baseball flicks I can't live without

1. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg
Though it's been well acknowledged that Jackie Robinson went through a world of shit he certainly didn't deserve, it's been largely overlooked that Detroit Tigers slugger Hank Greenberg also suffered lots of abuse as a Jewish player. Aviva Kempner sets out to lionize him and succeeds with this doco, a must-see for anyone who loves baseball.

2. The Natural
This is the one exception I'll allow to this otherwise ironclad rule: If you change the ending of one of my favorite books, I will not support your movie. "The Natural" somehow succeeds with this, however, putting a feel-good spin on Bernard Malamud's novel that just works for me.

3. Eight Men Out
This one should really be subtitled "the movie that proved John Sayles will never have a megahit." With Jon Cusack on board and the story of the 1919 Chicago Blacksox to work with, he may not have made his great box-office breakthrough, but he did turn baseball's blackest eye (so far, at least) into a solid drama.

4. The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars and Motor Kings
I probably would never have seen this little gem if it hadn't been filmed in Macon way back in 1975. Starring Richard Pryor, Billy Dee William and James Earl Jones, this often funny, often touching movie is about a Negro League team that, to rail against the corrupt ownership of the league, sets out on a barnstorming tour against teams across the midwest. If you can still find this on VHS, I recommend it most highly.

5. The Bad News Bears
I'm probably the only person in the world who didn't just flat out hate the remake with Billy Bob Thornton (and yes, I realize that laughing at the wheelchair-bound kid who shows up at practice in a Wheaties-Breakfast of Champions T-shirt probably means I'm damned for eternity), but that's not what I'm talking about here. What made the original so much better is that the kids truly were dirty little castoffs, the kind of genuine losers you just don't get to see often enough, so when they win it's just that much more fun. And, of course, it's just funny as hell.

So, there you have it. And, if you're a long-suffering Orioles fan like me, tune in April 2 at 7:10 p.m. on ESPN2 when Erik Bedard leads the birds into opening day battle against the Twinnies (and, presumably, the unhittable Johan Santana.) What's at stake? The right to say you're in first place for one more day, of course.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Lemme hear ya say Hayao!

And then please let me just as promptly apologize for that rather childish outburst, but I just can't help getting very excited when there's news this good about Hayao Miyazaki.

As first reported on the great Ghibli fan site Nausicaa.net, Miyazaki is hard at work on his next flick "Gake no ue no Ponyo"(Ponyo on a Cliff), which is scheduled for release in summer of 2008.

His first flick since "Howl's Moving Castle" is about a goldfish princess named Ponyo who wants to become human and her relationship with a 5-year-old boy. Miyazaki, who is penning the original script, is basing the boy on his grandson, the son of "Tales From Earthsea" helmer Goro Miyazaki.

This all sounds like vintage Miyazaki to me, so definitely a reason to celebrate. What sets him apart from the animation pack, at least for me, is that his highly original stories always seem to exist in a dreamscape, a world all their own that others have tried but failed to re-create. If I had to pick only two, my favorite Miyazaki flicks would have to be "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "Porco Rosso."

What those movies had in common was his impressionistic visions of Europe. For "Ponyo," Miyazaki was apparently inspired by a more exotic setting, a 2005 stay on Japan's scenic Inland Sea.

Though we'll have to wait some time to see what comes of all this, here's a photo from the studio that's doing the best imitation of Miyazaki out there, Pixar. "Ratatouille" is the movie I'm most looking forward to this summer, and from this pic courtesy of Comingsoon.net (click to enlarge), we know that it's at least going to look fantastic.



Coppola's "Youth" gets big deal

The news about Francis Ford Coppola also just keeps getting better. Not only has he finished his first film in 10 years, "Youth Without Youth," but now it's gotten a distribution deal from United Artists that gives hope that even folks in my little corner of the world will get to see it.

Coppola adapted, produced and directed "Youth Without Youth" from the 1976 novel by Romanian-born religious historian Mircea Eliade. He said he was inspired by daughter Sofia to make a low-budget, personal film.

The flick, which Coppola shot last winter in Romania, stars Tim Roth as a 70-year-old who is struck by lightning and suddenly gets younger and more brilliant. His quest: to understand the origin of language and consciousness. By movie's end, he and the love of his life (Alexandra Maria Lara) are speaking in tongues. Bruno Ganz (huzzah!) also stars, and Matt Damon makes a cameo appearance.

Sounds more than a little crazy, but definitely not boring. In an odd confluence that resembles last year's "Prestige"-"Illusionist" collision, Coppola's movie is coming as David Fincher is at work on a flick with a very similar theme. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," set to star Brad Pitt, is based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald story about a 50-year-old man who begins aging backwards. Pretty eerie, no?

If it's still possible Hollywood can revive itself by releasing quality movies, United Artists, now being led by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, seems to be at the forefront. Already they have the political drama "Lions for Lambs" coming later this year, "Youth Without Youth," and then a return collaboration between Bryan Singer and Chris McQuarrie. I can only vigorously say bring it all on.

R.I.P. Stuart Rosenberg

One sad note to close out this Tuesday post. Stuart Rosenberg, director of "Cool Hand Luke," "Amityville Horror" and other flicks, passed away Thursday at age 79.

"Cool Hand Luke" is, for me, indeed just one of the coolest movies ever made. Rosenberg and Paul Newman turned the prison drama into easily one of the most quotable flicks of all time. And, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Rosenberg must be blushing, because there have already been seven sequels to "Amityville Horror" (of which I have seen none.) His last film was "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys" in 1991.

Every time my boss asks me to do something I don't particularly want to do, I always hit him the Luke-ism "calling it your job don't make it right, Boss." I'll be sure to do it at least once today, and it will make us each smile for a second. Rest in peace, Mr. Rosenberg.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Favorite Irish movies

OK, I know, St. Patrick's Day was two days ago, so I guess I'm a bit late with this. But looking through my DVD shelf, I realized that, next to America, Ireland has produced (or at least figured prominently in), the most movies I own.

So, in honor of the Emerald Isle, here are my 10 favorite "Irish" films (the quotes are an acknowledgement, before we get started, that some movies on this list are from non-Irish directors.)

Anyways, here goes:

1. Some Mother's Son
Considering all the vacuous crap that manages to make it onto DVD these days, the fact that this great Terry George movie is nowhere to be found is just utterly offensive (luckily I have a very beat-up VHS copy.) This nonsentimental tale looks at the 1981 hunger strike in a British prison, in which IRA prisoner Bobby Sands led a protest against the treatment of IRA prisoners as criminals rather than as prisoners of war, through the eyes of two of the prisoners' mothers (hence the title.) Featuring fantastic performances from Helen Mirren and Fionnula Flanagan, this one is my favorite in the George/Sheridan canon.

2. The General
This John Boorman flick about the notorious Irish gangster Martin Cahill holds a special place in my heart for introducing me to Brendan Gleeson. He's dynamic as Cahill, and the movie is just a really fun and smart game of cat-and-mouse between Cahill and the police who pursued him (led, surprisingly, here by Jon Voight.)

3. The Secret of Roan Inish
Though "Passion Fish" remains my favorite John Sayles movie, this is probably the one I've seen the most times. It's just the perfect example of a children's movie that works just as well for adults, and a lovely ode to the power of imagination.

4. Breakfast on Pluto
I get very nervous when my favorite books get turned into movies, but this is one case where the transition was nearly flawless. Cillian Murphy gets all dolled up to play Patrick "Kitten" Braden, who just wants to drift through life in a dream but can't escape the harsh world around him. Lighter than air, but still a delight.

5. The Crying Game
Make it back-to-back titles from Neil Jordan. All the more-than-a-little ridiculous hoopla about Jaye Davidson distorted the fact that this remains one of the better IRA dramas. The opening sequence with Forest Whitaker as a British soldier being held captive by IRA members Stephen Rae and Miranda Richardson has been permanently burned in my brain.

6. The Snapper
Although I'm numbering these (at least in part so I can keep track of where I am in the list), it's not in order of affection. If so, this charming little Stephen Frears movie would be No. 1. It's the best movie from Roddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy, and one that just makes me laugh from start to finish.

7. The Boxer
Of all the Sheridan/George IRA movies, this one for me has the strongest sense of time and place. The mood throughout just perfectly captures the fragile peace negotiated for Northern Ireland, and Daniel Day Lewis and Emily Watson are great as the romantic leads.

8. War of the Buttons
One of the odder movies I've ever seen, but still a winner. This 1994 flick is about just what the title implies: Two gangs of Irish teenagers get into a "war" in which, when a combatant is captured, his opponents snip a button from his clothing. It shouldn't work by any standard, but somehow it just does.

9. Bloody Sunday
Paul Greengrass made his mark as a master of the docudrama with this look at the Jan. 30, 1972, clash between Northern Ireland activists and British troops that left 13 protesters dead. James Nesbitt should have garnered an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of march leader Ivan Cooper.

10. Felicia's Journey
Having been directed by Canuck Atom Egoyan and with much of its action taking place in England, this one only tangentially belongs on this list, but so what? It mines familiar Egoyan themes of family ties and how they can warp, but it's set apart by Bob Hoskins' completely over-the-top performance as caterer-turned-serial-killer Hilditch.

And there you have it. A very contemporary list, I know, but all movies I love. There are definitely some great Irish movies I have snubbed, so please feel free to add your favorites to my list.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Fear the Turtle

In honor of DJ Strawberry and the rest of the mighty Maryland Terrapins, I am officially taking the weekend off to watch basketball and, well, that's about it.

The turtles take on the Butler Bulldogs today at 3:20 p.m., so I think I'll stay home for that rather than sit through two hours of Viagra jokes from Chris Rock. Have a great weekend.

Friday, March 16, 2007

R.I.P. Veronica Mars?

Because the movies all look so bad this weekend, it's all about TV here today, and at the outset at least, the news is grim.

In its ongoing battle to offer no watchable programs at all, the CW may be about to cancel "Veronica Mars," one of only three shows I ever watch on the network. Apparently the burden of offering smart, funny TV week after week is just too much for them to bear.

The word has come from multiple sources. First, without disclosing her sources, Kristin Veitch, in her E! Online blog, revealed that the show had gotten the axe, quoting show creater Rob Thomas: “I’ve never been less certain of our fate. I’m afraid I’ve gone from cautiously optimistic to something less than that.”

Unfortunately, confirmation then quickly came from Moviehole in the form of word from Tina Majorino, aka Mac, whose representatives said the network had let them know. However, things are never quite as clear as they seem ...

In a later post, Veitch clarified (or rather, muddied) the situation up a bit. "... inside sources at the CW have explained to me a more detailed version of the situation: According to network insiders, the CW has not officially canceled Veronica Mars. However, they are currently considering a different format for the fourth season. That format would leap four years into the future and focus on Veronica Mars as an FBI agent. The rest of the cast, aside from Kristen Bell, is yet to be determined. So bottom line: Veronica Mars could be: 1) spinning off into a new format, 2) returning in her college years or 3) getting canceled."

If option No. 1, with Kristen Bell doing a time warp, is the only way to save this great show, then bring it on. Please. The Hollywood Reporter says Thomas has already filmed a trailer for this scenario, and is now pitching that to CW executives in a last-ditch effort to save the show.

How do you save a great TV show? I have no idea, but it's been done before. Be warned, if we let this one go, the CW will begin showing "America's Next Top Model" five nights a week, and we'll all be to blame.

"Gilmore Girls" season (series?) finale

The second CW show I tune in for every week, "Gilmore Girls," is also definitely on life support. If it continues, it will most likely be without Alexis Bledel, aka our Rory, so why bother?

This season got off to a really rocky start, but delivered a string of top-notch episodes for February sweeps. Apparently it took Richard Gilmore's heart attack to get them back on track.

Now comes word from TV addict Michael Ausiello with one tidbit about the season (series?) finale. It seems they've finally, after several failed attempts, landed Rory's idol, Christiane Amanpour, for this year's last episode. She will meet Rory, though under what circumstances I don't know.

That should be fun, but when the Gilmores make their final exit in May or June, what will be left on the CW? For me, at least, only "Everybody Hates Chris," unless they've gone and cancelled that already too.

"Sopranos" details

Like a Sunday protestant, I'm a "Sopranos" HBO person at best (I watch "The Wire" on DVD though), so it's just about time for me pick it up again for a few months.

Here, straight from HBO, are brief loglines for the first four episodes of the series' final arc:

April 8: "Soprano Home Movies"
After a close call at home, Tony and Carmela head to the Adirondacks for a weekend with Bobby and Janice. Written by Diane Frolov & Andrew Schneider and David Chase & Matthew Weiner; directed by Tim Van Patten.

April 15: "Stage 5"
Tony finds art imitating life at the "Cleaver" premiere; in prison, Johnny Sack copes with more bad news. Written by Terence Winter; directed by Alan Taylor.

April 22: "Remember When"
With the heat turned up in Jersey, Tony and Paulie head south to cool off. Meanwhile, Junior rekindles some of his old fire in a poker game. Written by Terence Winter; directed by Phil Abraham.

April 29: "Chasing It"
Tony hits an unlucky stretch; AJ makes a life-changing decision; Vito's widow Marie (Elizabeth Bracco) turns to Tony for help with her troubled son. Written by Matthew Weiner; directed by Tim Van Patten.

Not much to go on there, I know, but at least it's news about a show that's going out on top this time. As for me this weekend, it's all about basketball. Duke's out, Maryland's still in and there's tons of games to come, so for now at least, just about all's right with the world.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Why Don Cheadle's the man

There was already little doubt about that, at least in my book, but now Don Cheadle wants to make sure everyone knows it by taking charge.

The newly crowned ShoWest male star of the year has five projects lined up for his new production company, Crescendo Productions. The most intriguing, and hopefully the first, is a biopic of jazz legend Miles Davis.

Like everyone, I've had just about enough of the music biopics, but Miles is such a fascinating subject that I'll give this at least a chance. The stories you hear like about he and Charlie Parker walking down the streets of NYC after jamming all night, peering in the "Today" show studios to give the gathered fans a real show, could make this a lot of fun.

Cheadle will, of course, play the jazzman himself, and will also make his directorial debut on the flick. "Nixon" scribes Stephen J. Rivele and Chris Wilkinson are penning the script, and the company has secured the music and life rights to the jazz legend.

Other projects on Crescendo's slate:

"Traitor" is a politically charged drama that was written and will be directed by Jeff Nachmanoff ("The Day After Tomorrow"). Cheadle will star as an operative embedded in a terrorist organization who becomes the target of federal agents; they fear he's crossed the line and actually become a terrorist himself. Makes me kind of say mehhh.

"Quest to Ref" is a comic vehicle for Cheadle, scripted by Ben Watkins and Guy Guillet. Story concerns a disenchanted lawyer who follows his life dream to become a pro basketball ref. Bring it on. Cheadle's a funny guy.

The Peter Biegen-scripted drama "Broken Adonis" has Michael Apted attached to direct. The story concerns an ex-con (Cheadle) who forms an unlikely relationship with a border patrol officer and her young informant.

Cheadle continues to work with "Ocean's" co-star Brad Pitt's Plan B and Reason Pictures on "Marching Powder," a fact-based story of a drug dealer who spent five years as a tour guide in the notorious San Pedro Prison in Bolivia. Cheadle will play the tour guide.

In addition to the features, Cheadle is producing, with "Crash" cohort Cathy Schulman and Jonathan Mark Harris, the Participant/Warner Independent docu "An Indifferent World," which is already in production. Cheadle is one of five subjects of the film who are trying to address genocide in Darfur. Ted Braun is directing and is in the Sudan shooting the film. Sounds a little self-important to me, but every little bit helps.

All this, of course, is about the future. In the present or soon-to-be, he has three other flicks coming, some good and some to worry about.

Solidly in the good category is "Talk to me," a return to the director's chair for the much-missed Kasi Lemmons ("Eve's Bayou"), which tells the story of D.C. radio DJ Ralph "Petey" Greene. The flick, due in July, also stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Martin Sheen, and is officially one of the movies I'm most looking forward to in 2007.

The other two sound more dubious. I just have no desire to watch Adam Sandler as a man who lost his entire family on 9/11. If this isn't an insult to everyone who really lost someone on this horrid day, I'll be surprised. Cheadle will be on hand to give it at least a smidgen of class as Sandler's old college roommate, who helps him deal with his grief.

Possibly even worse is the thoroughly unnecessary "Ocean's 13." I actually typed "Ocean's 15" first, which was probably more a nightmarish vision of the future rather than a typo. Don't get me wrong here. I loved the "Ocean's 11" remake, and I like to see Soderbergh having fun, but "Ocean's 12" was simply excremental, and the series has to stop now before it just keeps getting worse.

And, just in case we wanted to make sure that everyone in the world hates America, "Ocean's 13" will be screened at Cannes this year, though thankfully out of competition.

But enough of that negativity. This is all about Don Cheadle, and even if that accent he tried to lay down in the "Ocean's" movies was atrocious, he is still clearly the man, now more than ever.

Craig, Moore in Meirelles' Blindness

Along with Aussie Phillip Noyce, Fernando Meirelles ranks as my favorite director of political films working today, so any news about his next project, "Blindness," is welcome to me, especially when it's this good.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, 007 Daniel Craig and Julianne Moore are in negotiations to star in the flick. Adapted by Don McKellar from Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago's acclaimed novel, the story chronicles an epidemic of blindness that sweeps through an unnamed contemporary city and pushes society to the brink of breakdown.

After Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" I'm definitely ready for another dystopian vision, so with this one I can only say bring it on. Peace out.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Singer-McQuarrie reunion

Apparently Tom Cruise hasn't completely lost his mind.

Approached with an idea simply too good to pass up, he and production partner Paula Wagner have tapped a new thriller from Bryan Singer and Chris McQuarrie as their second United Artists film.

Remember them? Singer has made some great movies over the years, especially the X-Men flicks and "Apt Pupil," but he's never been better than he was with "The Usual Suspects," penned by McQuarrie.

Now the duo will collaborate again on what's described as a multi-character ensemble piece a la "Usual Suspects," but this time set in World War II. That's about all I know for now, but if anyone knows more, please share.

So, what does this mean for another "Superman" movie? Well, at least a delay, because this makes Singer a very busy man. Along with this new project, he's also developing a Harvey Milk biopic for Warner Bros. and for some reason directing "Football Wives," a rather wretched-sounding series pilot for ABC.

If out of all this, however, we at least get a Singer-McQuarrie reunion, I think I can live without the Man of Steel for a few years.

Thornton headed to "Tulia"

What in the world ever happened to Carl Franklin? After he made one of my favorite film noirs with "One False Move" and then directed the slick "Devil in a Blue Dress," based on the Walter Mosley novel, he seemed to disappear.

A quick IMDB search revealed he has actually been working rather steadily over the years, and in fact directed the pilot for the new FX series "The Riches," which I didn't bother to watch (if anyone has seen this and it is indeed worth my time, please let me know.)

Now, however, he's apparently got a solid project to sink his teeth into. The story of Tulia, Texas, is a true travesty of American justice. As well-chronicled by Bob Herbert of the New York Times, it's the story of a one-man vendetta against the black population of this small Texas town. By any means necessary, lawman Tom Coleman managed to target 10 percent of the town's black population in a drug sting operation that landed many innocent people in jail.

The mess is still being untangled, but now Franklin and Billy Bob Thornton will have their say with an adaptation of the Nate Blakeslee book "Tulia: Race, Cocaine and Corruption in a Small Texas Town." Franklin has done a rewrite on the script, and shooting begins in and around New Orleans April 30.

The book details an ACLU lawyer's efforts to expose the racially motivated rash of drug convictions in the town in 1999. Not sure yet if Billy Bob will be the lawyer or the lawman, but my money's on him playing the good guy. Halle Berry has also signed for this, so let's just hope it turns out much, much better than "Monster's Ball."

Either way, I'm just happy that Carl Franklin has such a great subject to work with. Welcome back, old friend.

Early good word on "Knocked Up"

According to Joe Leydon at Variety, Judd Apatow's upcoming movie "Knocked Up" is "line for line, minute to minute ... more explosively funny, more frequently, than nearly any other major studio release in recent memory."

Sounds great to me. This flick coming in June should make "Freaks and Geeks" Alum Seth Rogen a superstar. Read more of Leydon's review here, and have an entirely suckfree humpday.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Buffy" finally returns tomorrow

To anyone who thinks a soon-to-be middle aged man shouldn't be so obsessed with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," well, you're most certainly right. But at the risk of provoking the mockery of anyone in that contingent, just a reminder that "Buffy Season 8" finally hits stores tomorrow in funny-book form.

Why am I such a big "Buffy" supporter? If I really need to explain it, well, at its height, from about 1998-2001, Joss Whedon's smart, funny show was easily the best thing on TV at a time when the airwaves were polluted with a lot of crap.

It lasted at least one - and probably two - seasons too long, but after this long layoff I'm now ready for more. Here's what we've learned so far about the first comic coming Wednesday (with a few spoilers - be warned.)

Season eight starts about 15 months or so after Sunnydale got sucked into its own hellmouth. Buffy’s in Scotland, running Slayer Central Command with Xander Harris. (It turns out she was never in Italy; that blonde Spike and Angel saw in Rome near the end of “Angel’s” final season was a clever Buffy decoy.) Dawn is attending Berkeley but visiting her sister. Dawn boned a local “thricewise,” which caused her to grow some 60 feet in height.

About 1,800 "potentials" have now been transformed into slayers. The season begins with a Buffy-led assault on a church, which in turn gives Slayer Central a mystery to solve. The Initiative, or something like it, is seen on the edge of Sunnydale Crater. Something happens there.

I won't tell you anymore, mostly because I don't know much more, and won't until tomorrow with the rest of the world. What I do know is that Dark Horse Comics was sly enough to preview the first six or so pages, which I've dutifully reprinted again one more time here for your enjoyment. At the bottom are the covers for the second and third issues (that Willow cover just kicks royal ass.) Click on the photos to get a readable view, and enjoy!















Sunday, March 11, 2007

300


When you're watching the spectacle that is Zack Snyder and Frank Miller's "300," I can certainly see why it's tempting to forget that this is simply a comic book movie. Granted, an ambitious and nearly flawlessly rendered one, but a comic book movie all the same.

So, I guess you can forgive two usually very reliable film critics for reading way too much into this. I normally don't like to call out critics, both because I generally like them quite a bit and because, well, in an ideal world I would be one. This time, however, I think I have to.

First up is A.O. Scott of the New York Times: Zack Snyder’s first film, a remake of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” showed wit as well as technical dexterity. While some of that filmmaking acumen is evident here, the script for “300,” which he wrote with Kurt Johnstad and Michael B. Gordon, is weighed down by the lumbering portentousness of the original book, whose arresting images are themselves undermined by the kind of pomposity that frequently mistakes itself for genius.

"Pomposity that frequently mistakes itself for genius?" Passed by a mirror recently Mr. Scott?

One other critic who just thought way too much about this is Dana Stevens of Slate, normally one of my favorites: And visually, 300 is thrilling, color-processed to a burnished, monochromatic copper, and packed with painterly, if static, tableaux vivants. But to cast 300 as a purely apolitical romp of an action film smacks of either disingenuousness or complete obliviousness. One of the few war movies I've seen in the past two decades that doesn't include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment, 300 is a mythic ode to righteous bellicosity.

I guess all that was somehow meant as an insult. If you were to tell Zack Snyder, Frank Miller or, for that matter, me, that "300" was visually thrilling and a romp of an action movie, I'm sure we'd all agree. And we'd all be satisfied with that.

If you just take this one for its text, rather than digging around for that pesky subtext, "300" is just tons of fun, and a real accomplishment.

In the area of melding comic books and movies, Frank Miller has definitely risen to the top of the heap. After surviving a slow start, "Sin City" was a big step in the right direction, and "300" takes what was right with that movie a big step further. For the first time, you can really feel like you're flipping through the pages of the graphic novel as you watch the movie, which to me at least is pretty friggin cool.

Alan Moore should be paying attention. What he might learn is that if you actively participate in turning your graphic novels into movies, and perhaps become the director, you might be much happier with the finished product rather than simply complain about it all the time. (Miller, by the way, is listed as the director on a "Sin City 2" and "Sin City 3." I say bring it on.)

Snyder and Miller have a more-than-willing accomplice here in Gerard Butler, who stars as King Leonidas, who led 300 of his best soldiers into battle against the imperious forces of Persia. It may not be an Oscar-worthy performance, but Butler delivers ridiculous lines like "tonight we dine in hell!" not only with a straight face but with gusto. It's his energy that gets "300" through its few rough patches, mostly brought on by the very unnecessary narrator (really my only quibble with "300.")

And the battle sequences, as Dana Stevens pointed out before she lost her mind, are indeed visually thrilling. I don't want to spoil any of it, but what it brought to mind most for me was Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood." A reach? Perhaps, but that's what I saw. Whatever you see in Miller and Snyder's fine film is up to you, I can only encourage you to see it. And, just in case it needs to be mentioned, I am not asking for a remake of "Throne of Blood."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Has anyone seen "300" yet?

Alas, I have not, and I'm already extremely late for work, so if anyone has seen Zack Snyder's "300" and can let me know if it lives up to the hype, please do so. I'll be going to see it Saturday morning, and I'm rather psyched, to say the least. To get a bona-fide big ball of popcorn this early in the year is a real treat.

So, if you have already managed to see it and have any words of warning (or, of course, praise) let me know, and please feel free to check back for a review Sunday. Peace out.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Forrest Bush?

The day we, or at least I, had feared for so long has finally come. Despite legal obstacles that should have left it rotting in an early grave, the forces of evil have apparently triumphed and are about to launch a plague on this planet more vile than any toxin you could conceive. Yes, a "Forrest Gump 2." The title above, while only my suggestion, would seem to be rather appropriate.

It seems this has been in the works since 2001, when Paramount hired "Forrest Gump" screenwriter Eric Roth to pen a sequel, using the Winston Groom novel "Gump & Co." as his inspiration. Now, according to Josh Tyler at Cinema Blend, the project is set to move ahead again.

“Gump & Co” apparently takes place several years after “Forrest Gump” and finds Forrest’s shrimping business failed and Jenny dead, leaving Forrest a single unemployed father. As you’d expect, Gump still stumbles through more important historical events. In this case it’s a cavalcade of history from the 80s and 90s. He even meets Tom Hanks.

This all makes me more angry than it reasonably should, so give me a second to settle down. Why does "Forrest Gump" make me so mad? It's not because it's a treacly-sweet movie that's just drop-dead boring for the final third or so. I just can't get past the premise that the major events in American Twentieth Century history were set in motion or directly influenced by the actions of a (insert whatever euphemism for mentally challenged person you prefer here; depending on my mood, I usually prefer "touched.")

I've been told by many people that I'm taking it way too seriously, and I know they're right. For me, however, it's what makes "Forrest Gump" my single least favorite movie of all time, bar none. And yes, there has been some stiff competition over the years. Note, I didn't say the objectively "worst" movie ever made, just my personal vote for all-time stinker.

Given the state of our world today, however, a "Gump" sequel could hold promise. Bear with me here. How could our Forrest have an impact on history this time? Well, you could have him stumbling around the White House, maybe snorting a little blow from time to time, as his daddy is vice president and then president (I can't remember if Forrest even had a daddy in the original, but hey, it's a sequel, so do the rules of logic really apply?)

This way you could have him at the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Soviet Union, all kinds of fun Cold-War events could get that special "aw, shucks" Forrest touch. But why stop there? With a little dose of "Being There" you could have our hero become president. Through a series of accidental encounters, he could get us in the middle of a bloody civil war in Iraq. I think even a hack like me could write some of this dialogue:

Cheney: Mr. president, 27 people died today in suicide bombings in Iraq.
President Gump: Well, like my momma always said: Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get.


That's actually a little too close to reality for me. I think I'll just stop now before I get thoroughly depressed. Because, like Forrest says, "stupid is as stupid does," whatever the hell that means.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

M. Night's big comeback

I'm not sure which is better news for M. Night Shyamalan: That his new flick will get a new name or that it will be distributed by 20th Century Fox. If you ask him though, I'm sure he'd choose the latter.

After having his script for "The Green Effect" rejected by every studio he pitched it to, it now seems M. Night has taken the advice from this ordeal to heart. After retooling the script with suggestions from Fox honcho Tom Rothman and agreeing to change the name to "The Happening," he now finds himself with a big backer and a scheduled June 2008 release.

As best I can tell, his new flick will be part-"War of the Worlds" sans aliens and part-"Soylent Green" madness. In it, the Earth, fed up with how we've been treating it, finally fights back, unleashing some kind of agent that causes people to kill themselves. There is, of course, a family on the run at the center of this. Though it all sounds very familiar, it could still be a lot of fun. To read a rather thorough (and spoiler-laden) early script review from Latino Review, click here.

Though I'm in the rather large camp that thinks M. Night started a downward turn with "Signs" that just continued with "The Village" and, hopefully, bottomed out the simply execrable "Lady in the Water," I'm still cheering loudly for him to find his mojo again. After all, he did manage to make one of my favorite movies ever with "Unbreakable."

Many critics who have hammered him have asked what happened to the big reveal, the "gotcha" moment that managed to shock in "The Sixth Sense" and somewhat less so in "Unbreakable." Personally, I don't need it; all I ask of you, Mr. Shyamalan, is that you write a tight story that takes us somewhere, anywhere at all, and that you resist any urge to cast yourself in the role of a writer with ideas so dangerous they will change the world (even as I write that, I still can't believe you thought you could get away with that crap in "Lady in the Water"!)

For Fox, the gamble on M. Night's return to form is a pretty big one. So far, all they've got for summer 2008 is this and "Starship Dave," a sci-fi comedy starring Eddie Murphy (anyone remember "Pluto Nash"? I try not to.) I'm hoping at least M. Night's half yields a big return.

Cruz, Kingsley in Roth pic

Personally, I'm fairly certain I'd enjoy watching Penelope Cruz eat a bag of Fritos, but seeing her with Ben Kingsley in a flick based on a Philip Roth novella should be even better.

Cruz, Kingsley and Patricia Clarkson have signed on to star in a flick based on the novella "Dying Animal," which I haven't read.

Nicholas Meyer, who previously adapted Roth's "The Human Stain" into an extremely underrated flick, will pen the script. The story revolves around a student (Cruz, I assume) who engages in a torrid affair with her professor (Kingsley) and then returns years later with a revelation. Sounds juicy enough to me.

Even better, and from the same studio, Lakeshore, is that Phillip Noyce is at work on an adaptation of my favorite Roth novel, "American Pastoral." I still have serious doubts that he'll get any kind of distribution for a movie that's, in part, about an act of domestic terrorism (the blowing up of a post office to protest the Vietnam War) that tears a family apart. I sure hope he manages to pull it off.

Fanboys and girls rejoice!

If you think you can come up with a short film based on Sci-Fi's "Battlestar Galactica," the network apparently wants to see your work.

It has launched a videomaker tool kit through its Web site that allows fans of the show to create their own short-form content based on the show. The new video tool will provide users with more than 30 visual effects, 20 audio effects and cuts from the show's soundtrack to create their own four-minute short. Creators can post their content to the site, where "Galactica" executive producer David Eick will select his favorite and air it during a future broadcast episode.

If you wanna try your hand at this, click here. I love me some "Galactica," but I think I'll pass on this. If anyone actually does it, please let me know so I can check out your creations, and have an entirely bearable hump day.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

L.A. Confidential 2?

Until I read a rather confusing report about it this morning on my favorite froggie film site, Cinempire.com, I had no idea they were even considering a "L.A. Confidential 2."

A little reading of Joe Carnahan's blog has cleared things up a bit, but not much. Carnahan is at work on "White Jazz," the fourth installment in James Ellroy's L.A. true-crime saga. Though I had little time at all for Carnahan's "Smokin' Aces," he has George Clooney on board for this tale of police corruption, so I'm keeping my hopes up.

According to Carnahan, however, he was recently contacted about the beginning of work on a "L.A. Confidential 2" which would bring back director Curtis Hanson, screenwriter Brian Helgeland, and actors Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. I don't know about you, but that just brings a smile to my face.

As it sits right now, Ellroy is in the Carnahan camp working on the screenplay for "White Jazz," and Helgeland would apparently come up with a script for "L.A. Confidential 2" that picks up where the first one left off.

I'm not sure how any of this will pan out, since the two movies would have to share some characters, but another "L.A. Confidential" from the original team is definitely news that gets my day off to a good start.


DVD pick of the week:

Though they've slowed down over the years, Matt Stone and Trey Parker haven't lost any of their satiric touch with "South Park." Today on DVD comes the 14 episodes from 2005's season nine.

As usual, they offer hardly any extras at all, but you do get great episodes like "Best Friends Forever," a truly tasteless take on the Terry Schiavo political scrum, and "Trapped in the Closet," which took on Tom Cruise and Scientology. I'll definitely be taking a detour on my way home to pick this up.

Runners up:

Borat: This would have made pick of the week, but just a few deleted scenes as the extras has me convinced a "special edition" is right around the corner. Hold onto your money for now.

Fast Food Nation: This one never played anywhere near my little corner of the world during its theatrical run, so I'll definitely be renting Richard Linklater's latest.

And that's about it as far as I can see. A pretty slow week for DVDs. Peace out.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Black Snake Moan


As I sat down to write this morning, I was having trouble coming up with the words to describe just how bad Craig Brewer's new movie is, so I'll just come out and say it: This is, without exaggeration, one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

In case anyone has been living under a rock for the past year, Brewer's movie purports to be about an old blues man (Samuel L. Jackson) who finds a nymphomaniac (Christina Ricci) beaten up and tossed by the side of the road, and then proceeds to chain her to his radiator to "cure" her of her wanton ways.

If this were at all effective as a story, you would think it would be at least slightly offensive or provocative, but not in Brewer's hands. What he tries to turn it into is sudsy fare that is supposed to make us feel good, like a Hallmark movie with Christina Ricci in her underwear. And, while I can say for the record that Ms. Ricci does have very beautiful breasts, that's one of the very few things this movie has going for it.

Instead of crafting a tale that had any originality to it, Brewer borrowed liberally from two other movies "about" the South that I just can't stand: "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Monster's Ball."

As in "Driving Miss Daisy," he picks up the legend of the noble black sage who can rescue the lost white woman. That he would do so here by chaining her to a radiator in her underwear would be offensive if it weren't so silly that you find yourself laughing throughout, at all the wrong moments. I'm not sure what Ricci's Rae was supposed to learn from this ordeal, but all I learned was Craig Brewer has hit his sophomore slump.

And like with "Monster's Ball," rather than craft any real characters, Brewer simply takes whatever societal affliction he can find and throws it into the pot. I guess that's what makes reviewers from other parts of the U.S. say things like this movie "captures the South." Well, as someone who has lived in Georgia for more than 10 years now, I can only tell you that while it might make you feel better about yourselves to think we all live like this, it's a lie that should be stopped now.

Whew. That's a lot of bile for a Monday morning. So, what's good about "Black Snake Moan"? Well, except for Christina Ricci's body, there's Mr. Jackson, who continues to soldier through with solid performances in wretched movies. After watching him trying to save this and the almost-as-bad "Freedomland," I'm officially designating him as the actor most in need of a great movie to match his talents. This, however, definitely isn't it.

Any life that "Black Snake Moan" has comes when Jackson picks up his guitar and plays the blues this flick is supposed to be about. But whereas hip-hop culture saturated "Hustle & Flow" and made it one of my favorite movies, the blues here is just window dressing for Brewer's cornpone tale. Interestingly, one of the few right notes in "Black Snake Moan" comes from the great Mississippi rapper David Banner, who essentially plays himself as a small-time thug.

Ricci's Rae, however, is just a mess, and in none of the ways Brewer may have intended. As she went into the convulsions that supposedly provoke her nymphomania, I can attest that all five people at the showing I was at laughed out loud. It was the only thing funnier than hearing her try to imitate a Southern accent.

So, what did I learn from "Black Snake Moan"? Samuel L. Jackson needs better movies, Christina Ricci is in tremendous shape, and Craig Brewer will live again to make a movie to erase this disaster from my memory.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Zodiac


Just about the only beef I had heard going in to David Fincher's fantastic "Zodiac" is that, at 2 hours and 40 minutes, it's simply too long. Coming out, however, I couldn't think of one thing I would have cut from his best film yet.

In structure and tone, Fincher's true-crime saga about the pursuit of the Zodiac killer that terrorized California in the late '60s and '70s reminded me of "Prime Suspect" - sans, of course, Dame Helen Mirren.

Like that great BBC series, Fincher's movie takes an entirely nonslick view of police procedures. In this case, we get to feel all the frustrations as the two main cops, Mark Ruffalo (huzzah!) and Anthony Edwards (a pleasant surprise) chase down all the leads they can find and come tantalizingly close to their target.

Also like "Prime Suspect," the flick is as much a character study as it is a true-crime movie, and here Fincher has three actors up to his exacting standards in Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal. Ruffalo, who I've liked ever since he made his debut in "You Can Count on Me," has been coasting for years now through a series of likable enough romantic comedies, but here Fincher gives him a well-rounded character to dig into, and he take full advantage (aside: watch for him soon with Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi in Rian Johnson's heist flick "The Brothers Bloom," which has me jazzed even though it's only in preproduction now.)

And just as the Zodiac killer frustrated the cops, he also played games with the media, issuing his missives in code that he demanded be printed in newspapers. Fincher's newsroom (the San Francisco Chronicle) has a real "All the President's Men" feel to it (and, this being the '70s, were talking about white men here.) Downey plays boozy crime reporter Paul Avery, who put himself in the middle of the story, with just enough slime to make him believable. And Gyllenhaal, as the Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith, really gets to play the part of Fincher himself.

It was Graysmith's obsession with the Zodiac killer that led him to write the book Fincher's movie is based on, and this obsession makes the final act of the flick the most satisfying. Graysmith's - and Fincher's - hunger for the truth also makes this, for me, Fincher's best movie by far. Even without the illusion of fantasy, he manages to make the Zodiac killer a much more frightening boogeyman than he's come up with in the past.

As I read the closing titles, I found myself laughing. Inappropriate, perhaps, after watching the true story of a multiyear killing spree, but I couldn't help myself. I was laughing because I couldn't quite believe that Fincher had really pulled this off. That he actually put together all the pieces of this intricate puzzle and still managed to make such an entertaining movie. It's a real coup.

P.S. - If I have the time, and I think I will, I'll be going to see Craig Brewer's "Black Snake Moan" later today, so please feel free to check back for a review Monday morning.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Just saw Zodiac ...

Don't have time for a full review, since this is the rare Saturday when I have to work, but just wanted to say that David Fincher's movie is a masterpiece. A full review will come tomorrow, but if you're having any doubts, erase them and go see this one right away!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Zodiac, Black Snake or Wild Hogs?

I really don't think I'm much of an elitist. Or, if I am, I'm not a very good one, because as anyone who's been here before knows, I see a heck of a lot of movies.

That said, the trailer for "Wild Hogs" has just about all I need to see, I think. John Travolta getting smacked in the face by a bird, and possibly bird feces? Yes, the first time you see that, it's funny. But once is enough. When you have four stars in a movie and I just can't stand two of them (Travolta and Tim Allen), the odds are already against you in my book. I have a lot more time for William H. Macy and Martin Lawrence (when he's not in drag and a fat suit), but I'll wait for them to be in better movies.

With "Zodiac," on the other hand, count me as definitely in. That said, however, David Fincher is the exact place where I fail the geek test. Although I like his movies OK, I simply don't understand the reverence that geeks have for him. What I do admire is his attention to detail and the care with which he constructs his stories. And with the Zodiac killer, knowing how the case impacted his childhood, he seems to have his best story yet (plus Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr., both pluses in my book.)

And I'm in for "Black Snake Moan" too. Craig Brewer's "Hustle & Flow" has already entered that category of movies I pop in when I've had an extremely long day. You know the kind. Movies like "Office Space" or "Dazed and Confused." Movies that just make me feel good. And Brewer's tale of the pimp who just wants to be rap star works for me every time.

With "Black Snake Moan," however, it seems he's tested the limits just about as far as he can go, with only his second movie. From the reviews I've seen so far, it seems that despite its rather lurid subject matter, the final product is actually rather sweet and tame. I like what he does with music and how he takes on and breaks down stereotypes, and I can watch Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson do just about anything, so I say bring it on.

I should have reviews of each, one by Sunday and one by Monday, so please feel free to come back and check them out, and have an entirely enjoyable weekend.

And, since it's Friday, as a bonus, here's a photo I cribbed from Rob Zombie's Myspace page which comes from the trailer he made for the middle of "Grindhouse." It's called "Werewolf Women of the SS," and I think that's probably about all you need to know.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

What's new with Terry Gilliam?


Though he does a great job reporting on all things film, Brendon Connelly at the film ick blog is particularly obsessed with Terry Gilliam. And apparently it has paid off.

I haven't seen Gilliam's "Tideland" yet, but it's steadily rising in my Netflix queue and might even get here this weekend. Meanwhile, Connelly managed to get his hands on Terry Gilliam and Charles McKeown's script for "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus."

I don't want to give too much away, since after all it's not my scoop, but this one sounds just deliciously bizarre, even by Gilliam's standards. Dr. Parnassus is apparently a traveling magician/snake oil salesman. His trick is that lucky (or not-so-lucky) volunteers can enter and explore his mind, hence "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus." Just to give you a few more details, it turns out that Dr. Parnassus has made a bet with the devil himself, about whether people are more likely to choose the power of the imagination or the lure of material things, so when they enter the "imaginarium" they come to a fork in the road and have to make that choice.

There's a lot more crazy stuff going on that I don't want to reveal, but it all sounds like vintage Gilliam. If you want to learn more, and be warned that there are some more spoilers, you can read Connelly's full script review here.

A look at Pixar's "Wall-E"

Just as Connelly is obsessed with Gilliam, Jim Hill has a singular obsession with all things Pixar and Disney, which has landed him early word about what's going on with Pixar's 2008 release "Wall-E."

Though there are many promising movies coming out this summer, I have to say I'm most excited about Brad Bird's "Ratatouille." Following that on Pixar's slate will be "Wall-E," being directed by "Finding Nemo" helmer Andrew Stanton, and then "Toy Story 3," with a script by "Little Miss Sunshine" scribe Michael Arndt.

According to Jim Hill's spy, "Wall-E" begins in the year 2700, with humans having abandoned the planet Earth after turning it into an orbiting toxic waste dump. As Earthlings circle their former home aboard a giant spaceship, robots are dispatched to clean up their mess. It turns out, however, that the robots were extremely inept, and all except one, our hero Wall-E, has stopped operating.

Over the many years he is the only robot on Earth, Wall-E develops strange powers of curiosity about the planet's former inhabitants. Eventually, an advanced model called EVE is dispatched to Earth to find an important object, and Wall-E, of course, falls in love (remember folks, it's a cartoon, so there's nothing wrong with a little robot love.) When she's recalled to her mothership, Wall-E latches on for a wild ride.

The rest of the movie has Wall-E encountering the remaining humans, who are now just fat blobs, and travelling through space. Hill describes it as a sci-fi/satire mix, and therefore definitely has me intrigued. To read all he had to say about the flick at Jim Hill Media, click here.

Already an "Others" remake?

The Weinsteins have done little to impress me since severing ties with Miramax, but now they're getting downright frightening.

Even before most Americans (including me) have gotten the chance to see Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner "The Lives of Others," the bros. Weinstein have renewed their deal with Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella's Mirage company. Included in this deal will be immediate work on an English-language remake of "The Lives of Others."

Did I miss something here? Are we really so scared of subtitles that we need to have every great European movie dumbed down for us? Probably so, but that still doesn't keep me from getting mad as hell.

First Ron Howard gets his hand on "Cache," and now this. Where and when will this madness stop?