Monday, April 30, 2007

Food and movies: The perfect combo

Though it's not really a movie about food at all, I was inspired to think about this list after reading that adorable Isla Fisher will star in the upcoming flick "The Cookie Queen."

Fisher, who falls in that category of women I'll watch do just about anything on a movie screen, is just one solid movie from becoming a major star, and this one may be it. In it she plays Claire "Cookie" Taylor, who holds the all-time record for selling Girl Scout cookies. When a fifth-grader threatens to end her 20-year reign, Fisher's character sets out to sabotage her. Not sure why, but I find movies about being mean to children, when they're well-written, to be very funny.

But enough about that. Today is all about movies and food, two of my favorite subjects, so here goes.

Tampopo
If you can have spaghetti Westerns, why not a noodle Western? (Spaghetti was invented in China anyway, I believe.) Director Juzo Itami shows his love for not only Westerns but also gangster flicks in this very funny comedy about one man's quest to open a fast-food noodle shop.

Mostly Martha
Before this one becomes an American romantic comedy this summer starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Aaron Eckhart and young Abigail Breslin, do yourself a favor and rent the original German flick. In it, a headstrong chef has to take in her equally stubborn 8-year-old niece, and also begins knocking boots with an Italian chef. It's all much better than I make it sound here, believe me.

Big Night
I recently watched this again after my former fellow cubicle slave Dan Maley gave me a CD full of Louis Prima songs, which is just perfection. Even more fun than his silly songs is seeing Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub as two battling brothers who run a struggling Italian restaurant on the Jersey shore in the '50s.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
If nothing else, this flick from Peter Greenaway proves that food can be used for very disgusting ends on a movie screen. It also proves, of course, that Helen Mirren, Michel Gambon and Richard Boehringer are fantastic actors, and that Greenaway can find beauty in even the most decadently savage scenarios.

Bend It Like Beckham
OK, not a food movie per se, but it's one of my favorites, so just bear with me. Director Gurinder Chadha shows how important the making of "Indian dinner" is to the family of our heroine, played by Parminder Nagra, with great comedic effect. In one of the silliest DVD extras of all time, she also shows you how to make aloo gobi, which, if I remember correctly, is some kind of Indian chicken dish.

Chef!
Of the shows that PBS used to show (and still might, I'm not sure) on Saturday nights, this and "Waiting for God" were always my favorites. Lenny Henry plays Gareth Blackstock, who runs "Le Chateau Anglaise" with a great culinary touch but the people skills of a dimwit.

Babette's Feast
Few movies celebrate the virtues of the gourmet meal with more verve than this flick from director Gabriel Axel. When the titular Babette arrives in a small village in Denmark and shows the locals what they've been missing out on, it's a delight to behold.

Delicatessen
Before Jean-Pierre Jeunet made the adorable "Amelie," he teamed up with Marc Caro to director this perfectly black comedy about cannibalism. I'm not sure what it says it about me that now two movies on this list are about people eating people, but trust me that this flick is great.

Diner
I'm not sure exactly how big a role food played in this one, but it's just about the funniest movie to ever take place in Baltimore, so it had to make the list. Steve Gutenberg (yes, him) is hilarious, as are Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, Timothy Daly, Kevin Bacon and others. If you haven't seen this gem already, there's probably nothing I can say to convince you to break down and just do it.

Simply Irresistible
OK, I know, there is not one single standard by which you could call this a great movie, and probably not even a good one. However, as lighter-than-air fare perfect for Saturday afternoon TV, it just perfectly fits the bill. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays a chef who finds out she has magic powers, or something like that, and then uses them to pitch woo. It's even sillier than it sounds here, but I have to confess I enjoyed it.

And there you have it. Hopefully you found something to watch here, and please feel free to add any I might have missed. Peace out.

Friday, April 27, 2007

More "X-Men"? Yes, please

Finally, something that can erase the nightmarish memory of Ratner's "X-3." With "Wolverine" already in the works with Hugh Jackman as the steel-clawed mutant, now comes the inevitable word that "Magneto" will soon follow.

First, the obvious bad news: Since this is the story of how Magneto became Magneto, Sir Ian McKellen will probably only make a brief appearance, if at all. That means some young dude to be named later will land a great role.

The movie will be directed by David Goyer, who along with writing all three "Blade" movies also wrote the script for a little movie some of you may have heard of called "Batman Begins." He also, apparently, has a movie called "The Invisible" coming out in this weekend's pre-"Spider-Man 3" dumping ground. I can solemnly swear to you I won't be going to see it.

The story of Magneto, however, is just cool. Magneto comes to grips with his mutant ability to manipulate metal objects as he and his parents try to survive in Auschwitz. He meets Professor Xavier when the good prof. is a soldier liberating the concentration camp.

Magneto hones his powers by hunting down and killing Nazi war criminals who tortured him, and his lust for vengeance turns Xavier and Magneto into enemies. It's hard for me to see how Goyer could screw up a story this good, but it's certainly been done before.

And, for my money, the world needs more movies about villians. As commenter Jonathan mentioned the other day, a sequel to "Unbreakable" featuring Sam Jackson's Mr. Glass is what the world really needs, but if "Magneto" is all we can get for now, I'll take it.

Ivana Baquero sets English debut

The promising young star of "Pan's Labyrinth," Ivana Baquero, will soon start work on her first English-language film.

Baquero will star in the title role of Gold Circle Films' "The New Daughter." Written by John Travis and based on a short story by horror-thriller writer John Connolly, the story follows a single dad who has moved his two children to a remote farm where a strange mound in the surrounding fields appears to be the key to his daughter's increasingly ominous behavior.

Sounds like it could be more of the generic "horror" that now pollutes our multiplexes or a throwback to the old Stephen King flicks. Here's hoping it moves toward the latter, and young Ms. Baquero gets a winner.

Quentin Tarantino taking on slavery?

According to the great Filmick blog, QT had this to say to London's Telegraph about a 'Southern':

I want to explore something that really hasn't been done. I want to do movies that deal with America's horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they're genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it's ashamed of it, and other countries don't really deal with because they don't feel they have the right to. But I can deal with it all right, and I'm the guy to do it. So maybe that's the next mountain waiting for me.

Modest much, Quentin? Ego aside, this could be really good or horrendously awful, but if he actually did it I'm sure it at least wouldn't be boring. Somehow, though, I get the feeling this was just him talking out of his posterior in his constant quest for attention. Stay tuned to this one.

Two fun pictures

Here, courtesy of, respectively, Cinempire.com and Iwatchstuff, are two great pictures to get your Friday started with a smile. The first is of Javier Bardem in a scene from the Coen Bros. movie "No Country for Old Men," which will be in competition at this year's Cannes fest.

The second is apparently a picture of Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in a scene from Todd Haynes' upcoming "I'm Not There." If you tell me you could tell that by looking at the pic, I'm not sure I can believe you, because I thought it had to be a still from "Don't Look Back." This flick is just gonna be wild.



The origins of Hot Fuzz?

According to Filmick, this clip from British TV starring Bill Bailey and Simon Pegg was directed by Edgar Wright. Though the video is of understandably horrendous quality, you can definitely see the origins of Nicholas Angel in Pegg's hilarious pursuit of a missing piece of luggage. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Summer movies already?

With Spider-Man 3 here next week, the answer, amazingly, is yes.

And with Transformers, ogres, pirates and even Bruce Willis back for more, there's a lot of giants roaming around. Here are some others I'm looking forward to, although many will fall far short of that stature. Feel free to let me know of any I'm missing out on.

May 2: Waitress
Before she was murdered in her apartment last fall, Adrienne Shelly managed to direct this seemingly charming little movie starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion. If it indeed does play wide enough to reach my little corner of the world, it will probably only be because Hollywood is convinced that we Southerners just can't get enough of Andy Griffith (and they're right.)

May 4: Away From Her
Canadian Sarah Polley, who I've adored ever since "The Sweet Hereafter," makes her directorial debut with this tale about the effect of Alzheimer's disease on a couple who have been married for 50 years.

May 11: 28 Weeks Later
The presence of Robert Carlyle and Harold Perrineau are enough to give me hope that, even without Danny Boyle in the director's chair, this zombie sequel won't somehow just suck hard.

The Ex
Frankly, I think I've reached my limit with Zach Braff confused-young-man movies, but this one does have a stellar cast with Amanda Peet, Jason Bateman, Mia Farrow and Charles Grodin. Braff plays an underachiever who is forced to take the one job he doesn’t want – working for his father-in-law – after his wife becomes pregnant and quits her high-paying job.

May 18: The Wendell Baker Story
If we can't get a Wes Anderson flick any time soon, this appears to be the next best thing. Written by Luke and Andrew Wilson, it stars all three Wilson dudes and Seymour Cassell, Eva Mendes, Harry Dean Stanton and Kris Kristofferson. According to the IMDB, "Luke Wilson plays a good-hearted ex-con who gets a job in a retirement hotel. Three elderly residents help him win back his girlfriend (Eva Mendes) as he lends them a hand in fighting hotel corruption."

June 1: Knocked Up
The summer of Seth Rogen officially begins with this Judd Apatow comedy about a one-night stand that turns into a whole lot more for Rogen and the adorable Katherine Heigl. I have it on good authority from Yahoo! Movie Mom Nell Minow that Paul Rudd steals the show in this one.

June 22: A Mighty Heart
Sure, it has possibly the worst movie title ever, and all the publicity so far has been about how many children Angelina has managed to adopt during the filming, but I still have hope that this flick about slain journalist Daniel Pearl will turn out to be good. Why? Director Michael Winterbottom. Nuff said.

June 27: You Kill Me
Director John Dahl returns with an offbeat love story that sounds right up his alley. Ben Kingsley stars as a hitman from Buffalo who is sent to the West Coast to dry out. He attends AA meetings, gets a sponsor and lands a job in a mortuary, where he meets a woman who is a relative of one his hits.

June 29: Ratatouille
I believe this Pixar offering, from "Iron Giant" director Brad Bird, has been pushed up a week to avoid being mauled by those giant car/robots. After being rather disappointed with "Cars," I'm confident Bird will make this solidly entertaining for both adults and kids.

July 4: Rescue Dawn
This Werner Herzog flick looks like a true oddity. A fictional remake of one Herzog's own documentaries, "Little Dieter Wants to Fly," it stars Christian Bale as a U.S. fighter pilot who struggles to survive after being shot down in a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War. And amazingly, this is listed as playing wide.

July 13: Talk To Me
Count this one as my hope for sleeper hit of the summer, though it seems unlikely. Kasi Lemmons ("Eve's Bayou") makes a return to directing with the true story of Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene (Don Cheadle), an outspoken ex-con who talked his way into becoming an iconic radio personality in the 1960s in Washington, D.C. Chiwetel Ejiofor's on board too, so this one should just be great.

July 20: Milos Forman's Goya's Ghosts
A Goya biopic in the middle of July? Sheesh. Scheduling aside, this one boasts a great cast, with Javier Bardem as Goya plus Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard.

July 27: No Reservations
I wouldn't have included this one at all if I hadn't seen the German (if I remember right) movie it was based on, "Mostly Martha," and found it to be charming. Catherine Zeta Jones and Aaron Eckhart star in the American remake about a hard-charging lady chef who finally takes time out of her busy schedule to cook up some lovin'. Sounds cheesy, but it might work.

The Simpsons Movie
Please, please, please just let this be funny. The few clips I've seen so far say it will be.

Aug. 3: The Bourne Ultimatum
Paul Greengrass returns with Matt Damon for what should be the end of the Bourne saga. Let the spy games begin.

Hot Rod
In premise at least, this has the potential to be very funny. Self-proclaimed stuntman Rod Taylor (Andy Samberg) is preparing for the jump of his life. Rod plans to clear 15 buses in an attempt to raise money for his abusive stepfather Frank's life-saving heart operation. He'll land the jump, get Frank better, and then fight him, hard. I was laughing already reading that, so this better be good.

Resurrecting the Champ
This makes the list on the strength of Samuel L. Jackson alone, because the movie itself just sounds pretty damn sappy. In this Rod Lurie flick, an up-and-coming sports reporter (Josh Hartnett, meh) befriends and rescues a homeless man (Jackson), only to find out he was once a champion boxer. I think you can see where this is going.

Aug. 17: Superbad
Call it the summer of Seth Rogan, chapter two. Rogen wrote the script for this tale about two teenagers (Arrested Development's Michael Cera is one of them) on an epic quest: To score some beer and maybe even some chicks. I guarantee this will be very funny.

Penelope
Christina Ricci and James McAvoy (double huzzah) star in what's described as "a modern day offbeat fable about a young woman who, having spent her life trapped by a family curse, sets out to find love and discover her true self. Not my kind of thing, but I'll watch Christina Ricci do just about anything.

Wedding Daze
Man, are there a lot of romantic comedies this summer. This one, however, springs from the mind of the very funny Micheal Ian Black and stars utterly adorable Isla Fisher, so there may be hope for it (then again, it does also star Jason Biggs, unfortunately.) Here's the plot: After losing the woman of his dreams, Anderson (Biggs) is convinced he'll never fall in love again. But at the urging of his best friend, he spontaneously proposes to a dissatisfied waitress named Katie (Fisher) and an innocent dare evolves into ... well, I can only assume, lovin'.

Aug. 31: The Brothers Solomon
Check the date: Aug. 31 (my brother's birthday) means this list has come to an end. Arrested Development alumnus Will Arnett and Will Forte star as a pair of well-meaning but socially inept brothers who try to find their perfect mates in order to provide their dying father with a grandchild.

And there you have it. What movies are you really excited about seeing this summer? Feel free to let me know, and have an entirely nonsucky day.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Joe Strummer, "punk rock warlord"

I don't know how I managed to let it slip by me that the most important musician of the last 30 years or so (dispute that if you want to) is the subject of a new documentary from Sex Pistols chronicler Julien Temple.

A documentary, thankfully, and not a biopic. The Joe Strummer documentary "The Future is Unwritten" apparently made its debut at the last Sundance Film Festival and will play to those of you lucky enough to live in big cities on May 18. From watching the trailer, I get the sense that, though it will have some of the obligatory talking heads (did it really have to be Bono?), what you'll get, thankfully, is a lot of Joe himself.

XFM, as the trailer proudly boasts, has declared it to be the best music movie of all time. I'll withhold judgment, but here's my admittedly short and incomplete list of favorite punk-rock movies, a much more interesting subgenre anyway.

Another State of Mind
In 1990, Social Distortion just about ruled the world, and why not? Everyone I know burned a hole in their cassette of that self-titled album with "Ball and Chain" and their take on "Ring of Fire." Before these good times, however, Mike Ness and the boys went on a cross-country bus tour with Youth Brigade, and luckily the cameras were rolling. If you can find this one, it's a classic.

The Decline of Western Civilization
The title may overstretch a bit, but this great Penelope Spheeris movie does chronicle the end of the golden age of L.A. punk. There's lots of fun stuff here, particularly from Darby Crash and Alice Bag. This one is worth watching simply for Exene Cervenka's very accurate prediction about what happens when the anger boils over.

1991 - The Year Punk Broke
Despite the fact that Thurston Moore acts like a git through much of this one, it's still an entertaining view of what came in punk's wake. I think you can still find this one on DVD. If you went to college in the 90s or were just a fan of the music, it's best for its live Reading Festival footage of Nirvana, Sonic Youth and more.

We Jam Econo
Like the Minutemen themselves, this recent documentary about the L.A. hardcore giants makes its point very efficiently. If you liked the band, you'll love the second disc in the DVD set, 90 minutes of the Minutemen live in top form.

X-The Unheard Music
Though there are many punk bands I love, there were none better than X, and in punk documentaries, there's none better than "The Unheard Music." There's a lot of great live footage, but what makes this work is the sense you get of what drove Exene, John Doe, Billy Zoom and DJ Bonebrake to create their brand of cowpunk. Required viewing for any fan.

The Pixies - Loud/Quiet/Loud
How could a band whose members clearly can't stand to be in same room together off-stage make such beautiful music while on it? This recent documentary about the Pixies' reunion tour doesn't quite answer the question, but it comes close with an all-access backstage pass. Frank Black is one moody MF.

And there you have it. There are plenty more, but unfortunately, no amount of loud, angry music can erase the fact that I have to go work and therefore stop now. Please feel free to add any I have overlooked. I did, however, promise you a trailer for "The Future is Unwritten," so here it is. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Can the world ever have too many Coen Bros. movies?

In case anyone's wavering, the anwer, for me at least, is a resounding no. And luckily for their many fans, the bros. are seemingly now more than active than ever before.

Though plot details are extremely scant, it's just been announced that the brothers have signed on to write, produce and direct "A Serious Man" for Focus Features and Working Title. It's described only as "a dark comedy in the vien of 'Fargo'," but that's good enough to get me hooked.

Long before that, we should be getting two other Coen Bros. flicks that sound just as good. It was announced last Thursday that their take on Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men" will be in competition this year at Cannes. The flick set to star Woody Harrelson, Javier Bardem, Stephen Root (huzzah!) and many others is now scheduled for a fall release in the U.S.

The brothers are also in preproduction on "Burn After Reading" described as a spy caper about a CIA agent who is writing a book and loses the disc. George Clooney will play a killer unleashed on the spy's trail, so I have to assume that the recently announced Brad Pitt will play the spy. And, of course, the always-welcome Frances McDormand will figure in here somehow too.

Whew. That's a lot of work to even write about, but I can only say bring it all on.

No Fletch for Braff

As a devoted fan of the "Fletch" movies, I've been off and on both skeptical and excited about the planned prequel in the works from "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence.

On the one hand, "Scrubs" is consistently very funny, so I'm confident he can come up with a good script and shepherd it through. Who would play Fletch, however, is a troubling question. Now, at least, we know it won't be Zach Braff.

"Zach is writing and directing his own film ['Open Hearts'] at Paramount," says Lawrence, who's currently in New York searching for a new Fletch. "I'm very happy for him. We were looking forward to doing this thing together, but when you get an opportunity like that, you've got to take it."

The two will still work together on the seventh and final season of "Scrubs," but now the search is on for a new Fletch. I would certainly champion Jason Lee, and Brendon over at the great Film Ick blog came up with two other possibilities, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Jason Schwartzman. Anyone have any more ideas?

Pegg and Dunst set to alienate people

If I'm translating this right, and that's always a dodgy bet, the fine folks over at my favorite froggy film site, Cinempire.com, are reporting that Kirsten Dunst and Simon Pegg are set to star in "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People."

This may be old news to the rest of the world, but it was new to me, and the story sounds great. It's based on the memoirs of Toby Young, who as a magazine journalist in New York employed any means necessary to cozy up to all sorts of celebrities. Pegg will play Young, and he should just be a hoot doing it. Dunst will play a fellow journalist for Vanity Fair.

In even more interesting but depressing news, Dunst also revealed, I think, that she will be playing Debbie Harry in the upcoming biopic about Blondie's leading lady. I can't see any way this would work, but I've been wrong at least once before. My choice, for both look and overall appeal, would be Sarah Polley.

Congrats to Marti Noxon

I don't watch "Grey's Anatomy," but I wanted to mention this any way out of longtime love for Marti Noxon and her work running "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Noxon, who has played a big role with "Grey's" this season, has just been named the show runner for the "Grey's" spinoff set to hit ABC this fall. It will star Kate Walsh, Tim Daly, Taye Diggs and Amy Brenneman, and presumably take place in a hospital of some sort. Congrats, Marti.

International Harry Potter trailer

Whew! It's been a longer post than I planned today, so anyone who got this far deserves a reward. Here, for all you Potter fans, is the international trailer for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" in gloriously democratic YouTube. Imelda Staunton, because it is apparently her birthright as a British actress, has joined the cast this time, and is clearly having fun. Enjoy, and have an entirely bearable Tuesday.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

All hail Hot Fuzz


Nicholas Angel: We have to do something, Frank's appointed himself as Judge, Jury and Executioner.
Danny Butterman: He is not Judge Judy and Executioner!


Just in case anyone thinks I was crazy enough to drive more than three hours round-trip just to see this movie, well, you're almost right. I did drive that far to see "Hot Fuzz," but to make it worth the trip, I met up with some old friends for a day of record shopping, lunch, the movie and then a couple of drinks at Athens' Manhattan Lounge (but only a couple, I did have to drive a ways to get home.)

And, all in all, it was a nearly perfect day with a nearly perfect movie at the middle of it. As I was watching Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's very witty "Hot Fuzz," part of me couldn't help but hope it would fail here in the U.S. (and it just might be predestined to do so with its ridiculously limited release.) Don't get me wrong: I hope just about everyone sees this razor-sharp spoof of cop movies, I just fear what will come in its wake.

Though "Hot Fuzz" is superior to "Scary Movie" and any of the spoof "comedies" that came after it, I'm still so permanently scarred by sitting through "Date Movie" that I fear any success for "Hot Fuzz" will just create another wave of these duds (Seriously, did anyone else see "Date Movie"? If you did, can you recall even one funny moment in the entire movie?) But back to "Hot Fuzz."

The two reasons it succeeds so well where these others mostly failed is that it's singular in its focus on the buddy-cop genre of movies ("Point Break" and "Bad Boys II" in particular come in for some overly telegraphed but still very funny hits), and it's just laugh-out-loud funny throughout (as the very loud laugher in front of me proved.)

Until its appropriately over-the-top big finish, "Hot Fuzz" unfolds on a very slow burn. Simon Pegg plays Sergeant Nicholas Angel, a supercop whose extreme competence gets him reassigned from London to Sandford, a k a West bumfuck. Once there he gets paired up with a dimwitted bumbler (Nick Frost, of course), and together they uncover proof that even in the middle of nowhere life isn't always quite what it seems to be.

In this buildup, a lot of the humor (like in the slightly superior "Shaun of the Dead") comes from perfectly timed and very bloody gore. Be warned: Seeing a chunk of a church tower take the place of a reporter's head is particularly gruesome, but very funny.

And Pegg and Frost just keep getting better as the movie goes along. Pegg plays it extremely straight and gets his best laughs in the kind of earnest speeches that serve as high drama in the flicks "Hot Fuzz" takes down. Anyone who doubts Simon Pegg is one of the funniest dudes in the world needs only to watch "M:I:III," which had almost no (intentional) laughs until his five-minute stint near the end that was just hilarious. And Nick Frost plays dumb smarter than anyone I can think of.

None of this would work, of course, if there weren't a ridiculously sinister plot to uncover. I won't tell you what it is, but it's helped along by Jim Broadbent, who I most like watching when he's clearly having fun, as he was here. I haven't liked him so much since "Topsy Turvy." Timothy Dalton is also a hoot as the requisite "Prime Suspect," grocer Simon Skinner.

My only real beef with the setup was that Edgar Wright adapted some of the editing techniques of the movies he was making fun of. The jump-cutting between scenes reminded me, God forbid, of "Domino."

And the big finish is appropriately insane, starting with Simon Pegg riding into town on a white horse and strapped with enough artillery to arm a small militia. I didn't stop laughing throughout this barrage of bullets and bulls-eye jokes.

After it settles down, however, the movie goes on at least 10 minutes too long with a couple too many endings, my only other beef. It's like the record I had bought a few hours earlier, "Rabbit Fur Coat" by Jenny Lewis and the Watson twins. It's really my kind of pop record, three women with beautiful voices singing fractured love songs. But then Jenny had to go and ruin it with a thoroughly unnecessary remake of the Traveling Wilburys' "Handle With Care" (a duet, I believe, with Mr. Bright Eyes Conor Oberst.) Like the ending of "Hot Fuzz," it was just forgettable filler.

But, also like the ending of this very funny flick, it wasn't nearly enough to ruin the overall product. Do yourself a favor and go see "Hot Fuzz" already.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Oxford American Southern Movie Issue, take two

For the last week or so, I've been going to the mailbox every day expecting to get what the U.S. government apparently owes me in excess taxes. I still haven't gotten that, but yesterday's arrival almost as good as that fat check.

In 2002, the Oxford American magazine (no longer based in Oxford, Miss., mind you, but still going) published its first Southern movie (not film, of course) issue. It was a pretty good read, but left definite room for improvement. Now they've finally come up with the second (pictured at right), and having read more than a third of it just last night, I can certify it's a must-own for movie lovers.

I'd have trouble recommending a $9.95 magazine to anyone if the writing weren't so good. Here's a list of some of the highlights:

Roy Blount Jr. on the wit and wisdom of Madea
Bonne and Clyde - the movie vs. reality
John Ford's Vision of the South
Dancing in the Dark: Race, Sex the South and Exploitative cinema
An interview with Charles Burnett, director of "Killing of Sheep" (man, do I want to see that movie!)
A tribute to Paul Newman as the ultimate impostor

And that's just what I've been able to read thus far. There are two other pieces that alone would alone make it worth the ten bucks. The first is a very funny piece by actor/director and Adel, Ga., native Ray McKinnon titled "How to Act: It Ain't Brain Surgery But ..." In it, the director of the great short film "The Accountant" and the upcoming "Randy and the Mob" starring Burt Reynolds, answers such burning questions as "But if it's so complicated, why can kids do it?"

The second, even better reason to buy this issue is the Southern movie guide, which recommends 13 documentaries about the South, many of which I haven't seen. I highly urge you to buy the mag and read about them, but purely for rental purposes here are the 13 titles they chose: Born for Hard Luck; Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment; A Well Spent Life; The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia; The Devil and Daniel Johnston (huzzah!); Country Boys; The Trials of Darryl Hunt; Deep Blues; Shakespeare Behind Bars; Harlan County, U.S.A.; When the Levee Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (double huzzah!); Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, and Bright Leaves.

And finally, there's an accompanying DVD with scenes from movies featured in the issue, plus a few short films. But enough from me. Just buy it already, and have a great weekend.

P.S. I'll be going to Athens to see some buds and to see "Hot Fuzz" Saturday, and then will hopefully see "The Hoax" Sunday, so please feel free to check back for reviews of both. Peace out.

P.P.S.: A note to anyone in Macon. First Presbyterian Day student Tim Hall has accomplished more than I probably ever will on screen by making his first film, called "The Last Goodbye." He's showing it tonight at the school from 8 to 9, so check it out if you get a chance.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Can BET become an original programming powerhouse?

Reginald Hudlin knew that was his challenge when he took over as president of entertainment for BET. And, much to his credit, it looks like the answer may, someday, be yes.

At BET's upfront presentation Wednesday night, Hudlin (pictured) unveiled an ambitious slate of 16 new series that pack some real star power. And, though there's a lot of the same reality crap that pollutes the airwaves already, there's also some really promising stuff in the works.

One highlight is BET's first original sitcom, "Somebodies," adapted from the indie movie of the same name that premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Written and directed by Hadjii, the 10 half-hour episodes, which premiere in the fall, will explore a group of University of Georgia graduates (huzzah!) who are trying to figure out what to do with their lives. I'll tune for at least a few of these to see what's up.

I have to say I've found Orlando Jones to be funny exactly once, when he played that magazine salesman in "Office Space," but his BET project could actually be cool. The show, "Bufu," will be an animated sketch-comedy half-hour created and voiced by Jones and Ali LeRoi ("Everybody Hates Chris."). Both of these premiere in the fall.

In two even more promising animated offerings, Vin Diesel will executive produce (Is Vin Diesel black? Oops, I digress) an animated series about Hannibal, due in 2008, and Will Smith's Overlook Entertainment will produce "Cipha," animated sci-fi series "set in a future world where hip-hop is outlawed ... to shut down the voices of youth," according to BET (sounds particularly timely to me.)

Sadly, D.L. Hughley's getting in to the reality game with "S.O.B.," kicking off in July. It's a reality show that'll "use hidden cameras to test the value systems of people," said Hudlin. One scene shows the reaction of the staff and patrons of a segregated restaurant when a black couple try to get served.

There's a lot more reality garbage (do you get the sense I have no time for the genre?), but there's also one more series that sounds promising. "Judge Mooney" will feature the extremely funny Paul Mooney in a sendup of those judge shows that somehow never die, a test of how funny he is now that he's a self-described "recovering n-word-aholic" (my money's on him succeeding.)

BET already turned a corner earlier this year when it began airing HBO's "The Wire," which I'm currently going back through and enjoying all over again. It's easily one of the best cop shows around, and it gave the network an instant injection of class. Here's hoping Mr. Hudlin can keep that train rolling.

New plan for Coen's "Men"

Apparently Tarantino and Rodriguez aren't the only two filmmakers who get whatever they want from the studios that back their flicks.

On the eve of the expected addition of the new Coen Bros. flick, "No Country for Old Men," to the Cannes lineup (the official roster comes out today), it was announced that Paramount Vantage and Miramax Films will change course and release the film in the U.S. in fall rather than in August, as originally planned (Miramix will handle the domestic run, while Paramount gets international.)

"The Coens felt strongly about going in the fall," explained Par Vantage president John Lesher, who had tried to talk the brothers into an August release along the lines of "The Constant Gardener." "These are great directors at the top of their game. It's a really good, muscular movie that works well with older men; it's violent and visceral. The fall is a long time to wait."

Well, I'm quickly becoming an older man who likes muscular movies, and I certainly can wait a few more months to see what the Coens do with this Cormac McCarthy noir Western.

Two quick moments of zen

With all apologies to Jon Stewart, here are two things I thought might make everyone laugh:

1. The director of the movie "Vacancy," which I will not be seeing, is apparently named Nimrod. Nimrod Antal, to be precise, but it just sounds so much better as simply Nimrod.

2. There's a sequel of sorts in the works to Stephen Chow's sublimely silly "Shaolin Soccer." Though Chow is involved as a producer, this will apparently be a Japanese movie, to be directed by Motohiro Katsuyuki and titled "Shorin Shojo" (roughly translated, "Shaolin Girl.") The lovely actress Shibasaki Ko (strictly as a public service, I've of course included her picture) will star as Rin, who returns to Japan after undergoing nine years of training in order to take over her grandfather’s Shaolin kung-fu dojo in China and ends up helping out a sport science university’s lacrosse team. Chow regulars Lam Tze Chung and Kai Man Tin are lined up to appear.

Shaolin lacrosse? Trust me, I couldn't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mad as hell about Hot Fuzz

I realize there have to be more important things to get irate about, but like Eric Cartman says, "well, I'm pissed off, how the hell are you?"

As I was watching TV last night (the Braves game and a great "Gilmore Girls" episode), I must have seen at least 10 commercials for "Hot Fuzz," a movie I've been wanting to see since I first heard of it what seems like three years ago.

These commercials, which featured, among other great things, Simon Pegg doing a flying dropkick on an old lady, promised one very important thing: That "Hot Fuzz" opens EVERYWHERE this Friday.

EVERYWHERE, that is, except in Macon, Georgia, apparently. I probably should have seen this coming, but didn't. I mean we got "Shaun of the Dead" after all, albeit only months after the rest of world had found out just how funny it was.

So, what are we getting? Three movies I won't bother to see and one that genuinely intrigues me, though I can't figure out how in the world it got here. They are:

Fracture: I like Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling just fine, but this looks like a fairly predictable psychological thriller.

Vacancy: I already have trouble going to sleep in hotel rooms, so this one is just too creepy for me.

In the Land of Women: Still not exactly sure what this one is, but it has to be odd if it stars Adam Brody, Meg Ryan and Olympia Dukakis. It's the writing and directing debut of Jonathan Kasdan, apparently.

Hoax: This was unexpected, since it's not even on the movie release schedule at Yahoo movies, but I'm definitely gonna go see it, probably Sunday. Richard Gere stars as Clifford Irving, who managed to publish an "autobiography" of Howard Hughes. Lasse Halstrom directs and Alfred Molina's also along for the ride, so this should definitely be fun.

But, I digress. April was supposed to be quite possibly the greatest geek movie month ever. First came "Grindhouse," which despite it's utter failure at the box office delivered on its promise for me.

From there, however, it has just sucked. The next two movies I wanted to see before "Spiderman 3" launches the summer blitz were "Hot Fuzz" and Danny Boyle's "Sunshine." Well, to paraphrase, the soup nazi, "No movies for you." "Sunshine" has been pushed back to who knows when in the U.S.

As for "Hot Fuzz," I'm so mad I can hardly keep typing. I may just have to make a pilgrimage to Athens, 90 minutes up the road, to see it. Maybe I'll make a weekend of it, look up some old friends and just have a great time in my favorite college town.

But I shouldn't have too, dammit. OK, rant over. For anyone who bothered to stick with me, here's a reward. It's "Hot Fuzz," of course, the best trailer I could find at YouTube, introduced by the lads themselves. Enjoy, and rest assured that I'm really a fairly stable person, most of the time.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Demko's loaded DVD shelf

I know I'm far from alone in declaring the genius of "The Larry Sanders Show," but I'll go ahead and do it anyway.

Garry Shandling, before he lost at least some of his mind and retreated to his California mansion to meditate (seriously, apparently), created easily one of the funniest TV shows ever. He also pushed HBO toward its position as a leader in original series and, partly because he's also apparently a royal jerk, rarely gets the credit he deserves.

Though some day we'll surely get a box set of this great show-about-a-show, for now we'll have to settle for this week's definite DVD pick of the week, "Not Just The Best of The Larry Sanders Show."

In case you somehow missed out on the Larry Sanders wave, allow me to catch you up. Shandling plays the very neurotic host of a late-night talk show, and he's joined by the equally funny Jeffrey Tambor as sidekick Hank "Hey Now" Kingsley and Rip Torn in full bluster as the producer Artie. You also got, at various points in the show's seven-year run, great contributions from co-stars including Janeane Garofalo, Jeremy Piven, Scott Thompson and others.

But what, for me at least, really makes this the pick of the week is one of the many supplements, a series of interviews in which Sanders, with his hand-held camera, tracked down many of the show's regulars and guest stars to apologize to them for how he treated them during the show's run. Among the stars he tracks down to make amends with are Jerry Seinfeld, Alec Baldwin, Sharon Stone, David Duchovny, Carol Burnett, Jon Stewart and Tom Petty. To read a great article in the New York Times about his singular obsession, click here.

Like everyone, I've become increasingly cynical about the release (or in the case of "The Lary Sanders Show," the lack of release) of DVDs, but this is one set for which I'll take the plunge.

The Last King of Scotland
Forest Whitaker was a very worthy Oscar winner for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in this flick, but it has many other things going in its favor. James McAvoy is great as the doctor who is willingly duped into supporting Amin's bloody reign, and the total effect is scarier than almost anything that's passed off as horror nowadays. For my full review way back when, click here.

Notes on a Scandal
Dame Helen Mirren was also an extremely worthy Oscar winner this year, but Dame Dench's performance in this perfectly trashy tale was enough to at least make me pause to think about it. She plays the public school teacher who sets her sights on co-worker Cate Blanchett with relish, and you won't be sure whether to pity or fear her, or more likely both. Again, for my full review, click here.

Live from Austin, Texas
The live-music series continues with a set from Guy Clark, a true Texas storyteller and running mate of the late Townes Van Zandt. Definitely at least well worth a rental.

DOG OF THE WEEK - DON'T BUY THIS ONE

Smokin' Aces
I have mad love for the movie "Narc," so I had high hopes for this mess of a movie from Joe Carnahan, but it's just a dud. I love my stylized violence as much as the next dude, but is just a little story that makes sense or one character to relate to too much to ask? To read what I had to say about it back then, click here.

So, there you have it. An inside look at easily one of my favorite TV shows, two great movies and a live shot of Guy Clark. Sounds like a solid week to me. Peace out.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Silly but good soundtracks

With two weeks down in this new baseball season, the Baltimore Orioles don't have a losing record, and that (and a big bowl of coffee) is enough to make me almost smile even though it's Monday morning.

And, for some reason, I've been thinking about soundtracks, not a subject I usually have much time for. Apart from those compiled by Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola and a few other directors who put genuine care into selecting the music for their movies, most of them just leave me cold.

That said, there are a few that I own, and can go back to again and again. I'm certain I will leave off a lot of great choices (like "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown," which I'll just assume everyone already knows about.) Please feel free to add any that I may have overlooked, or just any that are among your favorites.

The Muppet Movie
Movie soundtracks just don't get any goofier, or any better, than this one. Along with classics like "Rainbow Connection" and "Movin' Right Along," you get Gonzo singing "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday." I looked this up on Amazon.com, and they listed four copies available for $95 each. Wow.

Garden State
I'm really not sure why, but this has remained one of my favorite romantic comedies, even with its cheesy ending. I think it's because it was set in New Jersey, and because I like Zach Braff, Natalie Portman and Peter Sarsgaard so much. But it was also because of the music. Braff took great care in choosing these tracks, including two great ones from the Shins and one surprisingly good one from former Men at Work frontman Colin Hay (seriously).

O Brother Where Art Thou
An obvious choice, perhaps, given that it stayed on the Billboard top 100 chart for what seems like 20 years, but a personal favorite too. This is the only soundtrack I can think of with which you can play it and identify exactly where each song came in the movie, and therefore replay the flick in your head (yes, I know that's a little crazy, but trust me, it works.)

Hairspray
This one could be for the Broadway musical or John Waters' great movie, because they're both epicly fun listening, and I own them both. Here, though, I'm talking about the soundtrack for the flick, which contains fun ditties like "Madison Time" as well as what might be my single favorite pop song ever, Toussaint McCall's "Nothing Can Take the Place of You" (of which Kelly Hogan also does a fantastic version too.)

Once More with Feeling
OK, this one is TV, but I'm making the rules here. This soundtrack for the musical episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is surprisingly solid. You get the songs from the episode, the best of which is Xander and Anya's duet "I'll Never Tell," plus a bunch of score selections that fans of the show will recognize. Plus, the not-so-big bad for this episode was Broadway vet Hinton Battle, who really had fun with this.

Office Space
Though I would never put it on any objective list of the greatest movies of all time, it just might be the one I've seen most often. Mike Judge made gangsta rap a running motif throughout the movie with great comedic effect, and it shows through to the soundtrack. Biz Markie, the Geto Boys, Scarface and Ice Cube all make appearances, and you even get Kool Keith and a really odd disco version of "9 to 5."

The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie
Yes, I admit it, I own the soundtrack to this kiddie flick, and why not? It has Wilco and the Flaming Lips, plus the sublimely silly "Prince Paul's Bubble Party" and the simply infectious "Bikini Bottom" by Electrocute. Give it a spin before you laugh at me.

Our Little Corner of the World: Music from Gilmore Girls
Along with being able to write very sharp dialogue, Amy Sherman-Palladino seems to have a genuine geek's ear for great music. In this collection of songs from the show, you get instantly recognizable tracks like "It's a Wonderful World" sung by Joey Ramone, but also great stuff from Sam Phillips and oddities like a track by French singer Claudine Longet.

Hustle & Flow
Craig Brewer obviously loves music as much as he does movies, and he had a lot more luck with this rap flick then he did with the blues in the simply dreadful "Black Snake Moan." Three Six Mafia won an Oscar for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," easily one of the most infectious earworms I've heard, plus you get lots of other dirty South hip-hop from the likes of Trillville and Webbie.

The Royal Tenenbaums
It was hard to pick just one Wes Anderson flick, and it almost came down to "Rushmore" instead of this one. The way that Anderson was able to weave stellar songs like the Clash's "Police and Thieves" and Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time is Here" throughout the saga of the Tenenbaum clan is just perfect.

So, there you have it. Like I said, some truly silly selections, but these are the ones I really like. Please feel free to add any suggestions, because I'm always searching for new sounds.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Ewan McGregor doing porno?


Just about the only useful thing I learned in a journalism class is you should always grab people with a flashy headline, so there you go. However, as with just about everything in life, it's not quite what it seems.

According to my favorite froggy film site, Cinempire.com, Danny Boyle is finally launching into "Porno," Irvine Welsh's sequel to "Trainspotting." Given my love for the first movie I should be rejoicing, but I just can't bring myself to do it. The reason: the novel is simply a dud.

McGregor, if I have the French translated correctly, sort of agrees with me. He held out the longest among the primary players because of his doubts about the book, but now it seems he, Robert Carlyle and Ewen Bremner are all on board for this new endeavour.

For anyone unfamiliar with the novel, it takes place 10 years after "Trainspotting" and, as the title so clearly reveals, it's about the lads scheming to make a porn movie. Their leader this time is "Sick Boy," who was played with such relish in "Trainspotting" (and presumably will be again) by Jonny Lee Miller.

My beef with the book? What did I love about "Trainspotting," the book almost as much as the movie? It was filthy and funny, but it also gave us characters who, whether we could relate to them or not, we at least cared about. "Porno" nails that first trait with ease, comes close on the second and just punts on the third, making it a failure for me.

I do, however, have full faith in Danny Boyle, so will at least give this a chance if it ever comes together.

By the way, I remember seeing another movie based on an Irvine Welsh book one year at the Rehoboth Film Festival in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware (and yes, all you haters, they do actually have a great film festival in Delaware.) It was based on the "Acid House" set of stories, and it was just a real oddity, though not entirely unentertaining. All I can really remember is that it takes three stories from the book, one of them involves a dude turning into a mosquito, and Ewen Bremner is the only holdover from "Trainspotting" who was on board. Check it out if you're a fan of Welsh's view of the world.

Best movie ever?

Just imagine you're a Sony studio suit listening to the pitch for this one.

David Mamet - perhaps you've heard of him - strolls in and says he wants to make a movie based in the Jiu-Jitsu fighting world of West Los Angeles starring Chiwetel Ejiofor. That would be enough to have me hooked.

At his best - and when he wants to - Mamet makes extremely well-written movies for the masses, as this one, "Redbelt," should definitely turn out to be. In Mamet's vision, Ejiofor will star as a Jiu-Jitsu master who has eschewed prizefighting to operate a self-defense studio. When he is conned by a cabal of movie stars and fight promoters, he must enter the ring to fight in order to regain his honor.

David Mamet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jiu-Jitsu and con games? I'm definitely in.

Atonement trailer

And finally, to add a touch of class to your Friday, here's a new, extended trailer for "Atonement," based on the novel by Ian McEwan and directed by "Pride & Prejudice" helmer Joe Wright. It stars Keira Knightley, who will hopefully decide to start eating again soon, and James McAvoy. One workplace warning: Though Ms. Knightley is not nude in the shot you'll definitely take note of, it certainly appears so at first glance. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Drinky Crow is go

Tony Millionaire's cartoons certainly aren't for everyone, but if you like your humor dark, juvenile or both, you can't beat it. Here, for your enjoyment, is 30 seconds or so of the "Drinky Crow Show" coming to Cartoon Network's Adult Swim May 13, in which Uncle Gabby learns the dangers of using whale blubber to flirt with the captain's daughter. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Will you hear "Song of the South"?

In Oriole news, Jaret Wright pitched well before leaving the game with a familiar-sounding shoulder injury, but got no help at all from his offense in a 3-1 loss to the Tigers. And now, bring on the Kansas City Royals! But, in more important matters ...

With support growing from multiple corners of the Disney empire, it seems an official DVD release of "Song of the South" may finally be in the works. And long overdue, in my humble opinion.

The controversy surrounding the 1946 movie is obviously nothing new. The portrayal of Uncle Remus, for which James Baskett received a honorary Academy Award, has never sat very well with a lot of people, and I can certainly see why. Though some erroneously place the movie as being in pre-Civil War days, it actually takes place in the Reconstructionist South. That said, I can see why people object to Baskett's portrayal of Uncle Remus as an old man who is happy with his life as a plantation laborer, whistling as he works for the man.

That is, I can see it now. As a kid, when I first saw it in the theater (or so my mom tells me; I can't quite remember everything from 1972, when I was 2 years old), I saw it a lot differently. Though I have the power of denial now, there have even been reports of me dancing in the aisles to its still very good songs.

According to the fine folks at Film Buff Online, the most recent push for a DVD release came this week from Roy E. Disney, the nephew of Walt and son of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney. Speaking at the 16th Annual Philadelphia Film Festival, where he was receiving the fest’s Inspiration Award, Disney stated that a home video release of the film is overdue.

“I’ve got a bunch of cohorts working with me to convince the powers that be that it’s the smart thing to do,” Disney said. Disney’s remarks come on the heels of a statement made by current Disney President and CEO Bob Iger at the company’s annual shareholder’s meeting last month in New York City that the company was reviewing the film for a possible release.

For a movie that had as many animation innovations as it did solidly entertaining moments, "Song of the South" certainly has had a tortured past. Although Disney announced in a 1970 Variety article that it was “retiring” the movie, it did receive additional theatrical re-releases in 1972, 1981 and 1986. Home video, however, has thus far remained taboo, with an illegal bootleg of a 1980s Japanese laserdisc release of the film converted to DVD being the only means of acquiring it.

Which is a real shame. Along with the Oscar for Baskett, the movie also took home the Best Original Song prize for “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” (and I defy you to now get through the day without at least humming a few bars of that little ditty in your head.) It also featured a pioneering style of filmmaking, becoming the first (I think) movie to combine animation with live action.

And, as an adult, I can understand that the subject matter is a bit troublesome, but consider the way it looked to the little kid that still lives in me. Baskett's Uncle Remus was a charming old man who just happened to be black. He told little Johnny and Sally fascinating stories about Brer Rabbit and Joel Chandler Harris' other creations that helped them deal with their parents' separation and their new life on the plantation.

There may be more to it than that, but that's what I saw back then. I'd love to have the opportunity to watch it again as an adult, to see if there's some context I missed, but for that to happen Disney will have to open the vault for this little gem. It's definitely about time.

Henry Hill speaks

James Choi over at ifilm.com is constantly sending me e-mails about their latest videos (not a complaint, mind you.) A lot of it is not up my alley, but from time to time something does peak my interest, like this that came in yesterday.

It seems there's a documentary coming out titled "Henry Hill: Confessions of a Gangster." Now, in case anyone has forgotten, Mr. Hill is the mobster-turned-government-witness portrayed by Ray Liotta in "Goodfellas."

I was unable to find out any information about when this movie might actually come out, and the title is definitely a little misleading. To me, "confessions" would imply at least a bit of remorse, but instead it's more than a little chilling to listen to Mr. Hill recount details from his days in organized crime. Here's a video sample of what he has to say. Peace out, and have an entirely bearable Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Harvey Weinstein hates you

Well, only if you live in the middle or South of the U.S.A., but more on that later.

If you missed out on "Grindhouse," and unless the Box Office numbers are just a big hoax, many, many of you did, you may have already missed your opportunity to see it. Or at least that's what Harvey Weinstein wants you to believe.

Personally, I think he's just full of ... . He knows that $12 million is embarrassing no matter how you spin it, so he's threatening to do something asinine in an attempt to make a highly unlikely week-two comeback. Hence the following, from Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily column:

Harvey Weinstein told me this morning that he's "incredibly disappointed" with the half-than-expected $12 mil box office for Grindhouse released on Easter Weekend (a controversial move itself). So much so, that he's considering abandoning the double feature as a single feature concept and re-releasing the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez movie around the U.S. "in a couple of weeks" as two separate feature-length movies with additional footage put in.

He just gets better and better, so please indulge me with some more quotes from her column:

"Our research showed the length kept people away. It was the single biggest deterrent. It was 3 hours and 12 minutes long. We originally intended to get it all in in 2 hours, 30 minutes." ... And the body blow: "We didn't educate the South or Midwest. In the West and the East, the movie played well. It played well in strong urban settings. But we missed the boat on the Midwest and the South."

Huh? So, it's our fault that your double feature of '70s schlock tributes tanked on one of the most family-friendly weekends of the year? That not many folks dragged their kids to see a zombie movie in which, at one point, Quentin Tarantino's testicles melt (there's no way to describe just how disgusting it is, you just have to see it.)

In spite of this infantile outburst from Mr. Weinstein, I do encourage everyone who enjoys Tarantino or Rodriguez movies to give this a chance, because its just tons of fun.

As for the split threat? I think it's an empty one, at least for the next month or so. Doing so, with another marketing campaign, would just be ridiculously expensive. And it would just kill any possible word of mouth, which was an unlikely development anyway.

Does it have a prayer this weekend? Probably not, given the full slate: "Disturbia," "Perfect Stranger," "Redline," "Slow Burn" and "Pathfinder." Not much in there that appeals to me, but certainly enough to muddy the waters for a "Grindhouse" recovery.

Face it, Mr. Weinstein: You indulged your two favorite directors in an artistic success that has turned into a marketing disaster. Crying about it won't help, nor will calling everyone who just said "no" an idiot.

DVD pick of the week

It's no contest this week: Fabian Bielinsky's last movie, "El Aura," is very close to a masterpiece. A little slow in stretches in which his camera was too in love with the scenic landscape of Patagonia, it still manages to deliver a solid film noir told from a unique perspective.

Some of you may know Bielinsky, who died of a heart attack before "El Aura" came out in most of the world," as the director of "Nine Queens." If you liked that, be warned that "El Aura" is something completely different. Its hero, an epileptic taxidermist who finds himself in the middle of a plot to rob a casino, is a man of very few words played perfectly by Ricardo Darin. You can read my full review here, but if you like a good film noir, you can't go wrong with this one.

Monday, April 09, 2007

What's up with Kevin Smith?

In Oriole news, Mr. Bedard pitched well enough - after giving up a first-inning, three-run homer to Alex Rodriguez - to earn his first victory of the year and give the Orioles two out of three from the Yankees. Huzzah.

And in movie news, Kevin Smith, as he is wont to do, ran his mouth last weekend in the UK about, among other things, his new "horror" movie, which he said most people won't really see as a horror movie at all.

The subject, though, certainly is a scary one. If you have made it this far in life without hearing of the Rev. Fred Phelps, well, I'm sorry to be the one to break that streak. Hate is really the wrong word, because that would imply that he actually thinks about it before he does things like picket the funerals of homosexuals.

He does, however, make the perfect villian for someone as wicked - in all the best ways - as Kevin Smith. According to Rotten Tomatoes, Smith said he's making the movie, to be called "Red State," because: "That dude has always fascinated me and he's really informed the horror movie that I'm working on. The movie's called 'Red State' and it's very much about that subject matter, that point of view and that position taken to the absolute extreme. It's certainly not Phelps himself but it's very much inspired by a Phelps figure."

Read more about it here, and definitely keep your eyes on this one.

Superbad trailer

For people who like to laugh, this will definitely be the summer of Seth Rogen. He's the star of Judd Apatow's next movie, "Knocked Up," due soon. After that will come his screenwriting debut, a little thing called "Superbad."

What's it about? Well, if you ever went to high school, and by law I'd imagine that most everyone did, you'll recognize it immediately. It's basically about two guys trying to score beer and have a night on the town. And, it stars Michael Cera, aka George Michael Bluth. Do you really need to know anymore than that?

Anyways, the trailer, is friggin hilarious. Click here and enjoy.

Unfinished business

Before I started this site of what I hope passes for fairly intelligent writing about movies, I thought the word "tag" thought one of two things: A game you play on the playground or making your mark in graffiti.

Now I know what it means in the realm of blogs and, well, I'm not very good at it. I got "tagged" by always-welcome reader Kookiejar to come up with five sites that make me think and, due to time, only have two. I do, however, think you'll enjoy them both very much.

All About My Movies
This site is written by a soon-to-be-17-year-old British girl named Emma who is wise beyond her years but still, at times, just a silly teenager (in all the best ways.) When you visit this site, you'll find, on alternate days, either very smart commentary on movies or still very amusing updates on her obsession with footballer Peter Crouch. Either way, it's very fun reading, and you can find it here.

More about Movies and More
Nell Minow is Yahoo's Movie Mom, but you shouldn't hold that against her. For proof, visit Yahoo and read her review of "Grindhouse," which she gave a B+. Nell was also kind enough not to laugh at me when I asked if she had any advice about how I might actually be able to get paid to review movies. Along with her Yahoo reviews, Nell maintains this blog to track her other thoughts about movies, including a recent enlightening post about the odd lighting of Don Cheadle in "Reign Over Me." Read more from her here.

I could list 30 more of these, but instead I'm off to the workout room at my place of employment, where I will be watching the second half of episode 11 of the first season of "The Wire" as I pant on the elliptical (sp?) machine. Not exactly a strong workout, I know, but I enjoy it. Peace out.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Grindhouse a real gas


Going in to "Grindhouse," I received two distinct provisos.

The ticket lady made me read a sign warning that the two flicks it contains were modeled on low-value '70s entertainment, and would therefore be scratchy and missing reels (I was sure for a second there that she was gonna make me sign a release form.) My second warning came from the popcorn girl, who couldn't stop smiling as she declared "Grindhouse" to be "incredibly entertaining" (apparently, there is still hope for the youth of America.)

As most people who have managed to see "Grindhouse" would agree, they were both right.

Having missed out on the heyday of drive-thrus and never having been to a grindhouse theater, I'm not sure I fully appreciated what Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were going for here. I could have done without the deliberate scratchiness and skips, and definitely without the missing reels. I was able to forgive all that, however, because as individual units and put together, these two flicks are just a gas.

As I was leaving the theater with a big smile on my face and still jazzed from Tarantino's car-chase finale, I couldn't help thinking that Rodriguez kind of got cheated in this deal. While he stuck to the rules of the game and delivered an almost perfectly entertaining homage to zombie flicks, Tarantino started out making an old-fashioned car movie but then turned "Death Proof" into something all his own, and therefore made the superior flick (but just by a nose.)

You won't find anything original storywise in Rodriguez's "Planet Terror," but has story ever really been his strong point anyway? (Remember the dreadful "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" before you answer, please.) He is, however, a master of the visual, and though he piles on the gore here, it's a real feast for the eyes.

It's become clear to me that I have a double (or even triple) standard when it comes to gore. I've never seen "Hostel," "Saw" or any of the other gorefests that pass themselves off as horror now, and I never will. It's just not my thing. The zombie flick, however, is my blind spot, especially when they're as funny as Rodriguez's "Planet Terror."

Both one of his biggest assets and one of his biggest liabilities here is Rose MacGowan. Her go-go dance for the opening credits (not strip tease, there is a difference) is a wonder to behold, and she looks equally great spinning around on her backside to take out an army of zombies with her machine-gun leg(which all of you must have seen by now.) Unfortunately, when she's asked to speak, she delivers her lines with what can most generously be called a vacant stare, like she's vaguely confused by the whole operation.

But luckily, Rodriguez isn't asking for high art here, and MacGowan has an able counterpart in Freddy Rodriguez (always welcome and much-missed since the end of "Six Feet Under.") I don't want to give anything else away, so let's just say Rodriguez's zombie flick delivers all it promises, and a few surprises to sweeten the pot even more.

I don't have much to say about the trailers except that the only real one (for the direct-to-video "Machete") was much funnier than any of the fake ones that came after it (and I just can't get the line "you fucked with the wrong Mexican" out of my head.) One thing to note, the music for the "coming attractions" and "feature presentation" title cards is from the great "Old School" by DJ Danger Mouse and Talib Kweli.

In interviews promoting "Death Proof," Tarantino has, rather immodestly, said that the dialogue he wrote for this is his best. And, though I may get pilloried for it in the comments section here, I have to agree with him. My favorite Tarantino flick of all is probably his talkiest one, "Jackie Brown." The flow between the two sets of women in "Death Proof," especially the second set with Zoe Bell, reminded me of that flick at its best.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story, it's just about as silly as it could possibly be. Kurt Russell (with just the right amount of cartoon menace) is Stuntman Mike, an aging TV stuntman who gets his rocks off by mowing down cars full of young women in his stunt car. Sounds ludicrous, and it often is.

It's in the quieter moments of "Death Proof," though, that Tarantino really puts his stamp on the flick. As the four leading ladies from the opening segment, played by Sydney Poitier, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd and Monica Staggs, are heading out after a night at the bar, Jungle Julia (Poitier) phones in a special request. Watching the four of them sing along, as we all do in the car, admit it, is just the perfect setup for what you know will be their fate (and one of the many reasons I'll soon be buying the "Death Proof" soundtrack.)

The dialogue he wrote for the second four, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and especially stuntwoman Zoe Bell, is even better. The signature scene, in which the camera pans around them eating at a diner only to catch a glimpse of Stuntman Mike seated at the counter, is just perfect.

But who am I kidding here? It's all about the big chase, and even if it is cribbed from Tarantino's favorite car movies (he has his characters mention "Vanishing Point" as least 10 times, lest you somehow miss the point), is a real stunner. All I'll tell you is that Bell is surfing on the hood of a Dodge Challenger playing a game called ship's mast when Stuntman Mike sets in on them. It's just the definition of fun.

This has gone on even longer than I planned, so I'll just leave you, courtesy of Brendon at Film Ick, with the two pages he says detail the missing reel from "Death Proof." It doesn't add much, but it's still fun reading. Enjoy!


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Two views of Grindhouse


In Oriole action, Adam Loewen pitched well in his second visit to Yankee Stadium and got big help from teammates Jay Gibbons and Nick Markakis to ensure the Baltimore Orioles will not go winless in 2007. Huzzah.

And, though I promised to do the "Thinking folks" list of site I was tagged to do by friendly reader Kookiejar, it's a "Grindhouse" day here, and therefore not one on which I plan to think too much at all. It will come, I promise.

Today, however, we get two opposing views of "Grindhouse" from people who are both kind enough to read my opinions and offer their own. Keep in mind, these are only excerpts, so I encourage you to visit their sites and get their full opinion.

First comes Divinity, who in her Den of Divinity blog couldn't resist dropping a few F-bombs, which given the movie seems more than a little appropriate:

I'm not of the generation that frequented drive-ins and I know that numerous references flew right over my occasionally-cowering head, but I recognize a labour of love and the sheer amount of fun Rodriguez and Tarantino had putting these movies together, missing reels and all. If only we all could have careers we loved this much.
I guess I didn't really swear enough in this review to really justify all this invisi-type, but I did text anyone I didn't think would be offended with the message,"Just saw Grindhouse. There's some fucked up shit right there, Batman" after we left the theatre so it's safe to say the movie had an impact. Fuck, yeah.


Very well put. I'm almost certain I will enjoy this one as much as she did.

Our second review comes from Ashok who, understandably, had a negative reaction to what he saw as the pointless gore of "Planet Terror," but had more time for "Death Proof." Here, from his Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying blog, are two excerpts.

"I am trying hard to think of some good lines or cheesy scenes or maybe even story telling, but it is an “exploitation” movie and hence it is the way it is. I did not enjoy all the parts of the parts flying around or blood drooling, which concludes I did not like “Planet Terror”.
... The film goes through the girls partying and also having some of Tarantino’s classic conversations. When I say classic, it says it is a trademark Quentin touch. Is it interesting? For a while, yes, but it dies with the time. But Quentin shows how it can be done. He put back the faith of having some real solid invention out of the dirty old garbage. Taking the elements of those comedies of errors, he sprinkles his formula. While Rodriguez’s piece stays as “typical” Grind House movies by the definition, Tarantino flairs with his style of presentation."


I have a much higher threshold for gore, especially when I know going in that it is coming, but I can definitely see where he is coming from. Thanks to both of you for sharing. I'll finally be seeing this today, and offering my own thoughts tomorrow morning. Peace out.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Things that make me say 'huh?'

Anyone remember a movie called "Southland Tales?" I didn't think so.

After playing at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Richard Kelly's oddball flick seemed to simply disappear. For fans of "Donnie Darko," it was a bitter pill to swallow, even if the new flick had been rejected by the Cannes audience.

Now, however, comes news that just makes it even more confusing. On his Web site, http://www.richard-kelly.net, he has the following missive:

So we have finally gotten the greenlight from Sony for the additional round of visual effects for Southland Tales. This is VERY GOOD NEWS for the film!

We will now be able to finish the film properly. Phew!

The film will be completely finished for the first public screening
sometime mid-summer.


Well, I'm glad he bothered to clear things up. For anyone who has forgotten all about this movie, it sounds like even if it's horrible, it will at least be epicly so. Here, according to Comingsoon.net, is the plot summary:

The ensemble piece is set in the futuristic landscape of Los Angeles on July 4, 2008, as it stands on the brink of social, economic and environmental disaster. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars as Boxer Santaros, an action star stricken with amnesia whose life intertwines with Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an adult film star developing her own reality television project, and David Clark (Seann William Scott), a Hermosa Beach police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy. Cheri Oteri, Amy Poehler, Jill Ritchie, Miranda Richardson, John Larroquette, Jon Lovitz, Will Sasso, Wood Harris, Bai Ling, Joe Campana and Wallace Shawn co-star.

How "futuristic" can it be if most of the world doesn't get to see it until less than a year before when the movie is supposed to take place? If I could make things up that sound as crazy as the saga of this movie, I'd be in a different business. Definitely stay tuned to this mess.

Sin City on TV?

So I can watch the end of "The Sopranos" I finally broke down and got digital cable and, if I figure out how to work it, apparently a DVR. So, had I been paying attention, I could have taped this last night and be watching it this morning.

Instead, I'll have to take this again from Comingsoon.net, which had the following nugget from "Grindhouse" director Robert Rodriguez:

Tonight on PBS' The Charlie Rose Show, Robert Rodriguez said that Sin City 2 would probably begin shooting in June and that Sin City would probably continue in some form on television.

Hmmmmmmm ... I think I could see that working, since the source material is so rich. The First "Sin City" flick certainly has its detractors, but after a slow start it was just an ultrafun ride to me. What do you think?

I'm gonna have to cut this a little short today to mess around with my new cable toybox. Stay tuned this weekend for:

Tomorrow: In yesterday's comments, I got tagged by always-welcome reader Kookiejar to list five sites that make me think. And I'm not ignoring the request, just taking a day to, well, think about it. Feel free to check back for the list Saturday morning.

Sunday: It's all about "Grindhouse" this weekend, and I will have a review up by early Sunday morning. I leave you today with, well, words can't even describe this "Rolling Stone" magazine cover, so just check it out for yourself. Peace out.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Cannes a sign of great things to come

Day four of the new baseball season brings at least one welcome guarantee: The Baltimore Orioles, who have the day off, will not lose today.

And, even better, the lineup for Cannes is taking shape and, as usual, has plenty of interesting titles to take in. It looks like the big kahuna will be director Chris Weitz's "The Golden Compass," featuring eye candy for all with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig (and a bonus tilting it back for the guys in Eva Green.) This epicly fantastic flick based on the first novel in Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy won't come out in the U.S. until Dec. 7, but selected scenes will be previewed at the festival.

Two actually completed films were also confirmed for the festival Wednesday, including one from the Coen Brothers (huzzah!). Their take on Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men," a Texas border tale about drugs, money and death, will hit the U.S. in August. It stars Woody Harrelson, Josh and James Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Stephen Root (huzzah again!), Kelly MacDonald and Javier Bardem, and will be in competition at Cannes.

The second flick confirmed for competition is James Gray's "We Own the Night," the New York filmmaker's first in seven years. Don't know much about this one beyond that it stars Joaquin Phoenix, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendes and Marky Mark Wahlberg, and has something to do with the Russian mafia and a New York night club. I'm in.

According to Variety, more big decisions will come soon, and the strong contenders include films by Gus Van Sant ("Paranoid Park"), Woody Allen ("Cassandra's Dreams"), Todd Haynes ("I'm Not There"), Michael Winterbottom ("A Mighty Heart"), Paulo Morelli ("City of Men," a sequel to "City of God," directed by Fernando Meirelles, who is a producer of this new film), Harmony Korine ("Mister Lonely") and Julian Schnabel ("Diving Bell and Butterfly"). There's also buzz that David Fincher's "Zodiac" will close the fest.

Two other directors, Michael Moore with "Sicko" and Wong Kar Wai with the simply insane "My Blueberry Nights," are apparently racing to finish their flicks in time to be considered.

But, since the only thing I know for sure is I won't be going, enough about that.

R.I.P. Bob Clark

Not being much of a sentimental fool, I don't usually have much time for Christmas flicks, but I always make sure to see "A Christmas Story" one of the 5 million times it is aired annually on TBS. Sappy? Sure, but also extremely funny, and just my kind of holiday flick.

In sad news, Bob Clark, who directed this classic and "Porky's," among many other flicks, died early Wednesday along with his 22-year-old son, Ariel, when their car was struck by a drunk driver. He was 67, and apparently still hard at work on more flicks.

Assistant director Ken Goch said Clark had just gotten the go-ahead for "There Goes the Neighborhood," a comedy about feuding neighbors, the day before his death. He also was working on a remake of "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things," his 1972 horror pic, and "Elves," assistant Lyne Leavy said.

Though we shouldn't hold it against him, he is also responsible for two movies about "Baby Geniuses," neither of which I bothered to watch.

Even if he did create a lot of cheesy flicks, he certainly deserved a lot better fate than this. Rest in peace, Mr. Clark.

"Die Hard" trailer

Since big-screen car crashes are a much more pleasant subject, here's the trailer for "Live Free or Die Hard," which at least proves that Bruce Willis will be making action movies until he's 95. Plus, you get to see a car take down a helicopter, which is just fun to watch.

As for the rest of the trailer, it's pretty bizarre. The new, and hopefully last, "Die Hard" appears to be some kind of buddy flick, and stay tuned until the end for a surprise appearance to set your View Askew.



Seeking "Grindhouse" reviews

If any of you are lucky enough to have seen "Grindhouse" and have posted your opinion on it, please let me know. If I get enough entries, I'd love to post a link-list to the best of them tomorrow. As for me, I won't be going to see it until Saturday morning, although in my mind I'm already there.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The end of ESPN?

In Oriole news, Daniel Cabrera manned up last night, going seven strong innings, strking out nine and walking only four, but the O's still fell 3-2 to the Twins to maintain their stranglehold on last place in the American League East.

That, however, was the least distressing information about "sports" I woke up to this morning. I had to check the calendar to make sure April Fool's Day had indeed passed us by.

According to Variety, and apparently with all seriousness, producers Eddie October and Al Herman have snatched up worldwide television rights to something called the Pillow Fight League (purely as a public service, of course, I've included the photo provided in Variety.) In October's "defense," I guess, you can at least call him very honest: "I'm gay, and even I know that girls pillow fighting is sexy," he said.

Well, as a dude who isn't, I can't dispute that basic sentiment, and I can't make any promises that I won't flip by during some commercial breaks if and when this finds a home (and, as the title of this post implies, I wouldn't be at all surprised if this ends up as a "sport" on ESPN.)

I'm not even gonna debate the rather obvious piggishness of this enterprise (but anyone else who wants to can certainly feel free in the comments.) My real beef is this is just one more nail in the coffin of actual sports on television.

You doubt it? I let it pass last month when ESPN agreed to air the Rock Paper Scissors League championship, but it now seems that's where were almost certainly headed. What's next? On a network that already considers cheerleading, dog shows and, for about 10 hours a day, poker all "sports," where does it end? I used to play a pretty mean game of paper football, if they're interested.

Geez. I really did wake up a crank this morning if I can't at least smile a little bit about all this, but I just can't bring myself to do it. Well, maybe a little one. October actually seems to see a correlation between his new venture and the revival of the ERA this year:

"The women in the PFL are empowered," he said.

Welcome back, Roger

In much, much better news, film critic Roger Ebert said he plans a "return to action" at his upcoming Overlooked Film Festival in Illinois later this month as he continues recovering from cancer surgery.

"I'll watch from the audience," he said in a posting Tuesday on his Web site, rogerebert.com. "I think of the festival as the first step on my return to action. Because I will be under scrutiny there, I'll tell you what to expect: a sick guy, getting better, who still loves the movies and the festival."

Last June, Ebert, who recently celebrated his 40th anniversary as the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, underwent surgery for salivary gland cancer, but about two weeks later, an artery burst in his jaw and kept him hospitalized. It was the start of a series of issues that has prolonged his recovery.

His voice is apparently still weak, but a return to TV is surely imminent, and none too soon. I haven't tuned in since he left, mostly because I simply can't stand that dingbat Richard Roeper (and I can't look at him without feeling sad about Gene Siskel.) Though I don't always agree with him, Ebert always presents solid, well-reasoned and very readable takes on the movies he watches.

For that, I can only offer a hearty welcome back.


28 Months Later?

Credit for this has to be split evenly between Comingsoon.net and a spy over at Aintitcoolnews.

That great photo above of Robert Carlyle on the run - presumably from something very nasty - in the upcoming "28 Weeks Later" comes from Comingsoon, where you can find more pics from the zombie-flick sequel.

Even better, reported on AICN from a Q&A with Danny Boyle in Australia, is that there are now tentative plans for a third chapter, perhaps to be titled "28 Months Later." Even better than that, Boyle said he enjoyed contributing to the sequel, which is directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and is due out May 11, so much that he's considering a return to the director's chair for the third installment. The end of "28 Weeks Later" will apparently leave room for another chapter.

I'm still skeptical about the sequel working without Boyle in charge, but I love zombies so much that I'm cheering for it to succeed. And a grand zombie trilogy? That news is almost good enough to make me forget that the Orioles are still winless. Almost.