Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"Office 2"? Why can't I get excited?

TV Guide's Michael Ausiello, who just knows more about TV than any healthy person should, had some rather disturbing news on his blog yesterday which, be warned, will make lovers of "The Office" (of which I am certainly one) cringe.

It seems that, rather than come up with any original idea to fill the slot soon to be vacated by "Scrubs" (another show I just adore, even if it is just thoroughly silly), NBC is commissioning a spinoff of "The Office." I would hope they might come up with a name better than "Office 2," but you know what they say about assuming.

First, the good news, if there really is any. They won't be stealing any characters from the current "Office" for any new show (so, at least for now, there's no reason to fear a "Pam Loves Jim.") And, as far as I can tell, that's where the good news ends.

Where to start with the bad? It's hard to pick. When I first heard this idea, I had a painful flashback to the pilot episode of the American "Office." For anyone who has blocked this painful memory from your brain, please forgive me.

I can still remember tuning in with great anticipation, being a big fan of the UK original, and finding that what they essentially did was a shot-for-shot remake of the first UK episode, just in Pennsylvania (yes, just like Van Sant's "Psycho," but possibly even worse.) For that reason, I boycotted the entire first season of the U.S. version.

Maybe they could just do that again, assuming people have such short attention spans that they could get away with it. Actually, scratch that, because it sounds too close to what might actually happen.

What can't you re-create from the U.S. "Office" I've grown to love so much? Well, first, I can't imagine you could possibly assemble an ensemble cast to rival what we have now. The beauty in "The Office" each week is in waiting to see which bit player will come up with the bitingly funniest moment each week (my all-time favorite remains Angela's rebuke to Dwight in the season three finale with "I don't care how they consolidated power in the Roman empire.") Priceless.

Secondly, and directly related, there's just no way you could approach anything near the chemistry, so why bother? The last danger sign, or at least the last one I can come up with at this early hour is that, according to Ausiello, they're already searching for a "name" actor (or actress maybe, hello!?!?) to fill the lead role.

Now, I'm not a Steve Carell hater by any stretch, but I have to say he is the least funny member of "The Office" cast, and the show just drags a bit when he hogs the screen for too long. Starting with the head honcho on any new show would seem to be the wrong approach, but I might just have to take all that back if they manage to hire "Office II" boss Michael Bluth.

As for this week's episode, things are much better. Joss Whedon returns as director (after Jason Reitman's turn last week.) In an episode titled "Branch Wars," Karen makes a welcome return and tries to woo Stanley away from Scranton. Michael fights back, dragging her ex, Jim, into his war. Meanwhile, the existence of a “Finer Things Club” further disturbs Dunder Mifflin’s calm.

Sounds all good to me. But this "Office 2" idea? It smells to me kinda like one of Kevin's more unfortunate trips to the men's room, with no cookie-scented candle to make it go down any sweeter. Am I just off-base here? If you see any reason why this show would be a good idea, please feel free to let me know, and if you just wanna pile the hate on this lame NBC move, please do that too. Peace out.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Demko's DVD shelf: The weird, wonderful world of "Twin Peaks"

With the triple punch of "Spider-Man 3," "License to Wed" and "Captivity" hitting all at once, it would be very easy to dismiss this as a spectacularly craptastic week on DVD, but beneath the surface there are reasons to cheer, mainly in TV releases.

Just how good was David Lynch's "Twin Peaks"? The best way to judge that, unfortunately, is in the number of imitators that followed and failed in its wake.

What Lynch's show had over these others was that it created a genuine sense of mystery. Whereas most "supernatural" TV shows just pile on the quirk for quirk's sake, each piece of the puzzle that was "Twin Peaks" was essential to making the murder of Laura Palmer and everything else in this weird little burg on the US-Canadian border so intriguing.

Given that the show only ran for 30 episodes it's surprising that it's taken this long for the complete series to come to DVD, as it does this week with "The Definitive Gold Box Edition," supervised by Lynch himself.

If you actually spring for these 10 discs, which I'll have to look at my finances before doing, it would seem Lynch and co. have made it worth the considerable expense. Along with the newly remastered (I'm never quite sure exactly what that means) episodes, there are deleted scenes; a feature-length documentary, "Secrets from Another Place"; the featurettes "A Slice of Lynch" and "Return to Twin Peaks"; an interactive map of Twin Peaks; the complete Log Lady introductions; Kyle MacLachlan's appearance on "Saturday Night Live" and Julee Cruise's music video for "Falling."

This is listed as costing $99.99 (marked down to $64.99 at Amazon.com, but still not cheap), but for a groundbreaking TV show that instead of being ahead or behind its time just created a time unto itself, I'd have to say it's well worth it if you can spare the change.

Scrubs - The Complete Sixth Season
I never would have guessed that a sitcom this silly (yet undeniably entertaining) would have reached the magic number of seven seasons occupied by several of my favorite shows ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Gilmore Girls" and - if you count the two halfs of season six as separate entities - "The Sopranos.") The pacing and the characters on this show all just work for me, so I've got the DVR set to record all of season seven and will, eventually, spring for this on DVD too (since I have all the other season already.)

"My So-Called Life" - The Complete Series
The title alone should have had me running screaming from this mid-'90s show, and it probably would have if it weren't for Claire Danes and her mysterious beau, Jared Leto as quite possibly the broodiest teen in TV history. Though I'll still take "Freaks and Geeks" any day, this show was actually fairly moving when it didn't just make you cringe, and is well worth another look on DVD, assuming you can rent rather than buy it.

Talk to Me
It's one of the great crimes of my film year that I didn't manage to see this one in the theater, but in my defense it did hit during the one week (and one week only, in Macon) when I happened to be on vacation. Don Cheadle stars in the true story of Ralph Waldo "Petey" Green, an ex-con who weaseled his way onto the radio in DC in the '60s. It also stars the great Chiwetel Ejiofor and was directed by Kasi Lemmons, who managed to make one of my favorite movies, "Eve's Bayou," and just one other flick ("The Caveman's Valentine") before seeming to disappear completely for about 10 years. Welcome back! According to the IMDB, she's also the owner of this rather dubious title: The only black woman to manage to direct three major feature films. Now that's just depressing.

John Waters: This Filthy World
Essentially a DVD of director John Waters doing standup comedy and seeing just how gross he can be, this is perfect for DVD because, although he is often very funny, it does eventually get tiresome and call out for the remote. When he's on, though, he's as outrageous as you could possibly expect, so if you like Mr. Waters' movies (and I very often do) this is well worth a rental.

Two news tidbits

Speaking of "Freaks and Geeks," Sam Weir is about to make a very welcome return to series TV as a regular on "Bones," which just might be enough to get me to tune in for the Fox show. John Francis Daley will play Dr. Lance Sweets, a therapist appointed by the FBI to determine whether Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and FBI agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) can continue as partners. The Hollywood Reporter report also listed him as the star of the "upcoming" "5-25-77," so maybe that means Patrick Read Johnson's autobiographical flick about his quest to see the first "Star Wars" movie may actually someday get a proper release. Daley's also listed as writing his first feature film for New Line, "The 40 Thousand Dollar Man," which I can only assume will be a - hopefully funny - spoof of "The Six Million Dollar Man."

Robert Townsend sighting!
I may be the only person who was asking "what in the world ever happened to Robert Townsend?", but in case anyone else was actually wondering, here's the answer. It seems he's enlisted Ving Rhames to play Sonny Liston in "Phantom Punch," a biopic he will direct about the legendary pugilist. The flick began shooting Monday in Toronto and should wrap in December. The title refers to the single "phantom punch" Liston took from Cassius Clay that many believe led to the demise of his career. I love good boxing movies even more than I do Mr. Townsend, so I give this a hearty huzzah!

A truly goofy trailer for "I'm Not There"

I still have fairly high hopes for this Todd Haynes flick about Bob Dylan, but after the disappointment that was Wes Anderson's "Darjeeling Limited" I'm keeping my expectations in check. It's better to be pleasantly surprised anyway, right? Here's the international trailer which, as you'll see, is just an extended riff on Dylan's most famous music video. Please, please, please don't let this movie suck! Peace out.

Monday, October 29, 2007

When Guillermo met Harry Potter? A dream match

A quick visit to the IMDB plus this tidbit from Comingsoon.net set my mind reeling with possibilities as to just how fantastic the final "Harry Potter" movie could really be.

As the IMDB reveals, no director has yet been named for the final installment, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." By launching the rumor mill full-speed, Comingsoon has gotten firmly behind a name I would endorse heartily: Guillermo (not, as I write sometimes in my early-morning haze, Benicio) del Toro.

Why would this be such a perfect match? The answer should be pretty clear for anyone who has seen del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" (and if you somehow haven't, I can't even begin to help you.) Being about as unhip as anyone on the planet, I've finally started reading Rowling's last Potter novel. So far I've only gotten to the wedding of Bill Weasley and Fleur De la Coeur, but I can tell already it will be probably be bloodier and even more magical than all the books that have come before it, making it tailormade for del Toro.

Interestingly, he confirmed to Comingsoon that he had been approached to possibly direct "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," a job which eventually went to his buddy Alfonso Cuaron. Here's what he had to say:

"They came to me once, for the third one. When I read the books before the movies were done, I always pictured Charles Dickens. They were very Dickensian. The situation of Harry Potter reminded me a lot of Pip from 'Great Expectations.' I saw them as deeper, more creaky, more corroded, but they were textured very differently when the first two movies came out. They were so bright and happy and full of light, that I wasn't interested."

"They seem to be getting eerie and darker, and I'm up to be the one who kills twenty guys. If they come back to me, I'll think about it."

Please do, Guillermo. A look at his schedule with the IMDB confirms that this would indeed be pretty perfect timing. He's currently wrapping up "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army," which is set for a July 11, 2008, release and should just be tons of fun. After that, things get murky.

He's listed as attached to direct two more movies, both of which, it would seem, would be easily movable if the right offer came along. Listed after "Hellboy 2" is "3993," which from its description would make a perfect del Toro movie. Based on the screenplay by Sergio G. Sanchez, it's described as being "a ghost story about 'the hostages left to fortune by the past' set in 1990's Spain and with connections with Spanish Civil War in 1939." Bring it on.

Then, for 2010, he's writing his own screenplay based on H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness," which I have to confess I haven't read (but certainly will before this ever comes out.) The plot is described at the IMDB thusly: "A chilling recollection of an Antarctic expedition's uncanny discoveries and their encounter with untold menace in the ruins of a lost civilization." Sounds plenty cool to me, but if anyone has indeed read this and has any insight, please do share.

Before any of this happens, however, I'm jumping right on the del Toro-for-Harry Potter bandwagon, if you can even call it that yet. Dream with me, people.

Two tidbits

Whew. That went on much longer than I had anticipated, so I'll run through the two other things that caught my eye very quickly.

More Shelly: Before she was murdered in her New York apartment by her neighbor, Adrienne Shelly managed to direct one of the most charming movies of 2007, "Waitress," and now it seems she also left us another script which will soon move toward becoming a movie too. Cheryl Hines, who starred with Shelly, Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion and Andy Griffith in "Waitress," will direct "Serious Moonlight" from a screenplay penned by Shelley. Described as a dark romantic comedy, it centers on a high-powered female attorney who learns that her husband is about to leave her for another woman, then prevents him from doing so by binding him to the toilet with duct tape. The wife's plan becomes complicated when the couple's home is besieged by robbers. Sounds a bit eerie coming from a woman who was murdered in her own bathroom, but I'm still eager to see what will come out of this.

Kudos for "Juno"

Is it rational for me to be so psyched for a movie I've never seen? Probably not, but so what? I love to laugh, and Jason Reitman's "Thank You for Smoking" made me do so harder than any other flick in 2005, and for "Juno" he's got a dream cast to work with in Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner, J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney and even Rainn Wilson, so definitely bring it on come December. And now it's beginning to pick up some early awards-season mojo, taking the top prize at the Rome Film Festival this past weekend. Huzzah!

Six minutes of Seinfeld's "Bee Movie"

Speaking of funny, I have my doubts that "Bee Movie" will be, but I've been wrong at least once before and will be perfectly happy if I am again now. Anyways, here's an almost-six-minute clip to get a taste of the flick which comes out Friday (though I'll be seeing "American Gangster" before this one, for sure.) Enjoy, and have an entirely suckfree Monday.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Natalie Portman's bare bum!

OK, that's more than a bit of false advertising, since I have no pictures of Natalie Portman's bottom to share with you (but, of course, one of the many wonders of Al Gore's Internet is you can find one for yourself in about 30 seconds if you want to.)

Instead, that headline is an alert that, if you go see Wes Anderson's "The Darjeeling Limited" this weekend, you will also (provided you get there on time) get to see the short film "Hotel Chevalier," which proceeds and factors into the main flick near the end. And, yes, Natalie's rather attractive derriere does make an appearance, but the short co-starring Jason Schwartzman also has several other charms.

As for the main flick, "Darjeeling Limited," I found it to be ... fairly maddening. Not awful, by any stretch, but a mild disappointment at least.

Let's start with the positives. Like all Wes Anderson's movies, it is simply a delight to look at. He clearly has love for the Indian subcontinent, and that comes across in the vivid colors that flow throughout the journey of the Whitman brothers, played by Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson. What I fear he no longer has enough of, however, is affection for the main characters who inhabit this often fauvist landscape.

I fell in love with Wes Anderson's movies the second I met Jason Schwartzman's Max Fischer in 'Rushmore," one of the great movie underdogs of all time. I felt the same connection to Owen Wilson's Dignan when I quickly thereafter rented "Bottle Rocket" (and then subsequently added it to my video collection.)

But for me, "Royal Tenenbaums" was even better than both of those, because it represented a huge visual leap forward for Anderson but still was populated with equally vivid characters to root for. And then came "Steve Zissou," a debacle he clearly hasn't yet completely recovered from.

I tell you all that to tell you this. I liked "The Darjeeling Limited" a darn sight more than "Zissou," but an equal amount less than Mr. Anderson's first three movies. And the reason lies almost entirely with this: The Whitman brothers are three of the most annoying characters you'll ever meet on the big screen.

And, to make it worse, I'm not talking vividly annoying enough that you even feel some connection to them through hatred. They're just kind of three very selfish twits who happen to be rather aimlessly travelling through India. Anderson never bothers to tell us why, and worse, I found that I really didn't care.

My reservoir of goodwill for Mr. Anderson is far from empty, so I'll be back for "Fantastic Mr. Fox" or wherever else he chooses to go next. But "The Darjeeling Limited," much like Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette," is a very pretty voyage that just goes nowhere at all.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A bad movie year? Maybe, but here are 20 2007 movies that I just love

It certainly does seem like, especially after our sequel-happy summer, this has been a down year for quality movies. And I can buy that, but there's still been plenty this year to make me smile (and, of course, two more months to go.)

With the caveat that not everything plays in my little corner of the world, here are, for my money, the 20 best movies that have made it out into wide-release world this year (in calendar rather than preferential order, except that "Ratatouille" is easily my favorite movie of the year so far.) Here goes!


Daddy's Little Girls/Why Did I Get Married?
OK, I'm cheating from the outset, because this two-fer means the list includes 21 flicks, but I'm just astounded that Tyler Perry managed to release two movies so good in the same year. Of the two, I'll take "Daddy's Little Girls" by a nose, mostly because Idris Elba is so great in it and because Tyler Perry should keep his movies in Atlanta, where he has a real sense of place.

Breach
This movie is so claustrophobic that I had to watch it twice, the second time on a plane, to truly appreciate it. It's far from your traditional spy-vs.-spy flick, but for a psychological thriller you won't get much better than this Billy Ray movie starring Chris Cooper as Robert Hanssen and a surprisingly good Ryan Philippe as the spy sent in to take him down (with an assist from the always-welcome Laura Linney.)

Starter for 10
I watched this one on a plane too, and I'd call it simply a guilty pleasure if it weren't so charming. In essence, it's a very British take on those John Hughes '80s flicks, with James McAvoy playing very young. Even if that sounds appalling, just give it a chance.

Zodiac
Despite it's early calendar position and carping from misguided critics that it was simply too long, I'm still hoping David Fincher's great movie gets some award-season consideration. Robert Downey Jr., at least, is worthy of a supporting actor nomination for his portrayal of an overzealous and underscrupulous L.A. Times reporter.

300
OK, with the passage of time, I'm willing to concede that this Frank Miller/Zack Snyder flick was, indeed, pretty darn stupid, but so what? It was also the funnest movie of 2007 for my money.

The Wind the Shakes the Barley
Ken Loach finally finds a subject epic enough to fit his conscience and takes home a well-deserved Palme d'Or for it. Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney play two brothers swept into the Republican movement in early 20th-century Ireland.

The Lookout
Predictably few people saw this off-key bank heist flick starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the promising young actor who you might remember from "Third Rock from the Sun." The movie is at its best when it's just he and Jeff Daniels as two physically and mentally damaged roommates.

Grindhouse
What is there to say about this if you somehow missed the experience in the theater (as many, many people apparently did)? Tarantino made the slightly superior flick in my book, but it just works so much better sewn together with Rodriguez' zombie zoo. My favorite moment of all, however, would still have to be the old-school intermission logo with Dangermouse/Doom/Talib Kweli's "Old School" playing behind it.

Hot Fuzz
Though it certainly had hot competition from Camp Apatow, I think Edgar Wright and friends just may have made the funniest movie of 2007. All those directors who claim to be making "spoof" movies need to watch this riff on big-action movies to see how it's really done.

Waitress
It's still hard not to watch this one without thinking of poor Adrienne Shelley, but if you can manage to do that this sweet little flick still stands the test of time for me. It's occasionally just too syrupy, but Keri Russell, Captain Mal and Andy Griffith are all great.

Knocked Up
This makes No. 11, so I should probably refresh my coffee at this point. Just about the only negative thing I can say about Judd Apatow's movie is that I was hoping for hours and hours of Seth and his stoner buddies just goofing off in the DVD extras, because I love those guys. You do get Jonah Hill's extended and extremely foul riff on "Brokeback Mountain," which makes the DVD worth at least renting by itself.

Ratatouille
Like I said, my favorite movie of 2007 so far, but I think "Gone Baby Gone" (which I just might see today), "Juno" and "American Gangster" will give it some stiff competition. I've been happy to see that this Pixar flick, which only did so-so (by Pixar standards) in the U.S., has just been cleaning up at the worldwide box-office till.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The best of the Harry Potter movies so far, for my money, but take that with the grain of salt that I'm not exactly a Harry Potter fanatic. I did, however, manage to finish reading "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince," which was just sensational, even if Dumbledore is gay (not that there's anything wrong with that.)

The Simpsons Movie
The only midnight movie I enjoyed this year (the other being "Spidey 3," which just sucked hard in my book.) The Simpsons' flick worked because it was really little more than a 90-minute episode of the show with a lot more time and money thrown in to make the jokes all work (and spiderpig just kicks ass.)

Rocket Science
Opening on the same weekend with the teen flick that comes next on this list certainly didn't do any favors for Jeffrey Blitz' autobiographical followup to the doco "Spellbound." Probably because this utterly charming movie about a stuttering teen growing up in New Jersey made about $5, Mr. Blitz has no upcoming directing credits on the IMBD except for two episodes of "The Office."

Superbad
Of the two Camp Apatow flicks this year, I'll give this one the edge for two reasons: Jonah Hill and Michael Cera are simply two of the funniest guys on the planet and, in it's own warped way, it's a surprisingly sweet movie about hetero man love (made stronger, of course, by the relentless pursuit of beer and chicks.)

Shoot 'Em Up
Even though it plays out at various times like an extended (and very bloody) music video or a warped take on the old Looney Tunes cartoons, I guarantee that if you watch this Michael Davis flick it will make you smile. You can certainly tell from watching it that Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti and la bella Monica Bellucci had just as much fun making it as I did watching it.

Eastern Promises
Even if this one doesn't stand up to David Cronenberg's best work, it's still a solidly entertaining gangster flick, which rises to a higher level thanks to Viggo Mortensen's steely performance, which should get some awards-season love too.

The Kingdom
Whew! Only two more movies to go, so I'll probably keep these last two short. Anyone who thinks this political thriller from Peter Berg dumbs things down too much is more than a bit of a snob. 'Nuff said.

Michael Clayton
Tony Gilroy's directing debut is the most satisfying legal thriller I've seen in many years, and Tom Wilkinson's performance as a big-time lawyer who becomes unhinged will linger with you for a long time.

So, there you have it. I hope this offered some ideas for DVD rentals, and as always, please feel free to add any 2007 movies you loved that I have managed to snub. Peace out.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"Dewey Cox" underwear: A cautionary tale

I was just gonna take the day off today, since there's little news out there to report, but I really should share this as a public service more than anything else.

When I got home from work yesterday, there was a rather promising looking envelope from Columbia/Tri Star in my mailbox. I hadn't requested anything from them, and hadn't received anything in the past, but it was shaped like it just might be a DVD, so I was fairly excited.

I'm not sure what exactly my expression was after opening it, but I'm sure it was far from excitment. However, a little backstory might help before the big payoff.

About six months back or so I made the rather unfortunate decision to sign up for the mailing list for "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" (called the "Dewey Cox Fan Club), thinking that at best I'd get a free T-shirt for Judd Apatow's holiday movie starring John C. Reilly. Little did I know what I was really in for.

Now, as another public service, I've decided not to model this rather odd bit of swag, but instead just include a picture for you to enjoy. I'll close with two questions: 1. What's the oddest piece of movie swag you've ever received?; and 2. Who in the world were they expecting would ever wear these bizarre tighty-whiteys?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

All hail Criterion: Demko's DVD shelf

The big news if, like me, you happen to live in Macon, is that Wes Anderson's "Darjeeling Limited" is coming to The Grand (formerly known as the AmStar) this weekend. I've been back to the site three times already to check it, but it seems a slow movie weekend means the answer to "how far will I have to drive to watch the new Wes Anderson movie?" is, well, about 10 miles. Huzzah to that.

For the rest of the world, thanks to Criterion (who are at work on a special edition of Anderson's "Bottle Rocket"), it's a banner week on DVD with two genuine classics getting grand treatment.

First up comes "A Bout de Souffle," or as Criterion has chosen to call it by its English title, "Breathless," or as I like to call it each time I finish watching it, "quite possibly the coolest movie ever made."

An exaggeration? I don't think so. If you've never seen Jean Paul Belmondo riffing on Bogie and pitching woo at the very funny Jean Seberg, watch this immediately. There was also an American version of this starring Richard Gere, but i couldn't possibly give you an opinion on that since I could never bring myself to watch it.

For the new Criterion edition of Jean Luc Godard's original Frenchy flick, the extras include: Archival interviews with Godard, Belmondo, Seberg and co-star Jean-Pierre Melville; new video interviews with director of photography Raoul Coutard, assistant director Pierre Rissient and filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker; New video essays: filmmaker and critic Mark Rappaport's "Jean Seberg" and critic Jonathan Rosenbaum's "Breathless as Film Criticism"; "Chambre 12, Hotel de Suede," an 80-minute French documentary about the making of "A Bout de Souffle," with members of the cast and crew; "Charlotte et son Jules," a 1959 short film by Godard, starring Belmondo; and a booklet featuring writings from Godard, film historian Dudley Andrew, Francois Truffaut's original film treatment and Godard's scenario. With all that included, I just can't recommend this one highly enough.

In making "Days of Heaven," American director Terrence Malick clearly took note of the French New Wave to make some ripples of his own. His increasing abhorrence of anything resembling a structured plot has, for me at least, made his recent movies like "The New World" almost unwatchable, but with this '70s flick he was clearly on top of his game.

As visually stunning as it is all-around entertaining, "Days of Heaven" stars Gere as a Chicago steel worker who accidentally kills his supervisor and flees to the Texas panhandle with his girlfriend (Brooke Adams) and little sister (Linda Manz) to work harvesting wheat in the fields of a stoic farmer (Sam Shepard). What they find there develops into a love triangle and much more.

For the Criterion edition you won't get a commentary from the very camera-shy Mr. Malick, so instead there's one from art director Jack Fisk, editor Billy Weber, costume designer Patricia Norris and casting director Dianne Crittenden, who all apparently provide insight into just how hard it was to work for the demanding Malick.

There's also an audio interview with Gere that plays over footage from the film, in which he also vents some frustrations with Malick. Rounding out the set are interviews with Shepard and with camera operators John Bailey and Haskell Wexler. If you have a few shekels lying around, you can pick up these two genuine classics for $53 from Amazon, which sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

"Fido" - a zombie movie I somehow managed to miss

I've seen the poster for "Fido" several times now, but it never hit me that that was the very funny Billy Connolly all zombied out in the picture. If that's not enough to make this at least worth a rental, well, you and I clearly just have different tastes in movies. As far as I can tell, this is basically a boy-and-his-dog movie in which the dog just happens to be a zombie. I'm there already.

Two great TV series come to an end

I'm about to watch Kristen Bell's "Heroes" debut on the DVR (as soon as I can wrap this up, in fact), and seeing her again will be nice, but not as nice as the oft-rumored but ultimately failed revival of "Veronica Mars" would have been. The series had already lost its way a bit in the third and final season, out on DVD today, as it substituted mini-cases for a single, season-long puzzle to solve. Even in its lesser form, however, it was funnier and smarter than just about anything else on TV, and well worth buying on DVD. If you spring for it, you'll even get "Pitching Season 4": An in-depth interview with creator Rob Thomas discussing the new direction for the series he tried to pitch to network executives that picks up years later, with Veronica as a rookie FBI agent.

"The Sopranos - Season 6, Part 2" famously wrapped up the mob series with an up-in-the-air ending that infuriated many fans but just worked for me. I've never been one that demands closure, and from what I hear the ending of the new Coen bros. flick "No Country for Old Men" will put this further to the test, assuming I ever get to see it. Along with the final nine episodes, you get the promising featurette "Making Cleaver": A behind-the-scenes look at Christopher's horror film, and "The Music of The Sopranos," in which creator David Chase, cast, and crew discuss the songs from the show.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I am indeed going to cut this short and go watch "Heroes" now. Peace out.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Remake news so bad I couldn't possibly make it up

This being Monday and all, I'd love to be the bearer of better news. And at least part of me hopes you've all heard this somewhere else first to soften the blow.

When I first heard the idea that someone would actually remake "The Birds," I just assumed it was some kind of urban legend. No one would really do that, would they?

Well, as has happened at least once before, it seems I'm wrong. I hope Martin Campbell lives a long time and makes a lot more movies, because it's gonna take a heck of a lot of good karma to survive this.

Until now he's had a good enough run. "Casino Royale" was the best Bond movie in many, many years, and his "Zorro" sequel was fun enough. The ride stops, however, stops when he puts his hands on Hitchcock.

Here, as far as I can muster from the French site Cinempire.com, are the details: The bold fools who will write this abomination for Campbell are Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson (the team that wrote "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," a surprisingly entertaining flick.) In case you haven't vomited from all this yet, brace yourself, because it only gets worse.

What do you do when you know you're taking on a remake that should never even be started? Call it a "re imagining," of course. The formerly fairly talented Todd McFarlane is doing the same thing with "The Wizard of Oz," unless I rather quickly develop a talent like Maya's on "Heroes" and can do the world a big favor by taking all these idiots out (stay tuned, by the way, for much better news about "Heroes" in the next segment.)

And, worst of all about this madness: Naomi Watts is at least rumored to be in negotiations to fill the shoes of Tippi Hedren (who, I was pleasantly surprised to find, is still alive and kicking.) If she still has the energy at age 77, I would hope she'd use her foot on Ms. Watts' also rather pleasant posterior to kick enough sense into her to get her to just say no to this.

Whew. That's a lot of bile for a Monday morning, so how about some much better news about another blonde I like even more than Naomi?

Veronica Mars on "Heroes" tonight!

Just typing that was enough to make me smile, so I indeed hope I have that right. I've enjoyed hearing Kristen Bell's voice on "Gossip Girl" (yes, I'll admit it, I watch that), but it will be so much better to see her face again too on "Heroes."

As far as I can tell from the commercial, she's pursuing Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventamiglia) for some reason. The best NBC could come up with for a tagline was "what power will she have?" I would have at least added "Veronica Mars back on TV? F*** yeah!) A bit misleading, perhaps, but much more effective. Definitely tune in tonight.

More incredibly bad news

Sorry to alternate like this, but I'm still not fully awake, to be honest.

What's worse than a thoroughly unnecessary remake? In my book it would have to be these so-called "spoof" movies that won't just die. Apparently enough people (though hopefully no one reading this) went to see "The Comebacks" in week one that it made nearly $6 million. Not a ton, I guess, but probably enough to justify it's excremental existence.

Can it get any worse? After you watch this clip, you'll know the answer is definitely yes. I won't spoil it for you, because it's something you have to see to believe. I'll just leave you with a few questions. If you steal complete scenes from a flick, when does it stop being a "spoof" and just become a crime? And, not that I want to see her more often, but does Carmen Electra have a contract that only allows her to star in these flicks?. Anyways, I won't delay your agony any further. Click on the video if you dare, and please, please, remember I'm just the messenger. Peace out.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A weekend off, but recommendations aplenty

For me at least, there will most likely be no movies this weekend, because I'm headed up to Asheville, N.C., to spend the weekend with my folks. Not anything near a complaint, mind you, just the facts.

Even so, here's what I would recommend watching (and avoiding) from this weekend's busy wide-release slate:

1. "30 Days of Night"
You can tell from the begrudging respect given to this one by reviewers who usually heap scorn on horror movies that it should at least be pretty darn fun. What's beyond dispute is that it's based on a very clever premise: A pack of vampires attacks a small Alaskan town in the dead of winter, giving them 30 days of interrupted darkness for a feeding frenzy. Bring it on.

2. "Gone Baby Gone"
I may be the only person that didn't much care for "Mystic River" at all, but this flick directed by Ben Affleck (yes, really) from another Dennis Lehane novel about an abducted child sounds like it's less heavy-handed but more solidly entertaining.

2. "Rendition"
Even those who agree with the politics of this one (and since it basically, I think, boils down to don't torture innocent people, who doesn't?) might find it more than a little preachy. I'm confident, however, that Gavin Hood, director of the simply flawless "Tsotsi" (if you haven't seen this one, do so immediately), will deliver a smart and entertaining political thriller. And the cast is simply amazing.

4. "The Ten Commandments"
OK, from here there's a distinct drop off. An animated version of the Ten Commandments story without Charlton Heston or, according to reviews, much life at all? No thanks.

5. "The Comebacks"
Seeing Bill Buckner boot that ball in the World Series was pretty darn funny the first time it happened, but I just can't see any possible reason I would want to see him re-create it again (and yes, he's really in this) in this "spoof" of sports flicks. I thought it was the very funny Rob Corddry who had the misfortune of playing coach Lambeau Fields (get it?), but it's apparently his look-alike, David Koechner. Please, please, please do not go see this.

"Sarah Landon & the Paranormal Hour"
I list this one last but with no number because I simply know nothing about it. I will say, though, that the title above is much better than "Sarah Landon & the P," as it's listed at one of my multiplexes. That could be a whole different kind of weird, I'm afraid.

So, there you have it. Please feel free to offer your opinions on any of those, and have a fantastic weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A fairly cool music biopic, but why not the Stax story?

Though I enjoy a well-constructed music biopic, I think a major fault with most of them is the subjects too often are titans we already (or at least think we) know everything about.

There are plenty of stories to be told from the world of music if you look beyond Ray Charles or Johnny Cash. "Control," the story of Joy Division's Ian Curtis, is one I'm certainly eager to see, but I'll probably have to wait for DVD (or maybe New York at the end of the year.)

What I really like, though, and we don't see nearly enough of, are movies about the often seedy business of making and promoting music. Now, however, there's one such flick just starting to take shape that definitely has me intrigued.

Matt Dillon has signed on to play Leonard Chess, who founded Chess Records and first recorded many of America's greatest blues singers. And now, in even better news, Jeffrey Wright has signed on to play bluesman Muddy Waters in the flick, titled either "Cadillac Man" or "Cadillac Records," depending on who you ask (the title refers to Chess' habit of selling records from the back of his Caddie while scouring the South for new talent to sign.)

If I were to put together a list of the 20 or so actresses/actors the world simply can't continue without (not a bad idea, actually), Mr. Wright would have to be near the top. And If I had to pick one role I've liked him in more than any other, it would have to his riffing with Bill Murray as Winston the would-be mystery writer in Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers."

But as cool as this flick, being directed by Darnell Martin and filming in January in New Jersey and Chicago, sounds, there's one other that would really get me jazzed: A Stax Records movie.

Now, there have already been several documentaries made about this great little soul label, including one just out on DVD titled "Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story." But what I'm talking about is a grand biopic about the label that launched Otis Redding, The Staple Singers, Sam and Dave and many other great acts.

In case anyone has a little cash lying around and wants to run with this idea, I've even got what I think is a can't-miss casting tip for you. In the right light, Wesley Snipes (who surely needs the work) could easily be a doppelganger for the late great Big O. There, I've got you started.

And, at the end of this post (if you make it that far}, I've included a clip of my favorite Stax act, Mavis and the Staple Singers, singing "Reach Out, Touch a Hand, Make a Friend" at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1981.

Sci Fi plots a "Revolution"

Any glimmer of original sci-fi, and I'm not talking about rehashing old ideas like "The Bionic Woman" here, is reason to cheer, and the Sci-Fi Channel might just have its hands on a real winner.

The channel has just greenlighted "Revolution," a two-hour futuristic action-drama pilot from writers Ed Redlich and John Bellucci, with Simon West in negotiations to direct.

Redlich described the project to the Hollywood Reporter as "re-envisioning the American Revolution 200 years in the future." Cool enough. It's set in New America, a distant colony on an Earth-like planet struggling for its independence from an increasingly hostile homeland, the United State.

"It centers on two multigenerational families related by marriage - a loyalist family and a family that is leaning toward rebellion - and how the impending revolution impacts their lives," said Redlich.

The pilot is slated to begin production in January. If it is picked up to series, Sci Fi is eyeing a summer debut. This is definitely one worth keeping an eye on.

"The Office": The funniest (U.S.) show ever?

I'm not sure I'm ready to go there just yet, but Andy's pitching woo to Angela with "Take a Chance on Me" in three-part harmony has pushed it right to the brink in my book. The hour-long episodes, unfortunately, end after tonight's, but we have at least three more new episodes coming in a row. Here are the descriptions from NBC:

Tonight: “Money”
As Jan (Melora Hardin) renovates the condo, Michael (Steve Carell) confronts his growing debt every way he can, which includes pressuring his employees for a loan. Pam and Jim spend a night out on Dwight’s (Rainn Wilson) family farm, now a bed and breakfast (I'm laughing already just reading that.)

Oct. 25: “Local ad”
When the Scranton branch is asked to participate in a Dunder Mifflin ad, Michael seizes his chance to exhibit his creativity. Meanwhile, Dwight explores the online world of Second Life.

Nov. 1: “Branch Wars”
When Karen (guest star Rashida Jones) tries to woo Stanley (Leslie David Baker) away from Scranton, Michael fights back, dragging her ex, Jim, into his war. Meanwhile, the existence of a “Finer Things Club” further disturbs Dunder Mifflin’s calm.

Nov. 8: “Survivor Man”
After Ryan (B.J. Novak) excludes Michael from a corporate wilderness retreat, Michael heads into the woods for his own survival adventure with nothing but the suit on his back. Back at work, Jim tries to revolutionize the office birthday party.

Visual proof that Sly should just hang it up

The fine folks at the great Froggy film site Cinempire.com have posted the entire press kit of photos for Sylvester Stallone's "John Rambo," but I'll spare you the full blow and just post this one.

In it, you'll see a look that's way too familiar. Bass players seem to get it, especially if they play in jam bands. It is, to be as crude as possible, "dump face," and it certainly doesn't look too good on a 61-year-old (yes, really) man trying to act way younger than his age. To be fair, I thought "Rocky Balboa" was fantastic, but there's just no way you'll be able to drag me to this one. Here's the pic (and remember, I warned you):


And, finally, if that hasn't caused you to lose your lunch, wash it down with this promised clip of the fabulous Staple Singers and have an entirely suckfree Thursday.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Where Are They Now?: "Freaks and Geeks"

The most obvious answer to this question might seem to be "in Judd Apatow's movies," but some of the kids from this great one-season show have just seemed to disappear altogether. So, just in case one person besides me would care about this, here goes:

Lindsay Weir
First of all, how in the world is the simply stunning Linda Cardellini not a major movie star? I'm very happy she has had a five-year-and-counting run on "ER," but I gave up on that show years ago. The only movie I can remember seeing her in was "Brokeback Mountain," as the waitress who removed all doubt that Heath's cowboy was indeed completely gay. Her upcoming projects are the Larry McMurtry TV miniseries "Comanche Moon," coming to USA in December, and then the movie "The Heaven Project," a thriller directed by John Glenn (probably not the 86-year-old former astronaut) which she appears to be toplining with Paul Walker.

Sam Weir
Believe it or not, John Francis Daley is the star of a flick I have only heard rumblings about but sounds pretty frigging cool. An autobiographical flick from Patrick Read Johnson titled "5-25-77," it's about (in case the title didn't give it away) one dude's quest to see "Star Wars," which is surely impeded by various complications. If anyone knows anything more about this, please let me know. He also popped up once on the the funniest thing on the Internets, Michael Cera and Clark Duke's Clarkandmichael.com.

Daniel DeSario
Clearly the most successful of the Freaks or Geeks (except for maybe Seth Rogen), James Franco has just gotten into the directing game with "Good Time Max," for which he's now making the festival circuit. He also co-wrote and stars in the flick, which is described thusly at the IMDB: Two genius brothers grow up and grow apart as one becomes a successful surgeon and the other pursues a drug-fueled high life. I have to assume Mr. Franco is the latter, but I guess we'll have to wait and see. He also had a bizarrely small part in Paul Haggis' "In the Valley of Elah" and has two other upcoming projects listed: The stoner-buddy-witness-a-murder flick with Seth Rogen "Pineapple Express," coming next summer, and then something called "Nights in Rodanthe," in which he will play Richard Gere's son for Broadway guru George C. Wolfe.

Ken Miller
Although I don't think I'll get there anytime soon, it's entirely possible that the world is gonna have too much Seth Rogen, 'cause he's gonna be just about everywhere. Next up, early next year, he's starring in "The Spiderwick Chronicles," a family-friendly fantasy from Nickelodeon (I think) and based on the books by Holly Black. After that comes the aformentioned "Pineapple Express," which he co-wrote with partner Evan Goldberg, and then another "Star Wars"-themed flick you may have heard of, "Fanboys." Then he turns to two animated projects I can't say I'm terribly excited about, "Horton Hears a Who" (why!?!?) and "Kung Fu Panda."

Neal Schweiber
The last place I can remember seeing Samm Levine was standing on line waiting to get into that club in the "OK, Awesome" episode of "How I Met Your Mother." Since then he's mainly done short stints on TV (including one appearance on "Veronica Mars," huzzah!) and apparently (though I have no way of confirming this) had a role this year in the Amanda Bynes flick "Sydney White." His newer projects are "Anderson's Cross," a comedy which, although it apparently won "Best International Feature" at the 2007 Bridgetown Film Festival in Barbados, is probably out on DVD already, and then some kind of marriage comedy titled "Made for Each Other."

Bill Haverchuck
Always my favorite of the "Freaks and Geeks" crew, Martin Starr also appeared on an episode of "HIMYM" (yes, it's gonna keep appearing, so forgive the abbreviation), in which he got to flirt with Cobie Smulders. He's also remained solidly in the Apatow camp, appearing in both "Knocked Up" and (briefly) "Superbad" this summer. His only new project listed is something called "Good Dick," which will hopefully be as silly as its title implies but which I couldn't find out anything else about.

Nick Andopoulis
Jason Segel, of course, is one of the main stars of what is quickly becoming my favorite network TV show, the very-often-mentioned-today "HIMYM." He and Alyson Hannigan are even more adorable on screen than they would seem to be on paper. Next summer he'll get his directing debut courtesy of Mr. Apatow, the rather unfortunately titled "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." The few early reviews I've seen of this one haven't been promising, but with Mr. Segel and Kristen Bell as the stars, I'll definitely be there.

Kim Kelly
There must be some "HIMYM"-"Freaks and Geeks" connection I don't know about, because Busy Phillips appeared on the show this season as (gentlemen, control yourselves) one third of Ted's threesome that also included Danica McKellar (the former Winnie Cooper, who has, to put it as crudely as possible, growed up good.) Her only new project is something called "Made of Honor," which appears to be a romantic comedy (hence the rather painfully punny title) headlined by Michelle Monaghan and Patrick Dempsey.

Harold Weir
Don't worry, we're almost finished, but I couldn't omit the parents, could I? Long after his legendary work in "SCTV," Canuck Joe Flaherty contributed perhaps the funniest moment on "Freaks and Geeks" with his Vietnam speech. The only project I could find for the great Mr. Flaherty was some kind of (Canadian, I think) summer-camp comedy called "Summerhood."

Jean Weir
Becky Ann Baker, since "Freaks and Geeks," has sadly not had much acting work to speak of beyond bit TV parts. Her most recent stint listed was a three-episode arc earlier this year on "All My Children."

And, of course, how could I wax nostalgic about the greatest one-season-only TV show without including a clip? Here's one of my favorites, in which Daniel joins the geeks for a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Enjoy, and have an entirely bearable Wednesday.



P.S.: If you happen to live anywhere near Macon, please make your way to the Capitol Theatre downtown tonight for a very special event. Georgia actor Ray McKinnon will be presenting his new film, "Randy and the Mob," at 7:30 p.m., and then sticking around to answer questions afterward. At $10 at ticket, it won't be cheap, but you have my guarantee this will make for a very entertaining evening. Hopefully I'll see you there.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What's next on "The Wire," and then for David Simon?

I know I promised reviews of two movies that left me more than a little cold, but I'd much rather talk about something much more exciting: the upcoming final season of "The Wire." So, I'll get the movies over with very quickly.

"We Own the Night" was one of the most disappointing movies I've seen in many years. James Gray, who showed such promise with "Little Odessa," has clearly run out of new ideas, instead choosing to pile up all the cop cliches he could find for this extremely tired tale about NYPD cops and familial ties. Despite strong performances from Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix and Robert Duvall, there's no reason at all that I can recommend anyone see this failure.

"Elizabeth: The Golden Age" was more of a mixed bag. When Cate Blanchett's queen and Clive Owen's Sir Walter Raleigh share the screen for some silly flirting it is a true guilty pleasure, but when it tries to tell anything approaching a broader story it really falls apart fast. Worth a rental at best, in my opinion.

OK, now on to the good stuff. The New Yorker, in this morning's issue, has a very long (12 pages!) story about David Simon and "The Wire." I have to admit that, crunched for time, I had to stop anything but skimming at about page 7, but will go back this afternoon for the rest. Here are some highlights I garnered about the fifth and final season, coming to HBO in January:

This newest season, as has already been widely reported, will focus on the declining role of newspapers in our society. What I didn't know is that The Sun, along with letting its office be used in a few scenes, has also let its name be used in the new season.

The great Clark Johnson, pictured here and who played Meldrick on "Homicide," will be both a director of several episodes in the new season and also star as Gus Haynes, "a city editor who tries to hold the line against dwindling coverage, buyouts, and pseudo-news." Here's one excerpt that shows Simon, as he has with other aspects of Charm City in past seasons, really understand just what's going wrong with newspapers in America:

He complains about a photographer who invariably gooses the poignancy of fire scenes by positioning a charred doll somewhere amid the debris. (“I can see that cheatin’ motherfucker now, with his fucking harem of dolls, pouring lighter fluid on each one,” Haynes fumes.) And he patiently explains to a junior reporter one of those house rules which arbiters of newspaper style cling to with fierce persnicketiness: a building can be “evacuated,” he instructs, but you cannot evacuate people. “To evacuate a person is to give that person an enema,” one of the old-timers chimes in. “At the Baltimore Sun, God still resides in the details.”

Just as past seasons of "The Wire" have been populated with real drug-dealers that Simon and co-creator Ed Burns (a former Charm City cop) knew from past encounters, the new season will be packed with former reporters that Simon knew from his days as a crime reporter for The Sun.

Here's how he summed up his view of newspapers for "The New Yorker": “It’s like, find the eight-hundred-dollar toilet seat, find the contractor who’s double-billing. That’s their bread and butter. Systemic societal failure that has multiple problems — newspapers are not designed to understand it.” Sad but, I fear, true.

To read all of Margaret Talbot's fantastic reporting, click here, but remember that it will probably take a small chunk of time to read it all.

If you get far enough, you'll find Simon has also talked about what he'll be doing next, also for HBO, and it should be great. He's currently filming, or at least getting ready to film, a miniseries about the Iraq war called "Generation Kill," but after that he wants to head to the Big Easy.

Simon, who with "The Wire" has shown an acute eye for detail, has already been down there doing research for a series he hopes to produce about musicians rebuilding ther lives in post-Katrina New Orleans.

"This show will be a way of making a visual argument that cities matter," Simon told The New Yorker. " 'The Wire' has never done that. I certainly never said or wanted to say that Baltimore is not (worth) saving, or that it can't be saved. But I think some people watching the show think, Why don't they just move away?"

It's sad that the argument needs to be made that American cities are indeed great and worth protecting, but I fear he's right. And I certainly look forward to him making the case.

No respect for this "Jezebel"

When I first heralded the imminent return of "Gilmore Girls" creator Amy Sherman-Palladino to TV with "Jezebel James," several people wiser than me warned that Fox would treat this new show - as it has with many others - very poorly. Alas, they were right.

It seems that Fox has already cut the order for ASP's new show, set for a midseason replacement to debut sometime in January, from 13 episodes to seven. I'm fairly confident that, rather than this being a sign that the show isn't any good, it's instead yet further proof that Fox does indeed just suck.

For anyone who doesn't know, "Jezebel James," if it ever indeed makes it your TV, will star Parker Posey (huzzah!) and "Six Feet Under" vet Lauren Ambrose (both pictured here) as, respectively, a woman who wants to get pregnant but can't and the estranged sister who agrees to have a child for her.

I really hope this eventually gets more respect, but in news I managed to miss about a week ago, Amy Sherman-Palladino should have more luck with a big-screen project she's just signed on to write and direct. With Sarah Jessica Parker in the lead, she's adapting the chicky book ""The Late Bloomer's Revolution" by Amy Cohen, an autobiographical tale about about how Cohen, after the death of her mother, developed a bond with her father as they both tried to get on with their lives in the dating world. More than a bit too girly for me, but hopefully also extremely funny.

Fun with pictures and trailers

OK, this has already gone on a bit longer than I had planned, but I have to share two things that should make everyone smile. Every picture I see from Michel Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind" just makes me want to see the flick right now, and this latest shot, which I have to assume is a sendup of "Driving Miss Daisy," is no different.


And finally, here's a rather poor-quality but still enjoyable trailer for "Charlie Wilson's War," the Mike Nichols film coming in December. Before seeing this trailer, I hadn't been too excited for this one, even though it was scripted by Aaron Sorkin, but now you can put it right up there with "American Gangster" and "Juno" among the movies I'm most jazzed about for the rest of this year. Enjoy!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Weekend movie report: Two out of three ain't bad

Man, do I love the fall. So far, three new movies watched (two good, one pretty darn awful) and one more to go today, "Elizabeth," which I'm cautiously optomistic will be better than it's rather harsh reviews. Today I'll deal with the two winners since, after all, Monday's always just a little better with some good news.

We'll start with "Michael Clayton," which, only surprising me a little bit, got absolutely clobbered at the box office by "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married," $21.5 million to $12.1 million.

Now, I can take or leave George Clooney, frankly. Often, especially with "Syriana," he just seems so smug that I want to smack him until he cries. In "Michael Clayton," however, maybe because he's playing a character who's already been pretty beaten-down by life, I found him to be much more bearable.

In Tony Gilroy's unconventional legal thriller he plays the titular character, a "fixer" who's already pretty broken himself. Think of Mr. Wolf from "Pulp Fiction" at the end of a three-day bender and you're in the right ballpark. It's a performance that just worked for me, but most of the credit for "Michael Clayton" being such a satisfying flick goes to Mr. Gilroy and a supporting player to be named later.

Gilroy, who also wrote the screenplay for this summer's smartest thriller, "The Bourne Ultimatum," makes this rather familiar story about a high-powered law firm defending an unsavory chemical company feel fresh mostly by what he leaves out. There's not, at least that I can remember, one courtroom scene, and therefore any way-too-dramatic speeches are kept to the very end. And though there is a "smoking gun" in the form of an incriminating document, it isn't overexposed.

What Gilroy delivers instead is a solid character study, of Clooney's Clayton and even moreso of the lawyer he's sent to "fix," played by the always-welcome Tom Wilkinson. The movie opens with one of his possibly insane monologues, and it's the trajectory of Wilkinson's Arthur Edens that keeps this flick moving at a briskly entertaining pace. I'm almost certain you'll be hearing his name on Oscar night in the supporting category, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he's a winner.

My only beef with Mr. Gilroy's movie is that Tilda Swinton is rather criminally underused as the main attorney for the bad guys, as is The White Shadow as the bad guy in chief. But these are really just quibbles about a movie that deserves to be seen by many, many more people in week two.

Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married

First of all, a hearty huzzah to Mr. Perry on his box-office triumph. I had an inkling that, since my Sunday evening showing - at a time when much of his target audience might still be just returning home from church - was packed, he would come out on top for the weekend. But I had no idea he would clobber Clooney so soundly.

I've been a Tyler Perry supporter (as if he needs me) ever since "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" because he makes movies that are, although clearly flawed, like nothing else you'll see on the big screen now. And while "Why Did I Get Married" represents a real step forward in both star power and mainstream appeal, it retains the magic formula that makes his movies so enjoyable: Self-help mojo just a few degrees removed from "Oprah" but repackaged with real characters and a compelling story.

And, I'm gonna go ahead and open myself to all kinds of fire and compare him favorably to two of my favorite directors, Woody Allen and Pedro Almodovar. Yes, that Woody Allen. The comparison works for me because Perry writes characters that - though they still appeal mainly to people with skin the same color as theirs - are universal in their neuroses (or, in Mr. Perry's hands, "drama.")

In the case of "Why Did I Get Married," the characters are eight college friends - four married couples - who are now approaching middle age and dealing with all kinds of issues. When "Married" works best, they handle these problems with as much humor as tears.

And, with "Married" even more than his other flicks so far, the Almodovar comparison is very strong. Here, he writes four solid female characters, and lets his top two break down in a very similar way to last year's "Dreamgirls."

The glamour girl, Janet Jackson rather than Beyonce, tops the bill but loses much of the spotlight to the big girl, here Jill Scott rather than Jennifer Hudson. And Scott steals the show because she knows that what Perry requires from her - even as she plays a very vulnerable character more than a little prone to crying - is to never forget she's a diva. It's a tremendously likable performance from a new face I think you'll be seeing a lot more of in the future. Rounding out the women are Sharon Leal as a career-minded attorney (and, in the flick, Mr. Perry's wife) and Perry regular Tasha Smith as essentially the Id, as usual the character most likely to provoke outbursts of something along the lines of "You go girl!" from the audience.

This being a Tyler Perry movie, the men get short-shrift by design, but so what? "Why Did I Get Married" isn't a perfect movie by any stretch. The story loses more than a little bit of steam once the four couples leave the Colorado mountain cabin where they go to work out their problems and return to the real world. But overall it's another successful flick that follows the Perry formula that I - and apparently more than a few other people - have grown to love.

Friday, October 12, 2007

This just in: Black people like going to the movies

This morning as I hit the multiplex to see "We Own the Night," a very by-the-numbers cop flick salvaged only by atmosphere and tremendous acting, I noticed there were at least twice as many cars in the parking lot as usual for the early shows.

It still didn't hit me until I saw who was actually in line - 50 to 100 black women, many of whom knew each other well - that I realized what was going on: It's that annual phenomenon known as a Tyler Perry movie.

Now, though I'm far from target audience for a Tyler Perry movie, up until now I've loved every one I've seen. They're never terribly deep, but as solidly entertaining escapist movie fare, they are ideal. And I thought his last one, "Daddy's Little Girls" with Idris Elba and Gabrielle Union, was his best work yet.

But, since like I said I didn't see his new flick, "Why Did I Get Married," on Friday, I'm not really here to discuss its merits or faults (it's on the viewing agenda for Sunday morning, most likely.)

Instead I'm just kind of wondering, and admittedly probably in a less than completely cogent way, why it is that if black people line up to see movies in which people who look like them in a positive light, Hollywood doesn't make more of them?

The last time I experienced anything like this was on Christmas day of last year, when I had the pleasure of squeezing into a packed showing of "Dreamgirls." Now, "Dreamgirls" was a damn fine flick, in my opinion, and watching it with so many eager people just made it that much more fun. I'm not sure in hindsight it quite deserved the minutes-long standing ovation it received at the end, but caught up in the moment as I was then it certainly seemed appropriate at the time.

I have to get to work now before I get into hot water, but if anyone has insight into why more movies like this aren't made (and no, putting Martin Lawrence in another buddy movie doesn't count), please let me know.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gondry getting animated? Bring it on!

I'm embarrassed to say that I have yet to see Michel Gondry's "The Science of Sleep." It's just one of those movies that has sat in my Netflix queue for a long time now, just below the mailing line.

That admission aside, Gondry has crafted easily two of my favorite movies with "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" (even if you don't like rap music, just trust me and watch this one as soon as you can if you haven't already.) So, it's easy to get jazzed about any bit of Gondry news, especially when it's this good.

According to the MTV Movies Blog, which has become a surprising daily stop in my reading list, he's teaming up with his son, Paul Gondry, to make an animated flick about their life together. Since Gondry's flicks often take on the dream-like feel of the best animated movies, this can only be a good thing.

I tried to Google Paul Gondry and see what his work might look like, and this still from a comic he did for Filter magazine was all I could find. From what I can tell, he's a teenager who is already following solidly in his father's footsteps, having already directed a music video for the Willowz' "Take a Look Around."

Here's how Michel describe their new project to MTV: “We’re translating our relationship into a futuristic story with a dictator and a rebel. He’s the dictator in the story [and] it will be based on [his] art. - It’s going to be quite amazing.”

Sounds great to me, and of course come January we'll finally get to see Michel's next flick, the guaranteed-to-be-fun "Be Kind Rewind." Sometimes, life really is good.

"Deadwood" not completely dead?

I hesitate to tease people about the possible revival of this great show in the form of movies, but this piece on David Milch's new HBO project did offer one tantalizing tidbit.

Now, I'm only just about to embark on season 3, with the first episode on the viewing menu today, so if this was something that "Deadwood" diehards knew already please forgive me. In James Hibberd's column at TVWeek.com, you'll find this tidbit: The pair of two-hour movies take place after the town of Deadwood is destroyed by fire and floods, thus the sets are unnecessary.

That should read would take place, because the piece goes on to make clear that, even if striking the sets doesn't necessarily mean the end of "Deadwood," HBO has no plans at this time to revive it. And Milch, of course, would have his hands tied with his new HBO project, which sounds pretty friggin' cool itself.

The new series, assuming it gets picked up by HBO, will be set in the New York Police Department in the 1970s and involve the Knapp Commission investigations. The Knapp-era gave rise to the story of patrolman Frank Serpico, whose revelations about corruption within the department were made into the book and flick. If memory serves me correctly, it will be semiautobiographical, and the main character will be a Vietnam vet now serving as a NYPD cop.

As much as I'd love to see the two "Deadwood" flicks, this new work sounds just perfect for Milch, who back in the day was a co-creator of "NYPD Blue" and a major writer for "Hill Street Blues." Here's hoping he works quickly!

Andy Griffith, ladies man?

Even though we moved out of the great republic of Virginia when I was very young, I still consider myself a Southerner of sorts, especially since I've lived down here in Macon for seven years or so now. And with this Southernness, I suppose, comes a required appreciation for the great Andy Griffith.

Seeing him again in earlier this year in "Waitress" just made me smile, and now he's getting involved in a little indie flick that could be hilarious. In "Play the Game," Paul Campbell of "Battlestar Galactica" will school his grandfather, Mr. Griffith, in the fine art of picking up women.

I really have nothing else to say about this, but I thought it might make at least one person laugh.

"Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains" trailer

Another Southerner who should get nothing but love is former President Jimmy Carter. If you can really watch him riding his bicycle in this trailer for Jonathan Demme's new doco "Jimmy Carter Man From Plains" and still have venomous thoughts about the man, there's nothing I can probably say to change your mind.

Enjoy this trailer I found on YouTube, and if this movie somehow makes it to your little corner of the world, go see this doco about a man who may have been a fairly awful president but is still a great American. Enough said.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lovable losers: My favorite movie misfits

I was gonna call this list favorite f***ups, but this blog is, after all, still linked from a family newspaper.

In case anyone wonders where I get the idea for these lists from, it doesn't take much. This morning it was simply thinking of one of my favorite movies that I hadn't seen for several years, the one that happens to top this list. I'm sure there are many other movie freaks and geeks out there that have captured your hearts, so please feel free to add any I have snubbed in the comments (and, for the record, I didn't include "Napoleon Dynamite" because Napoleon is, of course, far too cool to ever be called a loser.

1. "You Can Count on Me"
When, under duress, I'm requested to name a single favorite film, this little Kenneth Lonergan gem has been known to top the list from time to time (though if you ask me 10 times, you might just get 10 different answers.) This charming take on the prodigal son tale introduced me to both Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo, and I can't ask for much more from a movie than that. I thought Kenneth Lonergan had just disappeared, but a visit to the IMDB revealed this welcome fact: He has a new movie, called "Margaret" and starring Anna Paquin, listed as completed. Welcome back, Mr. Lonergan.

2. Jesus' Son
Count this one as both one of my favorite books and movies. The flick by Allison Maclean (another once-promising director who has seemed to just disappear) captures all of the desperation of Dennis Lehane's novel, and Billy Crudup, Samantha Morton and, particularly, Holly Hunter as the angel/savior are all fantastic.

3. Ghost World
Thora Birch may just be the perfect example of a lovable loser. In "Ghost World," her Enid flunks out of art class, tries and fails to find love with Steve Buscemi and then, possibly, commits suicide (I really hope I'm not giving anything away here, but if you haven't seen this great Terry Zwigoff film, do so right away, and the ending is wonderfully ambiguous enough that I'm almost certain you won't be mad at me.)

4. Manhattan
Just how in the world did Woody Allen con so many beautiful women into being pawns in his often-twisted romantic movie world? Though you can argue that even Woody's best flicks follow a familiar path, this one is always my favorite because of just how far his Isaac Davis actually falls: By the time he's standing in that apartment building lobby, rejected for the last time by his 17-year-old muse Mariel Hemingway, it's just movie perfection.

5. Rushmore
It seems wierd to call a character as confident in his geekhood as Max Fischer a loser, but look at what happens to him in this great Wes Anderson flick. He starts by flunking hard out of Rushmore Academy and then is barely even able to make a go of it in the wild world of public high school. Like the best losers, however, Max gets the last laugh (and dance), of course, to the always-welcome strains of the Faces' "Ooo La La."

6. Charlie Brown
You could pick any of poor Charlie's tales, but when I was a kid the one that always got me the most excited was "Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown." I guess it was the idea of kids getting to race down through rapids on rafts, against their pets, no less, that really got me jazzed.

7. Amelie
Can you call someone as adorable as Audrey Tautou a loser? Though Amelie Poulain eventually finds love in this thoroughly charming flick from Jean-Pierre Jeunet, look at how far she had to journey to get there: At the beginning of the movie, she's living all alone in an apartment building full of old folks and is barely a functioning member of society. I know many people find this flick just way too sappy to stomach, but it gets me every time.

8. After Hours
Martin Scorsese has surely made better movies than this silly little flick, but it still remains my favorite of all his works. As Griffin Dunne's Paul Hackett sees his night go from bad to worse to even worse, it's both a valentine to New York City and, even better, Martin Scorsese clearly having fun.

9. Rocket Science
I'll close with one from this year that I'm virtually certain almost nobody saw. As the follow-up to his documentary debut, "Spellbound," Jeffrey Blitz made this autobiographical flick about his experiences as a stuttering teen growing up in New Jersey. Despite the rather horrendous title, it features excellent performances from Reece Thompson and Broadway veteran Anna Kendrick, and co-star Nicholas D'Agosto can currently be seen as Claire's new boytoy on "Heroes." If you missed this one, look for it on DVD soon and enjoy one of my favorite flicks of 2007.

So, there you have it. A fun enough way to begin a Wednesday, I must say. Peace out.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A movie world without women? No thanks

When I first saw this, I assumed it had to be a joke. Did the head of a major American movie studio really say he would no longer greenlight any movies with women in the lead role?

And knowing this comes from Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily column in L.A. Weekly, it should perhaps be greeted with skepticism, but since I've yet to see any kind of denial I have to assume it's true.

It seems that Warner Bros president of production Jeff Robinov has made a rather bizarre new decree: "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead."

In case this weren't sick enough by itself, you need only look at what evidence he used to reach this conclusion to see just how wrong it is. What drove this man over the edge? The poor box-office performance of two movies, "The Brave One" and "The Invasion."

Now, I didn't bother to see "The Invasion" because, well, I've seen "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and didn't need to see it again, but I can speak with authority on "The Brave One." Having had about a month to digest this one now I can state firmly that it was the worst movie I saw this summer, and is a strong contender for the overall title for the past five years or so. Is he really proposing we condemn women to the role of sidekick simply because these two awful movie underperformed at the box office? (Yes, apparently.)

Forgive me if I'm unable to come up with much of a cogent argument here, because this just pisses me off and it's still rather early in the morning, not a great combination. But rather than go on a rant about the virtues of women (if you don't know what they are, I'm 100 percent certain I can't help you), I got to thinking about whether or not there is anything we can do about this.

A viewers' boycott of Warner Bros. would make sense, but I'd advocate instead a conscious effort to support what few big box-office movies there are with women in the lead. I could only think of two for the rest of the year, but if there are any others coming up that I've missed please let me know (and I'm not counting conventional romantic comedies here because, well, it would be rather hard to make one of those that wasn't, well, gay without at least one woman in a prominent role.)

The first that comes to mind, and yes, I'm gonna mention it again, is "Juno." If you make the sacrifice of seeing adorable Ellen Page in the lead role (gasp, a woman!), I can virtually guarantee you'll get one of the smartest and funniest movies of the year.

But it starts earlier than that in wide-release land, this weekend in fact. It's a busy fall weekend with a lot of good titles. Personally, I'll be going to see as many as four movies: "We Own the Night," "Michael Clayton," "Tyler Perry's Why Did We Get Married?" and "Elizabeth: The Golden Age." Though I can't believe this would actually be necessary, I'd like to make a plea in honor of Mr. Robinov that out of this crowded slate everyone at least take the time to go see "Elizabeth."

With (gasp again!) perhaps the world's greatest actress in the lead role of Queen Elizabeth I, this should be a rousing period tale about Elizabeth's relationship with Sir Walter Raleigh and its impact on the world. There's exactly one review at the IMDB calling it an "awful, boring film," but I'm betting that once a more representative sample comes in the scorecard will tilt back in its favor.

Even if "Elizabeth" does somehow turn out to be horrible, however, that doesn't change the fact that Robinov is a moron, even if, looking at the current slate of movies, he simply was stupid enough to say out loud what must run through the minds of most movie studio chiefs as they greenlight movies. I guess the most I can ask is that you go see as many good movies as possible, and if you do get lucky enough to see one with a woman in the lead role enjoy it while you still can.

"Futurama" to the rescue

Well, that was all rather depressing, so here's a YouTube clip sure to make at least a few people laugh. I'd already seen a rough cut of this, the trailer for the upcoming "Futurama" DVD movie "Bender's Big Score," from ComicCon, but this is of much higher quality. Peace out.