Monday, September 29, 2008

Trailer trifecta: A glance at three I'm really looking forward to

If you would have told me several years ago that David Fincher would direct a bona fide "Christmas movie," I would have thought you were straight-up mad.

And I had my initial doubts that he would be able to do much with F. Scott Fitzgerald's odd tale "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," about a man (Brad Pitt) who ages in reverse through the Twentieth Century. Judging from everything I've seen, however, including this lengthy new trailer, it indeed seems like he's come up with something that combines all his best touches with the crowd-pleasing scope of a holiday flick. Enjoy.

Since I've made little secret of just where I stand in this year's election race (and since I, frankly, don't really care who I might possibly offend), I finally decided to break down and get a Barack Obama "widget" for this site (and who came up with that crazy word anyway?).

I originally thought Oliver Stone's "W.", much like Michael Moore's movies in the past, would have a none-too-positive effect on the race, but with Bush so far gone in people's minds and this movie just looking more and more like such silly fun I now just can't see that happening. Here's the latest look at what Stone is cooking up, with the final product set to drop Oct. 29.

When I first heard what Baz Luhrman was attempting to pull off next, I can't say I was terribly excited. What in the world is a director with so much - for lack of a better word - flair doing making a movie in the dusty Australian outback?

I'm ready to be proven wrong once again. Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman star in this appropriately epic-looking tale about an English aristocrat (Kidman) who inherits a huge cattle station in Oz and joins forces with a stock-man (Jackman) to drive 2,000 head of cattle across hundreds of miles of the country's most unforgiving land during World War II. The "Casablanca" touch on the typography is more than a bit much, but count me there when this finally comes out Nov. 26.

And there you have it. Hopefully a little pleasant fodder for wasting some of your work day. Peace out.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

R.I.P. Paul Newman

I had planned to talk about Spike Lee's uneven but often wildly entertaining "Miracle at St. Anna" today, but I instead woke up to the rather depressing news that Paul Newman had died.

He was 83 and had suffering from cancer for quite a while, and therefore hadn't acted too often in recent years, most recently adding his voice to Pixar's "Cars." Looking back through his IMDB resume, he made many movies that I and the rest of the world love, but if I had to pick three favorites, they would have to be 'The Hudsucker Proxy," "The Hustler" and, of course, "Cool Hand Luke."

Probably the most quotable movie of all time, that last one is just cinematic comfort food. I've probably seen it as often as any movie I own, and will surely watch at least part of it tonight (after watching the Georgia Bulldogs just roll the Alabama Crimson Tide.) I really don't have anything terribly profound to say about this tragic loss, so instead just enjoy this fairly somber moment from "Cool Hand Luke" Mr. Newman singing "Plastic Jesus" and playing the banjo. R.I.P Mr. Newman.

Friday, September 26, 2008

World War II all around: Valkyrie, Miracle and Red Tails

I've been rather shocked at the mostly negative reviews that have piled up so far for Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna" (30 percent positive at Rotten Tomatoes, and even those were only really lukewarm.)

The main complaint I've read is that Mr. Lee has just bitten off too much to deal with here and lets his movie sprawl over the place and never really focuses on a single story line. Even if that is the case, I'm perfectly willing to sacrifice a rather whopping 2 hours and 46 minutes of my life to see what he's cooked up, because the only Spike Lee movie I can think of that I just had no time for at all was "Crooklyn," and most of the rest of them are movies that I just love. I'm gonna see it this afternoon, so please feel free to check back either tomorrow or Sunday to find out what I thought of it.

(As an aside, there's one scene in "Crooklyn" that just makes me cringe more than just about anything else I've ever seen on the big screen [and I'm really not exaggerating]. It's been a long time since I've seen it, but the stretch comes when the kids get shipped to my Maryland for a while, and apparently to make some kind of swipe at my homeland, he films the whole thing with some kind of gauzy haze. I still have no idea what he was going for, but it was just bloody awful.)

OK, I'm back. Along with releasing his own movie this week, Mr. Lee made news earlier in the week when he apparently disclosed to Roger Ebert the name of the director for "Red Tails," the upcoming Tuskegee Airmen flick being produced by Georgia Lucas. Here's what he had to say:

It was like eight men at the roundtable. And two of ‘em, Lee Archer and Roscoe Brown, was the 8th pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen, which I might add, this spring George Lucas is finally doin’ his Tuskegee Airmen film, “Redtails." He’s gonna produce it and a young African-American director, Anthony Hemingway, is gonna direct it. He’s done several episodic TVs, and is a young director so I’m looking forward to that and hopefully “Miracle” with “Redtails” coming’ up will generate more films to show the untold story about the participation.

You can read the rest of Mr. Ebert's interview here, and it's well worth spending a couple of minutes on. Mr. Hemingway's TV work covers everything from a few episodes of shows I love, "Battlestar Galactica" and "The Wire," to scattered episodes of other blockbusters like "ER" and "CSI NY." Screenwriter John Ridley, who came up with the uneven but still very funny "Undercover Brother" among other films, is scripting the tale of the pioneering airman, so this is one well worth keeping your eyes on when it comes out next spring or so.

And, finally, out today is also the first trailer (that I know of) for Bryan Singer's "Valkyrie," which if I'm not mistaken will finally come out in January. Tom Cruise stars as the main agent in an operation to kill Adolph Hitler, and though the movie supports a rather astounding supporting cast (Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Carice Van Houten, Stephen Fry, Terrence Stamp, Tom Wilkinson and Eddie Izzard, among others), I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that Cruise is the only name that appears in text in this rather kinetic trailer. Enjoy, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Three cheers: "The Office" is, finally, open again!

The biggest "Office"-related news this morning is actually that Ricky Gervais is close to being tapped to be the host of the next Oscars telecast. Wow. That would have to be a step up from every possible host except maybe Jon Stewart, and probably even from him. Bring it on.

But, of course, long before that, "The Office" returns tonight, and is sandwiched between two other hours of comedy that make this for folk like me a rather blissful night to just veg out in front of the TV.

First on NBC at 8 p.m. comes the return of "My Name Is Earl." Here's a show I can take or leave, but they've hooked me this year for at least the hour-long premiere by casting Seth Green as the latest poor sap Earl Hickey reaches out to help. It seems that Joy's (the insanely funny Jaime Lee Pressly) latest con reminds Earl (Jason Lee) of a wish he stole from a dying child, but he finds out the child, Buddy, is still alive. Throw in the mix that Buddy is being played by Mr. Green and he asks Earl to produce his movie, and you've got what should be high comedy.

That, however, is of course just a prequel for "The Office" at 9 p.m., which initiates what for the next three weeks or so should be two hours of perfect comedy (stay tuned for what follows, in case you some how don't know already.) As fans will remember (and I can't imagine that by now I'm spoiling anything for anyone who would care), in the season four finale Jan turned up pregnant - though not apparently by Michael's seed - and the now-engaged-to-Andy Angela was caught going fairly well beyond heavy petting with her former paramour Dwight. Juicy! Here, according to NBC, is what we can expect in the first three, I believe, all hour-long episodes starting tonight (and I'm extremely happy to report that "The Wire" alum Amy Ryan apparently appears in all of them!):

Weight Loss (tonight)
For the first time, we see what happens over eight weeks of the summer, as a Dunder Mifflin weight loss initiative causes the branch to diet and become obsessed with their weight. Michael (Steve Carell) pursues a friendship with his new HR rep, Holly (Amy Ryan). Jim (John Krasinski) misses Pam (Jenna Fischer), who attends art school in New York. Dwight (Rainn Wilson), Andy (Ed Helms) and Angela (Angela Kinsey) attend to unfinished business. (Aside from me: That last bit should just be priceless.)

Business Ethics (Oct. 9)
(Hold on a minute ... we have to take a week off? I guess that's to make way for Emmy-magnet "30 Rock," so I guess that's OK with me.)
Following Ryan’s (B.J. Novak) recent scandal at corporate, Holly must hold a business ethics seminar. The meeting gets out of control when Michael lets everyone speak freely about their unethical behavior at work. Meanwhile, Jim makes Dwight (Rainn Wilson) comply with the company’s “time theft” policy. (I can't imagine what that means.)

Baby Shower (Oct. 16)
Michael practices for the birth of Jan’s baby by having Dwight go over possible birthing scenarios (hah!). Meanwhile, Michael tells Holly that he will pretend to dislike her for Jan’s benefit.

Sounds like my second-favorite TV comedy will be back in top form, to be followed tonight by a fresh hour of the only one that's funnier (could it get any better than this?), "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." I'm not sure the guys and gal could ever be funnier than they were in last week's season four premiere all about the virtues of cannibalism, but thankfully they're gonna keep trying. Here, according to, is what's on tap tonight:

On the first episode, "America's Next Top Paddy's Billboard Model Contest," the gang invests in a billboard, so Mac and Frank attempt to find Paddy's next top model. Meanwhile Charlie and Dee work together to come up with the next big thing on YouTube. (I love the new apparent Charlie-Dee alliance - nothing but funny.)

After that comes "Mac's Banging the Waitress," which probably explains itself. Charlie wants Mac to beat up the waitress's new boyfriend, but what he doesn't know is that his friend is the one who's seeing her.

Now, I'll just close with this: I was in high school when NBC had it's last true Thursday night powerhouse lineup, led by "The Cosby Show" and "Cheers," and therefore thought I was too cool (believe me, I never really was) to admit these shows were classics. That said, take this NBC/FX combo, once you factor back in "30 Rock" and - while it lasts - the simply sublime "Scrubs," and I submit there's never been a better night of TV comedy, possibly ever. Enjoy it while you can! Peace out.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Free Michael Moore, Notorious B.I.G. and Madea? What a day

There's just a lot of odd stuff out there today, so let's start with the creme de la weird (with all apologies to Chuck Shepherd.)

The movie version of Bret Easton Ellis' "American Psycho," starring Christian Bale, was a surprisingly good adaptation and a rather severely underrated little flick. Not once, however, did I ever think while watching it, "gee, this would make a great Broadway musical." Someone else apparently did, though, and so we get this (and I can't read any of it without laughing):

Per Variety: "An '80s-tinged tuner adaptation of "American Psycho" has begun the development process and is aiming for Broadway. The graphically bloody novel, which juxtaposes Reagan-era decadence and gruesome killings, includes prominent references to bands of the era, a fact that contributed to the idea of musicalizing the story. Sounds of the time will influence the new show's score. 'Now in particular it seems relevant, especially given what's happening on Wall Street,' said David Johnson of Johnson-Roessler."

Now, as an employee of a company that's currently in the process of downsizing 10 percent of its workforce (which could quite possibly include me), I can certainly understand the impulse to tell the story of a Wall Street banker who just happens to be a serial killer in his spare time, but sheesh.

Free Michael Moore?

Almost as odd, and from the short snippet I've watched so far, possibly much more annoying is the fact that Michael Moore's new "movie" is available for free starting today on the Internets.

Now, don't get me wrong, I used to have a lot of love for Michael Moore, and still have a fairly sizable reservoir of goodwill for the man. I thoroughly enjoyed all of his movies up until "Sicko," and even that one - in which I thought he squandered the opportunity to diagnose what's severely wrong with our health care system to spend too much time gallivanting around Europe to show what's right with theirs - was at worst a noble failure.

Now, however, with "Slacker Uprising," it seems he's made an entire movie about, well, Michael Moore (and it's surely got to grate his cheese that David Zucker's movie mocking him, "An American Carol," will actually get to play wide in movie theaters starting next week.)

What you get in "Slacker Uprising" is Michael Moore touring college campuses to urge young people to register to vote in 2004 and oust George W. Bush. Both noble goals in my book, but Michael Moore being Michael Moore, in the trailer alone he already takes credit for truly starting some kind of real "uprising."

Excuse me? No offense to the youth of America, of which I am no longer a card-holding member, but what exactly have you accomplished at the ballot box, with or without Michael Moore? I'm fairly confident that things will be different this time, but if so, that will have a heck of a lot more to do with BARACK OBAMA and his forces than Michael Moore.

But I hadn't even planned to launch into all that just to tell you this: You can watch Mr. Moore's flick (which I do intend to do, in small snippets) for free by clicking here.

First look: "Notorious"

I have rather strong doubts that any flick about the Notorious B.I.G., a k a Christopher Wallace, that's being funded by his own mother is going to be terribly objective, but the cast at least is first-rate.

Jamal Woolard, who landed the role by being a rather large black man who knows how to rap, will play Biggie himself, but the supporting players are much more exciting. Angela Bassett will play his mother, Voletta Wallace (I guess when you put up your own money you get the best to play you!) Even better, Derek Luke - easily one of my favorite actors - will play Sean Diddy Combs, and the equally promising Anthony Mackie will play the late Tupac Shakur. (And, if I may digress just a bit, I wasn't really expecting to get the rather salacious "Choke" in Macon this week, but at least we get to see Mr. Luke in Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna." I can't wait.)

You won't learn too much more from this teaser clip for the flick set to open in January, but enjoy anyway.

Warning: Black man in drag and fat suit alert!

I really was hoping beyond hope that Tyler Perry was finally ready to retire the character of Madea for good.

After all, his latest flick - "Tyler Perry's The Family that Preys" - isn't perfect by any means, but when it sticks to the story of the friendship between the characters played by Alfre Woodard and Kathy Bates, it's tremendously entertaining. But I guess the urge to clown around in Madea's wig and fat suit was just too strong, so his next Lionsgate flick will indeed be "Madea Goes to Jail," based on his stage play of the same name. (And, oddly enough, Derek Luke's in this one too, playing an attorney.)

Remember, I warned you, but if you still want to see more, here's the teaser trailer. Peace out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The fine art of the psychological thriller

First off, a hearty congratulations to "Mad Men" in snagging the Emmy for Best Dramatic Series, but how in the world Jon Hamm didn't win for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series is simply a mystery and more than a small crime. Here today, however, it's all about my favorite flicks in easily one of my favorite subgenres.

Although I found a few charms in Samuel L. Jackson and Neil LaBute's "Lakeview Terrace," it was over all so generic and predictable that I just have to beg out of reviewing it (and since it obliterated everything else out there at the box office, they hardly need my help.)

Instead, here are 10 psychological thrillers that are a lot more subtle than that crowd-pleaser, starting with my all-time favorite and then proceeding in perfectly random order. So, here goes, and as always, please feel free to add any you truly love that I may have omitted (because, after all, I only have time to list 10.)

Death and the Maiden
I think I first watched this Roman Polanski flick based on an Ariel Dorfman play as part of a class at Catholic University, but as I said it has stuck with me as just about the perfect psychological thriller. Though the play is clearly about Augusto Pinochet's reign of terror, Polanski sets the movie in an unnamed third world country where Sigourney Weaver plays a housewife who is convinced that her houseguest, Ben Kingsley, is the man who tortured and raped her in the past. As the triangle between Weaver, Kingsley and Stuart Wilson, who plays Weaver's husband and a prominent attorney, unfolds it will just keep you engrossed until the very end, so see it if you haven't already.

A Simple Plan
Though "Spider-Man 2" is easily the best movie ever made by Sam Raimi, I'd put this little flick starring Billy Bob Thornton, Bill Paxton and Bridget Fonda in second (yes, ahead of "Evil Dead.") I've heard tell that the novel by Scott Smith is even better, but never having read it I can't attest to that, but I can tell you this little flick about the power of money is just a winner.

With a Friend Like Harry
The next two flicks on this list will be French because, well, they do psychological thrillers as good as anybody since Alfred Hitchcock, to whom this flick in particular owes a huge debt. In it, Laurent Lucas and Mathilde Seigner play a middle class couple who have a chance encounter with one of Lucas' old school mates Harry, played with chilling precision by Sergi Lopez. It's fun to watch as Harry slowly brings out all of Lucas' worst impulses, and it must be said for folks who take note of such things that Sophie Guillemin, who plays Harry's girlfriend Plum, is just an insanely beautiful woman.

Man on the Train
If I'm not mistaken, it was Ashok who kindly recommended this Patrice Leconte flick starring the French singer Johnny Hallyday and the great actor Jean Rochefort, and I'm certainly glad he did. In it, Hallyday plays a man who comes to a small town with the intention of robbing the main bank and Rochefort is a retired schoolteacher who takes him in as a boarder. It becomes a bit ponderous as they each start to examine the life choices they have made, and the end is just completely crazy (in all the best ways), but I can also recommend this one to anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

Apt Pupil
It's more than a little bitterly funny that the late Brad Renfro, who only managed to make it to the age of 25, almost made this list twice with both this mindbender and "Bully," a thoroughly terrifying flick from Larry Clark which just missed the cut. In this Bryan Singer flick based on the Stephen King short story, a very young Renfro plays a boy who finds out the old man down the street (the great Sir Ian McKellen) may just happen to be a rather notorious Nazi war criminal.

Hard Candy
What in the world ever happened to Ellen Page? I skipped the only movie I know she was in this year, "Smart People," but it certainly would be nice to see her on the big screen more often since "Juno." It was this truly chilling flick that first brought her to many people's attention, and in it she plays a teen who lures an Internet perv (Patrick Wilson, who also stars in "Lakeview Terrace") into a trap and just tortures him without mercy. It's almost as uncomfortable to watch as it is simply entertaining as hell, and Page is just fantastic in it.

Rosemary's Baby
Since this one doubles as my favorite horror flick, and is a second entry from Roman Polanski, it was a natural fit for this list. Michael Bay and his fellow felons actually have their eyes on remaking this one (along with "The Birds" and who knows how many other horror classics), but there's no way they'll even come to close to what Polanski created from Ira Levin's pulpy tale of an aspiring actor (John Cassavetes) who offers his wife's (Mia Farrow) first child to the couple next door, who just happen to worship Satan. Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer are just hilarious as the leaders of the little Satanic cult down the hall.

All the tricks that Christopher Nolan had perfected by the time he made "The Dark Knight" were honed in this little trip starring Guy Pearce as a guy with short-term memory loss who tries to piece together the details of his wife's death using notes and tattoos. "Insomnia," which Nolan made just after this one, is almost as good, but Pearce's singular performance just elevates it a notch above.

Manchurian Candidate
If Jonathan Demme's 2004 version of this hadn't been a remake of John Frankenheimer's classic, the latter one would have been a perfectly pleasant little political thriller. When compared with the original, however, it just can't stand up to what Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury delivered in this slightly flawed but still great flick about those pesky Communists and their predilection for mind control.

Shallow Grave
Whew, last one, but if this were in any order of preference I'd probably have this Danny Boyle flick right below "Death and the Maiden." Even more so than "Trainspotting," this tale of money and greed starring Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox (man would it be great to see her again!) and Christopher Eccleston established Boyle as easily one of my favorite directors, and I can't wait to see what he's cooked up this year with "Slumdog Millionaire."

And there you have it. As I said, please feel free to add any of your favorites, and have a perfectly passable Monday. Peace out.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ricky Gervais fans will enjoy a trip to "Ghost Town"

I have no idea if writer/director David Koepp created "Ghost Town" with Ricky Gervais in mind, but after watching it you won't be able to see how it could have worked in any way without him.

What they've managed to do is take a fairly routine ghost/love story and turn it into a bona fide charmer. And for the record, I can't remember the last time I bothered to see a movie about ghosts that wasn't a horror flick because I generally have little tolerance for sap.

There's certainly more than a little of that here, and more and more of it as the flick goes on, but from the outset it's a showcase for Gervais' endearingly jaded view of the world. As dentist Bertram Pincus, he's annoyed with just about everyone and everything around him.

The first 20 minutes or so (after you get to watch Greg Kinnear die, which I suppose has its own kind of joy for a certain number of folks) are basically one long Gervais riff, and it reaches its funniest point when he tries to get a straight answer about his slightly botched colonoscopy (of course) from a dippy, spray-tanning doctor (Kristen Wiig) and the hospital's lawyer/enforcer (Micheal-Leon Wooley). I guarantee that if you've ever been even a little frustrated with doctors (and if you haven't, I'm amazed) you'll just laugh out loud at all of this.

It's that operation that left Gervais' Pincus dead for about seven minutes or so, and afterward cursed with the ability to see and communicate with the many ghosts that lurk on New York's streets (and the flick, by the way, makes great use of NYC in the fall.) Luckily for us, until the inevitable warming of his heart, he remains just as annoyed with the dead as he was with the living, and just as caustic with their many requests.

Chief among them is Kinnear, who enlists Pincus to break up his widow's engagement to a human rights lawyer. The two of them are funny enough, but what saves the flick from ever careening completely into the realm of schmaltz is Tea Leoni, who as Kinnear's widow just has a natural rapport with Gervais. One of the movie's true pleasures is in watching her try to stifle her laughs at the more inappropriate of Gervais' riffs (cheeky but rarely crude stuff, a welcome change from the norm.) And "Daily Show" fans will enjoy seeing Aasif Mandvi as Pincus' dental partner who has to deal with all his most anti-social outbursts.

In the end, you won't learn a whole lot from this late-summer charmer, and hopefully Ricky Gervais won't either, because we all need him to be as sardonic as possible after this turn that should hopefully show the world he can successfully topline a Hollywood flick.

Unfortunately, a quick look at the box office numbers shows this one will only make about $5.5 million and finish behind even "My Best Friend's Girl." That's a real shame, but I think word of mouth about Gervais will keep this one in theaters for a good little while, so consider this my little part to help with that. Just go see it already!

Friday, September 19, 2008

First look: Synecdoche, New York

I get the feeling from watching this trailer for Charlie Kaufman's upcoming "Synecdoche, New York" that almost everyone's gonna agree he was probably better off with collaborator Spike Jonze, but so what?

After Jonze passed on this to direct "Where the Wild Things Are" (which may never even make it to a screen anywhere near you in the form that Jonze envisioned), Kaufman continued as both writer and director of this apparently rather sprawling flick, due out in at least limited release Oct. 24. And without that filter, we apparently get Philip Seymour Hoffman playing a theater director but really playing, well, Charlie Kaufman.

Anyone who's seen "Adaptation" probably agrees this can be a maddening but extremely entertaining thing to watch. In "Synecdoche, New York" (the title is apparently a play on Schenectady), Hoffman's character spends at least 17 years (guessing from a heartbreaking line that comes at the end of the trailer) building a replica of the entire city of New York in a warehouse.

According to Variety, who provided the trailer at the end of this post, the flick is an uneven meditation on life, death and anything else that crosses Mr. Kaufman's rather twisted mind, but it also "exerts sufficient power and artistic mystery to pull the willing a fair way down its twisty trail, and a first-rate cast led by Philip Seymour Hoffman and some wonderful women provide a constant lifeline even when it’s hard to know what’s going on.

When those women are Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton and Dianne Wiest, I'm definitely along for the ride, no matter how ponderous it gets (and even if I have to drive to Atlanta to see it.) Anyways, that's enough prattling on from me. Enjoy the trailer, which although it's often too dark to make out is still enough to get me geeked up for this one, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What to watch: I'll glady be menaced by Sam the Man and annoyed with Ricky Gervais

Even with two movies opening wide this week that I really want to see, it still just seems like an appetizer for the feast that will hopefully be coming next week.

If wide really does mean wide (which way too often simply isn't true), we get Sept. 26 three movies that I've just been waiting a long time to see: Fernando Meirelles' "Blindness", Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna" and Clark Gregg's "Choke," starring Sam Rockwell and Kelly MacDonald and based on the novel by "Fight Club" scribe Chuck Palahniuk. All three have been heavily advertised on TV all week, so I have my hopes very high they'll all reach my little corner of the world in week one.

But before that, we get a fairly remarkable five movies opening in wide-release land this week, two of which I'll actually be going to see. Here, in descending order of appeal, are this week's offerings:

"Ghost Town"
In designing a flick that should finally show that "Office" mastermind Ricky Gervais can indeed topline a flick that appeals to American audiences, the makers of this one have apparently just made a movie in which he will essentially play himself, which is just fine with me. In it, he plays a dentist who's pretty much annoyed with everything and everyone around him until he has a near-death experience and ends up seeing dead people who annoy him just as much as the living variety. That premise has me laughing already, and even better I can't wait to see what Gervais can do in 2009 with his big writing/directing movie effort, the rather seriously star-laden "This Side of the Truth."

"Lakeview Terrace"'
Ever wonder what happened to writer/director Neil Labute? I had forgotten all about him until I noticed his name attached to this fairly standard looking thriller that still might be a cut above the rest of the pack. In fact, a quick look at the IMDB revealed I haven't seen any of his flicks since 2000's "Nurse Betty," which was fairly entertaining. Here he's got Samuel L. Jackson as a rather pissed-off L.A.P.D. officer who gets more annoyed than usual (sense a pattern here?) when he finds out an interracial couple played by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington has moved in next door. I'm hoping there's more than enough gray in this black-and-white flick to make it interesting, and I'm still just a sucker for seeing Mr. Jackson be a serious badass.

An animated flick released after the kids are back in school? Never a good sign. In this one, John Cusack provides the voice of the titular mad scientist's assistant Igor, who just wants to be the master of his own lab. Sounds like a fairly promising premise, but early word is the story isn't enough to lure me in, even with John Cleese and Steve Buscemi in supporting voice roles.

"Beer for My Horses"
I'm not sure if this one really is playing everywhere in the U.S. or is just one of those little redneck flicks that they trot out only here in the South. Either way, I'm at least glad it's not an hour-and-a-half-or-so of Toby Keith threatening to kick everyone's ass. Instead, written by Keith and Rodney Carrington (an annual fixture on Macon's comedy club scene), it's the story of two buddies who team up to take on a corrupt sheriff and rescue one of their damsels from the distress of being kidnapped by drug lords. Somehow I'm sure I have the strength to just say no.

"My Best Friend's Girl"
Isn't the actual name of the rather cool Cars song that this flick steals its title and theme song from "My Best Friend's Girlfriend"? It's bad enough when you can't even get that right, but when you throw in three truly annoying (there it is again!) people - Dane Cook, Kate Hudson and Jason Biggs - in what looks like a "romantic comedy" that won't be remotely funny or romantic, you've just got a recipe for disaster. For some reason I thought Mr. Cook was in "The 40-year-old Virgin," but I'm mistaken, and it turns out I've never seen any of the "comedian's" movies. I'm 100 percent certain that streak will still be intact after this weekend.

Reel Fanatic poll results
It may not be as scientific as a Gallup poll, but I was happy to see 33 people cast 62 votes in my question about which Fall movies they're most looking forward to. And it turned out that every flick except "Tyler Perry's The Family That Preys" got at least one vote (I almost voted for that one myself just because I like Mr. Perry so much and hate to see him slighted). The top vote-getter is no surprise, but I didn't expect to see such strong support for "The Road" and a few other flicks. Anyways, here's the results, after which I'll just sign off and wish everyone a perfectly passable Thursday.

Top winner: 7 votes
"Quantum of Solace"

Second place: 6 votes
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Road"

Third place: 5 votes
"Burn After Reading"
"Slumdog Millionaire" (huzzah!)
"Zack and Miri Make a Porno"

4 votes:
"Miracle at St. Anna"

3 votes:
"Synecdoche, N.Y."

2 votes:
"Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist"

1 vote:
"City of Ember"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Mad Men" midseason report: Better than ever?

The big TV news out there today, I suppose, is that "Homicide" creators David Simon and Tom Fontana are reuniting for "Manhunt," a HBO miniseries about the 12-day search for Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. My mind reels at the possibilities of what they could do with that meaty topic, but here today it's all about the best show that HBO passed on.

After Sunday's pivotal "Mad Men," I had to check this morning to see if easily my favorite TV show on the air now was going to take some kind of midseason break. According to the IMDB, at least, such fears are unfounded and the show will air its full 13-episode run through the middle of October or so.

Which is certainly good news, since the show has settled into such a natural rhythm in season 2, offering stories with a little less urgency but just as much intrigue. My prediction: Peggy's developing relationship with the priest will finally force her to come clean, and she will reveal to Pete that he's her baby's daddy (if indeed he is) in the season 2 finale.

But before then, Sunday's ep, the slyly titled "A Night to Remember," finally delivered the breakdown we knew Bertie was headed for, and it was just as heartbreaking as expected. In true "Mad Men" fashion, however, it was also just darkly and seriously funny to see January Jones with her party dress losing all its luster as she can't bring herself to take it off for 48 hours or so.

Season 2 overall has brought the ladies behind the "Mad Men" to the fore, and Sunday's episode eight also offered the kind of comeuppance for Christina Hendricks' Joan that the show has made its signature. Even with her shoddy treatment of Peggy and genuine dismissiveness as the queen of Sterling Cooper, you had to feel for her as she found out firsthand just how little power women can expect to acquire at the ad agency.

And, as the show heads into Sunday night's Primetime Emmy Awards Show with like 800 well-deserved nominations, it's still filled with little moments that just make me smile week after week. My favorites from season 2 so far have been Bertie's early encounter with a former friend who is now a call girl, Peggy's attempt to join the boys club for a night on the town and Cooper's Rothko painting and his explanation of the economics of high art.

I can't wait to see what unfolds in the next five weeks, and if Matthew Weiner signs on for the three more seasons (I have to assume he will). If you're somehow not tuning in Sunday nights at 10 on AMC, I strongly urge to just give in now and get caught in this infectious show's web, and if you're as big a fan as me, please feel free to let me know if you agree that season 2 still has the show in top form. And flash back to the very beginning with clip of Joan giving Peggy the lay of the land at Sterling Cooper. Peace out.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Warning: A look inside Gilliam's "Imaginarium" might blow your mind

First off, a hearty congratulations to Danny Boyle, whose "Slumdog Millionaire," the flick I happen to be most excited about seeing for the rest of the year, has won the People's Choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Please, please, please let this mean it really does play WIDE when it hits theaters at the end of November.

But the main order of business here today is a look at what Terry Gilliam's cooking up for "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus," which will unfortunately have to also be known as the last time you'll able to see the late Heath Ledger on the big screen.

What I've always loved about Gilliam is that, though he's clearly a very obstinate man, he puts as much care into constructing the worlds his movies take place in as he does the dependably twisted stories. And, after a too-long intro trumpeting his past accomplishments, you can see in the concept art in this promo clip courtesy of Quick Stop Entertainment that his "Imaginarium" should be another wild ride. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Burn After Reading": "No biggie," but so what?

It really must be nice to be the Coens. What they've essentially done with "Burn After Reading" is enlisted as many of their A-list buddies as they could wrangle into what is easily one of their most nihilistic flicks - and probably one for devoted Coen fans only (of which I'm surely one.)

It's not that their twisted spy caper has no plot. It does, filled with the usual kind of Coen brothers' characters who are not terribly bright and almost always out to serve nothing but their own interest. As with "No Country for Old Men" and all their best flicks (which this isn't quite among), they've taken a conventional genre and added enough of their touches to make it a nasty little world that only they could create (even if in this case it's more than a little too close to the surveillance-crazy one we live in now.)

But this flick otherwise couldn't possibly be much different than the Coens' Oscar-winning triumph, and that's certainly something that should be celebrated. Despite its endearingly despicable characters, this is a screwball comedy until it comes to its inevitably bloody end, so the bottom line question is is it funny?

Well, after a slow start, the answer is very often yes, and thanks much more to Brad Pitt than I would have guessed. Judging from the trailers only, I expected to find his personal trainer to simply be annoying, but he's one of those Coen idiots that the brothers love to create, and Pitt jumps into it with gusto and steals just about every scene he's in. He doesn't quite go, as Robert Downey Jr. put it in "Tropic Thunder," "full retard," but it's pretty darn close and just very funny, especially when he's confronted with John Malkovich's CIA agent Ozzie Cox, who's as crazy as Pitt's Chad is stupid.

And what heart there is in all this darkness comes from Frances McDormand's obsession with plastic surgery in her quest for love and Richard Jenkins as the boss who loves her though she completely fails to notice. Without telling you any more to spoil this odd little flick, it may be the theft of intelligence from Malkovich's ousted spook that offers the semblance of a plot, but it's the three employees of the Hardbodies gym - Pitt, McDormand and Jenkins - that give the violence we all know is coming as much resonance as would be possible in such a wacky movie. (Jenkins, by the way, is just someone I always like to see, so I've just added last year's "The Visitor" to my Netflix queue to make up for overlooking that flick he toplined.)

In the end, it all really adds up to "no biggie," as JK Simmons's sardonic CIA supervisor says in wrapping it all up, but so what? It's not transcendent in the least and not quite the commentary on our current state of affairs that the Coens may have intended, but as a 90-minute lark with a dark wink, I'll take it and enjoy it. And they can always get "Serious" again next year with a flick about judaism and morality starring Richard Kind, so just take this little side trip while you can.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tidbits: Wes Anderson news, a flashy new Bond trailer and, yes, a poll!

Though I've never bothered to put a poll on here before now, it's not because I don't care about the opinions of the few people who are kind enough to stop by here from time to time. I simply don't like to mess with the template too much because I'm most likely to just screw it up!

However, with the Fall season upon us, I've finally broken down and bowed to my lame duck president's command to spread democracy around the world and do my little part. It's not the most scientific poll, since you can vote for more than one movie, but I hope it provides a few seconds of diversion.

As I made clear in my Fall preview, the three movies that get me the most geeked up would be, probably in this order, "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Brothers Bloom" and "Miracle at St. Anna." I can't wait to see what everyone else thinks.

In other news that's not about, well, me, it seems that Wes Anderson is jumping on the French remake train. Before I slag the man at all, and since I haven't talked about him for quite a while, let me state that I just about unequivocally love Mr. Anderson's first three flicks, with "Rushmore" being just about a perfect comedy and "The Royal Tenenbaums" being even better. (The Criterion edition of "Tenenbaums," by the way, is one of the very best in the collection, and well worth a rental to sift through the extras about how Anderson and his crew concocted the Tenenbaums' weird little world.

His last two flicks, however, "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and "Darjeeling Limited," just left me pretty cold (though that collection of David Bowie songs in Portuguese by Seu Jorge is still in fairly heavy rotation on my car CD player.) He's listed as being in "post-production" on Roald Dahl's "Fantastic Mr. Fox" because, well, apparently every director in the world gets to make at least one animated movie, and now (in a rather severe case of burying the lead) comes news about a "new project" he's writing and possibly directing for Universal.

And if you're gonna pilfer from the French, I suppose you could do a whole lot worse than Patrice LeConte. I haven't seen the work Anderson is set to take on, "Mon Meilleur Ami," but that will change in a few days when it comes from Netflix (last night I watched "In Bruges," and I can attest that while it's often entertaining in its wordplay, it's just one of the strangest little flicks I've ever seen.)

In LeConte's 2006 film, French everyman Daniel Auteuil plays "a cranky antiques dealer who learns at a dinner with his closest acquaintances that none of them really like him because of his harsh manner and selfishness. When his business partner bets him a valuable vase that he can’t produce a best friend, the dealer tries to get an amiable cab driver to pose as his buddy," according to Variety.

As someone who finds himself fairly cranky as I get older, that sounds like it could be a lot of fun to me, and just might give Anderson the boost he needs to get back in my good graces (because I'm certain he's lost a lot of sleep about that!)

And now, since this has clearly has gone on long enough, I'll close with the promised "Quantum of Solace" trailer, which at a full two-and-a-half minutes is just a lot of fun. It looks like it starts out as a pretty straightforward revenge flick about the death of Vesper (the mesmerizing Eva Green), but of course spirals into a lot more than that, and like "Casino Royale" just looks like an old-fashioned Bond flick in all the best ways. Enjoy, and have a perfectly bearable Thursday.

P.S.: There's also a spot of sad news out there in that writer Gregory MacDonald has died at age 71.

MacDonald, a prolific mystery writer, was best know for his "Fletch" novels, two of which I read and four of which were made into flicks. I love the novels and movies for their goofy spirit and because Fletch, the journalist-turned-globetrotting author, is just a great character (and the last time Chevy Chase was truly funny.)

Before he died, MacDonald apparently collaborated with Harry Stein on the script for another "Fletch" flick, "Fletch Won." Since that one, if it ever were to happen, is rumored to possibly star Joshua Jackson in the role of our hero, it's perhaps best if it just stays dormant (though you'd have me interested with John Krasinski from "The Office".) Rest in peace, Mr. MacDonald.

Monday, September 08, 2008

All hail the Coens: A video tribute

Like just about everyone else in the world, apparently, I didn't bother to turn out for Nicolas Cage's "Bangkok Dangerous," but believe it or not, it looks like there will be three potentially very good movies opening wide this week.

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino (heard of them?) team up for "Righteous Kill," a novelty that's probably enough to net my $6 for a matinee (though the Rolling Stones music in the commercial does raise rather serious fears that this will just be a tired Scorsese knockoff.) And secondly, Alfre Woodard, Kathy Bates and Taraji P. Henson (pictured simply because I like to look at her and I write this) join the Tyler Perry train in "The Family that Preys," which I'm betting will turn out to be a winner.

But, most importantly, it's also the return of the Coen Brothers with "Burn After Reading," which looks like it will be odd enough to fit just right in their body of work. I know they're not for everyone (though I certainly don't know why), but how many directors can you name who have made 10 movies that you either like or outright love? The Coens have accomplished this in my book (out of 13, including "Burn After Reading," which I of course haven't seen yet), so they've certainly earned at least the eyes of the few people who happen to stumble by here. So here, in order of just how much I like them, are my 10 favorite Coen brothers movies, with video enhancement where possible.

10. "Ladykillers"
Yes, "Ladykillers." I realize this remake is almost universally derided as the brothers coasting with nothing new to offer, but I find it to often be very funny. Sure, Tom Hanks is even more annoying as a "Southerner" here than he was in "Forrest Gump," but I submit that J.K. Simmons, Marlon Wayans and, most of all, Irma P. Hall are all fairly great in it, and I offer this clip from the Waffle Hut as proof.

9. "Miller's Crossing"
If anyone wants to quibble with this or any other flick not being higher on the list, remember that everyone on it is a winner to me. The best Coen flicks create a world to escape to for a little while, as it did here with this flick about Irish mobsters. Albert Finney just tore through this one, but believe it or not, that is director Sam Raimi in this brief shootout clip from the flick.

8. "Barton Fink"
If I'm not mistaken this was the first movie that had John Turturro as its principal star, and the first he made with the Coens. It's a portrait of a Hollywood writer suffering a rather severe case of writer's block (and wrestling movies and all kinds of other oddities.) Here's a clip of Turturro and the very funny Tony Shalhoub as a movie producer.

7. "Raising Arizona"
On paper this movie would just seem extremely stupid, and it occasionally is, but in all the best ways. The tale of H.I. and Ed and their quest to have a baby is just the silliest kind of fun, and having watched it last year on the big screen again I can attest that it well stands the test of time. Enjoy this clip of H.I. and Ed trying to oust the Snoats from their home so they can enjoy the company of some "decent folk."

6. "Blood Simple"
The ratings from here on out are kind of arbitrary since I love all of these. There have been very few more straightforwardly entertaining directing debuts than this "Simple" film noir, which introduced Frances McDormand to the world in 1984. Enjoy this opening bit of narration by M. Emmet Walsh, which ends with McDormand's opening line.

5. "Fargo"
The Coens really should have won their first Best Picture Oscar for this one, which in its mix of comedy, violence and intrigue really captures their spirit as well any other. It's also probably the best performances from both William H. Macy and Ms. McDormand. Here's what Siskel and Ebert had to say about it back in the day.

4. "No Country for Old Men"
Call it a "meditation on violence" or any other kind of high-falutin' terms that apply to Best Picture winners, but it's also just a chilling movie and a perfect example of the Coens taking the work of another, here Cormac McCarthy, and making it truly their own. Here's a clip of Woody Harrelson and Josh Brolin, who's been on a real roll since.

3. "The Big Lebowski"
Many people would rank this as the best of the Coen brothers' flicks, and I really can't argue with them. At it's best, when its not just fall-down funny, the dude's story works best as a wild dream, as this clip of Jeff Bridges just tripping balls to Bob Dylan's "The Man in Me" surely proves.

2. "Hudsucker Proxy"
Yes, "Hudsucker Proxy." Many would consider this oddity to be one of the lesser Coen flicks, but I just love it. There's just a sweetness to the tale of Norville Barnes that you don't find in too many Coens flicks, and Tim Robbins and Jennifer Jason Leigh play into it perfectly. Here's a clip of Norville's invention, the hula hoop, hitting the street.

1. "O Brother Where Art Thou"
This flick probably gets shown on Saturday afternoons on TBS more than just about any other in the world, and that just proves a key point about the Coens. Though they often poke fun at the people they paint, it's always in good fun, which is why Southerners (of which I claim to be one) love this movie just as much as I'd imagine Minnesotans do "Fargo." It's also just about the only flick I can think of where you can sit and listen to the great soundtrack and play back every scene from the movie in your mind. Here, to finish this off, is a clip of George Clooney and the boys performing "Man of Constant Sorrow."

So there you have it. For the record, the only two Coen flicks I left off of this list are "The Man Who Wasn't There" and "Intolerable Cruelty," neither of which I have much time for. I hope the clips served as a fun time-waster, and that "Burn After Reading" will be as oddly entertaining as all of these. Peace out.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A word or two in defense of the "Traitor"

Before I say anything about this surprisingly taut and fairly smart thriller, there's some rather big news out there this morning about two high-powered reunions.

First and perhaps more importantly comes word that Columbia Pictures is about to ink both Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire for not only a fourth but also a fifth "Spider-Man" flick, to be shot back-to-back a la "Lord of the Rings."

I've made it clear that like almost everyone in the world I simply hated "Spider-Man 3" as much as possible, but I still think this is a good thing (and surely, with the first three flicks grossing $2.5 BILLION worldwide, Columbia does too.) Everyone deserves a shot at redemption, and since Raimi has already delivered in my opinion the best superhero flick of all time (nothing like a little Saturday morning hyperbole!) in "Spider-Man 2," I'm more than willing to give them another go. (No word yet on whether or not Kirsten Dunst will be back as Mary Jane, but I'd have to imagine she will be, or who the big bad [or two, but please, not three!] will be.)

In other reunion news, director Spike Lee, scribe Terry George and producer Brian Grazer are all apparently on board for an "Inside Man 2," with Lee saying he knows that Clive Owen and Denzel Washington would like to get involved too.

Lee said the story will focus on the same two main characters, Owen's bank robber and Washington's hostage negotiator, but put them in a different "high tension" situation.

So why can't I get terribly excited about that? Well, I guess I just have way too high expectations for Mr. Lee. His movies aren't always perfect, but they are always ambitious and unique, with "Inside Man," his first genre pic, being the first and only of his flicks that I found lacking in both traits.

I'll still give it a chance, but I'm much more excited for Mr. Lee's upcoming "Miracle at St. Anna," which I'm still betting will get him more Oscar love than he's ever encountered before.

But, finally, onto the order of the day, the surprisingly satisfying thriller "Traitor."

It took the presence of Don Cheadle as the star (how in the world do so many movies get made, but he hasn't toplined one since Kasi Lemmons' "Talk to Me"?) to make me give up my short-lived promise to not see any more movies about terrorism. It's not that they particularly scare or unnerve me, but they really have nothing to say about a problem with no clear solutions in sight.

And to it's credit, "Traitor" only briefly pretends to have any answers at all (unlike "Syriana," which thought way too much of itself but was even less enlightening), and instead just delivers a fairly conventional but entertaining spy-style thriller without any of the camera-crazy theatrics of the "Bourne" movies or the time gimmickry of "24," which I gave up on after watching Jack Bauer save the world twice.

At the center is Cheadle's Samir Brown, who is an American armed forces veteran who was born in the Sudan and is now apparently an arms dealer. He sometimes seems to be driven only by who's willing to pay for his explosives and expertise, but at others speaks the rhetoric and performs the acts of a devoted terrorist (I would say "jihadist," but to be honest, I'm not entirely sure what that means.) We never learn too much about Brown's background or how exactly he reached this point, just that he's a devout Muslim.

So, in lesser hands this movie and character would have been yet another noble failure on this subject, but trust me, you won't be able to take your eyes off of Cheadle as he chillingly seems to be plotting with Muslim extremists to strike at America in a way that would truly be a shocking tragedy and disaster. The best scene, his reaction after learning how many people died in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Nice, is just perfect as the turning point for his character's duality.

And that's another way that "Traitor" just works extremely well. It's entertaining but, at the same time, much more realistic and therefore troubling than your standard action thriller. As Samir and his main ground level co-conspirator, played with precision by Saïd Taghmaoui, methodically lay out the groundwork for their plot the tension keeps growing as slowly but surely for the second hour.

So as a late-summer thriller it worked just about perfectly for me, but it's not without its flaws. On the law enforcement side, Guy Pearce gives his all as the better half of the good cop/bad cop FBI team with Neal McDonough, but their characters are fairly generic composites. And the answers seem to come way too easily to an intelligence network that can't even keep track of its own agents. Jeff Daniels, however, is the key and is as cool as usual.

The bottom line: Go see "Traitor" if you want to think a little and enjoy a real thriller with just enough politics to make it wash down smoothly. And as everyone surely already knows, Don Cheadle is just the man!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Well, it's not an "Arrested Development" movie, but ...

Mitch Hurwitz, already at work on an animated offering as a midseason replacement for Fox, has now also signed on with CBS for something that sounds right up the "Arrested Development" creator's alley (even if it will star Jason Biggs.)

Biggs would topline what's being described as a comedy about a family that "loves too much," revolving around adult siblings and their parents who are "over-involved in one another's lives."

If that sounds an awful lot like "Arrested Development" itself, well, here's hoping. In another encouraging sign for the show, James Vallely, who wrote 15 episodes of "Arrested Development," is on board as Hurwitz's co-writer for at least the pilot. It has so far received a put pilot commitment and an order for six additional scripts.

Now, about that casting, and since it's the political season, here goes ... Mr. Biggs, I've met Jason Bateman (well, not really, but you know what I mean), and you sir are no Jason Bateman. OK, that didn't even really make me laugh, so I apologize if it just made everyone else groan too. I do hope I'm wrong and he and this as-yet untitled show thrive (or at least actually make it onto the air.)

And as for the other Hurwitz project, Wikipedia has quite a bit of information about it, which I'll shamelessly cut and paste here. It's based on a short-lived New Zealand (not Australian, as an anonymous poster corrected me on) sitcom called "Sit Down, Shut Up." Now called "Class Dismissed," it revolves around a group of "unconventional" educators at a northwestern U.S. high school. And, best of all, here's the rather "Arrested Development"-heavy voice cast:

Will Arnett as bodybuilder Ennis Hofftard
Maria Bamford as Miracle Grohe, a religious science teacher.
Jason Bateman as Larry Slimp, the gym teacher and only staff member that can teach.
Will Forte as Vice Principal Stuart Prozackian.
Tom Kenny as Happy, the secretive custodian.
Nick Kroll as Andrew Sapian, the flamboyant drama teacher
Cheri Oteri as Helen Klench, the unappreciated librarian.
Kenan Thompson as Principal Sue Sezno.
Henry Winkler as Willard Deutschebog, a suicidal German teacher.

Sounds great to me, and for anyone who may not know, Tom Kenny is also the voice of "SpongeBob SquarePants." And now, before I end this prattling on about a show that won't even hit the airwaves until next Spring (at 8:30 Sundays, right after "The Simpsons"), I'll end this with a publicity shot from the show.

Are the Hughes Brothers really going to make another movie?

Does anyone remember Allen and Albert Hughes, much better known as the Hughes Brothers?

I can't blame if you don't, but before pretty much disappearing from the film world, they managed to make four pretty darn entertaining flicks between 1993 and 2001: "Menace II Society," "Dead Presidents" (a seriously underrated movie), "American Pimp" and "From Hell."

Since then they've pretty much toiled in TV and advertising, but now that a rather large star named Denzel Washington is on board their latest attempt to return to the big screen, I have to believe it's gonna happen.

Washington has signed on to star in "Book of Eli" as "a lone hero in a not-too-distant apocalyptic future who must fight across America to bring society the knowledge that could be the key to its redemption," according to Variety.

That sounds a bit meh to me, but the Hughes Brothers, who will direct this for producer Joel Silver, have a real style that I've been missing in movies for a long time now. Here's hoping this actually happens! And, since it's a Friday and my mind is moving all over the place, I'll close with the video for one of my favorite Dead Prez songs, simply and aptly titled "Hip-Hop," and, of course, go see a movie.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Got Milk? A great trailer, and better news about Hayao Miyazaki

It's hardly a bold prediction to say that Gus Van Sant's "Milk," the biopic about the late San Francisco pol Harvey Milk, is just going to be an Oscar magnet.

First off, the academy loves biopics, and the story of the supervisor of San Francisco and gay rights activist, who was slain by a former city supervisor, is just naturally compelling. Second, it's been a little while since Sean Penn has won an Academy Award for acting (2004 in "Mystic River" to be exact), so you'll certainly be hearing his name, and I suspect Josh Brolin's portrayal of Dan White will garner a lot of attention too.

But much more importantly, you get a sense from the two-and-a-half minute trailer that Van Sant has really thrown his heart into this one. Emile Hirsch, James Franco and Diego Luna, all dudes I like, are in this one too, so enjoy this trailer (and if you have anything negative at all to say about homosexuals, please just keep it to yourself!)

Miyazaki's coming to America again!

With Hayao Miyazaki's latest film, "Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea" (Gake no ue no Ponyo), enjoying a Japanese box-office run to rival his biggest hit there, "Spirited Away," it was only a matter of time before it got picked up for American distribution.

Time magazine reports that Disney has indeed stepped up to acquire the rights to "Ponyo," and it will be distributed in English and co-produced by Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy. All that muscle pretty much ensures, I think, that it will play wide enough to reach my little corner of the world some time next summer, and I can only say huzzah to that!

The story of "Ponyo" is about girl fish, Ponyo, who wants to become human after befriending a 5-year-old boy named Sosuke. I'm sure there's a lot more than that going on, and I can't wait to see it all.

You do, of course, lose something in the move to English. The best thing about this "Ponyo" trailer (which could be quite old by this point) just might be the rather crazy Ponyo song that accompanies it. I suppose you could just keep the song but have the characters speak in English, but it will still certainly be a little odd. Anyways, enjoy this trailer too, and have a perfectly pleasant day.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Alll hail Fall: 12 movies I can't wait to see

With the movie summer officially coming to an end this weekend, it only seems appropriate that "Bangkok Dangerous" with Nicolas Cage is the only movie truly opening wide this week.

I'll probably give that one a chance, and we also get caught up this week at my multiplexes with "Brideshead Revisited" and "Henry Poole Was Here." The latter flick just sounds like the definition of sappy, but The Orlando Sentinel's Roger Moore - who I almost always trust - gave it four out of five stars, so I might just have to give that one a chance.

Today, however, it's all about the Fall, and the potentially great movies it brings with it. We start out, thankfully, with a new Coen brothers flick, and there's even better stuff coming after that, so let's get right to it. (Please note that these opening dates are sometimes only for very limited openings and are always subject to change.)

Sept 12: "Burn After Reading"
The only review I've seen of this one so far was in The Hollywood Reporter, and they panned it as snarky and not terribly funny. I've yet to meet a Coen brothers comedy I didn't like (and yes, I even have time for "Ladykillers"), though, so I'm definitely in - even if it does look like Brad Pitt's gonna go what Robert Downey Jr. described in "Tropic Thunder" as "full retard."

Sept. 12: "Tyler Perry's The Family that Preys"
I've always had tons of time for Tyler Perry, even if he did make a slight misstep earlier this year with the rather pedestrian "Meet the Browns." Here, he's got Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard in his first flick to cross the color line in a big way, and I'm betting it will work just fine.

Sept. 26: "Blindness"
Anyone who's been here before (and hopefully there are a couple of you) knows that I often list, when pressed, Fernando Meirelles' "City of God" as my favorite movie, so I'm certainly looking forward to his take on the novel by Jose Saramago. I read the book earlier this summer, and I have to warn everyone out there, this is going to be a really bleak affair, even with Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gail Garcia Bernal all on board.

Sept. 26: "Miracle at St. Anna"
There are three flicks on this list that I'd give a gold star because I want to see them even more than all the others, and this is the first. Even if he is motivated at least in part by his squabble with Clint Eastwood, what I've seen so far of Spike Lee's World War II epic leads me to believe this will be among his very best, putting it in rare company indeed.

Oct. 17: "W."
Just because there's a 60 percent-or-so chance that this will just suck beyond all reason doesnt mean I'm not intrigued. Of all the crazy casting in Oliver Stone's deconstruction of our lame duck president, I think the best will be Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice and, even better, Toby Jones as Karl Rove.

Oct. 24: "Synecdoche, NY"
When he had the filter of director Spike Jonze to control him a bit, Kaufman still delivered one of the most delightfully odd flicks I've seen with "Adaptation." Here he takes the reins himself for this tale of a director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) struggling to build a life size replica of New York City and at the same time deal with the various women in his life (Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Williams and Emily Watson are apparently among them, so I really can't feel too bad for the guy!)

Oct. 31: "Zack and Miri Make a Porno"
What I've seen so far of this Kevin Smith flick starring Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen indicates it will be funnier and have more heart than anything he's delivered in years. That doesn't mean, of course, that it won't be deliriously crude too, so if you watch this redband trailer at work, certainly do so with headphones on!

Nov. 14: "Quantum of Solace"
What can I say about Bond? Not much, but I'll definitely be there to watch when Daniel Craig returns to the role with a bevvy of new babes in tow.

Nov. 26: "Milk"
Harvey Milk certainly seems to be an odd figure to have two competing biopics out there, but this one from Gus Van Sant reaches the finish line first, and I'm betting it will be the superior flick (and I admit I can't even remember who's doing the other one.) Here, you've got Sean Penn as the San Francisco pol Milk, and also Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch and Diego Luna all on board. If I can make one DVD recommendation, you can do a whole lot worse than Van Sant's "Elephant," even if it only has about 12 words of dialogue in total.

Nov. 28: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Danny Boyle is sorely in need of a winner after the simply tired "Sunshine," and I'm giving this one my second gold star as my vote of confidence. Shot all over India, the only thing I know for sure is that it's about a very poor dude who strives to become a contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" so he can win the heart of the gal he's smitten with. If that sounds a bit crazy, I'm hoping the outcome certainly turns out to be that and a whole lot more.

Dec. 19: "The Brothers Bloom"
The inspiration for this list was actually this pic of Rinko Kikuchi as "Bang Bang" in Rian Johnson's sophomore flick, which gets my final gold star. If you haven't seen his first, "Brick," do so ASAP. Here he's got Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo as the titular brothers and con men, Rachel Weisz as their latest target and Kikuchi as their explosives expert. In my mind, I'm already there.

Dec. 25: "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The final entry goes to David Fincher's take on the F. Scott Fitzgerald character who ages in reverse through the 20th century. Early word is this will be a very mainstream flick that bears few of Fincher's signature touches, but it takes place largely in Baltimore (and damn well better have been filmed there!) and co-stars one of my favorite actresses in Taraji P. Henson, so I'm definitely in for this one as a Christmas treat.

Honorable mention
Here, in no order of preference or chronology, are the flicks that might have made this list if I had all day to work on it: "Towelhead", "Choke", "Flash of Genius", "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist", "RocknRolla", "City of Ember", "The Road", "Australia", "Frost/Nixon", "Revolutionary Road" and "Valkyrie".

And there you have it. Please feel free to let me know of any I might have missed, and have a perfectly bearable Wednesday.

Monday, September 01, 2008

"Hamlet 2": A pretty funny end to a good month

Though there hasn't been any thing nearly as good as "Superbad," I have to say the comedies of August have been surprisingly good. I'd put "Vicky Christina Barcelona" and "Tropic Thunder" on top, and "Hamlet 2" somewhere in the middle of the pack.

The main problem is that - for the first time for me - a little Steve Coogan goes a very long way. I've loved movies he's carried in the past, especially "Tristram Shandy" and "24-Hour Party People," but here he takes an already annoying character and just beats us to death with it. Luckily, his supporting players, including the always-welcome Catherine Keener as his wife and Elizabeth Shue as, well, Elizabeth Shue, and also the mostly Hispanic students in his drama class all fare much better.

And it's an odd consequence that Melonie Diaz (who I've been hooked on ever since "Raising Victor Vargas") has appeared this year in both this and "Be Kind Rewind," the movie it most resembles in structure and tone. Like Michel Gondry's flick, this one kind of meanders around a bit at the start, then builds to a very funny finish.

As I expected, director Andrew Fleming and co-writer Pam Brady keep the jokes coming fast, but they work best when they keep their sights on two targets, "inspirational" teacher movies like "Dangerous Minds" and "Mr. Holland's Opus" and the current crop of musical offerings led by "High School Musical."

I've got to wrap this up quick because I have to labor on Labor Day, but here's the bottom line: If you can get past Steve Coogan's overbearing performance and stick with "Hamlet 2" until the finish, you'll find an offbeat kind of comedy that's never quite as crude as you might be expecting but ultimately almost as satisfying as I had hoped.