Saturday, February 28, 2009

Easily the funniest thing I've seen all week


One of the joys about working where I do (and with layoffs constantly looming, there are less and less of them) is that I'm surrounded by a pretty good set of geeks who know what I like and send me cool things in the e-mail. The above image, apparently created by someone named Evan Shaner, was sent to me by the Telegraph's Web guru, Ryan Gilchrest, and as you can see it's pretty priceless in mashing up "Watchmen" with the "Peanuts" gang.

My favorite thing would have to be Snoopy as Rohrschach, but Charlie Brown makes a pretty darn funny Dr. Manhattan too. And Lucy's chaste version of the Silk Spectre costume is just perfect.

Beyond that goodness, here today it's about what's upcoming in TV, and whether or not there will be anything new or returning worth watching as the silly season kicks up next month. The short answer, of course, is I have no idea since I haven't seen any of these, but here are a few that have caught my eye, with their premiere dates.

Castle, ABC, March 9
Is a likable star enough of a reason to tune in? This series will put that to the test with Nathan Fillion (a k a Captain Mal and that woo-pitching doctor in "Waitress") in the title role as a crime novelist who, natch, solves actual crimes. Sounds nothing but tired, but Fillion's enough to get me to tune in to yet another Monday night show for at least a few episodes.

South Park, Comedy Central, March 11
What's to say about this one except that mssrs. Stone and Parker did some of their best work with two episodes in the most recent season, "Major Boobage" and "Over Logging." The Heavy Metal tribute in "Boobage" was just especially cool. It's pretty amazing that these guys are not only still on the air but also now at least a billion times funnier than "The Simpsons." Bring it on.

Kings, NBC, March 15
Along with "Deadwood" vet Ian McShane (or as one clever journalist called him the other day, Ian Swearsalot) in the lead role of the king, this show has a pretty clever premise going for it too. It takes the story of David, complete with Goliath and all, not only into the modern world but into some kind of parallel realm called Shiloh. It sounds entirely too crazy for TV, so I give it about a month, but I'll tune in for at least the two-hour premiere March 15 to see just what this madness looks like.

Parks and Recreation, April 9
If you're a regular viewer of "The Office" (and if you're not, why not?), you've seen so many promos for this show that you might already be sick of it more than a month before it even premieres. And, frankly, I can normally only take Amy Poehler in small doses (though she was great as that psycho R.A. in "Undeclared"), but here she's surrounded by very funny people in Rashida Jones and Aziz Ansari, and since this comes from the minds of "Office" creators Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, I'll at least have to give it a chance.

Sit Down, Shut Up, April 19

Definitely saving the best for last, I'm jazzed for this animated offering from "Arrested Development" mastermind Mitch Hurwitz, which will soon be entering Fox's Sunday night lineup (unfortunately to replace "King of the Hill," but that great show had a much longer run than I expected, so I suppose it's time to move on.) This oddity is based on a New Zealand (not Australian, as several commenters have told me) sitcom about high school teachers who are at least as self-absorbed and pretty much useless as their students. As you can see from the preview below, it also features several "Arrested Development" vets in the voice cast, so this should really be nothing but fun. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Saturday. Peace out.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Remember when Eddie was funny?

I know it can be hard to do. And I'm not talking about the family-friendly, super-silly funny of "Daddy Day Care" or "Dave" (actually, I can't confirm or deny that there was anything funny about either of those, since I didn't bother to watch them.)

I'm talking about really funny. Rude funny. "Raw" funny. Well, luckily, Bill Condon - most recently the producer of this year's rather pedestrian Oscars broadcast - does, and he wants to do something about it.

He's currently shopping around a script for the biopic "Richard Pryor: Is It Something I Said," with Murphy attached to play the great Mr. Pryor himself. And to me that sounds like nothing but cool.

Richard Pryor, of course, created so many great comic routines, but my favorite was that one about the "big water-head boy." It was just so foul and funny at the same time, and like the best of his routines it made you feel thoroughly uncomfortable as you were unable to stop laughing. Much like Paul Mooney, who was adopted by Dave Chappelle and given a rebirth on Dave's Comedy Central show. I sure wish Richard Pryor had lived long enough to get in on that action.

I couldn't find the "water-head" boy clip anywhere, but I did find that one of Mr. Pryor explaining why (like Mr. Mooney) he's not gonna use the N-word anymore. Enjoy, and relish the thought of a first-rate director leading a once-seriously funny guy in a biopic about one of the true comic geniuses. Bring it on.



Seth Green about to cash in big time

Given all that Seth Green has done in animation with "Robot Chicken," which though it's thoroughly crude and ADD-inspiring is also insanely funny, it's certainly about time he gets to cash in with a big-time animated movie, especially one that sounds as good as this.

Robert Zemeckis is producing a performance-capture movie of "Mars Needs Moms" for Disney, and Green has signed on to voice the lead.

But what is "Mars Needs Moms"? Though I had never heard of it, it's apparently a children's novel by Bloom County creator Berkeley Breathed. The story is about a boy named Milo (of course), to be voiced by Green, who stows away aboard a spaceship to rescue his mom after she's kidnapped by aliens.

That all sounds great to me, and it's just well about time that Oz gets some big-time respect and, of course, cash.

Yes, I watch "Gossip Girl"

It's probably nothing I should ever admit, but I've done so here before, so I suppose that cat's already out of the bag.

And yes, I'm well aware that I'm far too old and male to be among the show's intended target audience, but I just enjoy shutting off my brain after a long day of work and ingesting entertaining trash, and "Chuck" creator Josh Schwartz is a master at delivering it.

When he's not paling around with McG to create the adventures of everyone's favorite accidental superspy, Schwartz is an expert at peddling soapy teen trash, first with the "O.C." and now with the almost-as-good "Gossip Girl." And now, not surprisingly given the CW's appetite for such fare, he's deep into a "Gossip Girl" spinoff coming to the network in May.

It was announced this morning that Brittany Snow will play the lead role in the as-yet-untitled series, which focuses on the teen adventures of Lily van der Woodsen, a k a Serena's mom, who was hopefully for our sake more than a little of a wild child. On the show, Lily has a falling-out with her parents and has to move from posh Montecito to the San Fernando Valley to live with her black-sheep sister and go from private to public school in the 1980s.

I know this means absolutely nothing to most of the people who would bother to stop by and read this site, but it does to me, so thanks for bearing with me, and hopefully this last bit will serve as a bit of a reward.

Go on a "Boat Race" with "I Love You, Man"

The more I see of this March 20 flick starring Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Jamie Pressly and, thankfully, J.K. Simmons, the more I'm convinced that it's gonna be exactly the kind of R-rated comedy that I love.

And the red-band clip below certainly does nothing to lessen that. Be warned, if you watch until the end, that the finish is as funny as it is simply thoroughly disgusting. Enjoy, and have a fantastic weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The definitive word about "Watchmen"? And a thankfully foul trip to "Adventureland"

Actually, the funniest thing I could find out there is possible proof that even Eliza Dushku knows that Joss Whedon's thoroughly contrived "Dollhouse" is gonna end soon, and maybe very soon.

Making plans for what she will do next, Dushku has acquired the rights to the life story (however one actually does that) of late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, which she will produce, and has hired director Ondi Timoner to helm the project. This could certainly be cool, but its really just the timing that intrigued me.

But here today, as it has been for many, many days now, it's all about "Watchmen," and a new Web site I found that's a must-bookmark for movie geeks. Called Hitfix, it's run by a dude who used to write for Aintitcoolnews under the name Moriarty, but sometimes went and now goes by the name Drew McWeeny.

The site is as crammed with movie news and gossip as any, but it has two other things going for it, both courtesy of the creator himself. The first is a compilation of newsy links called The Morning Read, which in its most recent incarnation contained the news from E!'s Kristen Dos Santos that lone holdout Michael Cera has dropped his opposition to appearing in an "Arrested Development" movie, and shooting on the project should begin by the end of the year (I would have gladly dedicated an entire post to this welcome news, but I'm more than a little burnt out on the subject, and also still not thoroughly convinced the project will ever actually come together.)

And the second great thing, also part of Mr. McWeeny's (or whatever his actual name is) Motion Captured blog on the site, is that he reviews movies, and to give credit where its surely due, does so extremely well. Most of the reviews at Aintitcool are just the most unreadable sort of drivel, but his were always not only thoroughly enjoyable but also very informative, with a clear opinion at their core.

As devoted (and probably much more so) a "Watchmen" fan as me, he released his assessment this week, and I was extremely happy to see that it's a rave. Though it's more than a bit long, it's also a great read. Here's the final paragraph, for the time-challenged out there:

But more than anything, what I found most bracing about the experience of finally seeing this onscreen is that it pushes the genre further than it's ever been pushed before. It demands more of viewers than any superhero movie previously released. It sets up a moral question at the end of the film that can't be easily answered, and it doesn't even try. It expects you to have your own reaction, and it treats viewers like adults, a rarity from any Hollywood film, much less one featuring characters with names like Nite Owl and Hooded Justice. And, amazingly, it works as a movie. It has its own rhythm, taking its time to lay out this complicated story, but it constantly delights with details both small and grand, and the cumulative impact is far more emotional than I would have expected. This isn't a case of a film being "good enough," and I'm not "just glad there's some version of it finally." It is a triumph, a movie that amazes on its own terms, and a major jump forward for Snyder as a filmmaker.

Wow. I already couldn't wait to see this, but now it's guaranteed to be just about the only thing on my brain for the next week-and-a-half or so until I finally get to see it for myself. To read the rest of Mr. McWeeny's review, click here.

The Dude and the art of obsession

Being someone who gets up every morning and spends an hour or so reading whatever movie news I can find, I certainly can appreciate obsession, and very few people have taken it to the gloriously high level that Chalupa, a k a Ben Ranfeld, and his wife, Liz, have at the Lebowski Podcast.

And as the name clearly implies, this site is all about Chalupa's favorite movie, "The Big Lebowski," and the Coen brothers in general. Along with the podcast itself, he also pens a regularly updated blog on all things Coen and, well, just about anything else that crosses his mind.

But the podcast is easily the best thing here, and amazingly, it celebrated its 2-year anniversary (back in January, like I said, I'm late) with the 25th episode, a review of "Pineapple Express" and, of course, a look at how it's similar to "The Big Lebowski." You can click here to hear the whole thing, which I highly recommend, but a couple of highlights are a discussion of how to pronounce the word "Apatow" and Liz raving about easily the funniest scene in any movie from 2008, that notorious fight scene in Red's apartment.

It's just a fun way to waste (and I certainly mean no disrespect by that, because I love nothing more than wasting time) some time, and can quickly become addictive, so definitely check it out if you haven't already.

And finally, a glimpse of "Adventureland"

With, of course, "Watchmen," "I Love you, Man" (March 20) and this comedy (March 27) from the director of "Superbad" all coming out this month, I have to say the beginning of 2009 as a movie year is getting off to a whole lot better start than 2008 did.

The flick, written and directed by Greg Mottola, is the semi-autobiographical tale of a summer he spent as an employee at the titular theme park. It stars Jesse Eisenberg from "The Squid and the Whale" (remember him?), "Twilight" star Kristen Stewart, the very funny Bill Hader and the even funnier Martin Starr, a k a Bill Haverchuck from "Freaks and Geeks."

The redband trailer you can watch below should certainly be watched with headphones on if you're at work, because it isn't just chock full profanity, it revels in it. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

When Michel Gondry met ... "The Green Hornet"?

Actually, the best news I found out there today is that Andy Richter and Conan O'Brien are going to be reunited again when Conan takes over "The Tonight Show" on June 1.

Though it was purely by coincidence, when Richter left "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" in 2000 was just about the same time I stopped tuning in loyally almost every night (having nothing to do with him, but instead because increasingly grumpy, clearly middle-aged men simply shouldn't be up that late.)

In his new role, Richter will serve as announcer but also, thankfully, participate in a lot of the sketches too. I'd much rather see him back as a traditional on-the-couch sidekick a la Ed McMahon or, well, Andy Richter, but this still will be enough to make me stay up a little later for at least the beginning to see what Conan cooks up in his new time slot.

And the weirdest thing is easily that the Humane Society gives out movie awards, including Best Picture, for flicks that it thinks address animal issues well. And the nominees (none of which I've seen) are:

"Bolt"
"Marley & Me"
"Red"
"Saving Luna"

Actually, that "Red" is one I'd like to see, and will instantly watch on Netflix soon, because I like Brian Cox in just about anything. And for one that they missed, though it just moved way too slow for my tastes, no 2008 movie better addressed the perils of dog ownership when you don't have a home for yourself than "Wendy and Lucy," which starred Michelle Williams.

But easily the coolest news out there is that Michel Gondry is now attached to direct "The Green Hornet." Take a minute to let that sink in.

It may seem odd that the director of such mind-bending flicks as "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and "The Science of Sleep" would take on something as silly as a superhero flick, but I think this could really work well, because if you look at two other recent flicks from Mr. Gondry, he clearly also just likes to have fun.

I own a copy of "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" on DVD, and that Gondry flick delivers just what its title promises (with some sensational music to boot.) And anyone who's seen "Be Kind Rewind" (and if you haven't, why not?) knows that he can be just as goofy as anyone when he wants to be.

So, what's up with "The Green Hornet"? Well, amazingly enough, it's set to star Seth Rogen as the titular hero (yes, really) and - even better - Stephen Chow as his loyal sidekick Kato (the role made famous by one Bruce Lee.) Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the team behind "Superbad," wrote the script. Chow was attached to direct at one point, which would have been even more bizarrely entertaining, before pulling out over "creative differences."

I know that's a lot about a movie that isn't even set to come out until June 25, 2010, so I'll just wrap this up with a clip from the "Block Party" featuring probably my favorite rap act of all, Dead Prez. If you like hip-hop, R&B (Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Kanye West, the Roots and even the Fugees all show up to perform here) or the humor of Dave Chappelle, I can't recommend a rental higher than I can this great little concert flick. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The opening three minutes of "Watchmen"? Perhaps ...

Actually, what first struck my eye this morning was some disturbing but not too terribly surprising news about Terry Gilliam's next - and Heath Ledger's last - flick, "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus."

I just assumed that the presence of Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell - who all stepped in to finish the work started by the late Mr. Ledger - would be enough to win this sure-to-be-odd tale U.S. distribution wide enough to reach my little corner of the world, but once again (yes, it does happen from time to time) it seems I'm wrong. In fact, the flick has yet to garner any U.S. distributor at all - with both Lionsgate and Overture expressing interest but ultimately passing - and its American fate will be decided in the next few weeks.

Here's hoping someone bites on what should be a fascinating little (well, at $20 million, not so little, I guess) flick. But as promised, here today it is about an extended glimpse of Rohrschach in what just might be the opening scene of "Watchmen," but if you'll indulge me there are just a few other things that have caught my eye today.

Yes, Woody Allen can sign any beautiful woman he wants to

Seeing the way that Freida Pinto's smile lit up the screen as the full-grown Latika in newly crowned Oscar champ "Slumdog Millionaire," you had to know she would be a big star someday soon. And I guess it shouldn't be all that surprising that Woody Allen is the first to jump on her potential.

After "Whatever Works," set to star fellow grumpy old man Larry David and hopefully play extremely wide when it opens this summer (I think), the ageless Mr. Allen has now signed Pinto and Naomi Watts to join Josh Brolin and Anthony Hopkins in his next, as-yet-untitled flick. Geez, it sure must be nice to scan the entire world and just pick whoever you want to be your next muse.

And, to put this as superficially as possible, Freida Pinto is the second most beautiful Indian woman I've ever seen on the big screen, bested only by the simply stunning Sarita Choudhury, who starred with Denzel Washington way back when in director Mira Nair's "Mississippi Masala" (well worth a rental if you can find it.)

Chiwetel Ejiofor set for spy games

With easily one of my favorite directors attached in Phillip Noyce, I was already intrigued by Columbia Pictures' upcoming spy thriller "Salt," but now with Chiwetel Ejiofor on board too you can count me as thoroughly psyched.

In the flick, Angelina Jolie will play the titular American spy Evelyn Salt, who came under suspicion as a sleeper agent for the Russkies. Liev Schreiber has signed on to play her American mentor, and now Ejiofor will play Peabody, a young CIA agent who's hot to expose her alleged double dealings as she works to clear her name.

That all sounds great to me, especially since - the disappointing "Redbelt" notwithstanding - Ejiofor is someone I just always like to see on the big screen. The flick begins shooting next month in NYC.

DVD pick of the week:

It's truly slim pickings when it comes to the theatrical releases (though I must confess I just might pick up "Sex Drive" from my Netflix for a good laugh), so thankfully there's another "Futurama" flick stepping into the breach this week.

In "Into the Wild Green Yonder (which I think is the fourth straight-to-DVD "Futurama" flick), according to the IMDB, "mankind stands on the brink of a wondrous new Green Age. But ancient forces of darkness, three years older than time itself, have returned to wreak destruction. Even more shocking: Bender's in love with a married fembot, and Leela's on the run from the law - Zapp Brannigan's law! Fry is the last hope of the universe ... so if you're in the universe, you might want to think about going somewhere else. Could this be the end of the Planet Express crew forever? Say it ain't so, meatbag! Off we go, Into the Wild Green Yonder!"

That all sounds great to me, so add that to the Netflix queue too. And Phillip J. Fry himself, Billy West, mentioned at a recent geek gathering (perhaps the New York Comicon, but I'm not really sure) that Fox has recently expressed interest in bring the show back for a sixth new season - given its popularity in reruns on Comedy Central - so we should just keep hope alive!

And finally, Rohrshach

As I said above, judging from the graphic novel, I think this clip introduced by "Watchmen" director Zack Snyder just might be the opening three minutes or so of the flick (or very close to it), since it's clearly Rorschach investigating the death of the Comedian. Either way, it's nothing but cool, even if Jackie Earle Haley is pouring it on a bit with that voice. Only 10 days to go! Enjoy the clip, and have a pleasant enough Tuesday. Peace out.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why does Oscar hate music so much?

Actually, the big news about music this morning is that HBO has hired John Sayles to write and I would assume at least partly direct "Scar," an upcoming series about the childhood of Red Hot Chili Pepper Anthony Kiedis. Even though Sayles' last foray into music, the blues-tinged "Honeydripper," was just a mangled mess, Kiedis' colorful upbringing (with a father who sold drugs on the Sunset Strip) should make for entertaining fare.

But as is often the case on a Monday morning, I really start today with a beef. Though last night's Oscars broadcast was an enjoyable enough affair with some pleasantly surprising winners (but how in the world did Mickey Rourke not win?), the treatment of the best songs was simply atrocious.

And, even though they had already snubbed two worthy contenders in Bruce Springsteen's "The Wrestler" and Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" by failing to even nominate them, they still had two worthy contenders from A.R. Rahman's sensational "Slumdog Millionaire" soundtrack (a big winner) and a pretty solid tune from Peter Gabriel in "Down to Earth" from "Wall-E."

So why in the world couldn't they have at least offered those three separate performances, well spaced out and bookended by the Indian pop extravaganzas? I mean, really, if you can't mount a Bollywood-style musical number or two, what good is the awards show in the first place?

Instead, though Hugh Jackman got plenty of chances to ham it up (and do one grand musical number with Beyonce Knowles, who should have been a nominee and probably a winner for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Etta James in "Cadillac Records"), the Best Original Song nominees were crammed into one melody, with fairly disastrous results.

It started off well enough, with little A.R. Rahman (and, being a man of fairly short stature, I say little with the highest respect possible) surrounded by beautiful dancers and big drums for "O Saya," which only could have been better with an appearance from M.I.A. (now that she's had the kid and all.) Fair enough.

But then, John Legend - a k a the man who murdered what's left of R&B (sorry for that, but I really hate John Legend, and that shot of him in a coffin from "Soul Men" was just one of my favorite images from all of 2008) - came out to croon "Down to Earth," perhaps because Peter Gabriel knew how his work was going to be treated and refused to show up.

This was pleasant enough, John Legend notwithstanding, but then things really fell apart. Rather than anything even approaching the grand finale of "Slumdog Millionaire" for "Jai Ho" (I mean, really, didn't they already choreograph it for you perfectly, and weren't Dev Patel and Freida Pinto - as well as all those adorable kids - in the audience and ready to dance?), they just limped back into it with none of the grand delivery it deserved. Worst of all, poor Mr. Rahman was left to fight for air time with Legend, who producers thought would be a good idea to have show up for the end of "Jai Ho" (after less than a minute of it!) to sing some of Gabriel's tune at the same time. Simply dreadful.

Oh well. At least Rahman won for both score and for "Jai Ho," though "O Saya" is the better song. And I guess that's enough of a rant about a show that, like I said at the start, had at least a couple of pleasant surprise winners.

Penelope Cruz as Best Supporting Actress might only have been a surprise to me, but it was certainly a welcome one. She was perfectly charming in her acceptance speech, and it was worthy recognition for one of the best comedic performances of the year in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (and the first Oscar win for a Spanish actress.)

And though I thoroughly enjoyed the disturbing Katrina documentary "Trouble the Water" when I got to see it at the Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival, I was happy to see "Man on Wire" (another flick I saw in Rehoboth) take home the big documentary prize. If you're a fan of heist flicks, than I highly recommend this flick (which must be out on DVD by now) about what might just be the ultimate caper, Philippe Petit's walk between the Twin Towers.

It was also, of course, cathartic to see Heath Ledger's family accept his Best Supporting Actor prize for "The Dark Knight," probably the most deserved award of the entire evening, and being a big backer of "Slumdog Millionaire" I was very happy to see it take home eight awards, including Best Director for Danny Boyle and Best Picture (I suppose I could have started with that, but it is a Monday morning, after all.)

And I'll leave you with the montage clip of 2009's coming attractions from last night's show. The best things to me were the glimpses of "Public Enemies," "Julie & Julia" and Larry David in "Whatever Works," and the most groan-inducing shot would have to be the one of Robin Williams and John Travolta in "Old Dogs." I have no idea how in the world they managed to leave out Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" with Anika Noni Rose, but even with that rather glaring omission, it's still a cool little preview. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Monday. Peace out.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"The Wrestler" has spirit, and yes I am going to post every single "Watchmen" clip I can find

Actually, before I mention anything about last night's "Spirit" awards, it may unfortunately be time to sound the death knell for Joss Whedon's "Dollhouse."

And, given what we've seen so far in the first two episodes I can't say I'm terribly surprised at these rather dismal numbers.

The show's basic premise wastes an engaging lead in Eliza Dushku as, so far at least, as her memory is erased and re-embedded for each episode we never get to see her as the character Echo. She's a surprisingly solid actress when given the chance, so here's hoping that as her "doll" becomes more self-aware (if the show can last long enough for that to really happen), she's given the chance to do more than go on a silly mission for each episode.

Which leads in to the second problem with the show so far: It clearly can't decide if it wants to be something we've come to expect from the Whedon camp, meaning a big dose of humor and humanity along with all the action, or simply a traditional police procedural/serial. If it sticks with being more of the latter, the show will be gone in a month, and the creators will have only themselves to blame.

Here, by the way, are the fairly abysmal numbers. For its second episode, "Dollhouse" attracted 4.2 million viewers (1.7 million in the coveted 18-49 slot), meaning it finished second in its time slot to an episode of "Supernanny" (5.2M/1.8M). I can't even begin to calculate just how depressing that is.

But here today, before I got off on that tangent, it was supposed to be all about easily one of my favorite films of 2008, Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," which was a big winner at last night's "Spirit" awards for independent films.

Along with Mickey Rourke taking home the Best Actor award (which could happen at the Oscars tonight, too, but I think it will go to Sean Penn), Aronofsky's flick won Best Cinematographer for Maryse Alberti and Best Picture (which works just fine in my book, since "Let the Right One In," "Milk," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Tell No One" and "The Wrestler" are my five favorite flicks for the year.)

In other big categories, Melissa Leo was a surprise (but thoroughly worthy) winner for Best Actress for "Frozen River." If you haven't seen this little immigration drama yet, it's just out on DVD, and very well worth a rental. I'm still hoping Anne Hathaway prevails at tonight's Oscars, but if either of them were to upset the Streep/Winslet express, I'd be very happy.

James Franco (for "Milk") and Penelope Cruz (for "Vicky Christina Barcelona") snagged the supporting acting awards, and though I normally deplore the awarding of Best Director and Best Picture to two different flicks, it was great to see Thomas McCarthy recognized for helming "The Visitor" too.

Easily the best "Watchmen" clip yet

If you have more of a life than me and therefore haven't read the "Watchmen" graphic novel, than I suppose the following clip is a bit of a spoiler, as is the description I'm about to give of it, so if you don't want to have anything revealed just stop now and move on to the final segment about "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus." For anyone who's still here, this clip courtesy of MTV features Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre (Malin Ackerman) kicking some serious ass as they work to spring Rohrschach during the prison riot near the end of the story. Enjoy, and then stick around just a bit longer for what I think is the first poster from Terry Gilliam's next flick.



A poster for Terry Gilliam's "Imaginarium"

You really don't learn too much from this poster, except for a glimpse of late entries Jude Law, Colin Farrell and Johnny Depp (who all stepped in to finish the work started by the late Heath Ledger), but it does have a very promising look about it. Now if this can only play wide enough to reach my little corner of the world when it finally comes out in September, I'll really be satisfied. Enjoy, and have a perfectly lazy Sunday. Peace out.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bludgeoning "Battlestar Galactica," and the first glimpse of Apatow's "Funny People"

Actually, the best news out there this morning was that Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" has entered extremely elite territory as it crossed the $1 billion mark worldwide.

With a combined domestic and international gross of $1,001,082,160, it joins "Titanic" (still the overall leader at $1.8 billion), "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" as the only four flicks to cross the billion-dollar line. Huzzah!

But the thing that most piqued my interest (and, well, ire) was news that Universal is in negotiations to make a big-screen "Battlestar Galactica" movie. Great news, right? Wrong. This won't be Ronald Moore's vision or anything like it. Instead, they're going to the original TV source, Glen A. Larson, to create something along the lines of the first series that aired on ABC in 1978.

Part of me wants to just say fair enough. The fact that Will Ferrell (and, because I guess everyone has to work, simply adorable Anna Friel from "Pushing Daisies") are about to star in a big-screen treatment of "Land of the Lost" proves there's an interminable market for campy updates of '70s fluff, and I can normally just shrug it off and move on.

But not this time, because as anyone who watches the Sci-Fi show which now only has five episodes left knows, Moore didn't just continue the story that began in 1978. He completely reimagined the concept, factoring in the atmosphere of post-9/11 America and imbuing his show with big ideas about religion, politics and government to go along with all the big space battles. Along with "The Wire" and "Friday Night Lights," it's easily one of the best TV dramas of recent years, so how in the world do you come back from that and return to the '70s camp?

The short answer, for me at least, is I won't, but I just wanted to share that bit of Saturday morning bile with everyone anyway. Things get more cheerful from here on out, I promise, even if it does involve Adam Sandler's possible impending death (which I guess would make some people cheerful anyway.)

A seriously funny trailer for "Funny People"

Until this trailer appeared on Moviefone, I really had no idea what Judd Apatow's third flick, "Funny People," was all about beyond what its title implies.

As you'll see from the long trailer, the flick - starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Eric Bana, Jason Schartzman and, of course, Mrs. Apatow herself, Leslie Mann - does indeed bring the funny, but also throws in a serious side too. But with real funny people Dave Atell, Sarah Silverman and Norm MacDonald, among others, all set for cameos when this comes out at the end of July, I'm somehow betting the funny will win out in the end.

My favorite thing in it would have to "That was like a scene from 'The Deer Hunter'," but at only three minutes, there's still a lot to enjoy here. Enjoy, and if you want to laugh some more, go see "Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail," as I'm gonna do in about four hours. Peace out.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Oscars vodcast: A perfectly harmless way to waste six minutes or so

For the second year in a row, my co-worker Phillip Ramati and I - with the technical assistance of Web guru Ryan Gilchrest - have put together a little video for the Oscars.

We agree on more this year (both being big supporters of Mickey Rourke and "Slumdog Millionaire"), but there's still a little disagreement in other categories, and hopefully a little entertainment value for anyone who bothers to watch at least part of it. Enjoy!

When Tyler Perry met ... Ernest?


OK, first and for the record, for anyone who's never been here before, I am a big Tyler Perry fan and supporter, so please don't read too much into that headline.

Although Madea is pretty far from my favorite of his creations, I'm still convinced that "Madea Goes to Jail" will be a winner, both for its solid cast and because, well, Mr. Perry hasn't completely failed me yet, so he's earned more than a bit of my trust.

But what continues to vex me more than a bit is that, even on a weekend with only two major releases coming out, the only one that gets screened for critics is a teen cheerleader/sex comedy titled "Fired Up!" (and starring Claire's boyfriend from "Heroes" and a star of my beloved "Rocket Science," Nicholas D'Agosto.) Surely, though he clearly doesn't need them, it should finally be time for Perry's flicks to get some scrutiny from critics (though maybe not for anything as silly as Madea.)

The title of this post actually comes from what two co-workers - neither of whom have ever seen a Tyler Perry movie - said to me this week about "Madea Goes to Jail," comparing it, of course, to the work of the late Jim Varney. If you'll indulge me for a sec, that just set my easily occupied mind journeying for a few minutes, so bear with me.

First off, beyond any racial underpinning, I'd have to say 1) the comparison is sometimes pretty accurate and 2) I actually liked Jim Varney quite a bit, if not always Ernest (just for proof that he was actually a pretty damn fine comedic actor, I've included a clip from "Ernest Goes to Jail" below.)

They each engage in the broadest kind of comedy, but as anyone who's dared (and I only say dared because I know so many people haven't yet) to see a Tyler Perry movie knows, with his flicks you usually get a lot more. Though not yet a first-rate director, he is an outstanding writer and creates well-rounded characters who have a real human appeal, especially his women. For the best examples you can watch on DVD, check out what he did for Kathy Bates in "The Family that Preys" or Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) in "Daddy's Little Girls." Or his best ensemble comedy/drama, "Madea's Family Reunion."

I tried more than once to watch his TV show "House of Payne," but just couldn't make it through an entire episode, mostly because in tone they're a lot more Ernest than anything he's done for the big screen, without all the other good qualities.

So, what will you get if you take a chance on "Madea Goes to Jail"? Well, Madea, of course, but also Derek Luke as an assistant district attorney, Keshia Knight Pulliam (yes, Rudy Huxtable) as a prostitute who catches his eye, and the return of the very funny David and Tamela Mann as Madea's supportive relations. Also in supporting roles are Oscar nominee Viola Davis (for Supporting Actress in "Doubt"), and one of my favorite young actresses, Keke Palmer of "Akeelah and the Bee." It's also a return to Atlanta, where Tyler Perry's films are always at their best.

If you weren't going to see this at the beginning of this post, I'm fairly certain I didn't do anything to change your mind, but if you do go see it Saturday afternoon at the Amstar/Grand cinemas in Macon, you'll find me there laughing. Very hard and right out loud.

And, as promised, here's that clip of what happens when Ernest meets a leaky pen. Priceless. And, because nothing says Friday better than Quentin Tarantino and Nazis, I've also included the first three posters I could find for his World War II flick coming in August, "Inglourious Basterds," and then a trailer that adds more footage than was available in the teaser from a few weeks ago. Even if this somehow turns to be awful, it should still at least be a fascinating mess. Peace out.









Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oscars on the brain, and Watchmen, Watchmen everywhere!

I guess the biggest non-Oscar news out there today is that Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro and Owen Wilson are set to star in "Little Fockers," which will of course revolve around the youngins. Hardly a high-brow movie, but I always at least give it a chance when De Niro goes for comedy.

But here today, it's all about the Oscars, a return to lists and - of course - "Watchmen"! Please feel free to stick around until the end for what I think are the first three clips of actual footage from the movie.

I'm set to record an Oscars video presentation (are those "vodcasts"? I have no idea) with my co-worker Phillip Ramati this afternoon, so they're definitely on my brain, and over my morning coffee I was perusing Wikipedia's list of all the Best Picture winners and nominees (and hoping it's accurate), which prompted these few brief thoughts:

Biggest snub

This is, of course, completely subjective, and for my purposes I restricted it to movies that actually were nominated rather than the almost infinitely broader category of worthy movies that didn't even get the nod.

In the former set, three jumped out at me, with the last one being the most amazing slight in my book. First up is "Dances With Wolves" over "Goodfellas" in 1990. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm not sure I've ever seen Kevin Costner's film in its entirety, but I did try at least once. I have, however, probably seen Scorsese's gangster epic at least 10 times on DVD, so I think I can say with authority that this was just the definition of a dis.

Next up is "Forrest Gump" over "Pulp Fiction" in 1994, probably the biggest gap in quality between a winner and a nominee I can think of. I've made my hatred for "Forrest Gump" crystal clear here before, and while I know in my heart that, say, "Norbit" or "The Hottie or the Nottie" are probably worse movies, I still think "Gump" stands the test of time as the worst "good" movie of all. Along with the love of Zemeckis' flick, this vote just showed that the Oscars really weren't ready for something as innovative as Quentin Tarantino's breakthrough flick.

But the biggest goof in my mind goes back much further, all the way to 1939. Now, I have seen "Gone With the Wind," albeit not until it was re-released in theaters sometime in the 1990s. I really liked the overall experience, complete with intermission, so I can't knock anyone who is a devoted fan of the adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's grand Southern saga, but I still have to ask how in the world could this have beaten out "The Wizard of Oz"? Like most American kids of my era, there were two movies that we all gathered around the TV for year after year as events: "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Sound of Music." The former is still the one movie that I think would cause me to resort to actual rather than just threatened violence if I ever heard of plans for a big-screen remake, and for flicks that combine wild storytelling with sheer artistry and innovation, they just don't get much better at all. Hence, the winner in this category for me, but please feel free to add any others that jump out at you.

Favorite Best Picture winners

Nothing terribly surprising here, especially in the confirmation that the mid-1970s were indeed the golden age of American cinema, but just thought I'd share my 10 favorites anyway, arranged only by order:

1949: "All the King's Men"
1954: "On the Waterfront"
1965: "The Sound of Music"
1972: "The Godfather"
1974: "The Godfather Part II"
1975: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
1976: "Rocky"
1977: "Annie Hall"
1987: "The Last Emperor"
And, finally, 2007: "No Country for Old Men"

Favorite Best Picture losers

This, of course, took a bit longer, but it's always better to complain about who got hosed rather than congratulate the winner, right? I was gonna try to keep this to 10 also, but it soon became clear that would be impossible. So, here goes, my favorite nominees who failed to take home the big prize:

1939: "The Wizard of Oz"
1956: "The King and I"
1961: "The Hustler"
1962: "To Kill a Mockingbird" (probably my favorite movie of all time, but I suppose you can't gripe too much, since it lost out to "Lawrence of Arabia")
1964: "Dr. Strangelove"
1967: "Bonnie and Clyde" and "The Graduate"
1970: "MASH"
1971: "The Last Picture Show"
1976: "All the President's Men" and "Taxi Driver"
1979 (truly a banner year): "Apocalypse Now," "Breaking Away" and "Norma Rae," with "Kramer Vs. Kramer" somehow beating all of those
1980: "Raging Bull"
1984: "A Soldier's Story"
1987: "Hope and Glory"
1990: "Goodfellas"
1991: "Beauty and the Beast"
1992: "The Crying Game"
1994: "Pulp Fiction"
1995: "Babe"
1996: "Fargo"
2000: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
2001: "Gosford Park"
And, finally, 2006: "Little Miss Sunshine"

Were the Oscars always so "snobby"?

I put that in quotes because I'm not thoroughly convinced they are now, but the backers of "The Dark Knight" (and you can count me firmly among them) could certainly make that case.

So, were the Oscars always so averse to rewarding movies that combine artistry with extreme box-office appeal? The biggest example that proves they weren't would have to be "Titanic," which took home the big prize and 9 other statues, among 13 nominations.

There are other instances, however, that better show that the Oscars once (and fairly recently) took the wishes of fans and real geeks to heart. Here goes, with some Best Picture nominees:

1975: "Jaws"
1977: "Star Wars"
1981: "Raiders of the Lost Ark"
1982: "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial"
and 2001-2003: "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy

And, finally, "Watchmen"!

Anyone who actually made it through all that certainly deserves a reward, so here it is: As far as I can tell, the first three clips of actual footage from the movie "Watchmen," for which you can count me just thoroughly geeked up.

First up is a clip of Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson) talking with Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) about the Comedian's murder:



Next up is a snippet of that great scene in which Nite Owl (Wilson) and Laurie Jupiter (Malin Ackerman) take the Owl ship out for a spin and rescue some folks trapped in a burning building.



And finally, my favorite of the three, which features an unmasked Nite Owl and Rohrschach (Jackie Earle Haley). I think this is the first time I've heard Rohrschach speak, and it's just nothing but cool.



So, there you have it. Our Oscars video should be up some time tonight, so please feel free to check back, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Robert Rodriguez wants to wrack your nerves

Although he can make some seriously fun movies, Robert Rodriguez is also just a maddeningly uneven director in my book.

After making the purely entertaining "El Mariachi" and "Spy Kids" he felt the need to follow each flick up with a pair of thoroughly unnecessary and just increasingly bad sequels. "Desperado" - really just a useless continuation of "El Mariachi" - was just particularly irritating.

He also, however, channelled the spirit of Frank Miller's work perfectly with "Sin City" and made the easily more disgusting but still just insanely good half of "Grindhouse" with "Planet Terror" (I even found "The Faculty," certainly a lesser title in his filmography, to just be a lot of fun.) And now, after what seems like a very long break from working on movies of any kind, he's getting back in gear with something that could be as entertaining as any of those.

He will write and direct the "futuristic thriller" "Nervewrackers," and since the flick already has a release date of April 16, 2010, it seems very likely he will actually follow through on this one. Set in 2085, the story (according to Variety) centers on "a character named Joe Tezca who is part of an elite unit dispatched to quell a crime wave in a theoretically perfect future society."

Even if that does seem like a rather blatant ripoff of "Blade Runner," I suppose there are worse sources of inspiration, so for now I can only say welcome back, Mr. Rodriguez.

What's up with Ang Lee

I recently got around to watching Mr. Lee's "Lust/Caution" on DVD, and I have to say it made a surprisingly entertaining little spy flick. And he's just wrapped "Taking Woodstock," which as the title implies is a biopic of sorts of the life of Elliot Tiber, who was instrumental in the creation of the titular hippie fest.

That flick will be released in August by Focus Features, and Mr. Lee has now set his sights firmly on "The Life of Pi," which already has a script penned by "Amelie" director Jean Pierre Jeunet (who was originally slated to direct this too.)

I have to admit that the novel by Yann Martel, which won the Booker Prize and plenty of other acclaim, just left me a little cold, but I do think it has a lot of potential for an at least visually appealing film in these capable hands. The odd coming-of-age tale tells the story of Piscine "Pi" Molitor Patel, an Indian youth who survives the sinking of a freighter and ends up sharing a life boat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger.

Plenty of people have fallen in love with the novel by Martel, so don't let my misgivings keep you away from this one.

Remember Agnieszka Holland?

I had almost forgotten all about the Polish director of "Europa Europa" and one of my favorite children's flicks, "The Secret Garden" (and - rather amazingly - three episodes of "The Wire" too), but this morning her name came up again on the French film site Cinempire, a daily stop for me.

It seems Holland is getting back in the game in a big way with an upcoming biopic about Polish super spy Krystyna Skarbek, also famous as Ian Fleming's mistress and allegedly the inspiration for the character of Vesper Lynd.

Skarbek, who took the nom de guerre Christine Granville, became a spy for the British and was celebrated for her sabotage efforts in Nazi-occupied Poland and France during World War II.

Interestingly enough, The Daily Mail reports that Eva Green, Vesper Lynd herself, is in the running for the lead role in this flick, which will be rather oddly titled "Christine: War My Love" and should start shooting in June.

Nothing but cool there, but now I have to unfortunately get ready for work. Sometime tomorrow or Friday, feel free to come back for a video presentation about the Oscars I'm cooking up with fellow Telegraph blogger Phillip Ramati (a k a The TV Guy). We pretty much agree about all the categories this year, but hopefully it will still be a bit of fun to watch (I'm even getting a hair cut for the occasion, somewhat of a rarity for me.)

And, even though it wasn't from an episode directed by Holland, I'll leave you with one of my favorite clips from "The Wire," in which Stringer Bell learns about and then imparts to his disciples the principles of macroeconomics. Peace out.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

DVD pick of the week: "Choke"

You know it's a slow week on DVD when the second best movie out this week just might be about Dakota Fanning getting raped, but I just can't see any way in which I would advocate that anyone watch that.

Instead, and in a very short post because I owe my employers a piece handicapping the Oscars that I have made very little progress on, my one pick for this week is one I have yet to see, first-time director Clark Gregg's "Choke."

Given its premise, this one might just prove to be nearly as occupationally therapeutic as "Office Space" continues to be a after a particularly noxious working day. In the flick, based on the novel by "Fight Club" creator Chuck Palahniuk, Sam Rockwell (who I like every time I see him) plays a sex-addicted medical school dropout who now makes his living as a historical reenactor at a Colonial Williamsburg theme park when he's not deliberately choking in fancy restaurants to latch on to the wealthy patrons who save him.

That's all funny enough for me, but throw in Kelly Macdonald (star of "No Country for Old Men," "The Girl in the Cafe," "A Cock and Bull Story" and "Trainspotting," and just one of my favorite actresses), and I'm definitely hooked. And with that quick recommendation I'm off to get ready for work, but I'll leave you with this "Choke" clip to get in the mood. Peace out.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What's up with the ending to "Watchmen"?


This is just about the farthest thing from news for people who have been following the saga of Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" movie, but I just came across it, so bear with me.

In getting ready for the movie, which in spite of what follows in this post I remain at least cautiously optimistic about, I recently re-read the graphic novel, and can confirm that it's easily as good as I remember. I can also confirm that the ending is just as maddening and simply insane as ever.

Now, if you don't want to know how the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibson or - more importantly - the movie coming out March 6 end, READ NO FURTHER. I understand this is easily the worst kind of spoiler imaginable, so please don't read on and then try to claim I didn't warn you. Here goes.

As anyone who has read the graphic novel knows, Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias' plot to change the course of history hinges on creating a giant squid that attacks New York City (yes, again New York City) to fake an alien attack and therefore lead all the nations of Earth to cease their hostilities and unite at the height of the cold war. If you're reading that for the first time, yes it is that crazy.

And Snyder and the folks who came up with the script for the "Watchmen" movie apparently thought this madness was simply too much for casual moviegoers to stomach, and frankly they may be right. I can vividly remember that the first time I read it I had to go over pages two or three times just to make sure I had it right, but that was much of the novel's appeal.

So, what have they changed it to instead? Once again, a final warning, if you don't want to know, DO NOT READ ON FROM THIS POINT.

I have no way of knowing if this is exactly right, but according to
this "Watchmen" site, what Veidt unleashes will actually be a series of attacks designed to mirror the energy beams created by Dr. Manhattan. This may seem a lot more reasonable on the surface, especially if the script keeps Veidt's intent intact, but it raises at least one major question: If Veidt's plan frames Dr. Manhattan (which I can't confirm, mind you), who acts as a weapon for the U.S., how in the world does that work out to an attack from an outside force that can unite the planet?

Snyder certainly didn't do himself any favors when, in the original Dark Horizons interview back in November in which he originally revealed his plan to monkey with the ending, he also added this:

“The fans, god love 'em, they’re all up in arms about the squid,” said Snyder. “What they should be up in arms about are things like shooting the pregnant woman, ‘God is real and he’s American’, whether THAT’S in the movie. That’s my point of view, maybe I’m crazy.”

Well, not crazy, but certainly condescending. How, in the face of all this, can one remain optimistic? It certainly takes a lot of somewhat-blind faith, but there's also visual evidence in the full photo gallery from the film you can view here at Comingsoon.net that things are still mostly on the right track.

There have also been constant video tidbits released along the way, which I've been sharing whenever I find them. The latest is this trailer for the animated "Tales of the Black Freighter" tale that I can only assume winds it way through the "Watchmen" movie on a parallel track as it did in the novel. It will also be released along with Hollis Mason's "Under the Hood" on DVD near the end of March to keep "Watchmen" fever running strong.

Enjoy the trailer, and when it comes to "Watchmen," just try to keep hope alive. Or, if you've now lost any or all of that, please feel free to sound off on what Snyder and co. are up to here. Peace out.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"The International": Clive Owen's revenge?


Watching Tom Twyker's "The International" methodically unfold, I couldn't help but wonder if he pitched it to Clive Owen as the chance to show the James Bond producers just what they missed out on when they passed over Owen and went with Daniel Craig instead (a close call, but I'd have to now say the right one.)

Indeed, Twyker's flick, while not in the same league as "Casino Royale" or any of the best Bond flicks, is a darn sight better than "A Quantum of Solace" and - in my book (and quite possibly mine only) - a more satisfying thriller than any of the Bourne flicks except for maybe the first.

Beyond its natural charms, I think a big part of what made this one so surprisingly entertaining was that it's also much better than its trailer, one of the worst I've seen in years. Thankfully, Tykwer and crew avoid anything as obvious as that shot of the ATM with "murder" as one of the choices, and instead of seeking to make a much-too-broad (but surely well-deserved) indictment of the current state of the banking industry just focus on the rather shady dealings of one in particular.

That bank here is the IBCC (I can't remember exactly what that stands for, but you can probably guess), which is apparently modeled on a real, crooked bank with the same initials. Rather predictably, the IBCC is involved in arms dealing and other unsavory operations, and are being doggedly pursued by Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Owen, at his grizzled best) and a Manhattan assistant D.A. played by Naomi Watts. Actually, I should say pursued by Salinger, because Watts' character - in the movie's biggest flaw - is truly given just about nothing to do here.

But on the much bigger upside, it really stands as a litmus test for thrillers. If you like pulse-pounding action (which I'm really not putting down, though it may seem like it, since I have plenty of love for that kind of thing too), stay away from this one. Tykwer instead lets his flick unspool naturally, at a pace and with a style much closer to the '70s thrillers that clearly inspired it than many of the pretenders that have come since.

Also in its favor is that Tykwer and screenwriter Eric Singer have made their flick smarter than the average thriller, but only by a matter of degrees, never biting off more than it should (unlike, say, "Syriana," which tried to say so much but ended up amounting to not much at all.)

The signature scene of "The International," however, is clearly the one instance in which Tykwer amps up the action, a beautiful bullet ballet that takes place inside the Guggenheim museum (how in the world did they get the permission for that?) It's a marvel to behold, in large part thanks to cinematographer Frank Griebe, who here and elsewhere thankfully manages to hold his camera steady among all the chaos (I hope Paul Greengrass was watching this and taking notes!) He also allows the flick to take full advantage of its many scenic locales (which Christy LeMire of the AP rather unfortunately labeled "architecture porn" - what the hell does that mean?)

A final word (since this has clearly gone on long enough) about that seemingly climactic shot in the trailer of Clive Owen holding bank boss Jonas Skarssen (Ulrich Thomsen) at gunpoint. Even here, in what seemed to be (and in large part was) an unfortunate giveaway, the movie takes a twist (which you won't hear about from me) that steers it back to its biggest theme - futility.

In short, if you're in the mood for an old-fashioned thriller that's just smart enough to thoroughly entertain, take a chance on "The International." Peace out.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Some dirty old rat has stolen my hat

A lot of people who care about this kind of stuff may already know just about everything I'm about to cram into this post, but you'll have to forgive me, since I just spent the past three days or so in Ohio so I could stand in a near-hurricane and sing benignly racist (is there really such a thing?) songs like "Somebody Stole My Sombrero" as the U.S.A. and mighty Michael Bradley beat the Mexicans in a World Cup qualifier 2-0.

And later today I'm gonna take a chance on the Clive Owen/Naomi Watts thriller "The International" even though I'm more than a little worried that everything we need to know was revealed in the trailer.

But first, here's a quick wrap up of what's happened in the past few days when it comes to directors I like.

Christopher Nolan's next, sans Batman

As much as I enjoyed "The Dark Knight" (and that was indeed quite a bit), I'm rather happy to hear that Mr. Nolan will be getting back to something that twists the mind more than a bit before he takes on the Batman saga again.

Next up will be something called "Inception," for which he also wrote the screenplay. It's described so far only vaguely as "a contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind." I could probably spend most of my workday wondering about just what that might mean if I didn't already have the whole week off.

But what does that mean for Batman? Since this is all taking place at Warner Bros., which financed "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," one can only assume that would be up next, but The Hollywood Reporter had another fairly intriguing possibility. They have him "attached" to a big-screen reboot of the '60s British TV show "The Prisoner," presumably following the six-episode remake the show is already getting this summer from AMC, to star Jim "Jesus" Caviezel and Sir Ian McKellen.

David Cronenberg hits the big time

This was, naturally, pitched as a story about Tom Cruise, but any word of David Cronenberg getting back to directing and with the budget this project should attract is much more exciting to me.

Following on the rather serious success of Robert Ludlum's Bourne saga on the big screen, MGM has picked up the spy scribe's "The Matarese Circle" for Cronenberg to direct and Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington to star in. Mr. Washington will play American intelligence operative Brandon Scofield, and Cruise will play his arch rival, Russian spy Vasili Taleniekov. The two are forced to team up to take on "a wide-ranging political conspiracy orchestrated by a mysterious organization called the Matarese."

There's apparently already a potential sequel penned by Ludlum back in 1977, "The Matarese Countdown," so hopefully this will keep Cronenberg back in the game for quite a while.

Woody Allen assembles his next team

I'm certain I've never worked as hard as Woody Allen still does at age 73, and I'm even more sure I'll still keep watching every flick of his I get a chance to until the man finally decides to slow down.

The real question in my mind is whether his next flick, "Whatever Works" starring fellow cranky old man Larry David, will open wide enough to reach my little corner of the world when it opens June 9 in the U.S.A. Before that even comes out, though, Mr. Allen will be back at work, this time in London with Josh Brolin and Anthony Hopkins in tow.

Those two certainly will be only the beginning of what should be a solid ensemble cast, and since there's sadly little else I like to do with my mornings, I'll be happy to share anything else I find out.

And I'll close today with a plug for the new HBO comedy "Eastbound & Down," since it comes from my current favorite comedy team, writer/director Jody Hill and star Danny McBride. Though I canceled my HBO a while ago, I'm hoping this will be available for free at HBO.com shortly it debuts Sunday night at 10:30 p.m.

So, what is it? Well, along with being the title of Jerry Reed's theme song for "Smokey and the Bandit," it's now also a rather rude-looking comedy about a washed-up former major league pitcher (McBride) who returns to his hometown and lands a gig teaching phys ed at the local middle school.

McBride, who stole every second he got as Red in "Pineapple Express" and also starred for Mr. Hill in the very funny "Foot Fist Way," is just a naturally gifted comedian, so catch this one if you can. In the meantime, just in case you actually have 12 minutes to kill at work today, here's HBO's making of special for the show. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. Peace out.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Demko's DVD shelf: The return of "W."

Actually, the best thing out there this morning was more about "The Rum Diary," which it looks more and more like will turn into an actual movie in 2010.

So far, we know that "Withnail and I" (watch that, already!) director Bruce Robinson is writing and directing the Hunter S. Thompson adaptation for Johnny Depp to star in as Thompson's alter ego at the time its set - Paul Kemp, a washed-up journalist in 1950s Puerto Rico. And now the movie is quickly assembling a first-rate supporting cast.

Just announced are Aaron Eckhart as a wealthy landowner competing with Depp for the affections of Amber Heard, and - even better- "The Visitor" star Richard Jenkins will play Depp's boss. Bring it on now!

Also out there is this morning is word that one of my favorite directors who I was fairly convinced might never work again is indeed staying in the game.

I think I was one of about seven people on the planet who really liked Noah Baumbach's "Margot at the Wedding." Dysfunctional and uncomfortable, sure, but to me at least also very entertaining.

Now it seems he's up to something along the same lines with another relationship dramedy titled "Greenberg," set to star Ben Stiller and now Greta Gerwig, an indie actress who I'd never heard of before. Details are scant so far except that it's set to begin shooting in March and be set in Los Angeles.

Even better, Baumbach might even soon direct a movie that won't make people want to hate just about everyone in it. He apparently reunited with Wes Anderson (remember him?) to co-write Anderson's animated take on Roald Dahl's "Fantastic Mr. Fox," now scheduled to come out in November. And he's also signed on to write and direct the "9/11 tale" "The Emperor's Children," based on the novel by Claire Messud.

But here today it was supposed to be all about DVDs, and from here on out it will be, because it's actually a week jam-packed with great stuff. Given the state of my economy and nearly everyone else's, I'm not recommending that anyone buy any of these, but they're (the three I've seen, anyway) well worth a rental.

"W."

I'm not sure anyone wants to see anymore of our recently past president, but Oliver Stone's flick is well worth checking out for both a fairly nuanced portrait of a man in over his head and a star-studded cast that pretty much completely shines. Josh Brolin makes W. a likable enough character while not shying away from his "cowboy" tendencies, and Elizabeth Banks, Stacy Keach, Jeffrey Wright and Richard Dreyfuss (as tricky Dick Cheney) in particular are great in supporting roles. The only weak link is Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice, who is just unwatchable (I'd like to give her a lifetime pass since "Flirting" still remains one of my all-time favorite movies, but she really is just truly horrible in this.)

"Miracle at St Anna"

If Spike Lee hadn't stepped in it so deep by getting in a verbal spat with Dirty Harry over the lack of black soldiers in Eastwood's World War II movies, he might have generated a bit more goodwill for his own flawed but still often fascinating effort. Like many of Spike's recent flicks, this tale of four Buffalo Soldiers who get trapped behind enemy lines in a Tuscan village is more than a bit of a sprawling mess, but it's beautifully shot in Italy and is full of little moments that make the flick still worth a rental.

"Soul Men"

Like most of the world I just snubbed the late Bernie Mac's final film - directed by Spike's cousin, Malcolm - during much of its theatrical run, and I'm still sorry I did. A silly movie in many ways, yes, but the tale of Mr. Mac and Sam the man Jackson as two aging soul stars reuniting for a comeback tour is also very funny, especially when the two of them really start to go at it. With "Undercover Brother," "Roll Bounce" and now this, the other Mr. Lee is starting to put together a small stable of movies that I really like.

OK, from here on out are movies I haven't seen, either because I never had the chance or simply missed my window of opportunity.

"Frozen River"

"Homicide" vet Melissa Leo has rather shockingly received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role in this drama about two women who get into the business of immigrant smuggling through an Indian reservation border crossing between New York and Quebec. This one was just ordered from Netflix and should be here when I get back from Ohio on Thursday, and I can't wait to see it.

"Blindness"

Fernando Meirelles' "City of God" remains as easily one of my favorite films, so I'm rather ashamed I didn't jump on this one during the ONE WEEK it played in my little corner of the world. Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo star in this flick about a world struck by a mysterious case of the titular "Blindness," based on the Nobel prize-winning novel by Jose Saramago.

"My Name Is Bruce"

I can't see any way this can be anything but extremely funny. B-movie king Bruce Campbell stars as himself and takes on Guan-di, the Chinese protector, who has been awakened by teenagers (these kids today!) in the small mining town of Gold Lick.

And with that, I'm off to Ohio to watch the Americans stomp the Mexicans in a World Cup qualifier (honestly, I really have nothing against Mexicans off the pitch, but on it they can will hopefully just suffer a slow and very humiliating defeat.) On a much more civil note, I'll leave you with a rather nifty video showing how they created the Rorschach mask that Jackie Earle Haley will soon don for "Watchmen." Peace out.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Is it really that friggin hard for people to read?

Actually, the first thing on my mind this morning is that, against rather long odds (and even longer ones that it will last more than a few episodes), Joss Whedon's latest creation, "Dollhouse," is actually going to hit the airwaves on Fox this Friday at 9 (at the same time as the surely superior "Friday Night Lights.")

Speaking of "Friday Night Lights," I can't see any way the show can continue with a new crop of kids after this season, but if you watched last Friday's episode you know the show is certainly at least going to go out on top. Rarely does a character in an ensemble drama get the kind of sendoff that Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles) was given as he heads off for Texas A&M, and it was easily the finest hour of TV I've seen in the past year or so.

But back to Whedon's "Dollhouse." I was watching two entries in Fox's Sunday night lineup ("King of the Hill" and "American Dad") for the first time in a long while (I have decided to never again watch another new episode of "The Simpsons" because the show's creators have simply been repeating themselves for at least the past three years or so), and even fast-forwarding through the commercials it was impossible to miss the constant promos for "Dollhouse."

So, what is it again? Well, the show will star Eliza Dushku as an "active" or "doll" named Echo, one of a group of government operatives who have their minds wiped clean after they complete each mission. As you can see from the photo and promo clip I've attached at the end, this somehow also stars Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams) and Tahmoh Penikett of "Battlestar Galactica" fame, so if you like Whedon at all tune in for at least a few episodes of this latest entry into the Friday night graveyard (though "X-Files," of course, managed to thrive there for several years.)

And now, finally, the tidbit that sparked the admittedly surly headline for a Monday morning (especially one which I have off) was word that now not one but two of my five favorite flicks of 2008 are being remade for American audiences.

What in the world is going on here? I understand that it makes perfect sense to do an English-language remake of Guillaume Canet's "Tell No One," which it was just announced Luc Besson's EuropaCorp is about to take on, for several reasons. First, it made a fairly impressive $6 million at the U.S. box office, and second, it's just a first-rate thriller from an American source, the potboiler novel by Harlan Coben.

If you have the chance, though (and you will when it hits DVD on March 31), please see Canet's original long before this comes together. What you'll get is a sensational mind-bending thriller that fits solidly in the French tradition while adding a thoroughly modern touch, the best and most natural chase scenes I've seen in many years and just a great performance at its core from Francois Cluzet as the embattled doctor Alexandre Beck.

In an even worse idea, Matt Reeves, director of the surprisingly satisfying "Cloverfield," has signed on to write and direct a remake of the Swedish "romantic horror flick" "Let the Right One In," which I had the sublime pleasure of seeing at the 2008 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival.

If you missed this one, which is somehow still playing once a night at Atlanta's Plaza Theater on Ponce de Leon Ave., certainly see it in its original form when it hits DVD on March 10. As much as an old-fashioned vampire flick, it's also a great coming-of-age story and just a moving tale about friendship - with your next door neighbor you think is a young girl but just happens to be a vampire. No description from me can describe just how good this one is, so I'll just let director Tomas Alfredson share what he thought when he got word of these dastardly remake plans:

"Remakes should be made of movies that aren't very good, that gives you the chance to fix whatever has gone wrong."

Amen, brother. And now, so I can go do my laundry in preparation for my three-day trek to Ohio to stand in the sleet and watch the American soccer team stomp some Mexicans in a World Cup qualifer, I'll leave you with that promised "Dollhouse" preview. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Monday. Peace out.