Tuesday, March 31, 2009

R.I.P. Andy Hallett, a bit of news, and the DVD pick of the week

Now this is just amazingly sad. When I saw this name, I have to confess it didn't mean anything to me at first, but if you watched "Angel" during it's five-season run, you're certainly familiar with Andy Hallett.

Hallett played Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan, a k a Lorne, "The Host" who specialized in reading people's auras as he induced them to sing karaoke (yes, I know that sounds incredibly silly, but awfully entertaining too.) Hallett, who had apparently been battling heart disease pretty much since the show ended in 2004, died Monday night of heart failure at only age 33. Just amazingly sad.

In much better news, any doubts that Sacha Baron Cohen was going to push the envelope as far as possible in "Bruno" have been removed as the MPAA has given the flick an NC-17 rating in its first pass.

I have little doubt that Cohen and crew will be able to tame it down enough to get this one into theaters even in my rather safe little corner of the world, but - not having seen it, of course - it does make you wonder how much of that rating comes from the fact that it deals with a touchy issue, homophobia, rather than from any truly offensive content (though I'm willing to bet there's plenty of that too.) How much violence is allowed into movies rated PG-13 and below while the smallest whiff of sex - gay, straight or otherwise - just sets censors crazy is grist for a whole post in itself, but not one I have the time or energy to get into this morning.

Bottom line: "Bruno" should be a heck of a lot of fun in theaters, and way better on DVD.

There's a lot of good stuff out there this morning - the day after "Friday Night Lights" got renewed for two more seasons, huzzah! - so if you'll bear with me, I'm just gonna plow right through it.

David Cronenberg, who has until now balked at sequels of any kind, is seriously considering making an exception to that rule to continue the "Eastern Promises" saga, which I have to say would only be a good thing.

As you may remember from the end of the movie (AND IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT, FOR GOD'S SAKE, PLEASE JUST SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH), the big twist is that Viggo Mortensen's Russian gangster is actually a British intelligence agent. In the right hands, a k a those of Cronenberg, screenwriter Steven Knight and Mortensen, all of whom are in talks to return, this could not only make another great flick but perhaps even a series, if they're so inclined. Here's what Cronenberg had to say about the project to the surprisingly informative MTV Movies Blog:

“We are going to have a meeting very soon between me, Steve Knight and Paul Webster to discuss what the script would be. I have some very strong ideas about what I would like to see, but I would like to hear what they have to say as well. And then after that, if all goes well, Steve goes away and writes a great script. If we all like it, we make it.”

Here's hoping, and in other casting news for flicks I'd certainly like to see, "Watchmen" director Zack Snyder has lost one waif and quickly picked up another to play the lead in his next flick, "Sucker Punch."

Amanda Seyfried was forced to drop out because HBO wouldn't let her out of her "Big Love" contract, so Aussie Emily Browning has stepped into the lead role. Though she starred this year in "The Uninvited" (which, rather amazingly, was still playing in one multiplex in my hood as recently as last week), you'll probably best remember her as Violet in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events."

Seems like a lateral move to me, but Browning should be a lot of fun in the lead role of a young woman forced into an insane asylum by her stepfather, who then uses the power of her imagination and the help of her fellow inmates (most likely Evan Rachel Wood, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish and Emma Stone) to escape.

No matter how this all works out, however, the best thing is that Snyder is finally cooking up something from his own mind instead of making another comic book flick.

And speaking of HBO, I'm rather psyched for the second season of "True Blood," which may even be enough to induce me to pay for the channel when the vampire series returns for season 2 on June 14.

I spent a good portion of my recent trip through the Southeast reading the source material for the second installment, Charlaine Harris' "Living Dead in Dallas," and can happily report that it has plenty of crazy stuff in store for the series (not exactly high art, I know, but it was just the perfect book to read while getting too much sun lazing on the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala.) Not to spoil too much, but the novel starts with the death of Lafayette (which ended season one of the show) and somehow ends up at an orgy.

The photo below, featuring Macon native Carrie Preston (left) as the Merlotte's waitress Arlene, and plenty more are on display at HitFix, and you can view them all here.

DVD pick of the week:

The big name this week is certainly Oscar winner "Slumdog Millionaire," and that one indeed did nothing but make me smile from start to finish each of the two times I've seen it already. But my pick this week is one of the only other movies I bothered to see twice in theaters in 2008 (along with "The Dark Knight"), the French thriller "Tell No One."

Not surprisingly at all given just how maddeningly entertaining it is, this mindbender based on a Harlan Coben novel is already being remade for American audiences, but please believe me that you should see it in its original French form from director Guillaume Canet. What he's cooked up here combines the best elements of the French psychological thriller genre with a genuine potboiler mystery tale, and put it all together with tons of style. I also promise that the "reveal," easily my favorite movie scene from last year, will stick with you for a long time. Rent it already.

And on that note I'll close with this rather awesome poster for Sam Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell," set to hit theaters May 29. We've all had days like this, if not quite as bad as poor Alison Lohman's, so enjoy and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The night the lights stayed on in Texas

I don't usually bother to post anything at night, especially so close to my old man's bed time, but with "Friday Night Lights" somehow picked up for TWO more seasons on NBC and DirecTV, I just couldn't resist.

The show will continue to make its first run on DirecTV, which I don't have, but will then return to NBC, presumably in the winter/spring, for at least 26 more episodes.

The 13-episode season, pioneered I suppose on cable by HBO, seems to me to be an idea that more networks shows, particularly dramas, should pick up on. Such a contained run, rather than 22, seems to allow the kind of tight and emotional storytelling that "Friday Night Lights" has delivered, particularly in this third season.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose, and amen to that.

The joys of summer: Ten (or maybe 13) flicks I'm really looking forward to

Actually, the most important thing happening possibly today for fans of great television is that DirecTV and NBC are expected to announce whether or not they've come to an agreement for a fourth and fifth season of "Friday Night Lights."

Now, I know I talk about this show a whole lot, but you'll just have to believe me that it's that good. It's the best TV drama since "The Wire," and in the interest of full disclosure, it routinely comes very close to making this grownass man cry at its most touching moments.

If you've missed out on the ride thus far, it's easy to catch up, and free too. I was rather amazed to find you can watch the first two seasons and the second half of the current one on Hulu, so I encourage anyone to give it a try.

The final decision, of course, will come down to money, specifically how much DirecTV is willing to pay to air the shows before they hit NBC. I'll definitely pass on what I hear as soon as I can, but here today it's all about summer, and what's in the movie pipeline.

There's actually some pretty good stuff coming before summer, which for argument's sake will start in May, including this week Greg Mottola's "Adventureland" and - if you live in a bigger city than me - "Sunshine Cleaning" and Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's baseball flick "Sugar," and next week Jody Hill's "Observe and Report." For a look at what comes after those that intrigues me, here goes (and please forgive any misspellings, because the Blogger spell check just wouldn't work this morning):

May 21: Terminator Salvation

I really had little to no interest in this one until I saw the latest trailer, but am now fairly convinced that McG will cook up something both genuinely gritty and fun with it. McG? Yes, McG.

May 29: Three definitely worth waiting for

The Brothers Bloom: Memorial day weekend will probably be the single best movie weekend of 2009 if Rian Johnson's sophomore flick actually manages to play wide enough to reach my little corner of the world. It was originally supposed to come out late last year, and I've certainly been ready to see this con man flick starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi since then.

Drag Me to Hell: If anyone short of Sam Raimi were promising a return to "real horror" I'd probably just laugh and move on, but judging from the trailer above I think he's come up with exactly that. If you hooked her up to a lie detector I bet Ellen Page would reveal she regrets passing on the lead in this tale of an old woman's rather nasty curse and handing the role to Alison Lohman.

Up: Having seen just last weekend what 3D can do in the wrong hands, being thoroughly bored from start to finish by Dreamworks' "Monsters Vs. Aliens," I can't wait to see it used for the forces of good again by Pixar. Everything I've seen and heard about this tale of an adventurous septuagenarian (Ed Asner) and his flying house says it's gonna be yet another Pixar winner.

June 19

Whatever Works: After countless years of casting his muse of the moment, Woody Allen has finally looked in the mirror and turned to a cranky old man as the lead in this one, and thankfully it's veryfunnyman Larry David. Here's hoping the success of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (my favorite comedy of 2009) means this return to NYC for Mr. Allen will play very wide.

Year One: As you can see from the trailer above, the humor in this Harold Ramis flick will be extremely broad but hopefully also on the mark. Jack Black and Michael Cera play the leads in this biblical laugher, which Ramis promises was made in the spirit of Monty Python. I have my doubts, but bring it on so we can find out.

July 1: Public Enemies

Having tried it out on one of my Johnny Depp-obsessed co-workers when she was having a particularly bad day, I can attest that there's just something extremely therapeutic about seeing him tote a tommy gun. Christian Bale will be the lawman who pursues Depp's John Dillinger in Michael Mann's flick, and you've also got Marion Cotillard as Dillinger's mol and Billy Crudup as J. Edgar Hoover, which all sounds pretty great to me.

July 10: Bruno

I'm not sure I'm ready for more of Sacha Baron Cohen's antics, but I laughed through just about every minute of "Borat," so I'll give him another shot. Besides, early word is that his exploits as the Austrian fashion reporter Bruno are at least as outrageous as anything he came up with the first time out, so it should at least never be boring.

July 17: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

It will be interesting to see if Harry Potter mania will still be running strong after such a long layoff. Given what director David Yates did with "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" and that this installment is easily my favorite of the books, I'm betting this one will be both a critical and box-office winner.

July 31: Funny People

As you can see from the trailer above (which reveals perhaps too much of the flick's story), there's a whole lot more than stand-up comedy going on in this Judd Apatow movie starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen. Given how often we hear the "Freaks and Geeks" creator's name nowadays, it's surprising (to me, at least) that this will be only the third flick he's actually directed, preceded by "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up" (the far superior of the two).

August 7: Julie and Julia

Far too girly for the heat of August, perhaps, but when you've got Meryl Streep and adorable Amy Adams in a movie that's all about food, I'm there. Streep will play master chef Julia Child and Adams a woman who decides to cook her way through Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in one year's time in her small kitchen. Sounds like nothing but fun to me.

August 14: Taking Woodstock

Out of some odd misguided loyalty to Dave Chappelle I've thus far resisted watching Comedy Central's latest sketch comedy star, Demetri Martin, but I'm beginning to think I'm really missing out on something good. Should I give in? As you can see from the trailer above, Mr. Martin also plays the lead role of Elliot Tiber in Ang Lee's flick about the famed hippie fest, which looks like it will be as simply silly as it is hopefully entertaining.

August 21: Inglourious Basterds

We finish, fittingly enough, with Quentin Tarantino's version of a World War II flick, assuming he actually both finishes it in time and decides to cut it enough to release it as only one movie. After watching Eli Roth removing a Nazi's head with a baseball bat I have serious doubts that this will be any good, but I'll definitely be there to see how it all turns out.

And there you have it. There are also certainly some pending blockbusters ("GI Joe", "Star Trek" and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" among them) that simply don't interest me all that much, but if there are any other summer flicks I've omitted but should put on my radar, certainly let me know, and have a perfectly passable Monday. Peace out.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

"The Office" hits the big screen? Well, close enough for me

Having returned from a great week driving around to my favorite spots in the Southeast, please indulge me in a brief plug for the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis' Soulsville neighborhood.

I had heard they opened such a glorious thing in 2003, but had resisted going for a long time simply because it's about a nine-hour drive from my house. Well, having finally given in, I'm certainly glad I did. If you like old soul music (and if you don't, why the heck not?), this is really a must-see.

When it comes to museums, I can normally only spend an hour to 90 minutes tops before I have to hit the streets again. Without knowing it (since, along with not owning a cell phone, I also don't bother with a watch), however, I spent more than four hours at this great museum built where the original Stax studio once stood and was never bored (though, knowing all too well how that story ends, I just had to skip the portion dedicated to the death of Otis Redding because it's just too damn depressing to hear again.) As a bonus, all within walking distance are the National Civil Rights Museum (located, for rather equally depressing and obvious reasons, at the Lorraine Motel), Beale Street and the Four-Way Restaurant, where I can attest they serve just about the finest version of soul food you can find anywhere.

But enough of that. As promised, here today it is indeed about what sounds a lot like as close as you can come to the UK version of "The Office" coming back to life. Though veryfunnyman Ricky Gervais has the first movie he co-wrote and co-directed, "This Side of the Truth," coming to theaters in September, what he's cooking up after that will mark a reunion with "Office" writing and directing partner Stephen Merchant.

And if you've watched "Extras," the post-"Office" series the duo came up with for HBO, you know that Mr. Merchant is an extremely funny dude in his own right. The two of them just mine misery for the finest brand of comedy, like in that completely useless "agent" that Merchant played in "Extras."

For their new project, Gervais and Merchant are returning to the working world, this time with a flick tentatively titled "The Men from the Pru," which is a coming-of-age tale about a group of men selling insurance door-to-door in the 1970s. Two interesting tidbits: This was originally set to be a series for BBC2 before the network passed, and the movie is set in Reading, where Gervais grew up. Just for a little more enticement, here's a quote from Gervais about it that appeared in the UK's Observer:

"Its a period piece for a couple of reasons. We wanted to show, for instance, that the sexual revolution was only really going on in Carnaby Street. Not Swindon. Not Reading."

This will be the second U.K. production to come out of the Sony International Motion Picture Production Group, with the first being based on the best book I've read in the past five years or so (though I'm about to start on "Let the Right One In," so that may change.) "The Damned United" (not, apparently, "The Damned Utd," like the book) just came out in the UK and will hopefully come to a theater somewhere near my little corner of the world very soon. It stars Michael Sheen as the British football manager Brian Clough, who had many successes in his life and at least one grand failure captured here, the 44 days he spent as manager of Leeds United. The novel is both an amazing piece of historical fiction by David Peace and an extremely funny and fast read. Pick it up if you can.

And I'll leave you today with something that may have already appeared all over the place in the past week, but is still very, very dear to my heart. "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak was easily my favorite book as a tyke, so I obviously can't wait to see what Spike Jonze has come up with in bringing it to the big screen (assuming it finally does get there in October or so.)

If you go see "Monsters Vs. Aliens" today, which I'm going to do in spite of the extremely mixed reviews because - like Lorelai Gilmore - I like watching all kinds of movies, good, bad and indifferent, you'll probably get to see this trailer writ much bigger, but just in case you don't, here it is. I just love that shot of Max peeking around the corner in his wild thing costume, but there's a lot more to enjoy in this (including most of a great song by the Arcade Fire.) Peace out.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A week off

For anyone who comes here fairly regularly (and, amazingly, there do appear to be a few of you out there), don't worry. I haven't gotten enough of a life that I'll stop doing this. I've simply taken my surprisingly reliable car on a workout to spend the week visiting my three favorite Southern cities (outside of Athens, GA, of course), Gulf Shores, AL, Oxford, MS, and Memphis, mainly to go to the Stax museum. Enjoy your week, and feel free to return when I do.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Comedy catch-up: A look at "Role Models"

Like the songs says, I'm a "Simple Man" in many ways, so it doesn't take much to make me have a pretty great day.

First, the mighty Maryland Terrapins man up in the closing minutes to vanquish the Golden Bears of California, and the Turtle is now ready and willing to maul those Memphis Tigers. I can't wait to watch that Saturday afternoon.

Then after that I sat down to watch "Role Models," a truly crude comedy that I had just passed on in theaters but was loaned to me now by my cubicle mate Randy Waters, who usually has reliably good taste (though he couldn't get into "Chuck," so there is that caveat.)

And what I found with "Role Models" was a series of almost completely satisfying surprises. I knew going in that it would star veryfunnypeople Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks and Jane Lynch. Also Stifler and McLovin, both of whom I can only take in small doses.

What I didn't expect, however, was that it would at least partially be a reunion of "The State," and even better capture much of the spirit that made that show so deliriously funny. Remember "The State"? Being a certified old fuddy-duddy I can testify that the comedy troupe show that lasted for 29 episodes from 1993-95 was the last time I bothered to tune into any MTV series in its entirety.

"Role Models," it turns out, was directed by "State" vet David Wain, and co-written by Rudd and "State"-er Ken Marino. And along with Marino, the flick stars fellow "State" funnypeople Keri Kenney-Silver and Joe Lo Truglio, who can make me laugh out loud with just a look.

The second surprising thing "Role Models" has going for it is that, like the best Christopher Guest flicks, it throws you into a weird world and treats it with humorous respect, laughing with and sometimes at its players, but never cruelly mocking.

And that world for "Role Models" is LARP, or Live Action Role Playing. If that doesn't make you laugh at least a little already, you should probably just stay away from this one, in which Lo Truglio, Matt Walsh and most of all Ken Jeong as King Argotron dive completely into the madness this presents and wring just about all the comedy you can out of it (Rudd "killing" Walsh's Davith of Glencracken on the battlefield but then going into overkill was just particularly funny.)

Now, "Role Models" isn't a comedy for all tastes. It's consistently crude, and the opening bit about pimping energy drinks to kids, while making a point, wears thin too fast. And young Bobb'e J. Thompson will certainly test your tolerance for hearing kids spew the most profane of profanity throughout (I however, no matter how old I supposedly get, will always find that funny, and I did here.) The world also could certainly survive without any more Kiss jokes. All that said, however, if you just passed on "Role Models" in theaters like I did, take a chance on it now and I think you'll find a genuine laugher with just enough heart.

And speaking of funny, I'll close today with the new (I think) trailer for Harold Ramis' "The Year One," which is set to drop in the middle of June. Like "Tropic Thunder" I think this one will certainly try the nerves of people for whom a little Jack Black goes a very long way, but I'm really looking forward to it. Rudd and David Cross as Cane and Abel, in particular, should just be a hoot. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Can you picture that? What's up with the marvelous Muppets

At the start, a hearty huzzah to the makers of "Up," which has somehow been chosen to be the opening night film for the Festival de Cannes when it returns May 13. It's not yet known if the film will take a competition slot or not, but that's still just an immense honor for what is, 3-D and all, after all just a "cartoon."

But here today it's all about one of my favorite subjects, the Muppets, and specifically the new "Muppet Movie" that Jason Segel and professional partner Nicholas Stoller are cooking up. The first sign that this will hopefully be as funny as it deserves to be comes up with the new flick's title, "The Greatest Muppet Movie of All Time."

If it manages to come even close to that it will be good enough for me, because I've always just had an inordinate amount of love for the Muppets. I guess it's just because they hit their height with "The Muppet Movie" when I was 9 years old, and I can remember for a fact that we just wore right through the cassette of that flick's great soundtrack on family trips.

So, what prompts this trip down memory road? Well, someone calling himself "Gonzo" has a review of the new movie's script up this morning at AICN. You can read the whole thing here, and be warned it does indeed have some fairly serious spoilers, but I just wanted to share my favorite bits below.

The movie has our beloved Muppets reuniting to stage a show (of course!) in the Muppet Theatre to raise $10 million to save The Muppet Studios from an evil Texas oil tycoon. And the most important fact, which would be a deal-breaker if the reverse were true: It's a musical.

The funniest thing "Gonzo" revealed is that the Muppets, who at the beginning are spread around the country and probably world, have a "Muppet signal," a la Batman. I can already picture the possibilities for that in my mind, and will gladly allow it to occupy at least a small portion of what should be my workday.

Also very funny is what the Muppets are all doing when they get the signal, according to the AICN spy: Rowlf is working in a Kinko's run by cats; Gonzo is a crime fighter (including a cameo from Christian Bale); the Electric Mayhem are performing in some dive bar in Alaska, and Animal is in a celebrity rehab center for anger management.

That all sounds great to me. This still isn't listed in any form at IMDB, but here's hoping it happens, because the world would certainly be a much more bearable place with another great Muppet movie in it. 'Nuff said.

More from Adrienne Shelly

Sorry to bring everyone down, but if you didn't hear about or have perhaps forgotten what happened to Adrienne Shelly, it really is one of the great Hollywood tragedies in my book.

Shelly, who you may remember best as the star of great Hal Hartley flicks like "The Unbelievable Truth" and "Trust," was murdered in 2006 in her New York apartment. Why? Because she actually had the nerve to ask her neighbor to turn down his stereo.

Disgustingly sad that, of course, but good things are continuing to emanate from what she left behind. Already there was "Waitress," a perfectly charming little flick that she wrote and starred in with Keri Russell, Captain Mal and Andy Griffith. And now it seems two more projects are in the works from scripts she managed to pen before her way-too-early demise.

Her husband, Andy Ostroy, is developing "The Morgan Stories" from another Shelly script, and it's described as a "multigenerational family drama that revolves around three sisters and follows them over the course of several decades."

That's just getting underway, but much further along and possibly finished is another Shelly-penned flick, "Serious Moonlight," which I can only find described thusly: A dark comedy about a wife who duct-tapes her husband to the bathroom just as burglars arrive. Unfortunately, that wife is apparently Meg Ryan, but amazingly enough Veronica Mars, a k a Kristen Bell, stars in this somehow too, so I'll definitely be checking it out as soon as I can (most likely, I'd have to imagine, on DVD.)

Just wanted to share all that, which I find to be a rather uplifting bit of news coming from such an awful tragedy.

A must-read: Friday morning link

I've made my love of "Friday Night Lights" very well known in this space many times before, but if I can do anything at all to help land a fourth season of easily the best drama on TV right now (which, believe me, I do know I can't), I'll certainly continue to do my little part.

I've adored watching how they've bid goodbye to beloved characters, and it seems that, like me, showrunner Jason Katims singles out the departure of Gaius Charles' Smash Williams as the show's best moment. You can hear about that, and almost an apology for the whole Tara/Landry murder story, in Variety managing editor Kathy Lyford's interview with Katims here.

It's well worth reading for anyone who's a fan of the show (and again, if you're not, why the heck not?), and in the intro Lyford even hints that there might be a NBC/DirecTV deal in the works to bring the show back for a fourth and maybe even fifth season. All I can say to that is bring it friggin' on, and I'll certainly let you know when I see anything that confirms something as crazy as that.

And comedy fans should note that Stringer Bell from "The Wire," a k a Idris Elba, begins a short run on "The Office" as Michael's new boss tonight, and Jon Hamm returns to "30 Rock" as Liz Lemon's new paramour. Good viewing indeed.

A glimpse of "Where the Wild Things Are" coming soon?

The rumor I've heard is that there will actually be a trailer for Spike Jonze's much-anticipated (by me, at least) take on the children's classic "Where the Wild Things Are" to precede "Monsters Vs. Aliens" on March 27. I was probably gonna go see that one anyway, but now I'm definitely in. All I have here today is this poster for Jonze's flick, which you may well have already seen, but it just made me smile and I think it will you too. I can tell you I feel exactly like Max does below at least once every single day. Peace out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

David Chase and the golden age of Hollywood

Wow. I knew NBC's "Kings" would be a hard show for folks to get into, but from the numbers it looks like only Al Swearengen's devoted fans even bothered to start with it in the first place. Though I didn't bother to tune in for these other two, it can't be a good sign that Sunday's two-hour debut had numbers (6 million viewers, 1.6 preliminary 18-49 rating) that get it the honor of being mentioned in the trades in the same sentence with "Chopping Block" and "Crusoe." Enjoy it while you can.

In much, much better - deliriously better, I'd go so far as to say - TV news, Henry Rollins will join the cast of "Sons of Anarchy" for six episodes when the FX show returns April 27. Though, not unlike "Kings," the tale of the SAMCRO motorcycle gang starring Ron Perlman, Katey Sagal and Charlie Hunnam of "Undeclared" fame (if there really is any of that) unfolds slowly, it's pretty friggin' engrossing if you let yourself go along for the ride.

Rollins, who puts both the bad and occasionally the ass too in badass, will play one of the club's new enemies in the California town of Charming. That should be nothing but cool, and besides, shouldn't the leader of Black Flag get the chance to add more to his acting resume so the trades won't keep pointing out he was in "Bad Boys 2"?

But, before I got off on that slight tangent, this was supposed to be about the return of David Chase to HBO, which can only be called a good thing, especially since it's NOT to do a "Sopranos" flick that picks up where the series rather ambiguously (and, in my book, flawlessly) left off.

Instead he's developing a miniseries called "A Ribbon of Dreams," which will begin in 1913 and follow two men, one a college-educated mechanical engineer and the other a cowboy with a violent past, who head out to Hollywood to get into the movie business. In the story, the two begin as employees of D.W. Griffith and then cross paths with the likes of John Ford, John Wayne, Raoul Walsh, Bette Davis and Billy Wilder as they become powers in the movie industry themselves.

The casting options for this alone are enough to keep my mind occupied and off of my daily workload for quite a while, but no other info (like when any of this might hit the airwaves) came out this morning.

Sounds plenty cool to me, but long before that HBO is also cooking up something with a lot lower profile that will hopefully turn into enough of a hit that I get to watch it soon for free online.

The last movie that Anthony Minghella managed to direct before he died (eerily enough) of a hemorrhage exactly one year ago tomorrow was one based on Alexander McCall Smith's "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," easily one of my favorite books. Minghella made it into a TV movie last year for HBO that just this morning got added to the "save" list on my Netflix queue for the day when it finally hits DVD, and come March 29 it will be reborn as a series for the channel. (And, it appears that if you're willing to watch it in installments on your computer, the entire movie is somehow on YouTube too in 11 parts or so.)

Starring R&B diva Jill Scott (who Tyler Perry has already proven is a pretty darn good actress), "The Wire" veteran Idris Elba and "Dreamgirl" Anika Noni Rose, the book, movie and now series are about Precious Ramotswe (Scott), who becomes the first female private detective in Botswana. It's light as air but all kinds of fun, so definitely tune in for this one if you can.

And, on a short tangential note before I close with the series trailer, was I the only who didn't know (until this morning) that Rashida Jones of "The Office" is Quincy Jones' daughter? I never would have guessed, but there's an interview with her this morning at Blackfilm.com to promote Friday's release of "I Love You, Man." Blackfilm.com, by the way, is a fantastic site and one that's a daily stop on my morning reading list, so definitely check it out.

But now here's the trailer for "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," and with that I'm headed to the job I thankfully still have (though at least eight of my co-workers can't say that as of yesterday.) Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Tuesday. Peace out.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The princess, the frog and the art of traditional animation

First off, I have to say that after seeing all the reviews calling it simply "somber," I was pleasantly surprised and thoroughly entertained by NBC's equally clever two-hour premiere of "Kings" last night.

Along with being a welcome showcase for Al Swearengen, it just sets up some juicy but still fairly intelligent palace intrigue that's a cut above the norm. That said, I'm hoping it stays at the 8 p.m. slot it's headed to next week rather than going up against "Desperate Housewives" at 9 - which I had originally heard - because then it will just be toast.

And in unsurprising box-office news, "Watchmen" did indeed get its ass kicked by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson last weekend. I did my part by going to see Zack Snyder's film again while ignoring the family fare I was under no obligation to watch, but it apparently didn't help.

"Race to Witch Mountain" enjoyed an opening weekend of $25 million while "Watchmen" fell a rather whopping 67 percent to $18.7 million. Worse yet, overseas, where Snyder's flick was expected to pick up most of its scratch, the flick took in only $13.5 million to fall to "Marley & Me," which finished first at $13.9 million (I know things get released later in certain parts of the world, but where the heck did that come from?)

Overall, the total for "Watchmen" so far is still $135.5 million, so given how much it's sure to make from fanboys on DVD I suppose it's still going to make money, but still disappointing news all around.

But here today, before some great news about Greg Mottola and the world's funniest comedy team, it's all about Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" and the art of simple, 2-D animation. Now, don't get me wrong. After seeing "Coraline" with those goofy glasses on I'm thoroughly sold on the power of 3-D animation, and can't wait to see what Pixar has cooked up with it for "Up."

In my heart, however, I still miss the simpler days when animated films were driven by a fun story and entertaining tunes as much as amazing imagery. Though no one noticed, Michael Landon Jr. took a pretty darn good shot at it just a little while ago with his mostly rewarding take on one of my favorite childhood tales, "The Velveteen Rabbit" (and, as promised, I will indeed write it up in tomorrow's DVD report, since they were kind enough to send me a screener.) And, on a much bigger scale, Disney is getting back in the game come December with "The Princess and the Frog," which also just happens to star its first black princess, Tiana, voiced by "Dreamgirl" Anika Noni Rose and pictured above.

It still amazes me that Disney has the class to set this in New Orleans and do so many other things right, and yet still can't look any further than Randy Newman to provide the score. The number of Big Easy musicians - black or white - who I would rather see on this project is extremely long, but my top choice would be piano man extraordinaire Allen Toussaint (a little more on him later.)

But enough of that bile, because all I really wanted to do today was share these pretty darn cool character shots, which I found at Aint It Cool (where they have some more here.) I'll let them speak for themselves now except to say that the next two are for characters named Louie (natch) and Mama Odie. Enjoy.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost invade America

What is already shaping up to be a vastly improved movie year so far over what came in the beginning of 2008 is about to be helped along by the arrival of three promising comedies virtually back-to-back, "I Love You, Man" this weekend, Greg Mottola's "Adventureland" just one week after that and then Jody Hill's "Observe and Report" with Seth Rogen in early April.

And while Mottola's semi-autobiographical "Adventureland," starring Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart and veryfunnypeople Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Martin Starr, looks like it will be a real winner, what he's cooking up after that should be even better.

Teaming up with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (two-thirds, completed usually by Edgar Wright, of in my opinion the world's funniest comedy team), he's now at work on something called "Paul." The flick, written by Pegg and Frost, centers on two British tourists on a roadtrip across the U.S. to San Diego’s movie geek mecca Comic-Con, who have an extraterrestrial encounter along the way. This being a Pegg-Frost flick, they befriend the alien fellow and bring him along for the ride. Here's what Mottola had to say to the surprisingly entertaining MTV Movies Blog about the project:

“Whoever plays the [alien] needs to do so like a three dimensional guy, he’s kind of like just another character in the story and he’s not just an [ET], I need a method acting performance out of this nonexistent person. My joke is its ‘Five Easy Pieces’ with an alien. There’s a fun factor to the film because it’s an alien and you can’t escape that and it has to be satisfying, but my goal is to make the audience stop thinking about it ten minutes after they meet him and really start to think about him as a character and a performance. Now that i’ve gotten deeper into how to pull that off, i realize its really f***ing hard!"

That all sounds perfectly funny to me, so keep your eyes on this flick set to come out in 2010. And now, to hopefully brighten up everyone's Monday morning just a little bit, here's a clip of the aforementioned Mr. Toussaint at Joe's Pub in NYC, where I had the pleasure of seeing him a few years ago and where he has sort of taken up residence after Hurricane Katrina. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Monday. And of course, now and forever, fear the turtle. Peace out.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Saturday morning funnies: A glimpse of "Observe and Report?"

Speaking of funny, it looks like Donald Faison, a k a Dr. Turk, is moving on from "Scrubs," so with J.D. already out it looks like that show will finally be coming to an end this year. It's been a great run, but since the new interns aren't terribly funny or, well, appealing in just about any way, it's probably the right time to call it quits.

But here today briefly it's all about Jody Hill's "Observe and Report," which I can't wait to see when it comes out April 10 (and though I really have nothing against Kevin James, this will be my first mall cop movie, unless you count "Mallrats.")

The flick is directed by veryfunnyman Jody Hill, who created "Foot Fist Way" with fellow veryfunnyman Danny McBride (rent that one already if you haven't seen it and I guarantee you'll laugh.) They also teamed up for the still-going-but-probably-done-after-one-short-season "Eastbound and Down" on HBO, which has pretty much been roundly panned but which I like quite a bit. There's just an art, though I'll concede not a fine one, to making Southern comedy that let's the characters all be in on the joke from the beginning, and Hill and co. certainly know how to do it.

Anyways, here as you can see from this featurette, he's got Seth Rogen as the head of mall security who's investigating the case of a flasher. If that doesn't make you laugh already this just might not be for you. He's also got Anna Faris, who surely deserves much better but will be just as flat-out funny here as she is in anything else (will someone give her the lead in a movie that's not a chick flick already? Sheesh!), and a certain reserve football player for the Dillon Panthers (and if you're not watching "Friday Night Lights," why the heck not? It's easily, with all apologies to "Battlestar Galactica," the best drama on TV, and was just in top form last night.)

Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. And, if you're so inclined, do go see "Watchmen" again, as I'm gonna do this afternoon before watching my Terrapins take out the Dukies. Peace out.

Observe and Report: Introducing Forest Ridge Mall exclusive

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lex Luthor demands a bailout

I'm not sure there's anything to say about this except that it's Jon Hamm and it's really friggin funny. Enjoy

Can Sam Raimi "Drag Me to Hell"? Hell yeah

Judging from the trailer that came out yesterday, I'd say Sam Raimi is finally and thankfully having fun making movies again, but first a short word or two about Jay Baruchel.

Know who he is? Even if you don't think so, you probably do. He played Sandusky in "Tropic Thunder" and Norah's ex in "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," and had his best big-screen part to date as that Zeppelin-obsessed fan in "Almost Famous." And even though Fox only felt fit to air about 15 episodes of it, he was also great as the lead in Judd Apatow's second TV series, "Undeclared," which while never quite as good as "Freaks and Geeks" was still just a damn fine series (and one I have on DVD.)

And now it seems Mr. Baruchel is finally gonna get to carry a movie by himself, and one he had a hand in creating at that, too. Based on a character that Baruchel came up with, "Johnny Klutz" will be about a lovable loser who is impervious to pain. The comedy possibilities are already spinning in my mind. With Ben Stiller involved as a producer, I'd imagine there has to be a pretty good chance this will all come together.

Now, before we get into all the horror goodness from Raimi, there's more news out there that just might impact the future of my favorite current TV drama by far, "Friday Night Lights."

Former cheerleader-turned-Jesus-freak-turned-Tim-Riggins'-girlfriend-once-again Lyla Garrity, a k a Minka Kelly, has signed on to play the lead in something called "Body Politic" for the CW, where she joins co-star Jason Dohring, also known as Logan Echolls on my beloved "Veronica Mars."

On the new show, which according to Variety takes a look at "Washington politics through the eyes of optimistic, up-and-coming staffers," Minka plays Hope, who leaves Michigan after the death of her mother to join the staff of her father, who has just been appointed attorney general. Logan will play a Washington Post reporter. (Just as an aside, I was once an "optimistic, up-and-coming" Washington staffer as an intern for Maryland's great but quick-tempered Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski, and once saw her throw a telephone receiver at someone's head. That was about enough for me.)

I'm not expecting the second coming of "The West Wing" here, but assuming this is also not just completely stupid it will be yet another CW show I'll tune in for despite the fact that I'm way too old to do so without shame.

But what does that mean for "Friday Night Lights"? Well, word is that negotiations are still ongoing between NBC and DirecTV for a fourth season, and insiders are "optimistic" about it happening. Here's hoping, because season three has easily been the best yet. And take note: If not this week's, an episode to come very soon will be all about the future of Lyla and Tim, so definitely stay tuned.

OK, finally, it's down to the horror, and like I said, from this brief glimpse it seems like Sam Raimi has really cooked up something fun with "Drag Me to Hell," which is set to come out May 29.

My first thought watching it was it's just too bad that young Ellen Page dropped out of the lead role, because seeing her as a scream queen would just be a blast. As you can see, Alison Lohman has stepped into her shoes, and I'm betting she'll do just fine.

We're almost there, but if you'll indulge me, here are my three ingredients for horror movie success:

1. Remember people, this should be about suspense rather than simply gore. I'll never understand the entertainment value in watching someone get meticulously tortured.
2. No matter how familiar your idea is, at least have one. I'm almost certain I have yet to see any kind of horror movie remake, and intend to stubbornly hold to that rule from here on out.
3. Keep it simple. You don't need an elaborate curse to unleash all the evil, so just get to it. Raimi certainly seems to have that down here since, as you'll see from the trailer (in just a sec, really), here an old woman turned down for a mortgage extension curses our heroine to hell. Nothing but cool there.

OK, here it finally is. Enjoy the trailer, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Demko's DVD shelf: A truly packed week

"It would be like me going to ['No Country for Old Men' author] Cormac McCarthy and going, 'I have an idea for a [sequel]: You write a book, and I'll write a movie, and you can release it. You'll win a Pulitzer; I'll win an Oscar. It'll be awesome. The attitude toward comic books, they show their hand a little bit. They would never say that about a real novelist, but they would about a comic book."
- Zack Snyder in The New York Times

The rather meager $55 million opening of "Watchmen" will hopefully put the kibosh on any talk about a sequel, and judging from that quote above I'd have to assume Mr. Snyder at least wouldn't be on board. At least until the dumptrucks of money pull up to his door, anyway.

I will say this about anyone who would dare to pen a "Watchmen" sequel, which would really be just about the worst cinematic idea short of a big-screen remake of "The Wizard of Oz": He or she would have to have some serious huevos.

But enough about that. Let's just assume for now that it's never going to happen and move on to a much happier subject: This week's rather seriously loaded DVD shelf. There's a ton of new titles, and at least six that are well worth a rental. These include "Milk" and "Synecdoche, NY," but because I still don't get paid to do this I'm just gonna have to brush over those and simply say check them out if you haven't already (even if Charlie Kaufman's conceit, unfiltered, does wear out its welcome a bit by the end.)

And there's a 12th season of "South Park" (and, much better, a new season beginning tomorrow night, huzzah!), but I just checked Hulu and all 14 season 12 episodes are indeed available there, so why not just watch them for free? A good starting point would be the "Breast Cancer Show Ever," 'cause there really are few better ways to waste 20 minutes or so than by watching Cartman finally get his ass thoroughly kicked by Wendy. Priceless.

But there are four other titles out this week that are so good they're worth a full mention, starting with the best vampire movie I've seen in many, many years. I had no expectations at all going into "Let the Right One In," which probably helped it grow even higher in my estimation, but mi hermano has seen it and raves about it just as much as I do, so I know this time I'm right.

Director Tomas Alfredson's flick, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is in fact at least as much a coming-of-age tale as it is a horror movie. Set in frozen Sweden and making full use of its smothering setting, it tells the story of 12-year-old Oskar, who is bullied by his stronger classmates and is pretty much just all-around miserable until he meets new neighbor Eli, who resembles a pale young girl, but, well you can probably figure out the truth. Watching what happens as Oskar does too is easily one of the biggest cinematic pleasures of 2008, and I guarantee you won't soon forget what happens when Eli steps up to fight for Oskar. I've ranted about this before, but it's so sinister an idea that it's worth mentioning again, only as a word of warning: "Cloverfield" director Matt Reeves' plan for an American remake, to be transported to snowy Colorado, is now far enough along to have an IMDB listing. Stop this madness now if you somehow can, or at least just trust me and watch the original now that you have another chance.

"Cadillac Records"
Anyone who's been here before (and I'm still amazed there appear to be a few of you out there) knows that I have nothing but love for Darnell Martin's flick, and I'm happy to sing its praises for what might be the last time now that it's out on DVD. Rather than the straightforward story of Chess Records, Martin just makes her movie all about the music, the mood and the 'tude, and she's helped out by - with all apologies to "Milk" and "W." - the best ensemble cast of 2008. If you think you haven't heard Beyonce sing Etta James' "At Last" by now, you're probably wrong, because its just everywhere. But as beautiful as that is, the real joy in Beyonce's performance (and yes, I am serious) comes in the pain she mines in James' story. Just as good are Jeffrey Wright, who is just a simmering pot of pride and anger as Muddy Waters, Columbus Short, who wrings all the life out of Little Walter, and finally Mos Def clowning it up in full ham as Chuck Berry. All Ms. Martin has listed now on her IMDB sheet since this thoroughly fun flick is three episodes of "Law and Order," but here's hoping she finds real movie work again soon, because she certainly deserves it.

Rachel Getting Married
Be warned before you watch it: Jonathan Demme's flick is the most claustrophobic one I've seen since "Margot at the Wedding," but - on screen, at least - I like my family life served up with a big helping of dysfunction, so they both just worked for me. I was really hoping Anne Hathaway would win the Oscar for this, because she really is as good as all the hype would have you believe as the unwelcome guest at her sister Rachel's wedding. My parents were surprised by this one because they heard a "Fresh Air" interview with Demme in which he called it a "romantic comedy." It's far from that, but you won't get very many flicks that take a more perceptive look at the family dynamic, and Rosemarie DeWitt (Don Draper's hippie mistress on the first season of "Mad Men") is every bit as good as Hathaway as the titular Rachel.

I'm not sure I was supposed to find Sally Hawkins' Poppy easily the most annoying lead character of 2008, but it's one of the biggest strengths of Mike Leigh's flick that I was still rooting for her from the start. Hawkins' Poppy is indeed so cheerful that you might want to throttle her, but it will certainly make you think when she encounters someone who might just be ready to act on that understandable impulse in combustible driving instructor Scott, in an unforgettable turn by Eddie Marsan. Like most of Leigh's movies its just an enjoyable little snapshot of working life, with the bonus this time that it just might make you think a little about how you look at the world around you (hokey I know, but true.)

So, there you have it. If you rent any of these, I certainly hope you like them as much as I did. Peace out.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Should you watch the "Watchmen"? A conditional vote for yes

Before I get into any of that, I just wanted to say that it's simply nice to see that Andrés Galarraga, a k a the Big Cat, is still alive and looking very healthy. He was always easily one of my favorite Major League Baseball players, and was diagnosed with cancer way back in 2000, so it was just great to see him on the bench managing the Venezuelan team in the World Baseball Classic (and thank God for baseball of any kind!)

OK, enough of that. Here today, as it has been for much of the past month, it's all about Zack Snyder's "Watchmen." And now, after having sat on this since about 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon and let it stew around in my mind, I'm ready to call it at least a qualified success (despite its rather underwhelming $55 million opening.)

The main complaint I've heard about Snyder's work is that he stuck way too close to the comic book script and really just made a paint-by-numbers version for the big screen, but I don't really buy it. With "300" he certainly took all of Frank Miller's palate and tone to tell the tale of the battle of Thermopylae, but given the revered nature of what he was working with here and the big input of "Watchmen" co-creator Dave Gibbons on the set, I thought he really put his own pop sensibility on this story. AND PLEASE, BE WARNED, I WILL BE UNABLE TO DO THIS WITHOUT MAJOR, MAJOR SPOILERS, SO IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FLICK YET OR JUST DON'T WANT TO KNOW, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER.

It starts out right away with the deliriously entertaining opening credits, set to the tune of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a Changing." I laughed out loud when Silhouette stole that V-J Day kiss and reeled from the sucker punch of her murder only seconds later. For me at least, this spell lasted throughout the flick, even as the other facet of Snyder's style, the need to spatter as much blood as David Cronenberg at his bloodiest, came to the fore.

And it's certainly true that one of the many directors who have circled this project through the years, Terry Gilliam, probably would have taken more chances with this, but I'd have to imagine that's exactly why he and others failed to follow through on it to the finish. Just as the "Watchmen" comic book was all about the good and bad consequences of compromise, so is the movie itself, and it comes down mostly on the good side of things in my book.

What transferred my love of the comic most directly to the big screen is that the movie handled two of my favorite sequences just about perfectly. The first is Dr. Manhattan's TV interview and subsequent trip to Mars. Snyder doesn't have the space to play all the time games that Moore did in the comic, but he still manages to make it hit hard when Janey Slater pulls off that wig and makes the desolate Mars scape the ultimate spot for Dr. Manhattan's intentional isolation. It certainly helps that, as he tells the hero's tale, Billy Crudup manages to capture all the soul hidden behind that vacant stare (even as he does, be warned, dangle his blue wang-dang-doodle quite a bit.)

The second thing it nailed just about perfectly was also driven by spot-on performances by Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and - to a lesser extent - the always-welcome Danny Woodburn as the diminutive Big Figure. Haley just simmers with all the right snarling rage once he's unmasked as Walter Kovacs, and I just had to smile the first time that Woodburn (a k a Kramer's tiny co-conspirator Mickey Abbott on "Seinfeld") came around the corner to confront him in his cell.

So then, what didn't work? Well, for me, it was mainly one scene Snyder left in but botched and two that he almost entirely left out (and in the second case just should have altogether.)

The first, and the single worst scene of the entire movie, was the almost completely passion-free love scene between Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Specter II (Malin Ackerman.) Given the amount of skin it shows (and yes, as the Comedian might say, it certainly does prove in Ms. Ackerman's case that those are some good genes), it's a curiously joyless affair, made all the worse by the attachment of a version of Leonard Cohen's great song "Hallelujah" to it. Just an all-around travesty.

And the most glaring omission would have to be the death of Hollis Mason, a moving moment in the comic book that's replaced in the flick by a random encounter between Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II and a street gang. But the most grating of all was the inclusion of the newsstand owner and comic book reader for just a split second before they are obliterated. The two of them offer a running commentary on the end of the world that drives a good portion of Moore's tale, so to waste them in such a way on screen was just a total spit in the face.

So, given all that, what tipped the scales to make this one at least a conditional winner in my book? Well, Alan Moore fans can squawk all they want, but for me it was the ending (AND ONCE AGAIN, IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT, PLEASE DO NOT READ ON AND THEN TRY TO BLAME ME LATER.)

To me, it kept all of Moore's big ideas about compromise vs. absolutism intact while just improving on the overall story. Sure, it would have been fun to see the giant squid appear, but would you really want to add another 45 minutes to the flick while Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) explained just how he managed to cook that up? As it is, having the attacks instead mirror the energy of Dr. Manhattan just perfectly amplifies the God vs. man angle, and makes that fact that it's the good Dr. who finally has to encounter Rorschach all the more compelling.

In the end, I'm glad that in this case Snyder's compromises won out over Moore's absolutism so this movie could be made in the first place, and with my Grand/Amstar Cinemas Mystery Shopper pass in hand I'll probably go see it again this coming weekend (since there seems to just be nothing of any merit at all opening.) And in a rather tangential closing, here's a clip of the only performance of "Hallelujah" that can even come close to rivaling Jeff Buckley's, by the singer/songwriter Allison Crowe. Enjoy, have a perfectly passable Monday, and please let me know if you think I'm just all wrong about Snyder's flick. Peace out.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Quick hits: A trailer two-fer and ... Hitler!?!?

Not much to say today, since I'm off to the gym in just a few minutes and then on to watch "Watchmen" in Imax!

I did, however, take a few seconds to scan the 'Net this morning, and found a few things well worth passing on. The first is the theatrical trailer for "Up," and the first clip from Pixar's next flick that really shows what we're in for. I was already psyched for this, but now you can count me as completely hooked.

The second is a little odd, but no less enjoyable. Remember Jim Jarmusch? It seems like forever since he made his last feature film, "Broken Flowers," and it has indeed been four years. Now he's back with something called "The Limits of Control." As you can see from the trailer below, it stars Isaach de Bankole, who I've loved ever since he played the ice cream man in Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai." In this new flick, he plays a mysterious loner involved in some kind of criminal operation in Spain. That's all I know for now, but it's certainly nice to see Mr. Jarmusch back, no matter what he's cooking up.

And, finally, the truly odd. I'm not usually one for jokes about Hitler, but whoever put this together is indeed at least a minor genius. Who would have guessed the fuhrer was a fanboy? If you haven't seen "Watchmen" yet or don't want to know how the graphic novel or movie end, don't watch this clip, but if you're cool with that and don't mind squinting at some tiny subtitles, I guarantee this will make you laugh out loud at least once. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. Peace out.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Laika to live on and hopefully deliver lots more 3-D animated fun

Actually, before I get into any of that, it's that time of year, so there are a lot of TV "bubble" reports out there. The most surprising name I found on more than one of them was "Chuck," a show I just assumed was safe.

I just jumped on the "Chuck" bandwagon at the beginning of this second season, but now I'm thoroughly hooked. Sure, it gets a little old when every week Chuck "flashes" on a new Fulcrum agent he just happens to encounter, but the show is still easily the best mix of sly humor and action on TV right now.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, creator Josh Schwartz and company are now in the process of pitching a "game-changer" episode for this year's finale that will set up a third season (and hopefully more.) Stay tuned to this, fellow "Chuck" fans ...

And for those of you who still pay for HBO, there's much better news out there this morning for "Seinfeld" fans, of which you can certainly count me as one. The four principal stars - Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards - will be featured in a multiple-episode story arc on HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" this fall. That show, of course, was created by "Seinfeld" co-mastermind Larry David, who is starring in Woody Allen's upcoming summer flick, "Whatever Works."

In their honor, here's probably my favorite "Seinfeld" clip of all, featuring a deliriously funny cameo by Phillip Baker Hall as library inspector Bookman. Enjoy, and try not to laugh so loud you disturb your co-workers.

But here today it's all about the future of the animation house Laika, which before the success of "Coraline" was in fairly serious danger. Before seeing that Henry Selick flick, a thoroughly enchanting ode to the imagination, I had no idea that the studio was about to (or perhaps did) declare bankruptcy.

Now, however, with "Coraline" already having hauled in $62 million at the U.S. box office and still running fairly strong, the company has restructured its executives and is moving ahead with a very full slate of flicks. Travis Knight, son of Nike founder and Laika backer Phil Knight (yes, nepotism can be nice), will now take over as president and CEO of the animation house.

So, what does that mean for us viewers? Well, Laika is reportedly now moving ahead with an ambitious slate of no less than nine flicks, including these:

"Here Be Monsters": This appears to be a rather complicated but also hopefully delightfully twisted tale by Alan Snow about a young man who lives with his grandfather in the tunnels under the English city of Ratbridge until he's forced into action to save his fellow underlings from the Cheese Guild. Or, at least that's what I can gather from 30 seconds of Googling.

"The Wall and the Wing": Based on the bestseller by Laura Ruby and set in a future New York City, it's about a girl who can't fly in a world where most everyone else can. She can, however, turn herself invisible, and gets led into a life of crime and other chicanery. Or, once again, that's what I think it's about.

And finally, "Paranorman," based on an original idea by "Coraline" head of story Chris Butler. No matter what these actually turn out to be about, it's just nice to hear some good economic news for once, especially when it's hopefully combined with a nice slate of slightly off-kilter and visually engaging animation.

The "Watchmen" get seriously cheesy

From the exact opposite end of the animation scale qualitywise but still extremely funny comes this "Watchmen" spoof that surfaced today. I'm not sure who made it, but it jumps on the premise of what would happen if our heroes were to live on as a Saturday morning cartoon crew. It's all pretty priceless, but especially Rohrschach declaring "I'm nutty!" and pining for a kiss. Enjoy, and by all means go see "Watchmen" this weekend, which I'm going to do (in IMAX!) Saturday afternoon. Peace out.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Lionsgate and Tyler Perry: A Match showered in moolah

Actually, before I get into any of that, just bizarre news came out this morning about something I guess you could say is close to both my cinematic and musical hearts, the upcoming biopic of Marylander Joan Jett and the Runaways.

First, "Twilight" and "Into the Wild" star Kristen Stewart was cast as Joan Jett. Fair enough. She was great in Sean Penn's flick, and I think she can pull it off. Now, however, comes word that none other than Dakota Fanning has been cast as Runaways lead singer Cheri Currie.

So, let's see. The poor girl is only 15, and so far on the big screen she's already been raped (in "Hounddog," which I'll never bother to see), played an alcoholic with special powers in "Push" and now is set to dive headfirst into hard drugs for this role. Fantastic trajectory you've made there for yourself, dear.

But I've been wrong at least once in my life (and probably more than once already this week), so here's hoping I am again and director Floria Sigismondi - against rather stiff odds - manages to come up with something entertaining when this begins filming later this spring.

Also out there today was the first mention in many a month of a movie I just can't wait to see, Rian Johnson's "The Brothers Bloom." The con man flick, starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi, was originally set to be released last fall but is now instead serving as the opening night feature for the AFI Dallas Film Festival on March 26 before hopefully opening wide enough to reach my little corner of the world in May. Bring it on already!

But here today it's supposed to be all about Tyler Perry, who as anyone who might have been here before knows I'm a big supporter of. "Madea Goes to Jail" was thoroughly enjoyable, and with two weeks on top of the box office, also a big winner for Lionsgate.

And now, unsurprisingly, the studio has continued its relationship with the Atlanta filmmaker - which began way back with his first feature film, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" - through at least two more films.

So, what will that mean for viewers? Well, in the short term, even though I thought he was retiring the character from at least the big screen, more Madea and, thankfully, more Taraji P. Henson too.

Coming next Sept. 11, the director's "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" is based on one of his stage plays and, as best as I can tell, is about a young woman (to be played by Henson) who moves in with her grandma (Madea, of course) as she's seeking a divorce from her cheating husband. All kinds of drama surely ensues, including Madea's engagement to said cheating dog.

That all sounds great to me, but his next project might be the first one yet that I'll just skip. In a sequel to easily his worst movie, Perry's next flick (because he's just wired to do at least two every year) will be "Why Did I Get Married Too," to presumably again star divas Janet Jackson and Jill Scott.

Even if that one doesn't entertain, it will surely still make money, something Mr. Perry has been rather good at, both for himself and Lionsgate. Since their relationship began in 2005, Perry's pics have garnered a collective domestic gross of nearly $350 million and sold nearly 25 million DVDs. Lionsgate probably makes almost as much or more off his simply unwatchable (in my humble opinion) sitcoms, "House of Payne" and "Meet the Browns," which between them have already produced more than 200 syndicated episodes.

An amazing run, and as long as he keeps cranking out entertaining movies, I'll keep watching.

Roach's 'Dinner' table finally set

Having lost one very funny but fickle guest, director Jay Roach has replaced him with two just as funny guys to finally get started on "Dinner for Schmucks," a remake of the Froggy flick "Le Diner des Cons."

After Sacha Baron Cohen pulled out, Roach has now hired Steve Carell and the extremely funny Paul Rudd to star in the movie. In the French version, a smug publisher and his haughty friends invite pathetic people over for dinner to mock them, but finally get their comeuppance when one guest turns the tables. For that last role, my money would have be on Carell.

This one has sat on the shelf for a long time due some kind of studio debacle that is beyond my pay grade (zero) to explain, but it's finally set to begin shooting in October.

Egregious Alexis Bledel photo alert

I really have little interest in the flick "Post Grad," once called "The Post-Grad Survival Guide," which is set for release in August, but I still wanted to brighten everyone's day with this pic of adorable "Gilmore Girl" Alexis Bledel, who will play the lead role. Just in case you have more interest in this than I do, it will - as the title make pretty clear - be about one woman's drive to find a life (and, one would have to assume, romance) after finishing college, and it's set to co-star Zach Gilford (a k a former QB1 Matty Saracen on "Friday Night Lights"), Rodrigo Santoro, Jane Lynch, Carol Burnett and Michael Keaton.OK, enough about that.

Huzzah,"The Office" finally opens again tonight!

It seems like forever since there have been new episodes of "The Office," but the wait finally ends tonight, and the even better news is that the next four weeks all feature original episodes.

Here's what's coming up:

Tonight:"Blood Drive
It’s Valentine’s Day at the office. Michael (Carell) meets a mysterious woman at a Valentine’s blood drive. Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and Kevin (Brian Baumgartner) pair up with single women at the office “Lonely Hearts Party.” Meanwhile Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) are banished from the office for being too publicly affectionate, and have an awkward lunch with Phyllis (Phyllis Smith) and Bob (Robert Ray Shafer).

Next week: "Golden Ticket"
Michael causes a huge problem in the office when he comes up with the idea to put “golden tickets” into packages of paper for clients to redeem for discounts. Andy (Ed Helms), Jim and Pam give Kevin differing advice on wooing a woman.

March 19: “New Boss”
Michael has big plans for his 15th anniversary party at Dunder Mifflin, but is in for a shock when the new, no-nonsense vice president ("The Wire" vet Idris Elba - awesome) has some ideas of his own. Meanwhile, Jim’s prank on Dwight has some unexpected results.

March 26: “Two Weeks”
Michael’s relationship with the new vice president becomes increasingly tense, as Michael finds an excuse to goof off even more than usual. Meanwhile, Pam faces the challenge of a new copier and Kelly develops a crush.

And, just to get you back in the mood, here's a deleted scene from the last new episode, in which Angela explains how she's filling the void left by the end of her "relationships." Enjoy.

R.I.P. Horton Foote

This has already gone on longer than I intended today, but I really couldn't quit without paying respect to the great Horton Foote, who died Wednesday at age 92.

Among his many accomplishments, my favorite would have to be writing the screenplay for Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird," still to this day my single favorite movie, if I'm pressed to name one.

There may be others, but he's also the only person I know of to win this awards trifecta, two Oscars, a Pulitzer and an Emmy. He won the Oscars for, of course, "To Kill a Mockingbird" and his script for "Tender Mercies." The Pulitzer came for "The Young Man From Atlanta"in 1993 and the Emmy for his adapatation of Faulkner's "Old Man" in 1997.

And, though it's unlikely, a posthumous Tony may even be in his future too, since a retooled version of his 1989 play "Dividing the Estate" appeared on Broadway earlier this season,

Rest in peace, Mr. Foote.

And finally, of course, "Watchmen"

Zack Snyder's take on the famous graphic novel has already broken a record even before it hits theaters, garnering the widest run - 3,611 "playdates" (I'm not sure if that means screens, theaters or what) ever for a R-rated flick. And just to build the hype a little higher (though my inner hype meter has really reached the max already), here's Snyder, Malin Ackerman (Silk Spectre) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian) giving a rather profane introduction to the clip of the assassination attempt on Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode). Even though it seems like I've seen tons of clips from the flick, I'm sure there's a lot more to be revealed, and I just can't to see it (in IMAX!) Saturday afternoon. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

What's Zack Snyder up to after "Watchmen"?

The picture above is one of nine in a gallery online at Vanity Fair that's well worth checking out here. This "Honeymooners" shot had to be my favorite because Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Leslie Mann and Jason Bateman are all just sensationally funny people, but there's plenty more to enjoy - including Seth Rogen as Frida Kahlo - in the gallery.

And speaking of seriously funny, a hearty huzzah to Spike TV (which I'm fairly certain I haven't tuned in to up to this point) for reviving a true American hero of physical comedy, the great Super Dave Osborne. If you grew up in the '80s like I did, Super Dave was the king of failed stunts, and now he's about to bring it all back again for four episodes he will write and of course star in this summer. Definitely keep your eyes out for that.

And he's not the only very funny guy who's about to make a comeback. Dave Chappelle sidekick Charlie Murphy - a k a Eddie's currently funnier brother - will launch his show "Charlie Murphy's Crash Comedy" on something called Crackle.com beginning March 20. And please, please, please Mr. Murphy, just go right ahead and steal the concept of "Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories." It was the funniest thing on Dave's show, and he apparently won't be needing it anytime soon.

And since this is already the longest intro having nothing to do with the headline, why not more really funny from Kevin Smith, who proves there's not only life after making a porno, but a real cash cow.

For the record, I really liked "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." It was sweet and funny all at once, and that thoroughly disgusting anal sex joke at the end - I suppose it was the "money shot" - just made me laugh out loud. Almost as funny but thoroughly depressing, however, is that - for Wal-Mart, at least - Mr. Smith and those Weinstein boys have stripped the "porno" from the title completely for DVD shelves, labeling it simply "Zack and Miri." Sad. Really sad.

Now, even though that flick only made a rather paltry $31 million in its theatrical run, Mr. Smith is about to hit the big time. Warner Brothers has signed him to direct the detective comedy "A Couple of Cops," which was apparently at one point, and in Smith's hands probably will again be, known as "A Couple of Dicks." It will star Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan. In the flick, according to the trades, the duo will track down a stolen baseball card, rescue a Mexican beauty and deal with gangsters and laundered drug money.

I can't find anything but good news there. For proof that Willis can be a great comedic actor with the right material, look no further than "Bandits" with Billy Bob Thornton and Cate Blanchett (well worth a rental if you can still find it.) And Tracy Morgan, though Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin try to steal all the acclaim, is the biggest fool on "30 Rock" and plays it with gusto. That recent bit with Dr. Spaceman about how diabetes might give him the chance to replace one of his feet with a wheel was just priceless.

OK, enough of that. Since this is "Watchmen" week, it should be all about Zack Snyder, and I promise that from here on out it mostly will be. It may be old news to most of the world, but the item I came across this morning was the first I had heard about "Sucker Punch," his next flick after "Watchmen."

And it sounds thoroughly intriguing. The new news is that "Mamma Mia!" star Amanda Seyfried is about to sign on to lead the mostly female cast, with Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Evan Rachel Wood and Emma Stone all eyeing the project too.

So, what is it? Well, here's the description from Variety: Set in the 1950s, "Punch" follows a girl who is confined to a mental institution by her stepfather, who intends to have her lobotomized in five days. While there, she imagines an alternative reality to hide her from the pain, and in that world, she begins planning her escape, needing to steal five objects to help get her out before she is deflowered by a vile man.

Sounds like it steals more than a bit from "Pan's Labyrinth," but I love movies about the imagination, especially when it's needed to survive. And Zack Snyder has already proven that he has a pretty wild one himself, and he promises he'll use it to fill "Sucker Punch" to create something like " 'Alice in Wonderland' with machine guns," so definitely stay tuned for more on this.

And finally today, a little catching up. No less than two of my co-workers asked me yesterday if I had seen the new trailer for McG's "Terminator Salvation," which will unspool in front of "Watchmen" (which I'll be watching in Imax!) this weekend. I had to admit I had not, but as you can see below, it does indeed - as they led me to believe - kick all kinds of ass. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.