Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Rudo Y Cursi": Good fun, but wither the footie?


Though, because like Emily Gilmore I simply "don't find forensic work quite as fascinating as the rest of the world" I've never seen any of the 15 or so versions of "CSI," I can only heartily second this sentiment from Viacom and CBS boss Sumner Redstone about Jay Leno: " 'CSI' will beat the hell out of him." Here's hoping he actually loses every single night, especially if he messes with the future of "Chuck"!

And before I get on to the main event today, there's two bits of news out there today, one insanely good and the other rather predictable but still just extremely sad.

Starting with the great, Adult Swim, which I thought only showed cartoons (silly me!) has now apparently acquired the rights to the two seasons and the Christmas special of the original U.K. "The Office." I know that only adds up to about 13 episodes or so total, but since I don't have them on DVD, to that I can only say huzzah!

But on the downside, even though I knew this was coming, seeing it as a definite happening is just thoroughly depressing. The French thriller "Tell No One" was not only easily one of the best movies (Top five on my list) I saw in all of 2009, but also an extremely accessible and mainstream entertaining flick. All it requires is that people do a little bit of READING as they watch the action, but I guess that's too much to ask.

Europa Corp. and Kathleen Kennedy have indeed just announced firm plans to do an English-language remake of the flick based on the equally sensational Harlan Coben novel, with a tentative start date of Spring 2010. Oh well. Since I suppose there's nothing I can really do to stop this, I simply urge everyone to rent the original flick, which is indeed out on DVD now.

But now on to what I was supposed to talk about, Carlos Cuaron's mostly satisfying "Rudo Y Cursi," which I had the pleasure of seeing as the closing night film of the Atlanta Film Festival 365. Before you can really get into that, however, this one really just calls out for a word about its pedigree.

Remember those Mexican directors who in 2006 (was it really that long ago?) earned the rather unfortunate nickname of the "three amigos"? Well, since then, it seems like there's been nothing much but silence from Alfonso Cuaron, Ajejandro Inarritu and Guillermo del Toro.

Alfonso Cuaron's next flick is likely to be "A Boy and His Shoe," which will be about a group of young people (Charlotte Gainsbourg among them, huzzah!) who are on a road trip through England and Scotland. It's set for release sometime in 2010. We're likely to hear from Inarritu before then, since he's wrapping up something called "Biutiful," which stars Javier Bardem as a man who's involved in shady dealings of some kind when he runs into a childhood friend who's now a cop. That one's set for a December release this year.

And we all know that Mr. del Toro is working on a little flick called "The Hobbit." Luckily, in the meantime the three good pals also formed a production company, Cha Cha Cha, and perhaps at least partly through the power of nepotism, Cuaron hermano Carlos gets the first release with this flick.

So, finally, what's it about? Well, anyone who's seen "Y Tu Mama Tambien" will be thrilled to know that it's the first big-screen reunion of Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, and that they've only developed further the natural rapport they enjoyed in that flick from Alfonso.

Here, they play brothers who toil on a banana farm until they are discovered by a soccer talent scout who needs a new player. And there's the rub: At first, at least, he only needs one.

Like "Y Tu Mama Tambien," "Rudo Y Cursi" mines most of its humor and all its humanity from the struggles of regular Mexicans with daily life. And as the titular brothers Beto and Tato (Rudo and Cursi are their nicknames, but I'll get into more about that later), Luna and Bernal bicker in the refreshingly and naturally foul way that only brothers can. It's snappy dialogue that will feel familiar and at the same time open a window to Mexican life that few of us ever get to see.

OK, that's the good stuff, of which there is quite a bit. So, what's the problem? Well, as a rather big soccer fan (I'm headed to Chicago in June to watch U.S.A-Honduras and, assuming they get that pesky pig flu under control, possibly to Mexico City in August to watch U.S.A.-Mexico), I was excited to see this one because even the director himself, in introducing the flick, described it as a "soccer movie." Unfortunately, that just falls way short of the truth.

Though our heroes do indeed play professional soccer in Mexico (for fictional teams, oddly enough), there's almost zero action on the pitch in "Rudo Y Cursi." In fact, all there really is in that department is a pair of penalty kicks that frame the story. So, if you don't like soccer, is that a problem? Yes, because instead of using sport to add any urgency to his tale, Carlos Cuaron (who also co-wrote the screenplay for "Y Tu Mama Tambien" with Alfonso) manufactures drama in the form of a gambling problem for one of the brothers and a nasty turn by the agent that just doesn't fit at all. Worst of all, because there's no real soccer angle to the story, we never really find out just how the two brothers earned their colorful nicknames.

However, though that's more than a minor quibble, the humor that Carlos Cuaron mines in everyday Mexican life and brotherhood is indeed enough to make his debut feature film very enjoyable, and I guarantee that you will just laugh right out loud when you see Bernal, who apparently just has no shame, sing Cheap Trick.

And with that I have to get ready for what is still my paying job, but I'll leave you with the trailer for what I think will be one of the surprise very big hits this summer, Nora Ephron's "Julie & Julia," which stars adorable Amy Adams (with a seriously unfortunate hair cut) and Meryl Streep as the master chef. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Two great movie tidbits and my belated thoughts on "Chuck"

Before I get into my thoughts about the present and possible future of "Chuck," there's some great news out there today about easily two of my favorite people in film.

First and most importantly, according to the always informative Blackfilm.com, director Kasi Lemmons is solidly at work on an adaptation of the Langston Hughes gospel musical "Black Nativity," which as the title makes clear is a retelling of the nativity story with an all-black cast and featuring traditional carols sung in gospel style. Doesn't sound much like my kind of thing at all, but Ms. Lemmons has yet to steer me wrong, so I'm in (if you somehow haven't seen her first flick, "Eve's Bayou," rent it immediately.)

Fox Searchlight is apparently fasttracking this for, appropriately enough, a possible Christmas release this year.

And for fans of "short, fat, sweaty" people everywhere, there's big news about Ricky Gervais. Unbeknownst to me, he's apparently penned a series of children's books titled "Flanimals," and now they're being turned into a 3-D animated feature.

Now, I fully realize I have no power to stop the 3-D express, but I have to say my experiences with it so far have been mixed at best. It brought nothing at all to Henry Selick's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," and I also thought it was thoroughly wasted on "Monsters Vs. Aliens" (though, to be fair, I was so bored by that one that even fantastic 3-D effects wouldn't have been enough to suck me back in.) On the other hand, I thought it was mesmerizing with Selick's "Coraline," easily one of my favorite flicks so far of 2009, and I can't wait to see what Pixar does with the technology for "Up."

But getting back to the Gervais flick, it unfortunately won't be penned by Gervais himself, but instead by "The Simpsons" scribe Matt Selman ("The Simpsons" hasn't been funny for many years now, so that can't be a good sign.) The book series, according to Variety, is about "a world inhabited by 50 species of creatures so ugly and misshapen they become cute and endearing." And Gervais, who will voice a "pudgy, perspiring, purple creature," described the project with his signature self-deprecation.

"It will be great to play a short, fat, sweaty loser for a change," Gervais said. "A real stretch."

To that I can only say bring it on, but getting to easily the most important matter of the week (since I can't think of anything even remotely enlightening to say about the fact that people now have something actually called "pig flu"), a belated assessment of the season two finale (and hopefully not series finale!) of "Chuck." In a word, to quote one of our heroes, it was simply "awesome."

The "game-changing" punch that creator Josh Schwartz promised was certainly that, but I have to admit it wasn't what I was expecting. I was hoping that Chuck would have bitten on Gen. Beckman's offer early in the finale and become a real spy (she said analyst, but we knew he wouldn't simply be that) and he and Sarah could travel the world as partners and just kick all kinds of ass.

What Schwartz and co. came up with instead, however, promises to be at least as much fun for next season, which damn well better come to fruition. Chuck as a Kung Fu badass, as I at first understood it, would have been fun enough, but according to Schwartz in this interview with TV guide.com, the new and improved intersect in his head could lead to a whole new level of awesome:

TVGuide.com: These new flashes that give Chuck an ability, how long will each one last? Like, could he "forget" kung fu in the middle of a fight?
Schwartz: What I will say is that people who are concerned that these new powers will somehow change the tone of the show or of our guy, don't be. There is a plan in place, and the tone of the show and Chuck's underdog quality will remain intact.

TVGuide.com: Will he flash on, like, a foreign language one week? And then safe cracking skills the next? That kind of a thing?
Schwartz: There are a lot of options, a lot of opportunities for us to go down different paths.


That indeed just sounds radically cool. And I know there should be a lot more important things in life, and even in mine there certainly are, but I haven't gotten attached to a TV show so quickly in a very, very long time. I was admittedly a latecomer, only jumping on the ship early in season two at the urging of several of my entertainment-savvy co-workers, but now it's easily my favorite show that's still running original shows this year (which gives me an out to leave room for the only current shows I like more than "Chuck," coincidentally enough another little NBC offering known as "Friday Night Lights" and, of course, AMC's "Mad Men.")

But what about the most important question hovering around "Chuck"? I tried to find some ratings numbers for the finale or, even more importantly, info on when NBC might make up its mind about next season, but couldn't find anything solid. Here's what Schwartz had to say in the TV Guide interview, the rest of which you can read here:

TVGuide.com: But what is NBC thinking these days?
Schwartz: Well, NBC has always really loved the show. They have been very supportive of the show, and they really do love and support the show. It's not lost on them, the fan reaction, the critical support, and this grassroots movement that's taken hold. All of that is very significant in indicating momentum for the show, growth for the show, and a really loyal and fervent fan base for the show.

TVGuide.com: So you feel like it's a genuinely difficult decision NBC is facing?
Schwartz: They have a very tight schedule this year, so...


Really not much to go on there at all, so I guess we'll just have to wait. At the urging of fellow "Chuck" devotee Stephanie Hartley I did buy a footlong Subway sub recently, though I'm not sure what good that did beyond giving me a rather satisfying supper.

My good friend Kaori Sekine-Pettite sent me a link via Facebook (which I'm somehow on, though I still don't even have a cell phone) that lets you make your own Buy More Nerd Herd badge, which I of course just couldn't resist. I certainly hope Chuck, Casey and even Morgan somehow end up working there next year, and in spirit I can too. If you want to enjoy this perfectly blissful little time-waster, click here, and keep hope very much alive for the future of "Chuck." Peace out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Sit Down, Shut Up" ... well, the latter immediately, please!


Alright, I gave it two episodes as a courtesy to Mitchell Hurwitz, but my verdict is certainly in (and apparently shared by much of the world): The only possible word to describe "Sit Down, Shut Up" is awful.

And not even gloriously awful in ways that can be celebrated and mocked. It's just generically awful in all the worst ways, a random collection of thoroughly boring characters telling off-color but also uniformly unfunny jokes. How in the world did this garbage spring from the mind of the creator of "Arrested Development"?

Well, it seems that Fox is acting quickly to move it toward oblivion. Taking away its plum post-"Simpsons" time slot, Fox is moving "Sit Down" to the 7 p.m. graveyard and, in what would have to be described as some kind of ironic justice, giving that 8:30 slot back to the remaining episodes of the still-simply fantastic "King of the Hill." I'd give "Sit Down" a month at best, and can't say I will miss it one bit.

There is, however, deliriously better news out there on the animation front today, and it comes in the form of a two-fer from Aardman Features, the fine folks who created Wallace and Gromit. I had the chance to see the latest Wallace flick, "Wallace and Gromit in 'A Matter of Loaf and Death'," as part of a collection of animated shorts at the recently concluded Atlanta Film Festival 365, but am rather ashamed to say I passed simply because it ended too late for this aging man on a Sunday school night.

Unfortunately, neither of the two new Aardman flicks, being produced with Sony, will star Wallace or Gromit, but here's hoping they're still tons of fun. The first, "Pirates!", is based on the book "The Pirates! (in an Adventure with Scientists" by Gideon Defoe, and will be filmed in Aardman's signature stop-motion style. It's apparently about a hapless band of pirates trying to win the Pirate of the Year Trophy (how can I get into that game?) It will be directed by "Chicken Run" helmer Peter Lord.

The second flick, to be filmed in CGI, will be titled "Arthur Christmas" and will apparently reveal the secret of just how Santa Claus manages to deliver all those gifts in one night. Sounds like nothing but fun to me.

And I'll leave you today after a short report with the trailer for Alexis Bledel's upcoming flick "Post Grad" because, well, it's Alexis Bledel, and I've always just had a ridiculous crush on both of the "Gilmore Girls." Given how far removed I am from the target demographic for this fluff, there's really no other possible reason I should probably go see it when it comes out in August, but it does also star former "Friday Night Lights" QB1 Zach Gilford and veryfunnywoman Jane Lynch, so maybe it will be surprisingly good. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tyson vs. "Tyson" ... and we have a winner


Just how hot a ticket was James Toback's "Tyson" at the recently concluded Atlanta Film Festival 365? Well, though I can't confirm it, I hear tell that Tyler Perry himself was there, but my own travails simply to get in really set the stage right.

As I was told would be the case, the "press" folk had to line up in a show of just how marginalized we have become, waiting to be seated until everyone who actually bought a ticket or all-access pass had already gone in. There were at least 25 people in front of me in the B-line, so things weren't looking good, and it didn't help matters much at all that the guy directly behind me took it upon himself to - every couple of minutes or so - call a friend who had already gotten in and ask how many seats were left. Believe me, I can't make up anything quite that ludicrous, and it made me rather happy that I have yet to buy a cellular phone of any kind - and as admittedly petty as this is, even happier that I was the very last person given admittance, leaving him to talk on his phone as much as he wanted to.

It was only after getting in that I realized I wouldn't have a seat. Count this as the first time I've encountered the literal definition of "standing room only," but luckily for my feet, Toback's flick is as compelling as it is mercifully short at only about 80 minutes or so.

But of course I digress from the matter at hand. How was the movie itself? Well, considering that it delivers pretty much exactly what the title implies - a whole lot of Mike Tyson talking about Mike Tyson - it's a heck of a lot better than it sounds on paper.

Luckily for viewers, Tyson is a fascinating figure, never stupid by any means but clearly full of contradictions. He veers from surprisingly insightful self analysis to an even more shocking lack of repentance for his most heinous acts (like, say, that little matter of rape.)

The first contradiction, and the one that drives the movie, is that Tyson says early on that he doesn't trust anyone. Well, he clearly does at least trust Toback, and the openness this creates leads to rather amazing moments like Tyson - understandably - tearing up as he describes his mentor and father figure Constantine D'Amato, while at the same time saying that what D'Amato essentially taught him was to live like a savage, about as close as a civilized human being can come to becoming a wild animal.

Even more of a gut punch comes when he describes in very harsh terms and without an ounce of remorse what he still thinks of Desiree Washington, the beauty queen he was convicted of raping (a moment so shocking that it prompted many in the audience to laugh before they caught themselves and realized just how inappropriate it was.)

This is all unveiled with seemingly very little prompting from Toback (and, appropriately enough, often while Tyson is seated on his couch), and the footage that Toback uses to supplement the Tyson interviews will be enlightening both for boxing fans (of which I'm certainly one) and those who find the sport to be a brutal atrocity.

I guarantee you won't be able to take your eyes off of Tyson as his ex-wife Robin Givens, seated right beside him, reveals to Barbara Walters (falsely, the champ insists) that her husband is a manic depressive and much more. And in the footage of Tyson's boxing career, it's fascinating to see, whether you remember this or not, just how much Tyson's first knockout of a heavyweight champ - Trevor Berbick - was a direct passing of the torch from Muhammad Ali.

The only real spot where Toback's approach falls short more than a bit comes near the end, as Tyson tries to describe his simply bizarre actions in and out of the ring after being released from prison (a side of ear, anyone?). An outside voice to offer perspective certainly would have been welcome here.

But overall, what gives Toback's compelling documentary all of its punch is that he never apologizes for the troubled champ, and Tyson never really does either. It's just a fascinating psychological portrait of a clearly troubled soul, and I urge you to see it as soon as you get the chance.

Inside all of us is a Wild Thing!

Being a certified movie addict, I of course went to another flick as soon as I got home from the Atlanta fest on Sunday. And, rather than seeing one of the two movies that champion my dying industry, "State of Play" or "The Soloist," I instead opted for the Disney documentary "Earth," and I'm very happy I did. It's just beautifully shot from start to finish, and there's also just something extremely therapeutic about watching a baby mallard duck trying to fly for the first time. Though it got creamed by Stringer Bell and Sasha Fierce at the Box Office, I was happy to see it still took in an impressive nearly $9 million.

But the most fascinating thing actually happened before the main feature unspooled. A new trailer for Spike Jonze's upcoming "Where the Wild Things Are" (which I've included below because, well, it just rules) hit the screen, and the kids themselves just went wild.

Just the glimpse of one of the creature's horns was enough to prompt at least three of the kids seated around me to blurt out "Wild Thing!", and by the end they were howling along with the beautiful creatures (and believe me, I desperately wanted to join in, but somehow managed to restrain myself.)

I realize this is seriously far from a scientific experiment, but judging from that little sample, I'd have to guess that Warner Brothers will have little to worry about when it finally gets around to releasing this in October (and you can count it, along with "The Brothers Bloom," as one of the two movies I'm most looking forward to this year.) Enjoy the new trailer, and have a perfectly passable Monday. Peace out.

Friday, April 24, 2009

This time, the f***ed with the wrong Mexican"

If you ever wake up thinking the odds are stacked against you, which I do fairly often, I've got a rather amazing TV story to share with you, but first a word or two about the still surprising Baltimore Orioles.

Sure, they're only at .500 (8-8), but apart from a rather disastrous four-game sweep at the hands of the dastardly Boston Red Sox, the Orioles have won all four of their other series this year, by a count of 2-1 in each one. Tonight has Japanese import Koji Uehara facing off against Vicente Padilla, his 9.64 era and the Texas Rangers. Keep hope alive!

And the fact that hope is still alive at all for a ninth season of "Scrubs" is even more incredible. Given how this first season on ABC has unfolded, with almost all the new doctors being instantly forgettable, and Zach Braff already eyeing the exit, I just assumed the end was coming in a few weeks or so.

But, when the show has focused on its core characters, it has often been just as funny and plain silly as ever, and it seems that ABC has taken notice. Though no deal is complete yet, the network is said to be seriously looking at a way to lower the license fee and bring back just about the entire cast (including the weakest link, Braff, for at least a few episodes) for a ninth season next year.

Here's hoping it happens, because I can count the non animated TV half-hours I watch on just more than one hand: "How I Met Your Mother," "Scrubs," "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (the best of them all), "My Name Is Earl," "Parks and Recreation," "The Office" and "30 Rock." Are there any other sitcoms out there that I should be tuning in for?

The news that "Scrubs" may still somehow be on life support is, however, far from the strangest TV news out there this morning. It seems that Pedro Almodovar, one day after it was announced that his new flick, "Broken Embraces," will be in competition at Cannes, is now getting into the U.S. TV game too.

And believe me, I'm not making this up. Fox TV is apparently adapting an hourlong series to be extremely loosely based on Almodovar's first big hit (and still his funniest flick) "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."

Though Almodovar will be an executive producer and says he will stay involved, I still can't see this being anything but bland assuming it actually comes together. Why? First of all, the plot, as described by pilot author Mimi Schmir, seems to have little to do with the original movie: According to Schmir, it's "a suburban drama about a group of women who have known each other for a long time, perhaps from college, who are in the middle of their lives and looking at the second half of their lives."

OK, I watch plenty of shows intended for women (and yes, even one, in "Gossip Girl," clearly intended for girls), but that just sounds like nothing but boring. The original movie got all its spirit from its rapid-fire dialogue and the screwball humor inspired directly by '50s Hollywood comedies. I suppose there's a chance they can keep all that alive, but count me as a skeptic.

Oh well, that's probably more than enough about that. On to the main event. Robert Rodriguez's Machete character, played by Danny Trejo in the best faux trailer from "Grindhouse," seems to be even more resilient than my Orioles.

Even though "Grindhouse" can't even generously be called anything but a box-office disaster (though still tons of fun in my book, with Tarantino's second half being even better than Rodriguez's first) after taking in only $25 million in the U.S. and costing $67 million to produce, Trejo's blade-wielding Mexican day laborer and former Federale Machete is seemingly somehow about to rise again with his own feature film.

Rodriguez says he is eyeing a June start for the flick, which he will co-direct with longtime editor Ethan Maniquis, to begin shooting in Austin.

And for anyone who has managed to block Machete from their mind by any number of things that would have to be much more important, I've included the trailer from "Grindhouse" at the bottom of this post (and be warned that, if you watch it at work, along with rather spectacular cartoon violence, it does feature some rather bare breasts.)

Rodriguez has several other irons in the fire, but "Machete" is certainly the one that I'm most interested in. And with that, I'm off to the second weekend of the Atlanta Film Festival 365, to hopefully squeeze my way in to both James Toback's "Tyson" and Carlos Cuaron's "Rudo Y Cursi." Enjoy the trailer, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cannes lineup: Clash of the Titans + the opening of "The Brothers Bloom" "

Though I've thoroughly enjoyed the Atlanta Film Festival 365 and look forward to returning to it tomorrow, there's really just nothing better for daydreaming than imagining spending two weeks or so sunning in the south of France and just watching movies.

Well, I can't deliver you that, of course, but here to perhaps set your mind reeling to far-flung locales are the highlights (as I see it) of the just-announced lineup for the 2009 Cannes Film Festival (the "L'Avventura"-themed poster for which is at right), which kicks off May 13 with the opening night screening of Pixar's "Up" (not too shabby a starting point.)

In the competition, I can't imagine it will win, but the big, loud dog in the room who will attract the most attention will almost certainly be Quentin Tarantino's World War II flick "Inglourious Basterds," assuming he finishes it on time, of course. I don't think he's gonna get hissed like poor Sofia Coppola did a few years ago with "Marie Antoinette," but the reaction to any movie in which Eli Roth is decapitating Nazis with a baseball bat should be fascinating.

Also on the domestic front, Ang Lee will be in competition with "Taking Woodstock," a biographical comedy starring Comedy Central's Demetri Martin as Elliot Tiber, who played a key role in launching the hippie fest. I have a feeling this one will just be goofy as hell but, assuming its get any of proper distribution, I could also easily see it becoming the sleeper hit of the summer.

If I were on the jury or even somehow just in attendance, though, the single competition movie I'd most be looking forward to is Park Chan-wook's vampire movie, "Thirst" Among other crazy things, as far as I can tell, it's about a priest who goes to Africa to participate in a medical experiment but instead, of course, finds himself turned into a bloodsucker. Bring it on! In the same vein (get it?), Sam Raimi will be screening his return to "real horror," "Drag Me to Hell," as a midnight movie, and one I'd certainly stay up well past my school night bed time for.

Joining Tarantino, Lee and Chan-wook will be a lot of heavy hitters, starting with Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces." I know his movies are, well, often extremely gay, but I've always just loved them, and this one - apparently an homage to filmmaking with a puzzling plot and, thankfully, Penelope Cruz - just sounds like a real winner.

Michael Haneke will begin his path of atonement for that "Funny Games" trailer that I must have had the misfortune of seeing 150 times (or at least it certainly felt like it) with his new feature film, "The White Ribbon," about which I know nothing more than that. Also on the prestige front will be the U.K.'s Angry-but-not-so-young-man Ken Loach with "Looking for Eric," which sounds like a surprising amount of fun. Described as a movie about "football fanatics and life," it's apparently about a football-mad postman who gets life advice from Eric Cantona. Wild.

Jane Campion will return with "Bright Star," a suitably high-minded tale about the poet John Keats and his affair with the girl next door, and I can only imagine Lars von Trier will be stirring up all kinds of trouble with something simply called "Antichrist."

And though this has probably gone on well long enough, it's certainly worth mentioning one last oddity, Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus," which is screening out of competition and still, rather amazingly, looking for a U.S. distributor. If you've got a movie you can market as Heath Ledger's last that also just happens to star Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell but you still can't get any real distribution, you've either got to have something simply awful or just extremely bizarre. My guess? A mix of the two, tilted to the latter, but either way I can't wait to see this one if I ever get the chance.

The first seven minutes of "The Brothers Bloom"

Anyone who sat through all that certainly deserves a reward, and anyone who's been here before (there are amazingly at least a few of you) knows that I've already christened Rian Johnson's con-men flick "The Brothers Bloom" as the single movie I'm most looking forward to for all of 2009 (nothing like a little hyperbole to start the day, but I'm serious here.)

Knowing it comes from the creator of "Brick" (rent that one already!) and stars Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi in a good, old-fashioned con game was enough to get me hooked, and now the first seven minutes - which you can watch below courtesy of the glorious Hulu - just have me salivating for when this finally opens (hopefully very wide!) May 29 against the aforementioned "Drag Me to Hell" and "Up." As expected, the opening sequence, narrated by Ricky Jay, is just a treat to watch, and in spirit it reminds me a lot of Wes Anderson's "Bottle Rocket," never a bad reference point in my book. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Thursday. Peace out.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mississippi Damned: A searing success


In choosing what to talk about from the movies I had the privilege of seeing at the Atlanta Film Festival 365, I started with Duncan Jones' "Moon" because it was just much easier to wrap my mind and words around.

Sunday afternoon, however, I saw Tupelo, Miss., native Tina Mabry's feature film, "Mississippi Damned," and what I got was something a lot more challenging and - in it's own very stark way - extremely satisfying.

Drawing on her own knowledge of Mississippi life to tackle a rather seriously depressing true story, Mabry uses a lot of what in Tyler Perry's movies gets called "drama" to tell her tale, but doesn't settle for any of the easy humor and sweetness that make his movies go down so smoothly. By instead simply telling the stories of a (sometimes too large to follow) clan of friends and family in somewhat-rural Mississippi, Mabry has instead managed to make an American horror movie of sorts, one that uses the demons of real life rather than imaginary monsters to cut extremely deep.

But before I get into all that, a word or two about what the movie is about is in order, since almost no one in the world has had the pleasure yet of seeing it. Mabry's movie opens in the mid-1980s with a scene most Southerners know well: the Saturday night card game. The bawdy jokes and bonhomie can hardly mask the pain that clearly lurks just below the surface, but it's a genuine moment of bliss that perfectly sets up all the trauma that's to come.

At the heart of Mabry's story are the fortunes of three siblings (I think - the relations in "Mississippi Damned" are all so believably entangled that it's hard to be sure), all of whom in varying ways bear the lingering scars of their upbringing surrounded by abuse - verbal, sexual and otherwise - as they try to break free of the downward spiral that seems to be their fate. Sammy Stone (Malcolm David Kelly and then Malcolm Goodwin) is an exceptionally talented high school basketball player who dreams of playing in the NBA. Kari Peterson (Kylee Russell and then Tessa Thompson) is an equally talented pianist who is waiting to hear if she has been accepted to NYU. And Leigh (Chasity Kershal Hammitte) has a seemingly simpler aspiration - to move to Memphis and live with her girlfriend, Paula - which will be very hard to attain.

From the outset, Mabry never flinches from showing the odds stacked against them, and in that comes the only real fault I could find with her movie. As we very quickly learn about all the baggage their parents and other relations are dealing with - in short order, there's murder, cancer, horrible abuse of all kinds and much more - it can be numbing, but thankfully it's leavened not with sweetness but instead with just exceptional acting from even the most minor players on this stage but especially from its stars.

The kids, and even more so the older actors who play them as young adults, just perfectly capture the mix of despair and just-out-of-reach hope that drives their lives. And among the adults who should be their role models, Mabry has put together a stable of actors that make up easily the best ensemble I've seen this year (and last year it was another black drama of sorts, "Cadillac Records," that had my best ensemble cast of 2008, so read into that whatever you want to.) Many of the cast members and Mabry herself, second from right in the middle row, are in the photo at the top of this post.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "24" fans will recognize D.B. Woodside, who plays an serially unemployed man who still somehow thinks he's better than the wife he treats like garbage, but it's the unknown (at least to me) women who are the movie's real emotional core. As they deal with all the vagaries of life, it's their bond that sustains the movie and offers any real hope the kids will have.

And if all this sounds extremely bleak, it is, but there is at least the glimmer of that hope still standing in one of the kids' stories (you'll have to see the movie to find out which one), and it delivers an emotional reward that's much needed by the end of Mabry's flick.

Congratulations to her for winning the Narrative Breakthrough award from the jury of the Atlanta Film Festival 365. The top award went to Scott Teems' "That Evening Sun," which I didn't get to see because "Mississippi Damned" ran into it, but the breakthrough award is certainly a fitting one for Tina Mabry. She's a talented filmmaker who will hopefully get to make more movies very soon, and if you get a chance to see this one (it's showing again Thursday at the Atlanta fest) certainly do so, but be ready for a searing vision of American life that will leave you scarred for quite a while afterward but also, I think, very satisfied by the experience. Here's hoping "Mississippi Damned" eventually gets a proper theatrical release. Peace out.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A visit to the "Moon" with Sam Rockwell


Is there really any chance that "Chuck" is on the cancellation bubble? Even if one of every four or five people in the world (or at least California) is a Fulcrum agent, it's still just about the funniest and smartest thing on TV now, so here's hoping the Hollywood Reporter story listing it as only 50-50 to return isn't the beginning of the end. ("Dollhouse" is on the list too, but even though that show has gotten remarkably better through the weeks, it wouldn't surprise me to see it end.)

The thing that would really kill me is that if "Chuck" does die, it will be at the hands of that dastardly Jay Leno (no, I'm not a fan), who is getting five hours of primetime space a week and taking it directly from both more and less worthy shows.

Oh well. I don't really have any power over that, so instead I'd like to talk about some things I saw at the Atlanta Film Festival 365, which is continuing through Saturday at the fabulous Landmark Midtown Art Cinema in, of course, Atlanta. For the schedule and how to get tickets for movies (including "500 Days of Summer" tomorrow night), click here.

I saw seven movies in three days (well, eight, but I paid for the first one, "Sin Nombre," because I was just dying to see that ... yes it's a disease), and I'd like to start today with Duncan Jones' "Moon," the one most likely to play anywhere near people who might read this site when it opens in limited release June 12.

First, I suppose, a bit about what it's about. Sam Rockwell (and you'll see A WHOLE LOT of him) stars as a man who lives alone on a remote lunar outpost where he harvests helium, which has become our primary energy source.

And before I get to the good stuff, of which there's quite a bit, a word about the movie's limitations is in order. First, the plot is simply wafer thin. You won't hear any more about it from me, but you'll probably figure it out extremely early, and if not it's revealed about halfway in anyway.

But like any great science fiction, which Duncan Jones' film almost manages to be, it's much more about the allegory than the principal story, and in that department it's the best example yet of capturing the "zeitgeist" (man, do I hate that word, so I apologize) of our troubled times. I'll just say that for anyone (like me) who toils in an industry in which uncertainly looms everyday, what the story by Jones and screenwriter Nathan Parker has to say about the expendability of human life will definitely hit home.

Now, I didn't bother to see "Castaway" because I was just certain I couldn't take that much Tom Hanks (and I've never had any regrets about missing it), so I really have nothing to compare to exactly how well Sam Rockwell carried this movie. As you can probably tell from the storyline, he's in just about every frame of this movie, with only brief interruptions from his wife via satellite and the input of his helpful station computer Gerty, voiced in comforting monotone by Kevin Spacey (and yes, it bothered me at first that this was a direct ripoff of Hal, but two thoughts: First, who the heck else was he supposed to talk to out there, and second, the way the computer plays into the story just gives it more power.)

But back to Mr. Rockwell. I've always liked him quite a bit, but worried that seeing that much of him would grow old pretty quickly. Wrong. As he slowly deteriorates both mentally and physically, I can guarantee you will be riveted, and his reaction to everything that happens is natural and believable in what turns into a pretty intense psychological profile.

The remote moonscape is also beautifully filmed and plays into the theme of isolation perfectly. And if you'll excuse me, I have to cut this off rather abruptly and get ready for work, so I'll leave you with just one more odd thought: Duncan Jones is the son of David Bowie. Hopefully that and the fact that this is being distributed by Sony Pictures Classics will get it a pretty wide run in June, because I certainly wouldn't mind seeing it again. Peace out.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Remember Sofia Coppola? She's back ...

It's really funny that this turned up this morning, since one of the many things that has passed through my too-active imagination recently while it was trying to avoid any actual work was what in the world ever happened to Sofia Coppola?

It's been three years since "Marie Antoinette," and I have to say that, for me at least, that one just left a bad taste in my mouth. I dragged my brother to see it in Amsterdam while we were taking a side trip from the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and perhaps if we had sampled a bit of the local product beforehand I would have enjoyed it more. As it was, the flick had style to spare, but it was certainly signifying nothing, and I just couldn't get into it one bit.

All that, said, however, I still have a lot of time for Sofia Coppola, because I count her first two flick among my favorites, and of how many directors can you really say you like two-thirds of their movies? "The Virgin Suicides" and "Lost in Translation" were both much more intimate affairs than "Marie Antoinette," and each represented just a moment in time as much as they did a dream. And it sounds like what she's up to now (yes, I will get to it very soon) could be a return to form.

Much as "Lost in Translation" centered on the Park Hyatt hotel in Tokyo, Coppola's next flick, "Somewhere," will take place at the iconic Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. Stephen Dorff will play "a bad-boy actor stumbling through a life of excess," and Elle Fanning (who I have to assume is some kind of relation to Dakota) will play his daughter who visits to interrupt his reverie.

The flick, which was also written by Coppola, is set to start shooting in June in L.A. and Italy, so to that I can only say welcome back.

Why I love Blackfilm.com

Well, there are many reasons, actually, but a big one is that they simply cover movies that get ignored by most of the world earlier and much more extensively.

Case in point: I had never heard of a flick called "Next Day Air," a comedy set to be released very wide May 8. Directed by rap video helmer Benny Boom, it's an ensemble comedy that's clearly in the vein of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and starring Donald Faison of "Scrubs" and Mos Def, easily one of my favorite actors.

Why in the world wouldn't I be interested in that? Anyways, enjoy the trailer, and certainly go see this one when it comes out soon.



"It's just a dragon-looking wild thing"

Can you imagine how happy Warner Brothers must have been when they found out their "Where the Wild Things Are" flick was gonna get a free endorsement of sorts from no less than Barack Obama? The Spike Jonze flick is finally set to come out in October, but in the meantime, enjoy this seriously fun reading of my favorite children's book by Mr. Obama at the White House Easter Egg Roll, and I defy you to not just smile broadly.



"Bruno" somehow gets an R rating

Even after pointing out that it still has "pervasive, strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language" (one can certainly hope so!), the MPAA has still rescinded the NC-17 rating given to Sacha Baron Cohen's next flick, centering on the Austrian fashion reporter Bruno, and awarded it an R rating. This is one I'm certainly looking forward to seeing in July, but for now just enjoy this new promotional pic and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to the Atlanta Film Festival 365, and rather excited about it. Peace out.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Steven Soderbergh's porn movie? Well, not quite ...

Am I really the only person who saw the news footage of folks "tea-bagging" yesterday and just thought how much funnier - and about as equally effective - it would have been using the John Waters definition? Just saying.

And in that spirit, in movie news that's not nearly as salacious as some might be thinking, the first trailer for Steven Soderbergh's movie starring porn star Sasha Grey as a rather high-priced call girl - "The Girlfriend Experience" - has hit, and it looks like it has been made with the clinical detachment that has marked even his best flicks. (And if you want to see some of her work, well, this is the Internet, so I suppose that wouldn't be too hard to accomplish. Since this is a family-friendly site, I've simply included her picture.)

For me, his style works when he's using it in the pursuit of cool, since "Out of Sight" and "The Limey" are just two nearly perfect little flicks. But it can also go way wrong when it has no leash. Witness "Che." Or, for your sake, take my advice and don't.

When I was in New York with my family at the end of last year, I somehow got it into my head that watching all five hours or so of "Che" parts one and two in one day would be entertaining, and somehow also duped my brother into going with me.

Man, was that painful to watch. It's a movie that's much easier to admire, for me, than it ever was to enjoy. For EXTREMELY long chunks, especially during the second part that takes place in Bolivia, it's essentially a training film in guerilla warfare, filmed in thorough detail with tons of precision but scant passion, even with the great Benicio del Toro in the titular role.

Oh well, I digress quite a bit. Here's the trailer for his new flick, which is set to have what I assume will be a rather limited release May 22:



Errol Morris goes narrative

And in surprising news about a director who never lacks passion for his subjects, documentary maker Errol Morris is jumping into narrative features with a tale about cryogenics, which would seem to be right up his alley.

He's perhaps best known for the Robert McNamara documentary "Fog of War," but my favorite Morris flicks are just studies in extreme oddity like the creepy "Mr. Death" and, even better, "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control." And what he comes up with for this dark comedy being written by Zach Helm should fit in with those characters just fine.

Inspired by both Robert F. Nelson's memoir "We Froze the First Man" and a story that aired on NPR's "This American Life" this week titled "You're as Cold as Ice," the true story centers on Nelson, a TV repairman who in the 1960s joined a group of enthusiasts who believed they could cheat death with a new technology: cryonics. But freezing dead people so scientists could reanimate them in the future turned out to be harder than Nelson thought.

If this all works out, it might just add up to the oddest thing from Errol Morris yet: A movie that might even reach theaters in my little corner of the world!

A glimpse of "The Hurt Locker"

Remember Kathryn Bigelow? She made a quick splash with the Keanu Reeves flick "Point Break" in 1991 and then, of course, tried to end the world with "End of Days," but instead just about ended her movie-directing career (to be fair, she did direct three episodes of easily one of my favorite TV shows, "Homicide," and even one of the short-lived and much-underappreciated "Out of Sight" TV version of sorts "Karen Sisco" with the always-welcome Carla Gugino.)

And now she's back with an Iraq war movie (another one?) that promises perhaps the same level of action of her early flicks on a much less grand scale.

Although I enjoyed "In the Valley of Elah" quite a bit and wanted to like Kimberly Pierce's "Stop-Loss" a lot more than I actually did, I don't think there's been an Iraq war movie yet that's managed to catch on with the moviegoing public. Bigelow's flick, however, just might be the first to break that mold, since "The Hurt Locker" seems to simply focus on the lives of the members of an elite Army bomb squad operating in Iraq and let you bring your own politics into the action.

Here's the trailer for the flick starring Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie, which is set to open in at least a few corners of the world at the end of June.



And in a quick thought about TV, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the premiere episode of "Parks and Recreation," even if it does crib most of its style directly from "The Office." It just seems to be infused, at least so far, with the right mix of genuine spirit and just thoroughly mocking it, and I certainly liked Amy Poehler's character a whole lot more than any she's played since that crazy RA in "Undeclared."

Here's hoping the show just gets funnier, because I thought that, even with the double "Office" episodes last week, it was the best thing in NBC's Thursday night lineup. And here's about two-and-a-half minutes or so of what you'll see on tonight's episode, "Canvassing," and as a bonus, more footage of "The Office" crew playing soccer. Priceless. Peace out.



Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Me vs. the Atlanta Film Festival 365

Sorry about that rather ridiculous title, but I still have "Chuck" on my mind after last night's rather seriously entertaining episode.

Like everyone, I just get a tremendous amount of useless e-mails at work, but about a month and a half or so ago, I got easily the best one I've received in several years, inviting me to the upcoming Atlanta Film Festival 365 (this weekend!!) as a "member of the press."

Now, I haven't been called that since I was asked several years ago to talk to a group of fourth-graders about my job. Here's hoping things go better this time, especially since it means two weekends of free movies!

It really is shameful that, since I've lived about 90 minutes from Atlanta for more than nine years, I've never attended this event before. I did try to go to the Savannah Film Festival last year with my folks, but since that's a much more star-studded affair, all the passes were sold out by the time I enquired.

Judging from the movie lineup, the Atlanta gathering, which runs from this Friday through Saturday, April 25, seems to me a more organic affair, offering genuinely independent movies from throughout the Southeast and the world, which is just fine by me. If you're anywhere in the area, individual movie tickets and festival passes are still on sale, with most of the showings taking place at the fabulous Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. Click here to see the movie lineup and learn more.

One certain highlight I'm gonna have to miss because I still have a schooldays job that pays the bills is the Tuesday night screening of the romantic-comedy-of-sorts "500 Days of Summer" starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon Levitt. Check it out if you can, and here are the movies I'll be checking out (assuming they don't sell out, since perfectly understandably the mighty dollar is much more powerful than the pen.)

Friday:

"I am the Bluebird"

Judging from the plot alone, this Georgia flick sounds a lot like any number of the generic medical thrillers that pollute our multiplexes, but I'm confident it's gonna be a whole lot better than that. In Thomas Verrette's flick, a young man awakens from an experimental surgery performed by his father to find he's suffering from temporary memory loss. From there, I'm hoping this does indeed turn out to be a "taut mystery" (as the promotional blurb promises) as he tries to put his life back together. Here's the trailer.



"Blood River"
I had never heard of the British horror director Adam Mason, but if as promised this - his first American feature film - delivers a brand of horror that's as psychologically intriguing as it is simply bloody, than it will be perfect Friday night fare. In what admittedly sounds like a pretty standard horror flick plot, a couple's car breaks down in the California desert, and they end up in the titular town, where they (of course) meet a mysterious drifter named Joseph. Like I said, I'm hoping this will be a whole lot better than I'm making it sound here.

Saturday:

"Prom Night in Mississippi": Things really start to get potentially great starting with this documentary by Paul Saltzman. It is indeed shameful, and perhaps little known about outside the Southeast, that there are still places where white and black kids still go to separate proms. This flick shows what happens when one town in Mississippi tries to finally do the right thing, and I have a sneaking feeling not everything's gonna run quite smoothly.

"The Desert Within": I'm just a sucker for Mexican movies, and especially ones that deal with the hold that the Catholic church has on the lives and imaginations of its citizens. This flick by Rodrigo Plá takes place during the 1928 Mexican Revolution, and is about a couple determined to have their baby baptized even as churches are being closed all around them. The promotional summary describes it as a "spiritual journey that takes a strange and disturbing turn," and I'm in for that.

"Idiots & Angels": I was just happy to hear that animator Bill Plympton is still making feature-length flicks, so I wasn't about to pass this one by. In the typically odd tale, a morally bankrupt man named Angel (so much for subtletly) wakes up one day with the good wings that make him want to do good things. Here's the trailer:



"Moon": If any of these are going to sell out and block me from attending, I'd have to guess Duncan Jones' sci-fi flick will be the one to do it, but here's hoping I get to see it. In easily one of the movies I'm most anticipating for this year, Sam Rockwell stars as a man who toils in solitude on the far side of the moon mining the Earth's primary source of energy. Just as his three-year stint is coming to an end, he encounters what appears to be a younger, angrier version of himself and, well, I'd imagine things kind of deteriorate from there.

Sunday:

"Rain": In what hopefully be a gritty and at least somewhat inspiring slice of life, Bahamian director Maria Govan's flick tells the story of Rain, a 14-year-old girl who, after the death of her grandmother, seeks out the mother she hardly knows in the big city of Nassau. I don't think I'll ever get to go to the Bahamas myself, so this might be as close as I'll ever get.

"Mississippi Damned": It's a sad fact well worth reporting (and, I think, still true) that Kasi Lemmons is still the only black female director to direct three feature-length Hollywood films ("Eve's Bayou", "The Caveman's Valentine" and "Talk to Me" - all fine films if you haven't seen them), so here's hoping this flick launches director Tina Mabry down that path and further on. Rather than me tell you about her semi-autobiographical flick about growing up in Mississippi, let her do it herself in this interview:



"That Evening Sun": This will be the first time I've seen Hal Holbrook since his rather remarkable turn in "Into the Wild," and since here he's paired with Georgia actor Ray McKinnon (who played the Rev. H.W. Smith in season one of HBO's "Deadwood"), I can only say bring it on. In Scott Teems' flick, Holbrook stars as a man who escapes from the retirement home he's been dumped in to return to the family farm, only to find it's now inhabited by his old enemy, played by McKinnon.

Week two, Friday:

"The Death of Alice Blue": In the realm of vampire flicks, which I almost always enjoy, I'd imagine Canadian vampires just might be the oddest breed of all, and if I have the plot of this one right I'm about to find out. Hopefully this flick from director (I'm not kidding) Park Bench delivers a lot of dry humor along with the bloodsuckers that toil at a Canadian advertising agency (actually, I'm laughing about that already.)

"Tyson": This one may well sell out too, but if not I'm hoping that James Toback's portrait of the rather odd former heavyweight champ provides some insight into what just makes him tick. I love boxing documentaries, so this should be just about perfect.

Saturday:

"Faded Glory": Given how much I love baseball (the Orioles, after somehow hanging on for a 10-9 victory over the Rangers, are now 5-2!), it's probably just a good thing that I'm no good at all at playing it, or I just might be hanging on like these guys. Director Richard Cohen's documentary tracks the just-about-dashed dreams of the member of a Network 38+ team through one season as they head towards the Men's Baseball League World Series. Sounds like nothing but fun to me. Here's the trailer.



"Neshoba": Mississippi is certainly a theme here, and this documentary from directors Micki Dickoff and Tony Pagano mines its truly dark side. In returning to the county where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964 (dramatized in "Mississippi Burning"), the directors talk with residents about the improbable 2005 conviction of 80-year-old preacher Edgar Ray Killen for the heinous crime, and ask if that represents any kind of real justice.

"Rudo y Cursi": For it's closing night gala film, which I just might buy a ticket for to make sure I get in, the Atlanta Film Festival 365 has chosen the debut film by Carlos Cuaron, brother of Alfonso. The flick reunites Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, stars of Alfonso's "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (easily one of my favorite movies), in a story about two brothers who work on a banana plantation and have dreams of playing soccer in the Mexican professional leagues. Sounds exactly right up my alley.

So, there you have it. If you're gonna be at the festival, please let me know, and if not, hopefully you still found something in this list worth checking out if you can. Peace out.

Monday, April 13, 2009

For the Orioles, I'll take whatever help we can get


I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised at all to find out that Spike TV has already picked up a pilot series on the U.S. Navy's anti-pirate activities.

When I first heard what happened Sunday afternoon, I have to say it just blew my mind. After what I have to admit was a split second or less of doubt that it was the right thing to do, I just had to say "badf***ingass" (my brother can confirm this, since I was on the phone with him) - as I'm sure a lot of other people did too, in perhaps a slightly less vulgar and more appropriate way - when I first learned what the Navy did to win the freedom of ship captain Richard Phillips. It's the kind of thing that would seem far-fetched in even the craziest of action movies if it weren't, of course, true.

But it's equally refreshing to know that, probably just shortly after he had given the OK to take out the Somali pirates, President Obama was being briefed on another kind of truly insidious evil, the kind that dresses in Yankee pinstripes.

I can't take any credit for this, so I've just included the whole article by New York Daily News scribe Michael Saul about what the Obama family heard along with their Easter sermon, written in exactly the right spirit. Enjoy!

When it comes to church, President Obama can't avoid trouble.

As the First Family attended an Easter Sunday service at St. John's Church across from the White House Sunday, the Rev. Luis Leon unleashed a vicious and unholy attack on New York.

He insulted the Yankees.

With the Obamas sitting in the sixth row, Leon told congregants that "baseball season has started" and that the church's drummer is a huge Yankees fan.

Leon then said he wanted to remind everybody that the Orioles have beaten the Yankees twice so far, and therefore, "The world lives in hope."

"I'm a fairly charitable person," the good reverend said, "but I have to tell you - I hate the Yankees."

Laughter erupted from the pews. It was unclear whether the Obamas joined in.

White House spokesman Bill Burton did not respond last night to the Daily News' urgent inquiry into this matter.

Last year, Obama publicly split from his longtime pastor and friend, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and the family is still searching for a new spiritual home.

New York's leaders defended their team with pride.

Stu Loeser, Mayor Bloomberg's press secretary, said, "We checked with a religious authority here in New York, and on this specific area of belief, Mayor Bloomberg's rabbi assures us that President Obama's minister is mistaken."

Former Mayor Ed Koch said, "When I see the Yankees attacked, the hairs on the nape of my neck go up, and the guy who attacks them is lucky if I don't hit him and then run."

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Edgar Wright on "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World"

Just as I love movies about making movies, I also just like any little real insight into just how the sausage gets made, especially with movies I'm almost certain I'm going to like.

Case in point: "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World." With Edgar Wright directing the flick based on Bryan Lee O'Malley's comic book about a slacker/wannabe rocker (played by Michael Cera, natch) who wants to date delivery girl Ramona V. Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) but must first defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends, I'm definitely in.

And now, as he did with "Hot Fuzz," Wright has just started posting weekly video blog posts at the flick's official site, and the first one is embedded below. Edgar Wright is an extremely funny guy, and it's just fun to watch his stars doing calisthenics and some kind of sword fighting in the background as he's talking about the movie. The flick itself is set to come out sometime near the end of this year. Enjoy, and for sure go see "Observe and Report" today! Peace out.


Blog One - Introduction - Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World from Scott Pilgrim The Movie on Vimeo.

Friday, April 10, 2009

I knew "South Park" was powerful, but ...

If you happened to tune in for Wednesday's "South Park" episode, you know that - as the best ones do - it starts out sanely enough with Jimmy writing "the greatest joke in the world" about fishsticks (on the 8-year-old level from which I sometimes view the world, it was indeed pretty funny) before spiraling all over the place and ending with Kanye West singing about the joys of being a gay fish.

It was pretty inspired satire of someone who surely deserves it, and surprisingly, it seems that Mr. West - in his own way - has sort of gotten the message, which I never would have guessed possible.

In his blog, the "rapper" (quotations added only because I can't stand his music, mind you) had this to say about it:

"SOUTH PARK MURDERED ME LAST NIGHT AND IT'S PRETTY FUNNY. IT HURTS MY FEELINGS BUT WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT FROM SOUTH PARK! I ACTUALLY HAVE BEEN WORKING ON MY EGO THOUGH. HAVING THE CRAZY EGO IS PLAYED OUT IN MY LIFE AND CAREER."

Now, the caps alone (which certainly weren't added by me) show that he hasn't really completely gotten over himself, but I suppose it's a start. The whole thing, which you can read here, is actually a hoot, and this would have to be easily the best line: "I GOT A LONG ROAD AHEAD OF ME TO MAKE PEOPLE BELIEVE I'M NOT ACTUALLY A HUGE DOUCHE, BUT I'M UP FOR THE CHALLENGE."

OK, since he also actually posted the video of South Park's gay fish song, I should probably just stop the hating. Here's the video, in case you missed it:



In another bit of TV news, according to Entertainment Weekly, Aaron Sorkin is actually considering another return to TV, and more incredibly a return to yet another "show about making a show."

According to writer Lynette Rice, along with working on two screenplays (one for a Facebook movie [yawn, but yes, I'm on it] and one for a courtroom drama about Guantanamo Bay that sounds much more promising), he's also considering the idea of a new TV drama that takes a behind-the-scenes look at a cable news show.

Man, does that sound like nothing but meh. Now, don't get me wrong, "Sports Night" was pure gold, but his second attempt, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," was just almost completely devoid of any heart or soul, and lasted much longer than it should have. Given the set of this new show, if it were to happen, I'd imagine the politics he would cram down our throats week after week might be just about unbearable.

And in "The Office"-related news, it seems that Jan (Melora Hardin) is getting a starring role in an upcoming FX series that actually sounds really promising. Called "Lights Out," it will be about a former heavyweight boxing champion (Holt McCallany) who suffers from pugilistic dementia and is forced to take a job as a mob legbreaker to support his wife and three daughters. Hardin will plays his wife, an orthopedic surgeon. That all sounds great to me.

Two promising trailers

I have to admit that this one caught me just about completely off guard. I really like Sam Rockwell and love old-fashioned sci-fi (which Danny Boyle tried to fashion with "Sunshine" but just failed spectacularly), so "Moon" looks like it will be right up my alley. It's being distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, which hopefully means it will somehow play wide enough to reach my little corner of the world when this hits theaters June 12. Enjoy.



And finally, here's the international trailer for Michael Mann's "Public Enemies," which looks much, much better than the teaser he put out earlier this year. You can tell from this clip that what he's cooking up will be as much an epic romance between Johnny Depp's John Dillinger and his mol Billie Frechette, played by Marion Cotillard, as it will hopefully be just a really fun gangster pic. Enjoy, and have a great weekend. Thanks to the largess of two of my old friends, Cory and Kaori, I'm going to watch the Braves beat down the evil Nationals Saturday night (yes, Facebook can really be great sometimes), and before that see Jody Hill's "Observe and Report." Peace out.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

A great day for comedy

If you like comedy of almost all kinds (and who doesn't?), there's a lot of good news and clips out there today, and at least one simply horrible idea: Having run out of appealing targets to roast well before they hit Larry the Cable Guy last month, Comedy Central is now turning to its worst subject yet: Joan Rivers.

I mean, really, if the person you're roasting is so unfunny that she deserves at least the abuse being hurled at her by her "friends" and more, where's the entertainment value in that? I think I'm just the wrong audience for these to start with, but that just sounds like a whole new low.

In much, much better news, tonight on NBC should just be epicly good. At 8:30, the new show created by "The Office" writers Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, "Parks and Recreation," debuts. I can only take Amy Poehler in very small doses, but I thought the same thing about Steve Carell before "The Office" started, so here's hoping I'm wrong.

Even better than that, though, is that it will be sandwiched between two brand spanking new episodes of "The Office" itself. I don't think anyone really believes Michael and Pam have left Dunder Mifflin for good, but it should still be cool to see Michael's big showdown with Charles, played by "The Wire" vet Idris Elba. For just a taste, here's the opening 90 seconds or so courtesy of NBC, featuring Kevin's considerable lack of ability to answer the phone and a very funny kicker:

You're bad at this too!



And in a very good bit of TV news for those who don't mind their humor dark and - as Jody Hill himself puts it - "full of a**holes," HBO has picked up a second season of Hill's series "Eastbound and Down," starring veryfunnyman Danny McBride as a former Major League ballplayer trying to make a comeback (like the mighty Baltimore Orioles, who are now 2-0 at the expense of the dastardly Yankees!)

Director Hill, of course, hits theaters this week with the mall-cop comedy "Observe and Report" starring Seth Rogen. Even with the tired premise, when I saw Associated Press critic Christy LeMire's hyper-ventilating review in which she called it both "vile" and "disgusting" (overkill, anyone?), I knew this would deliver just about completely what I'm expecting and looking forward to.

OK, enough of that. There are three promising trailers out there today that in their own way serve up comedy too. Sometime around August of last year, I put up a poll in which 26 readers voted (not a scientific sample, mind you, but not too shabby, I suppose) for the movie they were most looking forward to for the rest of the year. At the time, I declared that "Slumdog Millionaire" was the single movie I most wanted to see in all of 2008, and we all know what happened to that one.

Well, I don't think it's headed to the same fate as Danny Boyle's flick, but I'm giving the same designation this year to Rian Johnson's "The Brothers Bloom," finally set to open hopefully very wide in a busy May 29 weekend that will also feature at least Sam Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell" and Pixar's "Up."

Why so excited for this one? Well, if you haven't seen Johnson's high school noir flick "Brick," rent it now, and you'll see how much potential he has as a director. Plus, I just love goofy movies about a big con, and when it features Rachel Weisz, Mark Ruffalo, Adrien Brody and Rinko Kikuchi, I'm definitely in. Enjoy the new trailer.

"Where are we going?"
"New Jersey?"
"I'm gonna grab my coat."




Almost as good is the video proof that Mike Judge is returning to the working world for "Extract," hopefully coming to movie theaters outside of L.A. and Austin sometime in August. Starring Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Mila Kunis, J.K. Simmons and a fairly well-disguised Ben Affleck, it's about "the personal and professional problems of the owner of a flower extract plant (Bateman)." I'm laughing about that already.

And if I can digress just a bit before we get to the trailer, as Judge's "King of the Hill" is coming to an end on Fox after a rather remarkable 13-year run, he's about to have a new animated comedy coming to ABC. Called "The Goode Family," the show about a politically incorrect clan will premiere at 9 p.m. May 27. And in a final bit of TV news for all fans of ABC's late "Pushing Daisies," the facts are these: The final three episodes of that fantastic fantasy will indeed hit the air, for three weeks in a row beginning at 8 p.m. June 20.

And now, without further dithering from me, here's the "Extract" trailer:

"They're just hanging there."



And finally, for real, here's a first glimpse of what Robert Rodriguez is cooking up with "Shorts," also set to hit theaters in August. I'm a sucker for what Rodriguez comes up with when he makes movies for kids, especially the first "Spy Kids." This one looks very similar to others in the current crop of mild fantasies being pitched to youngins by Walden Media and other companies, but I'm still betting it will be a lot of fun. Enjoy the trailer, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

"I wish I had telephonesis!"

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

DVD pick of the week: "Doubt"


Can there be any possibly better day in America than one after which the Baltimore Orioles just beat down C.C. Sabathia and the Yankees to stay in first place for at least one more day? I can't think of one, but here today it's about one of 2008's best movies that caught me by surprise.

Going into "Doubt" I was so unsure I even wanted to see it that I can remember wavering at the door and almost picking something else (but of course now I can't even remember what that second choice would have been.)

So, why not see "Doubt"? Well, first of all, the subject matter - child sexual abuse by Catholic priests - was just so tired, and I couldn't imagine another movie about it offering any real insight of any kind. And second, with it being Meryl Streep vs. Philip Seymour Hoffman, I was just afraid that much genuine star power would make it impossible for them to just meld into the story and disappear in their roles.

Well, as anyone who's seen "Doubt" can attest, I was wrong on all fronts. What writer/director John Patrick Shanley came up with from his own play of the same name is a much more intimate affair than I expected, dealing with what the suspicion and possibility of misconduct does to its players rather than the broader issue itself. It's just a snapshot of what may or may not have happened at one Catholic school in 1964, and as that it's extremely effective and just as entertaining.

But it's also a battle of wills between Streep's mother superior and Hoffman's parish priest, and in terms of performance Streep definitely gets the better of it here, but they're both as good as expected. In playing Sister Aloysius Beauvier, Streep just contains the character's conflicting motivations perfectly, so when we see where it takes her in the final scene (which you won't hear any more about from me), it's as surprising as it is just a gut punch.

And I was very happy that Penelope Cruz won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress this year because there's no higher art than genuine comedy, but no actress took over a movie so completely in a short period of time than Viola Davis did here (and I was just watching "Out of Sight" again the other night - because, well, why not? - and realized she played Moselle in that seriously satisfying flick too.)

Anyways, rent "Doubt" if you haven't seen it already, and I'll leave you today with the second poster from Spike Jonze's upcoming take on "Where the Wild Things Are." It just made me smile. Peace out.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Take a familiar but fun trip to "Adventureland"


A film that rates right up there with Hollywood's best romances. Kristen Stewart deserves an Oscar nomination, as does writer-director Greg Mottola.

I offer that little bit of hyperbole from a Rotten Tomatoes critic who shall remain nameless as entry to discuss Greg Mottola's "Adventureland," a movie that's refreshingly and almost thoroughly entertaining as much for what it is as for what it isn't.

Despite the sentiments expressed above, it certainly isn't a grand romance. And neither, despite the very funny bits you've probably seen in advance from Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, is it a straight-out comedy that will often have you laughing out loud.

But, at its best, it is a sweet little slice of life, reflected through the romantic lens of memory, and for that it stands out from the current crop of R-rated comedies even as it embraces many of its conventions.

In what I believe is at least a semi-autobiographical tale, Mottola takes us to the titular theme park, where James Brennan (a pensively scruffy Jesse Eisenberg, in a role not removed much at all from what he played in "The Squid and the Whale") is forced to seek employment the summer after college when his parents (Jack Gilpin and Wendie Malick) inform him they won't be able to fund his planned trip to Europe or, well, much of anything.

If we all haven't been exactly there, we've probably been close. For me it was a job at a "Mexican" restaurant ("Mexican" in quotes because, though we did indeed serve something close to Mexican cuisine, it was a joint called Nacho Pete's owned by and almost exclusively staffed by gringos) where, like our hero here, I did rather remarkably crappy work and still had a blast with some seriously fun people. It's the kind of job you know you don't want now, but that had little charms (like drinking 50-cent Mexican beers each night when we closed) that make it a whole lot better in retrospect than it probably ever was.

But I digress a little, all in the hopes of setting up just what makes Mottola's movie so charming. When it works, which is very often, it's because what he delivers is exactly what the premise promises, a truly terrible job where you find the kind of people you'll remember for the rest of your life, and it's all (at least until the rather rushed ending) told at a natural pace that (for me at least) lingered in all the right places.

Though the movie opens and just about closes with 'Mats tunes (never a problem in my book), it gets its heart and tone from Lou Reed, and specifically the Velvet Underground song "Pale Blue Eyes." Like that tune, it has a melodic appeal that masks some serious dysfunction that's simmering just below the surface, much of which comes from the aforementioned Ms. Stewart, who is indeed the strongest player here. As an NYU student who also works at the park and is dealing with some serious family issues while at the same time making the kind of mistake (with Ryan Reynolds as the park mechanic) that she seems to already know will take her nowhere good, she just tells you more with a look than she ever did as she spent the entirety of "Twilight" (yes, I did see that) with a vacant stare.

And it's one scene set to "Pale Blue Eyes" that gives the movie a needed sense of urgency, or at least longing, as it's playing in the background when Stewart's Em gives Eisenberg's James a ride home and he can't took his eyes off of her (and who can blame him?) If their bumbling romance (which I won't tell you too much more about) gives the movie it's heart, the supporting amusement park players give the flick a kind of genuine sweetness that we see far too rarely in movies nowadays.

Hader and Wiig (as an aside, if you want to see a very funny supporting performance from her, rent "Ghost Town" now) are as funny as advertised, but as a married couple who run the park, they also just fit together perfectly, and all of their bits meld organically into the movie rather than stand out as forced hilarity. Martin Starr (who among all the Apatow players certainly deserves his own starring role by now, right?) is painfully dead-on as the kind of intellectual misfit who will actually use Gogol to try and pitch woo. And Margerita Levieva, as the park temptress Lisa P., provided the only moment when I laughed so loud that people turned around and stared at me, when you see how exactly she lures people onto riding the Musical Express.

Now, like probably this review, Mottola's movie does go on a bit too long, and it's ending feels more than a bit tacked on. Even so, it's easily the best movie I've seen this year (with the other four that I'd consider very-good-to-great being "Coraline," "Watchmen," "The International" and "Duplicity.") And not surprisingly, I suppose, it's just getting mauled at the box office, taking in a measly $2 million Friday compared to an astonishing $30 million in one day for "Fast & Furious."

But if you can handle a movie that takes it very sweet time getting to a familiar but entertaining place, please go see "Adventureland," and if you've visited there already, please feel free to share your impressions with me. Peace out.