Thursday, May 06, 2010

Exactly the right man to play Fela on the big screen, and a welcome visit from exactly the wrong Mexican

At the same time that the Broadway musical "Fela!" has received 11 Tony nominations, Focus Features has announced even better news about who will play the Afrobeat legend in a long overdue biopic - and it's easily the perfect choice.

First, as for the musical, which I had the pleasure of seeing last winter, it would be a worthy winner in any category, but especially for the dynamic performance of Sahr Ngaujah as the man himself. I was ready for the show's first half, more than a bit too heavy on audience engagement for my liking, to end, but it just gets better and better in act two as the story of Fela Kuti just gets crazier and crazier.

And if you're unfamiliar with his saga, it's a truly unique one. Along with creating a mad musical style that fused jazz, funk, West African drums and often 27-minute-or-so-long songs, he also drove the Nigerian government mad to the point that they ... well, you'll have to find out what they did to the poor man's mother for yourself, but it's just plain insane. He also took 27 wives along the way.

Which all makes for what should be an amazing biopic in the hands of director Steve McQueen (no, not the dead one) and (yes, I know I'm rather ashamedly burying the lead here) easily the perfect star in Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has quickly risen to become one of my favorite actors. He certainly has the intensity to pull this remarkable story off, and if you haven't seen McQueen's directing debut "The Hunger," the second-best movie ever made about IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands is well worth a rental (the best, Terry George's "Some Mother's Son" starring Dame Helen Mirren, is somehow still not out on DVD. What the hell's up with that? And if I may digress further for just a sec, the Macon Film Guild is showing "The Last Station," starring Mirren, Christopher Plummer and James McAvoy, this Sunday at 2, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. at downtown Macon's Douglass Theatre. I'll be there, and if you're in Macon, you certainly should too.)

The film, though separate from the Broadway hit, has secured the rights to Fela's music, so along with being extremely political this should also just be an outright party. In my mind, I'm there already.

OK, after that today, just a couple of tidbits, and then the promised return of Robert Rodriguez's "Machete," and I can confirm that Danny Trejo is an even badder MF in the real trailer.

But first up comes the official synopsis for "Brick" and "Brothers Bloom" director Rian Johnson's next flick, "Looper," which will be a reunion with "Brick" star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. To clear up the confusion that has surrounded the "dark sci-fi" project thus far, here's what he had to say to Cinematical:

Looper is a time travel movie, set in a near future where time travel doesn’t exist but will be invented in a few decades. It’s pretty dark in tone, much different from Bloom, and involves a group of killers (called Loopers) who work for a crime syndicate in the future. Their bosses send their targets hogtied and blindfolded back in time to the Loopers, and their job is to simply shoot them in the head and dispose of the body. So the target vanishes from the future and the Loopers dispose of a corpse that doesn’t technically exist, a very clean system. Complications set in from there.

I'm sure they do. Like I said yesterday, that plot certainly sounds like it could be for the kind of tired "sci-fi" flicks that seem to appear for about a week each February, but here's hoping this one goes against the grain.

And in a bit of very good TV news, the makers of "Futurama" have just announced that the first two new episodes of the animated sci-fi comedy will air back to back on Comedy Central at 10 p.m. June 24. I have no idea how in the world the Matt Groening and David X. Cohen show has survived this long, but I'll certainly be tuning in when it somehow returns again. Enjoy this first still from the rather cleverly titled first return episode, "Rebirth."

And finally today, when Robert Rodriguez's "Machete" finally hits theaters Sept. 3, it will probably be as big a box-office flop as "Grindhouse," the movie in which it first appeared as a fake trailer, but I know I'll at least certainly be watching. As you can see from this trailer rather cleverly tailored to Arizona's current immigrant purge, it does indeed flesh out the original faux trailer as a pretty straight-forward tale of revenge, but with a truly eclectic cast that includes Trejo, of course, as Machete, but also Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Lindsay Lohan, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez and even Robert De Niro. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

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