Saturday, January 30, 2010

The 10 (or 11) best things I missed in the past month

You know, just because this January has been just about the worst movie month on record (though "Edge of Darkness" was a surprisingly taut and entertaining thriller) doesn't mean there's not a lot of movie news out there (even if I wasn't there to read it.)

This was intended as a list of the 10 best or simply oddest things I had missed in the last month or so, but there's something new too, and it's definitely good news.

At Saturday's Director's Guild of America awards ceremony, Kathyrn Bigelow beat out the biggest box office champ of all time and three other competitors to take home the group's top prize for "The Hurt Locker," and it's well-deserved. Though my personal favorite would still have been Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," Bigelow's movie was a close second in my book, and a very worthy winner.

She becomes the first woman to win the DGA's top prize. The other competitors this year, all very good films, were Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air," Lee Daniels' "Precious" and a little movie you may have heard of called "Avatar." Here's hoping this at least mild upset of "Avatar" means the Oscars are a wide-open race rather than simply Avatar's to claim in a runaway.

OK. Now, here are the 10 best or oddest things I missed in the last month, though not really in any order except for that the first item is certainly the best news in my book.

1. "Conchords" ' Bobin to direct Muppet movie

It seems like forever since the news first broke that Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller were writing a new Muppet movie for Walt Disney Pictures, but little seemed to be happening in the way of progress until last week or so, when the project finally landed what I think is the perfect director.

James Bobin, co-creator of HBO's delightfully dippy "Flight of the Conchords," has signed on to direct the new Muppet movie, with production set to start in late summer of this year.

Apparently now a man in high demand, Bobin at the same time turned down directing "Bridesmaids," a comedy from the Judd Apatow camp and written by veryfunnywoman Kristen Wiig. Since, like Segel, you can call me a certified "Muppet freak," I can certainly say he made the right choice here.

2. "Scott Pilgrim" set to take off Aug. 13

Did any one in the world except me see "Youth in Revolt"? Though it failed to quite capture the anarchic spirit of C.D. Payne's book, it was still very funny, even if Michael Cera was clearly - even with his baby face - way too old to play the lead.

I'd have to imagine Edgar Wright's "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" will do a whole lot better when it finally drops on Aug. 13, a good, usually slow spot for his follow-up to "Hot Fuzz." The flick, based on the funnybooks by Bryan Lee O'Malley, will also star Cera as the titular hero, who just wants to win back the heart of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but must battle her seven exes to do so.

The movie, which will surely be a lot better than I'm making it sound here, also stars Anna Kendrick, a definite favorite around here, as Scott Pilgrim's sister, and for further proof it will be good, take this hint from Wright himself:

"When I hired [cinematographer] Bill Pope to be DP — amongst his many films and TV shows he's done [are] "Freaks and Geeks" and "The Matrix." And I said to Bill: Imagine this film is equidistant between those two projects. Imagine the film is slap-bang in the middle of "Freaks and Geeks" and "The Matrix"." Here's hoping it's more of the former than the latter, but either way it should just be a fun mix to behold.

3. "Parks and Recreation gets third season"

Though it is the lowest-rated entry in NBC's stellar Thursday comedy lineup, "Parks and Recreation" is the first one to get another season pickup. The others - "Community," "The Office" and "30 Rock" - are sure to be picked up very soon also, but P&R got the early nod simply because NBC had to lock up the actors' contracts. I mean, does anyone really think NBC would ever get rid of "30 Rock" unless Alec Baldwin finally actually quit?

Personally, I like "Parks and Recreation" as much as "Community," and almost as much as I do the other two. It's even drier than "The Office," but often sweeter too, and everyone in the cast is very funny (especially Aziz Ansari, and Amy Poehler in the lead just keeps getting better too.)

4. Fincher headed to HBO for crime pilot

When I was compiling my best movies of the past decade (which you're certainly welcome to go back and read), I came very close to naming David Fincher's "Zodiac" as the best movie of 2007, but it lost out by just a nose to Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" (which just keeps getting better and better with age.)

So it's certainly good news that Fincher is about to get back in the crime game to direct at least the pilot of a potential new HBO series called "Mindhunter," with a script from "Dexter" scribe Scott Buck. Set to star Charlize Theron (I guess I sort of buried the lead there), the series would be about the FBI's elite serial crime unit.

I recently canceled my HBO to pay the power bill instead (you gotta have priorities, I guess), but I'm certainly gonna re-up as soon as either Martin Scorsese's "Boardwalk Empire" or David Simon's "Treme" finally hit the air, so with another "True Blood" season coming in June and possibly this Fincher work too, I guess I'm gonna be hooked again for quite a while.

5. "South Park" creators off-Broadway bound

Anyone who has seen "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut" knows that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are a surprisingly natural fit with musicals, so I guess this news isn't quite as odd as it seems on the surface.

It seems the duo are teaming up with "Avenue Q" composer-lyricist Robert Lopez on a new musical set for the 2010-11 season at the New York Theater Workshop. Though details so far are scant, speculation is that the subject matter will be Mormons, who have been fairly frequent targets for Parker and Stone already.

If that's the case, it's the only thing about this that sounds like a bad idea to me. The Mormon jokes on "South Park" are very mean but not funny, and mean by itself just doesn't work in my book. That said, I've seen "Avenue Q" and loved it, so definitely keep your eyes on this.

6. George Lucas producing musical ... with fairies?

Anyone who endured the agony of George Lucas' "The Phantom Menace" and "Battle of the Clones" surely knows that when it comes to CGI shenanigans, the man really knows neither limits or shame, but this next nugget still seems to be a special brand of crazy.

It seems that for past few months at Skywalker Ranch, "TMNT" director Kevin Munroe is busy directing a CGI-animated musical about ... wait for it ... fairies. Believe me, I can't make this stuff up, because if I could I'd probably be getting paid a whole lot more than the zero I do now to do this.

There's always the chance, I suppose, that something spectacular will come out of this madness, but for now let's just chalk it up as pending further proof that George Lucas is sorely in need of occasionally hearing the word "no."

7. Sarah Polley books next flick

OK, for at least a little while, you can call this the end of the crazy section of this post, 'cause here's some genuinely good news. Along with all the movies being shown at Sundance, it's of course also a site for making deals, and it seems that's where Sarah Polley locked down the cast and financing for her sophomore writing/directing effort, called "Take This Waltz."

It took me a long time to see Polley's first directing project, the nearly flawless "Away from Her," but I'm glad I finally did, because it's sublimely entertaining. She's also known as the star of Atom Egoyan's "The Sweet Hereafter," a role that I still have burned on my brain.

Her new movie will star Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen and start shooting in Toronto in July. Williams will star as Margo, a 28-year-old married woman who just happens to meet the man who lives across the street from her while on a business trip. I'd have to imagine sparks will fly, and that Rogen will play the neighbor (especially since the character is apparently named Seth.) The Playlist blog, a must-read around here, says the script starts off on some wrong notes, but eventually turns into the kind of sad/sweet romantic drama that should fit Polley - though perhaps not Rogen - perfectly.

8. John Carney lands new flick and has one already in can

Since his little flick "Once" was easily one of the best - and the single most charming - movies of 2006, it's certainly good news that John Carney is directing a movie that might actually play wide enough to reach my little corner of the world in its theater run.

According to the Irish Times, he'll direct the comedy "Town House," set to start shooting in August with stars Amy Adams and Zach Galifianakis. Based on the book by Tish Cohen, it's about a man who "lives with his teenage son in a historic Boston townhouse that he inherited from his rock star father. With royalties from his father's work dwindling, the man is forced to come to terms with his life ... and a call girl strikes up a friendship with the man."

The Adams/Galifianakis news is a bit old and may change, but this certainly seems like the kind of relationship flick that should fit Carney perfectly. And in even better news for DVD, it seems that Carney has also already shot another flick in Ireland.

Co-written with his brother Keiran, the low-budget comedy "Zonad" is about a man who visits the town of Ballymoran and is thought to be an extraterrestrial. Variety has described the '50s set film as equal parts "Pleasantville," "The Quiet Man" and old "Carry On" films, which all sounds good to me. It's set to open in Ireland on March 19, but here in the U.S., it sounds like a pretty quick straight-to-DVD affair, and I'll certainly let you know when I know more.

9. Tim Burton chosen to head the Cannes Grand Jury

That one speaks for itself, but to make the next two items very New York-centric, I can report that the Tim Burton exhibit on display at the Museum of Modern Art into April is well worth a visit if you can stand the company of many excitable children (they really tried the patience of this known curmudgeon.) If you can, it's a really cool show, featuring sketches and props from many of his films, along with other paintings by the filmmaker. And by the way, if you can find Avril Lavigne's truly god awful song from Burton's upcoming "Alice in Wonderland," its worth a listen just to see how truly awful it is, but don't try and say I didn't warn you.

10. Original "Red Riding" trilogy premiering in New York

Though sitting through all five hours of Steven Soderbergh's "Che" at the IFC Film Center last year was a truly agonizing experience I never need to relive, this IFC movie marathon sounds like one I would truly dig.

Starting Friday, Feb. 5, IFC will be showing all three installments in the UK true crime "Red Riding" trilogy back-to-back-to-back, with two intermissions and only credits at the very end.

So, what are those? well, they're based on three true crime novels by David Peace, also author of the simply fantastic "Damned United," which was itself turned into an almost-as-good flick you can watch on DVD beginning Feb. 23. Having read the first "Red Riding" installment, "1974," I can report that it's a truly gritty affair, and before it goes off the rails completely at the very end, would certainly make the basis of a great true-crime movie in the "Prime Suspect" vein.

But of course, I don't live anywhere near New York City, so I take this mostly as a hopeful sign that all three of the "Red Riding" flicks will be available sometime very soon on DVD in the U.S. Which finally gets us near the finale of this admittedly very long opus, a trio of clips. The first is the trailer for the "Red Riding" trilogy. The rather amazing cast includes Sean Bean, Rebecca Hall, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine, among many others. Enjoy.

Next up comes seven clips, courtesy of (for which I sometimes contribute), from "The Wolfman," starring Benicio Del Toro and set to drop Feb. 12. I suppose there's a pretty big chance this could just suck, but I'm a sucker for horror in the classic style, so this is a remake I'll definitely check out.

And finally (yes, we're at the end, really) comes a delightfully silly and thoroughly profane mashup of James Gandolfini's work as Tony Soprano and his voicework as Carol in "Where the Wild Things Are." I love Spike Jonze's flick, and if I had a vote, I'd push Gandolfini for a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars. Here, however, as you might imagine, in this clip he's not only "not safe for work," he's about as foul as you can get, especially in the final two words, which I won't give away. If your sensibilities can take it. Enjoy.

Friday, January 29, 2010

How to lose an audience in 30 Days

Well, after about a month without a computer of any kind, I'm back ... but did anyone really miss me? Probably not, but I'm back anyway.

If I had to miss a month's worth of movies, frankly, this January would have to be it. I've seen Avatar twice now, and wanted to go see Up in the Air again, but I was too late. As for new movies, after the wretched reviews for The Lovely Bones, I just couldn't bring myself to watch a Peter Jackson disaster, so I skipped that one. In fact, I haven't seen a new theater movie all month. Thoroughly depressing.

On the advice of Nell Minow, however, I'm gonna take a chance on Edge of Darkness tomorrow, and am hoping for at least slightly more than an average thriller.

Anyways, come Monday, I'll start this up again right, so hopefully a few people will come back.

Peace out.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Veryfunnyman Michael Cera in five "Youth in Revolt" vignettes

I was worried that "Youth in Revolt" was somehow going to be an "arthouse" release and therefore not available immediately in my little corner of the world, but thankfully, I once again appear to be wrong.

And besides, what could be "arthouse" about C.D. Payne's extremely crude - but also very funny - novel about Nick Twisp a 14-year-old who creates an alter ego based on Jean Paul Belmondo just so he can score with the love of his young life? I really hope they leave the Belmondo infatuation in the movie somehow, because it's one of the best things in the book.

Anyways, courtesy of, here are five short Michael Cera vignettes that will begin airing soon (or already are) on Comedy Central to promote the movie. And if you somehow happen to be working on Saturday, Jan. 2, you have my condolences and this word of warning: Even though these clips are for basic-cable consumption, they're still rather crude, so wear your headphones! Also, only on the last clip, you'll have to sit through a short plug for the DVD release of the single worst movie I saw in all of 2009, Diablo Cody's "Jennifer's Body," before you get to the clip. Peace out.

Friday, January 01, 2010

My (and only my) best movies of the decade: The top 10

Quickly before I get into any of that, I was just thrilled to see that "The Muppet Movie," a staple for kids who grew up when I did and hopefully still required viewing in households everywhere there are kids big and small, has been added for preservation to the 2009 National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

The only question that great news gives me is why in the world did it take so long? As you can see from the list below, there are a lot of other great choices this year, and even a music video from Michael Jackson. Hey, why not? Here it is:

1. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
2. The Exiles (1961)
3. Heroes All (1920)
4. Hot Dogs for Gauguin (1972)
5. The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
6. Jezebel (1938)
7. The Jungle (1967)
8. The Lead Shoes (1949)
9. Little Nemo (1911)
10. Mabel’s Blunder (1914)
11. The Mark of Zorro (1940)
12. Mrs. Miniver (1942)
13. The Muppet Movie (1979)
14. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
15. Pillow Talk (1959)
16. Precious Images (1986)
17. Quasi at the Quackadero (1975)
18. The Red Book (1994)
19. The Revenge of Pancho Villa (1930-36)
20. Scratch and Crow (1995)
21. Stark Love (1927)
22. The Story of G.I. Joe (1945)
23. A Study in Reds (1932)
24. Thriller (1983)
25. Under Western Stars (1938)

So there you have it. But here today, it's all about the final cut. Before I do my top 10 list for 2009, which I'm still putting off until the end of this week because I will finally see "Up in the Air" today, I've decided that the reigning champ isn't going to be dethroned, so I can go ahead and do my top 10 movies of the 2000s. I did, however, see one movie that will probably make the 2009 top 10 list coming Monday, Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces," which is just a wildly fun movie and a valentine to moviemaking (when and if you see it, you'll probably agree that it's really a valentine to making specifically Pedro Almodovar movies, but again, why not?)

OK, with the rules being one per year, here are my best movies of the oughts, or whatever you want to call them, with some video clips thrown in just for fun.

2000: "Almost Famous"
Judging from how Cameron Crown started out the '00s, you would think it would have been the most fruitful creative period of his life, but of course that was not to be. "Elizabethtown" almost made me claw my own eyes out, but this rock 'n' roll road movie chronicling Crowe's own ride as a too-young correspondent for the Rolling Stone is as fun as it is moving, and even made me a fan of Elton John again with one of the best uses of a pop song ever, the band rebonding with "Tiny Dancer." Enjoy that clip below.

2001: "The Royal Tenenbaums"
What made "Fantastic Mr. Fox" so good was that, after two instantly forgettable films in "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and "The Darjeeling Limited," it showed that Wes Anderson had returned to the top form he showed with this flick. At his best, Anderson has a natural gift for storytelling and an artist's eye for details that make you smile broadly if you pay close enough attention, and those two talents just converged perfectly with "The Royal Tenenbaums."

2002: "City of God"
If I had to pick just one, this would be my favorite movie of the '00s, and easily in my top 10 of all time too. Fernando Meirelles' chronicle of street life in Rio de Janeiro focuses on two boys, one who gets caught up in the gang culture that rules the streets and another who escapes to capture its harsh reality with his camera. It works as both a coming-of-age tale or a riveting gangster pic of sorts, and is just packed with searing visual images that are still burned on my brain to this day. Enjoy the clip below showing Lil' Dice transformed into the much more deadly Lil' Ze.

2003: "American Splendor"
Though Paul Giamatti had appeared in plenty of movies before this one from Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, he certainly chose the right flick to make his real impact as the star of the show. The two directors interweave Giamatti's take on the colorful character that is cartoonist Harvey Pekar with insight from the man himself, and its just a joy to watch as the lines between the two interweave. It also turns into a moving romance with Hope Davis as Pekar's love and salvation, Joyce Brabner, and Judah Friedlander is also just a hoot as Pekar's oddball buddy Toby.

2004: "Maria Full of Grace"
Still the only movie I've ever seen from writer/director Joshua Marston, "Maria Full of Grace" was ahead of its time in putting a very human face on the issue of immigration in America. It certainly doesn't hurt that that face here belongs to the simply stunning Catalina Sandino Moreno, or that the story of Maria Alvarez's role as a drug mule from Colombia and her road to redemption just make for a tremendously entertaining flick.

2005: "Hustle & Flow"
Though I enjoy straightforward musical biopics to a certain degree, I'm much more amenable to movies like "I'm Not There," "Cadillac Records" and this flick from director Craig Brewer that take the genre and twist it into something new. "Hustle & Flow" isn't, of course, a biopic at all, but with the character of struggling pimp and aspiring rapper Djay, brought to vivid life by Terrence Howard, Brewer brings all the corny joy of the rock fable to hip-hop, and though his story of dreaming big while often living small just sounds incredibly corny on paper, it works to near perfection on the big screen. In any language, this clip of Djay and Taraji P. Henson's Shug is just one of the great movie kisses of all time. Enjoy.

2006: "Pan's Labyrinth"
In the year of the three Mexicans, this flick from Guillermo del Toro still stands just a notch taller than Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" in my book, though it's nearly a tie. With "Pan's Labyrinth," Del Toro explores the power of the imagination - both it's light and dark side - as our heroine, played by young Ivana Baquero, crafts an elaborate and often harrowing fantasy world to escape the harsh reality of her life in post-Civil War Spain. It revels in this talent that we all used as children but too often forget once we turn into "adults."

2007: "Into the Wild"
Sean Penn could have gone in many directions with his movie about doomed dreamer Christopher McCandless, but by keeping his own politics out of it and just letting the story unfold at a natural pace, he managed to craft a great American road movie. It's as moving as it is frustrating to watch how McCandless, played by Emile Hirsch, could have avoided his fate if he had simply let in one of the many people who reached out to him in his travels. Hal Holbrook should have won the Oscar he was nominated for with this flick, and Catherine Keener should have had her name called that night too.

2008: "Let the Right One In"
Just the other day, my brother and I were discussing the many fantastic scenes in director Tomas Alfredson's flick, and whether or not any of them will have nearly the same impact in "Cloverfield" director Matt Reeves' upcoming American remake, "Let Me In" (we both have rather serious doubts.) Alfredson's movie, based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel, is equal parts coming-of-age story and horror flick as it tells the tale of what happens when bullied Oskar meets the new girl next door - who just happens to be a vampire. Among the many things this movie gets rights is the moment at the pool when - after urging Oskar to stand up for himself - Eli takes matters into her own rather lethal hands. Easily the best horror movie scene of the last 10 years and more. Though I strongly watch you watch it in the movie first if you haven't seen it yet, here's a clip of that amazing sequence. Enjoy.

2009: "Inglourious Basterds"
Watching this movie unfold and just get better and better as it goes along drives home the point that Quentin Tarantino really was just treading water with the two "Kill Bill" movies and his half of "Grindhouse," because this was clearly the movie he was meant to make. It should really have a different name, because the titular "Basterds" are the weakest link in this saga that weaves together several plots to kill Hitler. Whether you call it revisionist history or revenge fantasy, it's also just wildly inventive storytelling. Two scenes in particular, the opening gambit with Christoph Waltz and a later one involving some kind of crazy game of celebrity Indian Head poker, are among the best Tarantino has ever written, just perfectly building all the tension that is finally released in that finale that I guarantee you won't ever forget.

So, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed at least some of that, and if you haven't seen any of them, I guarantee they'll all well worth a rental. And with that I'm finally off to see if George Clooney and "Up in the Air" are really worth all the hype. Peace out.