Thursday, March 31, 2011

Meet the Governator, and much more fun stuff

Where better to start than with easily the funniest thing I found in my morning reading? I suppose when you're Arnold Schwarzenegger, your life has pretty much been a comic book from the start, so why not make it official?

It seems the former governor of California has teamed up with Stan Lee to turn his nickname, the Governator, into a new comic book and animated series. Yes, really.

Here's what Lee had to say about it to Entertainment Weekly: "The Governator is going to be a great superhero, but he’ll also be Arnold Schwarzenegger. We’re using all the personal elements of Arnold’s life. We’re using his wife [Maria Shriver]. We’re using his kids. We’re using the fact that he used to be governor. Only after he leaves the governor’s office, Arnold decides to become a crime fighter and builds a secret high-tech crime-fighting center under his house in Brentwood."

I really can't see myself buying this, but just to show that I'll probably never get too old to buy an occasional comic book or two, I did pony up the other day for a copy of Kick-Ass 2 #1, which should be coming in the mail any day now.

Am I the only person who looked at that photo above and first thought, "separated at birth"? In the second funniest thing I found this morning, and in something that shouldn't tax his acting skills much at all, it seems that John Travolta will be playing John Gotti Sr. in a new movie called "Gotti: Three Generations," to be directed by Nick Cassavetes.

The movie will focus on the relationship between John Gotti Sr., the head of the Gambino crime family who died in prison in 2002, and his son John Gotti Jr., who took over the family business for his father, served time in prison, but then successfully escaped conviction in four subsequent racketeering trials. But really, I just wanted to post that picture, so that's all I really have to say on the subject.

Moving on, if FX is ever going to have any successful dramas, it could certainly do worse than signing the first family of "Friday Night Lights," my favorite TV drama of the last 10 years or so (yes, better than "Mad Men").

Connie Britton has apparently already signed on for something from "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy to be called "American Horror Story." I have no idea what it's about, but keep an eye out for it on FX's fall schedule.

And now, it seems that FX is courting Coach Taylor too, for a different series called "Powers." Kyle Chandler hasn't signed on yet, but if he does, it would be for something that sounds potentially pretty great.

Based on the graphic novel by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming, "Powers" will be a police procedural set in a world where superpowers are relatively common. It centers on two detectives, Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim, in a homicide department that deals with cases involving "powers." (people with superpowers).

Look for supernatural police forces to appear in some form in at least two other shows coming this fall, because of course no idea these days comes about in a vacuum, but if Chandler signs on for "Powers," you can bet that's the only one I'll be tuning in for when it most likely premieres in early 2012.

OK, to wrap up with the TV segment, at least until we get to the videos, how better to start a Thursday morning than with a photo of Amber Heard in a Playboy bunny suit? I can't think of too many.

She's starring in the fall NBC series "The Playboy Club," which she's described to as "a crime drama centered around the Playboy clubs of Chicago in the 1960s." I'm not sure that's enough to get me to tune in for the whole series, but I think I'll at least give the pilot a try this fall. Here's the photo:

OK, now on to the videos, and where better to start than with Jim Henson? This new site is dedicated to his history, and it's well worth a visit. Among the gems you'll find there is this short pilot of sorts he did in 1968 - before either "Sesame Street" or "The Muppet Show"- for a potential TV series based on the Wizard of Id comic strip. Nothing came of it, of course, but the clip is a lot of fun, and you'll certainly recognize the voices. Enjoy.

Can you ever possibly bring together too much funny? I doubt it, but HBO is testing that theory with its upcoming special "Talking Funny," which will rather amazingly make Jerry Seinfeld the least funny guy in the room. Not an insult really, just my personal opinion that Ricky Gervais, Chris Rock and the great Louis C.K. are all funnier than he is. Anyways, the four of them will be getting together for this "casual conversation" that should certainly be a hoot when it airs April 22 at 9 p.m. EST on HBO, and keep an eye out for the second season of C.K.'s rather sublime "Louie" series coming to FX in June. Enjoy the "Talking Funny" trailer.

And finally today, color me jealous of all you folk who get BBC America, which my cable provider charges too much for me pony up for. Coming to the network starting April 23 will be the new season of "Doctor Who," and based both on the very entertaining Christmas special and this latest trailer, it looks like a wildly fun ride. Enjoy the trailer, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Play ball!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Don't blame the messenger: No "Mad Men" this year

Actually, before and after anything that depressing, why not some really good movie news to make it all go down sweeter?

First up, the certifiable funniest man on the planet (Bill Murray if you didn't know) has signed on to play Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a movie based on a real oddity, a radio play written in 2009 by someone named Richard Nelson (bully for still making those.)

"Hyde Park on the Hudson" tells the story of a true-to-life affair Roosevelt had with a distant cousin, and its set during a 1939 visit from King George VI, the first time in history that a British monarch had traveled to the U.S. Sounds like nothing but juicy fun there, so bring it on.

OK, an end to the good news for now, but I promise more of it, about two movies I really want to see, is coming. But before that, "Mad Men," already delayed until at least fall, now won't be coming on this year at all, and in case you can't tell yet, that makes this one man just mad as hell.

According to Deadline, show mastermind Matthew Weiner is holding out on three issues that, if this were a lesser show, I'd certainly deem worth fighting for. Per Deadline, those are: integrating product placement into the series, cutting two minutes from each episode's running time in favor of more commercials and eliminating/reducing two regular cast members to save money.

Again, all noble goals, but so is compromise. Though I'm obviously not in the room for this, if I were, of those three I'd think that cutting two minutes would be a lot less onerous than the other two demands, particularly the product placement, which would likely just be an awkward mess.

And there's of course a higher goal here, new episodes of "Mad Men"! No good word on that yet obviously, but as soon as I hear anything like that, you will too.

OK, enough of that gloomy stuff, so how about the opposite in two movie projects that could have been doomed to DVD getting at least a small release window?

First up is "The Rum Diary," which I had almost forgotten about because it's been on the shelf so long. Now, however, it's been picked up by FilmDistrict and even given a release date of Oct. 11 THIS YEAR, and with one Johnny Depp as the star, hopefully that means wide enough to even reach my little corner of the world.

The movie comes from "Withnail and I" director Bruce Robinson, definitely one of my personal favorites, and stars Depp as an American reporter who heads down to Puerto Rico, where he gets involved in a love triangle involving a married woman (Amber Heard) and her shady businessman husband (Aaron Eckhart). The film's been long finished, so bring it on already.

And for anyone who's never seen "Withnail and I," here's a taste of exactly why you should as soon as possible (and I believe it's streaming on Netflix).

And perhaps even less likely than a new movie from Bruce Robinson is one from Whit Stillman, who it's easy to forget managed to direct three very smart comedies in "Metropolitan" (a definite favorite around here), "Barcelona" and "The Last Days of Disco" before pretty much disappearing from the face of the planet around 1998. Well, now, he's finally back with something called "Violet Wister's Damsels in Distress," and even better, it's been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics, with a release date still to be determined.

So, what's it about? The story, which sounds perfect for Stillman's wit, is about a group of young women who come up with a code of conduct for a grungy east coast university. It's probably a whole lot better than I'm making it sound here, so here's hoping the flick starring Greta Gerwig and Adam Brody gets some kind fairly wide release soon.

OK, after that, a few tidbits from Pixar, and then something so silly for the finish that you really just have to give in and embrace it.

Up next for Pixar this summer is something I really can't manage to get excited about at all, "Cars 2." It's bad enough that the studio is now seemingly solidly in the sequel business, but everything I've seen from this particular one just looks like the height of banality.

After that, however, things should get interesting again. In Entertainment Weekly, Pixar has released concept art and the story for its 2012 fairy tale, now called "Brave" and formerly titled "The Bear and the Bow." And the best news of all about it is that it features the voice of Kelly Macdonald of "Trainspotting," "No Country for Old Men" and, most recently, "Boardwalk Empire" fame. Bully.

So, what's it about? Per EW, it involves Princess Merida (Macdonald) who one day breaks a sacred custom of her kingdom, led by King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), that brings disorder to the land. To try to rectify the situation, Merida seeks out a Wise Woman (Julie Walters), who grants her a wish that turns out to have unlucky consequences.

Along with this being Pixar's first female heroine, it will also be the first Pixar movie to be directed by a woman, Brenda Chapman, director of "The Prince of Egypt." Definitely keep your eyes on this one. Here below is the best of the concept art featured in EW, which presumably features Macdonald's character:

Unfortunately, for 2013, Pixar is jumping right back into the sequel game, but at least this time it's for one of the studios funnest movies. "Monsters University" will again feature the voices of John Goodman and Billy Crystal as Sully and Mike, and will presumably be about their education. That could I suppose be fun, but I'll close today with one sequel that thankfully will go no further than the blissfully Funny or Die parody below. Tara Reid was rightfully mocked last year when she claimed, with no proof at all, that a sequel to "The Big Lebowski" was in the works, but you definitely have to give her credit for being able to make so much fun of herself in this video. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

DVD review: "Any Human Heart"

Going into the Masterpiece Classic presentation of "Any Human Heart" on DVD, I had conflicting thoughts.

First up was that though I haven't read the book its based on by William Boyd, he is one of my favorite writers, with his last two thrillers, "Restless" and "Ordinary Thunderstorms," being two of the genre's best. And second, though as a Southerner I probably shouldn't admit this so regularly, I really can't much at all stand "Forrest Gump," so the story structure of "Any Human Heart," one man's life through most of the 20th century in which he rubs elbows with many famous people, gave me pause.

Thankfully, Boyd's story really borrows only that basic outline from "Gump," but with less overbearing sentimentality and a lot more, sometimes very dark, wit. Boyd's novel and the four-part BBC series presented here tell the story of "writer" Logan Mountstuart, with the quotation marks in place because though he accomplished and experienced many things in his long life, he only managed to write two novels.

Though the four-and-a-half-hour long series is a bit bloated by thoroughly unnecessary fantasy sequences that pop up throughout starring Mountstuart as a child, he's for the most part played by three very good English actors, Sam Claflin as the college-age Mountstuart, Matthew MacFadyen (who the ladies may remember from the version of "Pride & Prejudice" also starring Keira Knightley) as him in middle age, and the great Jim Broadbent as Mountstuart the elder.

Throughout Mountstuart's saga, however, it's the women he loved and lost that play the most important parts. As the story opens, Broadbent's Mountstuart, clearly in fading health, is putting back together the pieces of his life using his memories of the women who had made it memorable. Standing out in a large ensemble are the radiant Hayley Atwell as Freya, the real love of his life, Kim Cattrall as Gloria, who gives the series much of its soul, and an unrecognizable but very funny Gillian Anderson as the Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson.

Anderson and co-conspirator Tom Hollander as the duke bring a comic edge to the story as Mountstuart, enlisted as a "spy" during World War II, mostly spends his time tracking down what happened to the former king after the story told in "The King's Speech," at least as Boyd imagines it. Often dark humor thankfully runs throughout "Any Human Heart," as when later in life Mountstuart, simply in search of cheap health care, ends up brushing up against Germany's Baader Meinhof gang and later, in his last romantic conquest, gets involved with a French woman more than a little confused about her ancestry.

But the beauty of "Any Human Heart" often comes not from these grand adventures (he also manages to meet Ernest Hemingway and Ian Fleming, who recruits him into the spying ranks), but in the failures that make for a well-rounded life. As Mountstuart manages to crap out on two marriages he was never terribly interested in and then get involved with his dead son's 16-year-old girlfriend (yes, he is more than a bit of a cad), it becomes harder and harder to cheer for him, but Macfadyen's layered performance makes you appreciate the man in whole, many warts and all.

In the end, though, it's Broadbent who both gives the story its arc and brings it home with tenderness, particularly in his scenes with Cattrall, ultimately making this well worth checking out when it hits DVD next Tuesday, April 5 (yes, I'm writing this a bit early because it doubles as a newspaper column that comes out on Friday.)

P.S.: One final note about editing: Though I didn't manage to catch this when it aired on PBS, I've heard that it was rather poorly edited, perhaps to remove some of the racier scenes that make Mountstuart's life so enjoyable, but this is the complete BBC version, so there's no need to worry about that.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Severe post-Heigl stress disorder

Even if she hadn't made such a self-righteous twit of herself after "Knocked Up," Katherine Heigl's movies alone are certainly worth a high-quality skewering, and thankfully, the Onion is up to the task. Something this brilliant needs no further words from me, so I'll just say thanks to my fellow cubicle slave Mike Stucka for pointing this out, and enjoy. And oh yeah, remember only you can prevent Katherine Heigl movies. Peace out.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What the #$%&@ does F/X have to do to have a successful show?

What in the world does F/X have to do get people to watch its shows? In the past year, the network has aired easily the two best new shows in my book, "Terriers" (R.I.P) and "Lights Out," and in each case they've been rewarded with one-season wonders.

Not that that's all that odd, or even surprising. Many of the best TV shows of the last 15 years or so, "Freaks and Geeks" and "Firefly" in particular, have failed to catch on with enough people to please the bean-counters. That doesn't, however, make it any less maddening.

In the case of "Terriers," I could at least understand it. That show was a true oddity, a P.I. comedy-drama of sorts that ambled at its own pace and just had a skewed sense of humor that was never going to be everyone's viewing choice. But with "Lights Out," which officially got its cancellation order last night, I just don't get it.

Not only is it easily one of TV's best dramas on the air right now, but what else has even been on until this week or so with new episodes at all? I was hooked on the show from the start because I'm just a sucker for good boxing stories, and this was certainly one. Starting out with the tale of a former champ trying to make an unlikely (mi hermano says impossibly unrealistic given the age of star Holt McCallany) comeback against the fighter who knocked him out five years earlier, the show added to that a seedy family saga that somehow manages to make even the real world of boxing seem honest and upright by comparison.

And it contained the two best short-run performances I've seen on TV dramas in the past year. First up came Eamonn Walker (who it took me a long time to remember played Howling Wolf in the truly great little flick "Cadillac Records"), who completely took over two episodes as the mystic trainer Ed Romeo. And just this week, the always-welcome David Morse took a tragic turn as a truly punch-drunk former champ.

I don't think "Lights Out" will have the cult following of the one-season wonders mentioned earlier, but I'll certainly miss it, and will buy it when it comes to DVD. Looking at the numbers, however, it's really hard to get too mad at all at F/X. Here, courtesy of AICN, are the numbers for Tuesday nights from Jan. 11-March 22 (this week):

3.8 (2.2) (2.3) (3.8) (4.4) (3.6) (4.2) (4.6) (2.3) (4.1) (4.5) NCIS
3.2 (2.2) (2.6) (3.2) (3.9) (3.3) (3.5) (3.8) (---) (3.3) (3.7) NCIS LA
3.0 (2.7) (2.9) (2.4) (2.7) (2.7) (3.0) (3.3) (3.2) (2.9) (3.2) Biggest Loser
2.5 (2.5) (2.0) (1.9) (2.2) (2.1) (1.8) (2.1) (2.3) (2.1) (1.9) Teen Mom
2.1 (1.2) (1.3) (2.2) (2.0) (2.0) (2.2) (2.2) (---) (2.1) (2.3) Good Wife
2.0 (4.2) (4.6) (---) (4.4) (4.2) (4.6)(11.1) (1.5) (1.5) (1.7) Glee
1.8 (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) Best In Film
1.7 (1.7) (2.2) (1.8) (1.9) (2.4) (2.2) (2.4) (2.3) (2.8) (3.6) The Game
1.5 (0.9) (1.0) (1.2) (1.4) (1.5) (1.5) (1.1) (1.1) (1.8) (1.5) No Ordinary Family
1.4 (2.2) (2.7) (3.3) (2.4) (2.2) (2.7) (---) (---) (---) (---) Raising Hope
1.4 (---) (1.5) (1.1) (1.2) (1.0) (2.2) (---) (1.3) (1.6) (---) Let’s Stay Together
1.0 (---) (1.2) (1.9) (2.1) (1.9) (1.9) (2.2) (---) (2.1) (2.2) Parenthood
1.0 (1.5) (1.5) (---) (1.6) (1.4) (1.9) (---) (---) (---) (---) Traffic Light
1.0 (0.8) (1.0) (---) (0.8) (---) (1.0) (---) (---) (---) (---) Top Shot
1.0 (---) (0.8) (0.7) (0.8) (1.0) (0.9) (0.8) (0.8) (0.9) (1.1) Hardcore Pawn
0.9 (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) NBA Basketball
0.6 (0.5) (0.7) (0.6) (0.6) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) Real Housewives Miami
0.5 (0.4) (0.5) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) Million Dollar Listing
0.3 (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) Destination Truth
0.3 (0.2) (0.5) (0.6) (0.6) (0.7) (0.7) (0.8) (0.9) (0.3) (0.4) Hellcats
0.3 (0.3) (0.4) (0.4) (0.3) (0.3) (0.4) (0.4) (0.4) (0.4) (0.6) Lights Out
0.3 (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) (---) Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen
0.3 (0.3) (0.4) (0.7) (0.9) (0.8) (0.7) (1.2) (0.9) (---) (0.4) One Tree Hill

Yes, you really did have to dig pretty far to find "Lights Out," and by the way, what in the heck is "Marcel's Quantum Kitchen"? So, R.I.P., "Lights Out," and if you like the show as much as I did and do, tune in for the final two episodes to see if Lights finally gets his rematch with Death Row.

OK, enough of that depressing stuff. Starting this Sunday (of course) for you folks like me who get HBO is "Mildred Pierce," and you can certainly count me as psyched for it. A five-part miniseries based on the novel by James M. Cain and directed by Todd Haynes, it stars one Kate Winslet in the titular role. The story, already made into a 1945 movie I haven't seen, is about a working mother who separates from her cheating husband during the Great Depression (0r at least, the first one) and tries to keep her family together as she eventually goes on to open three restaurants and a pie-selling business. It's most certainly a whole lot more epic and just better than I'm making it sound here. Keep an eye out for Guy Pearce as Mildred's wealthy playboy lover Monty Beragon, and enjoy these two clips to whet your appetite, the first an episode one preview and the second a 30-minute making-of special. As for me, I'm off to work and then to see Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch" this weekend, and frankly hoping it doesn't just make my eyeballs melt. Peace out.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When, if ever, will we get more "Mad Men"?

Not having heard any "Mad Men" news for a while, I just assumed that that was a good thing and that everyone had worked things out and the show would return for its fifth season by late summer as usual. Silly me ...

It seems that not even has production not started yet, as it usually does this time of year or very soon after, but creator Matthew Weiner is still negotiating a lucrative new contract with Lionsgate. Assuming that that will get done, and the two sides are apparently now very close, that still means production won't get going for a few weeks or so after that, meaning no "Mad Men" until at least the fall.

Nards. In the meantime, AMC will have a few potentially great things to fill the void. I'm really looking forward to the new series "The Killing," which has its two-hour premiere April 3. The show, based on a popular Danish TV show, will focus on the murder of a teenage girl in Seattle in its first season, and the widening net of possible suspects. It's been ages since I found a good police procedural, so here's hoping this is it.

And fans of "Breaking Bad" (of which I'm not one simply because even I can only watch so much television and, well, I just never got around to it) can look forward to new episodes in July or so, and then there's the return of "The Walking Dead" (of which I certainly am a big, big fan) for season two this fall. Still, no firm date yet for the return of "Mad Men"? Bring it on already!

The other thing that caught my eye this morning is that there will hopefully be another "Narnia" movie, though not the one many people may have been expecting.

I've always wondered why it's been such a difficult proposition for Walden Media and Fox to keep making these flicks. I know there's an innocence about them that's genuinely out of place in our often crass world (but that I love), but the movies consistently make money: "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" was made for $155 million and made $403 million worldwide, while No. 2, "Prince Caspian," was made for $225 million and brought in $419 million worldwide. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is still the most lucrative in the series, with a budget of $180 million and a worldwide take of $745 million.

Besides all that, there just good, really fun movies. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" had the most problems of the three, but they've just gotten better, and I flat out adored "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader." And now, in a case of me burying the lead behind my own blathering on, comes word that the next movie in the series, assuming Walden gets Fox to sign, will be "The Magician's Nephew." Here's what Walden's Michael Flaherty had to say about it to The Christian Post:

"We are starting to talk to Fox and talk to the C.S. Lewis estate now about the Magician's Nephew being our next film. If we can all agree to move forward, then what we would do is find someone to write the script. So, it could still be a couple of years."

Here's hoping they work out the plans soon, because though I can't claim to remember all the details about all these books, I read them all as a kid, and loved them all. Here, for those of you like me who might need a refresher course on just what "The Magician's Nephew," an origins story for "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," is all about, is the synopsis from Amazon:

When Digory and Polly are tricked by Digory’s peculiar Uncle Andrew into becoming part of an experiment, they set off on the adventure of a lifetime. What happens to the children when they touch Uncle Andrew’s magic rings is far beyond anything even the old magician could have imagined. Hurtled into the Wood between the Worlds, the children soon find that they can enter many worlds through the mysterious pools there. In one world they encounter the evil Queen Jadis, who wreaks havoc in the streets of London when she is accidentally brought back with them. When they finally manage to pull her out of London, unintentionally taking along Uncle Andrew and a coachman with his horse, they find themselves in what will come to be known as the land of Narnia.

I wouldn't go so far as to say the world needs more "Narnia" movies, but I certainly like it when they're around, so good news there. And with that, I'm off to the job that somehow still plays my bills. Peace out.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A trip to "Cedar Rapids"

I was genuinely excited when the midstate got its third and fourth first-run theaters with the Houston Lakes Stadium Cinemas 10 in Warner Robins and the Edge 14 replacing the former Regal Rivergate 14 here in Macon. After all, more theaters means more movies, right?

It really hasn't worked out that way too often yet, but now at the Galleria Mall Stadium Cinemas 15 in Centerville (or at least if it lasts more than one week), we've got in "Cedar Rapids" a low-key but genuinely likable comedy worth checking out before it disappears.

Director Miguel Arteta's fish-out-of-water comedy stars Ed Helms of "The Office" as a small-town Iowa insurance salesman who gets his big break when he gets to attend the big annual conference in the titular "Cedar Rapids" (what happened to the guy he replaces is something I won't go into in this column that also appears in a family newspaper - let's just say its one of the many ways that Arteta mixes in some raunch in this generally and genuinely otherwise sweet tale.)

From the outset, Arteta and screenwriter Phil Johnston, a native Iowan, both embrace the oddity of the American Midwest and at the same time poke fun at it consistently, starting with the thrill that Helms' Tim Lippe gets from simply going through airport security. Once he reaches the "big city," Helms does what he does best on "The Office," mainly react to others. And "Cedar Rapids" is full of funny folks for him to bounce off of, starting with John C. Reilly's Dean Ziegler, who steals every inch of screen he's given.

He's so natural a comedian now that it's easy to forget Reilly was once a fairly serious character actor, even garnering an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of "Mr. Cellophane" in "Chicago." Since then, however, he's buddied up with one Will Ferrell, and has adopted many of Ferrell's best comedy touches and combined them his own hangdog appeal. He gets his best character yet here in Dean Ziegler, the ultimate buffoon-with-a-big-heart, and as much as he'll make you cringe (stick around through the closing credits for another joke so tasteless there is, again, no way it can be repeated here), he also makes you cheer as he and Helms make a mismatched buddy team of sorts.

The main ensemble is rounded out by Anne Heche, funnier than she's been in years as a married woman on the prowl, and Isaiah Whitlock Jr., who played sleazy pol Clay Davis on "The Wire" and gets plenty of mileage here out of subverting the expectations for his character by channeling one of that show's other most beloved (and extremely violent) characters. Very good in supporting roles are the always-welcome Stephen Root as Lippe's boss and mentor, and Alia Shawkat of "Arrested Development" as a hooker who bonds with Lippe as she works the convention crowd.

In all, the movie could use a little more edge, never really reaching the satiric level of the best movies of Alexander Payne, who is one of the producers of "Cedar Rapids." But it does have a real heart and humanity that's sorely missing in most of what passes for comedy nowadays, and like the best of Arteta's movies ("The Good Girl," "Chuck & Buck" and "Youth in Revolt"), it's packed with genuine characters that he embraces even as he ridicules them.

And for that, plus plenty of low-key laughs, it's well worth the 20-minute-or-so drive down the road for Maconites to check out "Cedar Rapids" in Centerville while you still can.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is it time for NBC to shut down "The Office"?

Actually, before we get into that, if I had to put money on what David O. Russell will direct next, I'd say it will actually be a sequel to "The Fighter," simply because that movie was so good and because the next chapter in the life of Micky Ward - his epic trilogy of fights with Arturo Gatti - is a gold mine of source material. However, if that doesn't happen, Fox Searchlight is eyeing him for something that could be almost as fun.

Deadline is reporting that the studio has offered to buy for him a biopic based on the life of B-movie king Russ Meyer. Take a second to think about the melding of those two personalities. "Temple Grandin" (and man did I like that movie) scribe Merritt Johnson will write the script. Who knows which path Russell will take next, but here's hoping he just chooses something very soon.

After that today, at least before we get to a trio of fun clips, it's all about TV, and why it's really time for NBC to close "The Office." Now, as a fan of the show from the beginning, it brings me no joy to say that, but even the best of things on TV have a shelf life, and it just seems like the workplace comedy's time has come.

What got me thinking about all that was the news that NBC has just renewed "The Office," "Community" and "Parks and Recreation" for next season. Not found in that news release were two other good things: "30 Rock," which as last night's Queen Jordan episode proved is still sublimely funny, was renewed long ago, and as of yet at least, "Outsourced" has not yet been picked up. Please, please, please keep it that way.

"Community," while losing a bit of the comic edge it had in season one, is still consistently good from week to week, but the best of the bunch this season has been "Parks and Recreation," which, according to NBC at least, is up 17 percent over last season in the 18-49 bracket. The dry humor and near-perfect ensemble that make "Parks and Recreation" work so well are exactly the same ingredients that worked for "The Office" until fairly recently.

The problem with "The Office," along with a simple dropoff in the overall level of funny, is that the characters, through no fault of the people who play them, are just way too familiar by now, and no matter how hard they try, there's just nothing surprising any more.

That will change, of course, at the end of this season as a new Dunder-Mifflin manager is named to replace the departing Michael Scott (Steve Carell). Carell is clearly far from a dumb guy, and if he knows its over, everyone else will probably figure that out by the end of next season, by my guess.

OK, enough about that. It's not only Friday morning, but one beginning a weekend with two theater movies I actually want to see, the comedies "Paul" and "Cedar Rapids" (the latter of which just opened a half hour down the road in Centerville), so let's move on to something more fun with videos. First up comes a genuinely crazy clip from James Gunn's "Super," set to open in at least a couple of theaters - and hopefully on IFC On Demand on cable nearly simultaneously - April 1. In it, you'll see where exactly Rainn Wilson's character gets his inspiration to become a demented superhero of sorts, and if anything, this just proves that, thankfully, the movie should be just nuts. Enjoy.

OK, next up, and this really needs very few words from me, is a behind-the-scenes look at part two of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," which will finally bring the boy wizard's saga to an end starting July 15. I loved the first half, so this should just rule. Enjoy.

And, clearly saving the best for last, Funny or Die has really been on a roll of late, and this Darren Aronofsky clip is among its best. In it, Aronofsky talks about his original idea for "Black Swan," which started out as "The Deli Manager," about the character played by comedian Todd Barry in Aronofsky's "The Wrestler." Even better, at the end, Barry acts out some of his scenes from the early version. Priceless. Enjoy, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Of remakes stopped, crazy and just plain audacious

I didn't bother to see "Mars Needs Moms," not because the idea of martians kidnapping and killing little kids' moms offended me, but just because I found something better to do (spend the weekend with mi hermano for a couple of epicly good Baseball Project shows.)

It seems, however, that that simple act of ignoring may have been my little part (and probably yours, since I don't think anyone went to see that) in stopping something much more insidious.

Robert Zemeckis, a producer of "Mars Needs Moms," had been plotting a digital remake of "Yellow Submarine," I guess just because he has the technological skills to do such a thing and, well, maybe he's just bored. Well, luckily, it seems the complete failure of "Mars Needs Moms" has led Disney to put the kibosh on that before it really got off the ground. Bully to that.

Another remake that is almost finished has apparently had a late and rather funny change of villainy in hopes of expanding its box office take.

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that MGM is changing the villains in "Red Dawn" from Chinese to North Korean in order to keep its access to the humongous Chinese box office. Take a second to let it sink in just how funny that is. The studio is apparently, though not terribly surprisingly, still looking for a distributor for the movie starring Chris Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, Connor Cruise and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Per the L.A. Times, the changes will cost less than $1 million and will "involve changing an opening sequence summarizing the story's fictional backdrop, re-editing two scenes and using digital technology to transform many Chinese symbols to Korean." Priceless. Actually, I think that might be enough to get me to at least watch this on DVD to see how many accidental Chinese symbols remain.

And in a final word about remakes before a couple of fun videos, it seems that Netflix is making a "bold" movie into "original" programming by paying $100 million or so for David Fincher and Kevin Spacey's remake of the sublime UK TV series "House of Cards." Quotations added by me and fully intended to be facetious.

To acquire the show, which I assume it will then lease to a TV network, Netflix has agreed upfront to a two season, 26 episode commitment, but I really can't see how in the world this is going to catch on.

If you've never seen the original, it stars the late and truly great Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart, aka F.U., an enterprising Conservative politician who rises through the British Parliament from chief whip all the way to prime minister through increasingly and comically evil means. I just don't see how Spacey or anyone else will be able to pull off his unique brand of malevolence as its translated across the pond.

But only a sucker would bet against Netflix, which now has a rather amazing 61 percent of the streaming content on the Internet (and I must say I've been thoroughly enjoying its all six seasons of "The Larry Sanders Show" - TV perfection.) Stay tuned to find out if this turns out as well as just about everything else Netflix has laid its hands on.

OK, after all that today, all I have is a couple of videos. First up comes the comedy duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost taking a break from the set of "Paul" to do a fairly funny "Star Wars" send-up for the folks at College Humor. All the early reviews I've seen so far "Paul" indicate that Greg Mottola's movie will deliver broad sci-fi laughs when it his theaters Friday, so I'm certainly in. Enjoy the video, then stick around for one more.

Finally today, courtesy of Yahoo, here are the first five minutes of "Source Code," director Duncan Jones' follow-up to his sci-fi gem "Moon," which is set to hit theaters April 1. I suppose if you don't know what exactly Jake Gyllenhaal's character is supposed to stop in this flick, the end of this clip is a bit of a spoiler, but since it happens in the first five minutes, I really don't think it can be much of one. I've decided I'll be going to see this flick, which also stars Michelle Monaghan. Enjoy the clip, and have a perfectly endurable Wednesday. Peace out.

Friday, March 11, 2011

David Simon on America's most unnecessary war

You often hear the phrase "life imitates art" or vice versa, but rarely do we get a case of art actually being life, as we did for four great and one not-so-great seasons of "The Wire."

Which makes the arrest of Felicia "Snoop" Pearson all the more depressing. For anyone who doesn't know, she played a female hitman of sorts for drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield, and like many of the stars of that show, was never far too removed from the world that "The Wire" portrayed. At age 14, she was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of another young girl, and ending up serving 6.5 years in prison.

Since then, things had certainly seemed to turn around with her appearance on "The Wire." She's also written a memoir, "Grace After Midnight," and having read it, I can tell you she tells her troubling story very well.

But yesterday, it all came undone, or at least regressed quite a bit with this Baltimore Sun headline forwarded to me in the morning: "More than 60 people, including 'Snoop' of 'The Wire,' arrested in drug raids."

If you haven't, you can read all about it here, but there's a much larger picture here, of a city and its people in crisis. That Snoop hasn't been able to escape this bottomless spiral is only the biggest headline-grabber about a truly sad situation in a city I love and will be visiting with mi hermano in August (for a couple or Orioles games, of course).

Here's what David Simon, much more eloquently than me, had to say about it all when contacted by Slate, and then stick around for something much more fun with a trio of Friday morning videos.

First of all, Felicia's entitled to the presumption of innocence. And I would note that a previous, but recent drug arrest that targeted her was later found to be unwarranted and the charges were dropped. Nonetheless, I'm certainly sad at the news today. This young lady has, from her earliest moments, had one of the hardest lives imaginable. And whatever good fortune came from her role in The Wire seems, in retrospect, limited to that project. She worked hard as an actor and was entirely professional, but the entertainment industry as a whole does not offer a great many roles for those who can portray people from the other America. There are, in fact, relatively few stories told about the other America.

Beyond that, I am waiting to see whether the charges against Felicia relate to heroin or marijuana. Obviously, the former would be, to my mind, a far more serious matter. And further, I am waiting to see if the charges or statement of facts offered by the government reflect any involvement with acts of violence, which would of course be of much greater concern.

In an essay published two years ago in Time magazine, the writers of The Wire made the argument that we believe the war on drugs has devolved into a war on the underclass, that in places like West and East Baltimore, where the drug economy is now the only factory still hiring and where the educational system is so crippled that the vast majority of children are trained only for the corners, a legal campaign to imprison our most vulnerable and damaged citizens is little more than amoral. And we said then that if asked to serve on any jury considering a non-violent drug offense, we would move to nullify that jury's verdict and vote to acquit. Regardless of the defendant, I still believe such a course of action would be just in any case in which drug offenses—absent proof of violent acts—are alleged.

Both our Constitution and our common law guarantee that we will be judged by our peers. But in truth, there are now two Americas, politically and economically distinct. I, for one, do not qualify as a peer to Felicia Pearson. The opportunities and experiences of her life do not correspond in any way with my own, and her America is different from my own. I am therefore ill-equipped to be her judge in this matter.

Very true all that, but way too heavy for a Friday morning, right? So, on to some fun clips. Until now, I haven't been able to get terribly excited about JJ Abrams upcoming alien flick "Super 8," but this first full trailer really does effectively change everything. In revealing that the incident was recorded by kids making monster movies on their super 8 camera, and seeing Coach Taylor of "Friday Night Lights" back in action, it has convinced me that this could be something really pretty great when it comes out June 8. Enjoy the trailer.

Next up, although very few people are apparently watching, FX is doing some truly entertaining things on television. I'm a devoted fan of "Sons of Anarchy," and though it lasted only one short season, "Terriers" was a fun little show, too. On the air now, I'm really getting into season two of "Justified," and the boxing drama "Lights Out" just keeps getting better and better with each episode. And now, to complement it's darkly funny "Louie" with Louie CK, the network is adding another truly odd-looking comedy this June, "Wilfred," starring Elijah Wood. As you'll see from the trailer, it's based on an Australian show about a lonely, introverted dude who becomes friends with his neighbor's dog, who just happens to be able to talk to him. Looks like very fun stuff, so enjoy this preview, and keep an eye out for the show.

And finally, truly saving the best for last, College Humor has definitely hit the mark with this mashup of Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox," easily one of my favorite animated movies of the last 10 years or so, and the video game "Star Fox." It's just wicked fun that needs no further explanation from me, so enjoy, and have a great weekend. (I'll be spending mine with mi hermano going to see two concerts by the Baseball Project .. huzzah!) Peace out.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

HBO books a "Game Change," and finds its Sarah Palin

Back in 2008, it certainly didn't seem at the time to on paper be exactly the winning formula for a top-shelf political movie. A script from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Gilmore Girls" regular Danny Strong, directed by Jay Roach, purveyor of the broadest kind of big-screen comedies?

Anyone who's seen "Recount," their HBO movie about the rather memorable 2000 U.S. presidential election, however, knows (or at least I do) that it was a surprisingly smart, funny and very entertaining political flick, with Laura Dern's sublime performance as Katherine Harris as the very sweet cherry on top.

Now, the two of them are teaming up again for a political flick with even better source material, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's tome about the 2008 presidential election, "Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime," and wisely simply shortened the title to "Game Change." And they've lined up an intriguing choice to play the most colorful character, Sarah Palin.

Julianne Moore (not Tina Fey) will play the never-boring former candidate for vice president, and assuming she can avoid the battle with bad accents she played out on "30 Rock," she should be great in this. No word yet on the rest of the cast or exactly when this will hit TV, but since this intrigues me, I'm almost certain to pass it on when I find it.

I read a pretty good deal of political books, and can attest that "Game Change" is one of the very best in the genre, so definitely bring this on!

And all I have after that today is the first trailer I know of for "Bad Teacher" the upcoming comedy starring Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel and, thankfully, Phyllis from "The Office," too. Frankly, it doesn't look all that promising, but since it comes from director Jake Kasdan ("The TV Set," "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" and, way back in the day, "Freaks and Geeks," too), I'm holding out hope it will be a whole lot funnier than I'm expecting when it drops June 24. Enjoy the trailer, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A first look at the first cop show I'm going to watch in many years

I'm not sure why, but I just haven't found a cop TV show I've enjoyed in a very long time, essentially since the end of "The Wire."

My friend and fellow cubicle slave Randy Waters tells me "Southland" is worth catching up with, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Coming soon from AMC, however, is one I'm going to take a chance on, and not just because it comes from the network that brought us "Mad Men" and "The Walking Dead."

So, what makes "The Killing" intriguing to me? Well, first and mostly, it's because the 13-episode series will focus on one investigation, the titular event. Based on the Danish television series "Forbrydelsen" and created by "Cold Case" showrunner Veena Sud, it revolves around the murder of a young girl in Seattle and the police investigation involving many possible suspects. The show will have its two-hour premiere on Sunday, April 3, because, I guess, like HBO before it, AMC always likes to premiere new shows on Sundays.

To be clear, I'm certainly not expecting anything as compelling as "Twin Peaks" or any of TV's best cop shows, but its been a long time since we've even had a decent police serial, so here's hoping this turns out to be good. Enjoy the trailer, and then stick around for a short dose of "Jackass"-ery just perfect for a Wednesday morning.

With "Jackass 3D" on DVD this week, here's one of the DVD bonus clips just to remind you that, most likely, your day really isn't that bad. It's Jason "Wee Man" Acuna trying to jump a ravine on his very small bike, and knowing he's a very willing victim of these shenanigans, just enjoy it, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Check out "Alley Pat: The Music Is Recorded" tonight

I first had the pleasure of seeing director Tom Roche's documentary "Alley Pat: The Music Is Recorded" at last year's Atlanta Film Festival, and can now say without any exaggeration that it is one of my all-time favorite music documentaries.

And now, if you live in Macon, you can see it tonight at the Cox Capitol Theatre as part of the Rock 'n' Roll Picture Show series. The movie starts at 7:30 and costs only $5 (or $3 if you wear a rock t-shirt, or free if you happen to be a genuine DJ), but if you show up beginning at 6:30 p.m. and spring for only $8, you also get a great soul food dinner catered by Saralyn Collins Harvey of Good to GO. Beat that!

Anyways, I truly love this movie, so I'll be there, and so will Mr. Roche for a Q&A after the flick. And just who is Alley Pat? Here's what I had to say about the movie when I reviewed it at the Atlanta film fest:

Director Tom Roche's "Alley Pat: The Music is Recorded" is certainly the very definition of the way-overused phrase "labor of love," since the video editor worked on it for eight years.

What his long years of toil have produced is a portrait of longtime Atlanta DJ James "Alley Pat" Patrick that entertains as much as it enlightens about a life very well lived. Patrick, who worked at various radio stations around Atlanta beginning in 1951 or so, earned his nickname both by the alley blues that dominated his shows and for the alley talk that made his shows so infectious (I can only attest to that via the movie, since I had admittedly never heard of him until watching Roche's flick.)

Though Roche enjoyed the participation of many people who worked with Patrick through the years, he wisely lets the movie be dominated by choice cuts from Alley Pat's career on the air, which were unfailingly funny. He was a true pioneer in the arena of "shock jock" talk, but unlike the clowns who clog up the airwaves nowadays, he was never mean-spirited. The best cuts are indeed commercials he made for local businesses in which he would almost always slag the establishment he was supposed to be plugging, but in a way that was so funny the advertisers would still keep coming back.

Roche keeps things brisk and intersperses it with many of the great tunes that Alley Pat played through the years, heavy on John Lee Hooker and, of course, Ray Charles. It was only in the Q&A afterward that I learned the (and I can't remember the technical term for it) scale showing how often Alley Pat just blew out the volume way beyond reasonable levels was actually measuring what we were seeing and hearing on screen. Very clever touch.

So come to downtown Macon for an entertaining little slick of Georgia history and a great musical portrait of a fascinating man.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

TV news good and bad, and a Saturday clip show

There are indeed some fun trailers out there today, but before I get into any of that, there's also a bit of TV news both good and bad.

Being a glass half full kind of guy, at least on a Saturday morning the day after mi hermano and I just bought tickets to see the fabulous Baseball Project in concert twice next weekend in Atlanta and Athens, I'll start with the good.

As Charlie Sheen continues to implode in spectacularly entertaining form, CBS has wisely locked up "How I Met Your Mother" for two more years, meaning it will run for at least (wow) eight seasons. I can certainly dig that, because at this point, though I'm not really all that curious about who the "Mother" is, the primary cast of Josh Radnor, Alyson Hannigan, Jason Segel, Cobie Smulders and, of course, Neil Patrick Harris, are still very, very funny together. And besides, this season, with the death of Marshall's dad and other things, they've gone in interesting new directions.

And now for the bad ... well, actually insidious. It seems that these things come in waves, so now that NBC has decided it has the huevos to go ahead with a remake of "Prime Suspect" with Mario Bello somehow in Dame Helen Mirren's role (yes, she owns it) of detective Jane Tennison, David Fincher and Kevin Spacey are somehow teaming up to shat upon my second-favorite British TV product, the "House of Cards" trilogy of miniseries.

For anyone who's unfamiliar with that program, the late, great Ian Richardson played politician Francis Urquhart (and yes, they do get plenty of mileage out of the initials F.U.), whose diabolical rise in the Conservative party from chief whip to prime minister and back down again was just a treat to watch (and you can definitely find it on DVD.) What these shows had in common is that like Mirren's role in "Prime Suspect," Richardson's delightfully wicked performance in "House of Cards" was truly just one-of-a-kind. No network has apparently picked up this latest travesty yet, so here's hoping none does.

OK, as promised, on to the clips, and there really are some good ones. I shouldn't admit this, but here goes: I thought "Kung Fu Panda" was pretty easily the best animated movie of 2008, and therefore, yes, better than Pixar's "Wall-E." The latter was a better technological accomplishment, for sure, but "Kung Fu Panda" just a had a lot more humor and heart. And besides, the beauty of the movie world that Pixar hath wrought is that we now have far more interesting (and not-so-interesting) animated movies than we did, say, 10 years ago (and I'm definitely going to see one, "Rango," this afternoon.) So, enjoy this first trailer for "Kung Fu Panda 2," which of course contains a Chinese dragon poop joke, but still looks pretty great, and keep an eye out for the movie May 26.

And coming much before that will be James Gunn's "Super," and thankfully but not surprisingly, this first trailer looks just as crazy as the movie itself should be too. For anyone who doesn't know, Rainn Wilson plays a man who transforms himself into a super hero after his wife (Liv Tyler) is stolen away by her drug dealer (Kevin Bacon, naturally.) Among the many great things in this trailer is that Ellen Page, as his still-very-young-looking sidekick, should be genuinely psychotic, and I love the cheeky "from the lunatic who brought you 'Slither' " card. If, like me, you live outside one of America's major cities, keep a look out for this on IFC's on demand cable feed (I'm hoping, at least!) starting April 1.

Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants" was one of my favorite novels of the past few years or so, and nothing I've seen so far says the movie made from it by director Francis Lawrence won't be pretty great, too. The only beef I have with this latest trailer is that it really tells pretty much the entire story, but I'm still betting the movie starring Reese Witherspoon, one Robert Pattinson and Christoph Waltz (and though he makes no appearance in this trailer, the great Hal Holbrook in a key role, too ... bully!), will still have some surprises when it unfolds April 22. Enjoy the clip.

And if you'll excuse me now, I'm off to do some swimming and then see "Rango," and tomorrow "The Adjustment Bureau." There haven't been two theater movies worth seeing in one weekend since ... well, it seems like last year, so I'm rather psyched. Peace out.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

A Wednesday chock full of good movie news

Few movies have stuck longer in my mind and just gotten better and better with age recently than Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are." It's just one of those movies I watch once a year or so, and always find something new and magical in it each time.

So, it's certainly good news that the man is finally ready to get back to work again, and even better that he's working with "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation" co-conspirator Charlie Kaufman. The duo is apparently having some trouble locking down the exact financing for their next project, but given what it's about, here's certainly hoping it happens: Per Deadline, it will be "a satire about how world leaders gather to figure out all the seismic events that will take place in the worlds, from oil prices to wars that will be waged."

Wow. Imagine all that filtered through the warped mind of Kaufman. Whenever this happens, I'm in.

And although the Oscars were an entirely predictable and somewhat surprisingly, at least to me, rather boring affair this year, there was some very good news that broke out afterward. Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" was my favorite movie of 2010, and if the man's to be believed (and he usually is), it seems he's at least finished the script for his next movie. All that's known for sure so far is that it will be a "Western" (who knows what could really mean from QT?), but that's enough to get me intrigued, because the man has yet to steer me wrong so far.

Finally, to close out the news portion of this before we get to some videos, I'm certainly looking forward to Tomas Alfredson's follow-up to "Let the Right One In," and now that Universal has picked it up for a late fall this year release, I should even be able to see it in theaters in my little corner of the world.

What he's cooked up is a big-time take on John Le Carre's classic Cold War spy novel "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," which has already been made into a British miniseries starring Alec Guinness and the late, great Ian Richardson, among many others. Not to be outdone, for his big-screen version, Alfredson has recruited Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong and Ciaran Hinds. Oldman plays George Smiley, the spy called out of retirement to root out a Russian spy who has embedded himself in the ranks of Britain's MI6.

Great book, great cast and great director, on a flick to open everywhere? Perfection.

OK, on to the videos portion quickly, because I still want to go swimming before work today. I really think "Rango" is going to be a lot of fun, so I'll be at my local multiplex to see it Saturday afternoon. As reviewer Roger Moore (and probably others) rightly asked, however, just who is a movie with truly odd characters who smoke and (at least occasionally) swear exactly intended for? It's a valid question, and while I can't speak to whether or not it's appropriate for kids, the animated Western featuring the voices of Johnny Depp and the great Bill Nighy looks like it's just right for me. Enjoy this collection of clips/behind the scenes mini featurette.

Next, though the "Toy Story" characters may have retired from feature-length films with "Toy Story 3," it's no secret that they will be in the short that precedes "Cars 2" this summer,"Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation" (and I'm betting the short will be a damn sight better than the main attraction.) Enjoy this very short clip of Ken and Barbie arriving in what they think is the island of dreams, and then stick around for the one thing guaranteed to make this possibly dreary Wednesday much better, a free Buster Keaton movie!

I know that no matter how long I use it, I'll always be more than a bit of a Luddite when it comes to the Internet, and I'm constantly surprised by the array of what's available on YouTube. For example, what could be better than Buster Keaton's "The General," in its glorious entirety? I doubt anyone really has 105 minutes to spare during this workday, but even in pieces, this is an indisputable gem, and this looks great full screen. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The most criminally overlooked movie of 2010?

It happens (at least to me) every year. You see a movie coming with a great cast, from directors you know and trust, but then it either gets caught up in the end-of-the-year rush or doesn't have quite enough star power to reach my little corner of the world.

That's what happened with Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's "It's Kind of a Funny Story," which I had been looking forward to for much of 2010 but only managed to catch up with recently on DVD. Like the duo's other two movies, "Half Nelson" and the far superior "Sugar" (one of my favorite baseball movies), it's a flick full of humanity and also small, easygoing charm, and so the kind that can easily slip through the cracks.

As the movie begins, we meet 16-year-old Craig (Keir Gilchrist) on the day when the pressures of his teen life, overblown in his own mind, have driven him to the point where he thinks he's ready to commit suicide. Not exactly the funniest of subjects, right? But once he decides to check himself into a mental ward and, after telling the desk clerk he's considering suicide just gets handed a form to fill out, you can tell that Fleck and Boden, who wrote the script for this from the semiautobiographical tale by author Ned Vizzini, are going to gently walk a tightrope between unbearable solemnity and outright mockery for a middle ground that just worked for me.

When he tries to check in, Craig finds out he's being sent to the adult ward because the teen wing is under construction, and one of the first people he meets there is Bobby, a pleasantly low-key - for once - Zach Galifianakis. It isn't that he's turned off all the bluster that marks his brashest performances, but he instead channels all that mania and keeps it clearly simmering behind the wounded eyes of a man who, as he eventually tells Craig, has tried to commit suicide many times.

And though this is hardly a penetrating look at the true nature of mental illness, Boden and Fleck do stock the mental ward with charmingly damaged characters who give the movie plenty of humor but also lots of humanity along the way, from Craig's roommate Muqtada, who refuses to leave his room for most of the movie, to a hasidic jew who massively overdosed on acid. And of course, this being a teen movie, there has to be a love interest, fulfilled by Emma Roberts as Noelle who, like Craig, at that moment needs a reason to see the good sides of life.

But the real litmus test of how much you're going to enjoy "It's Kind of a Funny Story" is just how much you can stand Craig, an upper middle-class kid who, from the outset, clearly has many fewer real problems than he imagines. Again, however, Fleck and Boden handle this with a humorous and just dark enough touch, as when Craig first tries to explain his problems to Dr. Minerva, played by the always-welcome Viola Davis, and he lists his fear of terrorism and the sour economy as prominently as the parental pressure that's clearly driven him to this point.

The bottom line: This is indeed kind of a funny story, but a very human one too, and if you missed it the first time like me, it's well worth finding on DVD now.