Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Farina out of "Law & Order"

With NBC's "Law & Order" almost as indestructible as the crazy knight screaming about his "flesh wound" in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," it really doesn't seem to matter to viewers who's in the lead roles.

The just-announced departure of Dennis Farina, along with a move from Wednesday to Friday nights, will test that theory to the max.

Personally, I can only take Farina in small bits, so this isn't terribly bad news. In a move that's certainly at least easier on the eyes, NBC will replace him with Milena Govich, who has guest-starred on "L&O" before and also appeared on Dick Wolf's "Conviction."

It's unclear exactly what role she will play, but it will be on the "Order" side like Farina, and she will most likely be the new partner for Jesse L. Martin's Ed Green.

Martin is my favorite of the current "L&O" crop, and he has really taken over the role of Det. Green in his seven years or so on the show.

If I had to pick a dream lineup though, for me it came in 1994-95: The late, great Jerry Orbach and "Mr. Big" Chris Noth on the "Order" side, and Sam Waterston and Jill Hennessy fighting for the "Law."

"Homicide" was hands-down the best cop show of all time, but Jerry Orbach's Lenny Briscoe was easily the coolest cop on TV. He is sorely missed by many more people than me. Waterston is just fun to watch full of bluster in the courtroom, and though Angie Harmon certainly has her partisans, I just though Hennessy was his perfect counterpoint. And though Benjamin Bratt was OK, Noth and Orbach had a natural repartee that was much more believable. Anyone care to share their perfect combo? Feel free, please.

Farina's exit follows the already-announced departure of Annie Parisse, who had played Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Borgia on the "Law" side since January 2005.

More important than all this, however, may be the move to the Friday night graveyard. I mean, really, does anyone watch TV on Friday night? I watch way too much, and even I don't.

Is this the end for Dick Wolf's mothership? Don't bet on it, but it may be in sight sooner than we think.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Broken Lizard news; Chris Tucker in Bollywood?

Jay Chandrasekhar, in my mind one of the funniest men on the planet, is also one of the busiest.

Having just wrapped "Beerfest" with his Broken Lizard troupe, he and the guys have now re-signed with Warner Brothers for "Take My Wife," to be directed by Chandrasekhar with a script written by BL's Paul Soter.

The story centers on an average Joe who jokingly agrees to swap wives with a Hollywood superstar, setting off a disastrous chain of events. Sounds like the plot for a horrible Rob Schneider movie, but here's hoping otherwise.

All the Broken Lizard guys, Chandrasekhar, Soter, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme and Eric Stolhanske, are on board as producers and, hopefully, stars. Keep your fingers crossed, and raise a glass in honor of BL's next movie, "Beerfest," which is set to come out in August.

Chris Tucker in Bollywood?

I'll go ahead and admit that I know next to nothing about Bollywood movies. They are occasionally playing on the big-screen TV at my favorite Indian restaurant, and I have seen Gurinder Chada's "Bride & Prejudice," which got very old about halfway through.

Now comes this rather disturbing news.

The 2003 Bollywood comedy "Munnabhai M.B.B.S." will be remade as "Gangsta M.D.," (wtf!) a 20th Century Fox feature to be directed by Mira Nair.

The usually very reliable Nair said that Chris Tucker will play the lead in the film. "Bringing Down the House" screenwriter Jason Filardi wrote the script, which focuses on a low-level gangster who keeps his criminal life a secret from his mother by telling her he is a medical doctor. When his mom discovers his criminal lifestyle and threatens to disown him, he's forced to do the one thing that would make her proud: become a doctor.

Not sure where to start with this one. First of all, I haven't found Chris Tucker to be funny in many years. I tried to think of movies that I liked him in, and could only come up with two, in which he had small parts: "Jackie Brown" and "The Fifth Element." I just don't enjoy the sensation that I'm getting yelled at from the big screen. In fairly good Tucker-related news, however, it seems Brett Ratboy has returned where he belongs to direct Tucker and Jackie Chan in "Rush Hour 3," and will now hopefully not ruin any more great geek flicks!

My second thought was, since I can't stand to see Chris Tucker talk, how much worse will it be if he has to sing? I realize I'm fairly ignorant of Bollywood, but doesn't it usually involve a lot of singing and dancing? Please no, no, no.

A visit to the IMDB assuaged my fears somewhat. "Munnabhai" gets uhiversally positive user comments as a very funny movie, and as far as I can tell it doesn't appear to have any musical numbers in it. If you know otherwise, please let me know.

One more thing before I let this little oddity go: What the hell is up with that name? Why not just go ahead and use a certain other five-letter epithet very popular in hip-hop that also happens to end with the letter a? I'm sure it will change somewhere down the line, but for now it's almost as stupid as it is offensive.

But I still love you, Mira, and I hope this somehow all turns out, against very high odds, to be very funny.

Monday, May 29, 2006

"Superman," "Pan's Labyrinth" and Cannes

What better to take the bad taste of "X-Men: The Last Stand" out of your mouth than a fantastic trailer for "Superman Returns"?

Apparently, most of you got to see this before the crapfest that was "X3," but they didn't show it in my little corner of the world.

It seems a particularly vengeful pairing to me: "Before we show you the raping of a beloved comic book franchise, let us tease you with a glimpse of greatness from the man that abandoned the X-Men to make the third abomination a reality."

But enough of that, because this trailer is simply great. It gives us much more of an idea what Lex Luthor will be up to, and therefore what the stakes will be. Bryan Singer has proven that, unlike Brett Ratner, he values the mythology that goes with a superhero's story, so I don't see how he can miss with this one.

Anyways, if you too missed out on the trailer in the theater or just want to enjoy it again, click here.

"Pan's Labyrinth"

Though he didn't win any prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival (read on to see who did), Guillermo Del Toro seems to have gotten a warm reception for his horror-fantasy "Pan's Labyrinth."

It's been picked up for U.S. distribution and will be released sometime in September/October. The story, as far as I can tell, is about a teenage girl who, to escape the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, develops an elaborate fantasy world that eventually takes over her existence.

I love movies about the power of imagination, especially ones that explore the dark side. My favorite would have to be Peter Jackson's "Heavenly Creatures" (still my favorite of all Jackson's work), and the small bits I've seen of "Pan" seem cut from the same cloth.

To check out four short clips (in Spanish, with French subtitles, but there is very little dialogue anyway), click here and enjoy.

Cannes winners

I guess it should be of little surprise that although the folks at Cannes invited some of the world's great young directors to the table, the feast went to a trusted old hand.

Ken Loach won the "Palme d'Or" this year for "The Wind that Shakes the Barley," an epic tale about two Irish brothers who are torn apart by the Republican uprising in the 1920s. I like Loach on a more intimate scale and in a contemporary setting, like with "Riff Raff" and, more recently, "Sweet Sixteen." The only criticism I've heard of "Barley," though, is that it plays out like an old Hollywood war movie while taking on heavy Irish issues. Sounds great to me, and Cillian Murphy's in it, to boot.

In a split-decision blunder that usually befalls Oscar voters, the Cannes jury gave the award for best director not to Loach, but to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for "Babel." This is a sprawling tale taking place on four continents that takes on terrorism, paranoia and human relations on a scale that only Inarritu could attempt. It should be fascinating.

I won't bore you with the whole list, but it's worth mentioning that Pedro Almodovar's "Volver," due out in America next month, I believe, took two top prizes. Almodovar himself won the Prix du Scenario for best screenplay, and the lovely ladies of "Volver," including Penelope Cruz and Carmen Maura," collectively won the best actress nod for their work. Congrats to all!

To see the full list of winners, click here.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

X-Men: The Last Stand

Roger Moore of the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, for my money the best movie reviewer around, said in the lead of his X-Men review that it would offer the movie "faint praise." I wish I could give it more, but alas, he got it dead right.

The beauty of the X-Men franchise, to me, is the ambiguity of the lead combatants. Professor Charles Xavier is not purely good, and Magneto, though clearly a more prickly pear, was never purely evil.

And X-3, as I'll call it from here on out, sets up the perfect premise for their paths to further blur: A "cure" that will make all mutants "normal." If Brett Ratner had made a movie about how each man and their forces react to this threatening development, we would have a great wrap-up to the second-best superhero franchise (next to Spider-Man, of course.) And he almost pulled it off.

Perhaps his studio handlers got to him and whispered in his ear. Someone must have told him, "You surely can't make a Summer blockbuster about that. We need more. More mutants. More action. More, more, more!"

And that's where he gets into trouble. Concepts that would have made for their own great X-Men movie are introduced here as mere diversions, then swatted away as soon as they start to get interesting. The most egregious was the Phoenix. I don't want to turn into a comic-book geek here, partly because I'm not a very good one. But I have read many X-Men comics, and the Phoenix saga is one of the most compelling storylines in the X-Men canon; Here it is introduced and discarded in a matter of minutes.

That happens just way too many times in X-3 to make it terribly compelling. Rogue's struggle with whether to stay a mutant or take the cure? Five minutes of screen-time at best. And Angel? Why bother to give us the mutant whose father was so repulsed by him that he dedicated his life to eradicating the mutant gene from his son, and then tell us nothing else about him?

But I shouldn't get so worked up over what is, after all, a popcorn movie. And it's far from all bad here. Ratner, for all the abuse he takes, is developing a real talent for set pieces. The encounter at Jean Grey's house and the final showdown at Worthington lab were fun to watch, and clear of any of the shaky-camera hijinx that are so contagious nowadays.

And Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart just got better with each movie, especially Sir Ian. He makes Magneto such a force that you manage to forget just how silly that costume looks on such a distinguished actor. Kelsey Grammer as the Beast is also a welcome addition.

Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry, however, are just annoying. Watching Jackman's Wolverine become more and more cuddly as they set him up for his solo franchise sometime in the near future is simply sickening.

In the end, it adds up to how I'm beginning to think the rest of this summer will turn out: Not as bad as we feared, but not nearly as good as we deserve.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Gondry's "Rewind" news and "Marie Antoinette"

If it seems like I write about this a lot, forgive me: When a movie sounds almost too perfect to be real, I do tend to get obsessed with it.

Such is the case with Michel Gondry's upcoming "Be Kind, Rewind," which won't even begin shooting until September.

The story is a silly but promising one about a man played by Jack Black who becomes magnetized (trying to sabotage the local power plant, of course) and manages to erase all the videotapes at the store where his friend works. Rather than tell the store owner about it, they set out to remake all the movies for the store's loyal customers.

For some reason this intrigues me beyond all reason, but there was always something missing: What kind of crazy coot would own a store that still deals in videotapes? Well now we know: Danny Glover.

Glover has proven in "The Color Purple" and many other films that he can play stubborn with the best of them, and he should make a great counterpart to and foil for Black's hijinx. Throw in Kirsten Dunst and, of course, Michel Gondry, and you've got the makings for a fun little movie.

"Marie Antoinette"

Speaking of Kirsten Dunst (as I'm wont to do fairly often), it seems our froggy friends have given "Marie Antoinette" a rather chilly reception. Given the liberties that Sofia Coppola took with the story of this French icon, that was probably predictable, but I still think this one will be fun.

Why? Because it looks completely insane. Interspersed with the story of our young royal couple (Dunst and Jason Schwartzman as Louis XVI), are snippets of pop gems like Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" and apparently a scene of Dunst and her lady friends gushing over a box of shoes by Manolo Blahnik.

In other words, rather than make any type of traditional period piece, Coppola took the characterization by Antonia Fraser of Marie Antoinette as a naive girl swept up by the whirlwind of events around her and just imposed her vision on it.

Bully for her. The great disasters and delights in cinema have one necessary component in common: Ego. Without it, no one would take chances on something as crazy as this.

It doesn't come out in the U.S. until October, but for now our friends at have done their usual good job in compiling trailers and clips here. Enjoy, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Whither Whit, take two, plus Craig Brewer

Apparently the DVD release earlier this year of "Metropolitan" reminded someone other than me that Whit Stillman was once a very, very funny filmmaker.

After an eight-year hiatus, Stillman is making a return to movie directing with a big-screen adaptation of the Christopher Buckley novel "Little Green Men," easily my favorite of Buckley's D.C. satires.

The novel, an X-files-inspired spoof of conspiracy theories, introduces us to Majestic Twelve, a very, very covert government project. Since "that golden Cold War summer of 1947," MJ-12 has had a single mission - to convince taxpayers that space invaders are constantly lurking below what's left of the ozone layer, so we will be willing to pay for all kinds of crazy weapons systems. My description doesn't really do justice to all the crazy stuff Buckley cooks up here, but believe me, it's all very fun.

Though he had a steady decline through "Barcelona" and "The Last Days of Disco," Stillman's "Metropolitan" remains a singular accomplishment. It's probably the wittiest, dialogue-driven first feature I've seen, and it renders the odd world of New York's young upper class in the late '80s in sharp colors. Just watch it already.

Now that he's teaming up with Buckley, whose "Thank You for Smoking" was turned into the funniest movie of 2006 thus far, he should be back in a big way.

Craig Brewer's new gig

Of all the things Craig Brewer has accomplished, the best might be transforming John Singleton from a dreadful filmmaker into simply a moneyman for Brewer's projects.

With Singleton's backing, like he had for "Hustle and Flow," Brewer has just wrapped up work on one I'm really looking forward to, an oddity titled "Black Snake Moan."

In it, Christina Ricci plays a nymphomaniac who tries to get "cured" by a Delta bluesman played by Samuel L. Jackson. Just let that sentence settle in for a minute before continuing.

Brewer clearly loves to press people's buttons, and to insert himself into worlds where he doesn't naturally fit in. We'll have to wait and see about "Black Snake," but what made "Hustle & Flow" so great was that Brewer clearly had an intimate knowledge of the Memphis hip-hop scene, and made it drip from every frame (and an Oscar-worthy turn from Terrence Howard certainly didn't hurt.) If he's able to bring the blues to life in this one, it should be great.

After "Black Snake," Brewer will change his tune to country for "Maggie Lynn," a story he's writing and directing, again with John Singleton's cash.

"Maggie Lynn" follows a woman who gets her heart broken and achieves a sense of self-worth by returning home to Tennessee, where she teams with her older brother to play country music in honkytonks.

I love movies that comprehend the power of music, and Craig Brewer clearly does. Bring it on.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bob Dylan, Heath Ledger and Buffy?

I was hoping we had reached the end of musician biopics for a while, but apparently these things come in at least threes. Following "Ray" and "Walk the Line," were now getting the Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There."

As an avid fan of Dylan, my first gut reaction to this news was one of abject horror. Can Hollywood really make a good movie about such an enigma? I doubted it, but I didn't think it could be done with the Man in Black, and was proven mostly wrong.

Besides, this project has at least one very, very good thing going for it: Todd Haynes, who is writing and directing this. Haynes' "Velvet Goldmine," a fictional dive into the seedy realm of glam rock with a hero vaguely modeled on Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust," remains one of my all-time favorite movies. He re-created this one-of-a-kind moment in rock history with precision and flair, and I can't wait to see what he does with the crazy folk scene that created then spurned Dylan.

In casting news, Heath Ledger has replaced Colin Farrell (a step up?) as one of the seven actors who will play Dylan at various stages of his life. Well, this should be interesting to say the least. Ledger proved he can mumble with the best of them as Brokeback's Ennis Del Mar (though to me he bore a disturbing resemblance to Karl Childers throughout), so he should at least be able to convey that more than half the time we have no idea exactly what Dylan is talking about.

In even better casting news, Michelle Williams will play Coco Rivington, a model with whom an androgynous folk star - played by Cate Blanchett - is taken. Williams was simply robbed on Oscar night, and this pairing should be plain fun. Toss in Haynes regulars Julianne Moore and Christian Bale, and I'm sold. Shooting begins in July in Montreal, so stay tuned.

Buffy at Cannes

Will poor Buffy ever get to make a good movie?

Well, that's not quite fair ... "The Grudge" has merits as pure horror schlock, and "Cruel Intentions" certainly has more than a few cheesy virtues.

Well now Sarah Michelle Gellar has hooked up with director Richard Kelly ("Donnie Darko") for an oddity called "Southland Tales," which despite its chilly reception from the Cannes snobs still looks fairly promising.

Here's the plot summary, according to whoever wrote it for IMDB:

"Southland Tales is an ensemble piece set in the futuristic landscape of Los Angeles on July 4, 2008, as it stands on the brink of social, economic and environmental disaster. Boxer Santaros is an action star who's stricken with amnesia. His life intertwines with Krysta Now, an adult film star developing her own reality television project, and David Clark, a Hermosa Beach police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy."

This could go just about anywhere, but I have unconditional love for "Donnie Darko" (which I had to watch about five times to finally appreciate), so I'm holding out hope. Our Buffy will play the porn star (settle down, guys) and The Rock will stretch his dramatic chops by playing the boxer.

SMG is featured in a clip from "Southland Tales" available at the Cannes Web site here. As a snippet it doesn't seem to work at all, but things rarely do out of context.

And if I may speak directly to our heroine, who is, I'm sure, going to read this, PLEASE EAT AT LEAST ONE SOLID MEAL EVERY DAY! She looked painfully emaciated on the red carpet at Cannes. Maybe with hubby Freddie Prinze Jr. now mercifully unemployed they just don't have any money for food. I'd be glad to buy you dinner, Buff. Call me anytime.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Anticipating "Superman Returns," Tyler Perry news

Can we just declare a mulligan? Let's just pretend the blockbuster summer didn't kick off with duds but instead started with "Over the Hedge" (and for apparently everyone but me, "Da Vinci Code.") From there it can only get way better this weekend with "X-Men: The Last Stand."

But I think the flick that will really decide if this summer soars or falls will be "Superman Returns." If a director as good as Brian Singer ("Usual Suspects," "X1" and "X2") manages to screw this up, we're really in trouble.

Well, judging from the most extensive footage yet available in the international trailer, he hasn't. It all looks great. Brandon Routh (our hero) just seems to have a vacant look about him, and I'm still worried about Kate Bosworth (as much for her apparent bulimia as for her portrayal of Lois Lane). You can tell from this clip, though, that Kevin Spacey had a blast playing Lex Luthor, and has made him into what should be the most fun big-screen bad guy since Nicholson's Joker.

From what I've read, Singer used some kind of new-fangled contraption called a Genesis camera to film the whole thing. It all seems to have a shimmer to it, an otherworldly look that has me, at least, properly geeked up for this one.

But don't take my word for it. Watch the trailer and decide for yourself here.

Gabrielle in union with Perry

In big casting news for Tyler Perry's next adventure, Gabrielle Union has signed on to play the lead in his new flick, "Daddy's Little Girl."

It's apparently a reverse-Cinderella tale about a successful attorney (Union) who falls in love with a janitor who is a single father of three children, invoking the ire of her father. The story doesn't do anything for me, and from what I can gather Perry's Madea won't be making an appearance in this one. Shame that.

However, I thoroughly enjoyed both "Madea's Family Reunion" and "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," so I'm not gonna start hating before the evidence comes in. And Gabrielle Union is simply a stunningly beautiful woman, so here's hoping this all turns out great when it comes out next spring.

Wong Kar Wai in English

Speaking of beautiful people, director Wong Kar Wai knows quite a few of them, and has brought them all on board for his first English-language flick, "My Blueberry Nights." (Awful title, by the way.)

It is described as a romantic comedy starring Norah Jones (huh?) as a woman who travels across America looking for the true meaning of love. Sounds ominous, but in better news, she'll apparently encounter, along the way, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz and Jude Law. Not what the America I see daily looks like, but certainly some very pretty people.

I've only seen one of Wong Kar Wai's flicks, "2046," and I loved it. All filmed in a beautiful sepia sheen, it's about a man (Tony Leung) who wrestles with his memories and his past and present loves (including Maggie Cheung) in a struggle for closure. It's all very nonlinear and dreamlike, but a real feast for the senses.

It seems that with "Blueberry" he's going into "Amelie" territory, which should definitely be weird, could quite possibly be wonderful but almost certainly won't be boring.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

"Over the Hedge"

Call it the W. effect. Just as our president likes to lower all expectations before going into any electoral battle, I had lowered my own quite a bit for "Over the Hedge." So I was much more than pleasantly surprised when it turned out to the first movie I have really liked in this so-far forgettable summer.

What little story there is focuses on a band of foraging animals led by a turtle named Verne (voiced with verve by Garry Shandling.) As they awake from their hibernation to again begin looking for food, they're greeted by a raccoon con-man named RJ (Bruce Willis) who, for his own selfish reasons, convinces our friends to go "Over the Hedge" and look for food in the world of human beings who inhabit the subdvision that has sprung up as they slept.

A fairly predictable story ensues, but "Over the Hedge" has a number of things that make it appealing anyway. First, the voices, led by Shandling, but abetted well by Wanda Sykes as a feisty skunk and William Shatner as the inevitably overmatched exterminator, have genuine personality.

Second, the whole thing has a manic energy that is contagious. Without any of the strobe-light. shaky-camera techniques used to hijack your interest by horror movie directors, the Dreamworks animation team manages to keep it all moving along very quickly and with a lot of fun. And if the sight of an exterminator's truck being piloted by three baby porcupines flying into and through a cookie-cutter house doesn't bring a smile to your face, why do you watch animated movies?

Finally, like Disney's "Chicken Little," it all looks fantastic. Unlike with "Chicken Little," however, I didn't feel stupider when it ended. With only a few jokes blatantly skewed at adults, "Over the Hedge" manages to pack in genuine laughs everyone will get.

A certain New York Times reviewer who shall remain nameless because I've picked on her here before and, well, I try to be a nice person, complained that the "message" of this movie, admittedly a fairly lame one about family, could have been so much more. What she apparently wanted was a treatise on the impact of man on nature and how we will eventually destroy the planet. Well, if that's what you want, there's apparently a new documentary about Al Gore. For those of us who like entertaining movies, luckily, there's fun stuff like "Over the Hedge."

The one glaring fault in "Over the Hedge" was the songs, which I guess are required in any animated movie. There's a "Family Guy" joke where Randy Newman, seated at his piano, watches Lois pull down an apple from a tree and take a bite out of it, then pens a play-by-play commentary to music: "She takes the apple from the tree, wipes it on her shirt; now she takes a bite of the apple." Well, Ben Folds, who wrote the treacle that passes for songs in "Over the Hedge," makes Newman sound like John Lennon.

That, however, is just a quibble about this otherwise surprisingly satisfying movie.

As I was in line, there was a mother and her three kids, ranging in ages from about 5 to 10 or so. I listened in as, one after another, they practically begged, "Mommy, can we see "Mission: Impossible?" "Mommy, can we see "Benchwarmers?" and "Mommy, can we see "Over the Hedge?" (clearly, the youngest of the brood was also the smartest.) When she got to the front of the line, mom said, "One adult and three children for "The Da Vinci Code." Poor kids.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

"Da Vinci" reax?

Dear readers,

Please allow me to take the day off. I am going to Atlanta to see my parents, and probably see a movie (most like Mehta's "Water," but I'll let you know). As I said before, what I won't be going to see is "The Da Vinci Code."

I am curious, however, to see what people who actually like going to the movies thought of it instead of just hearing from the critics who pretty much universally panned it.

So feel free to leave your comments about "Da Vinci" and let me know what you thought. Peace out.

Friday, May 19, 2006

"Ghetto night" and Naomi Watts news

There have to be more important things to get mad about than TV, but that's what's caught my ire right now, so bear with me.

The lineup for the new CW, which is rising from the ashes of the former WB and UPN, features a horrendous mistake.

In a move that can only be called punishment for "Everybody Hates Chris," the CW has moved it to 7 p.m. Sunday, guaranteeing it will be missed by football fans every week of the fall, until they lose interest completely and just move on.

Worse, it leads off what the CW is calling an "urban" block of comedies, but looks depressingly to me like "ghetto night," a sad holdover from the days of UPN.

Following "Chris" will be "All of Us," "Girlfriends" and its spinoff "The Game," which will surely revel in the high-class booty jokes of its predecessor.

"Everybody Hates Chris" is great because it triumphs over rather than traffics in the stereotypes that are fodder for these other dismal shows. Critics called it a black "Wonder Years," which almost gets the point; it is the sincerely funny coming-of-age story of Chris Rock, who adds his touch with razor-sharp bits of narration.

Why would you put a comedy that appeals to all ages and races in a block with shows that just promote the same tired jokes that drove UPN to its death in the first place? It's short-sighted at best, and will probably doom Rock to a spot atop the trash heap with Bernie Mac. Here's hoping he can survive this horrible move for a run at least as long as the Mac's on Fox.

In better news, Tuesdays look like they will belong to the CW, with a solid back-to-back block of "Gilmore Girls" at its regular 8 p.m. slot, followed by "Veronica Mars." The best of the WB followed by the best of UPN. Now that's what a merger should look like.

Naomi Watts and David Cronenberg

Incredibly beautiful women just seem to have a thing for virtuoso director David Cronenberg. After he landed Maria Bello to headline 2005's "History of Violence," now comes word that Naomi Watts will star in the director's next thriller, "Eastern Promises," also again starring Viggo Mortensen.

And why not? Cronenberg drove Bello to a remarkable performance in "Violence," for which she should have received an Oscar. Watts should fare as well or better here.

In the film, a 14-year-old girl dies on Christmas giving birth in a London hospital. The hospital's midwife (Watts) sets out to find the girl's family for the orphaned child. Her search takes her to London's shady Russian crime community and to a Russian crime boss (Mortensen) who is not what he seems.

This all has a juicy Le Carre kind of feel to it, and Cronenberg should have a lot fun. Add to this the name of screenwriter Steven Knight, who showed he's familiar with the darkest aspects of life with "Dirty Pretty Things," and you've got one of the most exciting projects in the works now. Shooting is set to start in November in London.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Fast Food Nation trailer

When I first heard about this one, I was very skeptical. A fictional take on the effects of fast food on America? Just sounds fishy.

I should have had more faith. This is, after all, the great Richard Linklater, with at least two flawless films to his credit, in my opinion: "Dazed and Confused" and "School of Rock." Heck, I even thought his misguided "Bad News Bears" remake was actually quite funny, especially the wheelchair-bound kid in the Wheaties t-shirt.

His latest, "Fast Food Nation," is in competition at Cannes, and according to first-night reaction, it will at least fare better than "The Da Vinci Code." The promising trailer sets it up like "Traffic," going at the situation from all angles: health, business, employment, all the ways our addiction to fast food is detrimental. And it seems to do it with a real visual flair.

But don't take my word for it. Check out the trailer here and decide for yourself.

Del Toro, Cuaron and Dahl

This juicy tidbit comes directly from Ain't It Cool, and well, yes it is. Guillermo del Toro is adapting Roald Dahl's book, "The Witches," for Warner Bros. with an eye to direct. He's teaming up with Alfonso Cuaron, who will produce the flick.

Del Toro, who is also in competition at Cannes with "Pan's Labyrinth," a fantasy set during the Spanish Civil War, is a great match for Dahl. They both have a perfectly warped view of the world.

From what I remember of Dahl's tale, a young boy who has been orphaned is taken to a hotel in England by his grandmother, where they stumble upon a convention of very wicked witches. Even after they turn our hero into a mouse, he must fight to foil their fiendish plot to rid the world of children. Great stuff in the works here for sure.

"Be Kind, Rewind" and Kirsten Dunst

I've mentioned this upcoming Michel Gondry flick before, but the news about it just keeps getting better and better. We knew already that Jack Black was on board, but now it seems he will be joined by la bella Kirsten Dunst (who is also at Cannes this year, in Sofia Coppola's intriguing "Marie Antionette." Sense a theme here?)

If you're unfamiliar with this project, which is developing very, very quickly, allow me to fill you in ... Jack Black plays a guy whose brain becomes magnetized (apparently after he tries to sabotage a power plant!), which leads to all the video tapes at his friend's store being erased. After that, our duo set out to remake all the movies for their demanding customers.

It all sounds sublimely silly, and I'm sure Gondry will manage to make it all about the magic of making movies. And of course, we now have Kirsten Dunst. If you've managed to erase from your brain that vision of her jumping up and down on the bed in Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," you're a stronger person than me. Their reunion can only be a good thing

Rival Marvin Gaye biopics

The first thing I can say about all this is it's about damn time! Next to Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye was the strongest member of the Motown stable, and an artist who mixed pop and politics better than anyone.

D. Stevens (who?) has come aboard to direct "Marvin - The Life Story of Marvin Gaye." Stevens is making his directorial debut with something called "The Pet," which is being screened out of competition at Cannes. The Marvin Gaye biopic plans to incorporate 24 of the soul singer's songs into a script written by Robert Scharrer. Roberta Flack will serve as music supervisor.

Perhaps even more intriguing, to me at least, is a competing project about Gaye's final years, also in preproduction. Jesse L. Martin is set to portray Gaye in "Sexual Healing," an indie drama written and to be directed by Lauren Goodman. If you're unfamiliar with Martin, he was the best thing about Christopher Columbus' mostly forgettable film of "Rent," and has starred on "Law & Order" for years now. He's a first-rate actor, and certainly has the look just right.

I'm sure I will see both of these, and hopefully at least one will do this great American hero justice.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Napoleon Dynamite special edition

"Vote for me and all your dreams will come true."
- Pedro

To me, "Napoleon Dynamite" is more than a movie; it's a litmus test for your sense of humor. If you didn't laugh out loud at this you should consult a doctor immediately.

I can still remember that I had to drive 20 miles down to Warner Robins to see this at what is now only a $1, second-run theater, and I had little idea what I was getting into. As those funky credits came to an end, there was a pack of kids in front of me who had clearly seen the movie at least twice already, and were quoting the best lines as they came up. I would have been mad if I weren't laughing so hard.

Now comes the rather accurately titled "Like, the Best Special Edition Ever!" on DVD. So-called "special editions" can be a real sham, but this one appears to pack in enough extras to earn its name. According to the IMDB:

Disc 1 will feature two new commentary tracks, one by director/co-writer Jared Hess, actor Jon Heder and producer Jeremy Coon, and a second by actors Aaron Ruell, Efren Ramirez, Jon Gries and Tina Majorino. Disc 2 will feature five deleted/extended scenes with commentary by Hess, Heder and Coon; new outtakes and additional deleted/extended scenes; audition clips; "World Premiere Jared Hess" featurette; "On Location: Napoleon Dynamite" featurette; original short film "Peluca" with commentary by Hess, Heder and Coon; "The Making of the Wedding of the Century" featurette; MTV promo spots; Napoleon and Pedro sightings: clips from TV appearances and a still gallery.

Whew! It sounds like they put as much care into this as Kevin Smith does with his DVD releases, and given the devoted fans of "Napoleon" they should be richly rewarded.

I think what made "Napoleon" so perfect to me was it's complete repositioning of what it means to be a "geek." The great "Freaks and Geeks" hinted at the idea that "geeks" aren't always the smartest kids around, just the oddest. And "Napoleon" took this to the extreme, so fiercely proud as he was in the fact that he would never fit in with the world around him.

And of course it's funny from start to finish. It remains such a quotable movie that no matter how many times I ask my cubicle mate Rodney Manley to do something and he responds, "I'll do it when I want to. Gosh!", it will never get old.

Looking at Heder's career since, it seems he knows this was his bright, shining moment, and he is trying desperately to re-create it no matter what role he plays. But in this case, "Dynamite" only struck once. Enjoy it all over again in this great new release.

Monday, May 15, 2006

"Snakes on a Plane" news

If you ever wake up on a Monday morning and think nothing is happening, a visit to the fine folks at can dispel that notion immediately.

This morning comes this promising nugget about "Snakes on a Plane" director David R. Ellis. His next project will be called "Asylum," and will be about a group of college freshmen who learn that their dorm was once a notorious asylum.

If you read that and didn't laugh, just move on. It works for me because I knew the second I walked into my dorm at Catholic University that it indeed still was an asylum, though perhaps not notorious.

My freshman year roommate was a young man from New Jersey named Paul who had an odd but enduring love for all things Southern rock, an art form I detested at the time but have since grown to appreciate. Whenever I would do anything to piss him off, he would put on the Allman Brothers' "Mountain Jam" and play it in its entirety. For the uninitiated, this little ditty goes on for about 30 minutes. Pure torture from start to finish.

So whether our dorm was an asylum or not, it certainly drove me crazy until we reached a sort of detente and became friends. Last I heard, Paul was a high school teacher and football coach, so bully for him.

As for the movie, it just sounds like pure popcorn bliss. Is it healthy to get so excited about a director before seeing the finished products? Of course not, but it sure is fun.

Beerfest pics

Again from are these great pics from Broken Lizard's upcoming "Beerfest." They're from Warner Brothers and are too large to be posted on this blog, so go see them here.

What I love about the photos are the evident spirit (especially the track suits!). also offers a little more about the plot:

"When American brothers Todd and Jan Wolfhouse travel to Germany to spread their grandfather's ashes at Oktoberfest, they stumble upon a super-secret, centuries old, underground beer games competition – "Beerfest," the secret Olympics of beer drinking. The brothers receive a less than warm welcome from their German cousins, the Von Wolfhausens, who humiliate Todd and Jan, slander their relatives and finally cast them out of the event. Vowing to return in a year to defend their country and their family's honor, the Wolfhouse boys assemble a ragtag dream team of beer drinkers and gamers: Barry Badrinath, the consummate skills player with a dark past; Phil Krundle (aka Landfill), a one-man chugging machine; and Charlie "Fink" Finklestein, the lab tech with a PhD in All Things Beer. This Magnificent Five train relentlessly, using their hearts, minds and livers to drink faster, smarter and harder than they ever have before. But first they must battle their own demons... as well as a bunch of big, blond, German jerks who want to destroy the team before they can even make it back to Munich."

I love beer movies, when they're done right. And though I've said it here before, it's worth repeating that I've seen Broken Lizard's "Super Troopers" multiple times and always find something new to laugh at. This had better be good.

With this, "Snakes" and Kevin Smith's "Clerks 2" all coming in August, it looks like we will laugh a lot at the end of summer.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Art School Confidential

I've gotten plenty of odd stares from people in my life after saying this: "I think Ghost World is a perfect movie." Not the perfect movie, just a perfect movie.

So you'd be right if you thought my expectations were high for the reteaming of comic book artist Daniel Clowes and director Terry Zwigoff for "Art School Confidential." Well, it was a big disappointment, but I'll eventually get over it.

What plot there is centers on young Max Minghella and his adventures, of course, at art school. As they set up early, it's a world of backbiting and misplaced bile, the perfect scenario for satire. But after setting the stage, they dropped the ball completely.

What we are in desperate need of to get the story going here is a hero. Enid from "Ghost World" was perfect because, even though she was one mixed-up chick, she was confident and cool anyway (please, please come back Thora Birch!) Max Minghella's Jerome, on the other hand, is miserable from start to finish, just as we are watching him. As if we needed it, one of Jerome's classmates offers us a guide to the art-world stereotypes in "Confidential." When he gets to Minghella's Jerome, he says: "I've got it: You're the class douche." Exactly, and exactly the problem.

And the art school kids? There was some real potential for humor here, but Clowes and Zwigoff are just too mean for their own good. As they attempt to poke fun at these kids, they seem to be doing it as one of the students themselves would, with a petty paint brush that has no room for even an ounce of empathy.

If you're gonna be mean, you've gotta be funny, in my opinion. As I got bored, I thought back to John Waters' "Pecker," a much-funnier skewering of the art world. And I thought of what Telegraph entertainment writer Maggie Large said about "Ghost World."

She, like I, loved the movie, but after reading the comic book was a little put off because, according to her, Zwigoff basically built up Steve Buscemi's character as a way of putting himself into the movie. Well, I sure wish he would have done that here. Just one character even close to as sympathetic as Buscemi's Seymour would have made this bitter pill a lot sweeter.

To be fair, it's not all bad. There are several very funny scenes from very funny people. John Malkovich is great as an art instructor whose fame is fleeting, and Jim Broadbent is even better as a former student who has long ago gone over the edge. And keep your eyes on Sophia Myles, who played Isolde in the recent adaptation and is supposedly Jerome's love interest in "Art School." It's not her fault that no sparks fly between them, and I think she will do great things in the future.

And Terry Zwigoff will again do great things, probably very soon. Look at the track record: "Bad Santa," "Ghost World" and "Crumb" are among my favorite films. Everyone makes mistakes, and Zwigoff has made his here. Let's all now move on to happier thoughts.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


As I was watching Wolfgang Petersen's "Poseidon" slowly sink on screen, I had the nagging feeling he was taking the whole summer with him. This movie is just that bad.

The five minutes he spends on "back story" are the definition of a double-edged sword: They're so excruciatingly awful you're thankful to see the giant wave rolling towards these "characters." But it isn't until they're running through the umpteenth ship tunnel to escape yet another moment of peril that you realize you have no idea who these people are, and therefore don't particularly care if any one of them lives or dies.

It's simply amazing how much bad dialogue they packed into such a short period of time, but here's my favorite snippet: In a conversation with her father, played by Kurt Russell, Emmy Rossum refers to a certain part of her body as "the twins." Not exactly the best example of big-screen father-daughter bonding.

With an ounce of character development, though, we would have cared for these people, because, after all, they're all fairly attractive individuals. Josh Lucas and Russell lead the band of passengers who break out of the entrapped ballroom, and Rossum is the definition of waifish beauty. Richard Dreyfuss is also on hand as a gay architect (I guess it was the earring that was supposed to give him away.)

I could have forgiven all this if there was an ounce of excitement in their quest for survival. If this were remotely like an adventure. Instead it felt all too real, eliminating any possible notion of escapism.

Maybe it's the CSI effect. They spent much more time examining maps or hatches, or arguing about whether the fireman or ex-Navy dude were better qualified to lead, than on actually building up any intensity or suspense. I expected an adrenaline rush, but this wasn't even a pulse-quickener for an instant.

And one last thing that really pissed me off. I realize that, this being a Hollywood horror/disaster movie, the black guy will have to be among the first to die, but when that black man is the great Andre Braugher, who played the ship's captain, can't you give him more then three lines of dialogue? What a waste. At least he took that annoying Fergie, who played a cruise-ship singer (glimpse your future, hon?), with him.

But remember, it's still early. There will surely be much, much better films this summer. Starting tomorrow, I hope, with "Art School Confidential." Stay tuned.

Friday, May 12, 2006

No "Da Vinci Code"

I've never been in the business of telling people not to see movies. Heck, even the folks at Focus on the Family and other groups have figured out that seeing movies that offend them and explaining why is more effective than trying to organize any kind of boycott.

And that's not at all what I'm trying to do here. I just wanted to say why, after thinking a lot about it, I have reversed course and finally made up my mind to not see "The Da Vinci Code."

Being one of maybe 10 literate people who haven't read the book, here's the premise as I understand it. A Harvard professor of something or other, while investigating a murder at the Louvre, discovers clues in Da Vinci's work that lead to the covered-up "truth" that Mary Magdalene was actually Jesus' wife who, after his crucifixion, gave birth to a daughter, Sarah, who went on to somehow become French royalty.

Juicy stuff, eh? And I love a good conspiracy. But I won't be biting at this one.

Why? Would I ask a Jewish person to sit through a well-made movie that posits the Holocaust was a hoax fabricated to give the United States a valid reason for taking out Hitler in World War II? Or a black person to enjoy a glossy Hollywood blockbuster about how top-secret documents show slavery was also a fabrication to give Lincoln cover in standing up to the Southern states?

Of course not. And as a fairly lapsed but still clinging Catholic, that's exactly how I view "Da Vinci Code": as a very elaborate assault on everything I believe.

I pay for a lot of swill from Hollywood, and I enjoy well more than half of the blockbusters I see. But I don't need to pay to be lied to by Tom Hanks and Ron Howard.

I'll give Audrey Tautou a pass on this one, because she's just simply so adorable and because I love "Amelie" and "A Very Long Engagement" so much.

And I won't be like that guy who drags his poor 8-year-old-or-so son to picket outside the Barnes and Noble in Macon every time a "Harry Potter" book comes out (besides, I love "Harry Potter"!). I encourage anyone who wants to see this to do so and, indeed, let me know what you thought. You just won't be seeing me there.

What I will be seeing this weekend is "Art School Confidential" on Saturday and "Poseidon" on Sunday. Feel free to check back for reviews of each late afternoon on each day.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Snakes on a Plane goodness

The story of "Snakes on a Plane" is one of the funniest things I've encountered, and may just show how Hollywood can save itself.

Rather than put a muzzle on the idiot nation (of which I am a proud member) that latches on to any idea it finds fascinating, the producers of this b-movie bon-bon have instead consistently fed the beast. And it has grown beyond any reasonable expectations, even though the film doesn't come out until August.

And why not? It's Samuel L. Jackson, who finally delivered a performance that wasn't phoned in for the otherwise disappointing "Freedomland" already this year, and who we all know is a certified bad MF. And, as the brilliant name for this flick promises, it's snakes. On a plane. I'm already there.

Now, courtesy of, rapidly becoming my favorite geek-out site, comes a clip of Samuel on the "Ellen" show for those of us who, well, work during the day. Why Ellen? Who knows, but in it Samuel is clearly having fun promoting the flick (love the "Big Blue Sea" joke), and you can tell from the short clip he brought along, he will be an absolute badass in it. Watch the fun here.

Mike White news

Along with Judd Apatow, the short-lived but much-loved (at least by me) dramedy "Freaks and Geeks" employed the very funny Mike White.

Since writing for that show, he has penned the nearly flawless "School of Rock" for Jack Black and Richard Linklater, and the still-to-be-judged "Nacho Libre" for Black and Jared Hess.

Now comes word that he is finally getting in the director's chair himself, for something called "Year of the Dog."

It apparently will star Molly Shannon (one of the few SNL vets who can actually act) as a woman who is dealing with the sudden death of her dog. Doesn't sound particularly funny, but we'll see.

Making for a stellar supporting cast, so far, will be Peter Sarsgaard, Regina King, John C. Reilly and Laura Dern. All goodness here.

Though I wish nothing but the best for White, Apatow and friends, a small part of me wants them to flop at the movies, only so they can save us from the dreck that is prime-time TV with another "Freaks and Geeks" or "Undeclared." One can dream, after all.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Gilmore Girls finale

"When a woman gives birth to a crack baby, you don't give her a puppy."
Emily Gilmore

Last night's sendoff for season six showcased exactly what's best and worst about what is still easily the best show on television.

What was good? The dialogue, as usual, was razor sharp, particularly when Lorelai briefly broke out of her funk to bust up Emily's latest attempt to meddle, this time by trying to fix up Christopher with that hot young psych. And Lauren Graham in general, throughout the finale story arc. How she has escaped the eyes of Emmy voters over the past years is a crime of the highest order.

I thought the bands descending on Stars Hollow angle was funny, but would have been better with fewer bands (maybe just Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo, and of course Sparks) so we could have heard them speak. Still, seeing Kim Gordon bounce around while espousing the joys of oral sex in the town square was just a pure pleasure.

I also would have liked to see more of what Logan called the greatest party he's ever been to. How can you dress up a hottie like Queen Elizabeth and give her nothing to say? A glimpse of domestic life with Zach and Lane, obsessed as they are with cleaning products, also would have been welcome, but I suspect we will see a whole lot of that in season seven.

If you're a fan who somehow hasn't seen the finale, stop reading now, because I have to address the ending.

The entire story of Luke and Lorelai's engagement has seemed forced, with young Anna Nardini, at least to me, feeling like a last-minute add-on to stall the wedding bells. After watching both of them whine all season, it was jarring, but welcome, to see Lorelai finally take action (and that line about Maryland was great!). Having her in the arms of Christopher to springboard into a new season was the perfect ending, even though the journey there this year has often been rocky.

The only problem with such a great cliffhanger is the departure of show creators the Palladinos leaves the future murky at best. All the actors are signed for one more season on the CW, which will probably be the last.

I've been an evangelist for this show from the beginning, telling anyone who still listens to me to watch it, and sharing my DVDs liberally. I'll be there for at least one more year, so here's hoping it will be a fun one.

Rocky trailer

A whole blog devoted to Rocky Balboa? Why not, especially when it brings us something this good.

Not sure what number Rocky this will be, but Sly comes out of retirement into the ring one more time at the end of the year for "Rocky Balboa." And judging from the trailer you can see here, it should be shockingly good, a real old-school Rocky-style joint.

I love the blue cast throughout and the Philly soul sound. And Gilmore fans take note: According to the IMDB, Milo Ventamiglia (sp?) is cast as Rocky's son. Milo as Rocky, the next generation. Now that could be great.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Knight Rider, Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Well, I'm sure at least David Hasselhoff should be available.

In further proof that there really are just no ideas left, the talking car K.I.T.T. is heading to the big screen in the Weinstein Co.'s adaptation of the 1980s TV series "Knight Rider."

The problems with this are so many, but let's just start with the technology. Although I've never felt the need to have my car talk to me, hasn't ONSTAR been around for about 10 years or so by now?

There's only two ways you could make this interesting. Either have the car turn into a really lascivious version of Hal mixed with Christine, voiced by Eddie Murphy. It could refuse to take orders, just driving wherever it wants to until it eventually turns on Michael, torturing him to a slow, painful death.

Or maybe K.I.T.T. could be like Dr. Katz, counseling Michael on life's problems as they face them together. On second thought, both those ideas suck almost as much as the "Knight Rider" movie itself will.

Is there no way to stop this? Also in the works is CHiPs with master thespian Wilmer Valderrama filling the huge shoes of Erik Estrada as Officer Francis Llewellyn 'Ponch' Poncherello.

Since Hollywood trends run for at least five years or so, why not give us what we (or at least I) really want: Good Times, the movie. Remember: "Van Gogh and Rembrandt, don't be uptight, cause here comes KID DYNOMITE." Timeless.

Cheadle and Ejiofor ready to talk

In much, much better news, Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor will star in Kasi Lemmons' "Talk to Me."

The film, which begins shooting next month, centers on the real-life story of Ralph Waldo "Petey" Green (Cheadle), an ex-con who courted controversy at a white-owned radio station and became an iconic Washington-area on-air personality in the 1960s. Ejiofor will play Dewey Hughes, producer of Green's show.

Add up a strong story, two great actors and a still-striving director and we should have a fantastic flick. The story of our nation's capitol, where the citizens still often have fewer basic rights than the rest of us, is a fascinating one, even in a microcosm like this.

After a long acting career, Lemmons has made two very interesting movies, "The Caveman's Valentine" and "Eve's Bayou," that both starred Samuel L. Jackson and dwelled in the realm of magical realism. It will be fun to see what she can do with this story much more grounded in reality.

And Cheadle and Ejiofor make up two-thirds of the most promising trio of young black actors we've ever seen, in my mind (the third being Mos Def, who just gets better with every movie.) Good times, indeed.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Daniel Pearl, "Hot Fuzz" diaries

The story of Daniel Pearl, as sad as it is, could give embattled journalists just what we need right now: A true cinematic hero.

Tod Williams will direct an untitled thrilled inspired by the Bernard-Henri Levy book "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" The French author, not one to shy away from a good conspiracy theory, journeyed to Pakistan to investigate the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Pearl, and came away convinced Pearl had dangerous information about complicity between the Pakistani secret service and Al Qaeda.

There are, however, some danger signs. For the movie, the story will be told by New York Times magazine foreign correspondent Peter Landesman and, due to a competing project based on a book by Pearl's widow, Marianne Pearl, will be fictionalized. And, I guess because we Americans need our leading men to be, well, American, Levy has been changed into an American TV newsman who sheds his media celebrity trappings to find answers in a terrorist hotbed.

And this TV newsman will be played by Josh Lucas. Though he has one very big black mark in my book after starring in the simply horrendous dumbing down of "Glory Road," he's still a young man, and life is all about second chances, so in the spirit of good Monday karma, I wish him well. The production will begin this fall, with scouting under way in Morocco, Dubai, India, Libya and Tunisia.

On the up side, Williams did a fantastic job with the 2004 John Irving adaptation "Door in the Floor" (according to the IMDB, he is also working on an even more exciting project, an adaptation of Norman Maclean's "Young Men and Fire.") He should fare well here.

The stakes are just far too high to fail here. With journalists getting threatened with arrest by their own government for simply telling the truth, we're sorely in need of more agitprop that celebrates rather than demonizes their work.

"Hot Fuzz" diaries

And now for some footage that can only brighten up your Monday morning (well, at least it really did mine.)

Courtesy of Ain't It Cool News, I discovered this morning that the makers of "Hot Fuzz," who previously brought us the perfect zombie comedy "Shaun of the Dead," have been making "video blogs" about their new production.

And the premise for this one sounds even better than "Shaun." The very sunny Simon Pegg will play a London cop reassigned to the sleepy West Country village of Sandford. After a series of grisly accidents breaks up the calm, Pegg and his new partner investigate what might lay beneath the surface. While this might sound like the premise for a bad American horror movie, in the capable hands of Pegg and writer-director Edgar Wright it should instead be comic gold.

Getting in on all the fun will be a cast that includes Jim Broadbent, "Shaun" vet Nick Frost and Timothy Dalton. But enough of my rambling. Check out the seven video production diaries here and see what you think.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Mission: Impossible III

With this being the first movie I've seen in a theater since "United 93," I felt awkward for about the first 10 minutes of this one. I needed a little while to remember that it's OK to just have fun at the movies.

It didn't help that the weakest link in this mostly fun bowl of popcorn from TV hotshot JJ Abrams is the first third.

In the setup of reuniting with MIF agent Ethan Hunt (TomKat, of course), we find out he is about to be married to beautiful Michelle Monaghan (more on that later.)

As he is called away from the party to rescue an agent he trained (Keri Russell) who has been kidnapped by a blackmarket dealer in all things nasty (a seriously slumming Philip Seymour Hoffman), I had a very unpleasant flashback to the virtually unwatchable "MI2." Just as John Woo smothered that one in his bullets that defy all logic, not to mention gravity, Abrams filmed the first action sequence with the shaky-camera, quick-cut, strobe-like technique that just gives me a headache.

After that, however, things only get better. It quickly becomes a battle of wills between Cruise and Hoffman (whose character has, of course, kidnapped Cruise's fiance Monaghan and is trying to buy a doomsday device and sell it to shady characters.) From here the action is refreshingly low-tech, including a scene supposedly on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge that will have you thinking fondly of "True Lies."

Abrams keeps the foot firmly on the pedal from there, and the rest is all fun. Though TomKat seems to have little need for an entourage, he has one here of course in his MIF squad. He and Ving Rhames have by now developed a believable and often witty repartee, but the other team members, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Maggie Q, are just there to take up space. Billy Crudup and Laurence Fishburne are Cruise's rival handlers at agency headquarters, and they both factor in the predictably outlandish twists that take you to the end.

Despite all the gadgets on hand here, it all has an old-fashioned spy-vs.-spy feel, the kind we used to get from the best Bond movies. Unlike the haters already lining up against him well before the release of "Casino Royale," I predict new Bond Daniel Craig will have similar success later this summer.

Now, a final note about the dangers of thinking too much about silly movies. New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis, in a review that told us much more about what she thinks of Tom Cruise than what she thinks of "M:I:III," she said having Cruise be a joyful newlywed-to-be who is forced to rescue his damsel in distress is all an elaborate ruse to make us think more positlvely about the couch-jumping antics of his personal life.

Surely Tom Cruise didn't invent the damsel in distress, but on a larger level, will the man ever again be able to make a brainlessly entertaining flick without being put on the psychiatrist's couch?

Making me feel sorry for Tom Cruise is no easy accomplishment, but Dargis has pulled it off. Now there's a real Mission Impossible.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The real "Star Wars"

Maybe even George Lucas started to feel guilty about all his butchering of these great movies. More likely, he saw another opportunity to make a ton of money at the expense of all us fanboys and girls.

Either way, this is huge DVD news for fans. In a move that is overdue by at least 10 years, on Sept. 12 Lucasfilm will finally release the movies in the original "Star Wars" trilogy as individual two-disc DVDs.

The news here, of course, is that these will be "Star Wars," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" as they appeared, respectively, in 1977, 1980 and 1983, not as they did after Lucas became drunk with power and changed them all in 2004. Yes, among many other great things, you will get to see Han Solo shoot first.

Like everyone, I remember these movies with more fondness than they probably merit. They're all great, but "Empire" and Yoda were the things that set me solidly down the path of geekhood, with no chance of turning back. I can still remember that we were in California the summer when "Empire" came out, and being 10 years old, I had until then never seen a line stretched around a city block just to get into a movie theater. I was fascinated then, and still am today.

Snap these up while you can: In a move I suppose is intended to drive sales, these DVDs will only be available for a limited time: from September 12th to December 31st.

NBC OKs 'Studio' for Sorkin

In a move that should come as a surprise to no one but holds great promise for fall TV, Aaron Sorkin is heading back to NBC next season.

Ten days before "The West Wing" is set to end its seven-year run, the network has given the green light to his latest drama series, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," for the 2006-07 season.

This one sounds like its tailored perfectly to Sorkin's two big strengths: An intimate knowledge of how TV shows operate and the ability to write for ensemble dramas. It will be a behind-the-scenes look at a late-night sketch comedy show like "Saturday Night Live" (though hopefully with much funnier sketches.) Anyone who watched Sorkin's "Sports Night," and there must be few of you out there, knows this holds great potential.

The large cast thus far will include Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, Bradley Whitford from "West Wing," Sarah Paulson, the always funny D.L. Hughley, Nathan Corddry, Timothy Busfield, Steven Weber, Evan Handler and Carlos Jacott.

Who knows, maybe there is still hope for those of us who, like Emily Gilmore, "just don't find forensic work all that fascinating."

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Where the Wild Things Are

Since I started reading the Hollywood trades online every morning a few months ago, I've come across several things that have made me smile. Nothing, however, has come close to being this good.

This one had slipped by me completely until now, but apparently music-video maestro Spike Jonze is working on an adaptation of Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are," due some time in 2007. For someone who longs for the days when children's movies weren't exercises in flatulence, this can only be good news.

Sendak's perfectly told and illustrated story is the ultimate children's fantasy: summed up, our hero, Max, after getting in a fight with his mother, runs away from home to the forest "Where the Wild Things Are," ultimately being crowned their leader.

Now comes word that a group including Benicio Del Toro, Forest Whitaker and Michelle Williams has been recruited to provide the voices of the main characters.

Spike would seem to have just the perfectly skewed view of the world to pull this all off, which will apparently use live-action puppetry as well as computer-generated animation. Add in the final tidbit that McSweeney's Quarterly Concern editor Dave Eggers has been recruited to help with the script, and you can give this one my guarantee that there is no way it can suck.

We need more news like this. After all, this site is called Reel Fanatic, not Reel Curmudgeon, although I know it's sometimes hard to tell.

Lucky bastards

Well, I don't really think the fine folks at are bastards, or lucky for that matter, but they are very good at what they do.

This morning they have an exclusive interview with "Ghost World" creator and comic book genius Daniel Clowes. It touches on Clowes' reunion with director Terry Zwigoff for the upcoming "Art School Confidential," of course, but also runs through much of Clowes' comic book work. It's a great interview, so do yourself a favor and read it here.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

U.S. World Cup squad

As my boss pointed out yesterday, maybe with a grimace, I can say and be fudging only a little bit that I will be in Germany watching the World Cup in one month.

OK, it's a little bit more than that, but with the unveiling of a top-notch squad by coach Bruce Arena last night, I'm ready to go now.

For anyone who missed it, here's the 23-warrior roster:

Midfielders: Damarcus Beasley, Bobby Convey, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Pablo Mastroeni, John O'Brien, Ben Olsen and the great Claudio Reyna.

Forwards: Brian Ching, Eddie Johnson, Brian McBride and Josh Wolff.

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Jimmy Conrad, Corey Gibbs, Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Lewis, Oguchi Onyewu and the great Eddie Pope.

Goalkeepers: Marcus Hahnemann, Tim Howard and, of course, King Kasey Keller.

The first thing that leaps out at you is how far we have come in the last decade or so. I can't believe I'm writing this, but it's true: MORE THAN HALF OF THESE MEN, 12, PLAY IN EUROPE!

I have to admit I never thought we would reach this point, and it can only get better from here.

In the middle is where we are the most solid, with still-fairly-young lions Beasley and Donovan leading the charge and a hopefully healthy Claudio Reyna keeping everything steady.

Oguchi Onyewu has always frightened me in all the best ways. He will simply be a monster on defense, helped out ably by Gibbs and, probably most often, Hejduk. As a longtime D.C. supporter I'm also thrilled that Eddie Pope gets one more shot.

Add to that goal-scoring machine Eddie Johnson and goal-stopping machine Kasey Keller and you've got the perfect squad. To me, Ching over Taylor Twellman was the only real surprise.

I realize this is far from a scientific analysis. For that, turn to Bruce at Du Nord, who wisely sleeps later than me but will surely be sounding off on all this with authority later today. He is a member of the Minnesota squad who have graciously allowed me to tag along with them to Germany, and a man who just knows way, way too much about soccer.

Arena also named 13 alternates: Tony Meola, Matt Reis, Chris Albright, Gregg Berhalter, Todd Dunivant, Chris Armas, Chris Klein, Pat Noonan, Steve Ralston, Kerry Zavagnin, Conor Casey, Chris Rolfe and Taylor Twellman. Of this group, Berhalter, Armas, Ralston and Twellman probably had the best shot at making the squad, but they simply didn't play their way onto it. Nuff said.

In related news, want to garner puzzling stares from all your neighbors and friends? Then these great Bruce Arena-Che t-shirts are for you. Made by the fine folks at Blue Sky Soccer, they're just perfect for the U.S. soccer fan who is crazy enough to buy just about anything. I already have one, of course. Click here for yours

But enough about soccer. If I get any more excited either a) my head will explode, like that poor Mexican chap I read about in the National Enquirer (he was watching the World Cup, so, yes, there is precedent!) or more likely b) I will be unable to go to work, be fired and left penniless just more than a month before the world's greatest sporting event.

We can't have that, so I'll just put on my Bruce-Che t-shirt and sign off for now. Viva Bruce!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Jack Black and Michel Gondry

Luckily for those who love great movies, Michel Gondry is a very hard-working man.

Fresh off the relative success of his blissful "Block Party" with Dave Chappelle, word comes from the Hollywood Reporter this morning that Michel Gondry is now teaming up with Jack Black for what can only be described as a delightfully odd project.

Gondry has already finished the script for "Be Kind Rewind," a comedy in which Black will play a junkyard worker whose brain is magnetized, destroying every tape in his friend's video store and forcing the pair to remake the lost films.

In order to keep the store's one loyal customer, an elderly lady with signs of dementia, the pair re-creates a long line of films including "The Lion King," "Rush Hour," "Back to the Future" and "Robocop."

I don't know about you, but I was already laughing as i read that. And admit it, all of us who claim to be able to write movies really want to be able to make them. To remake "Back to the Future"? It should be geek heaven, and hopefully very, very funny.

In an even dream-geekier pairing, Gondry is also set to make a movie of Rudy Rucker's graphic novel "Master of Space and Time" based on a script from Daniel Clowes. With "Be Kind, Rewind" set for a two-month shoot in New York beginning in September though, it sounds like we'll see that one first.

As for Jack Black, I like him almost every time I see him. We all met him in "High Fidelity," and he just got better in "Jesus' Son" and, of course, Linklater's "School of Rock."

And he's back with funnyman Mike White, the writer of "School of Rock," and "Napoleon Dynamite" director Jared Hess for the supersilly "Nacho Libre." If this and "Clerks 2" aren't laugh-out-loud funny, it will cast a real pall over what is shaping up to be a promising summer.

You can see the trailer here, courtesy of IMDB. Enjoy.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Broken Flowers

The Macon Film Guild has just been on a roll lately.

Last month, Camp Bacon and friends brought us "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" less than a month after it left theaters in Atlanta, and now a little later but just as welcome comes Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers" Sunday, May 14, at the Douglass Theatre.

In it, Bill Murray plays Don Johnston, an avowed batchelor who, at the movie's beginning, gets dumped by the simply stunning Julie Delpy then finds out from an anonymous note that he has a son he's never met who is approaching adulthood.

Think of Murray in "Rushmore" and "Lost in Translation" then go even further and you're approaching Johnston. At the onset he appears to have given up on life, is just kind of dead to everything around him.

It takes the urging of pesky neighbor Winston, the very funny Jeffrey Wright, to get him to take off in a rented taurus and slowly rediscover what he has wrought and perhaps meet his offspring. The scenes with the two of them, as the energetic Winston, a wannabe mystery writer, maps out the whole course for Murray's deadpan Johnston, is some of the funniest work of Jarmusch's long career.

On his mission, Johnston meets a quartet of women from his past, starting with Sharon Stone as a widow with a thing for race car drivers and a none-too-shy daughter (named Lolita, though she's blissfully unaware of the joke.) You'll also meet Frances Conroy, who is now one half a husband-wife team of Realtors, Jessica Lange, who has given up on men all together, perhaps because of Don, and Tilda Swinton, who lives in a trailer with some bikers who give Don a rather rude welcome.

If you've seen any Jarmusch movies, you know that Don will learn some things about himself but nothing will be wrapped up in a neat package at the end. This one's all about the journey, and if you choose to take it you'll find plenty of the quirky characters and awkward situations that drive Jarmusch's best work.