Thursday, August 31, 2006

Trailer Thursday .. with Transformers!

OK, this first one isn't a trailer so much as a guerilla video from the set of "Transformers."

I'm always nervous when Michael Bay's name is attached to anything, but in the last few days I've managed to let my inner 8-year-old take over and just get excited for this one. Besides, as more rational people might point out, the movie doesn't come out until almost a year from now (though that's never stopped me from getting excited before, and hopefully never will.) Independence week next summer should just be pure fun, with Pixar's "Ratatouille" (yippee!), yet another "Diehard" and "Transformers" all coming out within a few days of each other.

Anyways, the footage up at features about a minute or so of filming, in which two autobots apparently make an appearance in vehicle form. The funniest thing about it to me was the accompanying audio track in which our intrepid filmmaker blurts out "there's one" and "there's another one!" in true geek glee.

Click here to enjoy, and let me know what you think. Are you jazzed for "Transformers"?

"Curse of the Golden Flower"

When asked what movies I'm excited about for the rest of this year, I've invariably been mentioning "The Black Dahlia" and "The Departed" at the top of my list, with honorable mention for "Dreamgirls." I owe a sincere apology, therefore, to the great Zhang Yimou.

The director of "House of Flying Daggers" and many other great, epic movies, has a Christmas present in store for us that I had forgotten all about. As far as I can tell, his newest, "Curse of the Golden Flower," will be a tale of Chinese palace intrigue, with sons battling to see who will take the throne after their parents. Due out at the end of the year, it will star Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li (double yippee!)

In case you need any more incentive than that to get geeked up for this one, Sony Pictures Classics has just posted a trailer. What strikes me first, of course, is the look of this picture, which Yimou has as usual rendered in meticulous detail. It reminds me (and yes, I realize these are Japanese!) of Kurosawa's "Ran" and "Throne of Blood."

Click here to see it for yourself, and please feel free to sound off.

Perrineau joins "28 Weeks"

Though I can't count myself as a fan of "Lost" (I missed out on the beginning, and just haven't managed to get into it yet, for shame), you can count me as a big fan of Harold Perrineau, almost all on the strength of one movie.

Taking time off from the island, Mr. Perrineau will apparently be joining the cast of "28 Weeks Later" as an upbeat American Special Forces pilot who leads to safety the families returning to London after the viral outbreak. I've raised my concerns about the Americanization of this British zombie classic, but for now I wish Mr. Perrineau only the best.

So, what movie was it that planted him firmly in my mind as one to watch? It was the 1995 Wayne Wang movie "Smoke," centered around a smoke shop in Brooklyn, if I remember correctly. Though I've long ago since stopped smoking, this great little flick starring Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Stockard Channing, Forest Whittaker and Mr. Perrineau always makes me want to light one up as it celebrates the joy of good old-fashioned storytelling. It's well worth adding to your Netflix queue if this little gem has passed you by.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Wednesday morning rant

I'm in a rather cranky mood this morning.

I could share with you the good news. I could tell you that Vincent Cassell has joined the cast of David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" with Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen. Watts is a nurse who helps a mysterious woman give birth. The woman ends up dying and Watts investigates her past, which leads her into the seedy world of Russian prostitution. Cassel plays a man named Petrid, whose family owns a Russian brothel.

I could tell you all about how that sounds like it could be even better than "A History of Violence," my favorite movie of 2005. Or I could share the news that, in lieu of sitting down for the five course meal she so desperately needs, Buffy has signed on to star in "Addicted," yet another remake of a Korean movie. In it, she will play a woman whose husband and brother-in-law both end up in a coma after an accident. When the brother awakes, claiming to be her husband, she must try to understand the reality, suspecting something more sinister is at work.

But I can't even get remotely excited about that. Why? Because we have entered the single worst week for movies in the entire year, at least in my little corner of the world.

A brief look at what's out there:


Apparently shooting cops and slapping hookers with Dave Chappelle wasn't enough to prove Wayne Brady is a very bad man. Now he has to play the bad guy in what appears to be an extended AND-1 slam-dunk mix tape.

Oh well, I should give this one a little credit, since it had the nerve to show its face to critics (and get one star from the AP's Christy Lemire - no wonder movies skip the critics nowadays!)


OK, the first "Transporter" movie was pretty cool, but enough is enough. How many times can we make a movie that centers on Jason Statham driving around in a car for the whole flick?

In this one, as far as I can tell, he gets poisoned, then takes his revenge on the poisoners (while, of course, driving around a lot.) This one just looks like crap on toast.

"The Wicker Man"

OK, the first two just annoyed me, but this last one just flat pisses me off. I have seen the original "Wicker Man," and while I'm not as devoted to it as some people I know, I did find it a solid enough diversion in the Saturday afternoon moviehouse genre.

But why in the hell would you make it again? With Nicolas Cage? With the cult leader being a woman (albeit the very talented Ellyn Burstyn, apparently.)

I beg of you, if you have anything better to do this weekend, please, please do not go see this movie. The only way this madness will stop is if these totally unnecessary remakes stop making money.

Thanks for letting me let off some steam. Things aren't actually all that bleak for me this weekend, so I should get over it.

Saturday, it's the best day of the year in Athens, with the Bulldogs' season kicking off against cupcake Western Kentucky. I'll be there in my usual seat, in the end zone next to the visiting team's band. It's a better spot than you might think, except when you have to hear "Rocky Top" 47 times in a row.

And I still haven't seen "Little Miss Sunshine," so there should be a great movie in store on Sunday. So, life is pretty good. Just, please, please, I beg of you again, DO NOT GO SEE THE WICKER MAN!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Demko's DVD shelf

"Akeelah and the Bee"

Though I should resist mightily the development of Starbucks as moviemakers, with a confection this sweet I just couldn't stay away.

Not having any younguns to tote around, I generally stay from "family" fare, but "Akeelah and the Bee" is in a different class completely. The story of Akeelah (the simply adorable Keke Palmer) and her quest to compete in the National Spelling Bee is as smart as it is entertaining. Plus, you get Laurence Fishburne as her guru in the first performance he hasn't phoned in for a long time (and Booger is the school principal .. what more incentive do you need?)

Supplements for this glorious geekfest include three featurettes, "The Making of Akeelah and the Bee," "Two Peas in a Pod" and "Inside the Mind of Akeelah," plus deleted scenes and a gag reel. This is easily my pick of the week.

"Friends with Money"

My father and I went to see this one in the ATL, and I have to confess that it left me more than a little cold at the time. Out of love for Nicole Holofcener, who directed the nearly perfect "Lovely and Amazing," however, I'm gonna give it another chance on DVD.

As the title implies (it is, after all, almost as direct as "SoaP"), this is about four women, three of whom are relatively happily married and financially well-off, and a fourth who is struggling to get by. You couldn't ask for a better cast. Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack and Catherine Keener (who's so good I'd probably watch her in "Biodome 2") are the monied set, with Jennifer Aniston as the odd one out.

Maybe it's just a guy thing, but even with all these talented women on board, I just didn't get it. Feel free to let me know how wrong I am about this one.

"Charles Bukowski Tapes"

I'm not sure how well the movie has aged, but when I first saw it I thought Barbet Schroeder's "Barfly," based on Charles Bukowski's semi-autobiographical work, instantly became one of my favorite movies.

Now, Schroeder has compiled four hours worth of interviews he conducted with Bukowski, which no doubt reveal a colorful portrait of a troubled soul. That said, I'd never be able to go through the 52 interview segments in one sitting, but piece-by-piece they just might be fascinating.

"Lord of the Rings Trilogy - Limited Edition"

I love Peter Jackson and his Tolkein trilogy, but I can't help but think we're just getting snookered with this one.

I bought each of this great movies in their extended DVD form. Jackson's seamless weaving of additional material into the original movies for DVD made each one better. But enough is enough, Mr. Jackson.

If you do spring for these, you'll get the theatrical and extended versions of each movie, plus a full-length, behind-the-scenes documentary about each one by director Costa Botes. Personally, I'd much rather have Mr. Jackson set his sights on "The Hobbit" rather than keep living in the past, but if you somehow don't have these movies, they're definitely worth the investment.

"Arrested Development - Season Three"

I just love this show, but in season three, the story just got so strange that you had the sense they knew early on that the end was near. That said, it was still the funniest thing on TV, and well worth checking out on DVD. Plus, by the end, it was nearly impossible to tell when Fox was gonna air the show, so I haven't seen all of these final shows yet.

The shortened season only managed 13 episodes, caught on two discs. Supplements include commentary on 3 episodes by creator Mitchell Hurwitz and the actors; 19 deleted and extended scenes, a blooper reel, and what must be a truly bittersweet featurette, "The Last Day on Location."

"South Park - The Complete Eighth Season"

I long ago had to curtail my buying of TV shows on DVD, but there are still certain shows that remain irresistable. Along with "The Simpsons" and "Gilmore Girls," this troika is completed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone's foul-mouthed 8-year-olds, now in their eighth season on DVD.

Highlights from this season include "Passion of the Jew," with Mel Gibson in a very prescient meltdown, and the twisted Christmas episode "Woodland Critter Christmas." My favorite episode, however, was I believe the premiere, which paints the boys in anime form with loving care. The satire is still sharp on this one, so if you can take that it's well worth a rental.

"The Best of the Awful Truth"

I love Michael Moore, but I have to admit, he definitely goes down best in small doses. He was often at his best on this Bravo show, which ran for two years and featured very brief glimpses of his muckraking madness. It's not always funny, but with these six episodes handpicked by Mr. Moore himself, it's well worth a rental.

"Pretty in Pink," "Some Kind of Wonderful"

How in the world did it take so long for these John Hughes/Howard Deutch '80s flicks to get the royal treatment on DVD? Of the two, "Pretty in Pink" is far superior, but they're both still fun to watch.

As you might expect, they're loaded with extras that play directly to our knack for nostalgia. The "Everything's Duckie Edition" of "Pretty in Pink" includes five featurettes, "The First time: The Making of Pretty in Pink," "Zoids and Richies," "Prom Queen: All About Molly," "Volcanic Ensembles" and "Prom Stories," commentary by Deutch, the original ending (huh?) and favorite scenes.

The "Special Collector's Edtion" of "Some Kind of Wonderful" includes three featurettes, "The Making of Some Kind of Wonderful," "Meet the Cast" and "The Music," commentary by Deutch and Leah Thompson, and a John Hughes time capsule.

Now that I think more about it, the only thing I really liked about "Some Kind of Wonderful" was that crazy version of "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" by some British band I couldn't possibly recall the name of now. Oh well. Maybe time will make the heart grow fonder.

Whew! A lot of titles this week. Hope I've helped sort them out.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow

Just call it Kung Fu Monday here, and if there's a better way to start off the week, I haven't found it.

I had not previously heard that Jet Li and Jackie Chan were teaming up for a flick, but Aint It Cool this morning had some details about what sounds like a crazy enough project it just might work.

Tentatively titled "The Handsome Monkey King" (though surely that silly title will change), it will be directed by American director Rob Minkoff, who directed the two "Stuart Little" movies and some other even lesser works. An odd choice to be sure, but this does appear to be a kids movie, so we'll see what comes of it.

According to Chinese newspaper The Beijing News, the story is inspired by both the classic Chinese novel "Journey to the West" and Chinese folk legends about the Eight Immortals.

The story begins with Monkey King (Jet Li, apparently) pillaging the heaven and being imprisoned by Jade Emperor, lord of the heaven. Thousands of years later, in present-day New York, a rather scrawny teen boy who is obsessed with Hong Kong kung fu movies walks into a pawnshop, where he discovers a cudgel.

The shopkeeper warns him that the cudgel contains magic power and no one shall touch it, but he of course does anyway and is immediately transported through time to ancient China. The cudgel is in fact the personal weapon of Monkey King, and only Monkey King can help him to get back.

Thus our young hero sets out fo find the imprisoned Monkey King and, with help from Lan Caihe (Jackie Chan), one of the Eight Immortals, free him from captivity. Monkey King decides to accompany Tripitaka (the Tang Monk) for a journey to the west and before departing, he sends the boy back home. After the adventure, the boy has become a real fighter and has learned the true meaning of kung fu.

Whew! Sorry for the long plot summary, but I wanted to share with you what, at least to me, sounds like tons of fun.

Jet Li has another movie coming up that also looks promising, though just as silly.

In what's described as his last martial arts epic, Li plays real-life martial arts legend Huo Yuanjia in "Fearless," which surely must be coming to a multiplex near you and me soon. It sounds like a Van Damme movie with an epic Chinese backdrop, with Jet fighting the world's greatest combatants in a tournament to somehow defend the honor of his country. In my mind, I'm already there.

Stephen Chow goes sci fi?

Few movies in recent years have managed to make me both laugh and smile as much of Stephen Chow's "Shaolin Soccer" and "Kung Fu Hustle," so I'll follow him just about anywhere. Even to this rather odd destination.

In a recent press conference, Chow let fly that he has delayed work on a KFH sequel to make a sci fi movie tentatively titled "Long River 7." Details are extremely sketchy, but it seems the title refers to a satellite, and the movie will involve an alien and a dinosaur.

Stephen Chow vs. a T-Rex? I say bring it on, no matter how strange it turns out to be.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


When asked why he and musical mate Andre 3000 wanted to make the movie "Idlewild," Antwan "Big Boi" Patton answered with one word: "wardrobe."

Well, they are indeed two sharp-dressed men in this flick, but their director, music-video man Bryan Singer, should have considered at least two more, namely "story" and "music," neither of which make much of an appearance in this disappointment.

What little story there is is cribbed directly from "Harlem Nights" and "Under the Cherry Moon" (note to OutKast: Look at what's happened to his Purple Majesty since that flameout - is this really the career arc you want?) In "Idlewild," Big Boi is the main entertainer at a nightclub called the Church. He takes control of the club and has to fight to protect it from gangster (not gangsta) Terrence Howard. Andre is on hand as the piano man, and pretty Paula Patton is the aspiring singer who catches his eye.

"Idlewild" doesn't manage to add anything new to this tired template, and the story in fact goes practically nowhere at all. I would have forgiven all that, however, if the music had carried the day. Alas, that's far from the case here.

After seeing Broadway (and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") veteran Hinton Battle's name in the opening credits as choreographer, I was expecting some rousing, grand-scale musical numbers. And the club does come to life early, with Big Boi performing a song from "Speakerboxxx" and the flappers taking to the floor. He takes the stage in "Idlewild," however, exactly one more time, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Andre, amazingly, does even less singing until the final credits roll. His main number is "She Lives in My Lap," sung to a corpse. It's just as creepy as it sounds here.

There are hardly any new songs in "Idlewild," which is all the more shameful because the accompanying soundtrack contains some instant OutKast classics. I predict Big Boi's "Morris Brown" will be bouncing from car stereo speakers for many, many months to come. Why the lack of new music? I can only guess it's because this movie was finished so long ago, and sat on the shelf for so long, that most of the soundtrack cuts were recorded after the fact.

It's not all bad, however. Terrence Howard admitted to an interviewer that he rushed onto the set of this one after wrapping "Hustle and Flow" without even reading the script first. But even if he was coasting in this flick, he is truly menacing as the "Idlewild" heavy. I can say without exaggeration that every time I see him act I think of a young Marlon Brando, high praise indeed.

In the opening credits of "Idlewild," I also noted that OutKast the actors were credited as "Antwan Patton and Andre Benjamin," while as music supervisors they were credited as "Big Boi and Andre 3000." If only they could have reconciled these dual personalities and filled "Idlewild" with more music and less melodrama, it would have been a much more satisfying flick.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


"Bring it on, mein bitch"

This has truly been an odd year for movies. There have been some real stinkers, but there have been just as many very funny movies that failed to find any kind of audience.

I'm afraid "Beerfest" is bound to become the latter, judging by the fact that we got a private screening today at the multiplex on only day two.

So add this to the growing list of 2006 movies that I loved (with "Clerks II," "Slither," and, it seems, "SoaP") but the rest of the world just seems to have little time for.

Maybe the world is just too sophisticated for a very cleverly constructed ode to fart, or in the cast of "Beerfest", belch jokes. Luckily, the boys of Broken Lizard haven't moved beyond this level, and I'm glad to join them in raising a glass (or three) to the art of low-brow humor.

"Beerfest," like "Soap," delivers exactly what the title promises, a celebration of that sudsy sensation in the form of a top-secret beer-drinking competition. Though you won't hear how from me, the Broken Lizard crew ends up representing the USA, and you can guess who wins. Before you find out how, though, I guarantee you'll laugh. A lot.

The BL team operates in the realm of the Zucker brothers, with one big difference: They bother with a plot, as silly as it may be. Like the Zuckers, BL keeps the jokes flying very fast, and relies heavily on the spoof. With "Beerfest," it's largely a sendup of sports movies, with a healthy dose of "Fight Club" thrown in for good measure. And when it hits, which for me was more often than not, it's very funny.

A word of warning: This one earns its R rating the juvenile way. However, if you went into a R-rated movie called "Beerfest" and were shocked to see a good number of topless women, you've led a fairly shelted life thus far.

The bottom line: If you liked "Super Troopers" (which I did, quite a bit), you'll like "Beerfest." If not, there are plenty of other movies out there for you. This one's for me and everyone else who likes their humor clever but extremely crude. Cheers, Broken Lizard.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Romero returns!

Apparently it's just high time for zombies (and why not!) After yesterday's news about "28 Weeks Later" comes word from the O.Z. himself, George Romero, that he's getting back in the game.

Unconditionally good news, right? Not so fast. The movie, which will be titled "Georgia A. Romero's Diary of the Dead," will follow a group of college students shooting a horror movie in the woods who stumble upon a real zombie uprising. Rather than, say, run for their lives, our intrepid filmmakers-to-be instead try to catch all the action on camera and, of course, mayhem and carnage ensue.

Now, before I say anything about this rather ludicrous premise, let me just say that I flat-out hated "The Blair Witch Project." In the circle I rolled with back then in D.C., the buzz surrounding "Blair Witch" had reached "SoaP" proportions, building up my expectations sky high. When I finally got around to seeing it, it was just one big gimmick that fell way flat, and wasn't remotely scary or entertaining.

That a schlockmeister as great as Romero would look to this crapfest for inspiration is only depressing news to me. I'm sure whatever he comes up with will be way better than "Blair Witch," and may somehow even turn out to be great. Shooting begins Oct. 11 in Toronto, so here's hoping beyond hope.

Michael Moore ready to raise hell?

Even more interesting, though possibly even worse, news this morning was a little nugget about the possible return of Michael Moore. I thought he had been toiling away on "Sicko," his long-percolating expose about our fantastic health care system, but he's apparently been cooking up something else on the side.

Variety reports this morning that he will be showing portions of a work titled "The Great '04 Slacker Uprising" at the upcoming Toronto Film Festival.

Don't get me wrong - I love Michael Moore. I thought "Fahrenheit 9/11" was a perfectly entertaining little piece of agitprop, but it's impact on the 2004 election was negative at best. Did Michael Moore lose the election? Of course not, but he certainly didn't help the Democrats with his bomb-throwing.

If he's indeed getting in the fray again, he'll have company this time. Though details are very sketchy at this point, I believe a movie is being made of "Against All Enemies," Richard Clarke's expose about how unprepared the Bush administration was to combat terrorism (I believe Paul "Hack" Haggis was going to direct this at one point, but now can't find any confirmation .. if anyone knows more, please let me know.)

Looks like it will be a crowded field of movies that hopefully inspire the people who agree with them but will probably just serve to provoke anger in everyone else. Oh well .. God bless America, I guess. At least it won't be boring.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Bernie Mac and "28 Weeks Later" news

A day after I lamented the death of "The Bernie Mac Show," it is definitely my pleasure to now deliver much better news about the Mac man.

Actor-comedian Bernie Mac and his producing partner Steven Greener have formed production company MacMan Entertainment and have signed a two-year, first-look deal with Lionsgate. OK, but what's the good news?

For me, it's that the first MacMan project will be a Bernie Mac concert film. If you saw his wild-eyed, very funny rant about child abuse in "The Original Kings of Comedy," then you know this could very well be a great thing. The Mac has probably mellowed quite a bit since then, but hopefully not too much.

Less promising is what will come next, a series of Dean Martin-style celebrity roasts that will premiere on DVD with the Mac as host. Even so, it's nice to have you back in action, Mr. Mac.

"28 Weeks Later" taking shape

I just love zombie movies, and within that subgenre "28 Days Later" holds a special place in my heart. It's just nearly perfect. So I was suitably upset to learn they were making a sequel, "28 Weeks Later," without Danny Boyle in the director's chair.

My fears have subsided since I learned Boyle is at least on board as an executive producer, and now comes big new about the casting.

According to, Jeremy Renner ("North Country," "Lords of Dogtown") has been cast in the lead role of Sgt. Doyle.

In the sequel, U.S. Special Forces are working to restore order in London when a carrier of the virus unknowingly ignites a reinfection. I'm sure the ripe possibilities of the U.S. invading London to rid it of the virus won't be lost on director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and his crew. Here's hoping this one somehow just works.

Veronica Mars casting

Our next two items are TV-related and, since this is my blog, one will be about "Veronica Mars."

When our heroine returns this fall on the CW, she will be a freshman at Hearst College. In his fantastic blog, TV Guide’s Michael Ausiello shares the news that John Waters fave Patty Hearst will join the cast as the granddaughter of the founder of Hearst College, but she won't be playing herself (cryptic, I know, but what about this show isn't?)

Even better news is that Veronica's pops, Enrico Colantoni, may soon be knocking boots with Laura San Giocomo, just as he did on "Just Shoot Me." San Giacomo's character will be married, however, surely making things more interesting.

TBS feeling Perry's "Payne"

The always busy Tyler Perry has found a home for his syndicated sitcom offering, "Tyler Perry's House of Payne."

Debmar-Mercury said Wednesday that it has inked distribution deals with TBS and the Fox Television Stations group for the show.

Under the terms of the deals, TBS will get exclusive rights to the show starting in June, more than a year before they become available to local stations, with the cable network planning to air the show in primetime. Seventy-five episodes will be available to TBS by June, with 25 additional episodes to be ready by the time the broadcast stations' deal kicks in for fall 2008.

The show stars Allen Payne and centers on the comic situations that ensue when a multigenerational family lives under one roof.

After the thoroughly entertaining "Madea's Family Reunion" and "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," I've got nothing but good will for Mr. Perry, so I just hope this turns out to be very, very funny.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

New sitcoms this fall

Brian Lowry has a rather insightful piece currently up at about what's wrong with the American sitcom. Though this list could stretch for several pages, he hits on a key problem: No comedians.

No longer is network sitcom land a happy home for rising comedians. As Lowry put it, "The high point stretched from Bill Cosby to its peak in the 1990s, when Roseanne, Tim Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, Garry Shandling, Brett Butler, Bob Saget, Drew Carey and Martin Lawrence all starred in long-running comedies."

You may not like all of those (and I surely don't), but you have to admit it's an impressive roster. With this deficit in mind, here's a look at some of the big sitcom titles coming to your TV this fall.


NBC is making a strong push to bring back Wednesday nights for sitcom land with the pairing of "30 Rock" and "Twenty Good Years" back to back from 8 to 9.

Though the premise for "30 Rock" sounds too familiar to another NBC offering "Studio 60" - a behind-the-scenes look at a "Saturday Night Live"-type show - my money is still on this one doing well. It's in good hands with the very talented Tina Fey starring and writing, and she will be joined on screen by Rachel Dratch, Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan.

I had hope for "Twenty Good Years," given its two leads, but the early word from Herc at AICN (who I always trust) is that this one will just stink. It's a shame, given Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow star as two aging best friends who vow to live their remaining years to the fullest. Heather Burns and Jake Sandvig round out the cast.

Coming later will be "Andy Barker, P.I.," a second stab at sitcom work by Andy Richter. And, eventually, we will finally get new episodes of Scrubs, hopefully in its usual doubled-up format.


ABC seems to be making the strongest comedy push this fall, so I wish them well.

The biggest buzz surrounds "Ugly Betty," which if I'm not mistaken will take the 8 to 9 slot on Fridays. Executive produced by (but unfortunately not starring) Salma Hayek, this one focuses on "Ugly" Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), a rather plump, unstylish girl from Queens trying to swim with the sharks at a high-fashion magazine. Given the "surprising" success of "The Devil Wears Prada" this summer, look for this to do very well, even in the graveyard that is Friday night. Eric Mabius and Vanessa Williams round out the cast.

In other ABC offerings, Peter Cambor and Jennifer Westfeldt play an unexpecting couple in "Notes from the Underbelly" at 8:30 on Thursdays. Hilarity hopefully ensues as they first try to keep it a secret, then field often-unwanted advice from friends and family.

Preceding that in what I guess will be known as "young couples' hour" will be "Big Day," in which the whole season focuses on one couple's wedding day (maybe I'm wrong, but aren't you dooming yourself to just one season with this rather silly premise?) Marla Sokoloff from "The Practice" and Josh Cooke are our young heroes, and Wendie Malick and Kurt Fuller round out the cast.

One last fairly promising title from ABC is "The Knights of Prosperity" (silly title winner), in which a group of unlikely bandits conspire to break into Mick Jagger's swank New York City apartment. Not sure when this one will be scheduled or if Sir Mick will make an appearance, but I like this premise and Donal Logue is involved somehow, so I'll tune in.

RIP: In what could only be described as mercy killings, ABC has pulled the plug on "Hope & Faith"and "Freddie."


CBS is turning to a familiar name for a new offering in its Monday night sitcom bloc. Coming at 8 this fall will be "The Class," an ensemble comedy from "Friends" co-creator David Crane about a group of 20-something friends who met in the third grade and reunite 20 years later at a party.

If this sounds like a shameless ploy to re-create the "Friends" formula, it certainly is. It has five unknown (for now) stars - Andrea Anders, Jon Bernthal, Lizzy Caplan, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Heather Goldenhersh. This one should be a big hit with everyone in the world except me.

Coming later in the season but still unscheduled, Seinfeld's Puddy (the always-welcome Patrick Warburton) will star in "Rules of Engagement," about relationships in New York City.

RIP: "Courting Alex" and "Out of Practice." I couldn't tell you the first thing about either of these.


Fox has two major sitcom offerings this fall, led by "Til Death," which will see if Brad Garrett's schtick can sustain a show Thursdays at 8 (my money's on yes, but I won't be watching.) Garrett and Joely Fisher play a middle-aged couple who find they have new neighbors in newlyweds played by Eddie Kaye Thomas and Kat Foster. I'm sure many enlightening life lessons will ensue, if you really need any.

Following "Til Death" will be "Happy Hour," which just sounds dreadful. As far as I can tell, it's about a small-town dude who moves to the big city, loses his girl and falls in with a smooth operator in need of a roommate. If that tired premise doesn't turn you off, you can tune in to see stars John Sloan, Lex Medlin, Nat Faxon, Jamie Denbo, Beth Lacke and Brooke D'Orsay.

Seth MacFarlane of "Family Guy" and "American Dad" will surely keep the jokes flying fast and furious when he takes a stab at a live-action sitcom, "The Winner," not yet scheduled.

RIP: The death knell for "The Bernie Mac Show" began sounding a few years ago, but it finally rang true last spring. Though it was a bit preachy at times, I always liked the Mac's delivery, and the kids were all very funny. You will be missed, Mr. Mac.

The CW

I'm afraid I have nothing but enmity for the CW when it comes to comedy, given how shoddily they're treating "Everybody Hates Chris." I'll still tune each week, but moving this one to 7:30 Sundays, where it will surely get murdered by NFL football, is unforgivable.

Even worse, "Chris" has the ignominity of lauching the CW's new comedy bloc I can only call "ghetto night." The only new entry in the dreadful lineup that follows "Chris" is "The Game," which purports to go "behind the scenes" of a NFL team with the girlfriend of a third-string wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers. It stars Pooch Hall, Coby Bell, Tia Mowry and Hosea Chanchez.

Well, there it is. I'll definitely be tuning in for "30 Rock," probably tuning in for "Ugly Betty" and maybe tuning in for a few others. Feel free to let me know what you think about the state of sitcom TV.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Demko's DVD shelf

Kicking and Screaming

Long before Noah Baumach teamed up with Wes Anderson, he wrote and directed this little movie that proved he was ready to stand on his own.

From the outset, this 1995 dramedy (man, do I hate that word!) about four young men graduating from college and having to face the world shows Baumbach's ear for quick dialoge and quirky humor. Our heroes are played by Josh Hamilton, Carlos Jacott, Jason Wiles and Chris Eigeman (aka "Digger" Styles from "The Gilmore Girls.") The large ensemble cast also includes Olivia D'Abo, Parker Posey, Eric Stoltz and Elliott Gould.

Supplements for this spectial edition include an interview with Noah Baumbach; conversations with Baumbach and cast members Hamilton, Eigeman and Jacott; deleted scenes; Baumbach's 2000 short film "Conrad and Butler Take a Vacation" featuring "Kicking and Screaming" cast members Jacott and John Lehr, and a 1995 interview with Baumbach and the cast.

How could I not make a movie that introduced one of my favorite directors to the world my pick of the week? Definitely check it out.

"Elizabeth I"

I own almost every season of Helen Mirren's work as D.I. Tennyson in "Prime Suspect" on DVD, so anytime I hear she's gonna be on TV I get excited.

About a year ago, she played the famed virgin queen in this two-part HBO movie that focused on her relationships with two men: Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Jeremy Irons) and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (Hugh Dancy). Though it's clearly far removed from the mean streets of "Prime Suspect," Mirren and her men shine in this surprisingly good drama.

Coming from HBO, it will probably be horribly overpriced, but if you spring for it you'll get supplements including two featurettes, "The Making of Elizabeth I" and "Uncovering the Real Elizabeth."

"Sketches of Grank Gehry"

On paper, at least, this one definitely sounds like the snooze pick of the week, but it somehow works really well.

Directed by Sydney Pollack, much of it is conversations between Pollack and the architect Gehry about what drives Gehry in his pursuit of art in a commercial medium. Pollack's early admission that he knows nothing about architecture and his clear curiosity about it gives these scenes more interest than you might think.

This one somehow made it to downtown Macon's Capitol Theatre for a few shows, and I'm glad I saw it then. It's definitely worth revisiting through Netflix.

TV pick of the week

I've dedicated plenty of type in this space to raving about "Veronica Mars," so I'll try to keep this brief.

At the outset of season two, out on DVD today, the show was at a crossroads. Our heroine (Kristen Bell) had solved the major myster of season one, so where would they go next? The writers came up with plenty of new twists for year two, with the main story line being a tragic bus wreck that kills a dozen students and looks more and more like murder with every revelation. Since she was supposed to be on the bus, Veronica takes a major interest in the case.

I just love this show, which seems to get better as it goes on. Take this chance to catch up before it gets paired with "Gilmore Girls" this fall to give the CW a stranglehold (at least in my household) on Tuesday nights this fall.

Lemon of the week

I guess we all knew this day had to come. Wolfgang Petersen's excremental "Poseidon" is out on DVD. Please, please, avoid it at all costs.

Not only is this one of the most boring movies I've ever seen, the dialogue is also at many points simply cringeworthy. You doubt me? Here's a little sample: Before the wave hits, daughter Emmy Rossum, leaning over a table where dad Kurt Russell is gambling, then asks if he was checking out "the twins." On what planet is this entertaining? Oh well .. at least Fergie apparently dies in the carnage.

Consider this word of warning my gift from me to you, and please take my advice on this one. It's just that bad.

Monday, August 21, 2006

What happened to "Snakes on a Plane"?

The box office is always a riddle to me, but I rarely get it this wrong. Despite finishing on top in a weak week, "Snakes on a Plane" managed to only scare up a fairly measly $15.3 million at the box office.

Did these people see the same movie I did (well, duh, the short answer to that one is they didn't see at all!)

I've already reviewed "SoaP," so I'll just sum it up by saying I found it to be a thoroughly fun, albeit extremly crude at times, summer popcorn flick. So, what happened?

Two things are possible, I think. The first is that there just isn't the wide audience out there for campy, very funny horror flicks. I was equally surprised early this year by how poorly "Slither," the ultra-funny horror flick starring the great Nathan Fillion, fared at the box office. Maybe these movies are purely for geeks.

The second, and more likely, possibility is that a lot of people were simply put off by all the hype. Personally, I ate it all up and laughed all the way. The idea that something as simple as "SoaP" could become such a fan phenomenon was just fun to watch. But it's very possible many people were put off by this, and therefore decided to just stay home.

There are two silver linings here. No. 1: We still got to see the movie we wanted, and it was a blast. No. 2: Any impulse Hollywood would have had to cookie-cutter mass produce "B" fare will be halted, at least for now.

I still think "SoaP" will have a long run in theaters as positive word of mouth spreads to the sceptics, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

A rare honor for Tim Allen

I've seen this posted at other blogs, but I just wanted to add my hearty congratulations to Tim Allen for the landmark achievement with his new film "Zoom."

It seems that only seven movies before yours have managed to compile the 0% rating from critics over at Rotten Tomatoes. Congrats, indeed.

I was trying to find out what movies proceeded you in this hall of shame, but I could only find a partial list. You'll find fine company in Roberto Benigni's live-action "Pinocchio," "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever," "Son of the Mask" and "Superbabies; Baby Geniuses 2." (Apparently one critic out there gave a good review to the original "Superbabies." You know who you are, so just step forward and confess.)

If anyone knows the other two movies to earn this dubious distinction, please let me know.

As for Mr. Allen, get your Razzie speech ready now. I have a feeling you're gonna be a multiple winner this year.

Antipicating "Idlewild"

I, for one, am fairly excited about the OutKast flick opening this weekend, "Idlewild" (though not as nearly as I am about "Beerfest"! This is gonna be a good weekend for flicks.)

John Anderson, a very honest and reliable critic, has a review of "Idlewild" up at Variety's site. Here are some excerpts from his very positive review:

"Idlewild," aka "The OutKast Project," achieves magic - something sorely missing from so many movies these days - and does so via a philosophy of respect, but not reverence, for what's come before it; it never recycles, it just reimagines. With its two platinum-selling pop stars, propulsive musicality and a something-for-everyone approach leading to a huge payoff, pic should not only lure its target fan base but achieve crossover success as well.

Fashioning his musical fable like a Warner Bros. Prohibition drama in which production numbers erupt at the local nightclub, writer-director Bryan Barber has absorbed all the gangster tropes, along with a healthy dose of Coen brothers' irrationality, "Cotton Comes to Harlem" comedy and Terry Gilliam-style animation.

"Idlewild" may not succeed entirely in terms of story structure, dramatic motivation or acting (both Andre Benjamin and Antwan Patton are good, although Patton is the one the camera loves). But it has such ineffable charm and pure entertainment value, it's hard to imagine auds going only once.

Sounds great to me. OutKast gets better with each album, so this should just be a wild ride.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Snakes on a Plane

As the ultra-run ride that is "Snakes on a Plane" took flight, I couldn't help but think back to Wolfgang Petersen's woefully unnecessary "Poseidon" remake. Everything that bloated disaster got wrong, SoaP got just right.

From the outset, after we get past the surfer-witnessing-really bad guy-committing-murder necessary to set what little plot there is in motion, director David R. Ellis and his writers keep it very fast and often very funny.

Does it live up to the hype? Maybe not, but what could have? All I was expecting was a great B-movie that made me squirm in my seat, and this one delivered all that and more.

Knowing all the snakes (except, apparently, some of the little black ones) were CGI-created made it a little easier to watch, but as they were slithering among the passengers' bare feet I could feel a distinct chill run up my spine. As the people start to die, it's almost like a morality play. The first to get it are two people about to enter the mile high club, a scene much more funny than creepy. You can sort of guess who's gonna get it from the way they behave, but you won't hear any more about that from me. Find out for yourself, if you somehow haven't already.

So, how's the acting? As good as could possibly be expected from fare like this. What made it work for me was, even though the audience was in on the joke from the beginning, none of the actors let on that they were. I have no idea how Julianna Margulies ended up in this, but she's always a welcome sight. Todd Louiso's turn as the snake doctor just made me think what would have happened if his character from "High Fidelity" grew up and applied himself to something appropriately odd.

And what can you say about Samuel L. Jackson except that he'll never need to carry a wallet that says "Bad Motherf*ker" to prove he is one. Like Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin before him, he's just a tough dude, and he's clearly having fun here. He was a leading force in keeping SoaP on its glorious B path, and thankfully they saved his signature line from this one until near the very end.

Sure, parts of it do defy reality. The odds that you could blow a huge hole in the side of an airplane and have noone get sucked out of it, or that someone could land a plane based on playing a flight simulation game are, well, way beyond impossible, but so what? This isn't just the most fun I've had at the movies this summer, it's the most fun I've had since seeing "King Kong," and that says
a lot.

I've read people's remarks (as I love to do) about this one, and many people have started out by saying "It's not a good movie, but" ... Well, screw that. That's why people are giving critics such a hard time nowadays.

To me, one sure definition of a "good movie" is it keeps me rapt from start to finish and makes me laugh - a lot. By that standard, SoaP isn't just a good movie, it's a great one.

Friday, August 18, 2006

New fall TV shows

With the fall TV season looming, there doesn't seem to be a lot to get excited about. Here, however, are five shows that sound promising enough to at least not make me get queasy.

1. Studio 60

This one wouldn't even make the list if it weren't for Aaron Sorkin. "The West Wing" was one of the best shows on the air until he left, and his previous "Sports Night" was even better.

"Studio 60" is definitely more in the "Sports Night" vein, offering a behind-the-scenes look at the weekly workings of a "Saturday Night Live"-style show.

As far as I can tell so far, it's about two up-and-coming filmmakers (Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford) who are brought into become showrunners at the place their careers started. They will surely clash with the required network executive, the always sexy Amanda Peet. Other promising cast members include Steven Weber, D.L. Hughley and Timothy Busfield.

This all sounds terribly familiar, but Sorkin always keeps things fast and often very funny. I'll be tuning in 10 p.m. Mondays on NBC for this one.

2. Jericho

I have trouble getting attached to serial dramas with intriguing premises due to my (thoroughly rational) fear that they will be cancelled just as I get interested. I'll still take the chance on CBS' "Jericho," and just hope for the best.

As best as I can tell, as the series opens, a small town in Kansas loses all communication with everything beyond its city limits just as a huge mushroom cloud appears over Denver. Among the many odd things happening all at once is the fact that the mushroom cloud registers no radiation whatsoever.

Skeet Ulrich is your requisite man with a mysterious past, and I don't recognize any of the other names in this large ensemble. It all sounds properly creepy to me, and I need a good sci fi fix each fall, so I'll be there for this one at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on CBS.

3. Heroes

This one seems to be "Unbreakable" as group phenomenon, but it somehow intrigues me quite a bit.

In it, a group of fairly ordinary (but surely extraordinarily attractive) people find out at the same time that they have superpowers. An artist-addict finds he's clairvoyant, a cop discovers he can read minds, a cheerleader discovers an ability to heal her injuries, etc. Beyond the fact that, well, I just like superheroes, the large number of scenarios (there are five other characters with newfound powers) should make for some good storytelling.

Milo Ventimiglia, aka Rory Gilmore's former paramour Jess Mariano, and Ali Larter lead the cast which will surely be filled with familiar TV faces. Tune in at 9 p.m. Mondays on NBC to find out just where this all goes.

4. Runaway

The CW's only new drama sounds like a sure winner to me. It starts with a lawyer who is framed for the murder of his rather beautiful co-worker and forced to go on the run with his family in tow.

What should make this a lot of fun, beyond the "Fugitive"-style intrigue, is that his family is suitably pissed off at this rather sudden upheaval. The son is angry because he had to ditch his hot cheerleader girlfriend to share a room with his brother in the middle of nowhere, and the wife is of course none-too-happy that it's her husband's wandering eye (and perhaps hands) that caused it all.

Donnie Wahlberg will play the dad, and Leslie Hope, who you'll remember from the first season of "24" as Jack Bauer's wife, plays the wife. Tune in for some serious family dysfunction. This one will air opposite "Heroes" on Monday nights on the new CW.

5. "Gilmore Girls"/"Veronica Mars"

OK, so these aren't new shows, but it is a shrewd packaging by the CW that makes Tuesday nights, for me, the best TV night of the week.

When we left the Gilmores, Lorelai had delivered an ultimatum to elope to Luke, which he expectedly rejected. Logan took off for London, leaving Rory behind at Yale. As the finale ended, we see Lorelai back in the arms of Christopher, though we don't know if there was any good lovin' or not.

I know this all sounds awfully soapy (and frankly, girly), but so what. It's the funniest, smartest show on TV, and it needs a bigtime recovery following what was an unsteady season six. I'm confident the Gilmores are in for a big comeback.

I first tuned into "Veronica Mars" to fill the "Buffy" void, but soon fell in love with the show on its own merits. Kristen Bell is perfect as our hero who, like Buffy, of course, is a crimefighter who somehow manages to make time for high school in her spare time. It's all very sharply written, and the plot should just keep getting thicker as the show enters its third season this fall.

Tune in to the CW Tuesdays for "Gilmore Girls" at 8 and stick around for "Veronica Mars" at 9. I guarantee you'll be glad you did.

Well, those are the new (and not-so-new) shows I'll be checking out this fall. If there are any new, promising shows I've missed, please feel free to let me know.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Burton, Depp and Sweeney Todd

When I heard this news, my first thought was that I couldn't remember how long it had been since I actually liked a Tim Burton movie.

Turns out it was quite recently, with the ubercool "Corpse Bride," but his dour, disastrous "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" left a bad taste in my mouth that has unfortunately managed to linger.

Depending on which Tim Burton shows up, however, this new project may be just the confection to erase that from my memory. Teaming up once again with Johnny Depp, Mr. Burton is soon to begin production on "Sweeney Todd," with Depp bringing Stephen Sondheim's Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the big screen for Christmas 2007.

Now, I must confess, I've not seen the musical, which is enjoying a strong revival on Broadway at this moment. However, the thought of Johnny Depp as the wrongly imprisoned barber out for revenge on the streets of Victorian England just makes me smile wickedly.

I think the X factor here will be Danny Elfman. Surely Mr. Burton must have learned something by now from his series of rather miserable remakes. Here he has a classic Broadway musical to work with. If he lets the Elfman butcher this (anyone else have nightmarish visions of that CGI-cloned little man singing his awful oompa-loompa songs in Charlie, or is it just me), this could be a train wreck.

Mr. Burton is just as capable of inspiring wonder ("Pee Wee's Big Adventure," "Big Fish") as he is of sucking all of it off the screen ("Charlie," "Planet of the Apes.") Let's just hope the former Mr. Burton shows up for this potentially very funny project.

Walken and "Hairspray"

Speaking of Broadway, "Hairspray" was the last true Broadway spectacle I have managed to see ( I've since seen the sublimely silly "Putnam County Spelling Bee," but that hardly qualifies as a spectacle.) I had a blast at "Hairspray," but I just can't get excited one bit for the movie currently being made of it (especially since John Waters' original is a true American classic that hardly begs to re-created on the big screen.)

This morning, however, I got the the first bit of good news about this project. Christopher Walken has apparently stepped into the role of Tracy Turnblad's practical joke-loving dad, replacing Jim Broadbent.

Walken possesses the manic spirit that might make yet another version of "Hairspray" work, but the rest of the cast just leaves me flat. I just can't see perky little Amanda Bynes proudly declaring "I'm a checkerboard chick!" or John Travolta and Michelle Pfieffer managing to have any fun at all with this.

Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the Tony-winning tandem that wrote the "Hairspray" score, are on board, at least, and will be writing several new songs for the movie. Here's hoping beyond hope that this somehow all works when it comes out next summer.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A new Wes Anderson movie!

It's a mix of good and bad news this Wednesday morning, but I'll start with the good. That's just how I roll.

After what seems like about 10 years (OK, I know I'm exaggerating), we're finally gonna get a new Wes Anderson movie. If you're like me, this is certainly something to be hailed heartily.

According to the trades, Fox Searchlight has picked up Anderson's next flick called "The Darjeeling Limited," a script he wrote with Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola (why not Owen Wilson?). Schwartzman will star along with Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody.

The three play brothers who are on a spiritual journey through India after the death of their father, and the flick will start shooting before the end of the year. Huzzah!

A Wes Anderson road movie in India? Sounds great to me. Sounds like a return to "Bottle Rocket"-style fun but on a much grander scale.

And the casting should be perfect. Schwartzman and Wilson have done their best work for Mr. Anderson, and Adrien Brody can be a very funny guy. (An aside to Mr. Schwartzman, if I may: Aside from your short stint on "Freaks and Geeks," I haven't much liked you in a movie since the sublime "Rushmore." Please understand that one great movie doesn't allow you be so damn smug.)

This great news does beg a question, however. Wasn't Wes Anderson doing some kind of crazy animated flick of Roald Dahl's "Fantastic Mr. Fox"? It's still listed as being in preproduction at the IMDB, so maybe he's given up on that fantasy. If anyone knows the skinny on this, please share.

R.I.P. Bruno Kirby

I'm not sure exactly why this news depressed me so much when I saw it this morning. It seems Bruno Kirby had recently been diagnosed with leukemia, and he died Monday at the age of 57.

To be honest, Mr. Kirby annoyed me as often as entertained me, mostly as the sidekick to people who annoy me even more (Robin Williams in "Good Morning Vietnam," Billy Crystal in all kinds of crap flicks.) No one deserves to die that young, however, and a quick look as his filmography reveals some true highlights.

His most memorable turn for me was definitely as the young Clemenza in "The Godfather, Part II.") The scenes with Robert De Niro remain my favorite parts of the "Godfather" saga. Mr. Kirby also held his own with some very funny people as the cabbie Tommy Pischedda in "This is Spinal Tap," and even directed and starred in an episode of "Homicide: Life on the Street" titled "The Gas Man."

So rest in peace indeed, Mr. Kirby. You will be missed.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Demko's DVD shelf

There's a lot to choose from this week, so bear with me. I'll start with the ones I've seen, and then let you know about two I will soon.

"Apocalypse Now"

I still don't know how I managed to make it until I took a political film class at Catholic University without having seen this. When I finally did see it, I had to watch it all again a week later because I wasn't sure exactly what I had just seen.

It's never been one of my favorite movies, but Francis Ford Coppola's use of "Heart of Darkness" to tackle the psychological horror that was Vietnam probably has more memorable scenes than any other movie I can think of besides "The Godfather" (Coppola again, I know.) Whether it's those helicopters flying over the cliff to the tune of "Flight of the Valkyries" or the first time you encounter Marlon Brando's Col. Kurtz, these are images that get instantly burned on your brain.

The 2-disc set out today, labeled "The Complete Dossier," features both Coppola's original 2 1/2 hour version released in 1979 and the 2001 "Apocalypse Now Redux," recut and expanded by 50 minutes by Coppola and editor/sound designer Walter Murch. I haven't seen this recut version, but I won't be able to say that for long.

Along with the two movie versions, extras include the lost "monkey sampan" scene; an outtake of Marlon Brando's complete reading of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men"; 12 never-before-seen segments from the cutting room floor; A/V Club featurettes: "The Birth of 5.1 Sound," "Ghost Helicopter Flyover," "The Synthesizer Soundtrack by Bob Moog" and "Technical FAQ"; The Post Production of Apocalypse Now featurettes: "A Million Feet of Film: The Editing of Apocalypse Now," "The Music of Apocalypse Now," "The Sound of Apocalypse Now" and "The Final Mix;" The retrospective "Apocalypse Then and Now;" another retrospective, "PBR Streetgang," a cast members' reunion; "The Color Palette of Apocalypse Now," plus commentary by Francis Ford Coppola on both films.

Whew! That's a boatload of extras, but if you want to learn as much as possible about virtuoso filmmaking in one weekend, this set sounds like just the perfect way to do it.

The Simpsons, take 8

There was surely a point when I stopped tuning into "The Simpsons" each week with enthusiasm, but they have yet to put out a season on DVD that makes me feel that way. The 25 episodes in Season 8 definitely continue that run.

These are definitely very Homer-centric episodes, which is never a bad thing. Plus you get John Waters (on the great episode "Homer's Phobia.") I may have to hold off a week for financial reasons, but I'll definitely be picking this one up soon.

As with Season 7, it's available in two separate packaging options: a classic gatefold digipak or a plastic case shaped liked Maggie's head. Along with commentary on every episode by creator Matt Groening and executive producer Josh Weinstein, joined by (variously) the producers, writers, directors, and voice cast, you get "The Simpsons House" featurette plus a lot of animatics and stuff that I have to admit I usually pass right by.

"Hong Kong Phooey" and "Magilla Gorilla"

Though my parents signed me up for karate at some point in the early '80s, I was never particularly good at it. Neither was Hong Kong Phooey, but that didn't stop the janitor-turned-hero from fighting his way to a bumbling victory each Saturday morning.

I had forgotten (or perhaps never knew) that our hero was voiced by the late, great Scatman Crothers. Can't wait to go back and revisit his work here.

Along with 31 episodes on two discs, one single-sided and one double-sided, you get commentary on three episodes by creative producer Iwao Takamoto, layout unit manager Willie Ito and Warner animation producer-historian Scott Jeralds; "The Phoo-Nomenon" retrospective documentary, plus the storyboard for "Hong Kong Phooey - The Batty Bank Gang."

I'm not sure how the flimsy premise of "Magilla Gorilla" ever worked, for even the youngest of audiences, but it did for me. It's basically a vicious tale of co-dependence, with Mr. Peebles selling our hero to a new owner each week, only to have Magilla act so badly that he has to be returned to the shop. Sounds awfully sad on paper, but's it's silly fun from Hanna Barbera.

"Magilla Gorilla" wasn't the only character on the show. You also got cartoons featuring the feuding team of Punkin' Puss and Mushmouse and the adventures of Sheriff Ricochet Rabbit.

In this set you'll get 23 episodes on four discs; "Magilla Theme Song, Live And Unplugged" - rare footage of Hoyt Curtin and Bill Hanna at the piano, introduced by series animator Jerry Eisenberg; "Mr. Peebles Pet Shop" - an interactive interview gallery with Magilla Gorilla voice Allan Melvin, series animator Jerry Eisenberg and animation historian Jerry Beck; "Here Comes a Star" - an archival TV special that goes inside Hanna-Barbera Studios to introduce the great ape, plus eight bonus cartoons.

Sounds like a lot of trouble for a silly simian, but why not?

"Lemming" and "L'Enfant"

Here are two that I haven't managed to see yet, but definitely peak my interest.

If you haven't seen Dominik Moll's funny and odd thriller "With a Friend Like Harry," do it now. It's a mind trip well worth taking.

His follow-up features la bella Charlotte Gainsbourg, her mother, Charlotte Rampling, and French actor Laurent Lucas. According to the IMDB, Lucas and Gainsbourg are a seemingly perfect young couple whose lives are infected by his philandering boss (Andre Dussollier) and his boss's bitter, spite-driven wife (Rampling.) The IMDB also promises its "a strange study in obsession and malice from beyond the grave." I'm definitely there.

If I'm not mistaken, "L'Enfant" won a Palme D'Or at Cannes, so it must be good, right? Just the trailer was enough to give me chills, so I'll definitely be renting it.

The drama from Belgian brother Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne follows a young, very immature couple (Deborah Francois and Jeremie Segard) living on the streets of a Belgian steel town with their newborn baby. The father sees his offspring as little more than a commodity to be sold for short-term profit. I'm not sure where it goes from there, but I can't imagine it's anywhere good.

Doesn't exactly sound like a charmer, I know, but I'll definitely be checking it out.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I unfortunately have to get ready for work. Peace out.

Monday, August 14, 2006

"Sunshine" expands; a new role for Pegg

Finally, someone with some power is listening to me. Well, probably not, but I think I'll take a smidgen of credit anyway.

I've been ranting for a while now to anyone who will listen that the very thin distribution of "Little Miss Sunshine" has been simply criminal. Now comes word that this Sundance fave will go nationwide at more than 1,500 theaters Aug. 25 (not sure if this will be quite wide enough to hit Macon, Ga., but if not, I just might take to the streets.)

What has been particularly apalling to me about the marketing of "Sunshine" is that, along with having a variety of fairly big-name stars, it seems to be a family film. OK, an oddball, road-trip family film, but certainly not anything that would damage the psyches of those of us who reside in the hinterlands.

With Beerfest coming and then, hopefully, this little but growing gem, maybe August won't be so dreadful after all.

Get Alienated by Simon Pegg

This one should just be pure fun. Coming on the heels of the "surprising" (to who?) success of "The Devil Wears Prada," Simon Pegg has been cast as British writer Toby Young, who dished about his days at "Vanity Fair" in the book "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People."

According to Variety, Young is very hard on himself about his hapless attempts to cuddle up to celebrities and supermodels, but equally scathing about Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter.

No word yet on who will play Carter, but whoever it is should have a ball with this mass of ego. Pegg is the perfect choice for Young. He showed his impeccable comic timing in "Shaun of the Dead" and, in a small but welcome part, in "M:I:III." No word yet on when "Hot Fuzz," the follow-up from the "Shaun" team, will hit the U.S., but I'll definitely be there for that. (By the way, if you know this info, please don't be afraid to share.)

In case you needed any more incentive to look forward to the Vanity Fair expose, Robert Weide, co-executive producer and sometime director of the sublime "Curb Your Enthusiasm," will make his feature film directing debut with this one. Sounds like a perfect match to me.

A date for "Doctor Who"

As I shared here earlier, season two of "Doctor Who" will be coming to Sci Fi in September. Now comes word that the specific date will be Sept. 29, starting with the two-hour "Christmas Invasion" special that introduced David Tennant as the 10th incarnation of the good doctor.

Since I posted a picture of Mr. Tennant with the last post, here, in the interest of equal time and because I want to is one of la bella Billie Piper, who will be returning as the good doctor's partner in battle, Rose Tyler.

Coming one week later, Oct. 6, will be the third-season premiere of "Battlestar Galactica." With these two shows back-to-back, Sci Fi has one seriously solid block of programming for Fridays (second, in my mind, only to the upcoming "Gilmore Girls"-"Veronica Mars" block coming to the CW on Tuesdays.)

Saturday, August 12, 2006


I was sure this was gonna have to be one of the rare summer weekends when I simply didn't bother going to the movies.

Having already seen (and thoroughly enjoyed) "WTC," the other options looked bleak. "Pulse" (sorry, dear Kristen Bell, but this one just looks wretched), "Zoom" (did someone who greenlights movies actually say "what if we made Sky High, but with Tim Allen this time?") or "Step Up" (this was definitely the most promising option, but I'm way beyond the demographic for a teen dancing movie.)

Then, the Regal pulled a fast one by booking (surely for one week only) "Wordplay," an endearing documentary about crossword puzzles and the people who love them far too much.

For the record, I love crossword puzzles quite a bit myself, but can only manage to finish half of the ones I start. I think that's why I felt more of a connection to the freaks (and I mean that in the kindest possible way) in "Wordplay" then I did to the competitors in "Spellbound" or any others in the seemingly endless supply of spelling bee movies.

The competition in "Wordplay" is the national crossword puzzle championship (or something like that) in Stamford, Connecticut. On the way there, we get a quick but fun portrait of Will Shortz, the New York Times crossword puzzle guru (who Jon Stewart calls "the Errol Flynn of crossword puzzles.") Stewart is the best of the talking heads who share their love of puzzles, but the Indigo Girls and Mike Mussina were also fun. Ken Burns, however, makes a pompous ass of himself in just one minute of screen time.

Because watching someone do a crossword puzzle is about as fun as, well, watching "Lady in the Water," they wisely keep the competition segment to just about 15 minutes near the end. Before that we get to meet the different competitors, who are varying degrees of odd.

My favorite was Ellen Ripstein, a truly weird lady who likes to twirl her baton in the park and tells us she dismissed a former boyfriend who ridiculed her crossword obssession with the rejoinder, "Well, were you ever the best in the world at anything?"

What keeps it all fun, in almost a "Best in Show" way, is that the competitors, while there to win, are all also clearly having a ball. There's no pressing parents like in the spelling bee. You can just pick your favorite and see who wins this great geekfest.

It's like a more cerebral "Hands on a Hardbody." If you missed that one, definitely rent it. It's just like it sounds: a documentary about a competition to see who can stand the longest with both their hands on a gigantic pickup truck, with the winner getting the truck. You get a glimpse into an obsessive subculture of America, and though you won't like everyone you meet, they're all interesting characters.

So two of my favorite movies this summer, "Wordplay" and "An Inconvenient Truth," have been documentaries. And one of my favorite movies of last summer was "Murderball." I guess I just like docos a lot more than I do Tim Allen or computers that can kill you.

Friday, August 11, 2006

"Doctor Who" take two on Sci Fi

Warning: Proceed through this post with caution, 'cause it's about to get awfully geeky in here.

The news from the Sci Fi Channel seems to get better all the time. Though I've been a little disappointed with "Eureka" (so far), Thursday morning came an announcement that made the month of September a lot brighter.

Starting with a two-hour premiere sometime in September (details to come ASAP), the second season of "Doctor Who" will be coming to Sci Fi. It will start with the "Christmas Vacation" special in which David Tennant (best known, I suppose, as Barty Crouch Jr. in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") is introduced as the new Doctor.

This is a no-brainer for Sci Fi, of course, since 1.5 million viewers a week tuned in to watch Christopher Eccleston as the good Doctor in season one. What possessed Eccleston to walk away after just one year I'll never understand, but the show will definitely go on without him.

I'll admit I'm a late bloomer to the "Doctor Who" world. My first introduction was watching season one on Sci Fi, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I'll definitely be back for more.

Mr Gilliam and Mr. Dick?

If this one turns out to be true, it could make for the most interesting biopic in years.

With Paul Giamatti already being lined up to star as sci fi writer Philip K. Dick in the story of the author's life, Terry Gilliam is now rumored to be directing the project. This is now, officially, what I'm going to be thinking about all morning instead of my job.

Gilliam, if he's kept at least a little bit under control, would seem perfect for this, which will take an odd approach to biography. Along with giving the details of Mr. Dick's life, it will weave throughout elements from his last work, "The Owl in Daylight." It sounds a lot like the technique used for "American Splendor" to me, which could be an epic success or a royal failure.

And Mr. Gilliam is certainly familiar with both. I remember watching "Lost in La Mancha," the great documentary about his failed attempt to make a movie about Don Quixote. It's funny at first, as you watch Johnny Depp and his bella companion Vanessa Paradis toiling in the desert for a project you already know won't fly. But by the end, it's just painful to watch a genius director fall so hard.

My money is on much better results with this one. No word yet on how fast they'll move with this profect, using a script by Tony Grisoni, but i'll definitely keep an eye on the proceedings.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

"The Black Dahlia" footage

I was trying to think of a great L.A. period crime drama since "L.A. Confidential," but I came up blank. Leave it to a mad (sometime) genius like Brian De Palma to fill that void.

Coming soon will be "The Black Dahlia," based on the true-crime novel by James Ellroy about the murder of fledling "actress" Elizabeth Short in the '40s. I usually take my crime in the fictional variety, and most often by George Pelecanos (his latest, "The Night Gardener," is a stunner). That said, Ellroy is a first-rate true-crime novelist, and he has been obssessed with this story for much of his life.

The movie focuses on two detectives (Josh Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart) who investigate the case and end up exposing deep corruption in the LAPD (I know this all sounds quite familiar, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun!) Along the way, of course, we'll need quite a few femme fatales, major and minor, including Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, Rose McGowan, Rachel Miner and Mia Kirshner (as Elizabeth Short.)

Brian De Palma has hit ("Scarface," "The Untouchables") as many times as he has missed ("Mission to Mars," "Bonfire of the Vanities), but he definitely has the epic ambitions to pull this off.

Up at the official site is a behind-the-scenes featurette featuring interviews with Ellroy (who also wrote the novel "L.A. Confidential) and others plus some footage that gives you a little taste of what it all will look like. Click here to enjoy and let me know what you think.

A Kevin Smith horror movie?

I know there are many smartasses out there who would say Kevin Smith has been making horror movies of a sort for years now, but I tend to ignore those people as best I can.

What I'm talking about here is something completely different. According to an Ain't It Cool spy who had the pleasure to attend a recent evening with Mr. Smith and "Clerks II," he's definitely planning to exit the comfort of the View Askewniverse to make a full-fledged horror movie.

Here, according to AICN, is what he had to say:

"Yes, I am doing a horror movie next. It's entitled 'Jersey Girl 2.' No, I'm kidding, but yes, I am doing a horror movie next." When asked if it would be a comedy horror, "No, its going to be straight horror. I feel after 7 comedies its time to take a left turn and do a straight up different movie, in this case horror. Its gonna have all of the horror you'd expect, blood and guts...and tits. No, no, no, not that, I'm talkin about man tits. What? What's so bad about man tits? I have tits! They're sexy! And hairy...but, yeah, I'm doin a horror movie." And finally, when asked as to when, he said that it "wouldn't be for a year or two. I just got done makin a movie, I'm not rushing into another. Probably two years."

When it comes to Mr. Smith, I'm a true believer, so whatever comes of this goofy plan, I'll definitely be there to see it. No word yet on whether or not that tool Joel Seigel will get a grisly decapitation, but one can always hope.

John C. Reilly to Walk Hard

For the record, I liked "Ray" quite a bit and "Walk the Line" even more. Heck, I'm even looking forward to Todd Haynes' trippy take on Dylan and Bill Condon's Oscar-bait "Dreamgirls."

However, the musician biopic has come close to the saturation point, and is ripe for a little ribbing from funny people like Judd Apatow, John C. Reilly and Jake Kasdan.

Columbia Pictures has apparently acquired the comedy pitch "Walk Hard," which Apatow and Kasdan will write and produce as a vehicle for Reilly. Kasdan will direct. It will center on the fictional music legend Dewey Cox (Reilly), who will surely hit more than few bumps on his road to stardom.

"It's an idea Jake had after seeing one too many musical biopics and feeling it was time to have some fun with that," Reilly told Variety. "My character is an amalgamation of a number of classic musician stories, tales of excess, highs and lows and bad behavior."

Reilly definitely has soul and growing comic timing, so I can't see any way this won't be anything but great.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Ushpizin," "Steins" coming to Macon

With "Ushpizin" and "Keeping Up With the Steins" coming to Macon's two arthouse movie havens soon, I suppose you could call it "Jewish Week."

No matter what name you give it, with the current state of our world, maybe its high time we learned a little something about a culture many of us (including me) know little about. Besides, if today's guest reviewers are right, they both sound pretty darn entertaining.


When I first questioned how to pronounce the name of this one, my cubicle mate Renee Martinez piped up with a surprising "oh yeah, that's on my Netflix list" (surprising, perhaps, only because I'm a snob who thinks I've heard of any movie my co-workers have long before they do. Silly me.)

Renee reports that she quite enjoyed this Israeli movie about a poor, childless orthodox couple struggling to celebrate the Jewish holy day of Succoth. However, since she didn't write a review for me of this flick being presented Sunday at the Douglass Theatre by the Macon Film Guild, that honor goes to guest reviewer Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times (though he doesn't know he's been given this distinction.) Here's what he had to say:

When "Ushpizin" opens, Moshe Bellanga (Shuli Rand) and his wife, Malli (Michal Bat Sheva Rand), relative newcomers to a Hasidic community, are too synagogue-mouse poor to be able to celebrate the holiday (Sukkoch) at all. But then Moshe remembers what a rabbi once said: "If something is lacking, it was either not prayed for, or not prayed for enough." So Moshe throws himself into ecstatic prayer and soon enough spending money and a sukkah both almost miraculously come his way.

The couple's hope for guests also gets answered, but in a most unexpected way. Showing up at the sukkah are Eliyahu Scorpio (Shaul Mizrahi, a Harry Dean Stanton look-alike) and his pal Yossef (Ilan Ganani), a pair of escaped convicts who have a connection to Moshe's shady pre-Orthodox life.

Obviously, these guests are not exactly pillars of Talmudic rectitude, and though the convicts wonder just how sincere Moshe's change of life is, Moshe and Malli treat them as part of God's plan, as a test from the Almighty. A comedic clash between these oil-and-water lifestyles is inevitable, and "Ushpizin" works up some amiably funny moments as the Almighty's intentions for these people are slowly revealed.

A respectful comedy whose interest for most audiences will be part anthropological, "Ushpizin" walks an interesting line. While it only glancingly refers to some of ultra-orthodoxy's more controversial elements — the childless Malli suggests her husband divorce her to marry someone potentially more fertile — the film idealizes the community in an entertaining way.

This sounds fascinating to me, so I'll make it my second Film Guild movie in a row when this one screens at 2, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 13, at the Douglass Theatre in downtown Macon. Maybe I'll see you there. (It is rated PG-13 for mild thematic elements.)

Keeping Up with the Steins

On the surface, thise one looks to me like something that might have been made by a Jewish Tyler Perry.

In a battle of bar mitzvahs, young Benjamin's father plans to outdo his best friend by throwing Ben a super bash - at Dodger Stadium. Bejamin hatches a plan to sabotage this insanity and well, you can probably see where this is going. It all sounds a little too touchy-feely for me, but we'll see. It's being presented next week at the Capitol Theatre, downtown Macon's home for great beer, even better pizza and, sometimes, yet even better movies.

Since I haven't seen this one either, here's an assessment from our second guest reviewer, Rogert Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times (get well soon, Roger!)

The family is headed by Adam Fiedler (Jeremy Piven), a Hollywood agent who is envious when his archrival Arnie Stein (Larry Miller) throws a bar mitzvah for his own 13-year-old that includes an ocean cruise, a giant model of the Titanic and a trained killer whale wearing a yarmulke.

Adam consults with his wife Joanne (Jamie Gertz) about a bar mitzvah to shame the Steins. It may involve booking Dodger Stadium and having his son Benjamin (Daryl Sabara of "Spy Kids") arrive from the sky.

The problem with this grandiose scheme is that young Benjamin has no heart for it. Because he narrates the movie, we learn from his point of view that he feels embarrassed by all the attention, overwhelmed by the scope of the ceremony and terrified by his inability to master Hebrew in time to read it aloud during the religious prelude to the conspicuous consumption. He is also sad that his grandfather Irwin (Garry Marshall) has not been invited; Irwin and Adam have not been on speaking terms for years.

The movie was directed by Scott Marshall, son of Garry, nephew of Penny, and therefore born with comic timing in his genes. His plot is not astonishingly original; it bears some similarity to the competition over holiday decorations in the awful "Christmas With the Kranks" (2004), and cheerfully goes for one-liners and sight gags. But it is always about something, and if a bar mitzvah marks a boy's entry into manhood, Benjamin's shows him becoming his own man.

At one point in the film Adam looks at home movies of his own bar mitzvah, a humble backyard affair. His wife has never seen them before. They are a reminder of the underlying purpose of the ceremony, which is not to out-spend the neighbors but to wish a young man godspeed in his life. Because the movie never really forgets this, "Keeping Up With the Steins" never loses its footing.

This is being shown at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, and Sunday, Aug. 20, at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Macon. (It is rated PG-13 for some crude language, nudity and brief drug references).

Even better, the DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS are coming to the Capitol Sept. 14 to just rock beyond all reasonable comprehension. I doubt they'll transform the classy Capitol into a glorious den of filth like they do with Athens' 40 Watt, but it should still just be tons of fun. Get your tickets now here.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Giamatti as Philip K. Dick; Baldwin on "Sopranos"

It's finally really good to be Paul Giamatti.

I saw "Lady in the Water" this weekend, and thought it was just so laughably awful that I couldn't even bring myself to review it. For anyone who hasn't seen it, I'll just offer this nugget: The ever-modest M Night Shyamalan gave himself a big part in this one, as an aspiring writer who, we learn, has written a book full of dangerous ideas that will get him killed but will eventually change the world for good. It's incredibly arrogant piffle, but Giamatti soldiered through, and now it seems he's getting a really big reward.

Bart Giamatti's son is in talks to star as sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, scribe of many books that have been made into great movies, including, of course, "Blade Runner," and currently (except in Macon, Georgia) Richard Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly."

Tony Grisoni, whose most prominent previous work was the adaptation of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," will write the screenplay for this project that has been authorized by Mr. Dick's estate. He died in 1982.

According to the good folks at, the nontraditional biopic will interweave Dick's life with his fiction and incorporate elements of his last unfinished novel, "The Owl in Daylight."

The first thing I remember seeing Paul Giamatti in was another rather unconventional biopic, "American Splendor," based on Harvey Pekar's comics. He built up a permanent reservoir of goodwill with me after that one, and not even an arrogant hack like M. Night can take it away. I can't wait to see what he does this.

"Sopranos" gets a Baldwin

Daniel Baldwin, whose best work by far came on the first seasons of "Homicide," is returning to TV in what should be a very funny turn on HBO's "The Sopranos."

Having been rebuffed by Ben Kingsley in an episode last season, Christopher (Michael Imperioli) will turn to Baldwin to play the lead in the mob/horror movie he described to his potential mob investors as " 'Saw' meets 'Godfather 2'."

His pitch scene, for which he kidnapped his drug-addled screenwriting chump JT (Tim Daly), was one of the funniest mini-arcs in the previous season, but it was dropped rather abruptly. I'm glad to see they're picking it up, and can't wait to see where this might go.

Filming is under way on the final eight episodes of "Sopranos," which are slated to air early next year, most likely starting in March.

Baldwin's Beau Felton on "Homicide," easily the best cop show in TV history, was a memorable turn, followed by a long list of movies on his IMDB roster that have quickly and properly faded away.

Welcome back to TV, buddy. It's clearly where you belong.

Monday, August 07, 2006

"Tenacious D" trailer

On a slow Monday for movie news, you can always count on Harry Knowles' Ain't It Cool News for a few nuggets.

The first good thing I found there this morning was the first trailer I've seen for Jack Black and Kyle Gass' upcoming "Tenacious D" movie.

I have to admit, Tenacious D tests the limits of my thus-far-fairly unconditional love for Jack Black. I went out and bought the CD, but have listened to it maybe twice. Being someone who often enjoys acting like I'm 8 years old, I enjoy a good fart joke as much as the next guy, but this is basically one fairly good fart joke that never knows when to end.

On the upside, Gass, a good comedic actor in his own right, should finally get some well-deserved attention. He was great as a member of Jason Segel's posse on "Undeclared," and if I'm not mistaken, he also played that stoned-out DJ in the bootleg cut of "Almost Famous."

Anyways, if there's something I've missed about Tenacious D, please let me know, and click here to enjoy the trailer yourself.

Early word on "Futurama"

Also on AICN this morning, some joker calling himself Ben Sinister has apparently read the script for the first four new episodes of "Futurama," which will be hitting Comedy Central in 2008.

According to Mr. Sinister, the script is for a DVD movie, which was probably where the "Futurama" folks were sure they would end up. Now, it's being divided into four episodes.

In a plot that sounds awfully familiar, Planet Express undergoes a hostile takeover, and its new owners involve Bender in their new criminal plot.

Mr. Sinister promises it gets really fun from that starting point, calling the story "delightful and truly epic in scope," and the eternal optimist that's been beaten down deep inside of me has to believe him.

I've always loved "Futurama," but thought it was way too odd to have survived so long on TV. Whenever someone annoys me, I'm always tempted to tell them to bite my shiny metal ass, but I've so far resisted that temptation.

"Speed Racer" from the Wachowskis?

This oddity comes directly from the Where Are They Now? file.

It seems the Wachowski brothers are trying to get back behind the camera to bring us a live-action movie based on the "Speed Racer" cartoon.

Much like the second and third "Matrix" sequels, this one, at least initially, simply makes me say WTF? This sounds like a disaster in the making to me, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.