Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ellroy's "White Jazz" takes shape

Having finally gotten around to seeing the disaster that was "The Black Dahlia," I've decided to consider it simply an Ellroy aberration, and I'm ready to move on, thanks to George Clooney.

While I have no opinion on whether or not, as People has declared twice now, he is the world's sexiest man, I do think he's one of the smartest. He almost always makes good movie choices, and the next two years should be no exception.

Most exciting to me is he has signed on to produce and star in an adaptation of James Ellroy's "White Jazz." It will be directed by Joe Carnahan ("Narc" and the upcoming "Smoking Aces") from a script by his brother, Michael Carnahan.

Sounds like a solid team to me, and "White Jazz" is simply a sensational novel. The final installment in Ellroy's "L.A. Quartet" of novels, it's about the commanding officer of LAPD's vice division in the 1950s who, after being asked to investigate the source of payola in his department, finds himself the scapegoat. As with any Ellroy novel, of course, it's about a lot more than that, and it's all written in the scat tone of jazz which will hopefully translate to the big screen.

A second Clooney project just announced with Warner Bros. will be one he will direct, the heist movie "Belmont Boys."

"Belmont Boys," written by "Ocean's Thirteen" writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien, is the name of a group of seven thieves who meet as railbirds at the racetrack in the old days and almost pull off the job of a lifetime. Now, 30 years later, they are thrown back together to finish what they started. Plotwise I can only say meh, but hopefully I'm wrong.

Before then, he'll reteam with the Coen brothers for "Burn After Reading," a promising-sounding comedy about a C.I.A. guy who’s writing a book and he loses the disc. Clooney’s character is not the C.I.A. guy, but a guy that goes around killing people.

Even before then, if you can keep up, he's directing "Leatherheads," described as "a romantic comedy about 1920's football," co-starring, of course, Renee Zellweger. Again, meh.

So, count me as very psyched about "Burn After Reading" and "White Jazz," and lukewarm at best about the other two. Call Clooney whatever you want to, but you can never call him boring.

Murphy back for more 'Beverly Hills Cop'

I just don't get Eddie Murphy.

After years of making easily forgettable comedies which too often involved diapers, he's been getting raves and Oscar buzz for his performance in "Dreamgirls." So what does he go and do? He puts on a fat suit for "Norbit," which wasn't terribly funny when it starred Martin Lawrence the first time.

And now he's set to return to the reliable gravy wagon, "Beverly Hills Cop." He's hooking up with Paramount again for a fourth installment, which is now seeking writers.

The first "Beverly Hills Cop," I'll concede, was hilarious, but it's been a solid downward trajectory since then, and I can't imagine things will pick up with No. 4.

About the only good thing this can bring the world is more Judge Reinhold. To that, at least, I can say bring it on.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Demko's DVD shelf

Yes, I realize that "Superman Returns" and at least 15 other combinations of the Superman flicks come out today on DVD, but you don't need me to tell you about that.

Instead, here's a short list of the three titles that catch my eye this week.

First up, and my pick of the week, is easily "Clerks II." People tend to either love or hate Kevin Smith, and I definitely fall into the former camp. Though I refused to follow him to "Jersey Girl," I've gladly delighted in the juvenile depths of "Mallrats" and even "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back."

But, of course, he was never better than with "Clerks." This sequel, while it could only pale in comparison, manages to still be very funny as our heroes have only moved so far as to be working at the fast-food joint Mooby's (after, of course, burning down the Quick Stop.)

It loses its way in the third act as clerks Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson overact through a painful prison sequence, but Rosario Dawson is a welcome addition. The funniest stretch for me, among many high points, was Randal's rather misguided but passionate defense of the term "porch monkey."

Smith could never be accused of scrimping on the DVD extras - did anyone really need 90 minutes of deleted scenes from "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back? - and this one is no exception. You'll get two commentaries, one by Smith, producer Scott Mosier and director of photography David Klein, and one by Smith, Mosier and actors O'Halloran, Anderson, Trevor Fehrman, Jennifer Schwalbach and Jason Mewes; deleted scenes with introduction by Smith; "Back To The Well: Clerks II" 90-minute making-of documentary; "A Closer Look at Interspecies Erotica" featurette (inevitable with Smith, I guess); bloopers, and 10 Train Wrecks: Video Production Diaries.

Like Kevin Smith, I'm not planning to grow up anytime soon. Regress with him yourself for 90 minutes or so with "Clerks II" and just enjoy the laughs.

"Where Angels Fear to Tread"

I should have taken the chance to see Damen Helen Mirren in "The Queen" last weekend, but you can get your fix on DVD this week with this fine E.M. Forster adaptation. In the story, a recently widowed English woman (Mirren) impulsively marries a dashing younger Italian man (Giovanni Guidelli) and her relatives (Helena Bonham Carter, Rupert Graves, and Judy Davis) rush off to save the family reputation, only to be swept up in the complications. This is all funnier than it might sound, and makes for a very appealing period flick.

"Monster in a Box"

When Spalding Gray jumped off the Staten Island Ferry in January 2004, the world lost a master of a dying art: the monologue. "Swimming to Cambodia" had more verve than this latter offering from documentarian Nick Broomfield, but as you watch Gray recount the story of his attempts to write a manuscript and the bizarre tangents his life underwent in the process you see the demons that drove his life and art, and it's fascinating to watch.

Philippe Noiret nous a quitté

That may be old news to the rest of the world, but that's the headline that hit me hardest this morning on

Philippe Noiret, who is best known to American audiences for his roles in "Cinema Paradiso" and "Il Postino," made 125 films before passing away on Thanksgiving day at age 76.

One other movie of his that sticks out in my mind is Louis Malle's "Zazie dans le Metro." In this crazy little movie about a young girl's (Catherine Demongeot) exploration of Paris, Noiret played her enabling uncle Gabriel. In Raymond Queneau's novel and in the movie you see the same spirit that much later inspired Jean Pierre Jeunet's "Amelie," and Noiret was definitely in on the fun.

Like Robert Altman, he died while still at work. He had just finished work on a film titled "3 Amis." If bad news also comes in threes, I can't imagine what will come next.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

NYC movie report

By any standard I had a great Thanksgiving holiday, hanging out with my family in the big city, and I hope everyone else did too. This space, however, is about movies, and by that one, I'd say it breaks down thusly: 2 great, 1 good and 1 pretty darn awful. Which in my book is a pretty good stretch.

Here are reviews of the first two, and a brief word about the latter ones:

The Last King of Scotland

Because all of the (very well-deserved) hype going into this one was about Forest Whitaker's performance as Idi Amin, I wasn't prepared for just how good the rest of the movie is too. Count it as a very pleasant surprise.

Whitaker is electric, but what really drives this flick is the way in which we view his descent into dangerous madness through the eyes of a young Scottish doctor played by James McAvoy. The real drama hinges on whether, after being annointed as Amin's personal physician, he is simply oblivious to the genicide going on around him or worse, tacitly part of its execution.

Viewing - or often ignoring - the bloody reign of Amin through the eyes of McAvoy's Dr. Garrigan, who as often as working just wants to have fun, can be very uncomfortable viewing. And when director Kevin McDonald finally unleashes what should have been obvious to the young doc all along, it's a gut punch that will linger with you for a long time.

But this is really Mr. Whitaker's show, and he lives up to all the hype. His Amin is largely a big kid, and it's easy to see how his enthusiasm was contagious. I think they may have darkened his skin for the role, but this is about much more than the look. From the outset you can see the madness in his eyes, and he lets it out with a deceptively slow but sinister delivery. Believe it: You will be hearing a speech from Mr. Whitaker at the Oscars.

After watching this compelling flick, I thought of two (albeit very different) movies that pale in comparison. The climax of "Last King," in its sheer horror, made me think of "Hostel," and how much more scary Mr. Whitaker's Amin was than anything that comes from the minds of the gorehounds that pose as today's horror directors.

And, though I concede this may be unfair to Sofia Coppola, I couldn't help but think of the failings of "Marie Antionette" as well. Director McDonald, who also made the great documentary "One Day in September," put great care into constructing the Uganda of the early 70s, just as Sofia did in projecting her own vision onto 18th century France. But whereas Sofia sidestepped the famous quote that hovers over the ghost of Marie Antionette, this superior flick embraces the one that inspired its title, and shows us in bright colors just how Amin reached the point where he would declare himself "The Last King of Scotland."

I have no idea if Africa, or anything for that matter, is "in" right now, but I do know I highly recommend this movie.


Going into the weekend, this one was on the top of my must-see list, and it didn't disappoint.

What director Pedro Almodovar has created is, to put it simply, a world without men, and the mystery about how his leading ladies landed in this situation.

At the outset, however, something just felt out of sync with this one. We begin with Raimunda (a radiant Penelope Cruz) and her young daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo), living with a man (Antonio de la Torre) who has inappropriate eyes and hands for young Paula. Almodovar shows how they handle this situation as he often does, with humor, but it just doesn't gel with what we're seeing on screen.

The movie hits its groove, however, with the return of Raimunda's mother Irene (the truly great Carmen Maura), who had disappeared in a fire. Maura is, from her arrival, everywoman. Much like Bruno Ganz in "Wings of Desire," she just eats up the screen everytime she peeks out from underneath a bed or from around a corner.

And her presence gives the movie a needed emotional core, taking Cruz's Raimunda from cartoon anguish back to the magicly real world around her and letting her really shine. Her Raimunda is tough but very vulnerable, and she works the full range of emotions with skill and style. And no Almodovar ensemble movie would be complete without more colorful women, led by Lola Dueñas, who as Raimunda's sister Sole delivers welcome comic relief as she hides Maura's Irene in her house as "la Russe," a Russian refugee who helps out in her makeshift hair salon.

But as with any great mystery, "Volver" really excels in its reveal. As Maura and Cruz finally come face-to-face and lay down all their burdens, it's clear just how much Almodovar loves these two women, and he makes us love them too.

This Filthy World

I would have skipped this flick, essentially a tape of John Waters doing his standup schtick, if the director himself weren't in attendance. He gave a brief introduction at Cinema Village, and then answered questions for about 15 minutes afterward.

The movie itself, which is already out on DVD, I believe, is much like Waters himself: Funny, often thoroughly disgusting, but charming nonetheless. It's at its best when he's talking about the early days running around Charm City with the late Divine, just filming whatever they thought would be the most shocking. But in the last 20 minutes, it just devolves into an annotated filmography, with Waters just listing his flicks wtih a running commentary.

Still, if you like John Waters, and I often do, this is well worth a rental.

The History Boys

Maybe I just didn't get this one. The play about a group of eight English lads in their final term of prep for admission into one of the country's big two - Oxford or Cambridge - won like a gazillion Tonys on Broadway.

On screen, however, its just eight competely vacuous twits who revel in their rather sheltered existence as they discuss the vagaries of literature and history. If this sounds painful, it often is. The movie just failed, for me, to deliver any connection to any of these brats, and therefore no reason to care if they succeeded or not.

The best moment, which we admittedly had to run out on to make our dinner reservations, came when Rufus Wainwright crooned "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" over the closing credits. Though I was occasionally bewitched by "The History Boys," it definitely more often left me scratching my head in bewilderment. If there was something I missed, please feel free to let me know.

And there you have it. A weekend of movies, two great, one good and one pretty darn awful. And now, if you'll excuse me, my punishment for this respite from reality is a long day of catchup at work.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all who stop by, have a great holiday weekend. I will be away until Tuesday, when I should be returning with three or four reviews of what I managed to see this weekend, so please feel free to check back then. Peace out.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

R.I.P. Mr. Altman

I could probably write a fairly readable essay about this great man, but I just can't bring myself to do it. The wound is still too fresh.

I was just in a foul mood from the moment I heard about Robert Altman's death yesterday, and it didn't really go away until I talked to my brother on the phone last night. It made me think of two of the better times I've had watching Altman movies in a theater. They both came on family vacations.

No matter where we go, my parents, my brother and I always see a movie or three while we're there (always at my urging, but it doesn't take much.) Even at the World Cup, on a side trip to Amsterdam, I dragged my brother to see Sofia's woefully misguided "Marie Antoinette."

When we were all on vacation at North Carolina's Outer Banks many years back, we decided to hit the local multiplex. And I use that term very generously, because if I remember it had exactly two screens. Our choices: "Nell" or "Pret a Porter." Smarter folks would have run in fear, but my father and I soldiered on with the Altman flick and the others opted for Jodie Foster making undecipherable noises for two hours.

While Mr. Altman was alive, I've left "Pret a Porter" off any list of the worst movies I've ever seen, but it's time to come clean. This movie was horrible by any measure. But we all had a grand laugh about the outing afterward, and it's stuck with me all these years.

The second, much more recent time, was for a much better flick. We were in London a few years ago (yes, my parents do like to travel, and luckily they often take me with them.) The National Film Theater, operated by the British Film Institute, is just a film-lovers mecca. In the 10 days or so we were there we went twice, for "La Dolce Vita," and even better, for "Nashville."

Now this was at least the 10th time I had seen Robert Altman's masterpiece, but never in such a grand setting. It was like it was new to me all over again, and it remains one of my fondest movie memories.

I guess the point of this fairly meandering missive is that, for every "Pret a Porter," the great Robert Altman made 10 movies almost as good as "Nashville." The others I could just watch over and over again include Gosford Park, Short Cuts, The Player, Vincent and Theo, McCabe and Mrs. Miller and M*A*S*H. I could go on forever with that list, but I'll just add that if you haven't seen his "Tanner '88" miniseries for HBO, rent it now and enjoy.

And as I think about this great man, I'm once again preparing to hook up with my family, this time in New York City. Four days, and at least four movies. It's a sickness, I know, but one I'll surely never give up.

So, rest in peace, Mr. Altman. You will be missed by anyone who loves movies, and especially by me.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Demko's DVD shelf

I'm still not sure I ever want to spend two hours with a live Al Gore, but on film he turned out to be remarkably charming, so I just have to make his "An Inconvenient Truth" my DVD pick of the week.

We got two docos here in Macon this summer, this one and "Wordplay." Though I enjoyed the latter quite a bit, I was thoroughly entertained - and terrified - by what is essentially a lecture from Mr. Gore about what could definitely be the end of the world.

What makes this all more than bearable is that he's often funnier than I imagined possible. If only he showed this wit and charm on the campaign trail ... well, we don't wanna go there. Just rent his great movie.

Da Ali G Show

It's easy to forget that before he became the world's most popular antisemitic Kazakh journalist, Borat was simply a character on Sacha Baron Cohen's very funny "Da Ali G Show," on HBO here in the states. All 12 episodes hit DVD today.

Ali G took aim at hip-hop like Borat does the rest of the world, and often hit his target. As a bonus, if my memory serves me right, you can see appearances from Bruno, the Austrian fashionista who Baron Cohen will play as his next big-screen character. There's also bonus footage of Borat at the Hamptons Horse Show and the American Patriotism Event, plus an Ali G interview with Noam Chomsky. In my book, that alone makes this well worth a rental.

OK, from here on out, it's "special edition" releases of movies I really like. I've become increasingly wary of these repackagings, so proceed with care.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

I'd highly recommend this "50th Birthday Deluxe Edition" simply to show kids an example of the great movies the people they look to and respect keep turning into trash.

As a bonus, in addition to this Chuck Jones classic, you get the TV flick "Horton Hears a Who" (which I just adore and, of course, will be getting its own wretched update next summer. Will it ever stop?) Do your part by showing younguns these two great flicks in their original beauty.

A Fish Called Wanda

It's sometimes hard to believe, but this 1988 flick was a solid reminder that John Cleese can be a very funny man. This week it gets a 2-disc Collector's Edition.

I'm still not exactly sure how Kevin Kline got an Oscar nomination for this clueless crime caper, because it's Michael Palin who steals every scene he's in as the stuttering would-be jewel thief, and Jamie Lee Curtis is also in top form.

Cleese will soon be back in a big way, since he's written the script for the next Aardman flick, some kind of craziness set in the time of cavemen. Take your chance now, surely packed with extras, to see him again at his post-Python best in this flick.

Oldboy: 3-Disc Special Edition

Warning: For Park Chan-wook revenge is a dish best served very brutal and very bloody. In this second installment in his "Vengeance" trilogy, which won the Grand Prix at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival, a mad scientist turns a deprivation expirement into an unrelenting campaign of torment. Choi Min-Sik plays his victim.

I know this sounds a lot like "Hostel," "Saw" or any other of the recent gore-shlock flicks you can think of, but there's a lot more going on here than that. It's often darkly funny, and Min-Sik just gives a bravura performance you won't soon forget.

One notable extra that's at least as obsessive as the movie itself: "The Autobiography of Oldboy," a 212-minute video diary from each of the 69 shooting days. Definitely not sure I could watch that in one sitting, but it must be fascinating.

Cinema Paradiso

I normally have a low tolerance for schmaltz, but Giuseppe Tornatore's sentimental gusher about movies gets me every time. This week it gets a "Two-Disc Deluxe Edition" that includes both the U.S. release which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and the much longer (174 minutes!) cut he released later. Like with "Almost Famous," the shorter version is definitely better to me, but you can decide for yourself.

I had to check the IMDB to be assured that the great Phillippe Noiret, who plays the paternal theater projectionist in "Cinema Paradiso," is indeed still alive and still making movies at age 77. Huzzah.

Monday, November 20, 2006

No "Hobbit" for Peter Jackson

That seems to be the word in a statement he and Fran Walsh sent to, and it seems pretty definite.

The prospect of Jackson teaming with New Line again, which has the distribution rights to the Hobbit story, if I'm understanding this right, had always been dicey. Jackson's company, Wingnut Films, has brought a lawsuit againt New Line over profits from the three Lord of the Rings movies, so this wasn't exactly a lovefest. And now it seems their relationship is over for good. Here's an excerpt from their statement.

Several years ago, Mark Ordesky told us that New Line have rights to make not just The Hobbit but a second "LOTR prequel", covering the events leading up to those depicted in LOTR. Since then, we've always assumed that we would be asked to make The Hobbit and possibly this second film, back to back, as we did the original movies. We assumed that our lawsuit with the studio would come to a natural conclusion and we would then be free to discuss our ideas with the studio, get excited and jump on board. We've assumed that we would possibly get started on development and design next year, whilst filming The Lovely Bones. We even had a meeting planned with MGM executives to talk through our schedule.

However last week, Mark Ordesky called Ken and told him that New Line would no longer be requiring our services on the Hobbit and the LOTR 'prequel'. This was a courtesy call to let us know that the studio was now actively looking to hire another filmmaker for both projects.

You can read the rest of their statement here.

Bad news indeed, but not really tragic. Don't get me wrong, I flat-out love The Hobbit. I learned to play the piano to those cheesy Rankin-Bass songs, so the story has always been special to me in many ways.

That said, maybe it's the right time for Mr. Jackson to just move on. I can't wait to see what he does with The Lovely Bones, which I've just started reading, and wherever else this slightly crazed genius wants to go.

Wilson, Reitman and ninjas

OK, enough bad news for today. From here on out, nothing but positivity for a Monday morning, I promise.

What's funnier than a ninja? How about a former ninja with time to kill. That seems to be the premise being developed by two very funny men, actor Rainn Wilson and director Jason Reitman.

Wilson is writing "Bonzai Shadowhands" (great title) for himself to star in (must be nice!) and Reitman to direct for Fox Searchlight.

Reitman is currently at work on "Juno," a coming-of-age story about a young woman who finds herself pregnant at an early age. My brother tells me the flick, to star young Ellen Page and "Arrested Development" alum Michael Cera, was written by City Pages scribe Diablo Cody, who now has pink hair and writes an extremely addictive blog titled "Pussy Ranch." You can read her great stuff here.

Wilson, who of course plays the more-than-slightly fascist Dwight on "The Office," said he plans to enlist his friends from the show to help with this first screenwriting gig. "I am going to take my outline to all of the writers and one by one get their ideas and feedback, and by the end of that, it'll be kick-ass in a way only a ninja can kick ass," he said.

A kick-ass idea indeed.

'Borat' film of the year - in Kazakhstan?

It seems like Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat is being sued by someone new every day, but now he's finally getting some love from an unusual source.

The Kazakh government threatened Borat with "legal measures" last year, prompting him to respond that he fully supported "his" government's decision to "sue this Jew".

Since then, the government has softened its stance, with officials saying they understand it is satire and not directed against Kazakhstan. But cinemas in Kazakhstan and neighboring Russia have both been told not to screen the "offensive" movie.

That meant Karavan, a leading weekly tabloid, had to go to great measures so a correspondent could see Borat's movie in Austria.

Correspondent Andrei Shukhov's take: "Cultural Learnings is certainly not an anti-Kazakh, anti-Romanian or anti-Semitic ... It is a cruelly anti-American movie. It is amazingly funny and sad at the same time. I think this is the best film of the year."

Well put. I'm not sure I'd go quite that far, but Borat did make a damn funny flick, and I'm glad to see at least one Kazakh scribe can laugh along with him.

Tidbits from Jack Black

In an interview with which you can read here, Jack Black talked a lot about his upcoming flick with Michel Gondry, "Be Kind, Rewind," but also let loose some other funny thoughts.

On more "Nacho Libre:" "I sure hope so; I love working with Jared [Hess]. I think there's a good bet we'll collaborate on something again. ... Mike had an idea that it would be Nacho goes to Japan, but we'll see about that."

On an Altman flick: "I'm loosely signed on to something, verbally; I don't know if I'm allowed to say if it's just verbally. There was talk of a possible Robert Altman thing, big cast, and semi-improvisational."

Nacho in Japan? Jack Black and Robert Altman? It all sounds like fun to me.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Casino Royale

Casino Royale, Daniel Craig's first foray as 007, is the perfect example of why I hate using stars to rate movies. If I did, I'd give it three stars, but that wouldn't let me explain what made this a good Bond, but not quite a great one.

So, if you'll bear with me, I'll break it down just a bit.

What's good? Well, certainly most importantly, Craig himself. I've made clear my support for a more polished Bond, perhaps in the form of Clive Owen or Colin Salmon (a black Bond?) But after seeing it, I see that wasn't what they needed to make this work.

This is the very first 007, a brute killer with some of that Bond charm, but still very much a work in progress. And Craig delivers that to perfection, making the transition with ease as we watch. He's taken a lot of crap from people who don't know much about making movies, so I hope he's enjoying this triumph.

And Eva Green, as I expected, fits right into the Bond girl tradition as Vesper Lynd. She has just a hint of the cunning of later 007 damsels, but also an awkwardness that's right for the role. And, of course, it doesn't hurt that she's simply stunning to look at. My only beef with the casting was that they couldn't give the great Jeffrey Wright and Isaach de Bankole more than about three lines each as, respectively, CIA agent Felix Leiter and African warlord Steven Obanno.

The second thing director Martin Campbell got right was the structure. The framing devices, starting with 007's first two kills and ending with him having learned, as M (the always welcome Dame Judi Dench) puts it, to trust no one, just perfectly set up this movie and as many more as they want to make. And there's a fluid movement to what's essentially one very long scene at the casino, where our hero takes on Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in a poker game to try and take the money that funds his terrorist operation.

And it wouldn't be Bond without death- and logic-defying action, right? Campbell, who showed he knows how to have fun with the two recent Zorro movies, delivers two set pieces, at the beginning and the end, that are just a pleasure to watch. If there's a better place to set a scene than the Piazza San Marco in Venice, I haven't found it, and Campbell makes full use of it in a great sequence that has Bond sinking a building into the famous canal.

OK, so the wannabe critic in me really liked "Casino Royale," but the popcorn-flick lover that's sparring with him had a few beefs.

First, like John Candy's bumpkin critic on SCTV, I sometimes just like to see stuff get "blowed up." Especially in a Bond movie. More action would have made the 2-1/2 hours go faster with this one.

And second, an entirely shallow but, I think, legitimate complaint about the cheesecake-to-beefcake ratio in this one. It becomes very clear in "Casino Royale" that Daniel Craig worked out a lot for this role. But when, for the second time we see him (instead of Ursula Andress or even Halle Berry) emerging from the ocean in a skimpy bathing suit, it's just overkill.

In Bond movies, we expect 007 to be a suave ladies man, but all I'm asking for here is equal time. This isn't high art. If I have to see Mr. Craig frolic on the beach, couldn't more of it have been with the beautiful Eva Green in an equally skimpy bikini? I mean, I'm not asking for too much here am I?

But, that said, they pulled off a real coup by showing us the birth of Bond and still setting it in the current day. And Craig, if he wants it, has set himself up for a string of 10 Bond movies or so that hopefully will just build on the promise of "Casino Royale."

Saturday, November 18, 2006

I've seen the new Bond ...

And I liked it quite a bit, but I, unfortunately, have to work today, so I won't be making a full review until tomorrow.

One early, and fairly shallow, quibble: With a woman as beautiful as Eva Green, couldn't there have been a better cheesecake-to-beefcake ratio in this one?

If you've seen Casino Royale, please feel free to let me know what you thought of it, and to check back tomorrow for a proper review. Peace out.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Spectacular spy flicks

In honor of the return of James Bond, which for some reason I'm just psyched beyond all reason about, here's a list of the spy flicks that I just love. Just to be ornery, I've made it a Bond-free zone.

The 39 Steps - If pressed to pick one favorite Hitchcock movie, I'll always say Vertigo, but this British flick comes in a very close second. After finding a spy murdered in his rented flat, Robert Donay goes on a wild chase led by the titular phrase and a small Scottish town circled on a map. It's just wicked fun.

Manchurian Candidate - Although I thought Jonathan Demme did a fine job with his thoroughly unnecessary remake, I'm of course talking here about John Frankenheimer's original. I've never understood why Frank Sinatra withheld this from distribution after the JFK assassination. I guess it just hit him too hard, but this is his finest work and a taut thriller.

La Femme Nikita - Luc Besson is a maddeningly uneven director, but when he's on he has a truly one-of-a-kind style. I like "Leon" quite a bit too, but he was never better than with this seductive flick about a violent street punk (the unforgettable Anne Parillaud) recruited to become an assassin.

Marathon Man - I'm not sure why, but I'm thoroughly fascinated by movies about Nazis, and this is one of the best. Directors of what passes for horror nowadays could learn a lot from the classic torture sequence in this tale of a graduate student (Dustin Hoffman) lured into a dangerous plot by his CIA agent brother (Roy Scheider). Just a classic 70s flick.

Boys from Brazil - Gregory Peck is a hoot to watch in this thoroughly over-the-top flick about a plot to create the Fourth Reich. Where else can you find Sir Laurence Oliver as a Nazi hunter?

The Quiet American - There have been probably too many movies about the CIA, but this one from Phillip Noyce (which I know I mention quite a bit) remains my favorite. Brendan Fraser is the spook who plays mind games with a British journalist played by Michael Caine - until they both fall in love with the same Vietnamese vixen.

The Saint - The French are just some truly odd people, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. We all know they love Jerry Lewis, but they apparently also just adore this TV show starring Roger Moore, and I do too. When I was there, it seemed to be on at least once every day, and I often tuned in to see how Roger Moore won the right to play James Bond.

A short list today because I overslept. Feel free to sound off with your favorite spy movies, because I know there are many I have missed. And bring on Bond!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Really "Flushed Away"

How much does an animated movie have to make to be a success? I had no idea.

Looking at the numbers for "Flushed Away," the new Dreamworks/Aardman pic, I was pleased to see that, even though it finished third in its first week, it still had the biggest opening ever for an Aardman flick (just nudging out "Chicken Run.")

It has now taken in $40 million since what Variety called its "unimpressive" bow. That's $40 million in three weeks. What the heck were they expecting?

Well, given the price tag, apparently a lot more. I had no idea that you could possibly spend a whopping $149 million on an animated flick, even one that looks as good as "Flushed Away."

I liked it quite a bit, but if they had spend just a little of that cash on a better story they'd probably be in a better mood right now. I thought it did manage to retain much of the Aardman wit, and I especially liked the running joke about England making the World Cup final (yeah right.)

Even before the movie opens in the UK (how in the world do you not open an Aardman flick in the UK!?!), Dreamworks is ready to dump Aardman, meaning the studio may have to find a new partner for its next flick, "Crood Awakening," which has definite potential.

Co-written by John Cleese, it's set in the prehistoric era, when a man's position as Leader of the Hunt is threatened by the arrival of a prehistoric genius who comes up with revolutionary new inventions ... like fire.

In the end, if a Dreamworks/Aardman split means a return to low-tech claymation and more attention to story for this next one, it could be a win for both Aardman and its fans.

Oscar sets its doc short list

Like the American electorate, it seems the Oscar voters have Iraq on the brain. As a panel of its documentary branch narrowed the candidates down from 81 to 15, that part of the world was definitely dominant.

Here are the titles that advance to the next round of voting: “Iraq in Fragments,” "An Inconvenient Truth," "My Country, My Country," "The War Tapes," "The Ground Truth," "Deliver Us From Evil," "Jesus Camp," "Shut Up and Sing," "The Trials of Darryl Hunt," "Blindsight," "Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?," "Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple," "Sisters in Law," "Storm of Emotions" and "An Unreasonable Man."

I'm rather embarrassed to say I've only seen one of these, "An Inconvenient Truth," which isn't exactly a shocker to be on this list. Though I haven't seen it yet, I'm glad "Jesus Camp" made the first cut, because I quite enjoyed the first effort from its directors, "Boys of Baraka."

I was surprised, however, that two movies in particular didn't even make it this far. I found "Wordplay," with its uncritical look at the extremely geeky subculture of crossword lovers, to be utterly charming, and Jonathan Demme's "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" was a first-rate concert flick.

The 15 survivors will be wittled down to five when the Oscar noms are announced on Jan. 23. Man, do I love this time of year.

David Lynch gets cheesy

Following in the sad footsteps of Terry Gilliam, David Lynch has taken to the streets to try and draw attention to Laura Dern and "Inland Empire."

Wednesday he was apparently camped in front of the Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard with a cow and a large "for your consideration" banner.

"I'm here to promote Laura Dern who I think you'll agree gave an incredible performance that's going to live," Lynch said. "I think the Academy members love showbusiness -- and this is the showbusiness approach."

But why the cow? Lynch's reasoning was simple: "I ate a lot of cheese during the making of 'Inland Empire.' "

Pretty pathetic, but I hope he at least had some fun, and I'll definitely be seeing "Inland Empire" as soon as I get the chance. Below is some video from two dudes who met him pulling the same stunt a couple of days earlier. Enjoy.

Nate & Matt meet David Lynch (and a cow)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Desert island DVDs

When I make a list, that's a sure sign that I have nothing else to talk about, but I hope you find something interesting in it anyways, and maybe a flick or two you haven't seen before.

I was introduced to the desert island discs concept while living in England. It usually involved very stuffy people like John Major listing which concertos he couldn't live without, but I'll try to keep this more fun.

Plus, as some may point out, there's little logic to it. For example, none of the movies I listed as the 10 funniest movies made this list. These are just the ones that, as I woke up this morning, I decided I could least live without, in no particular order.

"Almost Famous": The original movie, not the bloated director's cut. Cameron Crowe has made some truly horrendous flicks, but this autobiographical/rock fantasy pic is one I've probably seen 15 times, and it never gets old.

American Splendor": I don't think I had ever heard of Paul Giamatti when I first saw this one, which made it all the more magical. Harvey Pekar is the people's champ, and this flick is just ingeniously structured.

"Yi Yi": This Taiwanese soap opera from Edward Yang, who subsequently seemed to disappear from the face of the earth, has often been called a movie about nothing. But that's kind of the point. In looking at the lives of one very ordinary Taipei family, he finds beauty in the most mundane things.

"Y Tu Mama Tambien": I list this one first in my profile, and it's definitely near the top of any list of my favorite movies. Alfonso Cuaron's road movie about two teenagers and their slightly older temptress (which, for the ladies, brought Gail Garcia Bernal to the world) is just a delight to behold.

"Heavenly Creatures": I know people worship at the altar of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I'm definitely ready for Peter Jackson to take on the Hobbit, but for me this remains his best movie so far. There's never been a better flick about the power (good and bad) of imagination, and it clearly inspired Guillermo Del Toro in the making of Pan's Labyrinth (which I can't wait to see.)

"The Quiet American": This is the version by Phillip Noyce starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser, paired with "Rabbit-Proof Fence" in 2002 to give Noyce a truly banner year. Caine's performance is tremendous, and Noyce managed to make a bold statement about American foreign policy without contemporizing Graham Greene's Vietnam War novel. (And his next movie will be of Phillip Roth's "American Pastoral." Great novel should lead to great flick.)

"Amelie": Audrey Tautou, who would later just look so dour in posters for "The Da Vinci Code" (which I will never see), was just the definition of adorable in this Jean Pierre Jeunet fairy tale. I know some people who just find this moving annoying, but most of those people just annoy me, so I guess you can call this one a kind of litmus test.

"Ghost World": Whatever happened to Thora Birch? There was "American Beauty" and than this far superior comic book flick from Terry Zwigoff and Daniel Clowes, and than she just seemed to disappear. Come back, Thora. We all need you.

"You Can Count on Me": Laura Linney, Matthew Broderick and especially Mark Ruffalo are all outstanding in this great little Kenneth Lonergan flick about family ties. I'm not sure why, but this one just speaks to me very loudly. Probably because, like Ruffalo's Terry Prescott, I'll probably always be a bit of a fuckup.

"Smoke": A great cast led by Forest Whitaker, William Hurt, Harvey Keitel and Harold Perrineau drive this Paul Auster/Wayne Wang collaboration that's all about the power of storytelling. The ending sequence to that Tom Waits tune whose name escapes me right at the moment is worth the price of admission by itself.

So, there you have it. A very contemporary list, I know, but that's just what I like. Please feel free to respond with the 10 movies you couldn't live without.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Funnyman Paul Feig gets busy

Paul Feig may just be the funniest man that almost nobody's ever heard of.

You want proof? Well, he was Judd Apatow's partner in crime for the sublime "Freaks and Geeks," writing six episodes, including the finale, "Discos and Dragons." He then went on to direct seven episodes of "Arrested Development." And now he's getting into movies in a big way.

The first flick he directed and rewrote, "Unaccompanied Minors," has potential. It's about a group of kids who wreak havoc after getting snowed in at Chicago's O'Hare airport, and though I've never had an ounce of fun at an airport, I'll give this one a chance in December (especially since AD's Tony Hale is in it, at some point.)

Confident of its success, Warner Bros. has now signed up Feig to rewrite and direct "Smooth Operator," a comedy about a bumbling CIA agent being trained to pitch woo so he can seduce the ladies. As long as this doesn't star Jon Heder, it could be very funny.

"It's like a high-tech version of 'Cyrano,' " Feig told Variety, "or like a 'Hitch'-meets-'Rush Hour.' "

Well, that's a little scary. But after seeing the nearly flawless "Stranger than Fiction," I've got a hankering for smart comedy, and the world could certainly use more of Paul Feig.

Cohen officially in for "Sweeney Todd"

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading these stories about people suing "Borat." No matter how drunk you are, if you actually say into a camera that you would like to own slaves, there's a very large chance that you're just an asshole. Nuff said.

But on a different topic, it seems the very funny Sacha Baron Cohen is now definitely on board for Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd," to play Signor Adolfo Pirelli, a barber who becomes the nemesis of Sweeney Todd. Todd (Johnny Depp is the barber who teams with the murderess Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) to kill people, grind them up and use them in her meat pies.

I'm beginning to believe there's no way this won't be fun. Cohen is also on course to shoot "Bruno," based on the Austrian fashion reporter character from "Ali G," next year, plus star in two more flicks. He'll be appearing in the Tina Fey-scripted "Curly Oxide and Vic Thrill" and the remake of the Francis Veber comedy "Dinner for Schmucks." Bring em all on.

Eva Green and Paul Auster

This one is in French from my new favorite movie site,, so bear with me.

If I'm getting this right, Eva Green will be the main star of the upcoming "In the Country of Last Things," to be based on the book of the same name by Paul Auster.

Eva will star as Anna Blume, who goes on a journey in search of her missing brother. What she finds is an American city in the near future, populated almost wholly by street dwellers, squatters in ruined buildings, scavengers for subsistence. I get nervous when I see the word post-apocalyptic in any language, but this could be interesting. It will be directed by someone I had never heard of named Alejandro Chomski.

Eva, of course, will wow the world as the newest and possibly most enchanting Bond girl yet, Vesper Lynd. I found it hard to watch Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" for many reasons, but the main one was I simply couldn't take my eyes off her, no matter who else might be on the screen. And Paul Auster wrote "Smoke," which Wayne Wang managed to turn into one of my favorite movies. So, no matter how creepy this futuristic vista turns out to be, I'll follow these two at least that far.

"Friday Night Lights" stay on

It's one of the great crimes in TV scheduling that "Friday Night Lights" is on simultaneously with the "Gilmore Girls," meaning I never get to see the great gridiron drama.

Lorelai (big spoiler following, though it was pretty much revealed in a commercial last night; if you don't want to read it, stop now and skip to the next paragraph) and Chris are getting hitched tonight in Paris, so there's absolutely no chance I won't be tuning in for that too.

However, having seen the first two episodes of "Friday Night Lights" on DVD, I know it has the makings of a great series. The pilot revels in sports cliches yet manages to suck you right in, and the second episode is even better. It deserves a full season, which it has just been granted by NBC. This means that, next August or so, I'll be able to rent the full season on DVD, which is the way I really like to watch TV now anyway. Huzzah.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Movie outlook

Variety hit me with a fairly staggering statistic this morning: between this Friday and Dec. 31, 65 pics will be jockeying for position, with an estimated 27 going wide. Variety tried to posit this as a bad thing, and in terms of marketing it probably is, but as a movie buff I just say bring it on.

Here's a look at what's coming for the rest of the year, both those being released wide and many that will never hit the big screens in my little corner of the world (descriptions of movies I know absolutely nothing about come from Yahoo, and some near the end just don't get any description.)

Nov. 17

Casino Royale (Wide): Daniel Craig takes up the mantle of 007 with a posse of haters on his back, but I'm cheering for him and I think this Bond will just rock.

Happy Feet (Wide): Another animated movie about penguins? I was ready to skip this one until I saw George Miller's name attached to it. Anything from the man who made Babe deserves a look.

Let's Go To Prison (Wide): Will Arnett finds life after Arrested Development in this silly flick about a career criminal (Dax Shepard) who gets his revenge when he finds himself in a prison cell with the son (Arnett) of the judge who sent him to jail.

Bobby (Limited): I get it. Celebrities like Bobby Kennedy. So do I, but this movie just looks like it's gonna be atrocious.

Candy (Limited): A poet (Heath Ledger) falls in love with an art student who gravitates to his bohemian lifestyle - and his love of heroin.

Fast Food Nation (Limited): I'm hoping against hope that Richard Linklater made a good choice in fictionalizing Eric Schlosser's expose of the fast food industry.

Flannel Pajamas (Limited): A story about a young couple who fall in love, but whose different backgrounds and religious views threaten to tear them apart.

For Your Consideration (Limited): What does a man have to do get a wide release? Apparently the mad success of "Best In Show" wasn't enough, so only you big-city folk will get to see Christopher Guest's take on the awards season this week.

Nov. 21

The History Boys (Limited): The story of an unruly class of bright, funny teenage boys in pursuit of sex, sport and admission to a prestigious university.

Nov. 22

Deck the Halls (Wide): Why does Christmas inspire stupid movies about people being mean? Just say no to this stinker starring Matthew Broderick and Danny Devito.

Deja Vu (Wide): Though I appreciate that it was filmed in N'awlins, I think I'll skip this flick starring Denzel Washington as an ATF agent unexpectedly guided by a feeling of deja vu who travels back in time to prevent a murder (good luck with that.)

The Fountain (Wide): Darren Aronofsky is finally back again. Hugh Jackman stars in a thousand-year odyssey searching for the secret to eternal life to save the woman he loves (Rachel Weisz).

Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny (Wide): Seeing the first six minutes of this epicly silly movie made me a believer, so I'll definitely be there to see Jack Black and Kyle Gass conquer the world.

Opal Dream (Limited): A young girl's unshakable faith in her two imaginary friends resonates throughout her hometown in the Australian Outback.

Dec. 1

National Lampoon's Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj (Wide): Seeing the trailer for this one before Babel (a truly odd fit) was enough for me. How did National Lampoon fall so far?

The Nativity Story (Wide): Tis the season, I guess. I'll probably take a chance on the biblical story of Mary and Joseph.

Turistas (Wide): Rather than trying to change the fact that everyone in the world hates America, we're apparently just gonna keep making gory movies about it. This time a group of backpackers gets hacked up in Brazil. I'll pass.

10 Items or Less (Limited): Morgan Freeman stars as an aging Hollywood actor who strikes up an unexpected friendship with a quirky grocery store clerk.

3 Needles (Limited): A drama spanning three continents to tell three separate yet universal stories connected by the HIV pandemic.

Dec. 8, 2006

Apocalypto (wide): All the buzz about this one leads me to believe that Mel put the fact that he's cracker-jack loony to good use in crafting this epic about the Mayan culture. I'll definitely be there to find out.

Blood Diamond (wide): Leo has been on a real acting roll lately, but his accent in the commercial for this latest African adventure is simply ridiculous. But it does look pretty exciting.

Breaking and Entering (wide)

DOA: Dead or Alive (wide)

The Holiday (wide): Watching Jack Black pitching woo with Kate Winslet probably won't be enough to entice me to see this fairly standard romantic comedy.

Unaccompanied Minors (wide)

Dec. 15, 2006

Arthur and the Invisibles (wide): Frequent visitor Marina, whose site is linked in the list at right, has informed me this animated adventure will be Luc Besson's last time in the director's chair. I hope not, but this one just looks like fun anyway.

Eragon (wide)

The Pursuit of Happyness (wide) Please, please please don't go see this one. In the trailer alone, Will Smith must have told his kid (who, I think, really is his kid) at least 20 times that the secret to life is to follow your dreams. Thanks for the insight. An Oscar nomination, however, is surely coming his way.

Dreamgirls (limited): How the heck is this limited? I can only assume that this musical starring Beyonce, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy will be playing everywhere.

Good German (limited): Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney and Cate Blanchett offer a World War II murder mystery. In my mind, I'm already there.

Home of the Brave (limited)

Inland Empire (limited): I can only assume that David Lynch's latest mindtrip will see only a very limited release, but I'll definitely check it out on DVD.

Venus (limited)

Dec. 20

Charlotte's Web (wide): I can't imagine this will be anything but awful, but the story is so magical that I'll have to give it a chance.

The Painted Veil (limited)

Dec. 22

The Good Shepherd (wide)

Night at the Museum (wide): I already choose to believe that, at night, museum installations come to life, so this silly flick starring Ben Stiller should be a lot of fun.

Rocky Balboa (wide): Apparently Rocky decides to make yet another comeback after watching a video-game simulation of how his next bout will play out. No, I'm not making this up.

We Are Marshall (wide): I'm a sucker for sports underdog movies, and just the trailer for this one was enough to hook me. I'm not Marshall, but I can be for a few hours or so.

Curse of the Golden Flower (limited) Variety gave Yimou Zhang's latest palace epic a lousy review, but I've chosen to ignore that and just stay psyched for this one.

Dec. 25

Black Christmas (wide): All I know is this is apparently some kind of horror flick remake that features Michelle Trachtenberg of "Buffy" fame. Sorry Michelle, but I'll have to pass.

Children of Men (wide): Alfonso Cuaron enters the realm of science fiction with an intriguing premise and a solid cast led by Clive Owen. Huzzah.

Notes on a Scandal (limited)

Dec. 27

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (wide)

Dec. 29

Factory Girl (limited)

Fast Track (limited)

Miss Potter (limited): Apparently Renee Zellwegger gets skinny again to play Beatrix Potter. Her mandatory Oscar nomination will surely follow.

Pan's Labyrinth (limited): I didn't think Guillermo Del Toro's fantasy set in Franco's Spain was ever going to open, but I guess it made it just under the wire for awards season.

Whew. That was a little longer than I expected, but there you have it. Of all these, I'd have to say the ones I'm most excited about are For Your Consideration, The Good German and Pan's Labyrinth.

As usual, feel free to let me know which flicks you're jazzed about, and have an entirely bearable Monday. Peace out.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


Weaving together interlocking stories is a challenge taken on by many directors, but successfully conquered by very few.

Robert Altman, of course, is the master. Every time I again watch how many disparate characters he tied together in "Nashville" I just have to marvel.

Others have been less fortunate. Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic" was, to me, a noble failure at best, and Stephen Gaghan's "Syriana" was just a mess.

Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (and, lest he hunt me down and smite me for omitting him, screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga) come much closer to the former rather than the latter by wisely choosing only three stories in "Babel," and creating tension throughout by getting us heavily invested in their outcomes.

The three stories presented are deceptively simple. In one an American couple are on vacation in Morocco when the wife (Cate Blanchett) becomes injured in what quickly develops into an international incident. The second involves a Mexican housekeeper/nanny who, in order to attend her son's wedding in Mexico, takes the two American children she is charged with caring for with her. And the third, and by far most powerful for me, is about a deaf-mute Japanese teenager named Chieko (a simply amazing Rinko Kikuchi).

Inarritu uses sounds as much as sights to keep the tension high as the three stories unfold. From the opening sound of an elderly Moroccan man rapping on the metal door of a neighbor's house, each echo just builds the sense of impending violence and doom.

And two sights in particular stand out more than almost anything I've seen this year. The first is the Mexican wedding, which engages us with its sense of pure joy, with a large dose of help from a small turn from a mischievous Gael Garcia Bernal.

The second and even better sequence comes when Chieko and her friends are lured out for a night on the town by some young cats who are pitching woo. Tokyo is a feast for the senses, and as you watch the action unfold at a discotheque, sometimes from the view of young Chieko, you'll realize that Sofia Coppola just scratched the surface with "Lost in Translation." It's the best large-crowd sequence I've seen since the street party in "City of God," and it's simply a stunner.

What also draws us into these three stories are two truly compelling performances. The first, by Adriana Bazzara as the nanny Amelia, is deceptively laid back until she's pushed to the brink along the U.S.-Mexico border, and she takes you right along with her so well that it can be uncomfortable to watch.

The second was by young Rinko Kikuchi who, without saying a word, makes you feel for this girl who has more issues to deal with than many of us will confront in our entire lifetime. I hate to keep using words like "amazing," but I just can't help it. If there's any justice, you will get to hear her speak on Oscar night, most likely in the category of supporting actress.

And the A-listers, Brad and Cate? They do fine, but are given the least to work with. Brad in particular gets stronger as the movie goes on.

Without giving away at all how all this ends, I'll just say that this movie was superior for me to the two previous Inarritu-Arriaga collaborations, "Amores Perros" and "21 Grams," because with all this misery there is a welcome glimmer of hope.

What they've made here, without offering any simple solutions, is an extremely entertaining treatise on our failure, on a global scale, to communicate.

As we were driving home, I couldn't help but think about the fallout between Inarritu and Arriaga, aired in the New York Times, which could lead to their own communication breakdown and the end to their working together on these great movies. Now that would be truly tragic.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Stranger than Fiction

Film critic Robert W. Butler, who I normally like quite a bit, did me a real disservice by comparing Stranger than Fiction to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and then making the rather audacious statement that the former is better than the latter.

First of all, though STF is a very charming film in its own right, it's certainly no Eternal Sunshine. And to its credit, despite some similarities in structure, I don't really think it was trying to be.

Instead of trying to be a full-blown mind-bender, it's really a study of structure in literature, and as such it succeeds in tearing through the cliches of the novel form even as it revels in them.

The story centers on Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an IRS auditor who may or may not also be the subject of a novel by Kay Eiffel (a very welcome Emma Thompson). To tell anything more would be a crime I won't commit.

Along with the clever structure, what makes this all work so well are the performances, particularly from two men I don't always like to see on screen.

First, Will Ferrell. I had no idea that, if he simply toned it down a few notches, he could retain all his comic timing and carry a movie squarely on his shoulders. He's on screen at least 70 percent of the time, and for once I never got tired of seeing him. And second, Dustin Hoffman, who, like Al Pacino, has often been coasting through his latter career by doing an awful lot of shouting. Here he's pleasantly subdued and insightful as the literature professor who helps Harold through his predicament.

I expected the ladies to have a bigger part in this one, but among them Emma Thompson makes the most of her limited screen time as the author who may be Harold's narrator. She's a perfect portrait of obsessive-compulsiveness, and I enjoyed every minute she got on screen. As for Maggie Gyllenhaal, she really doesn't have much to do but look pretty (which she's awfully good at), but there's still something extremely pleasing in watching her talk about cookies.

And the ending of this one, which you won't hear about from me, fits perfectly within its literary framework. I have to admit that I don't read nearly as many books as I used to, and this very smart and funny flick has me thinking I should change that immediately.

Or, maybe tomorrow, because now I have to see if my mighty Maryland Terrapins can hold on for the second half and defeat Miami. Fear the turtle.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Factotum in Macon

My brother Paul, who, unlike me, gets paid to write and was therefore rather busy during this rather joyful election week, still took time out of his busy schedule to write this partial (and somewhat profanity-laced) review of "Factotum." It's being presented this Sunday afternoon at the Douglass Theatre at 2, 4:30 and 7:30 by the Macon Film Guild, so definitely check it out.

Anyways, here's what my bro, who tried to get a role in this flick as an extra at a Minneapolis-area race track, had to say about it:

"Bent Hamer's Charles Bukowski biopic is a manifesto for slothfulness and degeneracy. Matt Dillon - sporting a pot belly and acne scars - drinks, fucks, fights, gambles and gets fired from every menial job he can find. This sordid lifestyle is not scorned, but rather celebrated. Dillon and his revolving crew of misfits are held up as beacons of freedom, unencumbered by the workaday troubles of Joes and Jans stupid enough to burden themselves with annoyances like jobs and families.

By contrast the working stiffs who mock Dillon's insistence that he's a fledgling writer are treated with contempt. Perhaps it's a reflection of my own disreputable lifestyle, but I found this thoroughly un-American notion quite appealing. When Dillon forsakes his ice truck-with back door wide open, in the blazing sun-for a seat at the bar, it seems like a perfectly logical, even admirable decision. It reminds me of a line from a Todd Snider song: "Watch what you say to someone with nothing/ it's almost like having it all."

Based on Bukowski's autobiographical novel, there's not much to speak of in terms of plot. The only drama stems from which girlfriend Dillon will get drunk with and which crappy job he will next get fired from and which magazine will reject his latest short story.

This would probably prove toxic if it wasn't for a uniformly winning cast. Dillon is a charming lout, affably shrugging his shoulders at a world he doesn't understand. He's joined by stalwarts Lili Taylor and Marisa Tomei as a couple of his wino girlfriends, and Fisher Stevens as an equally slothful co-worker. (Factotum is also, tragically, the last movie ever made by Adrienne Shelly, who was murdered last week - wtf? - in Brooklyn. She'd dropped off the radar screen in recent years, but was fabulous in those early Hal Hartley films.)"

So, there you have it. I'll definitely be there Sunday, after "Babel" and before "Prime Suspect: The Final Act." Busy day!

NBC's 'Studio 60' gets full season

TV Guide's Michael Ausiello landed the good-news scoop that NBC's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" has received a back-nine order from NBC, meaning it will run for at least a full season of 22 episodes. Huzzah!

Speculation is ripe that the show will be moved from its 10 p.m. Monday slot soon, where it has failed to retain many of the viewers who tune in for "Heroes" at 9.

In other semigood pickup news, the CW has ordered three additional scripts of "Veronica Mars." This show is at its peak in its third season, so given the generic crap that rules the airwaves on the CW, I really can't see this great show not getting another full season and more.

Weinsteins woo Wong

It seems the Weinsteins may put out at least one good post-Miramax movie after all.

The Weinstein Co. has bought all U.S. rights to Kar Wai Wong's "My Blueberry Nights," his first full English-language production. The crazy road movie centers on singer Norah Jones, who travels across the U.S. searching for answers about love and finding comedic adventures along the way. The rather impressive ensemble cast of beautiful people also includes Jude Law, David Strathairn, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman.

That premise sounds just dreadful, but I love the Wong flicks I've managed to see so far, especially "Chungking Express." They seem to exist in a permanent dream state, and it's a beautiful place to visit. Here's hoping this one works too.

Transformers featurette

And now, for everyone who's made it this far, a treat (and yet another chance for me to play around with Youtube!) Here, from "The Transformers - The Movie (20th Anniversary Special Edition)" DVD, is a teaser/featurette showing some footage from filming of Michael Bay's "Transformers" movie due next summer.

As always, feel free to respond with any nasty comments about Michael Bay that cross your mind, or with anything else you might want to say. Peace out.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A salute to Helen Mirren

I realize I'm far from alone in pointing out the greatness of Helen Mirren, but the biggest news I could find this morning is that she is coming back to PBS in "Prime Suspect: The Final Act" starting this Sunday.

You Brits out there may have already seen this one, which apparently has her Jane Tennison battling her biggest baddie yet: The bottle. It sounds kinda depressing, but then I've never tuned in to the great "Prime Suspect" series for a pick-me-up.

They actually showed a trailer for "The Queen" in front of "Borat" this weekend, so I'm cautiously optomistic that we will get Mr. Frears' flick in my little corner of the world sometime before she takes home the Oscar.

In the meantime, a look at my five favorite performances by my favorite actress:

5. "Gosford Park": Though Julian Fellowes rightly won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for this murder mystery, director Robert Altman also should have gotten more credit. It's one of his best among many great ensemble pieces, and Helen Mirren stands out in a cast full of British heavyweights as Mrs. Wilson, the head of the domestic staff at the stuffy Gosford Park estate.

4. "The Madness of King George" This is one is mostly a showcase for the comedic talents of the late, great Nigel Hawthorne, but Ms. Mirren still finds moments to shine in his shadow, because we all know that every crazy king needs a foil and an enabler.

3. "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" Before he became obsessed with Rembrandt, director Peter Greenaway made a series of flicks that were as expressive as paintings. Though it often verged on (and sometimes crossed over to) the realm of the truly gross, this one's still a feast for the senses, and Richard Bohringer and Helen Mirren clearly had a lot of fun making it.

2. "Some Mother's Son" How is that you can now get every possible season of "Saved by the Bell" on DVD, but you can't get this great little IRA flick anywhere? It's the best of Terry George and Jim Sheridan's flicks about "the troubles," and Helen Mirren and Fionnula Flanagan deliver solid performances as the mothers of two men caught up in the hunger strike led by Bobby Sands at the notorious Long Kesh prison. I know Daniel Day Lewis' "In the Name of the Father" and "My Left Foot" get more attention in this series of flicks, but if you can find a copy of "Some Mother's Son," I can't recommend it highly enough.

1. Prime Suspect Though I put "Homicide: Life on the Street" a notch above this one in the arena of cop shows, they're in close company, which from me is a very high complement. Policing has never been more political than in the saga of Detective Inspector Jane Tennison, easily Helen Mirren's best performance. She has played the gritty but very vulnerable cop through seven miniseries now, and they've never gotten old.

If I had to pick one favorite, it would have to be Prime Suspect 2, in which she's knocking boots with Colin Salmon as she's on the trail of the murderer of a young black girl in London. If you need an introduction into this great series, this is where I would recommend to start.

And Sunday, starting at 9 on PBS, she'll finally hang up her badge with Prime Suspect, The Final Act. At least, she might. Thankfully, she hasn't completely closed the door on the story of Jane Tennison. As she told the New York Times about another Prime Suspect, “I don’t think so, no, I don’t think so. You should never say no because it can come back and bite you. But I don’t think so, I don’t think so.”

Sounds like a door ajar to me, but even if it never opens again, I'll follow Helen Mirren just about anywere.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Scorsese and Kazan?

This isn't a blog on politics, so I'll just say this and move on: I woke up way too early this morning, as I always do, and for the first time since, well, 9/11, I turned on the TV news first thing. But this time I just had to smile. And if George Allen turns out to lose, I'll be smiling all day.

OK, enough of that. This is about movies, right? And what better to talk about in movies than Martin Scorsese, probably my favorite subject.

After making a Trojan Horse threat to walk away from big-budget flicks while at the Rome Film Festival, Mr. Scorsese has now signed a four-year, first-look deal with Paramount Pictures to direct and produce films, TV, direct-to-DVD pics and digital content. Paramount also has the option to own half of any film the filmmaker directs elsewhere, as well as to co-distribute.

But, what does that mean for us little folk? Well, first it means a not-terribly-exciting Rolling Stones documentary, which I'm hoping he can just wrap quickly and move on to three other projects that are much more appealing.

Leo and Marty go together as well as Martin and Lewis, so why not another collaboration? Mr. Scorsese's next big budget flick should be "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt," with Leo, who was easily the best actor in "The Departed," playing Mr. Roosevelt. Bring it on.

The next, "Silence," based on the novel by Shusaku Endo, is about two Jesuit priests, Sebastião Rodrigues and Francis Garrpe (most likely Javier Bardem and Alan Magee), who travel to 17th century imperial Japan to see how the evangelical mission is going. There they witness the persecution of Japanese Christians at the hands of their own government, which wishes to purge Japan of all western influence. I know it has its detractors, but I simply loved "Kundun," so this just seems tailormade to Scorsese.

But the last project, which I only heard of this morning, is the most intriguing of all. Scorsese, who has made some great documentaries in the past, now has his sights tentatively set on Elia Kazan, and he seems to be a man who gets what he wants fairly often. Kazan's story, with the blacklist politics and his many great films, should just be a blast, so definitely keep your eyes on this one.

Terminator show gets its Connor

To me, Sarah Connor will always be the most famous person (except for the late, great Frank Perdue, my former neighbor) to ever come from Salisbury, Md., Linda Hamilton, so I've included with this post a picture of her.

That said, this news is about an upcoming "Terminator"-based TV show to be called "The Sarah Connor Chronicles." It has landed its own Sarah Connor in the form of Lena Headey.

Who? I had to look up her IMDB credits to answer that one, and I'm still not completely sure, but she's apparently also going to be in Frank Miller's "300," so huzzah to her. As to the show, I can still only say meh.

Six minutes of Tenacious D

Since I'm still in a good mood and I need something to make sure it lasts, here's what purports to (and really seems to) be the first six minutes of "Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny."

I've voiced doubts about this novelty act from Jack Black and Kyle Gass before, but for six minutes at least, their movie just rocks. As Ronnie James Dio rightly declares in this clip, "Rock is not the devil's work, it's magical and rad," so enjoy this and feel free to let me know what you think.

Tenacious D Movie - First 6 Minutes!!!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Demko's DVD shelf

This was definitely an odd summer for documentaries here in Middle Georgia, mostly because we got any at all.

First, Al Gore's surprisingly charming global-warming horror flick "An Inconvenient Truth" turned up in Centerville for exactly one week, and then the crossword doco "Wordplay" visited Macon, also for just one week. Luckily I managed to catch them both.

The latter is my DVD pick of the week because it delves respectfully into the sometimes creepy community of folks who are way too devoted to crossword puzzles (myself, I try to do one a day, but these folks definitely put me to shame.) Along with a heated competition at the National Crossword Convention, you get funny input from Bill Clinton, Mike Mussina, the Indigo Girls and, especially, Jon Stewart.

Supplements for the DVD release include deleted scenes; an interview gallery; "The 5 Unforgettable Puzzles Ever" featurette ; "Wordplay" goes to Sundance; a Gary Louris music video: "Every Word"; "Waiting for the New York Times": A short film by Patricia Erens, and a photo gallery. Check it out if you don't mind encountering some serious geeks.

James Bond ultimate editions

With "Casino Royale" almost here, the Daniel Craig hating has seemed to slow down a bit lately. Personally, I think it's gonna be a great flick, and people will definitely grow to like him in the role.

In the meantime, you can check out his predecessors in two Bond megapacks, each featuring five flicks. Volume One features The Man with the Golden Gun, Goldfinger, The World Is Not Enough, Diamonds Are Forever and The Living Daylights, while Volume 2 has A View to a Kill, Thunderball, Die Another Day, The Spy Who Loved Me and License to Kill.

New to these new 2-disc editions are previously unseen archival forage, new featurettes and interactive supplements. The fun here, of course, is picking your favorite Bond. Call me predictable, but I'll take Connery every time in Thunderball and Goldfinger. And bring on Casino Royale! And, of course, feel free to vote for your favorite Bond.

The Sopranos Season Six, Part One

This is coming out surprisingly early, given that the concluding stretch of the show won't be back before January, but I'm not complaining.

The season begins with Tony in a coma and, unfortunately, I think the writers were for much of this season too. It's the weak link in the "Sopranos" saga thus far, but there's still plenty to like. My favorite storyline from this season was Paulie's slow meltdown after finding out his "mother" was not who she claimed to be, and it's always nice to see Julianna Margulies, here as a real estate agent who gets entangled with both Tony and Christopher.

Inside the Actor's Studio - Dave Chappelle

Personally, I just can't stand James Lipton, but I'll rent this one anyway out of love for Mr. Chappelle. This was filmed shortly after Dave walked away from a $50-million payday and returned from his sabbatical in Africa, so if he reveals anything at all it should be fascinating, and surely very funny.

All hail YouTube

I guess noone developed a cure for cancer this year. It seems that YouTube, which I'm convinced was invented just to allow me to waste more time at work, is Time magazine's "Invention of the Year for 2006."

Well, actually, it seems someone sort of did make a breakthrough on cancer, just not enough of one to beat the YouTube juggernaut. It apparently beat out a vaccine that prevents a cancer-causing sexually transmitted disease and a shirt that simulates a hug to grab top honors. Huzzah indeed.

In all seriousness, it is a fascinating contraption, and has altered the way we communicate enough to be a deserving winner.

Monday, November 06, 2006

"Borat" conquers the world

OK, I confess, I just didn't see this coming.

As we lined up for my usual noon Saturday movie time, I was surrounded by moms and younguns, surely not lined up to see "Borat." Though I was aware of the opening day $9 million number for "Borat," I was sure that Saturday and Sunday would belong to Tim Allen in a fat suit.

Boy, was I wrong. Not only did "Borat" conquer America this weekend, it conquered the world. Showing on only 837 screens, compared to more than 3,400 for "The Santa Clause 3," "Borat" hauled in a mighty $26.4 million in the U.S., compared to about $20 million for "SC3."

Huzzah indeed. I railed at this site earlier against a staged release for "Borat," mostly out of fear that it would skip my little corner of the world in the first week, but I once again have to eat crow. As it expands to up to 2,500 screens this upcoming weekend, it could even accomplish the rare feat of making more money in week two than week one.

"Borat" topped the international boxoffice this weekend as well with an estimated $17.7 million from 993 screens in 17 markets, bringing its total to $44.1 million worldwide in its opening weekend.

So why, beyond the undoubtable allure of Tim Allen in a fat suit, did I have my doubts? Well, after my parents went to see "Borat" Friday, they each e-mailed me to say it was kinda funny but "awfully gross." I just assumed that would drive many people to just say no, but gladly they didn't.

Sacha Baron Cohen rules the world, and for that it can only be a better place.

Errol Morris taking on Abu Ghraib

There are very few moviemakers in the world I like more than Errol Morris, and he's been quiet for far too long now since "Fog of War."

Details are sketchy so far, but word came this morning that he will reteam with Sony Pictures Classics on a pic about the treatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison run by the U.S. military in Iraq.

This can only lead to good things. Morris has made so many great movies. Two that I'm particularly fond of are "Mr. Death," about an inventor of capital punishment machines who gets duped (maybe) into denying the Holocaust, and "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control," about four men, a lion tamer, a topiary sculptor, a robotics expert and a student of the noble naked mole rat. If you haven't seen either, I recommend them most highly.

Lauren Graham in production game

"Gilmore Girl" Lauren Graham is preparing for life after Stars Hollow by stepping up her production game, unveiling a slate of shows she'll executive produce via her Warner Bros. Television-based Good Game Entertainment banner.

With her name attached I'll watch them both, but one certainly sounds more promising than the other.

The first is "Objects of Desire," described as a sexy dramedy set at an international auction house. Not my cup of tea.

Much more promising is that she's hired Chris Rock's partner in crime, comedian Lance Crouther (who played the lead role in "Pootie Tang" and lived to tell about it), to develop a sitcom called "Praying on People" that will send up gospel cliches in the vein of Tyler Perry.

It will be about a successful standup comic who, after a breakdown, decides to leave showbiz and return to his inner-city neighborhood to find God. His brother is a preacher.

I like Tyler Perry's movies, but if you have the nerve, they're definitely ripe for parody, and Crouther is a very funny man, so this could turn out to be great.

Either way, it's good to know we'll have Lauren Graham around for a good while longer. She'll also be on the big screen with Steve Carell in "Evan Almighty" and with Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore in something called "Because I Said So."

Saturday, November 04, 2006


I guess you can say I'm two-and-a-half for three this year on movies that have gotten way beyond believable word-of-mouth before I ever get to see them.

First came "Snakes on a Plane," which fizzled at the box office but delivered for me just what I asked from it: A big ball of B-movie fun.

Then "Little Miss Sunshine," which was so hyped by fans before I saw it that I was sure I would have to be let down, but amazingly I wasn't. The ending of this one is just remarkable, and it's the second-best movie I've seen this year (after only "The Departed," so far.)

And now "Borat." Several critics have called it the funniest movie they've ever seen, and unfortunately I have to disagree. Don't get me wrong. It is extremely funny at many points, but uneven in others. I'd put it somewhere around 7 or 8 on my list of all-time funny flicks, which is obviously still high praise.

For anyone who hasn't seen this one yet, Borat is a creation of comedian Sacha Baron Cohen that has made appearances on his Ali G show. Though he claims to be a journalist from Kazakhstan, what he really is a mirror on America as he crosses the country, working his way into places he clearly doesn't belong.

What makes Baron Cohen's Borat work much better then Ashton Kutcher's "Punk'd" or even the old "Candid Camera" is that he brings something to the equation. Though much of the movie is about how people react to his very odd remarks, he himself would be very funny even without them.

To me, the comedian he reminds me of most is Andy Kaufman. Just as with Kaufman's best work, there's a big "wtf?" barrier to cross with Baron Cohen's work, but once you get past it you'll laugh as much as you squirm. And, for the most part, his targets show their biases with little prodding from Borat, so he doesn't have to often resort to outright cruelty.

The only time it was too much for me was when Borat and his producer (Ken Davitian) reach the breaking point and have an altercation I wouldn't describe to you even if I could bring myself to do it. Let's just say this: I had to turn away from the screen exactly two times this year, at the end of "United 93," knowing all too well how it would end, and during this very uncomfortable scene.

The bottom line: "Borat" is often laugh-out-loud funny, and he keeps his schtick fresh much longer than any of the "SNL"-character flicks ever managed to. If your sensibilities can take the shock, I recommend it most highly.

Friday, November 03, 2006

De Palma and Capone, together again

One of my favorite movie sites in the world is the Frenchie This morning they had an intriguing tidbit, which I'll do my best to translate (though I haven't spoken French regularly for more than 15 years.)

If I have this right, Brian De Palma is cooking up a prequel of sorts to "The Untouchables," to be called "The Untouchables: Capone Rising." It will be written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien and, as the title implies, it will be about the arrival of Capone in Chicago and his rise to power, plus the beginning of his relationship with copper Jimmy Malone (played with relish by Sean Connery in the first flick.)

De Palma definitely has his detractors (including me; I couldn't even bring myself to watch "The Black Dahlia.") As popcorn flicks go, however, I thought "The Untouchables" was a lot of fun, and this certainly could be too.

Shooting is scheduled to start in june 2007, so this is definitely one to keep your eyes on.

Hughes brothers are back

Allen and Albert Hughes accomplished a singular feat in my book, before disappearing completely for the last five years: They managed to make four good movies in a row.

Arriving in style with "Menace II Society," they got even better through "Dead Presidents" and "American Pimp," then stumbled a bit with their still-entertaining take on Jack the Ripper, "From Hell." And then, for whatever reason, they just stopped.

What does it take to bring them back? The chance to bring the 1970s TV show "Kung Fu" to be big screen, of course. They apparently lobbied for the job for more than two years, and I for one am glad they got it.

Why? While I've railed fairly consistently against remakes in this space, "Kung Fu" is ripe for updating. Though I watch it when it's on, it's hardly a classic. It's a good concept that could use a dose of style from these two talented directors.

Shooting for Legendary Pictures is scheduled to start next year, and the brothers have apparently already reached out to the Shaolin Temple outside Beijing where nonviolent monks who train in martial arts were the inspiration for the series protagonist, Caine.

I'm sure many will disagree, but I don't see how this can turn out to be anything but fun. Welcome back, Mssrs. Hughes.

Huzzah to Emory

While I wish they would have made this stand on cinematic rather than moral ground, the end result can only be a good thing.

McG has been hatching a remake of "Revenge of the Nerds" (stop a minute to digest that excremental concept), but Emory University, just up from the road from me in Atlanta, has thankfully blocked his path.

Balking at the raunchy nature of the project, Emory has backed out of its agreement to allow the film to be shot there, forcing it to at least temporarily shut down and fly all the actors back to L.A.

Fox Atomic was alerted to the issue four days before the shoot was planned to start on Oct. 9. After attempting to shoot at other colleges in Atlanta, the decision was made to call it quits and figure out a new plan.

Production is now officially on hiatus, with the clock ticking, considering that winter (and snow) is approaching, and much of the film is set outdoors in autumn, back-to-school weather.

A Fox Atomic rep said that Fox was still hoping to release the film in August and that all of the cast and crew remain intact.

I love Emory already for a completely personal reason: Dr. Wojna from its hospital removed a cyst from one of my tear ducts, and did a bang-up job. (In an example of the kind of humor I appreciate only when it happens to someone else, he waited until the operation was over to say "I'm sure glad we didn't find any cancer in there." Sheesh.)

Anyways, for whatever reason Emory did this, it has to be commended. McG must be stopped, by any means necessary.