Wednesday, December 26, 2007

RIP Borat: A comedy legend bows out just in time

Sacha Baron Cohen must have at some point turned down a big bucket of cash before making this announcement, to which I can only say huzzah.

As he recently told London's Daily Telegraph, SBC is retiring both the characters of aspiring rapper Ali G and, more importantly, the belovedly clueless Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev.

Now, don't get me wrong here. Like just about everyone who loves to laugh, I just adored "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." I just can't imagine what hoops he would have had to jump through to have his encounters retain any spontaneity, or how much of it he would have been willing to give up had he chosen to make any kind of sequel. Here's what he had to say to Variety:

"When I was being Ali G and Borat I was in character sometimes 14 hours a day and I came to love them, so admitting I am never going to play them again is quite a sad thing. It is like saying goodbye to a loved one. It is hard, and the problem with success, although it's fantastic, is that every new person who sees the Borat movie is one less person I `get' with Borat again, so it's a kind of self-defeating form, really."

Well, it's certainly refreshing to see someone in the entertainment business knows when to move on, but what does that mean now for SBC fans? Well, everyone should see him as Signor Adolfo Pirelli in Tim Burton's blood-spattered-but-brilliant "Sweeney Todd," and he has some more potentially very funny stuff coming after that.

First up will be "Bruno," the fashionista journalist based on another Ali G character, which I can't say I enjoy nearly as much as I did Borat. After that, however, things should only get better.

His next credit is for something called "Curly Oxide and Vic Thrill," which just sounds like tons of fun. Apparently based on a book by little-known punker Thrill and written by Tina Fey, it's the autobiographical tale of Thrill's partnership with a Hasidic musician, who I can only assume will be played by SBC. After that will be "Dinner for Schmucks," which has this tagline that sounds tailormade for his comedic talents: "An extraordinarily stupid man possesses the ability to ruin the life of anyone who spends more than a few minutes in his company." (Actually, I think I have some of that talent myself.)

So, RIP Borat, and thanks for knowing exactly when to exit the stage.

Rainn Wilson's got the "Spirit"

Even if there is some kind of Golden Globes ceremony broadcast Jan. 13, you certainly won't find me tuning in if there's any kind of writers' strike still going on (and, let's face it, there really doesn't seem to be any kind of progress being made.) For those of you who get the Independent Film Channel, though (which I do not), there will be some awards season respite on the way.

The very funny Rainn Wilson, who stars as Dwight Schrute on "The Office" and appeared for, oh, about 30 seconds or so in "Juno," has received a WGA waiver and will be hosting the 2008 Spirit Awards, set to take place at 5 p.m. Feb. 23 (one day before the Oscars, if there are any this year) and broadcast live by IFC.

Since I've already got to make a cable switch to pick up HBO again in time for the Sunday, Jan. 6, return of "The Wire," a k a the greatest television show of all time, I may as well dump the sports tier of my digital cable and pick up the movie tier instead, which would give me IFC again and, of course, lots of movies, which I've never yet found to be anything approaching a bad thing.

New trailer for "The Forbidden Kingdom"

If you're returning to work today like me (though I'm off again starting Friday and headed to NYC for four days of movies and more with the family), the silliness that is this new trailer for Rob Minkoff's (yes, the director of "Stuart Little") upcoming kung fu epic starring both Jackie Chan and Jet Li will hopefully make it a little easier. I do have to wonder, though, just how much Mr. Li is going to have to do with this, since he makes no appearance in this new trailer. Even so, enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Boxing Day. Peace out.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"Charlie Wilson" wages campaign of sharp satire

Charlie Wilson: "Do you drink?"
Gust Avrakotos: "God yeah."

I've waited all year for a movie that manages to properly mix its politics with pure entertainment, and after suffering through "Lions for Lambs," "In the Valley of Elah" and other earnest offerings, Mike Nichols and Aaron Sorkin have finally come through with the right stuff.

Most of the complaints I've heard about this Washington politico-comedy is that it soft pedals the politics in the cause of poking fun at D.C. culture, but after watching it I just have one question for these critics: Just how spoon fed do you really need your politics to be? 'Cause if you look even an inch below the surface of this one there's indeed a whole lot going on.

But I guess a word or two about the plot might be in order first, since many, many more people turned out to watch those damn Chipmunks squawk than tuned in for this in week one. Tom Hanks (heard of him?) plays Texas congressman Charlie Wilson, a conservative Democrat who is perfectly happy to just party his way through life until he gets fixated on the Muhjadeen's struggle to kick the Soviets out of Afghanistan. He gets assists from Philip Seymour Hoffman as beaten-down CIA agent Gust Avrakotos and Julia Roberts as wealthy Houston socialite Joanne Herring. Luckily, Nichols and Sorkin see the pure ludicrousness of waging the cold war from Texas, and they play this out as a broad but often sharp satire.

Going in, there were two people that had me worried about this one, Mr. Hanks and Mr. Sorkin. I know Hanks is beloved by many, many people, and I concede that he is a great actor, but he's usually just so smug that I want to smack him over and over until he just shuts up. Here, however, he plays Wilson like the "Bachelor Party" player he was, and it just works. And, more importantly, he gets out of the way when, about 15 minutes in or so, Hoffman arrives to deliver his first great performance of 2007 (though I think "The Savages," when I finally get to see it, will certainly be another one.) Roberts is here too, of course, as is delightful Amy Adams as Wilson's top aide, but they're really given little to do.

It's the arrival of Hoffman's Avrakotos in Wilson's office that just sets the tone of this flick perfectly. It verges on bedroom farce as Wilson's aides, busty broads all, of course, keep breaking into his first meeting with Avrakotos to prep him to face charges that he snorted cocaine while hanging out with strippers in Las Vegas. It's timed just right to make you laugh out loud.

And after the debacle that was "Studio 60," I was more than a little worried that Sorkin had lost his touch too. I really enjoyed the first three episodes of that NBC single-season show, but after that it seemed like he let his anger at the religious right just consume him and cloud his vision beyond the ability to deliver anything even mildly entertaining. Thankfully, "Charlie Wilson's War" is much more "West Wing" than "Studio 60," and it shows that Sorkin still has a real ear for the way things work in our nation's capitol (where I worked, briefly, as an intern for Maryland's U.S. Senator from the great city of Baltimore, Barbara Mikulski.)

There comes a moment near the end of "Charlie Wilson's War" when I was sure things were going to turn for the much worse and we were gonna be pounded over the head with an ending that assumed we were unable to absorb any of the points that were so deftly made thus far. It starts with Hanks adapting one of the expressions that just make my blood curdle, that misty-eyed look that makes you sure he's about to break into some kind of self-righteous speech about what we should all think.

But then Sorkin and Nichols pull back from the brink. It turns out that, thankfully, Charlie is just drunk, and we're left to, mostly, draw our own parallels between his personal crusade and what's going on in the world today.

With three winners in a row ("Walk Hard," "Sweeney Todd" and now this), it's just been a really fun week to go to the movies. I'm hoping that continues today with "The Great Debaters," but frankly fearing that might just be way too earnest for my taste. Tune in tomorrow to find out, and enjoy every minute of your merry Christmas! Peace out.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Burton's "Sweeney Todd" is just about pitch-perfect

In just about every second of "Sweeney Todd" you get what looks like a movie that could have only come from the delightfully twisted mind of Tim Burton. Which, of course, it didn't, exactly.

Just as the Coens did perfectly with Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men," Burton here has adapted another's work, Stephen Sondheim's famed musical, and made it all his own. But whereas the Coens made their mark largely with dialogue, most of what will linger with you for a long time after watching "Sweeney Todd" is its stark and stunning look.

Burton's and Todd's London is indeed "a hole in the world like a great black pit/and the vermin of the world inhabit it," but much of the joy in watching "Sweeney Todd" is in seeing the bits of color seep through, from Mrs. Lovett's hair as she descends the stairwell from the barbershop to the blood, buckets and buckets which we all know will eventually cover the screen (but more about that later.)

As a musical, I'm sure it helped that, although I do know more than a bit about Broadway, about "Sweeney Todd" I knew very little to nothing at all going in. Even with Sondheim directly involved, there were certainly beloved songs that had to be chopped to make this clock in at less than two hours. And one thing that was left out and was a definite plus was any appearance by the musical butcher himself, Danny Elfman. Only after the opening credits had finished was I able to get over my fear that a blood-spattered Oompa-Loompa was gonna pop out at any second.

As he made clear in the New York Times recently, Sondheim considers this easily one of the best musical adaptations of Broadway to the big screen yet, and I have to agree with him. I can't quite go as far as he did in attacking the more phonily staged numbers of "West Side Story," for which I still have undying love, but he's right that there is a fluidity to "Sweeney Todd" that never lets you think you're watching a filmed stage musical rather than a natural movie that just happens to be full of singing.

And how do our main singers fare in this? Extremely and surprisingly well. I don't think Johnny Depp (the demon barber himself) or Helena Bonham Carter (Mrs. Lovett) will be headed to Broadway themselves anytime soon, but they each bring their own strengths to the roles and take them over. Depp never leaves any doubt that Sweeney Todd is, indeed, just mad as a diseased cow, and Bonham Carter takes Mrs. Lovett in a completely different direction from what has been done before on stage by Angela Lansbury or Patti Lupone, channeling her inner Bellatrix to make the pie maker's many funny lines even more twisted.

There was one moment near the beginning when I feared this movie was going to turn toward "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" territory rather than something approaching Burton's best work, which for me is still "The Nightmare Before Christmas." It comes as Sweeney Todd gets off the boat and heads into London. Rather than letting us take it in, the camera suddenly zooms through the streets, jumping from spot to spot until it finally rests at Mrs. Lovett's shop. It was just thoroughly out of place, but luckily just about the only discordant in this otherwise very pleasing piece. (My only other complaint, and it's really just a quibble, is that I had heard Anthony Head of "Buffy" fame was going to be in this, but if it was he had exactly one line in the market scene stolen away by Sacha Baron Cohen.)

But what about all that blood? Well, if you went into a Tim Burton movie with the words "Demon Barber" in the title and weren't ready for a river of blood to flow than you simply need to do more homework before going to the movies. And yes, when Todd does indeed start cutting throats rather than hair (I really can't be giving too much away here, can I?), there does seem to be blood all over the screen, but it really couldn't have ended any other way. Watching as it slowly consumes the formerly almost colorless palate is the perfect way to convey Todd's descent into complete madness, and the final blood-covered scene is one that will stick with you for a long, long time.

But, unfortunately, just about the only things left standing at the end of this bloodbath were those damn Chipmunks, who managed to hold onto third place and knock "Sweeney Todd" down to fifth (behind even "Charlie Wilson's War," which I also thoroughly enjoyed, but more about that tomorrow.) Though it's obviously not for everyone, I hope more people will take a chance on "Sweeney Todd" this week, because if you have a slightly warped view of the world it indeed makes just about the perfect Christmas movie. Peace out, and have a merry, merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dewey Cox just about perfectly revives the art of the spoof

As a midnight movie, I was looking to "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" to be the perfect remedy to a 10-hour work day, a panacea with the silly spirit of "Office Space" or "Super Troopers," and to its credit it almost reached that lofty standard.

Like the movie it most directly spoofs, "Walk the Line," "Walk Hard" gets most of its charm from inspired performances by John C. Reilly as the titular Mr. Cox (and be warned, you will get your share of jokes about that) and a seriously sultry Jenna Fischer as the temptress Darlene Madison.

And for the first 30 minutes or so, that's enough to make Dewey's familiar sage a perfectly enjoyable ride. The childhood tragedy that sets Dewey down his troubled trajectory is richly funny, and listen close, in particular, to the song Reilly sings when Dewey gets his big break to fill in for the ailing Bobby Shad (Craig Robinson, a k a Darryl from "The Office.") I'm sure I laughed loud enough at that to alarm not only the people with me but all the 10 or so others who bothered to turn out for this in the wee hours of the morning too.

Like "Walk the Line," however, the movie does start to drag more than a bit when Dewey/Johnny enters the cycle of drug-induced-meltdown-to-rehab-and-back-to-the-drugs-again (though Tim Meadows, as Dewey's drummer/pusherman, is funnier in this than he has been in many years.) It isn't enough of an excuse that writers Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan (whose "TV Set" is on my viewing menu for tonight after work) felt the need to stick to the familiar story they were skewering, because when they dared to venture away from it their movie is often driven by its own uniquely silly charms.

Two scenes in particular prove this point, Dewey's Brian Wilson-style apex of excess, complete with at least 10 aborigines, and the finale, which manages to take dead aim at the awards show scene and hit its mark surer than "For Your Consideration" ever did.

And like with "Walk the Line," Reilly, though he throws himself into the character of Dewey fully, often gets overshadowed by Fischer just as Joaquin Phoenix did by Reese Witherspoon. It's a real starmaking turn, and it's her Darlene that sets the tone for the whole movie, which is, naturally, silly but with more than enough heart to have you cheering all along for Dewey and his friends to indeed "Walk Hard." (And be warned, it is more than a little juvenile at times, complete with a hotel room full of groupies that has both the requisite bare breasts and a rather gratuitously funny hanging of wang.)

The bottom line: "Walk Hard" is any factor you can come up with to the point of one million times better than any "spoof" with the word "movie" in its title. Though I suppose there's little hope that "National Treasure 2" won't win the box-office race by a wide margin, anyone who loves to laugh will be rewarded by following the saga of Dewey Cox this weekend.

The darker side of my nature is still waiting for a bad flick to come from Camp Apatow ("40-Year-Old Virgin" has been my least favorite thus far, but that flick definitely still has its merits.) I fear it will come in 2008 with either "Pineapple Express" or "Don't' Mess With the Zohan," but until then I'll be cheering for this Geek to just continue his winning streak.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Sam Raimi's going to "Hell," and I'm definitely following

Though I guess you really can't call Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 3" the worst movie of this year, I can definitely say it was my most disappointing. After turning out for a midnight screening (which I'm gonna do again tonight for Dewey Cox, but more on that later), I was just thoroughly let down.

The biggest problem, from my perspective, was that Raimi had clearly just stopped having any fun with the "Spider-Man" saga. About halfway through I couldn't help thinking that it's high time for him to direct, not just produce, a good, old-fashioned horror movie. And now, thankfully, that appears to be happening.

It seems Raimi's next project will be "Drag Me to Hell," a supernatural thriller he wrote with his brother, Ivan Raimi. (Yes, I realize that means it's the same writing team behind "Spider-Man 3," but also the duo that came up with both "Army of Darkness" and "Darkman," so take heart.)

The only plot detail leaked so far is that it's about the unwitting recipient of a supernatural curse, and the flick will go into production early next year.

Here's what Rob Tapert, whose Ghost House studio is financing the project, had to say about Raimi's change of pace: "When one has done three very expensive movies, they get used to eating caviar. Sam will have to ponder what it means to come down from the mountaintop for a moment."

As long as whatever he comes up with just tastes like a fun movie, that will be good enough for me. Welcome back, Sam.

Update on "The Hobbit"

Just a day or two after the big news came about MGM, New Line and Peter Jackson making not one but two "Hobbit" movies, Jackson is already bowing out of the directing chair (for now, at least.)

Here's what Jackson's manager Ken Kamins told Hollywood Insider: "Peter won't be directing because he felt the fans have waited long enough for The Hobbit. (Well, he's certainly right about that.) It will take the better part of every day of the next four years to write, direct and produce two Hobbit films. Given his current obligations to both The Lovely Bones and Tintin, waiting for Peter, Fran, and Phillippa to write, direct and produce The Hobbit would require the fans wait even longer."

Which, of course, would open the door wide open for any number of very talented directors to move in. The Variety article about Sam Raimi's horror flick implied that he is already the anointed one, but I'm personally still holding out hope for Alfonso Cuaron, though he already has three (three!?!?) announced directing credits listed at the IMDB for 2009: México '68, The Memory of Running and The History of Love. (I have to imagine he'd gladly give all these up to take the reins of "The Hobbit.") Whoever lands this will have a hot property on their hands, so definitely stay tuned, 'cause a decision is expected by early next year.

Bold move, guys: Vatican slams 'His Dark Materials'

Though I still fairly regularly attend Catholic church services, it pains me to admit I wasn't at all surprised to see the Vatican come out today with a rather pathetic statement about the box office numbers for "The Golden Compass."

Predicting that New Line will bail on completing the trilogy (which I fear will happen too), the Vatican's l'Osservatore Romano newspaper called "Compass" the "Most anti-Christmas film possible" and said that “... In (Phillip) Pullman’s world, hope simply does not exist, because there is no salvation but only personal, individualistic capacity to control the situation and dominate events.”

Having not read the entire trilogy yet I'll give them a pass on the latter part, but what in the world does "The Golden Compass" even have to do with Christmas at all, and what movie were these guys watching? (I have a rather strong suspicion they didn't bother to watch it at all.) If I had any complaints about the movie (which I did, though I kind of enjoyed it too), it's that the movie was defanged of most of Pullman's most overt anti-Christianity sentiment, not that it was spreading it around to corrupt all the kiddies.

And, I think the greater point here is that it is an act of fairly extreme cowardice that the Vatican let its American attack dog, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, do all the talking until it had the box office totals to hide behind. If anything, I think New Line was doomed from the start in making such a costly movie from a book that didn't have quite the following of a "Lord of the Rings," but seeing ridiculous statements like this just makes me hope all the more that it will bankroll the next two chapters in this potentially thrilling trilogy. 'Nuff said.

Free "Jackass"? Yes, please!

Actually, I haven't had time to take in "Jackass 2.5" yet, but once I do, I and anyone else who cares to can apparently do so for free now, and huzzah to that. When I went to the site, it said you had to download something called "Microsoft Silverlight" and go through some "silly registration process," but I'd have to think those will be small hurdles to jump for more jackassery from Johnny and the boys. To download the movie, click here. Methinks I just might try and do so at work later today (rather than, of course, doing any actual work.)

More ridiculous Dewey Cox swag

OK, I can now admit that I've officially been hoodwinked by joining the "Dewey Cox Fan Club."

After already getting a pair of tighty-whities supposedly autographed on the backside by Dewey himself, I found another envelope from Columbia in my mailbox when I got home last night. It was awfully thin, but I still held out hope that it was a copy of the soundtrack or something equally cool.

Of course not. What it was this time, which I've done the service of photographing for anyone who actually bothers to read this, is supposedly a clump of Dewey's chest hair (given the source, I was frankly more than a little surprised they didn't say it was hair from some other region of his body.)

I do have to say I laughed a lot harder this time than I did at the underwear, and since I'm going to a midnight screening tonight, I guess this rather twisted marketing scheme worked (though I'm fairly certain I would have bitten without it.) Bring it on!

Six minutes of "The Dark Knight"?

I figure anyone who made it this far deserves a reward, so please enjoy this YouTube clip that purports to be a rather horribly bootlegged clip of the Joker's henchmen robbing a Gotham bank, which I found over at the great (though the poster rather cryptically called it "My Safari Trip to Antarctica.") I'd imagine the real test of the veracity of this clip will be how long it lasts before the bigwigs order it removed, so I'll try and keep my eyes on it to see if it becomes a dead link. Until then, enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

This just in : "The Hobbit" is on, and it's twice as nice!

Well, it turns out that at least a billion dollars is enough to make even the most juvenile of adults make nice. It should come as a surprise to no one, I guess, but it's sensational news nonetheless that Peter Jackson and Bob Shaye have kissed and made up, and thanks to that we're gonna get not one but two "Hobbit" movies!

Believe me, I could have put eight exclamation points behind that, but since I write this mess at around 5 a.m. or so, we'll just leave it at one for now and just say I'm rather excited about this. The facts, with apologies to the great "Pushing Daisies," are these:

MGM and New Line will co-finance and co-distribute two films, “The Hobbit” and a sequel to “The Hobbit.” New Line will distribute in North America and MGM will distribute internationally.

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will serve as Executive Producers of two films based on “The Hobbit.” New Line will manage the production of the films, which will be shot simultaneously.

Peter Jackson and New Line have settled all litigation relating to the “Lord of the Rings” (LOTR) Trilogy.

The two “Hobbit” films – “The Hobbit” and its sequel – are scheduled to be shot simultaneously, with pre-production beginning as soon as possible. Principal photography is tentatively set for a 2009 start, with the intention of “The Hobbit” release slated for 2010 and its sequel the following year, in 2011.

Now, the only possible bad news in all of this is that Jackson isn't (yet) listed as the director for either of these flicks. I'd imagine that could change quickly, but as of now Mr. Jackson's plate is already full with his take on Alice Sebold's best-selling "The Lovely Bones" (soon to be on my reading list) and then chapter one of the "Tintin" trilogy (huzzah!) he's developing with Steven Spielberg.

Even so, I'd imagine he'd be perfectly willing to move things around to get in the director's chair for this fantastic project, and I'm just as sure Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, Sam Raimi and many other directors will be ringing him up in the next few days (if they haven't already.)

But what, beyond the obvious big pot of mad cash, led all the sides to make nice right now? I'd imagine that "The Golden Compass" had a lot to do with it. Domestically, at least, the $180 million flick continues to disappoint at the box office, dropping 65.8 percent in week two to take in only $8,825,549 (for a two-week total of $40,768,661, about $4 million less than those damn Chipmunks made in just one weekend.)

How the Shaye brothers must have been salivating for another family-friendly epic from the Tolkien well. But no matter how this all really came about, I'm just extremely happy it did.

Don't watch the Golden Globes

It pains me to write that, but it seems that in the last 24 hours or so the already ugly Hollywood labor situation has quickly gone from bad to worst possible scenario.

Assuming there isn't some fairly quick resolution to the writers' strike, the WGA has announced that it plans to picket the Golden Globes ceremonies Jan. 13. I would have to assume this means no actors will be walking the red carpet either, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Or, at least in my case, not see, since I certainly won't be tuning in under these rather desperate circumstances. A small gesture I know, but it's the least I can think of to do at this early hour to support these scribes in their quest to be fairly compensated when their work hits the World Wide Web. 'Nuff said.

When is viral marketing not viral marketing?

Well, that's a rather silly question, I guess, but just about right to introduce this very funny clip from the Apatow camp to promote "Walk Hard." It's basically the guys sitting around on the couch bitching about viral marketing (to market their flick, of course), but luckily it's also sometimes very funny, and it's just nice to see that the Craig Robinson (Darryl on "The Office") has apparenly become a regular member of the gang. I couldn't manage to embed this, but if you click here I guarantee you'll laugh out loud at least once. Enjoy, and have an entirely bearable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

No Oscars? This strike just keeps getting worse

I know a lot of people dismiss the Oscars as simply a rigged-from-the-start Hollywood lovefest, but I'll always be a sucker for it. Just as I watch the World Series no matter who is in it because I just adore baseball, I tune in to most of each year's Oscars broadcast because I love the movies so much. (My favorite steroids-related headline, by the way, was on the Washington Post's Web site: Despite Miguel Tejada and many other Orioles getting dragged into it, they went with "Yankees Prominently Mentioned." God bless the hometown newspaper.)

But back to the Oscars and, to a lesser extent, the Golden Globes, which I also find to be a fun broadcast to catch. Well, now it seems that on Monday WGA West President Patric Verrone rejected waiver requests for the kudos-casts, and who can blame him? They certainly don't deserve to be held to a different standard than any other form of written entertainment.

The first hit would be the Golden Globes, set to be handed out Jan 13. Dick Clark Prods. has indicated it will try to find a route to work around the impasse, perhaps as an independent producer of some kind. The Oscars, however, would be much more tricky, me thinks.

Let's just assume this strike isn't going to end anytime soon (and, I hate to be the bearer of bad news if you didn't know this already, but the actors are set to follow the writers rather soon if something dramatic doesn't happen.) Can you imagine any actors will be willing to walk the red carpet if it means they have to cross the picket line to do so? I can't imagine even the most conservative of Hollywood folk would be willing to do that.

And, perhaps more importantly, can you imagine that host Jon Stewart would be willing to participate under these circumstances? I can't imagine so.

And, in the ugliest of all scenarios, it's entirely possible you could have major stars picketing the broadcast, which would certainly be a circus. No matter how it unfolds, unless the strike ends soon, awards season is shaping up to be nothing but ugly.

Good guys caught in the middle

No matter whose side you're on in this labor action (and, with way too much TV on DVD in hand already as survival material, I'm still squarely behind the writers), there are always going to be good people who get caught in the crossfire.

And it would certainly seem that Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien fall into this category (well, Conan anyway ... I have never watched Jay Leno's show, and never will.) Faced with staffs of 80 to 100 nonwriting people who aren't getting any paychecks, both hosts have decided to go back on the air in early January (David Letterman, who owns his show, is free to negotiate with the writers on his own terms, which he is apparently doing now.)

Here's some of what Conan had to say about proceeding without writers:

"My career in television started as a WGA member and my subsequent career as a performer has only been possible because of the creativity and integrity of my writing staff. Since the strike began, I have stayed off the air in support of the striking writers while, at the same time, doing everything I could to take care of the 80 non-writing staff members on Late Night. Unfortunately, now with the New Year upon us, I am left with a difficult decision. Either go back to work and keep my staff employed or stay dark and allow 80 people, many of whom have worked for me for fourteen years, to lose their jobs. If my show were entirely scripted I would have no choice. But the truth is that shows like mine are hybrids, with both written and non-written content. An unwritten version of Late Night, though not desirable, is possible – and no one has to be fired. I will make clear, on the program, my support for the writers and I'll do the best version of Late Night I can under the circumstances. Of course, my show will not be as good. In fact, in moments it may very well be terrible."

Thanks for the warning Conan, but I have a hunch these shows may not only not be terrible, but maybe even inspired. As he mentioned in that statement, Conan was once a writer himself, and a darn good one. He wrote for "Saturday Night Live" and "The Simpsons," and for the latter penned the very funny "Marge Vs. the Monorail" episode.

His show, at least in its earliest days, was always best when it relied on sketches anyway, so if he can manage to come up with some very funny stuff the show might be just fine even if many stars refuse to participate, which I'd imagine they will. Stay tuned.

Holofcener and Keener, together again

In the world of indie movies, at least, there have been very few more fruitful partnerships than that of the great Catherine Keener and director Nicole Holofcener. And now, assuming it doesn't get consumed by any kind of actors' strike, the duo have announced plans for a fourth collaboration.

Holofcener will write and direct the as-yet-untitled movie about a group of New York women who live in the same apartment building. Keener will play the neighbor of a cantankerous elderly woman and her two granddaughters.

Though Nicole Holofcener has the distinction of directing one of my least favorite movies, the simply useless "Friends With Money," she's also made two I just love in "Lovely and Amazing" and "Walking and Talking." The common factor in all of these has been Keener, who I will gladly watch in just about anything.

And you can look for her fairly soon in Charlie Kaufman's (huzzah!) "Synecdoche, New York" and then in director Andrew Fleming's "Hamlet 2" with veryfunnyman Steve Coogan. I know I certainly will.

A new look at Wall-E

Please allow me to introduce this new trailer for Pixar's next flick, "Wall-E," with another plea that its last, "Ratatouille," be one of the final contenders for a Best Picture Oscar (assuming, of course, that there even is an Oscars show.) As the first half hour or so of the movie will apparently be, this new "Wall-E" clip is silent except for robot noises made by our hero. It will be an odd movie for kids, me thinks, but one I almost certainly will enjoy. Peace out.

Monday, December 17, 2007

"Terminate" this TV project immediately

I don't really like being in the business of telling people not to watch something, especially when I haven't seen it yet myself. It's just not my natural setting, I guess.

That said, I several times had to sit through a commercial Sunday night during Fox's Sunday night animated lineup, which was pretty darn funny. Just in case anyone out there has more of a life than me (which often isn't much of a challenge), I can tell you it was for Fox's simply craptastic take on the "Terminator" saga. I do hope I'm wrong about this, but it just gives me a really queasy feeling.

Which is a real shame, because being a devoted "Firefly"/"Serenity" fan, I wish nothing but the best for Summer Glau (which would be, of course, a revival of "Firefly" on the Sci-Fi Channel, but that keeps getting less and less likely.

So, what's my beef with this new "Terminator"? Well, besides that it's just thoroughly unnecessary, my animosity peaked Sunday night when I heard this rather unwitty exchange between whatever yarnhead is now playing John Connor and the Terminator played by Ms. Glau, as they're getting into a car:

Connor: I'll take shotgun.
Glau: I'll take 9-millimeter.

Now, if that's not enough to make all you Ahnold fans out there cringe, the terminator played by Ms. Glau is actually named Cameron. Believe me, I couldn't make this stuff up.

But why should I get so worked up about a silly TV show that doesn't even premiere until Jan. 13 on Fox? Well, the short answer is I probably shouldn't, but "The Terminator" series has always been close to my heart if for no better reason than Salisbury, Md., the tiny burg where I spent my entire childhood, is also the hometown of Linda Hamilton (and Frank Perdue the late chicken king, for that matter.) Besides, is it too much to ask that my favorite movie franchises not get watered down to pure garbage?

I know that, with the writers' strike ongoing, your choices will be limited this winter, but please, please, please don't watch this new "Terminator."

Good things to come

I had planned to offer an equally bitter comment about Will Smith's "I Am Legend," but seeing that it made $76.5 million this past weekend, the biggest December opening ever, just zapped all the energy out of me to do so.

I'll just say this: The key to my disappointment with "I Am Legend" is pretty much summed up in the movie by Smith's Robert Neville himself. Neville, along with supposedly searching for the cure to a virus he helped create but is somehow immune to, spends a lot of time listening to Bob Marley.

Now, I've got nothing at all against Mr. Marley, and am in fact listening to "Legend" right now (I'd have to imagine that the makers of this movie thought the coincidence in titles was rather clever.) But, back to my rather longwinded point. Of all the great Bob Marley tunes out there, Neville is fixated on "Three Little Birds," easily the most generic one of all.

To me, the movie "I Am Legend" exists in the same realm, a completely tired tale about a man-made virus (stop me if you've seen "28 Days Later" or any number of better movies on this subject) that manages to build very little interest at all before trotting out monsters that were swiped most directly from the end of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" but could come from any number of paint-by-numbers horror flicks. The best thing about "I Am Legend," in fact, was the two trailers that ran before it, one for "Iron Man" and a simply sensational look at "Dark Knight" (Heath's Joker is just gonna kick royal ass.)

And one more thing, while were on the subject. As cool as director Francis Lawrence's vision of post-apocalyptic New York is, I'd like to call for an immediate moratorium on blowing up my favorite city in the world on the big screen. I don't know why movie directors get such a thrill out of decimating NYC, but I'm just damn tired of seeing it. 'Nuff said.

But, enough bile for a Monday morning. For the first time in well, a very long time, there are actually three movies coming out this weekend that I want to see.

I'm thoroughly on board the Dewey Cox bandwagon, and am convinced that "Walk Hard" will be that rare spoof that manages to sustain its gag and be funny from start to finish. And, though I can definitely take or leave Tom Hanks, the teaming up of Mike Nichols and Aaron Sorkin for "Charlie Wilson's War" should also be pretty entertaining too.

The one I most want to see, however, is Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd." I'll find out tomorrow morning if this one is too bloody to open in my little corner of the world this weekend, which I fear may be the case but obviously hope won't be.

Three movies worth seeing? Now that's what I call a Christmas gift!

And, since anyone who sat through all that certainly deserves a reward, here's the trailer for "Leatherheads," the football flick starring George Clooney, John Krasinski and, I have the misfortune of telling you, Renee Zellweger. Enjoy, and have an entirely bearable Monday. Peace out.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Golden Globes: Great comedies get no respect at all

If one thing is clear after Thursday's Golden Globe nominations, it's that the Hollywood foreign press must just be a fairly humorless bunch.

Now, I'm glad to see that "Juno" made the final five, and I can only assume that "Charlie Wilson's War" will have its funny moments (and enough Tom Hanks smugness to make me want to jump out of my chair and just smack the screen), but how in the world can you have a category called "Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy" and not include more of the funniest movies of 2007? (The other nominees were all musicals, "Sweeney Todd," "Hairspray" and "Across the Universe.")

Perhaps the answer is simply to give musicals a category all their own (which might have meant a much-deserved nomination for John Carney's just-perfect "Once.") That's probably too much weight for musicals, but something has to be done to balance the scales in comedy's favor.

Had there been a comedy category, here are the five movies that would have been my nominees:

Hot Fuzz
The Wayans brothers have apparently watched this pitch-perfect spoof of action movies and decided they can do one better. I have nothing but doubt about that, 'cause for my money Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the masters, and this is the single funniest movie of 2007.

The Simpsons Movie
So what if this was just a 90-minute episode of the TV show? It proved that, with 15 years or so of experience it is indeed possible to come up with a plot and enough jokes to sustain 90 minutes of high entertainment (though why they can't reliably do that from week to week for only 30 minutes anymore is beyond me.)

I just watched this again last weekend, and it was at least as good as it was the first time. Jonah Hill and Michael Cera were just as funny as I remembered, but this time the story of the two cops who refuse to grow up, played by Seth Rogen and Bill Hader, just really made me laugh out loud.

Shoot 'Em Up
The beauty of a category for comedy would be if a movie this sublimely silly could really be nominated for anything. If you haven't seen this cartoon-like bullet ballet, rent it immediately. Paul Giamatti, Clive Owen and Monica Bellucci clearly all had fun making it, and as long as you can handle jokes about a baby in extreme peril I guarantee you'll have fun watching it.

And yes, Juno
What's it gonna take to get this little charmer to play wide? I just assumed that a cast this packed with stars would guarantee it a wide ride, but I guess I'm wrong yet again. I suppose that means I'll have to watch Will Smith and his dog walk around for a couple of hours, but I can't really say I'm looking forward to it.

I have a feeling "Walk Hard" might just make a sixth entry to this list, but that's the top five for now (and that means the very funny "Knocked Up" just missed the cut.) As for the rest of the Golden Globe nominations, I could have predicted that my favorite, "Ratatouille," wouldn't be able to make it out of the animated movie ghetto, but there's another, bigger snub that just can't go without mention.

I had to read the list three times to make sure I hadn't missed what must surely be the multiple mentions of "Into the Wild." I had my qualms with the story of Christopher McCandless as told by Sean Penn, but there's no denying it's one of the most powerful movies of 2007, and yet beyond two deserved nominations for Eddie Vedder's songs it was just royally snubbed.

Now, I haven't seen "Atonement," "The Great Debaters" or "There Will Be Blood" (though I'm certainly hyped to do so soon), but how in the world could you have seven nominees for Best Motion Picture - Drama (the other four were "American Gangster," "Eastern Promises," "Michael Clayton" and "No Country for Old Men") and not include "Into the Wild"? Sheesh.

I certainly also would put Emile Hirsch in the top five for Best Actor - Drama (the anointed five are George Clooney, "Michael Clayton," Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood," James McAvoy, "Atonement," Viggo Mortensen, "Eastern Promises" and Denzel Washington, "American Gangster".) His portrayal of McCandless was close to extraordinary.

Much more disturbing was the omission of Hal Holbrook from the Best Supporting Actor category (the big five are Casey Affleck, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men," Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson's War," John Travolta, "Hairspray" and Tom Wilkinson, "Michael Clayton") I can see the merit in all of these except for Travolta's turn in the fat suit (which I didn't see since, having already seen "Hairspray" in two very satisfying formats, I saw no reason to see it re-created once again), but Holbrook's performance was just on a whole other level. If the definition of supporting actor is the person who has the most impact on a movie in a short period of time, then no one fits this better than Holbrook as Ron Franz, the wizened gent who made a last-ditch but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to save McCandless from himself (I don't cry at the movies very often at all, but that moment got me, which says quite a bit.)

But, enough about that. I'm off to see "I Am Legend," and hoping that I'm wrong about how much it's going to suck. Have a perfectly enjoyable weekend.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

2007's best soundtrack, and a serious Oscar snub

When I found this morning that the Oscar short list of 59 original songs had been released I was at least a little excited. I love music almost as much as I do movies, and when they come together perfectly it's just sublime entertainment.

Before reading the list, I just assumed there would be at least one song from easily my favorite soundtrack of the year, but I was once again disappointed (we'll get to more about that in just a little bit.)

To be fair, there are some genuinely good selections that did make the list. Kate Bush's "Lyra," which plays over the closing credits of "The Golden Compass," is a haunting tune that will surely be in the final five or so (and, really, isn't any new Kate Bush music at all just a reason to cheer?) There are also three of Eddie Vedder's great songs from "Into the Wild" ("Society," "Guaranteed" and "Rise"), one from John Sayles' "Honeydripper ("China Doll"), and two from John Carney's simply sublime "Once" ("Falling Slowly," the better of the two, and "If You Want Me").

But, of course, among these great tunes you get plenty of silliness, including three (three!?!?) songs from "Good Luck Chuck" and something called "The Tale of the Horny Frog" from "The Heartbreak Kid." Now, I didn't bother to see that Ben Stiller flick, but I can't imagine anything with that title is exactly poetry.

And what they snubbed completely was anything from my favorite soundtrack of the year (with the one for the Joe Strummer doco "The Future is Unwritten" a close second), Loudon Wainwright III's "Strange Weirdos: Music from and Inspired by the Film 'Knocked Up'."

Along with being a slyly funny folkie, Wainwright has been a regular fixture in Judd Apatow's movies and TV shows. In "Knocked Up," he was the obstetrician who flaked out on Heigl and Rogen on delivery day, and he was even better in a bigger role as Jay Baruchel's dorky dad on the much-too-shortlived TV show "Undeclared."

For the soundtrack (which you can buy track-by-track for .89 cents a cut at Amazon), the songs perfectly match the tone of the movie, ranging from bitterly funny ("Grey in LA") to almost-too-sappy ("Daughter.") Except for two songs from Joe Henry, this is all Wainwright, and I assure you it contains at least 10 songs that could have been among the 59 being considered for an Oscar.

To read the entire list of Oscar contenders, click here.

Pedro Almodovar's back in a noir mood

I need to get a job where I can just pick up the phone and get Penelope Cruz on the other end and have her do whatever I want (nothing terribly dirty implied there, I promise.)

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar seems to have that power, and I'd certainly say he's earned it by now. For their next collaboration, Almodovar and Cruz will be making "Los Abrazos Rotos" (if anyone can translate that for me, please do), which the director describes as a "four-way tale of amour fou, shot in the style of '50s American film noir at its most hard-boiled." Sounds like tons of Almodovar fun to me.

Almodovar regulars Blanca Portillo (from "Volver") and Lluis Homar (from "Mala Educacion") will co-star.

According to the director, "Abrazos," which will go into production this spring, is set in the '90s and present day, and will mix stylistic references to films such as Nicholas Ray's "In a Lonely Place" and Vincente Minnelli's "The Bad and the Beautiful" with signature Almodovar themes: "Fate, the mystery of creation, guilt, unscrupulous power, the eternal search of fathers for sons, and sons for fathers."

"Penelope (Cruz) will exchange the era's aprons, cardigans and the hairdos for an updated look, but one that mixes the transparent turbulence of Gene Tierney and the mistreated, challenging beauty of Linda Darnell in Otto Preminger's 'Fallen Angel,' " Almodovar told Variety.

I adored Todd Haynes' ode to '50s-style melodrama with "Far from Heaven," so I'll certainly be keeping my eyes on this to see what Pedro and Penelope can do with an even darker approach.

Eva Cassidy biopic in the works

Always-welcome visitor Nell Minow left a comment yesterday to say that "Walk Hard," Jake Kasdan's upcoming spoof of music biopics starring John C. Reilly, is a real winner that will keep everyone constantly laughing. I certainly hope I agree when I get to see it next week, because this is indeed a genre worthy of sendup.

Which doesn't mean I won't see any more music biopics. I'd certainly spring for Spike Lee's take on the life of James Brown, if he ever gets around to it, and word came today that one of my favorite artists of all time is about to get the cinematic treatment thanks to some very devoted fans.

The story of Eva Cassidy is indeed a real American tragedy. Anyone who spent any time in Washington D.C. in the '90s is probably at least a little familiar with the story of this blues/jazz singer who never received the acclaim she deserved until after her death from melanoma at the way-too-young age of 33.

It was her version of "Over the Rainbow" from the posthumous collection "Songbird" that brought her fame, especially in Europe. And now, AIR Prods., which this year produced director Amy Redford's "The Guitar" (which I have not yet seen), is going to make a movie about her much-too-short life.

This is certainly good news, at least to me, and since I firmly believe that even the worst day imaginable can be made a little better with a dose of Eva Cassidy, here's a YouTube clip of her performing "Cheek to Cheek" live at D.C.'s Blues Alley. If this doesn't bring a smile to your face, well, I'd just have to imagine you simply don't smile often enough. Peace out.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A sneak peek at Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

I was simply going to take the day off today, but since posting a YouTube video is the bare minimum I could do, I figured I could at least give anyone who bothers to stop by here that much. Besides, it's Harry Potter, and who doesn't like that?

Well, I do, but not enough to buy the movies on DVD, and this is a service for anyone else who doesn't want to either. If you do spring for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (the best flick in the series so far) this week on DVD, you'll get this preview of "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" along with it.

Predictably, it doesn't reveal too much beyond that the kids still, thankfully, act like kids when it comes to the subject of Ron's upcoming snogfest with Lavender Brown (new cast member Jessie Cave), and that Matthew Lewis (who plays Neville Longbottom) is now officially the Luke Perry of this bunch, looking like he's nearly 30 years old.

Director David Yates is back for this adaptation of my favorite of the Harry Potter books. The pursuit of the Horcruxes is a thrilling ride, and the ****** of Dumbledore is very touching (though I can only assume everyone already knows what happens to our leader, you won't hear it from me just in case you're an even tardier reader than I am.) Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Just why did "The Golden Compass" tank ... or did it?

Well, the short answer would have to be that, opening all alone in December and only pulling in $26 million in the U.S. with a budget of $180 million means your movie was indeed a failure. There's a silver lining behind that truly dismal number, but I'll get to more of that later.

Why did "The Golden Compass" fail to connect with American viewers? Having watched it myself and only mildly enjoyed it, I have my own theory why, and it only tangentially has to do with any kind of church protests.

And I did find out from talking to the manager of my multiplex that, in Macon at least, these protests were real and went beyond the attention-mad ramblings of Catholic League president William Donohue. But even so, since this apparently was mainly kept to handing out leaflets to churchgoers, it was pretty much preaching to the already-converted who most likely weren't going to go see the flick anyway.

Instead, watching the flick, I got the sinking feeling that the filmmakers, Chris Weitz principal among them, were done in by the simple fear of these protests and what it drove them to do to their movie even before it was released. If you've read any of Phillip Pullman's books, and I did read "The Golden Compass"/"Northern Lights" in preparation for seeing this flick, you know it's a wildly entertaining book full of important ideas about the diminished role - and eventual death - of organized religion.

Even if it's not an idea I necessarily agree with, I appreciated the passion which Pullman put into constructing the complex tale and layering it with his philosophy. And it's Pullman's ideological approach that's missing from the movie and, for me at least, made it a noble failure.

While keeping much of Pullman's tale intact (except for, notably, the final three chapters), the evil force known as the Magisterium was vagued up to the point that it was simply turned into some kind of Big Brother interested in taking away from kids any notion of free will. As menacing as that is, it dumbed down the message of the book enough that you're gonna offend some of your true believers while not winning over any of those who were predisposed to oppose the movie, so where's the winner in that?

Aesthetically, I also have to say the movie just dragged more than a bit from the point that our heroine (the simply superb Dakota Blue Richards) left the college until she ran into the aeronaut Lee Scoresby (played by Sam Elliott, who proves he can bring life to any move he's in.) I know there was a lot of exposition to get through, but it was just awfully talky for a fantasy/adventure movie.

But, of course, it's not all bad. As I said, young Ms. Richards is just perfectly defiant as Lyra, and the opening "battle" among she and her friends just sets the tone perfectly before things fall apart. And the ice bears, voiced by the two Ians (McKellen and McShane), were just friggin cool.

And, if you look at the big box office picture, maybe "The Golden Compass" wasn't such a big failure after all. On about 5,000 screens in 25 overseas markets, the movie took in $55 million, more than double its domestic pull. And it in fact managed to make more in these markets than the four movies that followed it - "Enchanted," "Bee Movie," "Beowulf" and "Hitman" - combined.

I have more than a little suspicion, however, that that won't be enough to convince New Line to greenlight the second installment in what was to be a planned trilogy. A quick visit to the IMDB reveals that, indeed, there is no director selected yet for "The Subtle Knife," though there is a screenplay by Hossein Amini.

I have the sneaking feeling that Bob Shaye and the other folks at New Line, having already pretty much neutered the first installment, now don't have the huevos to go through with a series in which our heroine, if I'm not mistaken, does indeed kill God (now, I haven't read the next two books in the series, so please do inform me if I've somehow got this wrong.) If they indeed back away now, this would have to go down as one of the great movie debacles of all time. Stay tuned ...

Will you laugh hard at "Walk Hard"?

I really want this movie to be good. There hasn't been a quality spoof in a long time, and in the hands of Judd Apatow and director Jake Kasdan this would seem to be our best bet in many years. It's also the first time in the main spotlight for the very deserving John C. Reilly, and the musician biopics it takes aim at are equally deserving targets. I can't shake the suspicion, though, that it's gonna be uneven at best, but hopefully still very funny in stretches. Now, with the first 10 minutes at least, you can decide for yourself thanks to the glory of YouTube. Feel free to let me know what you think, and have a perfectly pleasant Tuesday. Peace out.

Monday, December 10, 2007

John Carney's "Once" is a real charmer

Irish director John Carney's "Once," which was presented Sunday by the Macon Film Guild and hits DVD in about eight days, works just as well for what it is as for what is isn't.

Thankfully, it isn't either of the two things I had thought it might be going in, being neither a sappy romance nor a straightforward musical. I could probably fall in love with one or the other, but rarely can I stomach them in tandem.

Instead, Carney's movie presents a completely convincing snapshot of one week or so in the life of two people who connect on a very high level on the streets of Dublin, which play a huge part in the story.

And it works so well in equal part thanks to Carney himself and to his two actors, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who are also musical collaborators who released the CD "The Swell Season" in 2006.

What Carney brings to the table is a simple style that just lets the story unfold at its own pace, with only natural lighting (and unfortunately, as I'll address later, problematic sound.) What he accomplished with just $160,000 (which he apparently gave to his actors) is not much at all short of remarkable. It contrasts favorably with the muddy look of Noah Baumbach's "Margot at the Wedding" (which I also enjoyed quite a bit, in spite of its lighting shenanigans.)

And it's clear from the outset that Hansard and Irglova are friends who have a real chemistry despite their obvious difference in age (which gives the movie much of its spark.) Hansard, leader of the Irish band The Frames (because, as "The Commitments" made clear, every band should be a "The"), handpicked the Czech Irglova to be his co-star. Their naturally awkward flirting gives you both hope for the two of them and at the same time the sense their relationship is doomed from the start.

You may remember Hansard as Outspan Foster in his only other movie role (I believe), the aforementioned "The Commitments," and the two flicks make an interesting contrast in styles. They both open (or nearly) with Hansard busking on the streets of Dublin, and they both in their own way tell the story of the formation of a band. But whereas "Commitments" was a ribald ride full of energy (and still one of my favorite films), Carney's low-key approach to Hansard and Irglova's recording project gives it an organic feel that's almost as enjoyable.

As for the songs themselves, they're far too earnest for me on paper. I listen to much sillier fare, a lot of Southern soul and more hip-hop than anyone of my age ever should. Hansard's tunes do, as the lone critic to put this down at Rotten Tomatoes (Chris Cabin) put it, often sound as if "James Blunt sat on a stage in front of an empty bar saying 'this one's for the lady in the back.' " I can say, however, that if you let yourself get taken away by this charming little tale, the songs' shortcomings start to matter less and less.

And my final quibble with this otherwise thoroughly satisfying movie: The sound is not particularly good at all, making it often hard to understand the Irish and Czech accents. Though I was certainly never tempted to do so, the older couple behind me actually walked out because they couldn't make out what was being said, a valid complaint. In fact, as I was going home I couldn't help having the rather depressing thought that this is exactly the kind of magical European movie that American producers like to throw a lot of movie at, then suck the life out of them for soulless remakes (please believe me, that's not what I'm suggesting that anyone do with this one!)

With it still fresh in my mind, John Carney's little movie is hovering just near my Top Five for the year, and may still make that cut when 2007 finally comes to a close. Sound issues aside, I encourage everyone to rent this when it hits video next week (and remember, if it is a problem, you can always turn on the subtitles!)

Two tidbits and a trailer

That went on already a little longer than I had planned, but I did want to share a couple more things, one good and one bad, plus a somewhat promising trailer.

Turn on the "Lights"
First the good. Despite the ongoing strike, it seems that network TV's best drama, NBC's "Friday Night Lights," has six or so more episodes already completed and ready to go when the show returns early next month. And, in even better news, the show's move to Friday nights seems to be paying off, with it winning its time slot among the coveted 18-34 crowd (of which I, of course, am no longer a part.) Huzzah to that!

Stop me if you've heard this one before
Never ones to back away from a blatant ripoff, the Wayans brothers (all three, including Keenan) are getting back in the "movie" movie game with an idea they clearly stole from the sublimely silly "Hot Fuzz" (which will be on my year's best list too.) Yes, having crapped all over horror movies for years now, they're now turning to a "spoof" of action movies. Though I probably don't have to, I still beg of you please, please, please don't go see whatever comes out of this madness.

"How to Lose Friends" trailer

And, judging from this trailer I found on YouTube, "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People" may well debunk my belief that it's impossible to shoot something with "Hot Fuzz" star Simon Pegg in it and have it turn out anything but hilarious. Here he just seems to be annoying, but watch the trailer and decide for yourself, and have an entirely bearable Monday. Peace out.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

An "Arrested Development" movie? Keep hope alive

At this point this isn't even close to a rumor, but with something this juicy I just can't help but run with it.

The surprisingly satisfying MTV movies blog had a scintillating tidbit this week about the possible resurrection of "Arrested Development," this time on the big screen. It still seems highly unlikely, but here's what Michael Bluth had to say about the matter:

“The ‘Arrested Development’ movie is not dead, au contraire,” Jason Bateman said. “[Over the weekend I had] a little phone call, just catching up, a little reaching out and touching.”

And on the other end of that phone was apparently "Arrested Development" creator Mitchell Hurwitz, who, like a lot of entertainment writers lately, has a lot of free time on his hands. “This writers strike, it’s a devil’s playground,” said Bateman. "The guy doesn't have anything to do.”

Who else is keen to see this happen? Well, I'd imagine every cast member would be, but George Michael Bluth is already on record and eager. “Yeah, if that would ever happen that would be great,” Michael Cera told MTV. “I’ve heard about that since the show was canceled, basically. I don’t want to get my hopes up — but it would be great, I would love to do that.”

Flash back with me to the final episode of "Arrested Development" (if it's not too painful) and you'll remember that it ended with Maeby Fünke (the remarkably funny Alia Shawkat) trying to sell the Bluth's story to Ron Howard (the show's narrator) to produce as a feature film. As long he doesn't jump into the director's chair, I'm definitely on board with that.

In spite of all of Bateman's optimism, I'd imagine Hurwitz still has to feel more than a little burned by the whole "Arrested Development" experience, and may therefore be reticent to relaunch the whole thing. You may remember that, when Showtime was putting together an offer to keep the show alive, it was Hurwitz who walked away and put a halt to the possible rebirth.

So, all we can really do now is hope. Definitely stay tuned to this story!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Paramount's 2008 lineup: The winners and stinkers

Even though I'm cautiously optimistic that "The Golden Compass" will live up to my lofty expectations, I'd rather not talk much about that until I get to see it in a couple hours.

Instead I'd love to dish on what's coming next year, which, judging from Paramount's slate, looks like mostly a lot of fun. Here's a look at what the studio has coming up next year:

January 18: Cloverfield
Even in the capable hands of scribe Drew Goddard, this one just has "Snakes on a Plane"-like box office potential as far as I can tell. At the very least, I was happy to hear this won't be a "Blair Witch" affair: We do indeed get to see the giant monster that attacks NYC.

February 1: Strange Wilderness
Steve Zahn and Jonah Hill are very funny guys, so I'm hoping this is a lot less "Daddy Day Camp"-esque than it looks on the surface. In the crude comedy, Zahn and sidekick Allen Covert host a wildlife TV show that's in ratings decline. What can save it? Bigfoot, of course.

February 15: The Spiderwick Chronicles
I went from mildly interested in this fantasy offering to truly psyched when I found out the screenplay was written by John Sayles, who created one of my favorite "children's" movies in "The Secret of Roan Inish." In the story, two brothers and a sister investigate the strange happenings that unfold after the family moves into a secluded old house owned by their great, great uncle Arthur Spiderwick. Seth Rogen somehow figures into this, though I would have to assume not as one of the young siblings.

March 21: Drillbit Taylor
Getting revenge on bullies has to be one of the oldest (and, frankly, most tired) gambits in the movies, but I still can't help hoping this one is going to be genuinely funny. When you've got Owen Wilson as a former soldier of fortune hired to be the schoolyard enforcer, something funny just has to happen, right?

March 28: Stop-Loss
I'm still waiting for a movie about the Iraq War that delivers as much entertainment value as it does politicking, and just maybe this one will be it. You're heading in the right direction when you cast three of my favorite actors in Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ciaran Hinds and Timothy Oliphant ("Deadwood"'s sheriff Seth Bullock.) In director Kimberly Pierce's flick, a decorated Iraq war hero (Ryan Philippe, I believe) returns home to Texas and tries to rebuild his civilian life, only to find he's called back to active duty much sooner than expected.

April 4: Shine a Light
Though Martin Scorsese has made some truly remarkable music documentaries, I just can't get too excited about this one focusing on two concerts by the Rolling Stones. Why? Well, they were already very old when I was in college, and since that was a good while ago, they're obviously just geriatric now, and very hard for me to watch without cringing.

April 11: The Ruins
What is it about flicks where Americans get into trouble just by leaving the country? Is it really all that dangerous to travel these days? In this latest one, a group of friends on holiday in Mexico accompany a fellow tourist on a remote archaeological dig in the jungle, where something evil (of course) lives among the ruins.

May 2: Iron Man
With these next two flicks, I think Paramount might just have the strongest summer slate, Dark Knight be damned. Robert Downey Jr. should make a great Tony Stark, and the supporting cast with Terrence Howard (man, does this guy like to work), Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges ain't too shabby either.

May 22: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Count this as the single summer flick I'm most excited about. Though a visitor to this site (and forgive me please that I can't remember just who) warned me that George Lucas had commandeered the screenwriting reins for this one, which would be simply craptastic, two dudes named David Koepp and Jeff Nathanson are still listed as the scribes, so maybe there's hope. All plot details for this are under tight wraps.

June 6: Kung Fu Panda
I have to admit that, as silly as this animated flick sounds, those little critters doing kung fu were pretty infectious in the trailer. Jack Black is the voice of Po, a rather lazy and rotund panda who's called on to save the day after he is, of course, christened as the chosen one. Black should at least be very funny in this.

June 20: The Love Guru
Mike Myers usually seems to pick his comedies carefully, but I just don't see how this can turn out to be anything but awful. Myers is the titular guru who's called in to repair the estranged marriage of professional hockey player (Romany Malco) so he can get back into top form on the ice. Verne Troyer is apparently in this one, so at the very least we can expect more than a few more midget jokes, if that's your thing.

July 11: Tropic Thunder
If you believe the tabloids (and they do occasionally get things right), it was on the set of this Ben Stiller comedy that things started to go wrong for Owen Wilson, as he started partying too much with funnyman and co-star Steve Coogan. Whether that's true or not, Wilson had to drop out, but still leaves a pretty impressive cast in his wake, including director Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., Coogan, Bill Hader and Jay Baruchel of "Knocked Up" fame. In the flick, a group of actors find themselves somehow thrown into a "real, warlike situation." It's possible that this scenario was funny when it starred Larry the Cable Guy, but I have to say I didn't bother to find out.

August 8: Eagle Eye
I just immediately have to be skeptical about any flick in which Shia LaBoeuf somehow gets framed as a terrorist (along with either Michelle Monaghan or, even better, Rosario Dawson, so maybe there's hope.) D.J. Caruso directs this one.

August 22: Case 39
Well, we made it this far (I think) without a Renee Zellweger sighting, but I guess it had to happen eventually. In this flick she plays a social worker who saves an abused 10-year-old girl (Jodelle Ferland) from her parents only to discover that the girl is not as innocent as she thinks. At least the great Ian McShane factors into this one somehow.

September 26: Nowhereland
An Eddie Murphy comedy that's actually funny? Not likely, but we can still dream, right? In this one he plays a financial executive who's invited into his daughter's imaginary world, where he just might find solutions to halt the downward spiral of his career (the executive's or Murphy's? You decide.)

Fall 2008: Ghost Town
Judging from the title of this one I would have assumed it was just one of those bad "horror" flicks that studios dump out at the end of summer, but it's actually a comedy starring Ricky Gervais. In the directorial debut of "Indy 4" screenwriter David Koepp, Gervais plays a dentist who has a near-death experience during routine surgery and gains the ability to see dead people who ask him for help in contacting the living.

Nov. 7: Madagascar: The Crate Escape
Even it did spawn way too many domestic-animals-in-the-wild flicks (and rip the idea off from a few predecessors too), I thought the first Madagascar movie was a hoot, especially those silly penguins, so this should be fun.

Nov. 26: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Even more than "Indy 4," you can count this as the Paramount movie I'm most psyched for next year. David Fincher (resounding huzzah!) takes on the F. Scott Fitzgerald tale about a man (Brad Pitt) who is born in his eighties in 1918 and ages in reverse through the 20th century. Taraji P. Henson of "Hustle & Flow," one of my favorite young actresses, figures into this one somehow too.

Dec. 19: Revolutionary Road
For as long as I've been hearing about this one I just assumed it was coming out at the end of this year rather than next. Sam Mendes directs this tale of a young couple (Leo DiCaprio and Mendes' clearly better half, Kate Winslet) living in a Connecticut suburb during the mid-1950s who struggle to come to terms with their personal problems while trying to raise their two children.

Dec. 25: Star Trek
I have to confess that the whole Star Trek thing is just a tremendous chink in whatever geek armor I still possess. I just never got into it, in any variation, but I'd never knock anyone who does (and there are clearly more than a few of you out there.) All I really know about this is that it's apparently the rather amazing 11th Star Trek flick, it's being directed by J.J. Abrams, and that Zachary Quinto (Sylar on "Heroes") does make a very convincing Spock.

TBA: A Tale of Two Sisters
OK, last one (finally!) and it sounds really odd. In a remake of a Korean horror flick, the rather alluring Elizabeth Banks (who will be making a "porno" with Seth Rogen for director Kevin Smith too) is the cruel stepmother of two sisters who return home from a mental institution. Sounds pretty darn far from my cup of tea.

And there you have it. Feel free to tell me which Paramount (and non-Paramount) flicks you're most excited about for 2008. I'll leave you with this fairly freakin cool pic from "Speed Racer." I'm still more than a little skeptical that this Wachowski brothers flick will be anything but crap, but judging from this pic it should at least look pretty astounding. Peace out.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Camp Apatow gets biblical? Believe it

There's a lot of stuff out there today, so forgive me if I tear through things rather quickly. And where in the world would you start except with what's next from reigning king of comedy Judd Apatow?

Actually, a quick visit to the IMDB revealed he's not set to direct anything in the near future, but this flick he's producing for director Harold Ramis (huzzah!) sounds like it should be just thoroughly crazy and fun.

Michael Cera and Jack Black (now there's a comedy team!) will star in "Year One," and they'll most likely be joined by Oliver Platt, David Cross, Vinnie Jones, Juno Temple and, yes, McLovin. What I've always liked about Apatow ever since the "Freaks and Geeks" days is his loyalty, so it's nice to see that continues with Christopher Mintz-Plasse.

Details are scant about the story by Ramis, but it will definitely be some kind of Biblical comedy. Platt is in talks to play a platform-shoe-wearing high priest in the comedy, while Jones is on board to play a head palace guard named Sargon.

That's just about all I know for now, but with that many funny people in one flick, which is set to start shooting in January, this is definitely one to keep your eyes on.

NBR picks 'No Country'

Though I stand by my pick of Ratatouille as the best movie of 2007, I have nothing but love for the Coens' "No Country for Old Men," so it's nice to see the kudos start rolling in.

The rather mysterious National Board of Review has picked it as the best movie of 2007, but in one of those bizarre split decisions also gave its directing award to Tim Burton for "Sweeney Todd." "No Country" also won a much-deserved honor for best ensemble cast (along with all the great dudes in this one, Kelly MacDonald was sensational, and you'll be hearing much more from me about how she deserves a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.)

George Clooney picked up NBR’s actor nod for his performance in "Michael Clayton," while Julie Christie won the actress prize for "Away from Her."

Casey Affleck received the supporting actor prize for "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," while Amy Ryan won supporting actress for "Gone Baby Gone."

"Ratatouille" took the award for animated feature, while French film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" took foreign film. Phil Donahue and Ellen Spiro’s Iraqi war doc "Body of War" drew the documentary nod. Ben Affleck won for directorial debut with "Gone Baby Gone."

Ellen Page won the prize for breakthrough performance by an actress for her role in "Juno," while Emile Hirsch took the breakthrough performance by an actor for "Into the Wild."

"Juno" scribe Diablo Cody and "Lars and the Real Girl" scribe Nancy Oliver tied for the original screenplay prize; Joel and Ethan Coen drew adapted screenplay kudos for "No Country."

Along with naming the best 10 (actually this year, 11) movies of the year, the NBR also picks the 10 best independents. I'm not much on the segregation, but it's still nice to see the smaller flicks gets some love.

Here are the indies: Sarah Polley’s "Away from Her," Craig Zobel’s "Great World of Sound," John Sayles’ "Honeydripper," Paul Haggis’ "In the Valley of Elah," Michael Winterbottom’s "A Mighty Heart," Andrew Wagner’s "Starting Out in the Evening," Mira Nair’s "The Namesake," Tamara Jenkins’ "The Savages," John Carney’s "Once" and Adrienne Shelly’s "Waitress." ("Namesake" and "Once" are both on my weekend watch list, which has me rather excited.)

Making the shortlist of top foreign films were "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," "The Band’s Visit," "The Counterfeiters," "La Vie en rose" and "Lust, Caution."

"Darfur Now," "In the Shadow of the Moon," "Nanking," "Taxi to the Darkside" and "Toots" were named the top five docus.

And now, finally, the NBR's top 11 best movies are:

"No Country for Old Men"
"The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford"
"The Bourne Ultimatum"
"The Bucket List"
"Into The Wild"
"The Kite Runner"
"Lars And The Real Girl"
"Michael Clayton"
"Sweeney Todd"

No "Ratatouille" or "American Gangster"? Phooey. Oh well .. let the debate begin!

Johnny meets the Mann

I understand that when you're Johnny Depp you have options, but how in the world did one dude get to pick from three great movie roles (and perhaps pick the wrong one?)

He had been rumored to be making either "Shantaram" in India with the great Mira Nair or a movie based on Hunter Thompson's "Rum Diary" with "Withnail and I" director Bruce Robison. I have to assume that both of those have been delayed or dropped, because now he's teaming up with Michael Mann for a pic that sounds like it's much more likely to actually get made.

"Public Enemies" is set during the great crime wave of 1933-34, when Hoover's FBI was taking on Depression-era criminal legends such as John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd. Mann wrote the script, based on Bryan Burrough’s book.

In what can only be described as tons of cool, Depp will play Dillinger. And as much as I'd like to see him team with up with Ms. Nair or Mr. Robison, it's hard to see how this could turn out bad.

"X Files 2" cast takes shape

With this many people signed on, it's beginning to look like there definitely will be another X Files flick in our near future (I couldn't help having lingering doubts.)

Rapper Xzibit, Amanda Peet and Billy Connolly have signed on for director Chris Carter's "The X Files 2," which will be a stand-alone flick rather than a real sequel, thankfully. Xzibit and Peet will play fellow FBi agents with David Duchovny's Mulder and Gillian Anderson's Scully. It's not clear yet what Connolly has to do with all this, but I like him in just about everything (including the simply silly but very entertaining "Fido," which I just finished on DVD.)

The flick is set to come out July 25.

Who gets to make out with Rory Gilmore?

Sorry, but that was the first thing that popped into my sometimes puerile mind when I saw this one. Zach Gilford, a k a QB No. 1 Matt Saracen on "Friday Night Lights," will play Alexis Bledel's love interest in "The Post-Grad Survival Guide," and will be joined in the cast by Michael Keaton, Carol Burnett and Rodrigo Santoro.

The film centers on Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel), who graduates from college and is forced to move back home with her eccentric family. Sounds terribly familiar to me, especially with "Superbad" director Greg Mottola's "Adventureland" coming out next summer with pretty much the exact same plot, but I'll watch Rory Gilmore in just about anything. And with "Friday Night Lights" shuttered thanks to the strike (sorry to be the bearer of bad news, if you didn't know), it's just nice to see that the QB gets to keep busy.

Doco directors set to get Freaky

My former boss and still current co-worker Oby Brown swears you can find the answer to just about any question in economist Steven D. Levitt's book "Freakonomics." Having read a few chapters of it myself, I'm not quite that convinced, but it is indeed a fascinating tome.

Now, seven doco directors will be teaming up to each direct a segment based on a chapter of the book to make one flick. Morgan Spurlock ("Super Size Me"), Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing ("Jesus Camp"), Alex Gibney ("Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"), Laura Poitras ("My Country My Country"), Eugene Jarecki ("Why We Fight") and Jehane Noujaim ("Control Room") are the super seven.

Jarecki will analyze Levitt's claim that the drop in crime can be attributed to Roe. v. Wade (yes, really), and Gibney will focus on whether or not sumo wrestlers and teachers cheat. The other directors are still picking their chapters to take on.

Shooting will begin in January and will be completed by summer. If you've never read any of this book, I highly recommend picking it up for a read that, even if just makes you scratch your head, definitely won't leave you bored.

What's next on "The Wire"?

OK, we're almost done, but I couldn't omit these plotlines for the first four episodes of the final season of the greatest TV show of all time, could I? David Simon's "The Wire" returns to HBO Sunday, Jan. 6, and the fifth season will take a hard look at the Media's role in addressing - or not addressing - the crime problems of Simon's Baltimore.

New cast regulars this season include Clark Johnson ("Homicide: Life on the Street") as city editor Augustus "Gus" Haynes, Tom McCarthy ("Year of the Dog") as ambitious reporter Scott Templeton, Michelle Paress as reporter Alma Gutierrez, Neal Huff ("Michael Clayton") as Michael Steintorf, Mayor Carcetti's chief of staff, and Michael Kostroff ("The Closer") as Maury.

Here are the official HBO plotlines for episodes 1-4 of what should be a 13-episode final arc.

"More with Less"
As McNulty (Dominic West) and the detail continue staking out Marlo's crew, recently promoted Sergeant Carver (Seth Gilliam) is welcomed by a cauldron of discontent from officers coping with unpaid overtime. Though he wants to keep his campaign promise to lower crime, Mayor Carcetti (Aidan Gillen) is strapped by his commitment to schools, and faces some tough choices. Col. Daniels (Lance Reddick) is forced to reallocate his resources, retaining Freamon (Clarke Peters) and Sydnor (Corey Parker Robinson) for the Clay Davis (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) probe. Meanwhile, city editor Augustus "Gus" Haynes (Clark Johnson) and the staff of a local newspaper are reeling from corporate cutbacks, losing key personnel from both the metro and international divisions. Still, with the help of reporters Alma Gutierrez (Michelle Paress), Jeff Price (Todd Scofield) and Scott Templeton (Tom McCarthy), Haynes is able to break a front-page story that links a politician to a co-op drug dealer. Proposition Joe (Robert F. Chew), Marlo (Jamie Hector), Fatface Rick (Troj Marquis Strickland) and others meet in a hotel conference room to discuss divvying up drug frontiers across East Baltimore's county line.

"Unconfirmed Reports"
Although he tells Sydnor that the Davis investigation could be a "career case," Freamon keeps a wary eye out for Marlo, who takes care of some unfinished business and strikes a business deal with Barksdale (Wood Harris). Carcetti throws the police a bone by removing the cap on secondary employment, sending the detectives into fantasy-job reveries. With an eye on the state house, Mayor Carcetti's chief of staff, Michael Steintorf (Neal Huff), tries to find good news for the mayor while blaming the Royce administration for the Campbell revelation. Davis turns to Burrell (Frankie Faison) for help with his problem, but the commissioner's hands are tied. At the newspaper, executive editor James Whiting (Sam Freed) outlines a Pulitzer-worthy series in broad strokes, trumping Haynes while liberating the ambitious Templeton. Fed up with broken-down cars and unsolved serial murders, McNulty decides to take matters into his own hands.

"Not for Attribution"
Carcetti's master plan for the police department is leaked to the press, sending the brass into a panic. Marlo turns to Proposition Joe to help with an enviable problem. Whiting and managing editor Thomas Klebanow (David Costabile) drop a bombshell on the newspaper staff. Michael (Tristan Wilds) finds temporary respite from his life on the corner by taking Dukie (Jermaine Crawford) and Bug (Keenon Brice) on a trip. McNulty shares some inside info with Gutierrez, but her subsequent story doesn't cause the splash either envisioned. Undaunted, McNulty looks for a new ally in Freamon.

Campbell (Marlyne Afflack) tries to smooth out the transitions in the police department. The newspaper scramsbles to confirm surprising news from City Hall, but lose out to the TV media in scooping a high-profile grand jury appearance. As Marlo tries to win favor with the Greeks, Proposition Joe pays his last respects to a fallen colleague, and prepares to make himself scarce in anticipation of a showdown. Freamon enlists the help of a past partner to help with the investigation.

And in welcome music news, on Jan. 8, Nonesuch Records releases "Music from Five Years of The Wire," which includes performances of Steve Earle's "Way Down in the Hole," the show's theme song, by the Blind Boys of Alabama, the Neville Brothers and DoMaJe, as well as the closing theme and numerous other tracks.

It will be sad to see this great crime epic come to a close, but it certainly seems from this description of the first part of season five that Simon and his crew are going out on top. Peace out.