Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tyler Perry's next move

Few people in the world seem to have things figured out quite as well as Tyler Perry.

Once a year, every February, he puts out a movie for Lionsgate, suffers the barbs of critics who don't like his rather rosy view of the world, and garners more acclaim from his fans. It may be a little more complicated than that, but not much.

And, I'll admit it, I'm just a sucker for his movies. They're essentially 90-minute fairy tales that just let you shut off your brain for a little while and just enjoy the ride.

After straying from his popular stage plays for "Daddy's Little Girls," he'll next be returning to that source material for next February's "Why Did I Get Married." In the latest casting news, Janet Jackson has come on board, as best as I can tell to play Perry's wife in the flick. Sharon Leal, who played Effie White's replacement in the Dreams in "Dreamgirls," and R&B diva Jill Scott have also signed on.

The film revolves around a couple who go away with friends every winter to examine their marriages in a group setting. One of the wives brings along a sexy young temptress who causes plenty of trouble for the couples. In a departure for Perry, at least part of it will be shot in British Columbia before he returns to his home turf of Atlanta for the last act.

"Death Proof" soundtrack

There are three movie soundtracks that I would consider essential listening if I had to pick only a few to take with me, "O Brother Where Art Thou?" "The Muppet Movie" and Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction."

Tarantino, in particular, seems to put almost as much care into selecting the songs for his movies as he does the movies themselves. The soundtrack for "Jackie Brown" was almost as good, and he seems to be continuing the good work with what he's picked out for "Death Proof," his half of the "Grindhouse" flick coming in April.

Here's the list:

“The Last Race” — Jack Nitzsche
“Baby, It's You” — Smith
“Paranoia Prima” — Ennio Morricone
“Planning & Scheming” — Eli Roth & Michael Bacall
“Jeepster” — T Rex
“Stuntman Mike” — Rose McGowan & Kurt Russell
“Staggolee” — Pacific Gas & Electric
“The Love You Save (May Be Your Own)” — Joe Tex
“Good Love, Bad Love” — Eddie Floyd
“Down In Mexico” — The Coasters
“Hold Tight - Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich
“Sally and Jack (From the Motion Picture Blow Out)” — Pino Donaggio
“It's So Easy” — Willy DeVille
“Whatever-However” — Tracie Thoms & Zoe Bell
“Riot In Thunder Alley” — Eddie Beram
“Chick Habit” — April March

I don't recognize all of those, but I'll listen to just about anything by Joe Tex and Eddie Floyd. The fun will be in finding out what oddities Tarantino dug up to fill the slate. And the movies should just rock too.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Monahan, Scorsese & DiCaprio? Sort of

Apparently there's nothing like an Academy Award to put a writer in high demand. William Monahan's now attached to two interesting projects, and it's hard to tell which one might come first.

According to Variety, he's ready to reteam with Martin Scorsese (big shock) on something called "The Long Play." Described as a rock 'n' roll epic, it follows two friends through 40 years in the music business, from the early days of R&B to contemporary hip-hop. So maybe not rock 'n' roll, but definitely music, a subject Scorsese should have a lot of fun with.

The project has its genesis in the Rolling Stones doco Scorsese is now wrapping up (and which I have no desire to see.) Mick Jagger came up with the idea and pitched it to Scorsese, who bit (I really need to get some more powerful friends.)

Depending on who you ask on any given day, of course, Scorses also has his hands in any number of other pies. He's already expressed interest in:

"Silence", a movie about Jesuit missionaries in 17th century Japan, set to star Javier Bardem.
"The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt", another biopic starring Leo DiCaprio.
And, the most recent before "Long Play," a flick based on Brian Selznick's children's novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," about a 12-year-old orphan who lives in the walls of a Paris train station in 1930 and a mystery involving the boy, his late father and a robot.

Sounds like he has plenty of options, and they all sound intriguing. I think I'd most like to see "Silence," because the subject is just fascinating, but wherever he turns next I'll definitely follow.

Monahan, meanwhile, is also again looking to Hong Kong, at least according to a competing article in the Hollywood Reporter.

Warner Bros. has acquired another thriller from the team that created "Infernal Affairs," titled "Confessions of Pain." Monahan has signed on to script the remake, and Leo Dicaprio is back to star. "Pain," which I haven't yet seen (that will hopefully change soon) follows two close friends, one a police detective and the other a private detective, who team to investigate the murder of the cop's father-in-law. As the investigation proceeds, according to The Hollywood Reporter, "they uncover evidence that shows that nothing is as it appears."

Part of me definitely wishes they'd stop with this remake madness, but I love the Hong Kong flicks, so I'll have to wait and see (and, as soon as I'm done writing this, see if I can get the original from Netflix.)

DVD pick of the week

A lot of good titles this week, but what D.A. Pennebaker has taken on in revisiting "Don't Look Back" is definitely my pick of the week.

If you haven't seen the rock doco, which follows Bob Dylan on tour in England in 1965, this new edition is a great chance to rectify that omission. For the "65 Tour Deluxe Edition," out on DVD today, Pennebaker created a new documentary, "Bob Dylan 65 Revisited," compiled from more than 20 hours of unused footage from the 1965 shoot in his personal archive and shaped into a look back on the artist 40 years later.

I've become increasingly wary of DVD "special editions" that don't add much more than a deleted scene or two, but this one seems to be the real deal.

Runners up: Also out on DVD this week, the very smart romantic comedy "Stranger Than Fiction," Terry Gilliam's "Tideland," "Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny," and finally "The Heart of the Game," a documentary that follows seven years in the life of a high school girls basketball coach. I'll definitely be renting all of those.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscars and a look ahead

As the Oscars came to a close Sunday night, my immediate two reactions were "well, they got it just about right" and "man, those dancers, while admirably flexible, were just kinda creepy."

Congratulations, of course, to Martin Scorsese, but more importantly, congratulations to the Academy for rewarding the flick that, to me, had the best combination of box office appeal and critical acclaim. "Little Miss Sunshine" also fits in this category, but "The Departed" is just a more worthy winner.

But, this being America and me being me, there's always something to complain about, of course.

First off, for full disclosure, I haven't seen "The Lives of Others," but it really must just be a masterpiece if it's somehow better than "Pan's Labyrinth." In the closing seconds of Maryland's great victory over UNC, insuring the turtles' return to the NCAA tournament, my brother called and we got in an argument over which was the best movie of 2006. He was pushing "Children of Men" and I stood firmly behind "Pan's Labyrinth." We quickly agreed, however, that they were the best two movies of the year, so it really wasn't much of an argument. "Pan's Labyrinth" certainly won its share Sunday night, but not getting the Foreign Language award was the Webster's definition of a snub.

In less surprising news, "Dreamgirls" won only two awards, the much-expected and well-deserved coronation of Jennifer Hudson and one for sound editing. What happened in the best original song category? I guess Academy voters just couldn't resist the lure of a Melissa Etheridge tune that lets them feel good about themselves and how much they love the environment. I was pleased, though, to see Alan Arkin prevail over Eddie Murphy. Great comedy is always a winner in my book, and Arkin definitely delivered it in "LMS."

But enough with the negativity. Forest Whitaker gave the best speech of the night, and Dame Helen Mirren was, as usual, all class. I also enjoyed Michael Arndt's clearly joyous speech accepting the award for Best Original Screenplay for "LMS."

And that's about all I have to say about the Oscars. Now, let's look ahead. There are some potentially great movies coming out in the next few weeks. Here are some I'm very excited about:

Coming Friday:
Zodiac: The reviews for this one have been stellar. In my mind, I'm already there.
Black Snake Moan: Reviews for this, on the other hand, have just been atrocious, but after "Hustle & Flow" I'll definitely give Craig Brewer a chance.

March 9:
300: Do I really have to say anything to get people psyched for this?
The Namesake: I just love Mira Nair more than almost any other director, and this one looks like it could be her masterpiece.

March 16:
Sunshine: Danny Boyle tries his hand at sci-fi. Even if this is bad, it should be fascinating.

The end of the month looks pretty bleak, but at least we have three solid weeks of promising flicks, and that's good enough for me.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Astronaut Farmer

It makes me feel almost dirty to even complain about a movie as well-intentioned as "The Astronaut Farmer." And for sure, as entertainment for the whole family goes, you could certainly do a LOT worse than this goofy little flick from the Polish brothers.

But somehow I was just expecting something more.

At it's best, it does have a real "Tucker" feel to it, reviving that can-do spirit with relish. And the bros. Polish treat the heartland with genuine respect, as they have in previous movies like "Twin Falls, Idaho." When your main character is a rancher who just wants to launch a rocket, you're gonna have quirky, but their characters always seem real to me.

So what's the problem? Well, if I'm gonna give in to the goofy this far, I need magic. I know it's a lot to ask, but if you're gonna strive for Capra and have your lead character deliver earnest speeches about the need to always follow your dreams, you have to make us believe in it too, but for long stretches in the middle of this flick I was just bored.

That certainly wasn't the fault of the main performers here, who dived into the story headfirst. Billy Bob's Farmer is a family-friendly kind of kook, but you can tell throughout that he's a tightly wound ball that could explode at any moment. His encounters with the evil men who deal in acronyms like WMD and FAA are very funny. And Virginia Madsen, as his enabling wife, is as good as usual. She certainly deserves better than starring in two instantly forgettable movies in one weekend, but she's always a welcome sight.

I hesitate to use letters or stars to grade a movie because it just simplifies things too much to me, but this is one movie that's just crying out for a grade. I'd give it a B-, with the charming, throwback approach just barely outweighing it's lack of energy. See it with these warnings in mind, and I think you'll mostly enjoy the ride.

Friday, February 23, 2007

An "Arrested Development" reunion? Well, sort of ...

Whatever happened to good coming of age movies that appeal to adults? Perhaps I've completed my transition to old curmudgeon, but it seems to me like it's definitely a dying art.

But Jason Reitman, who directed last year's fantastic (and almost completely Oscar-snubbed) satire "Thank You For Smoking," has one in the works that just might bring the genre back to life. And it's rapidly acquiring a cast that just rocks.

Adorable Ellen Page stars in "Juno" as a high school student who manages to get herself knocked up, and George Michael Bluth (the extremely funny Michael Cera) plays the young man who did the knocking. Now comes word that Michael Bluth himself, Jason Batemen, and Allison Janney have joined the cast. Bateman and Jennifer Garner play a couple who want to adopt Page's baby, and Janney is her stepmother.

That all sounds perfect to me. To top it off, the script was penned by Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages scribe Diablo Cody, who writes the very funny Pussy Ranch blog, so this is definitely one to keep your eyes on. It's currently filming in Vancouver.

It would have been even cooler if Bateman and Cera were to be father and son again, but as a still-recovering "Arrested Development" addict, I'll take whatever crumbs I can get.

Frances McDormand getting busy

When I saw this news, my first thought was that I couldn't remember the last time I had seen the great Ms. McDormand in a movie. Then I realized that I had effectively blocked Nicole Holofcener's "Friends with Money" completely from my memory. (Trust me, it's just bad.)

Now, however, comes word that she's gonna get busy again, and hopefully find some better movies to appear in.

The first of two flicks for Focus Features will be "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day," which despite that rather silly title sounds like it could be pretty funny. It's based on a period comic novel by Winifred Watson about a governess (McDormand) in the 1800s who gets a taste of glamour when she goes to work in the home of a London nightclub songstress. One of her chores is to sort out the entertainer's unrespectable affairs.

In much better news, she'll then head to New York to work with hubby Joel Coen and his brother Ethan on "Burn After Reading." The dark comedy about the CIA will also star George Clooney (because, by law, I'm pretty sure 1 out of every 10 movies has to.)

It will be her fifth film with the bros. Coen, following "Fargo," "Raising Arizona," "Miller's Crossing" and "The Man Who Wasn't There" (the only Coen brothers movie I simply didn't care for.)

Welcome back, Frances.

"Fantastic Mr. Fox" still alive?

In case you need further proof that George Clooney is everywhere, his name came up again in news about a project that I just assumed had died on the vine, Wes Anderson's "Fantastic Mr. Fox."

Clooney and Cate Blanchett are in talks to voice the lead characters in Anderson's stop-motion film, his first foray into animation. The movie is, of course, based on the classic Roald Dahl tale about a clever fox who must outwit three mean, dimwitted farmers who try their hardest to hurt Mr. Fox and his family. Clooney would voice Mr. Fox, while Blanchett would voice his wife.

I still have doubts that any of this will ever come together. It seems like it's been rumored for five years now, but in the meantime we'll be getting another Anderson movie fairly soon in "The Darjeeling Ltd." The flick, penned by Anderson and Roman Coppola, stars Anderson regulars Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, plus newcomer Adrien Brody, as three brothers who go on a voyage across India after the death of their father. Anderson is apparently now at work editing his footage in New York.

That sounds promising to me, and the possibility of two Wes Anderson movies in the near future sounds even better.

Talking Oscars

I'll close with a short plug for, well, me. By clicking under my profile, you can find a (no longer dead, I promise) link to a short podcast in which two of my co-workers, Phillip Ramati and Ryan Gilchrest, and I all argue (politely) about which movie will win Best Picture.

It's a fairly pleasant way to waste a couple of minutes at work. Mr. Ramati, by the way, writes a very good blog about all things TV, which you can read here.

I'll be going to see "The Astronaut Farmer" Saturday because I'm a fan of Billy Bob Thornton and all things goofy, so please feel free to check back Sunday morning for a review, and have a perfectly fine weekend.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Best Picture snubs

I'll try not to make this about the Oscars for every day until Sunday, but it's gonna be hard.

This morning I got to thinking about those movies that got nominated for Best Picture but just didn't make the cut. Even if that year had a worthy winner, these are decisions that, had I produced these movies, would have just left me with a definite "wtf?" look on my face right in front of the cameras. Here goes:

1. 1939: "The Wizard of Oz"
Can you really call it a "snub" when you lose to "Gone With the Wind"? In my mind, yes. "The Wizard of Oz" broke new ground in so many ways, and was just the definition of a timeless tale well told. "GWTW," on the other hand, was a timeless tale sorely in need of a good film editor.

2. 1962: "To Kill a Mockingbird"
Certainly another worthy winner this year in "Lawrence of Arabia," but I definitely would have voted for Harper Lee's story. For me, it's the single best book-to-screen adaptation ever, and one movie that should be required viewing for all children.

3. 1964: "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"
Before seeing "Thank You for Smoking" I was sure that smart political satire was a dead art. It's definitely on life support, but it was never delivered better than by Stanley Kubrick with "Dr. Strangelove" (OK, well maybe once better with "Duck Soup.") The winner this year was "My Fair Lady."

4. 1967: "The Graduate"
This may have been the most egregious example of the Academy's bias against smart comedies. Buck Henry's script for this gem is one of the most quotable of all time. What beat it? "In the Heat of the Night."

5. 1970: "M*A*S*H"
You'll definitely start to see a trend starting here as to who my favorite directors are. There were almost none better than Robert Altman, and though it has its detractors, I find something new to laugh about each time I watch this one. It was beat down by "Patton." I think voters were simply afraid of George C. Scott.

6. 1975: "Nashville"
Just a perfect example of why Robert Altman was way ahead of his time. Had he made this ensemble comedy/drama today, he surely would find favor with Academy voters who fall for the art of interlocking stories. Although this is easily one of my favorite movies, it was hard to put it on the snub list, considering that "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was certainly a worthy winner.

7. 1979: "Apocalypse Now"
If I were Francis Ford Coppola at the precise moment he lost out to "Kramer Vs. Kramer," I would have stormed the stage and simply taken the award by force. How do these two movies even end up in the same category? Possibly the greatest anti-war epic of all time vs. mawkish fare fit for a Lifetime channel movie? Simply absurd.

8. 1980: "Raging Bull"
Like Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese will make back-to-back appearances on this list. I really have no problem with winner "Ordinary People." I understand some people find it to be compelling drama, but "Raging Bull" features Robert De Niro's best work ever, and it's just the definition of a great biopic.

9. 1990: "Goodfellas"
If you ever think people are exaggerating about Scorsese being the most snubbed director of all time, just look back to 1990. It's only fitting that he might finally win this year with "The Departed," his first movie to even come close to the style of this great gangster epic. Can you imagine the look on his face when he lost out to "Forrest Gump"? My feelings on that movie could fill a multipage rant, but that's a whole different subject ...

10. 1994: "Pulp Fiction"
I just watched this one again the other day, and it has lost none of its appeal. In all honesty, I probably can't rightly call this a snub because I never bothered to see this year's winner, "Dances with Wolves." I can just think of so many things I'd rather do than watch Kevin Costner tell me to be nice to American Indians. For starters, I'd much rather watch "Pulp Fiction" again.

And there you have it. I'm sure there are many others. In this list, favorites "Hope and Glory" and "The Last Picture Show" just barely missed making the cut. Please feel free to let me know about any others I left out.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ron Howard must be stopped

On the same day that Opus Dei announced it is preparing its own answer to "The Da Vinci Code" comes a sure sign that Ron Howard has finally lost the rest of his mind.

Imagine Entertainment has acquired the rights to Michael Haneke's satisfying thriller "Cache," and Howard is set to direct.

For anyone who missed the original, it stars the great Daniel Auteil and Juliette Binoche as a couple whose lives come unraveled after Auteil's character starts receiving a series of increasingly violent videos.

In two rather predictable developments, Variety said the remake will be set in the U.S. and will be expected to "amp up the suspense and consequences."

So, what's wrong with all this? Surely Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks or any other actor from the Howard stable can play the lead in this, right? Well, the problem is that Haneke's movie carries a subtext that gives it all of its punch.

I don't want to give too much away, but as the source of the videos comes into focus, Haneke touches on the treatment of Algerians in the 60s and other issues, and doesn't offer any kind of ending that wraps everything up cleanly. If you haven't seen it, and I definitely recommend you do, make sure you stick around for the closing shot. It's a stunner, and if Howard even tries to recreate it I may just order the hit on him myself.

Haneke, who is Austrian, made a first-rate French psychological thriller, a genre which has been rejuvenated in the past few years. Two others I would recommend renting are Francois Ozon's "Swimming Pool" and Dominik Moll's "With a Friend Like Harry."

All three of these directors have more style and skill than Opie. If any of you have the power to somehow stop this remake madness and save the rest of us, please do so now.

DVD pick of the week

In a way it's depressing that the sounds of rage when I was coming of age are now the source material for retrospective documentaries, but as long as they keep turning into great movies, I won't complain.

Just last year there was "We Jam Econo," the saga of the incomparable Minute Men, and now on DVD this week comes the much more ambitious "American Hardcore."

The movie traces the hardcore movement from its roots to its downfall in the face of hair metal. Overall it could certainly use more music, considering that's the subject, but it does offer a nice kick in the head with appearances from Ian MacKaye, Greg Ginn, H.R. and many other purveyors of this angry art. Check it out.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Daddy's Little Girls

As I was walking out of Tyler Perry's new movie with a big smile on my face, I started wondering why he didn't screen it in advance for critics.

One answer, of course, is obvious. First, why would he need critics? He's got Oprah and an army of devoted fans in place. The second one was what I wasn't quite prepared for. A quick visit to Rotten Tomatoes revealed it got a rather paltry 26 percent positive reviews, beating only "Ghost Rider" at 22 percent (I won't be bothering with that one.)

Twenty-six percent? Were they watching the same movie as me? I concede that Tyler Perry is not yet close to any standard of a "great" director. One shot near the beginning just made me visibly cringe in my seat. The mother-in-law of our hero, Monty James (Idris Elba), tells him she is dying of cancer (trust me, I'm not giving much away here.) In one shot, we pan down the table, from her pills to an ashtray full of cigarettes, then straight to her funeral.

I can understand why critics shy away from such heavy-handed work, but it's a minor complaint for me. The overall feel of this movie is so positive, and much more importantly, entertaining, that I'm willing to forgive such misdemeanors.

In a way, Tyler Perry makes me think of Woody Allen. Now, bear with me here. I fully understand that Tyler Perry isn't Woody Allen, but to me they share many of the same strengths. First, with Perry's movies, and especially with "Daddy's Little Girls," you get the same sense of place in Atlanta that Woody used to be able to find in New York. And, if you've ever been to Atlanta, that's no small feat.

Second, just as Woody made his best move in years by stepping out of the picture for "Match Point," Perry makes a real step forward here by taking off the wig and giving Madea a rest. While she is a funny character, she would have just been a distraction from the great work here of Elba and Gabrielle Union (was she really in "Bring It On"? Amazing.)

Anyone who's seen a Tyler Perry movie will find the story familiar. He works within the gospel play format, so it's always all about the drama. The good guys will be flawed but essentially good people, and the bad guys will just be the scum of the earth.

Here, the good guy is Elba's Monty James, a mechanic and the single father of the three titular little girls. Their mother has abandoned them to shack up with a crack dealer, and has now decided she wants them back. Union plays a talented lawyer too devoted to her work to have any kind of social life.

Through a series of events, Union ends up representing Monty in his custody case and, this being a Tyler Perry movie, they fall in love. If this all sounds wretchedly sweet to you, trust me, it is.

But what makes it all work is the two performers. Idris Elba will probably be familiar to most people from his great work as Russell "Stringer" Bell on "The Wire," but I also liked him in "The Gospel." As Monty James, he carries this movie over all Perry's rough patches. And he has a solid match in Union, who for the first time is more than just an extremely pretty face. You also get Louis Gossett Jr. as Monty's boss and mentor.

When I saw this opening Valentine's day next to "Music and Lyrics," I made several snarky comments about how we apparently need seperate but equal romantic comedies. But, as has happened more than a few times in my life, I was wrong.

This really isn't a romantic comedy (in fact, without Madea on hand, it's not much of a comedy at all.) It's just a well-told story about one man struggling with life, and on that level, I liked it immensely.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Favorite Original Screenplay winners

My fellow cubicle slave Dan Maley, as he was trying in vein to convince me that Gladys Knight is a better soul singer than Al Green, then explained "I just like making lists."

Well, so do I. They're not only a great way to waste time, but they also help you remember things that may have eluded your memory's grasp years ago. Today I've compiled a list of my favorite Original Screenplay winners at the Academy Awards. Why? Because I wanted to. Nuff said.

Looking at it, it strikes me that round about the late 70s to early 80s was when the Academy made this and the Adapted Screenplay category the real consolation prizes, giving them to the flicks they really knew were the best of the year. This year, those dubious honors will hopefully go to Guillermo del Toro for "Pan's Labyrinth," my favorite movie of 2006, and Alfonso Cuaron and his fellow writers for their adaptation of "Children of Men."

Anyways, here goes:

1952: The Lavender Hill Mob (T.E.B. Clarke)
Sure, it's pretty much a Keystone Cops-style screwball comedy, but as those go they don't get much funnier than "The Lavender Hill Mob." It made me laugh out loud as a kid, and it still does today.

1968: The Producers (Mel Brooks)
Before I went back and looked at the list of winners, I was convinced that the Academy's bias against comedy had been an affliction since the beginning. Even with that bias, it would have been nearly impossible to overlook this one, not my favorite Mel Brooks movie (still "Young Frankenstein"), but very funny all the same, and Zero Mostel is just perfect.

1972: The Candidate (Jeremy Larner)
Speaking of "Young Frankenstein," Peter Lorre was great as a campaign operative in this somewhat-too-preachy look at what happens to an idealist candidate (Robert Redford) after he actually gets elected to office. It's a bit dated now, but watching it recently I found it still has plenty to say about the grind politicians go through to win office.

1976: Network (Paddy Chayefsky)
This one may be best known for Peter Finch's "mad as hell" meltdown, probably the most quoted (and misquoted) speech in film history, but it has a lot more to say about the dangers of media consolidation. It's that rare movie that may be even more timely now than it was then. Watch it and be afraid, very afraid.

1979: Breaking Away (Steve Tesich)
This is easily my favorite among the movies on this list. Sports underdog fans may claim "Rudy" or "Hoosiers" as their top dog, but when I was 9 years old, there was nothing better than this tale of an Indiana dude who just wants to race his bicycle with the Italians. Jackie Earle Haley, nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year, was great as Moocher, basically a slightly older version of his "Bad News Bears" character.

1994: Pulp Fiction (Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino; Stories by Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino}
Not much needs to be said about this one. "Jackie Brown" is still my favorite Tarantino flick, but there are none quite as cool as "Pulp Fiction." If anyone who reads this actually lives in the Macon area, you can see it on the big screen again March 7 at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Regal Rivergate 14's Flashback Festival. If you're at the 7:30 show, I'll see you there.

1995: The Usual Suspects (Christopher McQuarrie)
The beauty in McQuarrie's script is in the puzzle it constructs, piece by piece. The first time I watched this Bryan Singer flick, I didn't get it. When it was over, I was just scratching my head and muttering that there was no way Verbal's story actually made sense. After multiple viewings, however, I eventually caught up.

1996: Fargo (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
The Coens have a rare gift, when they choose to use it, of putting viewers completely in a specific time and place. They may have done it slightly better with "O Brother Where Art Thou," but thanks to a remarkable performance from Frances McDormand, this one comes in a close second.

2000: Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe)
Cameron Crowe's last two flicks ("Elizabethtown" and the simply unnecessary "Vanilla Sky") have just been real dogs. He needs to get working again to remind us that, when he sticks to the essentials - love and pop music - he can craft a timeless tale. According to the IMDB he has absolutely nothing on the horizon, so just go back and watch this one again (and avoid the "Untitled" cut - it really adds nothing but more time.)

2001: Gosford Park (Julian Fellowes)
Fellowes' challenge here, which he accomplished with style, was to craft a great Robert Altman movie not written by Altman himself. With this murder mystery set at an English country estate, he managed to craft one of the better ensemble movies for the master of that genre.

So, there you have it. I'm now running very late for work. Hope you found something here for your rental queue, and please feel free to add any titles you think I snubbed.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Milli Vanilli movie?

There's a lot out there today, but anything that makes me do a spit-take with almost-scalding-hot coffee definitely gets top billing.

It seems Universal has acquired the rights to the story of Milli Vanilli lip synchers Fabrice Morvan and Rob Pilatus.

At first I thought that had to be a joke, but after thinking about it for a sec, it could be a really fascinating movie. After all, the duo - or more specifically the puppetmasters behind them - perpetrated a major fraud on the recording industry, so successfully that they even managed to snag a Grammy.

And Universal has hired a writer/director, Jeff Nathanson, who knows a thing or two about major hoaxes, having previously written the script for "Catch Me If You Can." He has secured the cooperation of Morvan, but won't be able to reach Pilatus, who died of a drug overdose in 1998.

I can remember I was working at a Mexican restaurant in Salisbury, Md., (well, a restaurant owned by a gringo that happened to serve "Mexican" food, anyway) when Milli Vanilli were set to play the Delaware State Fair. Somehow I resisted the temptation to check it out. For the flick, though, I'm definitely there.

Can M. Night bounce back?

When M. Night Shyamalan recently tried to shop around his script for something called "The Green Effect," he only found resistance. He does, however, have at least one ardent fan in a reviewer at Latino Review who calls himself El Mayimbe .

He has apparently read M. Night's script and, well, liked it quite a bit. Click on the link above to read what all he had to say about it (he gave it a B+), but here's a bit about the plot:

The premise of the film is about a large-scale, cataclysmic environmental crisis that turns into a struggle by mankind to overcome nature. Imagine if nature was sick of our polluting ways and decided to restore Earth’s natural balance by wiping us out? Imagine if an invisible neurotoxin was admitted into the very air we breathe and caused us to commit suicide in any number of gruesome ways.

In El Mayimbe's rather detailed (I warned you) assessment of the script, it's clear that would indeed be a rather gruesome affair. Whether or not we get to find out just how gruesome is up to M. Night. He was apparently given some script notes to consider, but rejected any compromise (wise move, buddy).

I used to have a lot of time for M. Night Shyamalan, and I do believe he can be great again, given the chance. Hey, we all make mistakes, right?

Just don't get me started about "Lady in the Water" ...

Whedon directed tonight's "Office"

Just a few quick, good notes about TV, and then I'll wrap it up.

As he was failing to come up with a "Wonder Woman" script to please the suits, Joss Whedon did manage to accomplish a few other things. There is, of course the "Buffy season 8" comic coming out soon, and he also directed tonight's episode of "The Office." Here's the plot summary for what should be a very funny 22 minutes or so.

Ryan (B.J. Novak) invites Michael (Steve Carell) to be a guest speaker at his business school. Meanwhile, Dwight (Rainn Wilson) battles a bat that gets loose in the office while Pam (Jenna Fischer) invites co-workers to her first art show.

After a brief flirtation with "Ugly Betty," I've come home to NBC's Thursday comedies (except for the simply execrable "30 Rock"), so I'll definitely be tuning in tonight (and someday maybe I'll even get TIVO and be able to watch it all.)

Parkey Posey a "Jezebel"

Amy Sherman-Palladino's post-Gilmore Girls show is quickly developing into one to keep your eyes on.

In the latest news about "The Return of Jezebel James," Parker Posey has signed on to play one of the two leads. The story, which admittedly sounds a little dicey, centers on a successful children's book editor (Posey) who is newly single and, after learning she won't be able to conceive, asks her estranged younger sister to carry her baby for her.

But the premise for "Gilmore Girls" sounded just as iffy to me, and before she left that show, ASP made it into my favorite TV hour of the week (unless the Maryland Terrapins are playing basketball on TV.)

With Posey on board for the new show, I'll definitely give it more than one shot. Though she was simply a mess in "Superman Returns," that really wasn't her fault. She's usually very funny and charming, and I expect this to be a great match. "Gilmore Girls" fans should also note that Scott Cohen, who played Max Medina in the first three seasons, will show up here as a boyfriend of some sort.

And that's it from me. Peace out.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Favorite Best Picture winners

As I looked through the long list of past honorees, it hit me that in recent years we've rewarded some real dogs with the Best Picture crown. Movies I just didn't like much at all.

In 2006, that will definitely not be the case, for though I would have picked different flicks for the final five, they're all worthy contenders. Here, today, are my 10 favorite Best Picture winners of all time. Note, I didn't say best, just the ones I can watch over and over again.

1943: Casablanca
There's a reason this flick ends up on the top of the AFI list and almost everywhere else. It's just remarkable storytelling done with style, and if you don't think people are still trying to imitate it, just check out what Steven Soderbergh tried to accomplish this year with "The Good German."

1949: All the King's Men
This remains my favorite American political film, and out of respect for it I just stayed miles away from the 2006 remake. Broderick Crawford is simply menacing with his take on the populist demagogue Willie Stark, and he also won a well-deserved Academy Award for his work here.

1954: On the Waterfront
Watching the contortions Hollywood went through a few years back to honor Elia Kazan would have been a painful spectacle (and it still kind of was) if this director and movie weren't simply so great. It was a real breakthrough for Marlon Brando and just an all-around entertaining labor flick.

1961: West Side Story
With its rather corny '50s version of street gangs, this take on "Romeo and Juliet" should have faded from memory long ago, but it's just so good that it keeps surviving in my mind. Jerome Robbins achieved a singular film coup by bringing this from stage to screen and not losing a beat.

1965: Sound of Music
I make no secret of how much I like musicals, both on stage and screen, and this was one we used to watch every year when I was growing up. Next to The Muppet Movie, it's probably the movie soundtrack I can stil most easily sing along with, and Julie Andrews is just charming as Maria.

1972: The Godfather
Looking through the '70s, I could have just picked the entire decade to make up this list. The Godfather is the cream of the crop, but Midnight Cowboy and The Sting were another two that almost made the cut.

1975: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
This remains one the best book-to-screen adaptations I've ever seen. Nicholson pushes right to the brink of being a caricature before just pulling back to deliver a pitch-perfect performance as Randell Patrick McMurphy, and Brad Dourif is even better as Billy Bibitt.

1976: Rocky
Watching the early parts of "Rocky Balboa" this year, when Rocky was hosting in his restaurant, was just a solid reminder that Sylvester Stallone could once write and act in truly great movies. He spent three decades actively trying to make us forget that, so "Rocky Balboa" was definitely one of my most pleasant surprises of 2006.

1977: Annie Hall
Watching the stuff they turn out now, it's often also easy to forget that Woody Allen and Diane Keaton used to be so charming, especially together. I still prefer "Manhattan" to "Annie Hall," but they're both romantic comedies that always make me smile.

1984: Amadeus
What in the world ever happened to Tom Hulce? He was great in this tale about Mozart, but F. Murray Abraham was even better as the slimy Salieri. Just the definition of creepy, and thoroughly fun to watch.

There you have it. Please feel free to add your favorites, and to tell me if I'm just a yarnhead with any of these picks.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A new "Muppet Show"?

I know, I know. This is supposed to be about movies, and there's a fairly big awards show coming up soon, but there were two TV tidbits I found this morning that were just too good to pass up.

Perhaps it was because it first debuted when I was 6 years old and therefore at the perfect age for puppets, but I've always had nothing but love for "The Muppet Show." The Henson clan has had kind of a rough ride lately, but they're now trying to relaunch the show again with an intriguing approach.

According to an article at Muppet Central, a 10-minute presentation pilot has been filmed that pitches a mock-documentary miniseries about Kermit trying to gather up the original gang for a new show (clearly time is of little significance in the puppet realm.) If this gets picked up and made into a miniseries, and Disney is apparently very interested in it, the miniseries could then lead to this new show.

In the pitch pilot, Kermit apparently finds his friends have moved on to their own careers. Fozzie has gone off to a solo career in stand-up comedy, Sam Eagle is now a security officer (now that could be very funny!) and Miss Piggy has been a busy actress in Hollywood. Similar to The Muppet Movie, Kermit travels around getting the gang to come together for a common goal – putting on a show.

Huzzah, indeed. Like I said, I just love the Muppets, so any hope that this could ever become a real TV show is just a great way to start a Monday morning.

Summer Glau a terminator?

Up until now, I've had little interest in "The Sarah Connor Chronicles," a Terminator spinoff being developed for Fox. Can there be a Sarah Connor series without Linda Hamilton? I think not. Lena Headey is playing Connor for the show, which just makes me say meh.

But there is one piece of good news, which may just be enough to make me tune in for a few episodes and give it a try. IGN is reporting that River Tam herself, Summer Glau, has joined the cast, and will most likely play a Terminator, if not the main one. This could be pretty cool. In "Serenity" we all learned that she can do at least three things well: Act, kick ass and look great doing it.

Okonedo to star in "Skin"

OK, there was also some movie news that caught my eye this morning. Sophie Okonedo, who I just loved in "Hotel Rwanda" and even moreso in "Dirty Pretty Things" (if you haven't seen this Stephen Frears flick, rent it immediately and thank me later), is set to star in the true story of a black woman born to Afrikaner parents.

Apparently Africa, and specifically South Africa, will be in for at least a little longer (I'm even going there for two weeks at the end of June, and just can't wait.) The flick, "Skin," is based on "When She Was White," a biography of Sandra Laing by Judith Stone.

At birth in 1955, Laing was classified as white, but a genetical quirk had given her dark skin and frizzy hair. In childhood she was reclassified as colored under apartheid laws and forcibly removed from her whites-only school, despite a legal challenge by her parents. She later eloped with a black man and became estranged from her parents, before seeking a reconciliation with her mother after the fall of apartheid.

This all sounds great to me, and I'll watch Sophie Okonedo do just about anything.

Weisz, Farrell to make 'Music' for Noyce

I hesitate to pick a single favorite director, but every time I sit down and think about it, Aussie Phillip Noyce always ends up in the top five. Even though his latest, "Catch a Fire," kind of bombed at the box office, it was easily one of my favorite movies of 2006.

Now he's taking on something different with an adaptation of "Dirt Music," a novel by Tim Winton. Set against the extreme landscape of Australia's Northern Territories, it's a love story about a woman (Rachel Weisz) struggling with isolation and loneliness in a remote community, whose passion for life is rekindled by a mysterious drifter (Colin Farrell).

This doesn't seem like the most promising premise to me, and I have little time for Mr. Farrell, but I'll still give it a shot. Filming is set to begin in August in Australia.

And before that, we might be getting Noyce's take on a truly great novel, Philip Roth's "American Pastoral." In the novel, Roth's alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, reconstructs the story of Seymour "the Swede" Levov, and looks into an extreme act of protest against the Vietnam War by Levov's daughter, Merry, that tears the family apart. Details are murky at the IMDB about where this project stands, but hopefully it's moving along quickly.

Whew! That went on longer than I had intended, so I have to hurry and get ready for work. Peace out.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima

Though Clint Eastwood did a fairly good job with why we fight in "Flags of Our Fathers," he unearthed a real treasure by going back and examining why they fought too in "Letters from Iwo Jima."

Having seen my fair share of Samurai movies, I had a notion of the Japanese ideals of honor and sacrifice. What muddies the waters here is a third component, country, which is clearly for these young men a much less tangible concept. As Eastwood examines their varying degrees of willingness to die for an emperor almost all of them will never even meet, he humanizes them much more than I expected, giving the movie its emotional core.

It's not the instant connection I had with the heroes of "Flags," but it did slowly become a deeper one, due in large part to two tremendous performances from Ken Watanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya.

Watanabe, who I've liked since way back in "Tampopo," plays Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who devised the system of caves we saw mostly from the outside in "Flags." It slowly dawns on him that what he conceived of as just one side of a trap to ensnare the American troops on the beach would instead become simply a death trap for his own troops, and Watanabe takes us on quite an emotional journey.

Even better is Ninomiya, who is apparently some kind of mega-popstar in Japan as a member of the band Arashi. Here he plays young Saigo, a baker conscripted into service and forced to leave behind his pregnant wife. Eastwood uses Saigo as filter to test the limits of undying loyalty to country, and its in Saigo that he finds the most humanity in the brutality of war.

I only had one beef, and this is probably more of a statement on my attention span than on Eastwood's well-established skills as a filmmaker: As the battle unravels in Kuribayashi's system of caves, I found it a little hard to keep up with all the comings and goings of our various combatants. Twenty minutes or so less of this would have suited me just fine. The movie was stronger for me in its first chapter, as we're slowly introduced to the Japanese combatants. It had a "Bridge on the River Kwai" feel to it that I really enjoyed.

So, is this movie better than "Flags"? I say yes, and for me it all comes down to the ending. IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN "LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA" YET, SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH SO I WON'T SPOIL IT FOR YOU. The ending of "Flags," with the author interviewing the various survivors of this battle, just felt tacked on to me. But with "Flags," the shot of Saigo with a smile on his face was just pitch-perfect. I also thought the flashbacks were handled much better in "Letters," and the epistolary structure gave us a deep connection to its main characters that I appreciated.

OK, spoilers over. "Letters from Iwo Jima" is a real accomplishment, but is it worthy of a Best Picture nomination. The short answer, yes. The long answer: I wouldn't have put in the top five, but subjectivity is the beautiful thing about all lists. My five would have been: "Pan's Labyrinth," "Children of Men," "The Departed," "Little Miss Sunshine," and, yes, "Dreamgirls." That said, there isn't a "Driving Miss Daisy"-style dog in this year's Oscar finalists. The fact that "Letters," and my early favorite "Babel," didn't make my cut is less an insult to these great movies than a sign that 2006, with its strong finish, was a damn fine year for flicks.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Norbit" or "Letters from Iwo Jima"?

In case anyone was worried, that was a joke.

After seeing what I believe was "Big Momma's House 2" in the middle of a very long flight, I've sworn off of any movie featuring a man in drag and a fat suit. "Norbit" is not going to pose any serious temptation, luckily. And I like Tyler Perry's movies quite a bit, so I'm happy I can see his new one without any fear of running into Madea.

I am going to see "Letters from Iwo Jima" later today, but only mildly looking forward to it. I kinda liked "Flags of Our Fathers" until it was ruined by a ridiculously heavy-handed and pedantic finish. I am curious, though, to see if "Letters" is a better movie than "Pan's Labyrinth," "Children of Men" or even "Dreamgirls." I'm gonna try hard to keep an open mind until it's finished.

I'll be posting a review at some point tomorrow, so feel free to check back, and have an entirely nonlame weekend.

Friday, February 09, 2007

"Borat 2"? No thanks

First things first: I'm afraid I have nothing at all to say about Anna Nicole Smith except that I've been to Hollywood, Fla, exactly once in my life. They have a great dog track.

What I of course like to talk about is movies, and these days, that means talking all about sequels. And thanks to Rupert Murdoch, we've got a doozy. In honor of H.L. Mencken, I'm just gonna go with this as being true, even if no paperwork has been signed.

In an interview in which he also cut down Hillary and all but endorsed NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg for president, Murdoch let it slip that Fox had lined up a sequel to "Borat" with Sacha Baron Cohen. The only problem was it wasn't true ... yet.

Sources close to Cohen said there was no deal on the table for "Borat 2," and a News Corp. spokesman told Daily Variety that Murdoch "was under the mistaken impression that we had signed a deal."

Still, in my rather demented view of the world, rumors are at least as fun as facts, so let's just run with it. Why wouldn't Fox want to make a sequel to "Borat"? The movie cost just $18 million to make, and has thus far grossed more than $225 million worldwide (before, of course, even hitting DVD.) I know about as much about investing as I do rocket science, but even I'm fairly certain that's a nice return.

Now, they'd have to pay a lot more for "Borat 2", of course. Fox passed on "Bruno," another SBC vehicle about his Austrian fashionista character, and Universal scooped it up for a fairly ridiculous $42 million. So a "Borat 2" might cost Fox as much as $60 million, but so what?

The bigger question is should there even be a "Borat 2"? My gut says no.

Sure, there are plenty of people left in this country who are stupid enough to still fall for SBC's gambit. My problem lies instead with whether or not I would want to watch it, and I think not.

Don't get me wrong. I loved "Borat." SBC's style of shining a mirror on America's dark side is as entertaining as it is enlightening, but by the time we got to that disgusting scene of those two horrificly hairy dudes wrestling on the hotel bed, I had had enough. "Borat" was a one-shot deal for me.

"Toy Story 3" set

In a Thursday conference with investors, Disney Animation announced that Pixar will indeed be making a "Toy Story 3," with eyes on a 2009 release, but John Lasseter won't be in the director's chair.

Lasseter, who directed the first two flicks along with Pixar's most recent flick, "Cars," will pass the baton to Lee Unkrich, who served as co-director on "Toy Story 2," "Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo" but has never been "the man" before.

What makes all this news even better is that Michael Arndt, the very funny, Oscar-nominated scribe of "Little Miss Sunshine," is penning the script.

Now, I've been pretty hard on the most recent Pixar flicks. To me, both "Cars" and "Finding Nemo" were just plain boring for long stretches. This summer's "Ratatouille" however, being directed by the great Brad Bird, is the one Summer flick I'm looking forward to most.

And now, Pixar's near future is pretty much set. Either before or after "Toy Story 3" they're set to make something about "Wall-E," a robot who gets lost in space.

Either way, even when they bore me, Pixar's animated movies never make me feel stupid and almost always make me laugh more than a few times. Now I've got a real hankerin for some "Ratatouille."

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Lynch doco in the works

From all accounts I've read, what David Lynch went through to make "Inland Empire" is the definition of a labor of love. I haven't seen what he came up with yet, but soon we may be able to get a glimpse inside the head of this great filmmaker.

According to my favorite froggie film site,, a film crew followed him around for two years and ended up with more than 700 hours of footage of the man at work, plus interviews with all the principal players. With a good editor, this could easily be made into a fascinating glimpse at the creative process.

Though Lynch obviously eventually managed to finish his movie, this reminds me in the approach of "Lost in La Mancha," the great documentary by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe about Terry Gilliam's failed attempt to make a Don Quixote movie. If you haven't seen that one, do so right away, but be warned it's a true portrait of frustration.

And for the Lynch doco, the filmmakers have a blog site that consists mainly of what appears to be Lynch's handwritten notes from the set. It takes forever to load, but if you're looking for a rewarding way to waste time (and who isn't), there are certainly worse ways than reading through them.

Fun with pictures

Speaking of time-wasters, I found two more this morning that some of you may enjoy.

The first, courtesy of Rob Alstetter's Comics Continuum, is a set of 40 images from the upcoming flick 300. I've included one here, but you can click on the link to go through them and soak it all in.

The next is, believe it or not, more on the upcoming Buffy funny book (yes, when I get obsessed I just don't let it go.) Joss Whedon gave an interview to which they're posting in four parts. Read part two by clicking on the link.

They also featured a page from the comic that shows what happens to Dawn after she gets sexually entangled with something called a "thricewise." It was way too big to post here, but visit the site to find what I can only assume is very funny dialogue between Dawn, Buffy and two Buffy clones. I guess we'll have to wait and see for sure when the comic comes out in a few weeks. Peace out.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

From "Brick" to "The Brothers Bloom"

When I first heard about the premise for Rian Johnson's "Brick," I didn't think there was any way he could pull it off. A classic film noir, transplanted to a modern-day high school without missing a beat. Impossible.

But I was way wrong, and "Brick" turned out to be easily one of the best movies of 2005, and now Johnson's next move is turning out to be very intriguing. While we're almost guaranteed to be getting one upcoming heist movie that will just suck in "Oceans 13" (enough already, damnit!), Johnson's "The Brothers Bloom" is another take on the genre that should just be way cool, especially with some terrific new casting news.

Adrien Brody has joined the cast as the younger half of two brothers who team up as conmen. Rachel Weisz had already had been cast as the rich heiress who is the target of the brothers' latest plot, and the simply stunning Rinko Kikuchi has now signed on as, to quote Variety, "a mysterious and silent partner in the brothers' efforts." I can only assume that, despite the word "silent," Ms. Kikuchi will not again be playing a deaf-mute. In fact, she rather gleefully declared in this interview at that she is in fact learning to speak English.)

While any excuse to put up a picture of her is good for me, this is all genuinely good news. I love a good heist flick, and one of the folks at who has had the pleasure of reading Johnson's script says this one is appropriately intricate but not over the top.

And, buried deep in the Variety story, was a little nugget of what is, to me at least, even better news. It just sort of threw out there that Brody has recently completed work on "The Darjeeling Limited."

This may seem like random filler, but what it really means is we may soon get to see another flick from Wes Anderson! "The Darjeeling Limited," written (with an assist from Roman Coppola) and being directed by Mr. Anderson, is about three brothers (Brody plus Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson) who go on a pilgrimage across India after the death of their father. All I know beyond that is that Natalie Portman figures in this madness somehow, which certainly can't be a bad thing.

Given how infrequently Mr. Anderson has managed to work lately, this is definitely promising news, and these two flicks have me just geeked up enough to make it through another tedious Tuesday.

DVD pick of the week

With Bill Hicks dead and gone, it falls to Paul Mooney to soldier on with the title of, for my money, the funniest man in America.

Be warned, though, Mooney's humor isn't just in your face. It's under your skin and worming through your bloodstream, making you laugh at the same time you feel incredibly uncomfortable. At least that's what it used to be before Michael Richards came along and ruined everything with idiocy.

You see, Mooney, who wrote for Richard Pryor and did his own standup routine before coming to new prominence on "Chappelle's Show," threw around the n-word with about as much frequency as I use the word "the." After Richards' meltdown, however, Mooney swore off the word and declared himself to be, in this great NY Times article, a "recovering n-world-aholic."

Which is fine. I'm sure a man who was so funny with it can be just as funny without it, and now we just might have the chance to find out. New on DVD this week is "Know Your History: Jesus Was Black ... So Was Cleopatra." After several minutes of searching, all I can find out is that this is a DVD of him doing standup, but I can't tell if it's recent or archival footage. Either way, heed my warning, but if your sensibility can take a hit, I'd highly recommend renting this new release from one seriously funny man.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

I can't remember the last time I was as excited about seeing a movie as I was sitting there waiting for "Pan's Labyrinth" to start.

Sure, I remember my parents indulging my brother and I by taking time out of their California vacation to let us queue up for blocks to see "The Empire Strikes Back," but I mean as a somewhat-fully functioning adult. Ever since I heard about it way back before Cannes, this movie has been all alone atop my must-see list, and somehow it still didn't disappoint one bit.

In reading about this rare fantasy for adults, I had seen valid comparisons to Alice in Wonderland, Brazil and many other movies (and, thanks to Mimi at the Movies, a reminder about the great Spirit of the Beehive), but what these mini-homages within "Pan's Labyrinth" really show us is just how much Guillermo del Toro loves movies. As a work of surprisingly high art, del Toro's movie stands apart from all these great flicks, in a unique world all its own.

If anything, I'd compare it very favorably to M. Night Shymalan's excremental "Lady in the Water." Whereas the formerly great M. Night purported to give us a "bedtime story" but just delivered dreck, del Toro starts with this premise and turns it into so much more.

The girl who creates this story, Ofelia, is played with refreshing restraint by Ivana Baquero. As the movie opens, we see her reading a tale about a princess of the underworld who finds herself on the surface and yearns to return. And from this deceptively simple story, Ofelia constructs a refuge from the real-world hell she finds herself in. Her mother, played by Ariadna Gil, has, for survival instead of love, married Capitan Vidal, the definition of evil as delivered by Sergi Lopez. At the outset, mom is very much pregnant, and the two of them are going to live with Capitan Vidal as he and his men work to wipe out the resistance to Franco's fascist regime.

A fun world for a kid, eh? Seen through her eyes, the very graphic violence perpetrated by the fascists seems even more brutal. Two things that amazed me about the fantasy world she creates to escape from this were that I never once thought it wasn't something that could come from the mind of a 12-year-old, and also that every step in the journey she creates for herself gives her the courage to do what she must in the real world around her.

I don't want to give too much away about this journey because this movie is all about the thrill of discovery. I'll just say you'll see things that might initially shock, but will keep you riveted. My favorite would have to be the mandrake root, both as it comes to life and then perishes. And why would you have one of the challenges be to make a giant toad vomit and then belch all over our heroine? Because this is a story created by a kid, and we never forget that no matter how dark it gets.

I could go on and on about this great movie, but just a couple more points and I'll wrap it up. I had heard so many warnings about the violence going in that perhaps it desensitized me a bit, but I found it all inherent in creating the perilous world young Ofelia finds herself cast into. As Kam Williams put it very well in the Black Star News, this isn't one "for the squeamish or fans of fascism." It's a world so brutal that, in del Toro's vision, only monsters can save us.

And a quick word about the acting. Young Ms. Baquero and Sergi Lopez are both great, but the real treat here is getting to watch Maribel Verdu again. I fell in love with her as the temptress of "Y Tu Mama Tambien," and here she delivers an even better performance as the enabler of Ofelia's fantasies, the house servant who first shows her the labyrinth next door.

You can call del Toro's movie any number of high-minded things. It is in parts an essay on the brutality of war and an elegy for the end of childhood, but more importantly it's a movie that lives up to the label "fantasy" and exceeds it at every turn. It's just that good, so if you haven't seen it yet, do so immediately.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Whedon off of Wonder Woman

Fanboys and girls of the world brace yourself (and, hopefully, quickly realize there has to be something more important than this going on in the world today.) Sorry to ruin your Saturday, but here's what the man himself had to say about it on Whedonesque:

You (hopefully) heard it here first: I'm no longer slated to make Wonder Woman. What? But how? My chest... so tight! Okay, stay calm and I'll explain as best I can. It's pretty complicated, so bear with me. I had a take on the film that, well, nobody liked. Hey, not that complicated.

Let me stress first that everybody at the studio and Silver Pictures were cool and professional. We just saw different movies, and at the price range this kind of movie hangs in, that's never gonna work. Non-sympatico. It happens all the time. I don't think any of us expected it to this time, but it did. Everybody knows how long I was taking, what a struggle that script was, and though I felt good about what I was coming up with, it was never gonna be a simple slam-dunk. I like to think it rolled around the rim a little bit, but others may have differing views.

The worst thing that can happen in this scenario is that the studio just keeps hammering out changes and the writer falls into a horrible limbo of development. These guys had the clarity and grace to skip that part. So I'm a free man.

Well, sorta. There is that "Goners" movie I can finally finish polishing, and plenty of other things in the hopper I've wanted to pursue. I'm as relieved as I am disappointed, and both of those things lead to drink, so that's a plus. Truly, you may be hearing some interesting things brewing in the coming months. But all potential jets therein will be visible.

But most importantly, I never have to answer THAT question again!!!! And you don't have to link to every rumor site! Finally and forever: I never had an actress picked out, or even a consistant front-runner. I didn't have time to waste on casting when I was so busy air-balling on the script. (No! Rim! There was rim!) That's the greatest relief of all. I can do interviews again!

Thanks for your time. You are the people who make the world go 'round. Or, no, science does that.

Fascinating stuff. I had heard they were bringing in new folks to help with the script, but I had no idea this would happen. And no actresses under consideration? Witness the power of the rumor mill run rampant, since Rachel Bilson seemed to have been given the role what now seems like years ago.

So, what now? Well, I had heard something vague about "Goners" before, but here's something a little more concrete, courtesy of (though I think this interview is about a year old):

He has apparently sold the script for this new slice of sci-fi to Universal, so let's see if he can concentrate long enough to get it made.

"I’m keeping it all pretty close to my chest at the moment," Whedon told Empire. "I’m something of a blabbermouth. What I will say is that it ventures more into the horrific than I normally tend to. I love horror movies but I looked back on Buffy and I was like ’Oh, we forgot to make it scary.’ It was occasionally scary but I got so wrapped up in the emotions and people and things that I missed the horror aspect. Goners comes back to that a little bit."

Plot-wise, all Whedon will divulge is that it’s about a young woman, and involves heoics. Not a million miles from Buffy, Serenity or even Wonder Woman. So what’s with the archetype appeal?

"You know, I don’t really know. It’s the kind of story I like to tell and I’m going to keep telling it until somebody tells me to stop. I’m not sure what aspect of its appeals to me, it’s just something that’s in me it’s just something I identify with, something I idealise. It’s Something that I don’t see enough, that I find fascinating and uplifting. Anything that’s uplifting and sexy I feel is a good thing."

Amen, brother. And please keep your attention span on the Buffy comic book long enough to get that made!

As for me, I'll get over this news soon enough, because "Pan's Labyrinth" has finally made it to my little corner of the world, after what seems like a five-year wait. I'll post a review tomorrow, but if it's anything short of fantastic I'm gonna be disappointed. Peace out.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Polanski & Pompeii

Ever wondered what Roman Polanski would do with $130 million? Well, we're about to find out, and it should be a blast.

In a rather dramatic shift in scale, subject and budget, Polanski's next project will be "Pompeii," a dramatic thriller set against the backdrop of Mt. Vesuvius just before and during its eruption, based on the book of the same name by Robert Harris.

In the book, which I read a while ago, a young engineer is charged with repairing an enormous aqueduct whose destruction threatens the Roman Empire. The film will take place over three days and the final act is the volcanic eruption and the destruction of the aqueduct, which stretched 60 miles and served hundreds of thousands of people.

This may all seem like a stretch for Polanski, who even in his most famous works like "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown" never worked on a scale like this. As he told Variety, however, he's not a neophyte when it comes to high-tech effects.

"I don't like to brandish effects, but the truth is that there have been a lot.," he said. " 'Pianist' had about 200 CGI effects and 'Oliver Twist' had at least 400. It's always a challenge to do something a little different, but that's what keeps me going."

Though he's made many great movies (and, to be honest, some real dogs too), my favorite Polanski flick remains "Death and the Maiden," just a perfect psychological thriller. I can't wait to see what he does with this.

Whedon talks "Buffy" to

As anyone who's been here before knows, when I get obsessed with something, I kind of just run with it. And Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is high on that list of things I just can't stop talking about.

Though the TV Buffy is clearly dead, she will soon live on with an "eighth season" coming in comic book form March 7 from Darkhorse Comics. Whedon has written the first volume, and will likely pen many more in what should be at least a 25-issue run.

You can see the first six pages or so (the cover is to the right) by clicking
here. It's wild stuff, and Whedon offered many more details to MTV. Be warned, there's spoilers ahead, so just skip through them if you don't want to know.

* Buffy and The Immortal were never an item. That blonde girl Angel and Spike glimpsed partying in Rome was a double and a decoy.

* Buffy now oversees 10 squads of young women comprising 500 slayers.

* Anya Emerson, who died at the end of season seven, is back (if not precisely back from the dead).

* Dawn Summers reaches “ginormic proportions” as a byproduct of losing her virginity.

* Xander Harris now leads slayer central command in Scotland.

* The U.S. government, perhaps believing Buffy responsible for Sunnydale’s destruction, has labeled her army of slayers a terrorist group.

This all sounds a bit too epic to me, but it should be fun, especially Dawn's new predicament and Xander leading the Scottish brigade. Mark your calendars for March 7.

Woody & Penelope

Is Woody Allen just determined to grope beautiful women in all corners of the world before he dies?

According to, his latest leading lady will be Penelope Cruz, for my money the most beautiful woman in the world. She will star in an as-yet untitled comedy-drama that will film all summer in Barcelona, where Allen will move his family and crew.

I just hope, for the prevention of nausea everywhere, that Woody has the sense not to cast himself as her love interest. He showed some restraint with Scarlett Johanssen, but the wiles of Ms. Cruz may just be too much for the perverted genius to resist.

Before he begins production on the Cruz film, Woody still has to release "Cassandra's Dream," a film he has just finished starring Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor and Tom Wilkinson.

More Wallace & Gromit!

According to my favorite froggie film site,, Aardman Animation is going back to its heroes, Wallace & Gromit, for its next project.

This good news comes just after the announcement of the dissolution of the Dreamworks/Aardman partnership, which means whatever Aardman comes up with next will have to find new financing for distribution.

Though my Francais is more than a bit rusty, as far as I can tell they quote Aardman "porte-parole" Arthur Sheriff (whatever that means) as saying it will be a sequel of sorts to "Curse of the Were-Rabbit," and that it could be for either TV or the big screen. Right now it's still in the writing stage, but this could be really fun, so keep your eyes on it!

"Knocked Up" international trailer

I know, I know, I've been pushing this upcoming Judd Apatow comedy a lot, as if it will need it. But I can't help it, and if you watch this trailer, I guarantee you'll be hooked too. Rarely have the words "fuck off" been used with such perfect timing. Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Favorite documentaries

Before I launch into this list of docos I've seen multiple times and grown to love, a few provisos.

I fully acknowledge these aren't necessarily the greatest documentaries of all time, just the ones I love. I could have included every movie by Errol Morris on this list, but I tried to limit it to one per director. And I deemed "Wordplay," "An Inconvenient Truth" and "When the Levees Broke" to be too recent for consideration.

With that out of the way, here are 10 documentaries I recommend very highly:

When We Were Kings
This one somehow managed to live up to all its hype, at least to me. Along with the magnetic Ali, you get George Foreman scaring the locals with his big dogs, James Brown in top form and all kinds of other treats.

Boys of Baraka
Before they made the frightening and somewhat enlightening "Jesus Camp," Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady made this engaging doco about a program that took 11- and 12-year-old boys off the mean streets of Baltimore and took them to Kenya to attend school and straighten up. It has mixed success at best, but that's part of this flick's unsentimental charm.

Waco: Rules of Engagement
I'm still convinced that our government did something terribly wrong at the Branch Davidian compound, so I give in to that belief every time I watch this scary doco that tries to pound home that point with dodgy evidence but dogged determination.

Four Little Girls
Though he has made many great movies, this little one remains my favorite work by Spike Lee. With a mix of just a few too many talking heads and, thankfully, many more people who were hit hard by the event, Spike introduces us to the four girls who died in the KKK bombing of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and the sad legacy they left behind.

Fast, Cheap and Out of Control
"Fog of War" and "Mr. Death" are other Errol Morris works that certainly could fit on this list, but this one remains my favorite for its sheer celebration of the power of being a geek. The characters you meet, a robotics scientist, a topiary artist, a lion tamer and a man way too obsessed with the naked mole rat, are just the oddest form of cool.

Hands on a Hard Body
This one comes with a tinge of sadness because Robert Altman had begun work on a fictional take on this crazy tale when he was taken from us. The "hard body" of the title is a fully-loaded pickup truck, and watching what these Texans will go through to win it is surprisingly entertaining.

One Day in September
This one hit me a lot harder than Steven Spielberg's "Munich" as it examined what went so horribly wrong at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Watching this great documentary by Kevin McDonald, who later went on to direct "The Last King of Scotland," will leave you with the very unsettling feeling that the German government of the day could have done a whole lot more to prevent the outcome of this event.

I can't think of a finer portrait of an artist who just can't find where he belongs in this world. I didn't discover this one until after I had watched "Ghost World," and the combination of the two just made me fall in love with Terry Zwigoff's style of directing. Everyone in R. Crumb's family is a freak of some kind, but you'll be glad you met them all.

This tale of quad rugby players and their intense competitive spirit is told with a refreshing lack of sentimentality that still manages to get you hooked "Hoosiers"-style on their drive to win the World Cup.

Capturing the Friedmans
When I watch fictional movies, I usually need to like at least one of the characters to be fully engaged. With docos like "Capturing the Friedmans," however, those rules definitely don't apply. Everyone looks bad in the depressing but compelling story of a family torn apart by their father's penchant for child pornography, and possibly for sexually abusing his children and other people's. Truly troubling all around.

And there you have it. Please feel free to add any of your favorites, and possibly give me some ideas for my Netflix queue.