Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hanging 10 with the 'Silver Surfer'

With the Reel Fanatic on expedition in South Africa, I've been asked to guest blog about "Silver Surfer" ... oops ... I mean the "Fantastic 4" sequel. First, allow me to admit that I'm nowhere near the movie buff as the Fanatic, my co-worker and cubicle neighbor. I tend to like a lot of movies the critics dislike, and vice versa. The Fanatic, however, has never steered me wrong.

With that said, I must confess that I enjoyed the first "Fantastic 4" movie. It was not great cinema. It lacked the emotional punch delivered by the likes of the "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" flicks. But it entertained me, which was surprising considering it's doubtful there's a single "Fantastic 4" in the box of comics collected as a kid and now stored in my attic.

OK, now to "Fantastic 4:The Rise of the Silver Surfer."

The movie opens with the obliteration of a planet, then with a comet-like being high-tailing it to Earth, where it begins to wreak more havoc. This being, of course, is the Surfer, the absolute coolest villain (or is he a hero?) to hit the big screen since Arnold met his match in "Terminator 2." (In fact, he reminds one an awful lot of Robert Patrick's Terminator model when he went all metallic on somebody.)

The Surfer, voiced in silky-smooth baritone by the great Laurence Fishburne, glides around in shimmering CGI. He dumps snow on Egypt, freezes the water around Japan, and blows up stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. When he crashes the wedding of Mr. Fantastic Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd) and Susan Storm, the Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba), Storm's hot-headed brother, Johnny, aka the Human Torch (Chris Evans), flies off to take care of business.

Silver dispatches of Johnny with such ease that it's clear the Surfer dude is a force to be reckoned with. The government pulls out all the stops, even coercing the Four to team up with their old nemesis, Dr. Doom, played with sufficient creepiness by Julian McMahon (of FX's "Nip Tuck").

Of course, the good Doctor has more in mind than saving the world, and there's more to the Surfer than the narrow-minded Army general can see. (There's always one in these movies; this time he's played by Andre Braugher, which was a nice surprise.)

The special effects, for the most part, rock. They still haven't quite mastering Mr. Fantastic's contorting moves, but the fight and flight scenes roll seamslessly.

There's a seriousness to the sequel that wasn't there in the original. But the humor that helped make the first movie watchable remains. Michael Chikilis (FX's "The Shield") returns as Ben Grimm, aka the rock-like Thing, the muscle behind Fantastic 4. He doesn't get enough "clobberin' time!" if you ask me, but he and Evans' personality clashes provide lots of laughs.

But let's not kid ourselves — this is the Silver Surfer's show. Just when things seem to begin to drag a little, he shows up in the nick of time. The harbinger of death may not be there to save the world, but he certainly saves the movie.

The story moves along briskly, which is a nice change of pace in this summer of three-hour sequels. But it shortchanges the subplots and in developing the massive menace that at the end puts the Earth on the brink of destruction.

If the idea was to leave you wanting more, it worked. But only the Surfer comes along for the ride.
— Rodney Manley

Friday, June 15, 2007

Best picture nominees already? Let's guess

I'm leaving for South Africa tomorrow for a two-week stay (and thus most likely putting this blog on hiatus, except for perhaps a guest reviewer's take on "Silver Surfer"), so you'll have to forgive me if I've got the future on my mind.

Even though it's the height of the summer silly season (in all the best and worst ways) I couldn't help but start thinking this morning about what's gonna come during awards season (which, with "Goya's Ghosts" coming to some folks in July, I reckon starts soon.) Besides, even if I haven't seen any of these movies yet, I love guessing, which just builds up the anticipation

So, without further delay, here are eight movies, with trailers where I could find them, that look like they have all the stuff Oscar voters love (and, to boot, a lot of them look like really good flicks too.)

1. No Country for Old Men
The Coen brothers' decision to take on Cormac McCarthy got a shot in the arm from an unlikely source when Oprah decided to christen the buckets-of-blood author for inclusion in her book club. The cast for this one is just stellar, with Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Stephen Root and many more, and it's already been delayed so it can pick up more late-year buzz.

2. American Gangster
Finally, Denzel Washington will get an Oscar he deserves (I'm not hating on the man, just the movie "Training Day," which was rubbish.) If I have to pick a frontrunner at this early stage, this would have to be it. Ridley Scott tells the true story of Frank Lucas (Washington) who became the heroin kingpin of Harlem before turning himself into the police, mainly Russell Crowe. With a script by Stephen Zaillain, this is a lock.

3. Goya's Ghosts
If you can buy the idea that Natalie Portman could be the muse for a master painter (and why not?), than this should work well. Stellan Skarsgard is Goya, and Javier Bardem is the monk who torments him when he brands Goya's lady love (Portman) as a heretic. With Milos Forman directing, look for a lot of fun.

4. Brothers Bloom
Rian Johnson's Brick was easily one of my favorite movies of 2005, and this heist flick should be even better. Mark Ruffalo and Adrian Brody are the titular con artists, and Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi also along for the ride.

5. Becoming Jane
If I'm not mistaken, there will be 400 movies about Jane Austen coming out before the end of the year, but this one should be the best. Besides, what's more fun than speculating about the love life of famous folks? This flick fleshes out the details of an affair Austen (Anne Hathaway) is rumored to have had with young Irishman Tom LeFroy (James McAvoy.)

6. Atonement
McAvoy again in an adaptation of one of the best books of the past few years, by Ian McEwan. Director Joe Wright made the best "Pride & Prejudice" yet (sorry to all Colin Firth devotees), so he should fare well with this juicy story about love, betrayal and, of course, atonement. The plot is much more complicated than this, but in a nutshell, a 13-year-old girl accuses the lover (McAvoy) of her older sister (Keira Knightley) of a crime he didn't commit, changing all their lives forever.

7. Eastern Promises
Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts and David Cronenberg all together again? I'm in. As best as I can tell, Watts plays a midwife who finds out about a child-prostitution operation. Mortensen is a very bad man who is connected to one of London's leading crime families, until he encounters Watts' character and vows to protect her. If you need to know any more to get excited about this, the script comes from Stephen Knight, who penned the superb thriller "Dirty Pretty Things" for Stephen Frears.

8. Charlie Wilson's War
Boomers do still run the world, so this should be the closest thing to a lock after "American Gangster." Director Mike Nichols works with an Aaron Sorkin script about a Texas congressman's shady dealings to assist the Afghan rebels in their war with the Soviets. Somehow methinks it might have to do with a lot more than that. And, oh yeah, I forgot to mention: The congressman is played by Tom Hanks, so just bank on it.

And there you have it. I'm off for a while. Have a perfectly pleasant two weeks, and definitely go see "Ratatouille." Peace out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Bigger Chill: WTF?

There was a brief time, when I was about 15 or so, when I was completely convinced that "The Big Chill" was simply the worst movie ever made. It obviously isn't, but bear with me here.

How do you sell to a kid who's just barely starting to figure out what's cool and what's not about the '80s that it really all just sucks because everything that mattered happened 20 years ago? I've watched it once since and warmed to it a bit, but I certainly never need to see it again (although any movie in which Kevin Costner exists only as "the dead guy" has to have some kind of merit to it.)

In the end, it's just hokum, no matter which generation it's about. Sayles' "The Return of the Secaucus Seven" is a much superior flick, if you simply have to get your nostalgia on. And, though I really can't figure out what the heck this one is even after seeing the trailer twice, director Julie Taymor has seemingly raided the entire Beatles' catalog to encapsulate the '60s in the upcoming "Across the Universe."

Or, if you're somehow already nostalgic for the '90s (and probably not in a way remotely as funny as anything VH1 cooks up), this movie might just be for you. It seems, and I can't make this stuff up, believe me, that "The Big Chill" is being remade with an African-American cast and a contemporary setting. If you can excuse me for a minute, like Christine Taylor in "Dodgeball," I just threw up a little in my own mouth.

OK, I'm back. So, let's see ... according to Variety, writer/director Lawrence Kasdan will have nothing to do with this, and the story will be retitled, but the original script will be used as a "template," with the cast members, who were in college together in the '90s, reuniting at a South Carolina beach house for the funeral of a friend

The first of many questions I have to ask is, what in the world was so great about the '90s? I was in college myself for the beginning of them, and I have to say I had a blast. Living in D.C., I even attended a few protest marches and the first inauguration of Bill Clinton. But if you can name me one thing that was accomplished in that period that's already worth lionizing in this manner, please let me know what it is.

But perhaps I'm looking at this the wrong way. If this is simply a college-reunion flick starring some pretty folks (I always like to see Gabrielle Union, if I get a vote), it will just come and go and be somewhat pleasing to a lot of people who aren't me. And if I get a vote for the dead guy, I'll take Rob Schneider ( assuming that, since he's dead, he doesn't actually have to be black.)

Pacey as Fletch? WTF, take 2

Is it OK to admit that I've seen more than few episodes of "Dawson's Creek" and even found them to be entertaining? I certainly hope so, since I just did.

That said, I don't ever need to see Joshua Jackson (aka Pacey, now there's a tough name for you) in anything, much less in one of my favorite film franchises. If the fine folks at have it right, however, he's about to step into the shoes of Fletch (I almost vomited again, but fought the urge this time.)

The "Fletch Won" prequel has been in development limbo for years now. It had two promising but fitful starts, first with Kevin Smith and Jason Lee on board and later with Bill Lawrence and Zach Braff. Somehow Steve Pink and Josh Jackson, the latest director/actor combo to land the whale, just doesn't hold the same appeal.

To be fair to Mr. Pink, he did write the screenplays for two fairly great movies, "High Fidelity" and "Grosse Point Blanke." What's the link there? John Cusack, of course.

Cusack as Fletch, with the very funny Mr. Pink as writer and director? For that I'd be on board right away. But Pacey? There's just no way I can see it.

Three bits of good news

OK, that's a lot of bile for a Wednesday morning, so here's some sweet nuggets to wash it all down:

No. 1: After passing on another "Mummy" movie, Rachel Weisz, in what can only be called a fantastic case of trading up, has landed the role of the mother of the young girl who has been abducted and murdered in Peter Jackson's upcoming "Lovely Bones." Great novel by Alice Sebold, so should be a great flick. 'Nuff said.

No. 2: "World Trade Center" scribe Andrea Berloss will adapt the story of the Fugees, a youth soccer club made up of international refugees that just happens to be based in Clarkston, Ga. I'd much rather see a documentary about these rather remarkable kids, but this could still be a lot of fun. Even better, Universal, which bought the rights to the New York Times article about the club by Warren St. John, will pitch in $500,000 to build them a new soccer field.

No. 3: Danny Boyle's "Sunshine" will indeed be coming out July 20, in the U.S., and if I can get it to load, here's the poster. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pixar's next three years: Bring it on

Although I would never admit it to my parents (who do read this, I know, so I guess I just did), I did actually think for just a second that it's a shame I will miss the opening of "Ratatouille" because I'm gonna be in South Africa for two weeks starting Saturday. Crazy, I know, but I quickly got over it.

I do, however, think "Ratatouille" will be the surprise big hit of this summer, and apparently there will be, according to Boxofficemojo, 800 advance screenings this weekend. That has to be about the world's most annoying Web site, so don't look to it to find out exactly where these screenings will occur, but definitely keep an eye on your local multiplexes.

In the meantime, the big news I missed yesterday, because I felt the need to instead rave about David Chase's fantastic "Sopranos" finale, was that Pixar has now set its slate for the next three years, with the big news being something called "Up" for 2009. Here's the rundown:

For 2008, first comes "Wall-E," written and directed by "Finding Nemo" director Andrew Stanton. Here, according to Jim Hill, is the beginning of the plot summary:

The year is 2700. Planet Earth is one giant trash heap, and an incompetent corporation called Buynlarge has the contract to clean up the mess. Buynlarge sent thousands of robots, called Waste Allocation Load Lifters - Earth Class, to do the job but unfortunately they all broke down over the past 700 years. Save for one.

The last robot has developed a few bugs of his own. This Wall-E became self-aware and curious about humans. He, along with his pet cockroach Spot, has amassed a bizarre collection of human artifacts including a VCR and a VHS tape of Hello Dolly!, which he watches incessantly. Wall-E toils away at his thankless (and endless) job until another robot, named Eve, suddenly arrives. Wall-E follows this new robot around like a little puppy and, when she finally leaves Earth, he finds a way to tag along. Which is where the real fun starts.

One other snippet from Hill: The first third of the movie will feature no dialogue, only beeps and bleeps between our hero and his new paramour. Can Stanton really pull it off? Stay tuned.

Next, for 2009, Pixar is finally going geriatric with "Up," about a 70-year-old man who just happens to fight beasts and villians. As someone who already enjoys eating dinner before 5 p.m., I can only say it's about damn time. "Monster's, Inc." director Pete Docter is in charge of this promising project.

And finally, in 2010, the studio returns to very firm ground with "Toy Story 3." All I know for sure about this one is that Tim Allen and Tom Hanks will be back, that Lee Unkrich, a co-director on "Toy Story 2," will be in charge, and that Michael Arndt (an Oscar winner for "Little Miss Sunshine") is writing the script. Wiki features a rumor that the story will be about what happens to the toys after Andy has grown up and abandoned them, but rumor is all that is.

R.I.P. Veronica Mars

The fact that I had little hope at all for the rather silly Mars bar campaign aimed at the CW doesn't make this news any easier. According to TV Guide's Michael Ausiello, via "Veronica" mastermind Rob Thomas, the show, in all its forms, is now officially dead.

Here's what Thomas had to say in an e-mail to Ausiello:

"I'm afraid I have to report that Veronica Mars is officially dead, at least in TV show form. There's really no way that it can happen now. I'm not sure the CW should've given the glimmer of hope. I think Dawn Ostroff genuinely would have liked to have continued on with a version of the show, but there was too much resistance around her. At the end of the day, it would've been kinder had the band aid simply been ripped off rather peeled away in than this agonizingly slow manner."

I can certainly sympathize with him there. This living-in-limbo has caused plenty of talented people to turn their back on TV, but according to AICN, Thomas may not be ready to give up just yet.

According to the site's Hercules, Thomas is rumored to have been approached to serve as showrunner of “Miss/Guided,” a midseason ABC series about a woman who returns to her alma mater as a high school guidance counselor starring the very funny Judy Greer, aka Kitty Sanchez on "Arrested Development."

As for "Veronica Mars," it does indeed now seem to be over for good, and there's absolutely nothing good I can say about that.

"Blindness" coming into clear view

OK, on to much better news. The next movie from easily one of my favorite directors in the world, Fernando Meirelles. is attracting a fantastic cast.

Already, Mark Ruffalo had stepped in to replace Daniel Craig (a definite upgrade in my book) to join Julianne Moore as the principal stars of "Blindness." The flick, to be based on Jose Saramango's novel about an epidemic of blindness that sweeps through a contemporary city and pushes society to the brink of breakdown, is scheduled to begin shooting in early July in Sao Paulo and Toronto.

Now comes news that three new names have been added to the cast, Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover and Alice Braga.

Bernal will play the King of Ward 3, and Glover will narrate the story. Braga will portray the girl with the dark glasses. Having not read the book, I'm not sure exactly what all this will mean, but I can't wait to find out.

And, because beautiful women can only brighten up everyone's Tuesday, I've included a photo of the lovely Alica Braga, who you may remember from Meirelles' "City of God" (which, when pressed, I've been known to sometimes list as my favorite movie.) Peace out.

Monday, June 11, 2007

"Sopranos": Who needs closure?

If you haven't seen the grand finale of "The Sopranos" yet, please skip this and move to the second segment of this post.

For those who did watch it, the last scene will certainly stir debate. I'll throw it down first: I flat out loved it.

Chase spent much of the episode like most TV finales do, wrapping up loose ends. Tony consolidates power once again with some of his best manuevering, visits Sil in his hospital bed and Uncle Junior in the state mental hospital, and tries unsuccessfully to get Paulie to take on a key new mission.

OK, so far, so good. At the end of a traditional finale, of course, we'd then want to know what happens to Tony. But instead David Chase threw a curveball with a final scene that brilliantly leaves us guessing.

I watched the last five minutes or so again this morning, and it's just perfectly constructed. Every sound and camera move adds to the tension, undercut by Journey playing in the background and Meadow's comical inability to parallel park her car (a skill which I've never felt the need to master.) And then, of course, it fades to black.

Were we cheated? I say hell no. Chase's point, if I may be so bold to guess, has always been that, no matter how hard he schemes to hold on to power, Tony will never live in a world full of certainty. He'll always be in danger, and that's the way we (or at least I) like to see him.

I know there are many people out there who would have liked to see the scene end with more closure, but this mini-season, especially in the penultimate episode and this brilliant lack-of-finale, was just pitch-perfect to me.

HBO's third best show ever (behind only "The Larry Sanders Show" and "The Wire") has gone out on top. Agree? Disagree? Please let me know what you think.

Van Sant to drink the Kool-Aid

Gus Van Sant is a director who frequently just makes my blood boil. Capable of greatness ("Drugstore Cowboy" and "Elephant"), he just as often turns out treacle ("Finding Forrester") or, because he has no original thoughts of his own, just copies a great movie, shot-for-shot ("Psycho").

Now, however, he's got his hands on something that just might inspire him to greatness again. He's set to direct a big-screen version of Tom Wolfe's (not Ken Kesey's, as frequent visitor Bill was kind enough to politely point out) "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," with "Big Love" scribe Lance Black writing the script.

It's been a long time since I read the book, but if I remember correctly it's about Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters driving cross-country to the 1964 World's Fair in New York, spreading LSD and good cheer along the way.

Sounds tailor-made to Van Sant's strengths, and he's clearly loved Kesey for a long time, casting him in his truly odd take on "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues." Van Sant's current project, "Paranoid Park," based on Blake Nelson's novel about a skaterat who is involved in the accidental death of a security guard, got good notices this year at Cannes, and will get at least some kind of U.S. release this fall.

Time-waster of the day

Premiere magazine, which I believe now only exists in digital form, has performed a generous public service for those of us who would rather read about movies than do our actual jobs.

They've compiled a list of the 20 films they'd most see like to get out of development hell and on to the big screen. You can find out the status of not only classic failures like Terry Gilliam's "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" but also movies based on two of my favorite books, "The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" and "Confederacy of Dunces."

It's incredibly addictive reading, so don't start unless you've got 20 minutes or so to spare. Click here to enjoy, and have an entirely bearable Monday.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Surf's Up: A truly weird wave

About halfway through "Surf's Up," I started to ask myself (as I have a feeling Sony Pictures animation executives will too), "just who in the world was this movie intended for?"

Granted, the first 10 minutes are very inspired. Though they throw out the words "reality TV" in an attempt to create some connection with the tikes, it's really a tribute to classic surfing documentaries like "Endless Summer" and newer ones like "Riding Giants." Filmed in a scratchy style and imbued with all the wave worship that makes those movies so oddly enjoyable, it's just surprisingly cool.

As I watched this, however, and laughed out loud several times, I couldn't help notice that none of the kids were along for the ride. And from there on out, except for one joke about Big Z (voice of Jeff Bridges) pissing on the foot of Cody (Shia LaBeouf), there wasn't much that illicited laughs from the younguns in the rest of it either.

The story is, of course, about penguins again, but not any like you've seen before. Young Cody is a fish sorter (a very funny gag) in Shiverpool, Antarctica, who just wants to surf. He manages to finagle his way into the Big Z Memorial surfing tournament, named for the former surfing great who (everyone thinks) died in a surfing accident 10 years ago. Cody eventually stumbles upon Big Z, who has actually been hiding all those years, and a sort of "Karate Kid"-goes-to-the-beach vibe develops.

And I think the beach is the big problem here. It's an elaborately constructed CGI world, and it feels as real as such a thing possibly can. However, our young hero Cody and especially his mentor Big Z have bought into the beach life, and therefore it's a mellow vibe from the outset, with little energy or spirit to hold your attention.

As for the voices, Jeff Bridges fares the best, essentially playing "The Dude" with feathers (but again, what kid's gonna get that?) Shia Labeouf and Zooey Deschanel, as Big Z's neice and the beach lifeguard Lani, are really just reading the script out loud, and surely getting paid handsomely for it. Jon Heder, as goofy surfer Chicken Joe, clearly had fun with this, though, as did James Woods as the surfing-promoter porcupine Reggie Belafonte.

In the end, comparing this to another CGI-animation movie I just adored, "Over the Hedge," I'd have to call "Surf's Up" a noble failure. "OTH" just had so much more life to it than this one. The best thing I can say about it is that it's odd enough that we've hopefully come to the end of penguin movies for a while, and for that at least we should say thanks.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Shocker: Kevin Smith's talking about sex

Apparently, Harvey Weinstein just loves to throw money at directors that he (and I) like, and for that at least you have to respect him.

According to the L.A. Times, he tossed $15 million at Kevin Smith's latest project after only hearing this title: "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." As the L.A. Times also rather condescendingly put it, "for a certain moviegoer, that's a sure thing."

Well, I guess I'm that "certain moviegoer," because I'll always like raunchy comedies with both brains and heart, which Kevin Smith can (but certainly doesn't always) deliver.

According to the newspaper, "Zack and Miri" is about two friends who have managed to trudge into their 30s with a satisfying lack of accomplishment. But a 15-year high school reunion and dire rent problems spark the novel moneymaking idea of pulling together an amateur porn enterprise.

"It's ... dirty, with nudity," Smith told the paper. "But funny nudity, not gratuitous nudity." Thanks for clearing that up.

Much to the chagrin of my brother, who just thinks (and many people agree with him) that Mr. Smith is a tremendous tool, this one will be shot in Minnesota in February, my brother's adapted home, instead of Smith's regular Jersey haunts.

In the meantime, Smith said he hopes to squeeze in filming of his low-budget ($3 million) horror script, "Red State," by the end of the year. This one sounds a lot more dubious to me. Mr. Smith has certainly shown he can tackle hot-button stuff with humor, but I can't see why he needs to give any publicity at all to the simply sickening Fred Phelps.

Shocker 2: Black people like to see people who look like them on TV

I thought the first two episodes of Tyler Perry's "House of Payne" were just plain awful, but then again I'm not exactly the target audience. Many of those who are apparently tuned in, and probably enjoyed it a lot more than me.

The show, which premiered Wednesday night, averaged 5.2 million total viewers at 9 p.m. and 5.8 million at 9:30 p.m., and did very well with the 18-49 set. It even managed to beat one network show, a new episode of "One Tree Hill" on the CW (if you can really call that a network, those "Veronica Mars"-hating bastards.)

Reading this made me wonder why there aren't more sitcoms with black stars on network TV. There's only one I regularly tuned in for, the very funny "Everybody Hates Chris" (I say "tuned" because I'm now boycotting the CW.)

It's all about the money, of course, but clearly the audience is out there and hungry to be entertained.

What to see this weekend?

Well, as anyone who's been here earlier this week knows, it won't be "Hostel: Part II." Simply not my bucket of blood. I'm gonna try to see "Surf's Up" Saturday and maybe "Ocean's Thirteen" Sunday. If you have seen either, please feel free to let me know what you thought about them, and have an entirely nonsucky weekend.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Spike going to war on a grand scale

"I met a black veteran who fought at Iwo Jima, and he told me how disappointed he was that there was not even one Afro-American (soldier) in Clint Eastwood's two films,"
Spike Lee

I had the same thought after watching Eastwood's two movies (the second being vastly superior to the first), but then quickly went on with my day. I guess that's the first (of many) differences between me and Spike Lee.

What did Spike do? He finally managed to finagle the financing to direct a grand war epic, the kind that a director of his stature should be able to land with ease. In his case, however, it meant looking outside the U.S.

Now, I realize that Spike has managed to make one big-budget genre flick, the unsatisfying (to me at least) "Inside Man," but it's sad that he had to turn to Italian producers Luigi Musini and Roberto Cicutto to get started with the World War II flick "Miracle at St. Anna."

The movie, based on the book by American author James McBride, will tell the true story of four members of the U.S. Army's 92nd Division of all-black soldiers, who in 1944 became trapped in a Tuscan village, as they contended with their racist, incompetent commanders and the Nazis.

The possibilities for this one just set my mind spinning. Spike Lee shooting in Tuscany (and yes, the film will be shot there starting next year) with all the money he needs to just run wild. I'd imagine there's gonna be another kind of war just to get cast in this flick.

And just because it's in my nature to never be able to just take good news as, well, good news, it's worth noting that Spike should have a shelf full of Academy Awards by now, much less nominations. "Malcolm X" and "Do the Right Thing" were certainly among the five best movies in their respective years of release, and his documentaries "4 Little Girls" and "When the Levees Broke" are true works of art.

But enough of that. As Mars might say about a Spike Lee war epic, "Please baby, please baby, please baby baby baby please!"

Damon, Greengrass and the new war

With Bryan Singer also at work now on Christopher McQuarrie's WWII flick, "Valkyrie," about a plot to assassinate Hitler, it seems we may be in for a new golden age of war epics. And, I have to confess, I definitely find it easier to watch these movies than the footage of what's going on in Iraq now.

Luckily, Paul Greengrass is paying attention, and will soon put his own stamp on it. Matt Damon will play a composite character in "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," Greengrass' take on the book about the Iraq war by Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

Men in drag and fat suits alert

OK, on to less serious subjects from here on out, I promise. I tuned in for the first episode of Tyler Perry's sitcom "House of Payne" last night on TBS, and it was pretty damn awful. The critics all told me so, but most of them don't like Perry's movies, which I do.

This time, however, they were dead right. Bad jokes, poorly drawn characters and a truly atrocious laugh track. I'll give it a couple more tries before disowning it completely, but definitely a poor start.

But, in better news for fans of men in drag and fat suits, Perry will once again become Madea for the upcoming "Meet the Browns," based on one of his stage plays and set to begin shooting this summer in Atlanta. The story is about a single mother (naturally) who rediscovers the joys of family and the possibility of second chances when meeting the fun-loving family of her father, whom she never knew.

Now, I know they're not for everyone, but I really like Perry's movies. "Daddy's Little Girls" was his best yet, but much of the reason I liked it was there was no Madea. She (he?) is just an annoying character.

Perry does, however, fare much, much better in the guise of a fat woman than John Travolta. If you've seen the trailer for "Hairspray," it has a surprising amount of energy to it, and then about 3/4 of the way through, Travolta appears and just saps it all out. He looks like a burn victim and talks like a six-year-old. Pathetic.

And finally, some gratuitous gunplay

I had heard rumblings about "Shoot 'Em Up" for a while, but the trailer looks even funner than I could have guessed. Paul Giamatti as a hitman whose target is Monica Bellucci (who just happens to be toting a tot around.) In steps Clive Owen, a random stranger who just happens to be a former black ops soldier and who now is determined to foil the assassination. Silly? Hell yeah. But you can tell from the trailer that writer/director Michael Davis knows this and simply doesn't care. The movie comes out in September, but for now here's the trailer. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Can we resurrect "Veronica Mars"?

Though I never bothered to tune into "Jericho," I do have to give props to the show's fans. According to this morning's Variety, their almost constant harassment of CBS executives has led the network to bring the show back for at least seven episodes sometime next season.

Huzzah and kudos, but what does this mean for the show that I most miss (and the one that topped E!'s save one show poll by a wide margin), "Veronica Mars"? It could mean there's still hope for what we all thought was a goner.

Let's take a look, courtesy partly of AICN, at exactly where we are in this. At the same news conference announcing Veronica wouldn't be on the CW's fall schedule, Dawn Ostroff said no final decision had been made on a proposed new version of the series by creator Rob Thomas in which the title character, played by Kristen Bell, is at the FBI Academy.

And, according to TV Guide's Michael Ausiello, an even more devoted fan of "Veronica Mars" than yours truly, when he later talked to Ostroff, she confirmed that the deadline to make a decision is "somewhere around" June 15.

So, what does that really mean? It means there's hope. Though I've been called nuts on more than one occasion, I wouldn't recommend deluging the CW with them (as the Jericho-ites did.) Ostroff apparently already likes the show, and the revamped version pitched to her by show creator Rob Thomas. What we need here is a few minutes of your day to show your passion for great TV.

Here, courtesy of AICN, are the addresses of Dawn Ostroff and her boss at the CW, John Maata.

Dawn Ostroff
President of Entertainment
The CW Network
4000 Warner Boulevard, Bldg 168
Burbank, CA 91522-0002

John Maata
Chief Operating Officer
The CW Television Network
4000 Warner Boulevard, Bldg 168
Burbank, CA 91522-0002

And remember, lest you think this is Quixotic: "Jericho" isn't the only recent show to get revived from the graveyard. "Family Guy," after being abused by Fox for years, was rescued after fans bought up tons of the DVDs. So, please, if you like "Veronica Mars," take a few minutes out of your busy day to tell Dawn Ostroff why.

Music biopics gone mad

If I have this translated from the French correctly, there are no less than four biopics about Sammy Davis Jr. under consideration. Sheesh.

Now, don't get me wrong. The life of Sammy, and the casting options it opens up for the likes of his ratpack buddies, is certainly intriguing. But this sub-genre has just about wore out its welcome for me (although I'll certainly make an exception for Spike Lee if and when he ever gets to work on that James Brown flick.)

Anyways, here are the four options being looked at, according to

In Black and White, based on the biography by Wil Haygood, would put Denzel Washington in Sammy's shoes.

Sammy and Kim would possibly star André 3000 and be directed by music-video guru Earle Sebastian. As the title implies, the flick would focus on Sammy's romance with Kim Novack (gratuitous glamour shot included.)

Yes, I Can, based on Sammy's autobiography by the same name, is being guided by producers Craig Zadan et Neil Meron, but no actor or director has been attached yet.

And, finally, Yes, I Can (redux): This one would be a documentary based, obviously, on the same book.

Of all these, option No. 2 sounds the most intriguing. André 3000 is a great song and dance man, a fact that he and the filmmakers somehow forgot when making the rather atrocious "Idlewild," and he certainly has the look just about right. Stay tuned to see what eventually comes out of all this madness.

Tom Waits and Terry Gilliam? I'm in

With his record of starting and having to abandon films it's sometimes hard to take Terry Gilliam seriously, but I still try desperately hard to. Especially when he's toying with something as crazy as this.

According to the Spanish newspaper El Pais, via Filmick, he says Tom Waits and Heath Ledger will star in his next flick, "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus." Now, again, whether this means they've actually signed on for the movie or just that Gilliam wants them to, who knows, but it certainly opens up some interesting possibilities.

Here, as best as I can muster, is what the odd flick would be about: Dr. Parnassus is apparently a traveling magician/snake oil salesman. His trick is that lucky (or not-so-lucky) volunteers can enter and explore his mind, hence "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus." Just to give you a few more details, it turns out that Dr. Parnassus has made a bet with the devil himself, about whether people are more likely to choose the power of the imagination or the lure of material things, so when they enter the "imaginarium" they come to a fork in the road and have to make that choice.

Now, I can only imagine that Tom Waits (huzzah!) would play the Dr. himself. What that brief synopsis left out that is the Dr. has a younger traveling companion named Anton who introduces him at his shows. This part, Brendon at Filmick surmises, could go to Ledger.

Like I said, this may all be wishful thinking, but Gilliam's already apparently completed a script for this. And besides, isn't wishing just so much more fun than thinking about just another Wednesday? Dream with me, people. Peace out.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Seven more hours of "Knocked Up"? Yes, please

After yesterday's rather harsh post, I make this solemn promise: Though there will be more about Joss Whedon, after this introductory sentence, you won't again see the words "torture porn."

Besides, there's so much more fun out there to talk about and look at. First up, on my daily visit to came this teaser: Judd Apatow plans to release seven hours of extras for the DVD of "Knocked Up." I can only say huzzah to that, but I couldn't manage to find the original source for this nugget, a profile in Rolling Stone magazine, to which I don't bother to subscribe.

What I was able to find, however, was this Apatow quote from a little while ago at Like everyone, I've become more and more skeptical about all these "special edition" DVDs, but it sounds like the eventual two-disc set of "Knocked Up" will be a real keeper. Read on:

Judd Apatow: The DVD there’s going to be a one and a two-disc version released at the same time sometime in the winter and we just have so many extras that it’s ridiculous. They’ve literally handed me DVD’s with 6 hours of footage that I have to go through. One thing we did that I think is really funny is we shot a fake documentary during the making of the movie and the documentary is about how Seth Rogan was the tenth choice to play the lead. So during our shoot we would have actors come and perform a scene and then I would fire them. And so we had James Franco do it, Justin Long, David Krumholtz, Allen Covert. I did it. There was a moment where I think I should be the lead as an actor/director. Orlando Bloom did it. ... And then we also did a very funny fake documentary about how I was having fights with the studio so they sent in Bennett Miller, the director of “Capote,” to oversee the shoot. And so Bennett came to the set and we would shoot all this footage of him changing my angles and my coverage and debating me and it’s very funny. I keep talking about how I don’t like moving the camera because it’s bad for the comedy and he says, “Do you think it’s funnier ‘cause it looks like shit?” [Laughs] And it ultimately comes to blows between me and Bennett Miller. .... There’s a very funny documentary about the roller coaster sequence because Jay Baruchel didn’t want to do it because he says he gets panic attacks on roller coasters. The documentary is about me manipulating him into doing it and you see me basically lying to him saying, “It’s not that bad” and then him having a panic attack on the roller coaster. And then he won’t do it again and we have to keep doing it all day and then you see – because most people want to see this – most of our actors vomiting over and over. In addition to deleted scenes, there’s a ton of deleted scenes and raw footage, I like to put just the raw takes on the DVD because I think its fun to see our process.

Wow. I would have taken just a bunch of deleted scenes starring Seth Rogen and his stoner buds, but this will clearly be more than that. To which I can only say bring it all on.

Tons of Ratatouille images at Filmick

The fine folks at Filmick, who clearly have a lot of time to give to their fantastic blog, have pretty much posted the entire media kit of photos for Ratatouille, and as expected, they look fantastic.

After "Knocked Up," I'd have to count this Brad Bird Pixar flick as the summer movie I'm now most looking forward to, along with Kasi Lemmons' "Talk to Me," so click here to enjoy all the pics.

Buffy Season 8, #4

Though it's not all about Joss Whedon here, I do like the man, so he does come up quite a bit. And the "season 8" Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics he's been writing, illustrated by Georges Jeanty, have been sublime so far.

No. 4 hits the stores tomorrow, and as you can see, giant Dawn is on the cover with Buffy really in the palm of her hands (the second pic is an alternative cover which, frankly, kind of sucks.) Here's how Dark Horse describes the issue:

"Buffy's back in action, thanks to a kiss of true love, but Willow's another story entirely-their capture of Amy the witch opened up a magical trap door, and now the Wiccan is in the belly of the beast. To make matters worse, she's at the mercy of someone truly bent on revenge, and he's been waiting for this for a long time. The conclusion to Season Eight's first arc."

And here, since I'm all for giving people ways to waste time at work, are those two promised covers. Click to enlarge, and enjoy!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Just say no to torture porn

Though I'd be much happier if Joss Whedon got back to writing and directing movies, he can be just as insightful when he simply writes a diatribe.

I should be in a good mood this morning. I saw one pretty good movie ("Gracie") and one truly great one ("Knocked Up," reviewed in the previous post) last weekend, but all that good karma was just about wiped out when I woke up to find out that "Hostel 2" opens this weekend, and the even more disgraceful "Captivity" comes only two weeks later.

Now, I haven't seen the original "Hostel" because, well, it's just really not my thing. I enjoy a good horror movie, but the recent spate seems to be all about mutilation and nothing about suspense.

In the sequel, the apparently clever part is that it's young women we get to watch getting tortured rather than young men. In this case it's Laura German, Bijou Phillips and Heather Matarazzo (and I thought I would see anything with her in it, but certainly not now.) Elisha Cuthbert gets the honor of being abused on the big screen in "Captivity."

If you enjoy this kind of thing, you won't get any verbal abuse from me. I'm only asking that you stop and think for a minute before spending your money on this rather repulsive fare. I can't really put into words how much this disgusts me, so I'll let Joss Whedon do it for me.

On the great Whedonesque site, he recently unleased a rant titled "Let's Watch a Girl Get Beaten to Death." What set him off was the recent stoning death of 17-year-old Dua Khalil Aswad in Iraq, which was taped by standersby with cellphones and widely distributed on the Internet (please, I beg of you, do not now try and go find video of this.) Anyways, here's an excerpt of Mr. Whedon's insight, followed by a link to where you can read the rest of it. I highly recommend you take the time to do so.

A few of you may know that I took public exception to the billboard campaign for this film, which showed a concise narrative of the kidnapping, torture and murder of a sexy young woman. I wanted to see if the film was perhaps more substantial (especially given the fact that it was directed by “The Killing Fields” Roland Joffe) than the exploitive ad campaign had painted it. The trailer resembles nothing so much as the CNN story on Dua Khalil. Pretty much all you learn is that Elisha Cuthbert is beautiful, then kidnapped, inventively, repeatedly and horrifically tortured, and that the first thing she screams is “I’m sorry”.

Women’s inferiority – in fact, their malevolence -- is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they’re sporting burkhas. I find it in movies, I hear it in the jokes of colleagues, I see it plastered on billboards, and not just the ones for horror movies. Women are weak. Women are manipulative. Women are somehow morally unfinished. (Objectification: another tangential rant avoided.) And the logical extension of this line of thinking is that women are, at the very least, expendable.

If we were all told the sky was evil, or at best a little embarrassing, and we ought not look at it, wouldn’t that tradition eventually fall apart?

I have never had any faith in humanity. But I will give us props on this: if we can evolve, invent and theorize our way into the technologically magical, culturally diverse and artistically magnificent race we are and still get people to buy the idiotic idea that half of us are inferior, we’re pretty amazing. Let our next sleight of hand be to make that myth disappear.

The sky isn’t evil. Try looking up.

For as long as I live, I will never be able to put it any better than that. To read the rest, click here, and please, please, please don't go see "Hostel 2" this weekend. It should be a fine summer weekend, so surely you can find something else to do. Hell, I might even go see "Knocked Up" again.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Knocked Up: Revenge of the Geeks

The first time I laughed out loud in "Knocked Up," the first movie this summer to meet and exceed all my very high expectations, was when that perfectly normal looking 7-year-old announced to Katherine Heigl that she had "googled murder." I think I would have crashed the car at that point.

But the best laughs, of course, come from Seth Rogen's Ben and his truly debauche gang of buddies. They're what made this movie, for me, so much more enjoyable than "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

Although I think Judd Apatow and the very funny Mike White are still friends, Mr. White attacked "Virgin" as a mean flick in which Apatow turned on his own fellow geeks. While I wouldn't go that far, I simply didn't like one character in "Virgin," from Steve Carell on down (although I will always, of course, have plenty of time for Catherine Keener.)

With "Knocked Up," however, it's clear from the outset that he loves these guys, all of whom except for Jonah Hill have worked for him on television in the past. I liked that Hill, Jason Segal, Martin Starr and Jay Baruchel all kept their real names, and that they felt exactly like the kind of lovable losers we all hung out with at some time in our lives. They reminded me most of the crew I ran with in college, but as far as lifestyle, they were probably closer to the two dudes I later lived with in a just-barely-converted furniture store for a year in Athens, Ga.

The terribly familiar story here, however, is all about Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl, both of whom bring enough new to the table to make it a lively tale. After a drunken night out (and looking at Katherine Heigl, those must have been some very potent cocktails) and a supposedly one-night stand she, of course, finds herself "Knocked Up."

What makes this original is that the journey taken by Seth Rogen's Ben really isn't much of one at all. He never has some magic moment that transforms him from a toad into a prince. For most of the movie, in fact, he's a dick, albeit a very funny one. He never seems like much more than a stoner who's living off what he got for being run over by a Canadian bus driver, but you're still rooting for him to be more.

And the only complaints I've been able to find about this extremely enjoyable flick were that the women, especially Heigl, get short-shrift. To that, I only have to ask what movie were you (the only two critics I could find who didn't like this) watching? Much of the middle of the movie is given over to what exactly she will do in this unfortunate situation, and it's the best writing Apatow has delivered since "Freaks and Geeks."

Heigl never just gives into the proposition that she's stuck with this guy just because she got pregnant. You, or at least I, can see her struggling with it, especially in that great scene after the earthquake, when it finally hits her just how much of a loser Ben really is.

And special kudos should also go to Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow's wife) for their supporting work. Rudd, who I've liked since way back with "Clueless," just shows perfectly the struggles of a dude who had to get married way before he was ready, and his Matisyahu joke at the end (you won't hear from me how it comes up) is just perfect. Mann gets just about the best scene among many great ones when she gets a crude reality check from a nightclub bouncer.

My only fear after watching this whipsmart comedy was what will become of Judd Apatow after this makes a ton of money. It should have an opening weekend of at leat $25 million, meaning he can do whatever he wants to.

Since he's already in bed with Adam Sandler for the upcoming "Don't Mess with the Zohan," and was a producer on "Talladega Nights," I'm afraid he's gonna be like the new girl on "Freaks and Geeks" who, after hanging out with the geeks for a few days, decides she'd rather hang out with the cool kids.

Even when he does now graduate to the big time, though, I have a suspicion he'll always remember that he's truly just a geek at heart.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The fine art of swearing

OK, the kids have had their fun (well, given the rather dreary threequels we've gotten so far, not too much of it, actually.) Finally, in the fourth week of summer, it's time for the adult swim.

Well, not too adult, given that "Knocked Up," which I've plugged probably 5,000 times, comes from the fairly filthy mind of Judd Apatow, but you know what I mean. A man can only take so many green ogres and crying superheroes before he gets a hankering for a few well-placed f-bombs (ironically, though I thoroughly enjoy and endorse the art of limited swearing, I can't really do it in this blog linked from a family newspaper.)

The thought came to me yesterday when one of my fellow cubicle slaves, the very good reporter Heather Duncan, referred to some folks who can't abide by Macon's rather straightforward watering restrictions as "stupidheads." Now, I'm not mocking her by any means. It was the funniest thing I heard yesterday by far, and since Heather has an infant daughter, Delia, she has plenty of reasons to try and curb her swearing.

I, however, do not. I curse more than I should in my daily life and, frankly, I blame the movies. My favorites have often made literal use of the f-bomb and other verbal assaults, and I make no apology for that.

The master of the fine art of swearing, for my money, is still Roddy Doyle. Before he tried to get serious, Mr. Doyle managed to pen three of the funniest novels you'll ever read with his Barrytown trilogy, "The Commitments," "The Snapper" and "The Van," all of which were made into movies. On the big screen, Colm Meaney is his well-armed partner in cursing crime, and is exceptionally funny as the pater familias of the Rabbitte (in "The Commitments") and Curley (since bastard Alan Parker wouldn't relenquish the family name after directing the first flick) clans (in "The Snapper" and "The Van.")

Even better is one simply sublime scene in the "South Park" musical "Bigger, Longer & Uncut," which, if anything, is an ode to the f-bomb. In the best number, poor Mr. Mackie tries in vain to keep the kids from swearing with suggestions like this: "Instead of ass says buns, like kiss my buns or you're a buns-hole." It doesn't get much funnier than that.

All of which brings me to a simple plea. We need more smart R-rated comedies in the heat of summer. "Hot Fuzz" certainly was a treat, and another one comes today with Apatow's "Knocked Up." I'm not talking about the teen "comedies," which thankfully seem to have slowed down for the time being. I mean raunchy but not rude comedies by adults for adults who haven't forgotten how to laugh.

I'll certainly be at "Knocked Up" this weekend, and I hope you all will too.

Greenwalt gets revamped

When I first heard the premise for CBS' upcoming series "Moonlight" I simply had to say meh. A vampire who is a private investigator? I think I've seen that somewhere before.

Luckily, CBS has too, and they're not afraid to admit it. In the first good sign for this series I otherwise would have simply skipped, "Angel" co-creater David Greenwalt has been brought on as showrunner for the new series. At its best, "Angel" was every bit as good as "Buffy," especially in its third and fourth seasons.

"Moonlight" centers on a private investigator (Alex O'Loughlin) who is a vampire. In his eternal life, he is joined by his former bride (Amber Valletta), a seductive vampire who bit him 60 years ago, as well as a deceitful ally (Rade Serbedzija) who also is undead. The PI's life is turned upside down when he falls for a beautiful mortal woman. In the presentation, Shannon Lucio played the part, which is now being recast.

Sheesh. This doesn't just steal the premise of "Angel," but blatantly rips off much of the storyline of "Buffy" as well. But even if they are committing clear thievery, the presence of Greenwalt, who wrote some of the best "Buffy and "Angel" episodes, means I'll tune in at least a few times when and if this finally hits the air.