Saturday, September 29, 2007

Kingdom come: An almost-perfect political thriller

When I first heard about "The Kingdom" what seems like two or three years ago, I really had no desire to see it. It just looked like a thoroughly routine thriller which would dumb down the politics and amp up the carnage.

Well, I was kind of right, but in the hands of Peter Berg this still turned out to be a tremendously entertaining movie.

The setup: Early on, Saudi terrorists (we think) detonate two bombs at a housing establishment for American oil workers in Saudi Arabia, killing more than 100 people. After overcoming some resistance, the FBI is able to send in an elite team led by agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) to find the culprit.

The opening sequence with the bombing is as hard as to watch as it is expertly constructed. The tension rises steadily between the first and second bombs, and Kyle Chandler of Berg's TV creation "Friday Night Lights" plays a key role you won't hear anymore about from me.

It's in the FBI response team, however, that Berg and screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan really shine. On paper, the four agents are standard Hollywood composites, the badass maverick (Foxx), the wizened veteran (Chris Cooper), the agent with a personal stake in the investigation (Jennifer Garner) and the young, wise-cracking addition (Jason Bateman.) It's how Carnahan and Berg build on these familiar characters, however, that gives "The Kingdom" most of its strength.

And special mention here should go to Ashraf Barhoum, the Saudi police officer who at first blocks them at every turn but (of course) eventually rallies to their side. His banter with his American cohorts, particularly on the prevalence of cursing in American daily discourse, is natural and entertaining, and since it's that season, I think you'll be hearing Mr. Barhoum's name again on Oscar night.

But, of course, this is eventually an action movie, and that's where it starts to fall apart a little bit. With Foxx taking the lead in his least annoying role since "Ray," they steadily, and more than a bit too easily, gather clues and make their case. It does move along at a quick clip toward the shootout(s) you know have to be coming.

And when it finally unleashes the chaos, with one of the agents kidnapped (you won't hear which one from me) and his friends in pursuit, it's a blur of action that doesn't let up for a good 20 minutes. Though Berg never quite resorts to the constant-camera-movement antics of Paul Greengrass, it is an intense finale that delivers what the premise promises.

And a word, if I could, about the politics. A.O. Scott, in an otherwise glowing review of this flick, called it "Syriana for dummies." I'm not really sure where to start with that one. First of all, I may indeed be dumb, because I flat out hated "Syriana." Way too many stories with just about no character development, and several messages just crammed down your throat until you choke.

Now, I'll concede that Mr. Berg does dumb it down a bit, but what was Mr. Scott expecting from a thriller like this? I actually found the opening credits, with a three-minute-or-so summary of American-Saudi relations to this point, to be an effective enough way to draw people into the action.

And Berg's point, when he finally gets around to making it at the very end, is much the same as Steven Spielberg's with "Munich": In our current global battle against terrorism and other evils, we're often in a zero-sum game. For my money, though, he makes that point with a much more entertaining flick than Spielberg's, and I can't ask for much more than that.

P.S.: I've seen the season two premiere of "Friday Night Lights," and can report that though the season predictably starts on a down note, it's still expertly written and very entertaining. The strains of coach Taylor (Chandler) being away at SMU over the summer grow worse as his wife (the great Connie Britton) gives birth to a baby girl, and Tyra and Landry's relationship starts to develop in a most interesting way. You know you should be watching this one, people, so please don't make me beg.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Great gangsters: My favorite mob movies

As you can perhaps guess from the photo above, I'm fairly certain that, unless he somehow monumentally screwed this one up, Ridley Scott's upcoming "American Gangster" will soon find its place on a future edition of this list.

If you want to see a slew of images from it, visit the great froggy film site And now, in honor of Mr. Scott and his hopefully great movie, here are 10 of my favorite mob (using the term very loosely) movies. And before anyone jumps on the most obvious omission, I've left out the two clearly greatest mob movies of all time Godfather I and II, because if you haven't seen those already, I probably can't help you anyway. Here goes, and please feel free to pitch in with any you love that I may have overlooked:

1. Internal Affairs
Though I thought "The Departed" was Martin Scorsese's best movie in many years and a deserving Best Picture winner, the real accomplishmen was William Monahan's in capturing most of the style of this Hong Kong crime flick and transporting it to Boston. It plays the game of interchanging identies even better than Scorsese's flick, and the trilogy it developed into has often been compared to "The Godfather."

2. City of God
When pressed to name one favorite movie, this is the title I pull out most often, because my love for this Fernando Meirelles movie knows no bounds. His flick about Brazilian kids and the lure of organized street crime is as visually stunning as it is dramatically compelling.

3. Angels With Dirty Faces
Believe it or not, I was able to do my senior thesis at Catholic University, for a class on political film, about the social implications of the early gangster flicks. Maybe not as easy as it sounds at first, but still a lot of fun. With this flick, my favorite of the bunch, you get James Cagney and Pat O'Brien, childhood friends who go on to become a mobster and a priest (given the actors, I trust you can guess the order.)

4. Little Caesar
Another from my rather enjoyable assignment. James Cagney rightly got the most acclaim back then, but Edward G. Robinson's Rico in this flick was my favorite of the early gangsters, and his death scene ("Mother of Mercy! Is this the end of Rico!) is just perfect.

5. The General
John Boorman may best be known for making that movie where the dudes have to squeal like a pig, but he's made many other great flicks, including this one about the legendary Irish gangster Martin Cahill. This was the first time I remember noticing Brendan Gleeson who, as Cahill, gets in a great cat-and-mouse game with Jon Voight's Inspector Ned Kenny.

6. Ghost Dog
If ever Jim Jarmusch was gonna have a bonafide big hit, this offbeat gangster flick with Forest Whitaker was probably his best shot. Starring Whitaker as a sort of zen hitman who eventually turns on his mafia employers, it gathers in Eastern mythology, Wu Tang philosophy and other ideas for a mix that almost works perfectly (and Isaac de Bankole's ice cream truck driver is extremely funny.)

7. Goodfellas
I can probably get away with omitting "The Godfather," but this list would be a complete failure without this one. It should have garnered Oscars for Martin Scorsese, Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco (but did get a well-deserved one for Joe Pesci, who hasn't come close to being that good since.) Among its many virtues are perhaps the best tracking shot of all time, when Liotta's Henry Hill takes Bracco's Karen out on their big date at The Copa. Just amazing.

8. Once Upon a Time in America
When I was far too young to be seeing this movie, my parents took us to see it in New York, only to have to drag us out just before Robert De Niro's "Noodles" Aronson makes a rather disastrous attempt to win the affections of Elizabeth Perkins' Deborah Gelly (and, failing rather miserably, ends up raping her in a car.) Not exactly family-friendly stuff, but this epic Sergio Leone flick tells a sprawling but mostly spellbinding tale about four friends who grow up to be gangsters, and it is at its very best in its quietest moments at the beginning and end.

9. Miller's Crossing
Forgetting this Coen Bros. flick would be almost as great a sin as omitting "Goodfellas." This one proved that, indeed, Joel and Ethan Coen can do anything they want to on screen, and the Irish-American mob flick contains the best performance from one of my favorite actors, Jon Polito as Johnny Caspar.

10. The Lavendar Hill Mob
OK, maybe not technically a mob movie, but I love to laugh and this one just makes me giggle uncontrollably. It almost made me cry too this morning when I saw listed at the IMDB a potential 2009 remake of this British flick about a meek bank clerk who stages a heist of his employers. Apparently nothing at all is sacred.

And there you have it. I have to wrap this rather quickly so I can go to an 11:15 screening of "The Kingdom" before work, so not many pictures. As I said, please feel free to add any of your favorites, and have a great weekend.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Finally, a Scorsese music documentary to cheer about

When Martin Scorsese earlier this year got together with the Rolling Stones for a documentary/lovefest, it elicited nothing from this corner but a fairly loud yawn.

Not for Marty, mind you, but for the Stones, who I just couldn't care less about. As Scorsese recently proved with his PBS doco "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan," he still has a hunger and flair for the genre, and this morning comes word he has a much more worthy subject than Mick Jagger to work with.

He's now apparently lined up the support of Olivia Harrison and others to make a feature-length flick about the life of George Harrison (a k a the second-most talented dead Beatle; as an aside, I'm listening to Lennon/Ono's "Double Fantasy" this morning, and it's just as sublime as ever.

And with Harrison's life trajectory in mind, this certainly seems like an ideal fit. Along with his forays into Eastern religions, Harrison also tried his hand at the movie business as a backer of Handmade Films and produced films such as "Monty Python's Life of Brian" and "Time Bandits."

Next for Wes Anderson, a Murray-Schwartzman reunion

Anyone who thinks I write about Wes Anderson too much here is probably right, but so what? There are very few directors whose work I enjoy seeing more on the big screen, so any word of what he might be up to is worth reporting.

After "Darjeeling Limited," which opens the New York Film Festival tomorrow night for anyone lucky enough to be there, he's long been rumored to be getting into the animation game with his take on Roald Dahl's "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." And now, according to the surprisingly good MTV movies blog, things are finally moving forward on this odd project.

As Anderson told MTV, George Clooney is the big dog as the voice of Mr. Fox, but Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman will stage a "Rushmore" reunion of sorts as supporting voices. However, just in case this gets anyone else as excited as it does me, be warned: We won't see this one anytime soon.

“It will take a couple years to do the animating," Anderson told MTV. “It’s stop-motion. It’s like ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ or those Christmas specials. These [characters] have fur, so it’s not like claymation.”

I'm still not sure he can pull this off, but I'm just happy to see him trying a new challenge or, for that matter, working at all.

If you want to get your Wes Anderson fix on much sooner and you have the Itunes software (which I will later today so I can see this), you can apparently watch his short film "Hotel Chevalier" now for free. At the NYFF, this 13-minute piece starring Schwartzman and Natalie Portman (and, apparently, in case this is an incentive, Ms. Portman's bare bum) is screening as an opener to "Darjeeling Limited," but apparently won't make the theatrical cut coming soon.

A free Wes Anderson flick? I'm in, as soon as I can put the Itunes player on my work computer.

DVR alert: "The Office" reopens tonight

"No, Dwight, I don't care if that's how they consolidated power in ancient Rome."

You can argue whether the season three finale of "The Office" was last season's funniest hour of network TV, but for my money Angela definitely had the best spit take-inducing line with that little gem.

Season four begins tonight with the first of four one-hour episodes, so be ready. With Pam and Jim possibly finally a real couple and Ryan the former temp now given broad authority to torture Michael Scott at very turn, this should be nothing but fun.

Here's a look at the plot lines for these opening four salvos:

Tonight: “Fun Run”
A freak accident causes Michael (Steve Carell) to feel the office is cursed. He explores the religious beliefs of his employees before deciding to hold a charity 5K fun run. Meanwhile, further developments in the romances of Pam (Jenna Fischer) and Jim (John Krasinski), and Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and Angela (Angela Kinsey) are explored. (As an aside, my favorite episode so far would have to be "Diwali," so this should be a blast.)

Oct. 4: "Dundler-Mifflin Infinity"
Much to the dismay of Michael and many of the employees, Ryan (B.J. Novak) returns to the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin to bring the company into the digital age. Angela is still upset about her cat.

Oct. 11: "Launch Party"
The Dunder Mifflin Infinity Web site is launching and Michael is excited about going to the big launch party in New York while Angela plans a satellite party for the Scranton branch. Meanwhile, Dwight competes against the Web site to see who can sell the most paper in one day.

Oct. 18: “Money”
As Jan renovates the condo, Michael confronts his growing debt every way he can, which includes pressuring his employees for a loan. Pam and Jim spend a night out on Dwight’s farm, now a bed and breakfast.

I've been putting my DVR through a few warmups taping "Heroes," "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and, yes, I'll admit it, "Gossip Girl," but "The Office" is the show that convinced me to finally break down and get it in the first place, so definitely bring it on. Peace out.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How far would you travel to see a Wes Anderson movie?

It's either a mark of devotion or a rather sad fact that, on the pretense of seeing some old friends (which I did), I once drove about two hours from Salisbury, Md., to D.C. to see Wes Anderson's "Rushmore." And if his new flick, "Darjeeling Limited," manages to open in Atlanta or Athens this weekend, I'll probably do something very similar this Saturday.

You know what would make more people want to go to the movies? Letting them know a mere two days in advance what movies are opening where. I've spent about a half hour now trying to determine if "Darjeeling Limited" indeed opens in Georgia this weekend, which I realize is not a heck of a lot of time, but it's still awfully frustrating to come up empty-handed. If anyone knows the answer to this, please do share.

Even if I don't make the journey north this weekend, there's still a great fall slate of new offerings that may have me hitting the theaters as many as three times (thanks to my spiffy new three-day weekend.)

Here, in descending order, are the flicks I'm planning (and not planning) to see this weekend (not including, for now at least, "Darjeeling Limited":

The Kingdom
If you haven't managed to catch up with NBC's sophomore series "Friday Night Lights," you're truly missing out. I know it's a show about high school football, but it's also about life in America, and it's just tremendously entertaining. You'll have to wait until Oct. 5 for the season two premiere, but Berg's new flick, "The Kindgom," hits theaters Friday. Out of respect for Mr. Berg and with love for Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman, this hopefully-not-too-routine political thriller tops my viewing list this weekend.

Death at a Funeral
This has probably played most everywhere in the world except Macon already, so if you've seen it please let me know if it's anywhere near as funny as it should be. From American director Frank Oz, this otherwise very British flick promises a mix of dark and goofy humor, and should therefore be right up my alley. (Besides, it's always nice to see Spud working again.)

In the Valley of Elah
Am I the only person in the world who really just can't stand Paul Haggis? I thought "Crash" was a preachy, rather boring mess, and "Million Dollar Baby" just managed to suck the life out of a great boxing story by F.X. Toole. I'll most likely go see this, Haggis' latest, on Monday, but it feels more like an obligation (since it will be guaranteed at least 10 Oscar nominations) than anything else. Based, believe it or not, on a "Playboy" magazine article, this is about a father (Tommy Lee Jones) who enlists the help of a detective (Charlize Theron, just what I expect a cop to look like) after his soldier son goes AWOL shortly after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. Frankly this doesn't sound much better than a souped-up episode of CSI, which I'm not sure I've ever bothered to watch in its entirety.

"Feast of Love"
Though it has a cast almost as strong as it title is banal, I have to admit I know next to nothing about this one. Starring Morgan Freeman, Selma Blair, Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell, Billy Burke and, somehow, Fred Ward, this is described at the IMDB as: "A meditation on love and its various incarnations, set within a community of friends in Oregon." Wouldn't a single word, "meh," have been just as accurate a summary?

"The Game Plan"
I really like the writing of Orlando Sun-Sentinel film critic Roger Moore, but I have to wonder lately if someone hasn't been spiking his drink of choice with wacky juice. Lately he's been handing out five-star reviews at least once a week, and he thusly even fairly enthusiastically endorsed this new flick starring "The Rock": Sometimes, it all comes together. You've got the personnel. The things they've been known to do well, they do very well. The leadership is all on the same page. The execution? Nearly flawless. Finally, for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, The Game Plan pays off.

Really, Roger? I won't be seeing this one myself, so I won't be able to dispute that sentiment with any authority at all, but I do have to wonder if some very powerful people haven't gotten into Mr. Moore's head (and maybe his wallet, too, but we really shouldn't even go there.)

And there you have it. Two movies I'm excited to see, one I'll see out of obligation, one I'll see if I can manage to find it and get there, and two you'd have to strap me down to behold. All in all a pretty darn good multiplex weekend, I'd say.

And here, in honor of Mr. Anderson, is a sublime "Rushmore" clip set to the always-welcome strains of Cat Stevens' "The Wind." Enjoy, and have an entirely bearable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Where are they now: The cast of "Arrested Development"

The inspiration for this post comes from Jason Bateman, who is on quite a roll of late.

Friday, of course, he'll star in "The Kingdom," which I'm looking forward to if only because it's directed by Peter Berg, in whom I have full faith. It looks like a pretty standard political thriller, but I'm still holding out hope that it will turn out to be more than that.

And this morning comes word, in French from the great froggy film site, so bear with me, that he's joined the cast of Kevin MacDonald's next flick, "State of Play." Based on the British miniseries of the same name, it also stars Edward Norton and a certain actor you may have heard of named Brad Pitt.

Norton will play a police deputy who's charged with investigating the death of a politician's mistress, Pitt is the politician's old campaign manager who's called upon to hush everything up, and Bateman is a journalist who's trying to do the opposite (if you've seen the BBC miniseries and I have any of this wrong, please let me know.)

That all sounds great to me, and of course Bateman can be seen before that in a Bluth father-and-son reunion in "Juno," a flick I've mentioned here, well, at least 500 times or so. Michael Cera is on as good a role of late as his TV dad, so here's hoping that continues (and, just in case you've somehow missed it, please check out and be ready to laugh - a lot.)

And, as a tribute to the much-missed (by me, at least) "Arrested Development," here's a look at what's happened to the rest of the cast since Fox killed this utterly entertaining show:

Jason Bateman: Along with the aforementioned projects, Michael Bluth will also appear soon in "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium." All I know about this is that it's about a magical toy store and it stars Natalie Portman, which is enough to get me at least a bit intrigued. Next summer he'll star in "Hancock" with very pretty people Charlize Theron and Will Smith.

Portia de Rossi: I'm sad to report that Lindsay Bluth Funke has nothing listed on her IMDB resume since "Arrested Development" except an appearance or two on her girlfriend's talk show. Surely there must be work out there for this rather funny lady.

Will Arnett: I would say that Gob Bluth's post-"AD" movie record has been nothing short of atrocious, but since I haven't bothered to see most of his flicks I can't say that with authority. Up next on his very busy resume (he has at least eight projects listed as announced or active on the IMDB) will be an appearance in "Semi-Pro," the next sports-oriented Will Ferrell flick about a struggling basketball team from Flint, Michigan. This looks like it could be very funny, but after that I'm sorry to have to say he'll be providing voice for the thoroughly unnecessary remake of "Horton Hears a Who." Oh well. I guess a man's gotta eat.

Michael Cera: After "Juno," in which he plays the rather fortunate young man who manages to impregnate young Ellen Page, he's set to star in a movie based on the very funny novel "Youth in Revolt" by C.D. Payne. I just finished reading this, and I can report that if you can handle yet another novel about a 14-year-old and his constant quest to have sex, this one is just a hoot from start to finish and should make a good flick in the right hands.

Alia Shawkat: George Michael Bluth's cousin Maeby, conveniently enough, also stars in a flick being released this week, something called "Prom Wars." As the title implies, this is a flick that's targeted at an audience just slightly younger than me, but I'll probably see it anyway at some point. The plot (courtesy of IMDB): The graduating class at Miss Aversham and Miss Cronstall's School for Girls find that they have all blossomed simultaneously. Capitalizing on their improbable hotness, they issue a challenge to the boys of rival private schools, Selby House and Lancaster College: The winner in a series of athletic and academic competitions will be awarded exclusive rights to the girls as prom dates. Oddly enough, this appears to be headed straight for DVD, since I can't even find it listed at Yahoo's movies site.

Tony Hale: Buster Bluth is next listed as having a bit part in "Rockett," some kind of romantic comedy set to star Jimmy Fallon (meh) in November. After that he's down for two movies I know absolutely nothing about, some kind of thriller called "In My Sleep" and "The Tale of Desperaux," a rather star-studded animated flick about a mouse, a rat and a servant girl. Who knew rats would become the new penguins?

David Cross: Tobias Funke was, for my money, the funniest cast member of "AD," with Michael Cera a close second. He's starring very soon, if you're lucky enough to be going to the New York Film Festival, as Allen Ginsberg in Todd Haynes' trippy Dylan biopic "I'm Not There," but after that things dont look too promising. After an appearance with Jason Lee in "Alvin and the Chipmunks" (no, I'm not kidding) he only has animated voice credits listed, although at least one of those will be in the upcoming "Futurama" (huzzah!) movie or episode (not sure which) "The Beast With a Billion Backs."

Jeffrey Tambor: George Bluth has already flamed out in one post-"AD" sitcom, "20 Good Years" (which didn't even last one bad one). He's currently listed for another pilot, "The Captain," but I couldn't manage to find out if this has even been picked up for this fall. After that, I have the pleasure to report he's set to reprise his role as Tom Manning in Guillermo del Toro's "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army" and the displeasure to report he'll then star in yet another "spoof" movie, the thoroughly unnecessary "Superhero!"

Jessica Walter: Since "AD," Lucille Bluth has only made three one-shot appearances on TV shows I've never seen, "Rules of Engagement," "Saving Grace" and "The Land Before Time." Surely there must be more work out there for this very funny lady.

And there you have it. I hope that was enjoyable to at least one person, and that you all have an entirely suck-free Tuesday.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Eastern Promises: A seamy success

I've held off in writing about David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" because I wanted to let it sink in for a while. And now that it has, I can declare that, by Cronenberg standards, while its a fairly standard genre pic, it's still a very entertaining little potboiler.

As I was thinking about it, I had to compare it to Spike Lee's "Inside Man," a movie which just left me cold (though, don't get me wrong, I otherwise have nothing but love for Spike.) Both are examples of directors who make their own rules but were her dabbling in very conventional fare. With "Eastern Promises," Cronenberg managed to keep enough of his signature style to make it the superior flick of the two.

And Cronenberg has two people to thank for this, starting with Viggo Mortensen. What mostly makes "Eastern Promises" more than your average Russian mafia/white slavery movie (and I'm not gonna tell you much more than that about the plot because so few people bothered to see this last week), is that Viggo takes charge of his role of the driver/thug and holds your attention by sheer force of will.

A co-worker of mine, Erin, who is enamored of both Viggo's body as well of his body of work, compared him to Clint Eastwood when I asked the devil's advocate question of whether Viggo can actually act or not. And while he's not there yet, I can certainly buy the comparison to a certain extent. They both have the ability to end a conversation with just a look, and make that look speak louder than any number of words.

Cronenberg's second worthy co-conspirator on "Eastern Promises" is screenwriter Steven Knight, who has a rather disturbing knack for probing the underbelly of London. He did it last (and, frankly, a little better) with "Dirty Pretty Things," the 2002 Stephen Frears flick about immigrants and organ smuggling starring Audrey Tautou and Chiwetel Ejiofor (double huzzah!) Working here instead with Russian immigrants dealing in rather dirty but not pretty things, he's aided by baddies Armin Mueller Stahl and Vincent Cassell in constructing a realistically chilling glimpse into this wicked world.

But Knight's screenplay also delivers the shortcomings that keep this from being a great rather than good flick. Why haven't I mentioned Naomi Watts yet? It's certainly not because I don't like her. It's simply because here Knight and Cronenberg really underwrite her character, a hospital midwife who uncovers a secret that gets her entangled with the rascally Russians. While this could have been a compelling role, they instead make her a very one-dimensional angel/saviour type, and little more.

And, compared to Cronenberg's previous flicks, "Eastern Promises" doesn't stand up with his best meditations on the role and effects of violence in our society. Compared to "A History of Violence" or my personal favorite, "Spider" (if you haven't seen this mind-bender with Ralph Fiennes yet, do so immediately), it comes up more than a little empty.

In the end, though, even if Cronenberg was kind of cruising with this one, it's a salute to his tremendous talent as a filmmaker that he still manages to deliver a movie that's as compelling as it as entertaining, and one I hope many, many more people will discover this week.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The best actor you've (probably) never heard of

Though you can probably only see it in Atlanta so far, Ray McKinnon has a new movie opening today. Who, you ask? I did too until I did a little investigating.

I first heard of McKinnon when he presented his Oscar-winning short film, "The Accountant," at the Middle Georgia Video and Film Festival two years ago. I tried to find out if you can still rent or buy it on DVD, but came up empty. If you can find it, however, it's a darkly comic little gem.

McKinnon, has 63 acting credits listed at the Internet Movie Database, starting, appropriately enough for a dude from the tiny burg of Adel, Ga., with the role of "Alabama trooper #1" in "Driving Miss Daisy." Sandwiched in that list I found two stellar performances in one of my favorite films and one of TV's best (and most missed) shows.

The first role I'm talking about was as Vernon T. Waldrip in what's still, for my money, the best Southern movie ever not made by Southerners, "O Brother Where Art Thou?" Though that name might not strike a chord with you right away, just remember that, as Holly Hunter's suitor, he was George Clooney's rival in being "bona fide."

McKinnon was even better in a much more prominent role on HBO's "Deadwood." Anyone who's seen season one of this David Milch Western on HBO will know him as the Rev. H.W. Smith. And if you've seen the season finale with his final encounter with Ian McShane's Al Swearingen, I think you'll agree with me that it's one of the best hours you'll ever see on TV anywhere.

Along with being an actor, McKinnon also has written and directed three films, starting with "The Accountant," then "Chrystal" (a Southern gothic flick starring Billy Bob Thornton that just got added to my Netflix queue) and now "Randy and the Mob."

The latter, which will slowly spread beyond Atlanta starting next week, sounds like a thoroughly goofy but hopefully very funny little flick. McKinnon stars as Randy, a small-time Southern businessman who makes the always wise move of borrowing money from some Italian-American gangsters. Along with McKinnon, it also stars Lisa Blount, Bill Nunn and, believe it or not, Burt Reynolds.

See this one if you get the chance. Given that this was executive produced by the late Phil Walden, the Maconite who played a key role in developing the Allman Brothers, Otis Redding and other musicians, I'm hoping it will come to Macon very soon.

Besides, when's the last time you watched a "Southern" movie that actually starred Southern people? ("Cold Mountain" is the one that really grates my cheese for not even bothering to look for any, but there are plenty of other truly egregious examples.) Well, directors, Ray McKinnon's out there, and he is indeed "bona fide."

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to wrap this up now so I can go see David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises." Sometimes, life really is good.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Does Chris Tucker have any other friends?

Since he only seems to make movies with Brett Ratner, I'd say it's a fair question. I mean, isn't that kind of like one day tasting a fried bologna sandwich and then declaring you're gonna eat nothing else for the rest of your life?

But I already digress a bit from the rather depressing point here. Not content to simply crank out more excremental but harmless "Rush Hour" movies, Brett Ratner has somehow now gotten his hands on the rights to "Mr. S: My Life With Frank Sinatra," and is of course looking no further than his best buddy Mr. Tucker for the lead role (not Sinatra, of course, but that would at least make this more interesting.)

The book was co-written by George Jacobs, who served as Sinatra's valet from 1953-1968 (and will be played by Tucker), and therefore surely got to see some pretty damn cool and seedy stuff along the way. Now that we're not getting about one a month, my taste for music biopics is starting to come back (and I would start lining up now if Spike Lee finally got around to telling the story of James Brown), and this has the potential to indeed be a grand story. I don't see, however, how it could possibly be in any worse hands.

Now, I realize that Brett Ratner is an easy target, but I assure you my hatred is genuine and seething after what he did with "X-3." If he takes the same approach to Sinatra's life, just grabbing about 50 possible story lines and exploring each one for 30 seconds or so, it will be even worse than I'm imagining it could be.

And I once used to have a lot of time for Chris Tucker. He was extremely funny as Beaumont in "Jackie Brown" and more than trippy enough to fit in "The Fifth Element," and there are few movies I enjoy more when my brain is depleted from a long day of work than the original "Friday." But it's been a long time since 1997 (10 years or so, I suppose), and since then his mouth has just seemed to move much faster than anyone can write him good jokes to put in it.

Of this duo I certainly have more love for him than I do Brett Ratner. I just wish he could find a better crowd to run with.

This just in: "Aliens in America" doesn't suck

One of the few remaining perqs of working at a newspaper is that I from time to time get to see previews of the fall TV shows. Or, to put it more accurately, Macon's TV Guy Phillip Ramati takes the time to request them and then is kind enough to share.

ABC has been stingy and therefore hasn't sent over any episodes of "Pushing Daisies" or anything else, but the CW has been much more forthcoming. Last night I watched the first two episodes of "Aliens In America," and on the menu soon will be the pilot episode of "Gossip Girl" (for which I concede I'm way too old to even consider myself anywhere near the target audience.)

As for "Aliens in America," it leans too much toward sweetness and away from genuine political incorrectness for my taste, but it still has promise. The premise: A Wisconsin family orders an exchange student so their friendless son will have one, but instead of the Londoner they're expecting they get a Pakistani dude named Raja.

Raja's introduction to his new high school is very funny, and he quickly develops a pack of geeks who could be developed into an entertaing brood. I genuinely like shows set in high school because when you trap that many kids in one place it always at least has the potential for great comedy. However, unlike the superior show that will precede it Monday nights starting in October, "Everybody Hates Chris," it too often in the first two episodes took its hands off the dagger when sticking it in would have struck comic gold. (And Scott Patterson, late of "Gilmore Girls," pretty much plays the father figure as penny-pinching miser, basically the white equivalent of the more funny Terry Crews on "Chris."

But, for all my complaints, this is a sitcom that mixes heart with some genuine laughs, and in this rather bleak season that's enough to make me tune in for at least a few more episodes.

Web banners for "No Country for Old Men"

Though I've bumped this Coen brothers' flick to No. 3 on my must-see list behind "Juno" and "American Gangster" for the rest of the year, there are at least 10 which are pretty much tied at the top (starting with Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises," which I'll be seeing before work tomorrow morning - what a way to start the day!)

I found these Web-only banners for "No Country for Old Men" on Anne Thompson's Variety magazine blog, and of course promptly swiped them to post here. As she correctly points out, they do indeed steal more than a bit of inspiration from the "3:10 to Yuma" poster, but they're still menacing enough for me. Enjoy, and have an entirely bearable Thursday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

It's official: In Grindhouse duel, Tarantino wins big

Though it was a bit of a visual overload watching Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" and then Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof" as one movie in "Grindhouse," I loved just about every minute of it.

I also thought at the time, however, that for all his talk about the "grindhouse" aesthetic (which I must admit is still a little murky to me), Tarantino cheated at the game and left Rodriguez more than a little shorthanded.

Don't get me wrong: I thoroughly enjoyed "Planet Terror," even if I could have done without seeing QT's testicles melt. But it was pure schlock, and unapologetically so.

With "Death Proof," however, Tarantino simply started with the premise of making a '70s car movie but then made it completely his own. I realize many people found the dialogue of Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Poiter), Zoe Bell and their two sets of gal-pals to be more than a bit contrived, but it worked for me, and the ending car-chase is worth the price of admission alone.

And now, with "Death Proof" getting a snazzy, extended, stand-alone release on DVD this week, I have to wonder if these guys are even talking any more. Granted, "Planet Terror" will gets own chance, appropriately enough, closer to "Halloween," but it definitely looks like - to put it as crudely as possible - sloppy seconds.

If you spring for the "Death Proof" set (which I'm about 70 percent or so sure I will), here are some of the extras you'll get:

The so-called "missing reel," containing Vanessa Ferlito's unseen lap-dance for Killer Mike, plus the following featurettes: "Finding Quentin's Gals," "The Guys of Death Proof," "Kurt Russell as Stuntman Mike," "Introducing Zoe Bell" and "Quentin's Greatest Collaborator: Editor Sally Menke."

I suppose for purity's sake we should hold out for the full "Grindhouse" flick on DVD (and in case anyone was wondering, none of the fake trailers are set to appear on this release, or on "Planet Terror"), but I'm still just a sucker for QT. What do you think?

Jesse Eisenberg a big star?

The most interesting thing I could find in this morning's rather yawnworthy trades was buried under the news that Ryan Reynolds had joined the cast of Greg Mottola's "Adventureland." Since he's never seemed to be anything but dim to me, especially in the thoroughly annoying "Smokin' Aces," that just said meh.

But reading behind the lines, to find something I had apparently missed, made it much better news. Though Reynolds will indeed get a big part in the 2009 summer flick, the lead will be none other than Jesse Eisenberg, aka Walt Berkman. That's at least how I'll always know him, as Noah Baumbach's alter-ego in one of my favorite flicks of the past five years or so, "The Squid and the Whale."

I haven't seen him in anything since, so this is welcome news. Mottola, a card-holding member of the Apatow mob, directed this summer's funniest movie, "Superbad," so the semi-autobiographical "Adventureland" should be a lot of fun.

Set in 1987, it stars Eisenberg as a recent college graduate who has to cancel his plans to tour Europe and instead take a job at the titular (New Jersey, I think) theme park. Reynolds will play (and this is definitely more fitting to his rather annoying persona) an aspiring rock star and the icon of cool to all the kids working at the park. Kristen Stewart, who's grown up more than a bit since being menaced with Jodie Foster in "Panic Room," will play the romantic lead, a tomboy who also works at the park.

That's a lot of words about a movie not coming out for almost two years, I concede, but I really like Jesse Eisenberg, so I wanted to pass that along to anyone else who might have missed it. Peace out.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I have a bone to pick with Jodie Foster ...

An alternative title for this post could be "threat level ludicrous."

Less a critique of the competely over-the-top new movie "The Brave One," this is instead an open letter to Jodie Foster (though, unlike John Hinckley, I'm relatively certain she will never read this.)

As for the movie itself, it has a few charms and far too many faults to make it more than slighty enjoyable. It's at its best at its quietest moments, when director Neil Jordan drops the rather awful music and just lets Terrence Howard and Foster act. Those moments, however, are completely overshadowed by a simply awful ending and many more pratfall along the way.

But, as I said, my main beef - relative to an interview she gave promoting this flick - is with Jodie Foster herself on this one.

The main question in my mind as I was leaving this flick was: What kind of New York does Foster's Erica Bain live in? As even people who haven't seen this yet probably know (and as you might be able to tell, I wouldn't really recommend rushing out to do so), her character is the victim of a very violent attack early on that kills her fiance and leaves her very badly injured. OK, fair enough.

From there, however, it just gets beyond silly. If you haven't seen the movie yet, please skip the rest of this paragraph so I don't ruin it for you. After buying a gun in a silly enough scene, Foster's Bain, in short order, encounters an enraged gunman in a bodega, gets accosted by two rather unpleasant black toughs on the subway and then encounters a wannabe pimp in Central Park.

Now, before I go any further, let me qualify this by saying I have never lived in New York, but I have probably visited there more than 50 times, and will do so again at the end of this year (and in my mind, I'm already there.) I did live in D.C. for a total of about five years, but the closest I ever came to being a victim of violent crime was when some dude walked up to my friend Jim Waddick during his first week in the city and, after asking him what time it was, then asked him for his watch. Jim, being a fairly rational guy from Edina Minn., promptly handed it over rather than pursue the matter any further.

But I digress. My point is this: Though I concede that New York is of course a very large city pulsing with all kinds of life, I've never had the displeasure of experiencing (or seeing, for that matter) any thing close to what happens in this movie. I've probably been to at least 100 bodegas and ridden the subways hundreds more times, and I've never felt terribly unsafe.

Now, this being a revenge movie and, of course, a fictional one, I'd be able to excuse this level of unreality if it were a better movie or if Jodie Foster hadn't raised the stakes in promoting it.

For anyone who may have missed it, here's what Ms. Foster had to say to the Associated Press about her view of the world we live in: "Post 9/11 is such a different beast. It's the safest big city in the world. There's a cop on every corner. And why is it that we're on Orange Alert? Why is it that we're a quarter-inch away from this rage and fear that has no basis in reality?"

Now, I don't like to dive into politics here too often, but I'm afraid this is nothing more than the worst kind of hypocrisy. If I can try and take the middle ground here, it's obvious that, yes, we have threats in this world that we were unaware of before 9/11. It's also clear, to me at least, that those color-coded threat levels do little more than foment fear, which is used by our government to many different ends.

But my point here is that Neil Jordan and Jodie Foster are also doing at least their fair share to try and make sure we live in a world where our fear level is higher than the reality around us with movies like this one. I concede that I'm taking this far too seriously, but it really got under my skin, so I had to let it out. Rant officially over.

"Juno" trailer is comic bliss

OK, anyone who stuck around through all that deserves a reward. Along with Ridley Scott's "American Gangster," the other movie I'm most looking forward to for the rest of this year is Jason Reitman's "Juno" (as anyone who's been here before probably already knew.)

Though David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" edged it out to take the prestigious audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, Roger Ebert at least walked away thoroughly smitten with "Juno" and young Ellen Page. You can read all of his review, which my brother first directed me to, here, but here's an excerpt:

"It’s the kind of movie you almost insult by describing the plot, because the plot sounds standard and this is a fresh, quirky, unusually intelligent comedy about a 16-year-old girl who wins our hearts in the first scene. Page plays Juno, who gets pregnant, and — no, that’s not it at all. Every element in the movie including her getting pregnant, and her non-boyfriend, and her parents, and the couple that wants to take the baby for adoption, is completely unlike any version of those characters I have ever seen before."

And here is the, as far as I can tell, new trailer for the flick, set to open hopefully everywhere Dec. 14. Everything in the trailer, from Rainn Wilson's use of the word "homeskillet" to the great J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as Ellen Page's endearingly clueless parents, is extremely funny. You can tell that first-time screenwriter Diablo Cody, whose Pussy Ranch blog you can read here, is bound for many great things after this one. Enjoy the trailer, and have an entirely bearable Tuesday. Peace out.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fall TV: Is there anything at all worth following?

Before I go any further, two hearty huzzahs, to Helen Mirren for her Emmy win for "Prime Suspect: The Final Act" and to David Cronenberg for winning the audience award in Toronto for "Eastern Promises" (which will hopefully propel that flick out here to the hinterlands some time in the coming weeks.

Today, however, is all about the good and bad news of fall TV. The good news, at least at my house, is that I've finally entered at least the 20th century and gotten a DVR. I was thrilled to come home from work Thursday night and find that it actually worked and I did indeed have two fresh (and obscenely funny) episodes of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."

The bad news, however, is that I got it at quite possibly the worst possible time. True enough, I mainly got it so I can tape the entire seasons of favorites like "The Office," "Friday Night Lights" (moving to the Friday night graveyard) and "Scrubs" (whenever it actually manages to return.) I'd add "How I Met Your Mother" to that list, but I'm usually home on Monday nights.

But the new networks shows? What a load of meh. Sifting through the debris, and with a big assist from the fine folks at Broadcasting & Cable, here are the only three (or maybe four) new networks shows I'll be tuning in for. (And yes, the season is so bad that I'm lifting my post-"Veronica Mars" CW boycott - at least they tried to offer something new!)

1. "Pushing Daisies"
I'm hardly alone here, since the critics have universally hailed this as the only truly good show coming up this fall (premiering at 8 p.m. Oct 10 on ABC.) I'm a little skeptical that it can sustain the rather wacky premise about a piemaker who can bring people back to life with one touch (but kill them again with two), but Pee-Wee Herman has been cast as a recurring character, so I'm hoping this will be truly askew (at least by network standards.)

2. "Aliens in America"
If there were any justice (and if this actually any good), putting this on Monday nights at 8:30 (starting Oct. 1), right after "Everybody Hates Chris," would give the CW one of the most popular hours on TV. That probably won't happen, but if this sitcom about a Wisconsin family who orders a Norwegian exchange student but instead gets a young Pakistani dude manages to be as genuinely politically correct as it should be, I'll keep tuning on.

3. "Reaper"
A good supernatural comedy on the CW? That means it will get two seasons at most, so enjoy it (if it just doesn't suck) while you can. This show, created by X-Files scribes Tara Butters and Michelle Fazekas and premiering Sept. 25 at 9 p.m., is about a dude who wakes up on his 21st birthday to find out that, at birth, his parents sold his soul to the devil, and now it's time to do his bidding. A little tired, I concede, but Kevin Smith directed the pilot, and word is it actually is pretty funny.

3.5 "Gossip Girl"
Three CW shows? Well, I'm not sure I'll be tuning in to this one because, as I far too often fail to remember, I'm more than a little older than the target audience. I do, however, have a soft spot for trashy teen TV, and Veronica Mars herself is the narrator for this, so I just might give it a chance.

4. "Somebodies"
BET's first scripted series, a sitcom about a group of University of Georgia graduates trying to figure out what to do with their lives, has yet to get a premiere date, but should come some time in October. Springing from a movie made by some dude named Hadjii and with some of the same folks who created "The Bernie Mac Show" behind it, I'm cautiously optomistic this will be worth tuning in for.

And there you have it. I wish there was more I could recommend, but there just isn't. If you want to get much more incisive writing about what to watch (and what to avoid) on the Boob Tube, read Philip Ramati's TV Guy blog. And please do tell me if there are any new and promising network shows that I've somehow missed.

"Angel" season six?

Never one to turn down a promising idea, Joss Whedon has indeed followed up his "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" comics from Dark Horse by overseeing a new series of "Angel" comics from IDW. The series, coming in November, will be called "Angel: After the Fall," and will be overseen by Whedon with Bryan Lynch and Franco Urru, the duo behind "Spike: Shadow Puppets."

Like the Buffy comics, it will pick up right where the TV series left off. Here's a description from Mr. Lynch himself: "Angel and his friends took a stand because he thought it was the right thing to do. They fought the good fight even though they were probably going to lose, even though they were facing insurmountable odds. But that's the thing about insurmountable odds...surmounting them can be quite a bitch. The series begins to tackle the fall-out of Angel's stand, and what it cost everyone near, around and close to him."

Sounds great to me. I've swiped and republished the cover, but you can read the first five pages at Aintitcool by clicking here (since it had the dreaded "exclusive" tag on it, I didn't dare to swipe all five pages.)

It does indeed look cool. And now I'm off to see Neil Jordan's "The Brave One," but only cautiously optomistic about enjoying it. Peace out.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What's next for your favorite director?

Next for easily one of mine, Terry Zwigoff, will, thankfully be another collaboration with funny-book writer Daniel Clowes.

For my money, this duo has one sure hit, "Ghost World," and one truly disappointing mess, "Art School Confidential." My love for "Ghost World," however (and, frankly, for Thora Birch - what in the world ever happened to her?) is so high that any news of them working together again is welcome to me.

Their next collaboration will be on the spoof "The $40,000 Man" for New Line. Clowes and Zwigoff will rewrite the script about a legendary astronaut who gets horribly injured in a car accident and rebuilt to be a bionic man - but only on a $40,000 budget. Sounds fairly promising, and in the hands of these two I have rather high hopes. (And just in case you have any doubts about the talents of Terry Zwigoff, rent "Bad Santa" and "Crumb" along with "Ghost World" and then get back to me.)

And, for news (or at least snippets) about many more renowned directors, there's a memo which was kind enough to post this morning. They claim, and I have absolutely no reason to doubt them, that it's a list that is being circulated around major talent agencies in Hollywood which includes all the movies that the studios are making a priority before the impending Writers Guild, Directors Guild and Screen Actors Guild strike next year.

I encourage everyone to click here for a truly delightful way to waste time on your otherwise dreary workday, but here are a few highlights that I took note of:

"Trial of the Chicago Seven": This should just be tremendously good. Steven Spielberg (heard of him?) will direct and Aaron Sorkin will script this flick about the notorious rabble-rousers who disrupted the 1968 Democratic Convention. Sorkin, when he puts his heart into something, can deliver something a damn sight better than "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and definitely should here.

"Life of Pi" Now I've found the next book I'm going to read after finishing C.D. Payne's painfully funny "Youth in Revolt," which will be made into a movie starring veryfunnyman Michael Cera. Jean Pierre Jeunet is attached to direct this flick based on the novel by Yann Martel described as a "magical adventure story about the the precocious son of a zookeeper," and it just gets crazier from there. His family apparently decides to hitch a ride on a freighter from India to Canada, but after the freighter gets shipwrecked, young Pi finds himself adrift on a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal Tiger. Sounds perfect for Jeunet, and for me.

"A Serious Man": My multiplex actually showed a trailer for "No Country for Old Men" the other day, so I'm hopeful that the Coen Bros. flick will make out here to the stix. Next for them will come the CIA comedy "Burn After Reading" with Brad Pitt and George Clooney, but the Comingsoon memo then has them listed for this. Empireonline says only that "it's a dark comedy in the vein of Fargo," but that's enough to get me intrigued.

"L.A. Riots": When he puts his mind to it, Spike Lee can still make some incredibly compelling movies, as witnessed by his painful-to-watch but still beautiful "When the Levees Broke." He's been toying with a number of projects lately, but if the Comingsoon memo has it right he'll thankfully turn his attention to this flick based on a script by "Undercover Brother" creator John Ridley.

"Little Game": With Ang Lee sticking to his guns (unless he's given in) and releasing "Lust, Caution" with a NC-17 rating, that pretty much guarantees it won't make it out to my little corner of the world before DVD. Next for him will be this flick based on a play by Jean Dell, which had this rather bland plot summary at the IMDB: "A picture-perfect couple fake a break-up, only to learn their friends never thought their union was a good idea in the first place." It's got to turn out better than that premise promises.

"Piano Tuner": I have no idea what this, but it's got Werner Herzog's name on it, so I'm certainly curious. If anyone knows just what this is, please let me know!

"Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging" Like "Youth in Revolt," this book is based on the fictional diary of a 14-year-old, but this time it's a young lady in London who's extremely curious about, among other things, kissing. With Gurinder Chadha of "Bend It Like Beckham" attached to direct, this is definitely worth keeping your eyes on.

There are a lot more (and bigger) names in that memo, so definitely take the time to give it a look, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Guilty pleasure movies: Salve for the soul

The inspiration for this post comes from the news that the director of easily one of my favorite guilty pleasure flicks, Andy Fleming, is teaming up with the extremely funny Steve Coogan for a new flick about to start shooting.

The guilty pleasure movie: "Dick," which never gets much deeper than its title with Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams starring as two dippy teenagers in a surprisingly funny (at least to me) spoof of the Watergate scandal. And the new movie: "Hamlet 2" wills star Mr. Coogan as a high school drama teacher who cooks up a sequel to the bard's play to save his struggling department.

In trying to trim this post down to 10 movies, I found it's high on comedy, but that's just me. I'll never apologize for loving to laugh, no matter how silly the material I'm laughing at is (and be warned, some of these movies are indeed awfully damn silly.) I'll include an honorable mention of the flicks that didn't quite make the cut, and as usual, please feel free to add any movies that are your real guilty pleasures. Here goes:

1. Better off Dead
John Cusack's upcoming movies all look like dire fare in which he'll barely crack a smile, but I'll always take him from his '80s heyday. Besides, to break it down in terms meant for a list like this, he's very funny, the French chick is really cute and I still, from time to time, mimic that manic paperboy seeking his $2 when work just gets to be too much to stomach.

2. Rocky IV
I thought I had reached the breaking point with Rocky when he pulled the ultimate trick when you're losing the spotlight: Go jingo to the max. You get Rocky fighting a superhuman Russian named Draco, Brigitte Neilsen as his almost equally scary girlfriend and even James Brown. I say, and at least as partly as a crude segue, bring it on ...

3. Bring It On
On paper, this would have to be the ultimate guilty pleasure movie. Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku and Gabrielle Union as rival cheerleaders? If you're in a silly enough mood, it works even better as an actual movie, even if, like me, you're way too old to confess to enjoying this one.

4. The Spongebob Squarepants Movie
This one probably doesn't quite fit the criteria because by any objective standard I consider it to be a good movie. The reason it's here is because I can remember going to see it by myself on a Saturday morning and getting more than a few quizzical looks from parents there with their kids. I have no interest in your children, people, I just happen to enjoy many of the same movies that make kids laugh.

5. Bound
If you can get past the novely of Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly as a lesbian couple who show more than a little skin, this Wachowski brothers flick still entertains as a lightweight con-game flick. Joey pants is very funny, and unless you count "V for Vendetta," which they wrote, I'd have to count this as my favorite Wachowski bros. flick.

6. Road Trip
I'm not sure exactly why I like this movie so much. The jokes, from DJ Qualls bedding a rather large black woman and then showing off her panties to Tom Green's epic battle to feed his friend's snake, are crude and familiar at best, but this is the only Todd Phillips movie that always leaves me with a smile on my face.

7. Reign of Fire
Any movie starring Matthew McConnaughey as a dragon-fighter named Denton Van Zan can never be much more than a guilty pleasure at best. As much as its possible, this is just a no-nonsense flick that also stars Christian Bale and Gerard Butler that just happens to be about a future world that has been ravaged by fire-breathing dragons.

8. Lost Boys
There have been tons of better vampire flicks of course, but this one still might be the most fun. Edward Herrmann, who played Max in this and can be seen this fall (though most likely not by me) on Grey's Anatomy, is easily one of my favorite actors. The Coreys are apparently working on some kind of straight-to-DVD sequel, but that would be too much even for me to take, I think.

9. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Sure, it's pretty much just a string of celebrity cameos to celebrate characters Kevin Smith should have given up on years ago, but when it's on this movie is very funny. Will Ferrell and Jon Stewart riffing on the dangers of the clit are worth the price of admission alone.

10. Bad Santa
If there's a more profane movie out there, I can't think of it, but in its own very warped way this one actually wraps up fairly sweetly. Besides, watching Lauren Graham chant "f*** me Santa" over and over as she rides a besotted Billy Bob Thornton in his car or listening to Thornton and Tony Cox do verbal battle with more and more extreme insults will always be funny to me.

Honorable mention: Johnny Dangerously, Bride of Chucky, Time Bandits, War Games, The American President, The Warriors, Labyrinth, Real Genius and Grease

So, there you have it. Please feel free to add any you think I've snubbed, and have an entirely bearable Thursday (and, remember, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" returns tonight at 10 on FX, so just make it through the day and get ready to laugh a lot.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

And the Oscars broadcast goes to ...

Well, unless you've somehow been living in a cave for the past 10 years or so, I guess the picture pretty much gives it away.

I have nothing against Ellen DeGeneres due to her personal life or any nonprofessional reason, but I must say I'm very happy she's not returning for the Oscars this year. Maybe it's just that I'm such a cynical (fairly) old dude, but she's just way too cheerful for me, and if I'm gonna watch a night of celebrity ass-kissing I'd prefer it with a wit more acerbic than hers.

And so, re-enter Jon Stewart, who hosted the Oscars broadcast in 2006 and, according to the New York Times at least, will be returning as host for the next show Feb. 24.

Given his fairly rocky performance the first go-round, I was a little surprised by this news, but in terms of a big star who appeals to people who would usually just tune out the Oscars, you can't get a better name. And, as anyone who watches "The Daily Show" even occasionally knows, Stewart is one seriously funny guy.

Please feel free to let me know what you think, and as further proof (if it's needed) that Jon Stewart is a comedy god, enjoy this YouTube clip of him being analyzed by the late Dr. Katz. Extremely short post today because I've just been switched to a four-day, 10-hour-per-day work week. I'm not complaining, believe me, but it's gonna take some getting used to. Peace out.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Bullets over brains: The beauty of Shoot 'Em Up

I feel more than a little odd singing the praises of an extremely bloody (albeit equally silly) movie on the sixth anniversary of 9/11, but here goes.

Looking at the box-office numbers, I'm apparently one of the very few people in the world who bothered to see "Shoot 'Em Up" over the weekend (though there were two other people at my Monday afternoon screening.) I knew "3:10 to Yuma" would rule the weekend, but I didn't expect this very funny flick to fall so hard.

I've read a lot of critics' putdowns of this flick, and have to say I'm more than a little baffled. To me, at least, the most common complaints ring hollow. Given the title, what in the world were people expecting? Yes, it is essentially a string of elaborately staged gun battles between Clive Owen and, well, about 150 dudes or so, all led by Paul Giamatti. And it does indeed play out like a video game or an extremely violent music video, but so what?

Writer/director Michael Davis embraces these inherent limitations and injects his story with an uneven dose of wit, tons of adrenaline and one of the most gloriously ludicrous plots in recent memory. Why, at least for me, does this all work so much better than, say, Joe Carnahan's simply awful "Smokin' Aces"? Because not once, unlike Carnahan's flick, does "Shoot 'Em Up" take itself remotely seriously.

The ridiculous plot, in fact, lifts a large chunk of Carnahan's "Aces" story and takes it even further beyond the line of believability. It starts with Clive Owen as a former black ops officer who just happens to be sitting on a bench as a very pregnant woman runs by, being pursued by some rather angry gunmen. After delivering the baby (amid a flurry of bullets, of course), Owen ends up on the run with the youngun and being pursued by Giamatti's gunmen. Through circumstances too silly to explain here, he hooks up with la bella Monica Bellucci, who pulls off her role of looking perpetually annoyed with aplomb.

However, even by the standard of a movie that's paced like a cartoon (with Clive Owen perpetually munching on a carrot, in case you somehow still missed the point), this is far from perfect. Though the bullet ballets are designed to get more and more insane as the show goes on (set to heavy metal and grunge, of course, including Motorhead's always-welcome "Ace of Spades"), it finally reaches a breaking point about an hour in. For me it came when our hero, cornered in a gun factory by at least 20 dudes, manages to escape by using a series of weapons he somehow managed to (sight unseen, by us) string from the cieling. And, simply admitting and embracing the fact that a plot makes no sense doesn't completely excuse it.

That, however, is thinking far too deeply about a flick that's best enjoyed without much thought at all. I was still laughing on the ride home, and from a late-summer flick I can't ask for much more than that.

I'm convinced that if this had come out in June rather than September it would have been a pretty big hit. And if you do bother to see this and are offended by any of it (including an infant in a constant state of peril), just take a second to look at the title and again ask: What in the world were you expecting?

A "Prime" opportunity on DVD

Though the big news for me today in the DVD world is that "The Wire: Season 4" is finally set to come out Dec. 4, there is a police show that's almost as good as that HBO masterpiece coming to a close on DVD today.

Long before U.S. cable programmers realized that people might actually like seeing great actresses beyond the age of 25 on TV, Dame Helen Mirren paved the way for the likes of Kyra Sedgwick, Glenn Close and Holly Hunter as Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison. Through seven searing miniseries, aired on PBS stations in the U.S., she has starred in one of the best police procedurals around.

Now, with 2006's "Prime Suspect: The Final Act" out on DVD today, the story finally goes out on top, even after Jane Tennison hits bottom.

As the seventh chapter opens, retirement is just around the corner for Tennison, and her final case revolves around finding a schoolgirl's killer. This being "Prime Suspect," she and her team follow several wrong turns and disappointing leads along the way, but the ultimate challenge this time is personal. Faced with a challenging case and the imminent death of her father, Det. Tennison dives deeper into alcoholism and almost ruins everything.

It would be more than a little cliched with a lesser leading lady, but this is Dame Mirren at her best, and I highly recommend this DVD. Peace out.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A summer without sequels? Dream with me ...

I know, I know, there are two possibly perfectly good movies opening this weekend, "3:10 to Yuma" and "Shoot 'Em Up," and I do intend to see them both.

But with "sequel summer" finally behind us, I'd love nothing more than to speculate about what it might be like next year when, incredibly, there's only really big summer movie with a number in its title, and that one - Indy 4 - should just rock.

Here, as far as I can tell, is a week-by-week breakdown of the big dogs for summer 2008.

"Iron Man" and "Made of Honor" - Summer, of course, actually starts in Spring, and should get off to a great start with a new superhero flick from Jon Favreau starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard (huzzah!). The latter is some kind of romantic comedy starring Patrick Dempsey. Look for them May 2. Advantage "Iron Man."

"Speed Racer" and "The Day the Earth Still" - I find it very hard to believe that the Wachowskis' take on the TV cartoon starring Emile Hirsch and Scott Derrickson's remake of the 1960's sci-fi classic starring Keanu Reeves will open on the same day, but right now they're both set for May 9. They both kind of make me say meh, frankly, but advantage "Speed Racer."

"Indy 4" "and "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" - I guess you can call both of these sequels, but they don't really feel that way. It seems like 100 years since we've seen an "Indy" movie, and I'm certainly ready for more. And I at least loved the look of "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," so I say bring "Prince Caspian" on too. Right now, these are scheduled to clash May 22. Advantage Indy.

"Starship Dave" - A funny Eddie Murphy comedy? I'm skeptical, but right now this has the May 30 slot all to itself.

"Kung Fu Panda" and "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" Sheesh. Are pandas set to be the new penguins? I'd bet on it, unfortunately. And I once played a game of pool with Adam Sandler at Kitty O'Shea's bar in D.C. before he played a show at Catholic University. He was a nice guy, but I haven't seen any of his movies since "Punch-Drunk Love." These do battle June 6. Advantage Sandler, by a nose.

"The Incredible Hulk" and "The Happening" - I seem to be one of about five people who actually liked Ang Lee's Hulk, but the reimagining starring Edward Norton looks fairly intriguing too. And no one deserves or needs a winner more than M. Night, so he's at least got me cheering for him when these open June 13. Advantage M. Night and Markie Mark.

"The Love Guru" and "Get Smart" - Two rather tired looking comedies opening June 20. Mike Myers seems to be very selective in his movie parts, so I guess there's some outside chance "The Love Guru" won't just suck, but I seriously doubt it. I'm more likely to see "Get Smart" with Steve Carrell and Anne Hathaway or, perhaps, just say no altogether. Advantage Mr. Myers, I fear.

"Wall-E" and "What Stays in Vegas ..." - Even if the first half-hour or so contains no dialogue, "Wall-E," Pixar's next flick about the space-travelling adventures of the titular robot, should just rock. And I have nothing at all to say about the latter flick. They clash June 27. Advantage Pixar.

"Hancock" - Surely there will be more comers, but right now the July 4 frame belongs solely to this very promising Peter Berg flick. Will Smith (heard of him?) plays a hard-living superhero who has fallen out of favor with the public. In the flick, he enters into a questionable relationship with the wife (Charlize Theron) of the public relations professional (Jason Bateman, huzzah!) who's trying to repair his image. I'm betting this will be a real winner.

"Tropic Thunder" - This Ben Stiller flick is about a bunch of movie soldiers who, through wacky circumstances of course, are forced to go into battle for real. With Steve Coogan, Jack Black, Bill Hader, Robert Downey Jr. and Jay Baruchel (but not Owen Wilson, unfortunately) this one might just have the best cast of the summer. Look for it July 11.

"The Dark Knight" - This and Indy 4 should be the biggest dogs at the box office, and why not? Though the action sequences in "Batman Begins" showed Christopher Nolan needs some work in that department, it was the only fault I could find with the flick, so this next installment should be amazing. Look for it July 18.

"Stepbrothers" - Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly back together again. Knock Ferrell if you want to, but I almost always find his movies to be very funny, and I'll watch Mr. Reilly in just about anything. This opens July 25.

And, though they're not scheduled yet as far as I can tell, it wouldn't be summer without two more movies from the Apatow Mafia. Apparently all the "Freaks" get to write their own movie in this club, so Jason Segel steps up next with the rather unfortunately titled "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Fortunately, the titular Ms. Marshall is being played by Veronica Mars, so I don't see any way this could suck too much.

The second is "Pineapple Express," another flick written by the team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg and directed by David Gordon Green. This one is about (shock!) a slacker pothead (Rogen, of course) and his pot dealer (fellow "Freak" James Franco) who have to go on the run after witnessing a cop commit a murder. Familiar, yes, but I'm still betting on very funny. And Rosie Perez is somehow in this one too. Welcome back.

And surely there will be many more, but those are the big titles I could find, and that was a lot longer post than I ever intended for a Saturday morning. Please feel free to add any I might have missed. Peace out.

Friday, September 07, 2007

There will be blood - on an epic scale

Paul Thomas Anderson is a truly maddening filmmaker to me.

He's managed to make two of my favorite flicks in "Boogie Nights" and "Hard Eight," but also two other that just drive me crazy. I still have no idea what he was going for with "Magnolia," even though I forced myself to watch it a second time to see if there was somehow something I missed (there wasn't.) And "Punch Drunk Love," despite the best efforts of Adam Sandler and Emily Watson, was only intermittenly charming at best.

But what all his movies have, whether you like them or not, is passion. He clearly throws himself into his projects completely, which means it can often take a short lifetime for him to make a movie (it's been five years since his last, "Punch Drunk Love.") Now, however, he finally seems to have found a subject epic enough to fit his talents and an actor who similarly gives everything he has to each performance.

Due early in 2008, "There Will Be Blood" is based on the Upton Sinclair novel "Oil," which I will be reading before this comes out. Set in the booming West coast oil fields at the turn of the 20th century, it will star Daniel Day Lewis as rugged prospector Daniel Plainview, who becomes an independent oilman after hitting it rich with the strike of a lifetime. I hope this plays wide enough for me to see it, or is playing in some kind of limited run when I hit NYC for my family's annual trip at year's end, because this just looks like the perfect melding of subject, director/writer and actor. Here's the poster and a glimpse of what's to come with the trailer (I concede that this may be months old to some of you, but it's new to me, so here goes):

More "Jackass"? Yes, please

Surely there have been greater crimes of omission than teasing us with Don DeVito getting his tooth pulled by a truck in the trailer for "Jackass Number Two" and then not including it anywhere in the movie or DVD, but that was one that really grated my cheese. Now, however, it seems that lovers of that and all other kinds of jackassery will soon get more.

According to the great /film blog, Johnny Knoxville and the boys are filming new scenes to add to the 40 minutes or so of leftover footage from "Number Two" to make a "Jackass 2.5" in time for a straight-to-DVD Christmas release. And yes, they promise the infamous tooth pull will indeed be included.

Wiest joins the 'Jezebel'

I can't think of a midseason replacement show I've tuned in to since, well, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," but "The Return of Jezebel James" is one I'll definitely give more than one chance.

After all, it's the new series from "Gilmore Girls" creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and hubby Daniel Palladino. This time they've cooked up a half-hour sitcom for Fox about two estranged sisters (Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose), one of whom (I'm not sure which) just happens to be carrying the other's baby. Now comes word that the always very likable Dianne Wiest will be joining the cast in a recurring role as their mother. Extremely girly, yes, but it will hopefully also be thoroughly entertaining.

A golden opportunity from the Film Guild

The Macon Film Guild has been bringing arthouse flicks to the big screen here in Macon for years now, but they've really hit a high point with their next two screenings.

It starts this weekend with "The Lives of Others," which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. I was all set to rent this on DVD to see how it could have possibly beat out my favorite movie of 2006, "Pan's Labyrinth," when I got the guild postcard and decided to hold out.

The movie, as far as I can tell, is about a Stasi agent (the late Ulrich Muhe) who is charged with spying on the private lives of German citizens until he finds out some unseemly truths about the people he's spying for and has second thoughts. I'm surely not doing it justice, so come out and see for yourself at the Douglass Theatre. Screenings will be at 2 and 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Hopefully I'll see you there at the first show.

Coming next month will be "The Wind that Shakes the Barley," Ken Loach's IRA movie starring Cillian Murphy (not Ciaran Hinds, as I posted earler before being corrected by always-welcome reader Carrie Lofty.) It won the Palme D'Or at Cannes, and like all of Loach's movies, will certainly be a very entertaining piece of agitprop. Mark your calendar for screenings on the second Sunday of October. Peace out.