Friday, March 28, 2008

Will there be a great movie about the Iraq war?

Before I delve into anything as serious as war (especially since it's a Friday morning, after all), there are two fairly cool tidbits about upcoming TV projects out there today too.

First, Michael Bluth will be returning to TV, sort of, as director of the Fox pilot "The Inn," which is described as an "Upstairs/Downstairs" kind of thing set at a "hip" New York hotel.

And, much more importantly, Sci Fi Wire has the news that "Battlestar Galactica" executive producer David Eick is creating a new series for the Sci Fi Channel based on the P.D. James novel Children of Men, which was of course already made into easily one of the best movies of 2006 by Alfonso Cuaron. Eick promises his series will be quite different from the flick, saying this at Sci Fi's upfront presentation:

"It's really taking root more in the origins of the novels in that it will focus on the cultural movement in which young people become the society's utter focus. Much like our culture, whenever Lindsay Lohan does something [and] it becomes the headline of every news show, it's about how, when you don't have a responsibility to the next generation and you're free to do whatever you want, where do you draw the line?"

Sounds like he's onto something good here, and - in spite of the "Bionic Woman" misfire - I trust he's capable of creating something well worth watching this fall.

But, onto today's rather weightier subject. It's next to impossible to turn on one of the 24-hour "news" channels nowadays without hearing our current conflict in Iraq being compared to the Vietnam War. While that comparison is too facile to work on many levels, I'm only concerned here today with what kinds of movies have been generated by the two wars, and on that front at least, the Vietnam War still has a rather commanding lead.

The gold standard, of course, is Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now," not only for how it delved so acutely into the war psyche but also for the sheer number of stunning images it left permanently seared on the brains of viewers brave enough to make that journey into the heart of darkness.

Two others that came out in the same year and were heated competitors were "The Deer Hunter" and "Coming Home." Vanity Fair recently had a great piece on the two flicks and what it dubbed "The Vietnam Oscars," which, amazingly enough, you can read for free here.

I recently watched them back-to-back (after reading the Vanity Fair piece), and I have to say that, though there both worthy films, I find Michael Cimino's "Deer Hunter" to definitely be the superior of the two. It's just epic American storytelling and a very entertaining flick to boot.

But, fast-forward now to our current conflict in Iraq, and do we have the same caliber of flicks chronicling this battle? I'd have to - so far - answer with a resounding no.

Lumping the war in Iraq together with the greater "war on terror," because the two are of course inextricably linked, I'd count two fictional works I've seen that clearly aren't the match of their predecessors.

First came Robert Redford's "Lions for Lambs," which purported to be a battle of ideas but instead came off about as entertaining and insightful as a high school civics class taught by the wrestling coach (as mine was.)

The second I've seen was Paul Haggis' "In the Valley of Elah," and though it's a vastly superior flick to "Lambs," it still suffered more than a little from Haggis' very heavy hand. That said, Tommy Lee Jones' subtle performance was a worthy Oscar nominee, and I'd grade this one as at least worth a rental if you haven't seen it yet.

I haven't seen the doco "Taxi to the Dark Side" or Brian De Palma's media thesis "Redacted," so I can't say with authority that those aren't the great Iraq war/war on terror flicks I've been searching for, but I have my doubts. And though Paul Greengrass is currently turning his very shaky camera on the subject with "Green Zone," I think we'll get the flick we've been lacking this very weekend with Kimberly Peirce's "Stop-Loss."

If that name doesn't ring a bell, that's probably because Peirce has only made one other movie of note, the great "Boys Don't Cry," and that came way back in 1999.

Why do I have such high hopes for this one? Well, from what little I know I expect it to be, rather than a heavy-handed civics lesson, simply a tale of war told from the perspective of the kids who have to fight it. And, castwise, though the big names are Ryan Phillipe and Channing Tatum, two of my favorite actors - Joseph Gordon Levitt and Ciaran Hinds - have supporting roles in this too.

So, that pretty much sets up my Saturday before I turn my brain over to basketball. A lunch of Ropa Vieja at the exquisite Emilio's Cuban Cafe in Bonaire, and then a 1:30 p.m. screening of "Stop-Loss" at the Galleria in Centerville. Whether you turn out for this one or not, have a great weekend all. Peace out.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Who will live in Whedon's "Dollhouse"?

Before I go any further, I have to say that last night's "South Park" episode about "cheesing" on cat urine - clearly inspired more than a little by Heavy Metal - was the funniest thing I've seen on in TV in years. Definitely check it out if you missed the first airing.

But today, as it fairly often is here, it's all about Joss Whedon's impending return to TV, which looks more and more like it's really gonna happen, even though his "Dollhouse" so far has only a seven episode order from Fox.

Just to catch everyone up, Eliza Dushku, a k a Faith the vampire slayer, plays a young woman named Echo, a member of a group of people known as "Actives" or "Dolls" who have had their personalities wiped clean so they can be imprinted with any number of new personas for different assignments. In between tasks, they are mind-wiped into a child-like state and live in a futuristic dormitory/laboratory, a hidden facility nicknamed "The Dollhouse". Although the Actives are ostensibly volunteers, the operation is highly illegal and under constant threat from Paul Smith, a determined federal agent who has heard a rumor about the dolls on one end and an insane rogue Active on the other.

The plot is definitely thickening, but - and call me sexist if you must - I just assumed that with this being a Whedon production called "Dollhouse," all the "dolls" would indeed be women. The casting news below shows that, as happens at least rarely, I'm wrong once again. So, who's gonna be in the "Dollhouse" with Eliza? Here's the latest news:

Tahmoh Penikett, who's had a great run on "Battlestar Galactica" as Lt. Karl C. Agathon and has also appeared on "Smallville," will play the FBI agent, Paul Smith, who is obsessed with the urban myth of the Dollhouse and - in the language of the Hollywood Reporter - is "a twisted romantic foil for Echo."

A rather attractive Aussie with a rather unfortunate name - Dichen Lachman - will play Sierra, a doll who (again in the wording of THR) "has every personality in the world but her own" (jeez, that sounds kinda cheesy, doesn't it?) I had no idea they were still making the Aussie soap "Neighbours," but if you happen to watch it, she has played Katya Kinski on that show since 2005.

Fran Kranz, who last appeared on TV with Jeffrey Tambor in "Welcome to the Captain" (though only for the rather brief five-episode run), will play Topher Brink, a genius programmer responsible for imprinting the dolls. Interestingly enough, according to his resume, he also had a bit part in one of my favorite flicks, Richard Kelly's "Donnie Darko."

And finally, Enver Gjokaj will play Victor, another doll who is childlike when he's inactive, and (again in THR's rather cheesy description) "everything from Errol Flynn to a young DeNiro when he's active." I'm not sure I want to know exactly what that means. The photo here, the only one I could find, is apparently from a NYC production of Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard."

Will all this add up to anything cool? We'll have to wait until October to find out, but with the Whedon name on it I'd have to bet on yes. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

When bad things happen to beautiful women ...

Well, I suppose the second entry in this post can't really be called a bad thing, but there's no doubt in my mind that Julie Benz agreeing to be nearly tortured to death for our "enjoyment" can only be an evolutionary step backward.

I'm not gonna rail anymore about "torture porn," "torture chic" or whatever you might want to call it, but it still amazes me when people I enjoy watching in movies or on TV agree to take part in this crap.

But I guess I should get to the news of the day before I rant any further. Julie Benz, a k a Darla of "Buffy" and even more so "Angel" fame, has indeed signed on to topline "Saw V," due out in October (if you had put a gun to my head I probably wouldn't have been able to guess that there have already been four other "Saw" movies. Sheesh.)

Now, it's too early yet to tell if she'll be a victim or otherwise, but I still can't imagine what would drive her to agree to this. I don't think it can be money. She appeared in "Rambo" last year and is one of the principal stars of Showtime and Now CBS' "Dexter," and is also set to star in the upcoming flick "Punisher: The War Zone."

With the exception of Alyson Hannigan's (hopefully continuing for quite a while) run on "How I Met Your Mother" and David Boreanaz's run on "Bones," it's been a pretty bleak career landscape for almost all the stars of "Buffy," but this is indeed a new low.

Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush?

Like I said at the outset, you could hardly call this a bad thing career wise, but does any woman really want to hear they look like Laura Bush?

Banks, who recently wrapped shooting Kevin Smith's "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," is about to sign on to play Laura Bush in "W," Oliver Stone's biopic on the life and presidency of, well, W. Josh Brolin already is on board to play Bush in the biopic, which begins shooting in late April in Shreveport, La.

To be serious for a second, I really like Elizabeth Banks, and not just because she lands squarely on the hot side of the scale, so I hope this turns out to be great. She's a very funny lady, and for evidence of that you can turn to the very-little-seen "Slither," in which she co-starred with "Firefly" vet Nathan Fillion.

And besides, it could certainly be worse ... at least they didn't ask her to play Barbara. Peace out.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The flameout of "Jezebel James"

Even if the end was inevitable - because the show was in many ways just bloody awful - this is still an awfully harsh fall from grace for the creator of the often sublime "Gilmore Girls."

After airing only three episodes (over just two weeks) of the only seven episodes ordered, Fox has indeed already pulled the plug on Amy Sherman-Palladino's new show, "The Return of Jezebel James." To give credit where it's squarely due, this news was broken by TV-obsessed Michael Ausiello here.

There were a number of factors going against this show from the outset, but though it pains me to say it, the biggest problem was easily Parker Posey. It wasn't that she's not Lauren Graham - because there can of course only be one of those rather perfect human specimens - but a whole other problem.

Posey could keep up with ASP's rapid-fire dialogue, which hasn't seemed to slow down much at all, but in order to do so she had to adapt the mannerisms of a meth addict, which along with being thoroughly annoying just didn't gel too well with her New York book publisher persona. Lauren Ambrose fared better by playing it a little more cool, but still ended up often looking nothing but awkward.

The second big killer was that laugh track, which is easily the worst I've heard in many years (though I don't watch many sitcoms.) Why do networks still use this? It never sounds real, and when it's turned up very loud in all the wrong places - as on "Jezebel James" - it just points out how unfunny the show really is.

If I can digress a bit, it was great to see Sarah Chalke on "How I Met Your Mother" - another show that should just dump its laugh track - last night. Britney was, as I guess should have been expected, just pretty darn awful, but Chalke was just as charming as she's always been on "Scrubs." Could she be the secret "Mother" in this puzzle? Probably not, but that would indeed be pretty friggin cool if so.

But, getting back to "Jezebel James," the real shame here is that buried beneath all its obvious faults was the foundation for a pretty good show. The relationship between these two sisters with almost entirely different views of the world could well have developed into something very interesting, but for once at least I can't blame Fox: The gap between potential and payoff was just too wide with this one. R.I.P. Jezebel James.

The "Cadillac" of movie casts?

I've recently added to my morning reading list (in place of the froggy site, which has just fallen off precipitously of late), and it's definitely a welcome addition.

As might be expected, they tend to track the minute details of movies that others pay little attention to, as they're doing with the rather fun-sounding "Cadillac Records," which is quickly attracting quite an A-list cast.

The newest addition is Gabrielle Union, who I'll admit to being smitten with ever since "Bring It On." She'll play Geneva Wade, the girlfriend and later wife of Muddy Waters, being played by the great Jeffrey Wright.

Written and directed by first-time feature (but long-time TV) director Darnell Martin, the story is about Leonard Chess, the legendary founder of the South Side Chicago blues label Chess Records, who will be played by Adrian Brody. Also confirmed for the biopic are Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon, Beyonce Knowles (heard of her?) as Etta James, Eamonn Walker as Howlin' Wolf, Columbus Short as Little Walter and, easily one of my favorite actors working today, Mos Def as Chuck Berry.

Mos Def as Chuck Berry? It just doesn't get much cooler than that, so definitely keep your eyes on this one. Peace out.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Whatever happened to David O. Russell?

The last time I ever remember seeing or hearing about director David O. Russell was when that clip of him going nuts on poor Lily Tomlin hit YouTube, so he's definitely in need of a new gig to wipe away that memory. And now, in what would be - rather amazingly - his first feature film in five years, that's taking shape in the form of "Nailed."

And speaking of "I (heart) Huckabees," the flick which generated that infamous clip, it fits for me in that odd category of movies that I "appreciate" rather than "like." Though I think I have an idea of what he was going for there, I'd still much rather see flicks that fall into the latter category. But he did also make two movies I love in "Three Kings" and "Flirting with Disaster," so any news of a Russell comeback is good news to me.

And, believe it or not, he's making that comeback with a romantic comedy co-written with Kristen Gore (yes, the daughter of that man obsessed with Manbearpig.) I had originally heard it would be based on Gore's Capitol Hill chick lit novel "Sammy's Hill," but the flick - now called "Nailed" - seems to have become a little more interesting (with quite a cast developing too.)

Catherine Keener (hearty huzzah!), James Marsden and Tracy Morgan are about to join the already-announced Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Biel.

In what's now described as a D.C. satire (set for release in 2009), Biel plays Alice, a waitress who starts behaving erratically (in the form of "wild, sexual urges" according to the IMDB) after getting shot in the head by a nail. Determined to fight for better health care, she heads to Washington, where she (of course) falls for a congressman (Gyllenhaal) who says he will fight for her cause. Marsden will her hometown boyfriend, Keener will play a Congresswomen, and Morgan will most likely play an injured compatriot of Alice's.

That all sounds more than a bit meh to me, but if it's sharp enough satire it just might work. Besides, a return by David O. Russell in just about any form is welcome to me. Now, if he can just manage to stay on his meds this time ...

Brewer on the comeback trail too

It's really hard to exaggerate how much I love Craig Brewer's movie "Hustle & Flow." I've probably seen it 10 times by now, and in it's own odd way, it never fails to be inspiring and entertaining.

On the flip side, I have almost as negative a feeling for Brewer's second feature flick, "Black Snake Moan." I've seen it twice now (just to see if I had somehow missed something the first time - I didn't), and I still can't tell what in the world he was going for with that more than slightly offensive mess.

I had heard he was going to rebound with what would be a surefire hit - a music biopic (I know there are too many of those already, but bear with me) about the black country singer Charley Pride, to star the great Terrence Howard, but it would seem that's dead for now.

Instead, Brewer has signed on to work with someone else script, in this case "Sopranos" scribe Michael Caleo, for an adaptation of Columbia professor Sudhir Venkatesh's book "Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets." Even if didn't come directly from the mind of Mr. Brewer, it sounds right up his alley.

The book apparently recounts years that Ventakesh spent with a crack-dealing gang in Chicago for a research project. After befriending the Black Kings, he found a close-knit group whose corporate culture was much like that of a successful legitimate business, and was eventually given the job of calling the shots of the criminal enterprise for a day.

Sounds pretty cool to me, and if I may digress a bit, Terrence Howard (who indeed seems to work all the time) appears to have landed the role that will win him the Oscar he surely deserved for "Hustle & Flow." In a 2009 flick titled "The Crusaders," which was written by former "West Wing" scribe Lawrence O'Donnell, he'll play Thurgood Marshall in the story of the drive to outlaw segregation in the U.S.

But getting back to Mr. Brewer, I'm happy to see him getting this rather cool-sounding project, and hoping for a big comeback from the dreck that was "Black Snake Moan." I'll leave you today with this video for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," which will hopefully brighten up everyone's Monday morning just a bit. Peace out.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Why does Tyler Perry fear the critics - or does he?

Actually, that question is a more than a little unfair, 'cause it's surely more accurate that Tyler Perry simply doesn't need film critics, but, given his increasingly positive reviews, it still does make me wonder.

After all, what happened the last time critics sounded off on one of his films? Here's what Jeanette Catsoulis, a very talented freelance (as far as I know) writer, had to say in the New York Times about his last flick, "Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?":

Earlier this year, in “Daddy’s Little Girls,” Mr. Perry abandoned the comic device of Madea to pursue a more serious dramatic structure. This trajectory continues in “Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?,” a buppie ensemble piece featuring Mr. Perry at his most restrained and mainstream- accessible.

Gone, along with Madea’s unfettered id, are the thundering gospel ballads and revivalist atmosphere. In their place is a beautifully shot (by Toyomichi Kurita), fluid drama filled with compassionately written characters. Though still a stranger to subtlety, Mr. Perry has learned to balance the obviousness of his setups with characters whose interactions feel genuine.

Now, I understand that Tyler Perry's films were once foreign fare to much of the world (read that as white folks, if you have to), stocked as they were (and to a lesser degree, still are) with a lot of church and even more drama, and coming out of the stage plays he developed for the "chitlin circuit." But, as Ms. Catsoulis correctly states, he did make a shift toward the mainstream with "Daddy's Little Girls," starring the great Idris Elba. To me, however, his films ever since "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" have dealt with universal issues so should have more of a universal appeal.

But, getting back to the bigger question, why does Tyler Perry refuse to screen his films, such as today's "Meet the Browns," in advance for critics? I got to talking about this with co-worker Phillip Ramati (because, as I often do to people walking by my cubicle, I accosted him with the question), and he made an interesting comparison.

In watching Perry's movies thus far, I've more than once compared him as an auteur to Woody Allen. Now, before anyone assail me as a fool, I'm not saying that Tyler Perry is as good a filmmaker as Woody Allen once was (and still can be, note "Match Point"), just that they have equal skills in setting a strong sense of place (Perry in Atlanta and Allen wherever he decides to lay down his hat nowadays), and also both write very talky movies that at their best make me laugh and smile a lot.

But, as Mr. Ramati pointed out, they're also similar in that they each can be called a "brand," with Perry's certainly being a lot more popular nowadays than Allen's. With each auteur, there's a built-in fan base who already know (or at least think they do) what they're getting, hence they have little or no need for film critics (though Allen does still screen his movies in advance, even though it now does him no good at all in terms of distribution.)

And, if I can digress a bit, there's a bit of news today about Allen's latest which, thankfully, marks a return to New York. Henry Cavill, who is apparently a star of "The Tudors," which I've never yet seen, has joined Evan Rachel Wood and Larry David (huzzah!) in the as-yet-untitled romantic comedy. In only a slight twist, David will be the dirty old man this time, being romantically entangled with young Ms. Wood, and Allen will play a small part in the movie himself. Seeing these two fairly old dudes riffing off each other should just be a blast, if anyone gets to see it.

But back to the movie du jour. What will you get if you take a chance this Easter weekend and go see "Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns"? Well, first of all, you'll get Angela Bassett in the lead role, which I've never once found to be anything but a good thing. You should also get a lot of humor from Perry stage veterans David and Tamela Mann, who you can see in the trailer below.

The plot, with Bassett's single mother of two returning to Georgia for the funeral of the father she never knew, is more than a little bit familiar - being at least the second black family reunion movie already this year - but that and the return of Madea are enough to have me hooked.

If you've never seen a Tyler Perry movie, this would certainly seem to be the perfect time, and if you turn out to hate it, please remember that I'm only the messenger. Have a great weekend all, whether you go to the movies or not. Peace out.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Michael Cera and Edgar Wright: A comedy dream team?

Lest anyone have their suspicions, I don't just write about Michael Cera because it always brings a slight uptick in the rather meager number of people who take the time to visit this site. It's just that I happen to like the guy as much as most of the rest of the world seems to.

And now that he's stepping firmly into the role of leading but still young man, he does seem to be making very good choices. In the latest, which seems like it could only turn out to be extremely cool, he'll be working with "Hot Fuzz"/"Shaun of the Dead" director Edgar Wright on something called "Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life."

Though I had admittedly never heard of the series of short graphic novels (four so far, I believe) by Bryan Lee O'Malley, it sounds like yet another "sensitive slacker" role for Mr. Cera (not complaining, mind you, because he certainly fits the niche well.)

Here, as best as I can tell, is what the story is about: 23-year-old Canadian Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is a wannabe-rockstar living in Toronto and playing bass in the band "Sex Bob-Omb." He falls in love with American delivery girl Ramona V. Flowers, but must defeat her seven "evil exes" in order to date her.

And lest you think that viral movie promotion is just an annoying fad (which it very often can be), it actually brought these two very funny dudes together. You may remember that fairly funny video promoting "Superbad" in which Wright plays a snarky reporter who suffers the wrath of Jonah Hill. Well, Cera played second fiddle in that, and now it's clearly paying off.

So, what else is George Michael Bluth up to? Though it's not (yet anyway) an "Arrested Development" movie, it's still all potentially very good. It somehow slipped by me that he's playing the co-lead, along with Jack Black, in Harold Ramis' upcoming Camp Apatow flick "Year One," and he's also set to play 14-year-old (how in the world are they gonna pull that off?) Nick Twisp in the big-screen adaptation of one of my favorite comedic novels, "Youth in Revolt." I can only say bring it all on.

Details emerge about new "Wallace and Gromit" special

Given my love for Nick Park's creation I easily could have led with this goodness too.

Before I go any further, let me say all of this comes courtesy of Empire, and you can read their full article on the matter here. It seems that Wallace & Gromit's upcoming BBC special, previously known as "Trouble at the Mill," is now known as "A Matter of Loaf and Death" (groan, but still funny), and has cast its leading lady in "Coronation Street" star Sally Lindsay, pictured here.

Even better, Empire revealed some of what the guys' next adventure will be all about: Wallace and Gromit have a brand new bakery business, ‘Top Bun’ (the punning is already spiraling out of control!) Their house has been converted into a granary with a ‘Wallace patent-pending’ old-fashioned windmill on the roof. Gromit, however, finds himself having to run the whole operation single-handedly as Wallace is ‘dough-eyed’ in love with the beautiful Piella Bakewell (Lindsay), former star of the Bake-O-Lite bread commercials. What’s more, a dozen local bakers have disappeared in recent months and Gromit is worried that Wallace may be next. Gromit turns sleuth and the duo soon find themselves drawn into a sinister murder mystery (of course!)

This is set to air on the BBC sometime later this year and then, hopefully quickly, work its way across the pond (and into my house) on DVD.

The coolest movie of 2009?

Though there will surely be a lot of contenders for that title, it's hard to dispute the mojo that's quickly building for Michael Mann's gangster pic "Public Enemies."

The picture above is indeed Johnny Depp in character as John Dillinger, courtesy of Hollywood Newsroom, where you can see more pics from the set here. Along with Depp, the flick's got Christian Bale as top lawman Melvin Purvis, the lovely Marion Cotillard as Dillinger's moll Billie Frechette and Channing Tatum as Pretty Boy Floyd, plus Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Dorff as either supporting good or bad guys. Simply all-around cool.

"How I Met Your Mother" off the bubble?

Though Variety headlined this with the rather groanworthy "CBS comedies back with a Bang," the big news for me about the return of its Monday night lineup was the performance of my current favorite, "How I Met Your Mother."

The show hit a season high in its new 8:30 time slot (second-place 4.3/11 in 18-49, 9.7 million viewers overall), a 34 percent improvement in 18-49 over its fall firstrun average (and second place, by the way, is nothing to sneeze at when you're up against the season premiere of dancing with the has-beens and never-were.)

With Britney and, even better, "Scrubs" star Sarah Chalke set to appear on next Monday's episode, the numbers should only get better, and hopefully lead CBS to finally go ahead and greenlight a fourth season of network TV's best comedy.

R.I.P. Anthony Minghella

Though it's been awfully light and more than bit a silly here so far today, there is indeed one bit of very sad news out there: Director Anthony Minghella has died of a hemorrhage at the none-too-old age of 54.

Of all his movies ("The English Patient," "Cold Mountain" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," among others), I think my favorite would have to be his first, "Truly Madly Deeply." This very British but much less treacly take on the "Ghost" story starred Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman, and I'm sure you can still find it on DVD if it somehow passed you by.

But as with most deaths of talented people, what always saddens me the most is what was to come. Minghella had last directed a telepic for HBO based on the Alexander McCall Smith novel "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" starring Jill Scott, Idris Elba, Anika Noni Rose and Colin Salmon, which I haven't had the pleasure of seeing yet. Despite that rather wretched title, the premise of a Botswanan woman (Scott) starting up the country's first female-owned detective agency was enticing enough for HBO to greenlight 13 episodes of a series for Minghella to direct for next spring, but of course now that will never be. Rest in peace, Mr. Minghella.

First full "Tropic Thunder" trailer

OK, enough with all that depressing stuff. Here's the full trailer for Ben Stiller's upcoming "Tropic Thunder," which, despite the warnings of reader dbackdad (who was lucky enough to see a preview screening in Arizona) that this won't be terribly funny, I'm still holding out hope otherwise. Unfortunately, one thing we find out is that Robert Downey Jr.'s stint as a black man starts to already grow old in this small dosage. Enjoy the trailer, and have a perfectly bearable Wednesday. Peace out.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Horton Hears ... a nation of immigrants?

Before I go any further, a hearty huzzah to the Georgia Bulldogs, who pulled off the seemingly impossible in winning four games (the number of conference games they won all season) in one weekend to win the SEC tournament and earn a matchup with Xavier in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday at noon. It was so nice to see embattled coach Dennis Felton having fun as he cut down the nets on Georgia Tech's home court, so I swiped the AP Photo for all to enjoy. Congrats, indeed!

But that's not really what I want to talk about today, because along with watching a whole lot of basketball this weekend, I also broke my fairly longstanding policy of not going to see big-budget Dr. Seuss spectacles (which lasted through both "The Cat in the Hat" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas") and sprung for "Horton Hears a Who," and I'm mostly glad I did.

Now, its clearly at least a bit of a waste of my time and yours to review a movie that's already made $45 million (the biggest opening so far this year), but I like writing them and hopefully someone will enjoy reading this.

So, what lured me to "Horton Hears a Who"? Well, like everyone in the world, I have nothing but love for Dr. Seuss, and this was the first flick in many years to bear his name that actually looked like it should (rather than being stacked with human beings in hideous makeup designed simply to inflict nightmares.) And kudos to the Blue Sky folks (creators of the "Ice Age" flicks) for accomplishing this seemingly simple feat where others failed.

And secondly, I'm not much of a moralist at all (and, given my vices, would probably be a pretty darn bad one if I ever decided to give it a try), but I will say it was nice to see a G-rated movie that earns its rating honestly. My former cubicle mate Dan Maley must have been smiling when the closing credits rolled and there hadn't been a single fart joke for his two kids to imitate for the next two weeks or so.

But beyond that, is the movie any good? Well, in order to stretch a Dr. Seuss tale to 90 minutes you apparently have to cram a lot of outside stuff into your story, and "Horton" does get bogged down and lose its way about a half hour in or so. In the opening credits it listed three people I really like, Isla Fisher, Jamie Pressly and Jonah Hill, as providing voices, but I couldn't possibly tell you who they were (without cheating with photos like this one) in this way-too-crowded field.

The last third or so, however, is fairly inspired in that slightly twisted Dr. Seuss way. Now, I may be the only person who found - in "A person's a person, no matter how small" - a plea to turn down the rhetoric a bit in the debate about immigration to the U.S. of A, but bear with me.

There's a moment, as poor Horton is trying to find a safe haven for the tiny Whos of Whoville but ends up in a cage, when that odd notion just struck me hard. As the overbearing Kangaroo (Carol Burnett, with one of the few voices that truly stood out) is threatening to destroy the speck (or spic, maybe?), all of its inhabitants, led by the governor of Whoville and his son JoJo, are pleading "We Are Here!"

Now, maybe I'm just thinking about this way too much, but that's how it struck me anyway. And I certainly don't have any solutions to this problem - and probably wouldn't offer them in this space if I did - but it's just nice to see (even if it's only in my own mind) some recognition that we are, and always should be, a nation of immigrants.

And then the filmmakers had to go and just about destroy all that good will (believe me, I'm really not spoiling too much here) by having everyone break into an insipid pop song. For all its virtues, the "Shrek" franchise has apparently doomed us to see this contrivance in just about every kids movie that gets made nowadays.

But enough of that. So, is there a greater lesson to be learned from "Horton Hears a Who," or am I just crazy (I'm very willing to concede that it might be a little of both)? Peace out.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Let it be "Sunny" everywhere on TV

When I first (and admittedly belatedly) started to hear a lot of hype about FX's "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," I had my doubts.

But then, most of that hype came from my former cubicle mate Travis Fain (before I moved across the room), who has a fairly dark view of the world, so I should have known he was on to something. As I found out well after much of the world, it really is just about the funniest thing on TV, and now we're about to get more from it's three main men, Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton.

The trio has signed a two-year deal overall deal with Twentieth Century Fox, with the most immediate benefit being a new show on Fox, "Boldly Going Nowhere." The new comedy series will answer one of those burning questions of life: What does a spaceship captain do when he's not on a mission? Fox has ordered five additional scripts beyond the pilot.

"We grew up watching shows like 'Star Trek,' anything having to do with the future, and it was always about the adventures they'd go on," McElhenney told Variety. "We thought it would be funny to watch what goes on in between those adventures, when they're waiting for the next big thing to happen. How do they keep themselves busy?"

Unlike with "Sunny," the trio won't star in the new Fox show, which is, thankfully, not being shot until October so the guys can shoot a fourth, 13-episode season of "Sunny" this summer for FX (and a hearty huzzah to that!) in time to bow in fall.

And it's really hard to exaggerate just how funny "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" is. It's more than a minor accomplishment to create a sitcom full of completely reprehensible characters (who called their first show "The Gang Gets Racist" and hit on women at an abortion protest for the second) that's also utterly devoid of sentiment.

Given my fear that the writers' strike had poisoned the water so bad that we'd get only reality fare from now on, I'll take anything else I can get, especially from guys as funny as these dudes.

Fincher digs "Heavy Metal"

While I'll probably go see "Horton Hears a Who" this weekend, and am rather naively hoping it's a genuinely G-rated flick that captures the spirit of Dr. Seuss, I also have a tremendous soft spot for the kind of R-rated animated fun we used to get with "Heavy Metal."

And luckily David Fincher and some of his cohorts seem to have that same longing. In what sounds like a wonderfully crazy project, Fincher will supervise and be one of eight or nine directors on a new animated film inspired by the '70s sci-fi fantasy magazine. (I probably should have lead with news as good as this, now that I think of it.)

The film will consist of eight or nine individual animated segments, each of which will be directed by a different director who hopefully has the "Heavy Metal" spirit at heart. On board so far, along with Fincher, are "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" co-creator Kevin Eastman and Tim Miller, whose Blur Studios will handle the animation

Thankfully, this gives David Fincher a very full plate. I would assume he's just about finished with "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald tale about a man (Brad Pitt) who ages in reverse through the 20th century, but after that it gets a bit murky. Along with the "Heavy Metal" project, he's also attached to direct a flick based on Charles Burns' graphic novel "Black Hole" and. if the IMDB is to be believed (and it almost always is), maybe "Rendezvous with Rama," based on the sci-fi novel by Arthur C. Clarke.

Whew! That's a lot to keep track of, but a world in which David Fincher has too much work is just way preferable to one in which he has too little. 'Nuff said.

"Pineapple Express" trailer

"That's not gonna get us a ride, man."

Since it's Friday, I'll leave you with this trailer for "Pineapple Express," which, against almost all odds, looks more and more like it will be an actually insanely funny stoner movie. The line above made me laugh the loudest, but there's a lot to enjoy here (with headphones on if you're at work!) in this preview of the flick starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as, well, basically what their "Freaks and Geeks" characters Ken Miller and Daniel Desario would have turned into by now. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hiya! Hiya! There's a new Muppets movie in the works!

Statler: Well, how do you like the film?
Waldorf: I've seen detergents leave a better film than this.

Yeah, yeah, I suppose there's pretty big news out there today about a certain wizard's seventh book being divided into his seventh and eighth film, with David Yates coming back to direct them both, but if you look at the world like I do, that just pales in comparison to this:

There's gonna be a new Muppets movie! Not a remake of the movie I was convinvced, at 9 years old, was the greatest cinematic creation of all time, but an actual new Muppets movie.

I shouldn't get so excited about this, I suppose, but I can't help it. I just love the Muppets beyond all reason, and everything about this project sounds right so far (though really, we don't know too much at all right now.)

The facts, so far, are these: Former "Geek" Jason Segel and his writing partner, Nick Stoller, will come up with an original Muppets script, with Stoller set to direct.

So, just how does someone land this rather distinguished honor? Well, apparently, the Henson folks had a hand in Segel and Stoller's upcoming camp Apatow comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which hopefully won't suck when it drops April 18. In the flick, Segel's character, who has just had his heart broken by Veronica Mars (more on that, sort of, later in this post), somehow ends up performing a "Dracula" puppet show using creations from the Henson shop. How exactly this emboldened Segel to make a pitch to the Henson folks to come up with a Muppets movie I'm not sure, but he did, and, thankfully, both Henson and Disney bit.

Along with being an alum of both "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared," easily my two favorite one-season-only TV shows, Segel of course also stars on the very funny (but somehow apparently on the "bubble") "How I Met Your Mother," which returns to CBS with new episodes Monday. If you like this show at all, please tune in so CBS doesn't pull the plug on a fourth season!

As for the Muppets movie, I offer only one dose of caution. Please, please, please remember that the Muppets thrived on jokes, like the one that started this post, that were always a little cheesy but also always appropriate for all ages. They were never (too) crude, and they were never, to the best of my memory, computer-generated. With those simple rules in mind, I say congratulations Mr. Segel, and please have a lot of fun with this!

Warner Independent gets its 'Wishbones'

How exactly does every book Tom Perrotta write get made into a movie? Don't get me wrong: "Election" is close to a minor comic masterpiece, and once I finally got around to seeing it, "Little Children" was easily one of the best movies of 2006. I'm just saying, the dude certainly is on a winning streak.

His newest novel, "The Abstinence Teacher," which I haven't read, was picked up by Warner Independent Pictures before it came out, and now the same studio has purchased the rights to my favorite Perrotta novel, "The Wishbones."

Though admittedly rather similar in tone (but not structure) to Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity," it's still an endearing tale of growing up (and refusing to.) The "hero" is a 30-year-old New Jersey wedding band (the Wishbones) musician who still lives with his parents. Just as he's about to marry his longtime girlfriend, he begins an affair with a Bohemian poet from Manhattan and, well, the rest you can find out for yourself.

The "Little Miss Sunshine" producing duo Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa are overseeing both this and "The Abstinence Teacher," which is being directed, not too coincidentally, by "Little Miss Sunshine" helmers Valere Faris and Jonathan Dayton. A little incestuous, perhaps, but if it leads to good movies, so what?

Please, Naomi, say it ain't so!

A question for Naomi Watts: If you have to spend the next two years or so saying nice things about thoroughly unnecessary and, in the latter case, outright criminal remakes, does your soul die or just erode a bit?

I like Naomi Watts in a lot of things ("Eastern Promises," "The Ring" and, way back when, "Flirting" come to mind), but how in the world did she end up in both Michael Haneke's remake of his own movie, now known apparently as "Funny Games U.S.", and Michael Bay's latest assault on cinema, an actual remake of "The Birds" (being directed by Martin Campbell)?

I'm sure she'll make movies I'll like (or even bother to see) again, but in the meantime she's left to heap empty praise like this on the "The Birds" remake:

"It's a work-in-progress at this point. I think it's a wonderful film. There are great things in it that interest me. The script isn't completely there yet, it probably won't happen until next year."

I hope that means there's still time to pull out of this before it destroys you, Naomi!

From "Veronica Mars" to "90210"?

I suppose that "Veronica Mars" creator Rob Thomas has gotta eat, but this project just sounds too silly to be real (which of course means it is.)

The programming geniuses at the CW have indeed commissioned Thomas to develop a contemporary spinoff of "Beverly Hills 90210" for CBS Paramount Network TV.

Though I'm almost certain I couldn't bring myself to tune into this, assuming it ever hits the airwaves, I do have one question: Since most of the "kids" seemed to be at least 30 when the original "90210" went off the air, won't they be approaching 50 now? Who in the world really wants to see that?

And since you're in the spinoff biz, CW, why didn't you bite on Thomas' original spinoff pitch, which would have put Kirsten Bell's Veronica Mars character at the FBI Academy? Sheesh.

A new trailer for "The Incredible Hulk"

OK, enough silliness. I'll end instead with this fairly cool trailer for the upcoming "Incredible Hulk" movie starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler and Tim Roth. I think I'm just about the only person in the world who actually liked Ang Lee's take on the hulk, but I will admit that from what little I've seen of this new version it does look and feel a lot more like a comic book movie at heart. Peace out.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Sam Raimi visiting the "Monster Zoo"

Even if he has been rejected by Ellen Page, Sam Raimi still seems to be having a boatload of fun since unshackling himself from the "Spider-Man" ship.

After directing the Universal thriller "Drag Me to Hell," which he's co-writing with brother Sam (and which Page pulled out of, to be replaced by Alison Lohman), he'll next take the producing reins of (and maybe direct, who knows) a crazy creation called "Monster Zoo," an upcoming graphic novel by Douglas TenNapel.

Now, one of the many problems with having to work for a living is that I don't get to sit around and read comic books all day, so I must confess I wasn't familiar with that name before reading the report this morning. I've included, however, courtesy of, the cover of "Monster Zoo."

So, what is "Monster Zoo" about? Well, thankfully, the title pretty much says it all: It's the story of a young boy who discovers his local zoo contains critters much more frightening than the ordinary collection. The tale is apparently set in motion when an ancient idol is unearthed and transported to the zoo, where its spirit awakens and starts to mutate the caged animals (of course.)

This just all sounds like tons of fun to me, and here's what the creator himself, Mr. TenNapel, had to say about it in getting geeked up on his own blog:

Raimi’s movie A Simple Plan is among my favorite all-time films. It’s nice to be in business with people who love telling stories…about creatures, comics and underdogs. Amen, brother.

Amy Sherman-Palladino is - finally - back!

A hearty huzzah to always-welcome reader Jeremy, who clued me in to the fact that Amy Sherman-Palladino's new series, "The Return of Jezebel James," will finally hit the airwaves this Friday night at 8 on Fox (with two back-to-back episodes, no less.)

Now, it's been a while since I've talked about it, but I've made no secret of my love for ASP'S "Gilmore Girls." For six years or so (not counting the last, rather disastrous season), it was just about the funniest and smartest thing on TV, and packed with beautiful women to boot, so why not tune in week after week?

Thankfully, though a half-hour comedy (probably saddled with a laugh track, sheesh), "Jezebel James" seems to mine many of the same issues, and it's headed by two veritable babes as well, if I may be so blunt.

Parker Posey and Lauren Ambrose lead the cast as two estranged sisters. In the pilot episode (of which I've included a short YouTube preview below), Posey asks Ambrose's character to move in with her and, rather more importantly, I'd think, carry and have a child for her. "Gilmore Girls" fans should note that Scott Cohen, a k a Lorelai Gilmore's paramour Max Medina, will also be a "Jezebel" regular.

In a preview at the great Gilmore Girls News site, doubts were raised about whether or not Posey can keep up with ASP's signature quick and (hopefully still) witty dialogue, but I'm hoping they're wrong. Definitely tune in to find out (or if, like me, you have to work on Friday nights or - even better - actually go out on the town, set your TIVO/DVR.)

Mitchell Hurwitz's coming back too!

I suppose this means that any movement toward an "Arrested Development" movie is, for now at least, on hold, but let's just focus on the positive for the moment.

The good news is that the "AD" creator is coming back to Fox with an animated adaptation of the short-lived Aussie comedy series "Sit Down, Shut Up." Though I've never heard of it, it apparently revolves around the lives of seven staff members of a dysfunctional high school in a small northeastern fishing town (sounds like perfect Hurwitz territory already.)

I'm a little skeptical about the animated thing, but it's certainly what Fox thrives on, so here's hoping that Hurwitz can come up with a winner if and when this finally comes to fruition (and that, of course, all hope is not lost for an "Arrested Development" movie somewhere down the line!)

Fun with posters ... and a trailer

OK, I'm bringing it back to movies now. Though these two posters are, I suppose, both somewhat related to kung fu, they really couldn't be much more different. My impressions: The one for the Jackie Chan/Jet Li flick "Forbidden Kingdom" looks a little bit queer (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course), and the tagline for Jody Hill's "Foot Fist Way" is enough to reinforce my belief that the flick, coming in June, will be a real sleeper hit this summer. Enjoy!

And, lastly, here's the final trailer for Pixar's next summer offering, "Wall-E," also scheduled to hit in June. Unlike what we've seen thus far, this clip offers a look at the second half of the flick, after our hero has left his cleanup job on Earth. I'm still more than a little skeptical that a flick with little to no discernible dialogue will be much of a hit with the tykes, but it looks simply beautiful, so here's hoping I'm wrong. Peace out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ben Affleck getting back in the director's chair

There were few more criminally overlooked 2007 movies, at least when it came to awards season, than Ben Affleck's "Gone Baby Gone."

You're always gonna hook me when you pack a "gritty" crime drama with my favorite HBO veterans (Amy Ryan, of course, but also Titus Welliver of "Deadwood" and Michael K. Williams, a k a stick-up man extraordinaire Omar Little on "The Wire.") But beyond that, it was just a compelling movie from start to finish, and unlike many people I talked to, I thought the third act was the best.

So it can only be called good news that Affleck is getting back in the director's chair with another crime epic, this one coming from Marcus Sakey's debut novel "The Blade Itself" (which I have not yet read.)

Best as I can tell, "Blade" revolves around two Chicago childhood friends who made their reputation committing petty crimes as kids before choosing different paths in life. When they are reunited years later, one is forced to decide how far he will go to protect the secrets of his past.

Sounds to me like its in the vein of "Angels With Dirty Faces," and should be right up Affleck's alley. Just to clarify a bit, so far Affleck is only listed as producing this for Miramax along with "Gone Baby Gone" partner Sean Bailey, but I can only assume that's so he can direct it too.

And, believe it or not, this would be Affleck's third directing job. Among his IMDB credits is this, from 1993: director of a short film called "I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney." I can't make this stuff up, folks.

"Parnassus" officially back on

This had been in the works for some time, but I tend to have doubts about anything I read about the simply snakebitten Terry Gilliam until I hear it from one of the official trades.

But yes, it does seem that shooting is really back on now in Vancouver for Mr. Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," which had of course been interrupted by the death of Heath Ledger. Through the magic-mirror nature of the plot, the filmmakers will be able to keep Ledger's work and supplement it with a trio of rather familiar substitutes, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law.

According to the producers, Ledger had completed all the shooting that takes place in the contemporary world, so this can somehow be sewn together to make a coherent flick (or as close as you can get to one from Terry Gilliam.) Just good news all around.

"No Country" hits DVD

I'm fairly certain that the Coen's "No Country for Old Men" is still playing at at least one of Macon's multiplexes until Thursday, so I was surprised to see it hitting DVD already today.

If you spring for the DVD release, which I certainly will, here are some documentary extras you'll get: Working With the Coens: Reflections of Cast and Crew, The Making of No Country for Old Men, Diary of a Country Sheriff. Doesn't sound like much, but the movie's so good that doesn't really matter much to me at all in this case. Peace out.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

"The Bank Job" is a caper well worth catching

First off, forgive me if I'm a bit rusty at this, because if I'm not mistaken, this is indeed the first movie I've made the effort to review this year.

The reasons for that, I would say, are three-fold: I'm still not paid to do this, the movies (for the most part) have just been remarkably bad, and, unless it's of a movie that I clearly expected more from, bad reviews simply aren't as fun to write. The lone exception to this flow of mediocre muck had been Michel Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind," an oddly endearing little movie that I passed on commenting on because, I'll confess, I'm still trying to wrap my mind around exactly what it was about. If you can still see it (which I doubt), I would encourage every one to do so, especially for the last half hour or so, which is pure magic.

But I certainly digress, because today's movie is "The Bank Job," luckily a much more straightforward kind of flick but, in its own way, just as enjoyable.

If you look at the poster for this one you know it's promising the kind of old-fashioned kind of heist flick we just don't see much of anymore, and I'm pleased to report that it delivers on that with spirit.

Roger Donaldson's flick tells the (mostly, I'd have to assume, though probably not entirely) true story of the biggest heist in U.K. history, which netted for those who survived it a share of $4 million pounds or so. Like with any great heist flick, however, it's about a lot more than money, and Donaldson, who, believe it or not, actually directed the movie "Cocktail" way back in the day (whatever happened to Brian Brown, anyway?), takes an approach that's at least as welcome for what it leaves out as for what it includes.

For me, heist movies work best, as Donaldson's flick does, when they focus on the crime itself and its consequences rather than a) gadgets that strain and crush credibility; b) a cast of characters that pile on quirk just for quirk's sake; c) slang that sounds like nothing anyone, in Britain or elsewhere, ever uses; or d) using a constantly moving (and shaking) camera as a substitute for any real urgency. Yes, I'm taking aim here at Stephen Soderbergh (for the Oceans that come after 11), Guy Ritchie (for "Snatch," not "Lock, Stock") and Paul Greengrass (for that last Bourne flick, which just left me with a huge headache.)

Donaldson is able to resist all that because he wisely understands that the true story he has here, transcribed for the screen by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, is as crazy as just about anything he or anyone else could have made up. I don't want to give too much away, but it involves, among other things, a black militant (named, funnily enough, Michael X) with incriminating photos of a royal with rather loose virtues, politicians who pay women for more than your most conventional kind of sex and, of course, MI5 or MI6 (I've never really mastered what exactly how many MI's there are or what each one really does, which I suppose is by design.)

And the flick almost, but not quite, falls apart in the third act as all these forces start to converge, but wisely wraps things up before you have time to think about it all too much. The flick is at its best when it simply focuses on the band of rather ordinary folks who pulled off this rather extraordinary heist and, for the most part, got away with it.

At the center of it all is Jason Statham, and be warned: Though he plays a fairly bad dude, fans who enjoy watching him kick ass (of which, in small doses, you can count me as one) will be rather sorely disappointed; he indeed doesn't throw many punches at all until he's kicking a prostate old man (you won't hear who from me) in the cojones. It's still a commanding enough performance to carry the flick, but just as much credit goes to Saffron Burrows, who up until now had really made little to no impression on me at all. As the femme (for some, at least) fatale who lures Statham and his mates into this crazy scheme, she not only has the look that would make men follow her just about anywhere, but for once in movies like this, gets to play an active role in the caper and makes the most of it.

As far as the many supporting players, I will reveal that that is indeed David Suchet (a k a Hercule Poirot) who plays a truly sleazy porn king (well, duke really) with relish, and that Colin Salmon (a k a almost-the-first-black-James-Bond and a familiar face to "Prime Suspect" fans) plays one of the "militants," though to tell you which one would just spoil the fun.

I hope more than a few people will turn out for this one, rather than (or maybe in addition to) Roland Emmerich's latest empty spectacle. Peace out.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

How far is too far to be funny?

I was gonna save that photo, and who's actually in it, for the end, but since it made me laugh so hard I almost did an actual spit-take with my coffee, why not lead with it?

Believe it or not, the middle soldier in the above photo, with enlarged face at the bottom, is none other than Robert Downey Jr. in a scene from the upcoming flick "Tropic Thunder." Does that go too far? I don't think so, but I've been known to laugh at a lot of things (almost anything from Kevin Smith, for example) that the rest of the world finds incredibly offensive.

So, what's the story behind all this? Well, in the Ben Stiller-directed flick set to come out in August, Downey plays a method actor who takes his work so seriously that, when cast to play a black soldier, he actually has surgery to become, well, a black soldier.

In his defense (though I'm hoping he won't really need one), Downey clearly understands the stakes here:

"If it's done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago. If you don't do it right, we're going to hell."

I'd say he's right, if more than a little immodest, on both counts. And hey, at least he didn't audition to play a rather large and very dead black rapper (more on that later, so bear with me.) Any thoughts on this?

Jason Reitman's new muse ... Jim Carrey?

When I saw this report this morning, my first thought was when in the world have I last seen Jim Carrey in any kind of movie at all? The answer was the mostly enjoyable "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" (I didn't bother with either "Fun With Dick and Jane" or "The Number 23," and I've decided my life will still be just fine if I never see any big-budget Dr. Seuss flicks.)

Now, however, he's signed on for something I'll definitely tune in for: Jason Reitman's next flick. "Pierre Pierre," which Fox Atomic picked up for a cool million bucks from a spec script from first-time auteurs Edwin Cannistraci and Frederick Seton, tells the "politically incorrect" story of a self-indulgent French nihilist (Carrey, I presume) who transports a stolen painting from Paris to London.

Sounds dark like "Thank You for Smoking" rather than light as "Juno," which would be just fine by me. And though I'd much rather look at Ellen Page (hence the photo) than Jim Carrey, he can still be an extremely funny guy under the influence of a sedative or two, so I definitely say bring it on.

Biggie to be played by ... "Gravy"?

After a year-long search to play the late and very large Brooklyn rapper Notorious B.I.G., Fox Searchlight has settled on the equally large but very much alive Brooklyn rapper Jamal "Gravy" Woolard for its upcoming biopic, "Notorious."

Never heard of him? Me either, but as you can see from this photo he certainly fits the part. And besides, he has a real-life resume that sounds like it could have come straight out of "Fear of a Black Hat." He's released a number of albums, but was also apparently shot before a radio appearance outside the rather "Notorious" New York hip-hop station Hot 97 two years ago, after which he proceeded with the interview before seeking any kind of treatment.

And, apart from that seemingly perfect bit of casting, the flick has attracted a first-rate supporting cast as well. Angela Bassett (huzzah!) will play Biggie's mother, Violetta Wallace, Derek Luke (huzzah again!) will play P. Diddy (or whatever his name is now), and Anthony Mackie (who I had never heard of) will play the equally late Tupac Shakur.

I realize this all may not matter much to most of the world, but in another case of a white guy pretending to be black I listen to much more hip-hop than any gringo of my age rightfully should, and Biggie's "Life After Death" is easily one of my favorite records, so I say this flick - which starts shooting this month - should be all kinds of cool.

Seth Rogen teams up with another very funny guy

Though the rest of this report is about an entirely different flick, I definitely wanted to share the above pic from Kevin Smith's upcoming (and surely juvenile) "Zack and Miri Make a Porno." The expressions on the faces of Elizabeth Banks and Seth Rogen were enough to make me laugh out loud.

And now comes word that Rogen will team up with writer/director Jody Hill for a new project called "Observe and Report," in which he'll play just about the lowliest specimen of human being around, the mall cop. In something that sounds like it could come straight from the Broken Lizard crew, he'll play Ronnie Barnhardt, a head of mall security who somehow gets in a turf war with the real cops.

Sounds funny enough to me, but who in the world is Jody Hill? Well, the world is about to find out when his 2006 flick "Foot Fist Way" finally gets a hopefully very wide release June 6. Few things make me laugh harder than children getting kicked in the cojones, so this martial arts comedy starring Danny McBride should be right up my alley (and I think it will be one of the real sleeper hits of this summer.)

I've included the trailer below, but be warned: if you watch it at work do it with headphones on, because the language in this is definitely R-rated (and if it gets cut off before the end, you can see the whole thing at Peace out.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Keep your dirty mitts off of "Rosemary's Baby"!

Be warned at the outset: All the news today has something, good or really, really bad, to do with Michael Bay. As my only other warning, I'll just say I promised myself a few months ago I would stop writing about thoroughly unnecessary remakes both because there's just so damn many of them and because it can't do anything good for my blood pressure.

But thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Bay and his company, Platinum Dunes (even that name sucks!), I now have to break that promise. I didn't realize until this morning that it isn't just a company, but instead some kind of vast conspiracy out to ruin many of the things cinematic that I hold dear.

So, before I get consumed with rage, let me just lay it out there: Thanks to the enterprising folks at Shock Till You Drop, I woke up this morning to this new possible spawn of Satan: A remake of "Rosemary's Baby."

I'll give you a second to mull that over. Swear if you want to. Virtually nothing offends me at this point.

Platinum Dunes has staked its still-declining reputation (if you can even call it that) on such horror remakes ("Friday the 13th," "Nightmare of Elm Street" and, yes, even "The Birds" are all in the pipeline, and they've already taken down "Amityville Horror," "The Hitcher" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" - remember I'm just the messenger.) I could dismiss just about all of those except "The Birds" with a shrug, but when it comes to "Rosemary's Baby," well, now it's personal.

I realize I'm probably far from alone here, but Roman Polanski's fun flick really represents for me two things: Both my single favorite horror movie of all time and a crash course in what used to be great about horror flicks (atmosphere, suspense and an actually riveting storyline, imagine that.)

What has replaced those ingredients of late? Well, first there was the slew of torture chic flicks, which apparently (and thankfully) seems to have bottomed out with "Captivity." If the next trend is simply to steal every idea you can find, I can only call that a lateral move at best.

There has been one nearly sensational horror movie I've seen of late, J.A. Bayona's "The Orphanage." I obviously fear, however, that this one pure drop can do little to stop the rapidly filling bucket of bad blood.

And now in better news ...

Whew! Let me make sure all the bile's out of my system before continuing.

Another thing that makes the above story so sad is that, when they actually bother, Bay and company can still come up with projects that don't make me vomit in my own mouth. (And for the record, I really thought "Transformers" was a heck of a lot of fun.)

I found the first mention this morning of a horror flick of a different sort (meaning at least from an original concept) that Platinum Dunes is producing for writer/director David S. Goyer. In what could be described as an odd twist on "The Exorcist," Goyer's "Unborn" tells the tale of a Jewish girl tormented by the soul of a boy who died in the Holocaust.

Should the Holocaust be off limits for such fare? Perhaps, but I'm relatively confident that Goyer, who co-wrote both "Batman Begins" and the upcoming "Dark Knight," can come up with something at least slightly tasteful and thoroughly entertaining. And besides, it's rapidly attracting a four-star cast.

Odette Yustman (Beth McIntyre for anyone who saw "Cloverfield") will play the tormented youth, and it just gets better from there. Carla Gugino. who I'd probably enjoy watch eating crackers, will play her mother, and, believe it not, Gary Oldman as a rabbi and "The Wire" alum Idris Elba as a priest will be performing the exorcism.

So, is there still hope out there for horror? Not much, but projects like "Unborn" make me think there just might be a glimmer. Peace out.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The art of the heist

Before I delve into what I hope will be a fun list, there are two or three actual nuggets of news out there that deserve mention.

Most importantly by far, winning the Oscar for Best Picture and casting both George Clooney and Brad Pitt in your next movie is apparently enough to garner a wide release for the Coens' next movie, "Burn After Reading," now set for release Sept. 12. And secondly, in a clear case of trading down, Ellen Page (who backed out) has been replaced in Sam Raimi's horror flick "Drag Me to Hell" by Alison Lohman.

And finally, before I go any further, a hearty huzzah to Sarah Polley, whose "Away from Her" beat out David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" to take most of the major awards (including best picture, best director and best screenplay) and seven in all at Canada's Genie awards Monday night. (Why in the world Jason Reitman's "Juno" wasn't considered "Canadian" enough is just mystifying to me, though.)

But here today, in honor of "The Bank Job," it's all about the art of the heist (well, actually, because I set the rules, you'll find it more broadly encompasses scams along with actual heists.) Coming from Aussie director Roger Donaldson (who last made "The World's Fastest Indian" and, believe it or not, "Cocktail" way back when) and starring Jason Statham, this just looks like my kind of thoroughly fun flick.

So, here are 10 (or maybe 12) heist or scam flicks that I can (and sometimes do) watch again and again:

Dead Presidents: This one came to mind not only because it's a pretty great true-crime flick, but also because one of the masterminds of the original bank job was arrested a few years ago on the Eastern Shore of Maryland while I had been working there. He had been working for a number of years as the food services coordinator at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, oddly enough. Man, do I miss the Hughes brothers.

Out of Sight: One of the coolest movies around, not only for the presence of Jennifer Lopez flirting with George Clooney, but even more for some of the best comedic work you'll ever see from Don Cheadle and Steve Zahn. On a related note but different note, "Out of Sight" scribe Scott Frank made his directorial debut last year with "The Lookout", an enjoyable heist movie of sorts most notable for the performances of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels and Isla Fisher (playing a character named, appropriately enough, Luvlee.)

The Usual Suspects: I just about hated this movie the first time I saw it because I was just sure there was no way that Verbal Kint's story added up. I've since realized that a big part of the fun is that that doesn't really matter, and have been able to just sit back and enjoy a great ensemble crime flick.

Fargo: OK, not a heist movie per se, but as far as inept scams go, there are very few in the world more entertaining than Jerry Lundegaard's (William H. Macy) plan to have his own wife kidnapped to collect the ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. Besides, it's a Coens kind of day here, so just deal with it.

Bandits: I sure do miss the days when Billy Bob Thornton (who will make two appearance on this list) realized that he didn't have to be mean and surly to be funny. He's perfect here riffing off Cate Blanchett and Bruce Willis in this rather underrated little flick.

Ronin: Notable as probably John Frankenheimer's last good flick (before he died in 2002), this espionage/gun play thriller starring Robert De Niro, Natasha McElhone and Jean Reno delivers the same kind of old-fashioned fun I'm hoping to discover in "The Bank Job." And to digress just a bit, why in the world isn't Jean Reno a bigger star?

Bad Santa: OK, so Billy Bob Thornton can be both mean and funny from time to time, especially in this Christmas flick from Terry Zwigoff. And, as long as you appreciate the fine art of extreme vulgarity (which I certainly do, especially from the very foul mouth of Tony Cox), this is indeed a sweeter holiday movie than a lot of people make it out to be. Mind you, I'm not saying it's for the whole family ...

The General: As far as biopics about badasses go, there are very few better than John Boorman's portrait of the Irish robber Martin Cahill, played with relish by Brendan Gleason. Cahill, along with being a talented criminal and target of the IRA, was just a rather twisted dude, making for a fascinating flick.

Trainspotting: Just about the best book-to-movie transition you can find (although I'd put the Roddy Doyle flicks "The Snapper" and "The Commitments" way up there too), this is just one that I've probably seen 10 times now, and it never gets old. Kelly MacDonald, who should have at least been nominated for an Oscar for her work in "No Country for Old Men," makes an appearance as young Diane, and, just for the record, this movie didn't for even a second make me want to try heroin.

Croupier: This list has gotten longer than I had intended, but it has to include the first movie I can remember seeing Clive Owen in. This flick about a plan to rob a casino (it's a lot more complicated than that) is also the last time I can remember seeing the great Alex Kingston, who played Dr. Elizabeth Corday for so many years on "E.R." What in the world ever happened to her? And, finally ...

Office Space: What list of scam/heist movie would be complete without possibly the most therapeutic flick of all time? I'm still not exactly sure what "no-talent ass clown" means, but if that description of Michael Bolton doesn't make you laugh just move on.

And there you have it. I hope someone enjoys reading this as much as I did writing it, and please feel free to add any heist movies you love that I may have overlooked. Peace out.