Monday, June 30, 2008

Wall-E is a wonder to behold - and to love

As corny as this certainly sounds, if you've seen Pixar's "Wall-E" (and if you haven't, why the heck not?), can you think of any movie in any genre for the last 20 years or so that had more to say about the power of love?

Well, robot love, of course, but the story of Wall-E and Eve still just grabs you faster and keeps you fully attached longer than almost any love story that I can think of (some might mention "The Notebook," but for simple entertainment value and much more, "Wall-E" just blows that away.)

And at least as important as the robo-love is the love and adoration that director Andrew Stanton clearly has for great sci-fi, which he shows in almost every frame of "Wall-E." If even a sliver of the kids who managed to sit through the quieter stretches of "Wall-E" and later grows up to seek out the classics that inspired it - most clearly "Blade Runner" and "2001: A Space Odyssey," but also "Star Wars" - then mission accomplished.

Stanton's respect for "Blade Runner," in particular, is clear from the moment we see our hero roll on to the screen and into a trashscape that I guarantee - no matter how many times you've seen the Earth destroyed in apocalyptic fashion on the big screen - will look like nothing you've ever seen in movies before (and how many times nowadays can you really say that?)

And, even better, it's in this deliriously inventive opening third or so that Stanton makes the more subtle of his points about the numbing nature of our work-a-day routine. Even with the cute jokes about the amazingly fresh Twinkie and the spork, were there any adults out there who didn't just cringe a little when Wall-E comes home and immediately pops in a video tape, then struggles to put on his rollers the next morning before he's had that first jolt of coffee? (Or, in his case of course, sun.)

But as amazingly entertaining as this dialogue-free opening stretch is, it just gets more and more charming when Eve arrives on the scene to scan for signs of life in the barren wasteland. Just about equal credit for this rather ridiculous love story working so well goes to writer/director Stanton and robot voice specialist Ben Burtt.

Kudos to Stanton for making Eve at least as likable as Wall-E (yes, I realize she's tempermental, more than a little crazy and even more insecure, but I guess that's just my type.) But Burtt - who not only voiced Wall-E but also conceived all the robot sounds (Elissa Knight provides the voice of Eve) - manages to eke more emotion out of the two simple words "Ev-a" and "Wall-E" than comes from the entire script of most of the much-lesser fare that clutters our multiplexes. (And, luckily I was seated near the front with no-one next to me, so nobody was too disturbed when I couldn't help mimicking them out loud more than few times; no, I don't think I'll ever completely grow up.)

The enchanting story of Eve and Wall-E is more than enough to sustain the flick as it gets more conventional and less subtle aboard the Axiom where the Earthlings live out their days in extreme comfort. This is where the flick lost me for a few moments before Eve and Wall-E made their simply blissful pas-de-deux through space and brought the movie back to life.

I know I've talked an awful about only the first third or so of the movie, but as with the entire "Lord of the Rings" - which I still think was at its best in the opening sequence in the Shire - that was definitely the best part. But there's more than enough to love about "Wall-E" to keep it going through and beyond the magical moment when Wall-E emerges from the trash compactor ("Star Wars" again, but it still works tremendously well) and make it easily among Pixar's best flicks to date.

Not as good as "Ratatouille" in my mind, but that's just because I put that movie on a pedestal all by itself. The bottom line: Just go see "Wall-E" and get ready to fall hard for the little robot with a huge heart.

Friday, June 27, 2008

In this box-office battle, I'm with "Wall-E"

It gives me an odd feeling to say I'm probably just too old for the giddy gunplay of a movie like "Wanted" but more than ready to go ga-ga for an animated flick about a robot in love, but that's how the movie weekend is shaping up here.

Now, don't get me wrong: I love stylish violence as much as the next dude. And I don't even usually mind it when reality isn't anywhere to be found.

Easily one of my favorite movies from last summer was "Shoot 'Em Up," which delivered exactly what the title promises. Paul Giamatti was extremely funny and Clive Owen was as cool as Monica Bellucci was hot in this bullet ballet that played out like a cartoon and was apparently seen by only me and about 57 or so other people. If you're among the masses who missed it and aren't offended by a flick so off-kilter that one of the main gags is about a baby being in an almost constant state of peril, rent this one today and just give in to it.

So, why then can't I get too amped for "Wanted"? One reason, and I admit it might just be a silly one. In the trailer, which I'm sure everyone's seen more than once by now, James McAvoy appears to fire a bullet straight at Angelina Jolie's head, but manages to put enough "topspin" on it that it curves around her at the last second. Like I said, I guess I'm just too old, but if I can't buy that bit of baloney I don't think I'll have too much fun chomping down on the whole thing.

Besides, and not unexpectedly, the deck is just stacked in favor of "Wall-E" this weekend. Pixar's new creation will open in 3,992 theaters, to only 3,175 for "Wanted." This doesn't factor in that "Wall-E" will prolly be shown at least 15 times a day in each of those theaters, to no more than maybe half that total for "Wanted." People who get paid to do box-office projections don't expect "Wall-E" to reach the $70 million openings enjoyed by both "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles," but I'm betting the little guy will be closer to or better than $80 million.

But can "Wall-E" really be as good as the rather unbelievable and universal love from critics would have us believe? I want to be at least a little bit skeptical, but given how hard I fell for "Ratatouille" I'm fairly certain I won't be disappointed. In the Macon Telegraph, we most often run Roger Moore of the Orlando Sun-Sentinel for two reasons: 1. He turns in his reviews earlier than anyone else and 2. I get to pick the reviews and I think he's just about the closest thing to the people's critic working now. Here's a sample of what he had to say about "Wall-E":

The late, great Stanley Kubrick ("2001:A Space Odyssey") used to say that if you can turn off the sound and still follow the story, you've made a film, but if you black out the picture and can still follow the story with only the sound, you haven't. "WALL-E," a savvy sci-fi Pixar comedy, has almost no dialogue. But with images and sound effects alone, it touches, it teaches and it tickles. It's the best Pixar film since "Finding Nemo."

I'm trying hard to keep my already sky-high hopes in check, but I assure you my mind will be on "Wall-E" all day while I'm supposed to be working. And if I'm somehow just dead wrong about "Wanted," please feel free to let me know.

Hollywood's next war will be ... in Greece?

And since escapist wonders like "300" make more money than any of the flicks about the actual war going around us now, I suppose it makes perfect sense.

First, Relativity Media bought a script for something called "War of Gods," to be directed by visionary Tarsem Singh (and before you even accuse me of throwing around the visionary label too easily, at least go see Tarsem's "The Fall," easily one of my favorite movies of this year so far and just a real feat of storytelling.)

Now, only one day later, Warner Bros. has signed "The Incredible Hulk" director Louis Leterrier to direct a Lawrence Kasdan-scripted remake of "Clash of the Titans." I'm as sick as anyone of the need to remake just about everything in sight, so call me none too excited about this one.

So now, of course, the race is on to see who's able to pump out their epic first. In "War of Gods," the warrior prince Theseus leads his men into battle against evil that will see the gods fighting with soldiers against demons and titans (man will it be cool to see what Tarsem can do with all that!) And in "Clash of the Titans," as many will remember, Perseus, the son of Zeus, must overcome a series of obstacles to save his beloved Princess Andromeda.

So, it looks like we really might not have to wait for five years for Tarsem to make another movie, and I can only say huzzah to that.

No Emmy love for "Battlestar Galactica"? Color me not surprised

I'm finished railing against the maddening taste of Emmy voters, so I'll simply share the list of 10 semi-finalists in the comedy and drama categories.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
Family Guy
Flight of the Conchords
The Office
Pushing Daisies
30 Rock
Two and a Half Men
Ugly Betty

Only two brief thoughts about that: How in the world can you include the scattershot-at-best "Family Guy" (which I do still watch) but not the still-brilliant "South Park"? And second, a hearty huzzah for the inclusion of "Pushing Daisies." Don't be too surprised if this imaginative show somehow pulls an upset and wins the whole shebang.

Boston Legal
Friday Night Lights
Grey’s Anatomy
Mad Men
The Tudors
The Wire

Go, go, go "Friday Night Lights" and "Mad Men"! The inclusion of "The Wire" on this list is bittersweet at best, since it comes only after that show has ended its five-season run (and with a series finale that just wrapped up way too neatly by "Wire" standards!) Since that's the pattern, I guess we can expect to see "Battlestar Galactica" make the semi-finalist cut next year only after it has ended its run on Sci-Fi.

And in one great programming note, CBS has announced we should tune in at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 22 to see if Stella says yes to Ted's marriage proposal on "How I Met Your Mother." No matter what she says, here's hoping we get to see a LOT more of Sarah Chalke on season four this fall!

A full gallery of "Dark Knight" shots

OK, I know this is more than a little long today, but could I really stop before guiding folks to the full press kit of photos for "The Dark Knight"? Go ahead and spend at least a little of your workday time perusing the full gallery supplied by here.

And, finally, a clip from "X-Files"

From what I've seen so far, Billy Connolly seems to have at least as big a role in Chris Carter's upcoming "X-Files: I Want To Believe" as either Mulder or Scully, but I'm still nothing but excited to see what he's come up with when this finally drops a week after "The Dark Knight." Enjoy this new clip and go see "Wall-E" this weekend. Peace out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Will Quentin Tarantino ever really make another movie?

It appears he indeed might, but by the time he finally does, the more important question might be: Will anyone still care?

Well, despite his rather amazing ego, I think I still will. Though "Grindhouse" was a ton of fun, it was only his half, "Deathproof," that got my DVD bucks (though I would have gladly sprung for the whole bag if I could have), and I thought the second half of "Kill Bill," at least, was QT in nearly top form.

But what in the world has he been doing for the past couple of years or so? Well, the BBC has the answer, and it's apparently "Inglorious Bastards," his take on the World War II epic genre. There's only a script so far, but with the rate at which this guy works I guess we should at least be happy for that.

QT told the BBC it will be a "modern, in-your-face" World War II flick (if that doesn't make you cringe at least a little bit, think about it some more.) What it's more accurately been described as is his version of "The Dirty Dozen," which I actually think could work (if he ever really does get around to it.)

By the way, brace yourself for an onslaught of World War II flicks. I'm extremely confident that Spike Lee will come up with the best one with "Miracle at St. Anna," but sometime early next year we'll also finally (maybe!) get Bryan Singer's "Valkyrie."

And, if QT is still to be believed (and I obviously have my doubts), we might even have "Inglorious Bastards" in time for next year's Cannes Film Festival. Given his track record, I expect he'll show up with maybe half the movie done, but even for that I'd still have to say welcome back.

A "School of Rock 2"? Bring it on

This is only just slightly beyond a rumor (hence its appearance on Defamer), but I'm ready to embrace it and hope this actually happens.

Even after his falling out with the Apatow crew (and he had some legitimate points to make about "40-Year-Old Virgin"), Mike White might be just about the funniest guy on the planet, so every time I hear of him getting work it just makes me smile.

He's already apparently sold a script to Edgar Wright for something to be called "Them." Joining Wright's stable of solid spoofs (not to be confused with anything that has "Movie" in its title), this one focuses on a woman who's convinced that she's unearthed the true force that governs the Earth. In my mind, I'm already there.

But, in possibly even better news, White has also apparently also just finished a script for a "School of Rock 2." It hasn't gotten any farther than that, and I'm not sure if this is a good sign or not, but he told an L.A. Film Festival panel that finishing it made him cry:

"I actually just completed a draft of what's potentially the sequel, and I'm still, like, crying as I'm writing the script," he said. "I try to come at it from a personal place."

No matter how he managed to approach it, I'll definitely be there if this ever comes to fruition. "School of Rock" has found a home on my shelf with those silly little flicks (like "Office Space" and "Super Troopers") that are just the definition of cinematic comfort food.

Roman Polanski's next flick taking shape

Among the many victims of the Screen Actor Guild's strike, the most depressing just might have been Roman Polanski's "Pompeii," which could have made an intriguing thriller set against the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. But now, thankfully, it seems he's finally hard at work on what would be his first feature film since 2005's "Oliver Twist," which I must confess I haven't seen.

The news now from MTV (a shockingly good source of movie info) is that Pierce Brosnan and Nicolas Cage have been cast in "The Ghost," Polanski's flick to be based on the Robert Harris novel about a ghostwriter who uncovers more than he planned on when he's hired to write the memoirs of a former British prime minister (Harris also wrote "Pompeii.")

Now, I can certainly buy Brosnan as the PM, but Cage will have some convincing to do to make me believe he's the writer. I'm not in the camp that just hates Cage across the board, but I'm always at least a bit wary. Even so, it's just good to hear that Roman's back at work on something that sounds this promising.

A secret Chris Carter movie?

Coming in the immediate wake of "The Dark Knight," I still think Chris Carter's second "X-Files" flick could be the sleeper hit of the summer when it opens on July 25 (I've seen that tag applied to the monster haul so far for "Sex and the City," but anyone who didn't expect that to be a huge hit simply doesn't understand the power of women.)

And, as he wrapped up "X-Files: I Want to Believe,"
the Hollywood Reporter reports, Carter was already secretly at work on another flick to be called "Fencewalker." All we know so far is that it stars "I Want to Believe" co-star and sometime rapper Xzibit along with "The Tudors" star Natalie Dormer, Katie Cassidy, Derek Magyar and Meckah Brooks. All's I know beyond that is that it will be "essentially a coming-of-age semiautobiographical character piece with no supernatural elements," so I'll just say cool and leave it that. Besides, when you've got Hayden Panettiere in tight leather, it's really time to just get to it!

Claire-Bear's all grown up!

Remember "Heroes"? To be honest, I'm having a little trouble doing so, partly because it's just been off the air for so long and partly because Vol. 2 was just so uneven. Even so, it ended on a high note, so I'm amped for the show's return when it finally comes this fall, especially (and to be as piggish as possible) if it means seeing Hayden Panettiere's Claire go from her cheerleader's outfit to this leather ensemble. And, in the interest of fair play for the ladies, I've included a shot of "Gilmore Girls" (not "Golden Girls" as I somehow managed to type before being thankfully corrected by an alert reader!) alum Milo Ventamiglia as Peter too from the great celebrity gossip site Gossip Girls, where you can see more of these shots. Enjoy, and have a perfectly bearable Wednesday. Peace out.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Robot dialogue coach?!?! How do I get that job?

In case anyone who's never been here before doesn't know it, I - like many people in the world - am simply a sucker for Pixar movies, so be warned you're gonna hear a whole lot about "Wall-E" here this week until and possibly after I get to see it, probably Saturday morning.

Sunday's Arts & Leisure section of the New York Times had a very interesting interview with "Wall-E" director Andrew Stanton, which you can still read here. Why in the world it didn't make the cover I'll never know, but people who make a lot more money than I do make those decisions.

Here are some of the highlights:

* Although I've seen a figure of $120 million listed, the Times article pegs the cost of "Wall-E" at $180 million, which must include marketing and various costs. No matter how you add it up, though, that's a lot of cheese for a relatively silent movie about robot love.

* Stanton, ever the film geek at heart, says he drew on films from science fiction’s golden age - “1968 to ’81” he said. The second half or so of "Wall-E" promised to be an epicly fun space journey, and I just can't wait to see it.

* And, in my favorite nugget of all, Stanton answers the question: What do you do when you need robot dialogue for a flick with very little of the human variety? Well, you get the guy who did the dialogue for R2D2 in "Star Wars" (and less excitingly, E.T. too), Ben Burtt. Stanton said he wrote a conventional script — “Hi, I’m Wall-E” — and Mr. Burtt essentially translated the dialogue into robot, something he calls “audio puppeteering.” How in the world can I get that job?

The headline of the article itself sums up the big storyline for "Wall-E": "Pixar Gambles on a Robot in Love." Following up "the rat movie" (my favorite movie of all of 2007, of course, "Ratatouille") with this endearing oddity may be a bit of a "gamble," but here's hoping the Disney-owned Pixar continues to take chances.

One thing I found surprising in the NYT article was that "the rat movie" actually made substantially more worldwide than "Cars," definitely not one of my favorite Pixar flicks. Here are the Box Office Mojo numbers:

“Finding Nemo”: $340 million domestic, $865 total.
"The Incredibles": $261 million domestic, $631 total.
"Cars": $244 million domestic, $462 million total.
"Ratatouille": $206 million domestic, $621 million total.

None of those numbers, of course, would show a studio that's really hurting in anyway, and I suspect that by the time you add in worldwide numbers for "Wall-E" it will be back around "Nemo" territory. Judging from the response of all the tots who laughed throughout the "Wall-E" trailer that preceded "Kung Fu Panda," the kids are certainly ready to embrace the little robot, and I am too. Peace out.

Friday, June 20, 2008

DVD pick: "Be Kind Rewind" redux

Consider this an open letter of apology to Michel Gondry.

I was more than a little bit psyched to see Mr. Gondry's "Be Kind Rewind" when it hit the big screen a little while back. Jack Black, Mos Def and Michel Gondry? I was so jazzed to see it that I even drove an hour or so up the road to do so.

And I think it was these expectations that led me to be at least slightly disappointed as I was walking out of the theater.

Now, don't get me wrong. After watching the movie again last night on DVD, I still think Gondry's flick is just goofy as goofy can get, but it's also more than a little bit magical once it manages to get going.

If you haven't seen it, take this warning from me going in: You'll almost certainly wince through the first half-hour or so. Jack Black's character vacillates between mildly retarded and thoroughly annoying. I know people have found him to be that way before, but it was a first for me (yes, I even liked "Nacho Libre.")

And the premise of "Be Kind Rewind," if you think about it for even a second, is simply ludicrous. Gondry's love of mom-and-pop stores and of Passaic, N.J., comes through clearly, but why in the world would you want to save a movie rental store where you know the owner (Danny Glover) can never get any new movies because he refuses to make the move to DVD?

So, my advice: Go ahead and rent "Be Kind Rewind" and just don't think about it too much. Once Black, Mos Def and the very charming Melonie Diaz get down to "sweding" all the tapes that Black's Jerry has managed to erase (because he's magnetized, of course), it's just tons of fun. The "Ghostbusters" and "Rush Hour 2" takes got the most attention, but my favorite moment in Gondry's flick was when Mos sheepishly explained why he felt uncomfortable sweding "Driving Miss Daisy." Just perfect.

And the last 20 or minutes or so, when the community bands together to make a movie about Fats Waller (don't ask, just watch for yourself and find out why), it morphs into probably my favorite subgenre of all: Movies about the love of movies.

So, for all its faults, I can still heartily recommend renting "Be Kind Rewind" if you're in the mood for something truly odd but often very entertaining.

Also out this week is possibly my favorite movie of all so far this year (second only to maybe "Son of Rambow," but they're pretty much tied), Patricia Riggen's "Under the Same Moon." Though I hate the phrase "putting a human face" more than just about any other in the English lexicon, I guess you could say that's what Riggen's movie manages to do with immigration.

On paper it would seem to be just too sappy for words, but the story of a 9-year-old Mexican boy (Adrian Alonso) trying to reunite with the mother (telenovela star Kate del Castillo) who had to leave him behind when she went to look for work in L.A. is just thoroughly engaging. It turns into an odd buddy-road movie of sorts when young Carlitos teams up with a laborer (Euginio Derbez) to make the journey, the movie's best stretch.

So, there you have it. Two DVD recommendations for no entry fee. Have a perfectly pleasant weekend and, if you actually go see either "The Love Guru" or "Get Smart" (which I can't bring myself to do) and want to share your opinion of them, please feel free to do so.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

AFI's top 10 genre flicks: Fantasy or folly?

There's nothing better to spark a debate than a Top 10 list that purports to have some authority, as anything with the American Film Institute's stamp of approval certainly would.

The AFI has been making a habit of compiling such lists in recent years, but its most recent endeavour - the Top 10 movies in 10 different genres - is its most intriguing one so far. And man, is there plenty to pick apart. To name two notable snubs at the start, "Serenity" somehow doesn't make the sci-fi list, and neither "Ratatouille" or anything at all by the great Hayao Miyazaki find a home on the animation list.

You can read the complete list here, but today I'm just gonna focus on the fantasy selections, 'cause I still do have to go to my actual paying job at some point. Here are the AFI's selections:

4 KING KONG 1933
7 HARVEY 1950
10 BIG 1988

I certainly can't argue with the top two spots or the inclusion of the glorious "Thief of Bagdad," but just for argument's sake (and maybe to offer some viewing ideas, I'd offer the following (admittedly much more modern) substitutions for the remaining spots:

3. Pan's Labyrinth
I went back and watched Guillermo del Toro's fantastic flick about a month ago to see if it had lost any of its sheen, and the welcome answer is no. The story that our heroine Ophelia concocts to deal with the surroundings around her during the Spanish Civil War is just the definition of fantasy, which after all is meant to take you away from the real world for a moment or two.

4. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Note, that's "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" starring Gene Wilder, not Tim Burton's rather soulless and sadistic remake. This is one story that I - like kids today hopefully still do - grew up loving, and this version just captures all the giddy goofiness of Roald Dahl's tale.

5. Raiders of the Lost Ark
This one could also have easily found a home on the AFI's "epic" list, but since they snubbed it there too I've decided to give it a home here. Is there any better fantasy tale for a young dude who wants to see the world and be a total badass while doing it? I think not.

6. Kiki's Delivery Service
I hate to be redundant, but since I have no idea how much longer Hayao Miyazaki will be with us, I had to include my favorite of his flicks on this list. If your mind doesn't float away for a while as you watch the young witch in training soar over Miyazaki's European dreamscapes, you've probably lost the kid in you for good. By the way, I don't know the details of any American release yet, but Miyazaki's "Ponyo on a Cliff" is set to drop in Japan in July, so definitely keep your eyes on that one.

7. A Little Princess
One for the girls here, but still one that's dear to my heart too. If I'm not mistaken, it's also the first Alfonso Cuaron flick I ever saw, which is certainly reason enough alone to cheer. The tale that springs from the pen of Frances Hodgson Burnett is just a powerful testament to how the power of imagination can overcome even the most dreary of situations, here a very repressive boarding school.

8. Big Fish
This one is solid proof that fantasies don't always have to be for kids and that, when he wants to, Tim Burton is an incredibly inventive director. If you've never seen this tale about a son confronting his dying father about the tall tales he has spun about his life, I can't recommend it highly enough.

10. Time Bandits
And why not end with one from probably still my favorite fantasy director, Terry Gilliam? Essentially a Monty Python for kids penned by Gilliam and Michael Palin, it really just skips randomly through time but never fails to delight.

And there you have it. There are surely plenty of flicks I have snubbed here, so please feel free to add your favorites, and have a perfectly bearable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pixar's new short? It will be "Amazing"

This week in our movie summer is so bad that I'm just gonna have to pretend it doesn't even exist.

"Get Smart" vs. "The Love Guru"? The only loser here appears to be the viewer. I can't even look at Mike Meyers without wincing, and even with Steve Carell and the very funny Ken Davitian on board I just can't bring myself to watch yet another TV retread.

But, if you can wade through all that crap (or, as I'm recommending, just ignore it), we finally get "Wall-E," the latest from Pixar, usually the highlight of my movie summer.

I've made my love of Pixar clear here many times before. Though I found "Cars" to be amazingly boring for very long stretches, the simply sublime "Ratatouille" was my favorite movie of all of 2007. And, given just how cool it looks and since I'm a sucker for space odysseys, I'm sure that "Wall-E" is gonna be almost as good.

But, of course, one of the other dependable delights with Pixar flicks are the shorts, and it looks like they've come up with something truly cool this time around. Here's a synopsis for "The Amazing Presto," the short that will run in front of "Wall-E":

Dignity. Poise. Mystery. We expect nothing less from the great, turn-of-the-century magician, Presto. But, when Presto forgets to feed his rabbit one too many times, well, there's really no telling what to expect! This latest comical short film from Pixar Animation Studios follows the escalating high jinx of the amazing Presto, his rabbit Alec, and what happens onstage when a star magician's ego provokes some clever revenge from his neglected costar.

In my mind I'm already there, but for the time being, enjoy the photo above and the poster for the "picturette" at right.

A look at Spike's "St. Anna"

No matter how much he runs his mouth - and his latest verbal tussle with Clint Eastwood is indeed fun to watch - I'll always have nothing but tons of time for Spike Lee. His documentaries ("When the Levees Broke" and "Four Little Girls") are tremendous, and "Do the Right Thing" remains easily one of my favorite flicks. And if I could make one recommendation from his lesser-known flicks you can still probably get on DVD, "Get on the Bus" - about a group of guys headed to the Million Man March - is also well worth watching.

And now it does indeed look like Mr. Lee might finally get the awards season acclaim he's already deserved for many years with his upcoming "Miracle at St. Anna." Judging from the trailer, he's concocted a flick that's as epic as its subject matter - the story of four black American soldiers who get trapped in a Tuscan village during World War II - and wrapped it all up in a mystery to boot. Count this one along with "Burn After Reading" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" as the main movies I'm really looking forward to this fall. Enjoy the trailer, and have a perfectly pleasant Tuesday. Peace out.

Friday, June 13, 2008

An early look at "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

I was all set to write a rant about how there's another f-ing strike on the horizon - with the Screen Actors Guild's contract set to eclipse June 30 - but I really just can't bring myself to deal with such nastiness on a Friday morning.

There's also news out there - actual and simply rumored - about NBC's upcoming "The Office" spinoff. First the actual: The showrunners have made their first casting hire, comedian Aziz Ansari, who apparently stars on some MTV sketch comedy show I've never seen called "Human Giant."

Much more exciting is the simply rumored news that Rashida Jones - a k a Karen Filippelli - will soon be joining the new cast too. All we know so far is that she's signed a "talent holding" deal with Universal, which is producing the show. What in the world would they be paying her for except to join this new venture?

I certainly hope that comes to be, but in the meantime I'm even more excited today about this teaser trailer for David Fincher's fall flick "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," based on a F. Scott Fitzgerald tale about a man who ages in reverse through the twentieth century. Everyone probably already knows that Brad Pitt is the titular Mr. Button, but this one also stars Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Julia Ormond and one of my very favorite actresses, the great Taraji P. Henson (a k a Shug from "Hustle & Flow.")

I just love Fincher pretty much unconditionally, and the premise sounds great, so I'd have to list it as the one flick I'm most looking forward to this fall. Enjoy the trailer, and keep your fingers crossed that M. Night's latest offering doesn't just suck as hard as I'm now fairly certain it will. Peace out.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Major Emmy nominations for "Battlestar Galactica"? Why the frak not?

Garnering attention for a sci-fi show - even one as sensational as "Battlestar Galactica" - from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences would seem to be the definition of a lost cause, but just in case I have some hidden pull I don't know about I'm gonna make the case anyway.

In general, I pay a lot less attention to the Emmys than I do the Oscars. Don't get me wrong: I watch at least as much TV as the average human being, though NEVER any reality programming, but I just can't get seem to get amped for the Emmys.

I will, however, check out the nominations list when it's announced July 10 to see if "Battlestar" does indeed manage to find some unexpected love, and not just in the sound and visual effects categories it has attracted attention in thus far.

One reason I really never care about the Emmys, however, is the voters have a rather amazing record of ignoring what are obviously the best shows on TV. As far as I know, "The Wire," "Friday Night Lights" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" have, between them, a total of only three Emmys, with "The Wire" only even being nominated once for the writing on the Season 3 episode "Middle Ground." (And I won't even get into the single biggest Emmy snub of all time, the inability to give Lauren Graham even one nomination for her superb work on "Gilmore Girls.")

My rather long-winded point is the deck would seem to be stacked very high against "Battlestar," but luckily its creators don't seem to know that or refuse to believe it. If you go to any movie trade paper sites or the IMDB, you'll inevitably be slapped in the face by a pop-up ad touting the show for Emmy consideration.

And why the frak not? It's clearly the smartest drama on cable or network TV right now, with "Mad Men," "Pushing Daisies" and "Friday Night Lights" close at its heels. In it's strongly serialized story lines, it takes on the issue of what it's like to live in a state of almost constant fear in our post-9/11 world. And, of course, it delivers all this punctuated with the space battles us geeks so sorely need.

And the acting, throughout, is just first-rate. Edward James Olmos, who obviously has a long history in film and television, has just taken over the role of Admiral William Adama to make it his most memorable one of all. I was surprised to find he had already won one Emmy, surely well deserved, for Best Supporting Actor for his work on "Miami Vice." The man certainly merits at least one more nomination.

As for the women, Katee Sackhoff as Kara Thrace and Mary McDonnell as President Roslin are certainly also worthy of Emmy attention, and the writing, be it by Ronald Moore, David Eick, Jane Espenson or another talented member of the staff, is also first-rate.

Though it's probably not gonna happen, the timing for some major-category Emmy attention for "Battlestar Galactica" would be just about right. With the show reaching the midpoint of its fourth and final season tomorrow night, it's high time to shower it with some serious Emmy love before it ends its very entertaining run next year. Peace out.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Seth Rogen overload?

I don't think I've reached that point yet, but it certainly does seem like the "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" veteran unleashed by Judd Apatow is just about everywhere nowadays.

A look at the IMDB sheet after "Kung Fu Panda," the surprisingly satisfying summer flick that's currently kicking all kinds of box office tail (we're talking about a kids' movie after all, so let's keep it clean) reveals a very busy slate. First comes the comedy I'm most looking forward to this summer, the stoner buddy flick, "Pineapple Express"; then, if this ever really does see the light of day, a role in the geek flick "Fanboys"; the lead opposite Elizabeth Banks in Kevin Smith's "Zack and Miri Make a Porno"; voice work in Dreamworks' "Monsters Vs. Aliens"; playing a delusional mall cop for "Foot Fist Way" (why in the world isn't that playing everywhere?) director Jody Hill in "Observe and Report"; a reunion with Judd Apatow for Apatow's next directorial effort, to be about the world of standup comedians; and finally, if they can pull it off, a remake of "The Green Hornet" with writing partner Evan Goldberg.

Whew! As the last entry on that list shows, and luckily, Mr. Rogen isn't one to forget about his friends. Probably somewhere in the middle of all this, now comes news that he and Goldberg, the duo that brought us the nearly flawless "Superbad," will team up to create something called "Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse" (apparently the shtick of actors using their actual names trotted out for "Knocked Up" hasn't gotten old to them yet.)

The horror-comedy, set to co-star fellow "Undeclared" vet and very funny guy in his own right Jay Baruchel, apparently springs from a Web short they all concocted during the brief time Fox bothered to put that fairly great show on the air. I don't know much about it beside that, but there's actually a trailer for it that was put up on Youtube about a year ago, and I've included it here for you to enjoy (as you can probably figure, the language is more than a little NSFW, so please use headphones when you watch it!)

"Superbad," for all its very juvenile humor about things like the "Ghostbusters lunchbox dick treasure chest" (still the thing that made me laugh hardest in all of 2007) has just stuck me longer than a lot of other comedies of its ilk, and I just can't wait for "Pineapple Express." Here's hoping these guys can keep the funny coming for a long time to come.

What's next for "Pushing Daisies" and "How I Met Your Mother"?

OK, OK, I don't know the answers to the most pressing questions about easily two of my favorite shows, namely, for the latter, will adorable Sarah Chalke say yes to our hero Ted's wedding proposal and, for the former, why in the world isn't ABC reairing it's best freshman series in years this summer as a reintroduction to viewers who might have somehow missed it's nine-episode first season? I do, however, have a couple of intriguing bits about each show from Variety.

First, for "Pushing Daisies," creator Bryan Fuller promises that his habit of reintroducing the show's premise with each episode will be a thing of the past, so that in season two he can delight us with one epic story arc.

Fuller, in fact, described the writers strike that killed the first season as a kind of blessing in disguise: "We were just going to continue telling a lot of these episodic tales, and we weren't able to weave in as much of the serialized storyline as I wanted to in the first season."

And he promises he's learned a thing or two from his days working on "Heroes" (remember that show?): "Learning from my days on 'Heroes,' I'm planning to add some cliffhangers, which we'll get into starting with episode five. That's when a new character comes into the world and really shakes things up, somebody who has a link to the shared histories of both Chuck and Ned."

Sounds cool to me, and Fuller and friends have already created a world that I love returning to each week, so I can't wait to see where they go next.

The big news about "How I Met Your Mother" is that co-creator Craig Thomas promises that the showrunners have their penchant for random celebrity drop-ins under control. If bringing in Britney Spears was really necessary to lock down a fourth season than I'm certainly grateful, but enough is enough. Lucky, Thomas apparently thinks so too: "Our core audience turns in to see those five characters," he says. "We're not 'The Love Boat.' "

Amen, brother. And on that note, I unfortunately still have to go to work. Peace out.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What in the world ever happened to Cameron Crowe?

There are really few movies in the world I loathe more than Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown."

Now, obviously, I'm not saying by any objective standard that that semi-autobiographical rom-com is one of the worst movies ever made, because it clearly isn't. But I only reserve the word "hate" for films from directors from whom I expect a whole lot but really let me down. Therefore, you'll probably never hear me use it for a Uwe Boll movie (unless I ever bother to see "Postal"), but there's a very good chance you might hear it this weekend for M. Night Shyamalan if he disappoints again with "The Happening."

(If I can digress just a bit about that, does anyone else find it ominous that the only way they can find to promote "The Happening" in commercials is that it will be Shyamalan's "first R-rated movie"? SFW!?!?)

OK, I'm back. My rather circuitous point here is that I used to have tons of love for Cameron Crowe. I just love movies that make heroes out of possibly the most inappropriately loathed workers in the world - journalists - so I just adore "Almost Famous," probably beyond any rational amount it might deserve. I also have tons of time for "Say Anything," and of course he also wrote the timeless "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." So I certainly welcome any news of a Cameron Crowe comeback to wash away the rather bitter taste of "Elizabethtown," even if the details so far are very scarce.

Now comes word that he's apparently completed the script for an as-yet-untitled romantic comedy and signed on to direct it for Columbia Pictures, with Reese Witherspoon and Ben Stiller set to star.

I still like Stiller quite a bit when he's not starring in movies for either himself or the Farrelly brothers, and have nothing but love for Reese, so here's hoping this will be a return to top form for the formerly-fairly-great Mr. Crowe. Stay tuned for details as soon as I get them.

What will the new "Muppet Movie" look like?

Although I found Jason Segel's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" to be a bit of a letdown, there's no denying that that "Dracula" puppet show he put on at the end was a classic. And, luckily, the Henson folks took notice too and have handed him and bud Nick Stoller the rights to make a new "Muppet Movie."

But just what will that mean? Will it be a good, old-fashioned Muppets flick suitable for all audiences? I certainly hope so, and from what Segel recently had to say to, he does to. Here's some of what he had to say.

IESB: Is Sam the Eagle in it?

JS: Sam the Eagle is definitely in it. Statler and Waldorf - the whole gang!

IESB: Can you tell us a little bit about the story, which way you are headed with the MUPPETS?

JS: All I can say is that we are trying to bring it back to the early '80s movies where it's not Muppets in the Sahara or Muppets Underwater. It's the Muppets getting back together to put on a show, to save the studio.

IESB: No Pigs in Space?

JS: I can't give that away.

IESB: And the hope is to stay 100% traditional with the Muppets right?

JS: Oh yeah, absolutely.

IESB: No CGI Muppets or some horseshit.

JS: No, no, no. Hopefully it will fall right in the pantheon of The Great Muppet Caper, Muppets Take Manhattan, Muppet Movie, you know, we're trying to make one of those.

IESB: You said you had written something for Charles Grodin?

JS: Yeah, a brief cameo. We'll see if he wants to do it. There are some great cameos in there.

You can read the rest of the interview here.

Well, I was already fairly confident this flick was in the right hands, but now I'm sure. Here's hoping Segel - who said he just turned in his first draft of the script to his corporate handlers - is able to follow through on this and get the movie he, and all the rest of us, really want.

A new trailer for "Valkyrie"

If I'm not mistaken (as I definitely sometimes am), Bryan Singer's "Valkyrie" was first set to hit theaters, well, right about now. For whatever reason, and hopefully none of them terribly bad, it's now been pushed back until at least Feb. 13, 2009.

Which has made it fairly easy to forget all about what should be a more-than-fairly-cool flick. Personally, I'm still eager to see it, 'cause I'm always amped for a good World War II flick (especially Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna," set to drop Sept. 26), and one that features a reteaming of the "Usual Suspects" team of Singer and Christopher McQuarrie with a plot to assassinate Hitler is right up my alley.

Anyways, here's the latest trailer, which indeed looks pretty intriguing. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Tuesday. Peace out.

Friday, June 06, 2008

An animated weekend, starring a panda and - even better - "Persepolis"

There's a lot to talk about for this upcoming movie weekend, but first and foremost I'm very happy to report there has indeed been a sighting of Thora Birch.

Sadly, my mind - while working hard to avoid work - has wandered more than a few times to the subject of what in the world had happened to the star of "Ghost World," who had seemed to just disappear. Well, now she's back, though probably not in anything I'll bother to see.

She's set to star with Brittany Murphy in a psychological thriller called "Deadline" in which the star, Murphy, is a writer who travels to an abandoned house to write a screenplay, where a bout of writer's block and other unforeseen events lead her to a psychological breakdown. Sounds pretty meh to me, but welcome back Thora all the same.

But now, on to the movie weekend. For me, it will mean two animated flicks, "Kung Fu Panda" and, even better if you're anywhere near Macon, "Persepolis" presented Sunday by the Macon Film Guild at the Douglass Theatre.

As for "Panda," it's just a lock for me. All the reviews I've seen so far say it just looks amazing, and even if the story is more than a little predictable, it's more than funny enough to sustain its 90 minutes or so, which is just about all I can ask for from a summer animated flick. And, though I can see how he's worn out his welcome with some folks, I still have a lot of time for Jack Black. And, even better, Ian McShane of "Deadwood" fame voices the villain, Tai Lung, never a bad thing in my book.

I do, however, have one request. I don't know how in the world it took animators so long to settle on pandas as just about the coolest creatures in the universe, but please, please, please don't let them become the new penguins. The world will be just fine without a movie about surfing pandas.

That's up for me Saturday morning, and then on Sunday - and apparently sort of at my request - comes "Persepolis," easily one of my favorite flicks of 2007. When I humbly reminded Macon Film Guild guru Camp Bacon that I had suggested they screen this flick a while back, he acknowledged they did indeed check it out on my advice.

I sure hope everyone likes it now, but I really don't see how they couldn't. Marjane Satrapi's flick, based on her series of graphic novels about growing up in Iran and Europe, is nearly flawless. The story finally starts to grow a little tiresome only in the closing minutes, but before you get there Satrapi and co-director Vince Paronnaud wrest an amazing amount of lasting images out of only black and white as they craft this engaging tale.

In fact, despite its low-tech approach, "Persepolis" comes even closer to creating the feeling of watching a graphic novel unfold on screen than either "Sin City" or "300" did, though I'm not knocking those flicks either. Round it all off with great voice work from actresses Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux and Chiara Mastroianni, as our young heroine Marjane, and you've got a flick well worth giving a couple of hours to Sunday at 2, 4:30 or 7:30 p.m. at downtown Macon's Douglass Theatre. Huzzah to the guild for bring this great flick to Macon (and for listening to my advice!)

So, what's missing from this list? "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," of course, though I've seen more than a few reviews that say it's not all that awful. With the names of Judd Apatow and, even better, "TV Funhouse" creator Robert Smigel on the script, I suppose there's a chance those critics are right, but I just can't bring myself to watch yet another Adam Sandler flick that would easily reach its breaking point if it were only the length of a "Saturday Night Live" skit. Here's hoping the panda kicks his ass.

And, as a final weekend treat, here's the teaser poster for Oliver Stone's "W," which frankly is more than little disappointing. Granted, our president is certainly less than a brilliant wordsmith, but isn't that just too easy of a target? Anyways, enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend (and if you live anywhere near Macon, again please go see "Persepolis" this Sunday!) Peace out.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Since I'm too lazy to write anything, why not a word from Robert F. Kennedy

I guess one of the many advantages of not running for president is that I can hopefully think and talk about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy without getting into any hot water.

As some may already know, RFK was assassinated 40 years ago today in California, in what was obviously a horrendous act by Sirhan Sirhan.

In a tender yet bitter bit of irony, he gave what I (and I'm hardly alone) still consider to be his best speech in announcing the death of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the fine folks of Indianapolis. This clip is only a little under two minutes long, so if you happen to stop by here today, take a little time to watch it. Now more than ever, peace.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Take "The Fall" and just enjoy the ride

What's a guy to do when "Sex and the City" is the only new game in town and he's under no obligation to see it? Well, leave, of course, and go see a different movie in a bigger town.

Now, I have no problems whatsoever with "Sex and the City," and I certainly hope all movie studio executives were paying attention to the fact that a movie starring four women made $56 million in its opening weekend. A hearty huzzah to that.

But, having no interest in it myself, I went up the road to Atlanta to see Tarsem's "The Fall," and despite the toll that gas prices took on my wallet, I'm certainly glad I did.

But before I get to that, there are two bits of news today about two flicks to definitely keep your eyes on. First, the very funny Ed Helms of "The Office" fame has joined Billy Bob Thornton in the Polish brothers upcoming flick, "Manure," which, as you can probably guess, is about a trio of guys who make a living selling animal excrement.

In possibly even better news, Judd Apatow has set his next directing effort (after "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and the far superior "Knocked Up") to be about the world of stand-up comedians. It's set to star Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann (a k a Mrs. Apatow) and Eric Bana, who many people might not know started out as a stand-up comedian himself way back when. And though I have no desire to see Sandler ham it up this weekend in "Don't Mess With the Zohan," he is a naturally funny guy with the right material, and as I found out when we played a round of pool at Kitty O'Shea's bar in D.C., also a genuinely nice dude.

But, I definitely digress from the matter at hand, Tarsem's mostly satisfying "The Fall."

Most of the noise you'll hear about this flick will have to do with the rather astounding visuals, which are a definite asset but, in my opinion, also somewhat of a handicap.

Why? Well, because Tarsem's movie is really about two stories that run on parallel tracks, and the more visually stunning one that springs from the mind of Lee Pace is often the weaker of the two.

The flick is at its strongest when it sticks to the more intimate tale of Roy, a stuntman injured in a fall and played by Pace of "Pushing Daisies" fame, and Alexandria, a young girl with a busted arm played endearingly by Catinca Untaru. Pace plays it cool until his character takes a turn for the much worse, and that's when he really shines. (And, if I may digress yet again, why in the world isn't ABC replaying the first season of the great "Pushing Daisies" to get everyone reacquainted with it in time for season two this fall?) And though young Ms. Uncaru is too often just too cute to bear, her enthusiasm for the imaginary world Roy creates for her gives the flick much of its drive.

And it's the visuals in the story he fishes from his mind that will rightfully garner the most attention, and they are indeed pretty darn stunning. Tarsem was clearly having fun here, and if I have this right, he shot it all without the aid of any kind of digital enhancement, so huzzah to that.

But it's this aspect of the story that has also drawn the most criticism, mostly due to what some critics saw as a lack of creativity in the tale that springs from Roy's mind. Though it does indeed feature some groan-worthy moments and more than a couple instance of unintentional humor, I was willing to forgive this due to the circumstances he was in when he created it (which, so I won't ruin anything, you won't hear about from me.)

When these two worlds finally collide at the finish what you have is a movie that's at least as much about the power of this odd friendship as it is about the magic of storytelling. And, much like young Alexandria as it came to a close, I was left saying "Thank you, thank you, thank you" as the credits started to roll.

Definitely go see this one if you can find it, and have a perfectly bearable Tuesday. Peace out.