Saturday, August 30, 2008

When. W. met Laura: A video sneak peek

I would spend more time talking about the movies opening this weekend, of which there are - surprisingly - two I actually want to see, but I have to work every day but Sunday so will only be seeing one theater movie anyway (yes, laboring on Labor Day, but it means time-and-a-half, so I'll take it.)

Were I not stuck toiling for the man (and, Sunday evening, drafting my fantasy football team), I'd definitely be seeing both "Hamlet 2" and "Traitor."

I was already pretty psyched for "Hamlet 2" because - in small doses at least - I find Steve Coogan to be a very funny guy, but I became thoroughly sold when I found it was written and directed by Andrew Fleming and "South Park" vet Pam Brady. It may not be a classic comedy, but Fleming's flick "Dick," starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as two ultra-ditsy teens who supposedly uncovered the Watergate scandal, is surprisingly funny. And even better, Brady shared writing credit with Trey Parker and Matt Stone for "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," so the songs in "Hamlet 2" should be as fun as they are simply outrageous.

As for "Traitor," it sounds like a pretty standard thriller, but I'll see just about anything with Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce (though I can't really see myself checking into the "Hotel for Dogs" with Cheadle next year.) So I'll probably see "Hamlet 2" Sunday and save "Traitor" to savor next weekend.

In the meantime, here - courtesy of CNN - is a clip of Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Banks in Oliver Stone's W. No matter how bad this flick really turns out to be when it drops Oct. 29 or so, I can tell that Brolin and Banks will be fun to see as America's reigning couple. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Labor Day weekend.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More, free "Tropic Thunder" ... the movie within the movie within the movie?

I'm sure you'll be able to see this soon as a DVD extra, but when it's available for free from Itunes, why not waste a half hour of your day with more "Tropic Thunder" hi jinx in the form of "Rain of Madness" ("Heart of Darkness," get it?)

What is it? Well, as the title implies, it's a faux, half-hour documentary about the "making" of "Tropic Thunder," and at many points its almost as funny as the actual movie. Steve Coogan is the real star (and I'm rather psyched - and shocked - that his "Hamlet 2" really is going to play everywhere this weekend) of this extra, and he's all blustering ego as director Damien Cockburn. All the cast members take part, however, and Jay Baruchel's pitching "Prom Knight" (I won't spoil what that is) and Robert Downey Jr.'s meltdown from suffering Post "Platoon" Stress Disorder are especially funny.

But why do you need to hear any more about this from me? Download it for free from the Itunes store here, and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Bottle Shock": A slow-blooming vintage

The only real good news I could find out there this morning is that ABC is taking a pilot starring Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion) to series as part of its midseason lineup coming in January. The fairly promising story of "Castle" from writer Andrew W. Marlowe is about a novelist (Fillion) who helps the NYPD.

The order of the day, however, is "Bottle Shock," an odd little flick that - like a fine wine, I suppose - takes a rather long time to get started but delivers a real kick at the finish. And, for the record, though you're gonna hear me complain quite a bit about this one, I certainly fell under its spell by the end.

The story, based on a true tale, is about a French wine contest staged in 1976 by a British vintner (a superbly snotty Alan Rickman) in which the upstart wineries of Napa Valley did much better than anyone expected (I really hope I'm not giving too much away here, but that should be pretty obvious to most people going in, me thinks.)

My problem with the first hour or so of "Bottle Shock" is that its primary characters, even if they're based on real people, just come across as the most cliched composites. Bill Pullman, as the struggling owner of Napa's Chateau Montelena, plays the bullheaded dreamer to the hilt, and Chris Pine as his drifting-through-life son feels just as tired. Freddy Rodriguez, easily one of my favorite actors, would normally add life to any proceedings, but writer/director Randall Miller involves him in a meandering series of subplots, most notably a romantic side road with a Chateau Montelena intern played by Rachel Taylor that just feels tacked-on from the start.

But at its core, of course, this is a flick all about wine and the making of it, and once it gets around to that the movie really starts to get on a pleasant roll. Though it grows tiresome watching Rickman sampling the wines of Napa and philosophizing about their virtues (perhaps if I appreciated wine more I would have gotten into this more too), he's also the instigator of the contest that gives "Bottle Shock" its real burst of intrigue.

Watching the Napa vintners band together to get their wines across the pond has a real "can-do" spirit to it reminiscent of "Tucker" (hey, knock that one if you want to, but I just love it.) The froggy wine critics Rickman assembles are perfectly snooty, and the set-up uses the conventions of the sports drama in a fun, sort-of-new way.

And the road to getting there is filled with the movie's most genuinely funny moments, including a novel way of getting several cases of wine through customs and the building-up of the "blind taste test" as the big turning point (in which an under-used but charming-as-usual Eliza Dushku finally gets to join the fun.)

I know I spent a lot more time attacking this one here than i did savoring it, but I think that's perhaps because my expectations were high going in. The bottom line: If you like wine and can bear with this flick as it slowly develops, it has a finish to please even the pickiest of palates.

And I'll leave you with the trailer for a flick I'm really looking forward to, even if it is directed by Ron Howard. With a script from "The Queen" scribe Peter Morgan based on his own play, Frank Langella (huzzah!) plays recently deposed ex-president Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen plays interviewer David Frost in "Frost/Nixon." Enjoy, and have a perfectly bearable Wednesday.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vicky, Christina and Barcelona, oh my!

What's a guy to do when his air-conditioning dies in the month of August (though it's since been replaced, thankfully) and there really aren't any terribly enticing movies opening in Macon? Get out of town, of course.

I had, shamefully, never been to the Georgia Aquarium, which is easily as cool an attraction as its billed to be, so to celebrate my four-day weekend I finally trekked to Atlanta to check it out and work in dinner with some friends and - of course - three movies.

The flicks were "Vicky Christina Barcelona," "Tell No One" and "Bottle Shock," and I liked them all to at least some degree. I'll discuss them all over the next three days, in order of just how much they worked for me.

By that standard, I certainly have to start with Woody Allen's flick, which was, if not the best movie I've seen this year (and I think by the end of the year it will still be in my top five), by far the most fun, which to me is just about the same thing.

The first thing that "VCB" (lazy I know, but you know what I mean) does right is that it's funnier than Woody has been since at least "Bullets over Broadway." But unlike the broad humor that marked that farce, and reared its fairly juvenile head in this "diary" for Sunday's New York Times, the wit of "VCB" unfolds in a way that flows naturally with the enchanting story. There was only one moment that made me just laugh out loud (Rebecca Hall's Vicky referring to Javier Bardem's Juan Antonio as a "charmingly candid wife beater") but a lot more that just made me smile.

Secondly, this flick owes a big debt to Pedro Almodovar in all the best ways. Though Woody's flicks have always had a strong sense of place, what you feel in "VCB" and the best of Almodovar's flicks is a real joy in the beauty of Spain, rather than the angst Woody famously found in New York City before transporting it to London.

But I guess a word or two about the story is in order. The titular Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Christina (Scarlett Johansson) are two American college students spending the summer in Barcelona, where they encounter painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) and his ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz.) What's surprising in how their relationships develop is just how much understanding of women (rather than girls, I know you're thinking) Woody shows here (though, since I live by myself in a four-room cottage, you might have to wonder just how much I understand them myself.)

Vicky, Christina and Maria Elena start out as stereotypes, respectively, rigidly structured, loose and lusty, and simply loco. But as the movie unfurls, Woody for the first time in a long time lets them develop in a way that the three actresses clearly embraced. Scarlett was simply annoying in "Match Point," the flick's main weakness, but Woody's finally found a role she can fit into here. The real soul of the movie, however, is Rebecca Hall's Vicky, who is tempted and seriously conflicted by her encounter with Juan Antonio. I couldn't remember if I had ever seen her before, but I'm sure I will again (in Ron Howard's "Frost/Nixon" and, even better, in Nicole Holofcener's first feature film in three years.) Bardem, of course, has the appeal to seduce the two of them while at the same time trying to take care of his rather insane ex-wife, which is the kind of character Almodovar would have written for Penelope Cruz if Woody hadn't gotten to it first.

OK, you get the idea I like this one a lot, right, but allow me to gush about one more thing: The music. Woody has clearly had a love for the guitar (going so far as to make a mildly disappointing flick devoted to Django Reinhardt in "Sweet and Lowdown"), and here he uses the Spanish picking of Giulia y los Tellarini (for the title track), Juan Serrano and others to cast a spell on Vicky and me for the 90 minutes or so that this flick took me away.

There is one annoying trait of "VCB" that might bother other viewers more than it did me: The rather unnecessary narrator (Christopher Evan Welch.) Though it eventually settles into the rhythm of the rest of the flick, it's still just a crutch that adds nothing to the story and that I hope Woody will avoid from now on (since he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.)

But as you can probably tell, that wasn't nearly enough to destroy my love for the best flick Woody Allen has made in many, many years. Peace out.

P.S.: It just hit me that Rebecca Hall was indeed the heroine in the retro British romantic comedy "Starter for 10," well worth a rental if you can find it.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I truly love Anna Faris, but ...

Before we get into this week's movies, two of which I think I'll actually see. there's a couple of other cool little nuggets out there today to deal with.

First, it seems that Mike Judge might actually get to make a movie that plays in theaters somewhere besides New York, L.A. and Austin before hitting DVD.

As far as I can tell, "Extract" is about two dudes who toil in a flower extract factory, to be played by Ben Affleck and Jason Bateman (huzzah!). I'm not even sure what "flower extract" means, but with Mila Kunis and Clifton Collins Jr. (who, frankly, should be an Oscar winner already for his work in "Capote") also in the cast - and Judge writing and directing - I'm definitely in.

And I've never really understood why Judge hasn't been given much of a chance to show he has artistic life after Beavis and Butthead. "Idiocracy," while certainly not a groundbreaking work of any kind, was a solidly funny comedy that almost no one got to see in a movie theater, and if you haven't seen "Office Space" more than once by now I'm just really not sure what to tell you.

The second thing that grabbed my attention was a Michael Ausiello piece for Entertainment Weekly with this rather enticing headline: Exclusive: Bell, Thomas Orbit 'Veronica Mars' Movie.

Despite that bit of exaggeration, the actual news isn't all that major, but when it comes to a "Veronica Mars" movie I'll take whatever I can get. What actually happened was that Kristen Bell stopped by the office of "Veronica Mars" creator Rob Thomas, which just happens to be on the same studio lot where Bell is working on the next season of "Heroes" (which I think is gonna be just great after a rather off-putting Vol. 2.) The talk naturally turned to "Veronica Mars," and Thomas tells Ausiello, "Kristen and I ran into each other, and we did discuss a Veronica movie," and that he's also had "a few conversations" with "Mars" executive producer Joel Silver.

I'd say that's pretty far from them "circling" a "Veronica Mars" movie, but we can always keep hope alive!

And now, finally, on to this week's movies, in the order that I want to see them:

1. "The Rocker"
From the reviews I've read so far, just about every scene in this one is stolen almost directly from either "School of Rock" or "This is Spinal Tap," but if you're gonna pilfer your inspiration you might as well start with two flicks I just adore. Besides, Rainn Wilson is simply a very funny guy, and if it means seeing him expose his rather flabby physique way too much to get him a starring role on the big screen, I'm in.

2. "The House Bunny"
As the title of this post makes clear, I think Anna Faris is also just a natural comedienne (and a first-rate cutie, of course, which never hurts.) I've been pleasantly surprised by the positive reviews so far for this one, with a glowing one from Variety and an even split (13 tomatoes, 13 splats) at Rotten Tomatoes. One critic I always trust, however, Nell Minow, has this to say: "The screenplay inflicts a little more injury on Faris than it intends to by committing the very sins it half-heartedly attempts to parody." I'm still in and hoping against hope that she's wrong on this one.

3. "The Longshots"
It's certainly nice to see Ice Cube doing something besides abusing himself, his movie family and all his audience members in those pathetic "Are We There Yet" movies, but I'm afraid I'm just too old for this feel-good flick about a girl who just wants to play Pop Warner football with the boys. That said, Keke Palmer was simply fantastic in "Akeelah and the Bee," so I hope this makes tons of cash and continues her road to stardom.

4. "Death Race"
As cool as Jason Statham was in this year's most surprisingly entertaining flick, "The Bank Job," I just don't think there's any way I can go for a beyond thoroughly unnecessary remake of Paul Bartel's already very silly (bur also really fun) "Death Race 2000." As my rather observant and witty co-worker Erin Ivanov noted, once a movie has had the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" treatment, there's just no way it should ever be remade. And I sure hope Joan Allen and Ian McShane were well, well paid for lowering themselves to this!

And there you have it. Because of an odd confluence of overtime I actually have four days off in a row (I'm not complaining, believe me!), so I'm also headed to Atlanta on Sunday to finally see the Georgia Aquarium and possibly even another movie. Woody Allen's "Vicky Christina Barcelona," which should be playing everywhere already (as its TV commercial already promises) is probably my first choice, but we'll see. Have a perfectly pleasant weekend!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fred Durst? Really? Amazing

I never found Limp Bizkit to be much more than well, limp, and I just assumed that frontman Fred Durst had had his moment in the spotlight and moved on.

Well, not so fast. Until I read Roger Moore's review of "The Long Shots" - and only because it's part of my job to do so - I had no idea he's somehow managed to become a fairly major film director. But as much as I like Keke Palmer after "Akeelah and the Bee," I don't think I can bring myself to watch Durst's second movie, about a girl who has the nerve to try and play Pop Warner Football (with Ice Cube urging her on, of course.)

So that makes both Fred Savage and Fred Durst in the director's chair. Sheesh. A quick look at Durst's resume shows his feature directing debut was something I had never heard of called "The Education of Charlie Banks." All I know is it has Jesse Eisenberg in it, who I really like quite a bit, but I'm not sure that's enough to make me spring for a Netflix order.

As for Mr. Savage, his big-screen record may be rather sullied by "Daddy Day Camp," but the former Kevin Arnold has had much more luck with TV, in fact most recently producing six and directing 11 episodes of for my money the best comedy on the tube, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."

I have nothing terribly profound to say about any of that, but I found it interesting and thought one or two other people might too. Peace out.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Tropic Thunder": The art of sharp satire lives again

Even if it has come a lot later than usual this year, it's still depressing to announce that, once again, it is now mathematically impossible for the Baltimore Orioles to win 100 games (but the chase to .500 goes on with spirit!)

But that, of course, is not the order of the day. That would be "Tropic Thunder" which - given my fears about how bad it might be - turned out to be surprisingly satisfying and close-to-first-rate satire of Hollywood action moviemaking.

I liked this one even more than "Pineapple Express," which I certainly didn't expect, but it's still not without its faults. First off, I'm still immature enough to get a kick out of grossout humor (I still say the first "Jackass" movie is the "Citizen Kane" of that genre), but I'm beginning to find I just don't have the stomach any more when it crosses the line to simply disgusting. "Tropic Thunder" does this at several points, the worst of which involved writer/director/star Ben Stiller and a certain body part of Steve Coogan's (I won't spoil this revolting bit for you.)

And my second beef was with Jack Black who, for the first time, simply annoyed me on the big screen. Even if you like him, which I definitely still do, try and think of his most annoying characteristics. Now think of all of those amplified because he's tripping balls on cocaine, and you'll come close to how unbearable he is in this movie. For a much better performance by Jack Black as a drug addict, flash back to Alison Maclean's simply charming little flick "Jesus' Son," which is well worth a rental if you haven't seen it.

All that said, there's a lot more to like than to loathe in "Tropic Thunder," and almost all of it revolves around Robert Downey Jr. (though Ben Stiller holds his own and just made me laugh out loud with his heart of darkness with panda breakdown.) Surely everyone has seen Downey in blackface as meticulous method actor Kirk Lazarus by now, but I can tell you there's much more funny here than you've seen in the trailer. The best part of all is that he talks like no person - black or white - you'll probably ever meet, and it's hilarious when Brandon T. Jackson as rapper-turned-actor Alpa Chino (get it?) calls him out on it (and speaking of the fine line between gross and disgusting, two words: Booty Sweat (very funny!)

Drawing even more fire going in to this one was the use of the word "retard" but, and perhaps I'm just extremely insensitive, it works perfectly well in the framework of hollywood satire. If Stiller had simply left it at his portrayal of "Simple Jack" it would have been a mild chuckle-inducer, but once again it's Downey who elevates this to a fair target with his speech about going "full retard." The only people who should really be cringing rather than laughing at this are the moviemakers who know they're the real butt of this joke.

The bottom line: It's a bit too disgusting and definitely repetitive, but "Tropic Thunder" is also the best satire about the business of making movies since "The Player." Peace out.

Friday, August 15, 2008

And yes, I do have a pet rock

After taking the week off to engage in a none-too-pleasant or fruitful war with the phone company, I am now pleased to report that I have entered the late 20th century and have finally gotten a digital internet connection. I still don't have a cell phone, but I suppose there's always hope for that.

And it also means I get to sever all ties with America Online, so it really is a day of liberation and celebration around here.

The main thing I've discovered is, which the rest of the world probably already knows is just a goldmine of free TV and some movies. For example, you can watch every single episode of "South Park" and, even better, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (before they're even out on DVD.) I realize this is turning into a straight-out plug, but I can't help it.

Amazingly enough, you can even watch one of my all-time favorite films there for free, Whit Stillman's "Metropolitan." A look at the rather empty lives of young, upper class Manhattanites during the height of debutante season, it's actually a whole lot better than I'm making it sound here and just a great bunch of witty fun. Stillman pretty much disappeared after directing the mildly diverting "Barcelona" and the simply disappointing "Last Days of Disco," but he's rumored to actually be making a comeback as the director of a flick based on Christopher Buckley's satire "Little Green Men."

But enough of that. The order of the day is Ben Stiller's "Tropic Thunder," which I'm going to see this afternoon and am really looking forward to. And I know there's some controversy brewing about Stiller's frequent use of the word "retard" (what would you prefer, "touched"?), but I certainly think that the Academy Awards insistence on showering Oscars on just about anyone who plays a person with any kind of handicap is certainly a ripe target for spoofing, even if they do go a bit too far.

The real reason I'm more than a little psyched for this one is that it falls into my favorite subgenre of flicks: the "movie within a movie." Most often presented as comedies so directors can poke fun at themselves, they're just almost always enjoyable. So, in honor of "Tropic Thunder" and my return to posting anything at all, here are my 10 favorite movies about making movies (and television, since I make the rather loose rules here):

Spinal Tap
There are certainly more productive (and fun) things to do in college, but the set of dudes I ran with then spent way too much of our downtime quoting lines (pathetic, I know) from Rob Reiner's extremely quotable flick about the world's worst heavy metal band. As you can from my bio entry at the top of this site, I just love this flick.

A Cock and Bull Story
Steve Coogan, while probably more than a bit of an asshole in real life, is still very entertaining when he plays one in movies (which he almost always does.) As this list takes shape, I'm realizing it's gonna be as much about failing to make movies as it is about making them, and Michael Winterbottom's flick about a Quixotic attempt to adapt the "unfilmable" novel "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" is just the perfect portrait of comic futility.

When Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman collaborated for this flick about ... well, sort of, Charlie and his twin brother, Donald ... what they came up with is still one of the strangest movies I've ever seen. Spike is currently doing battle with Warner Bros. about what his "Where the Wild Things Are" will look like if it ever hits theaters, and those of you lucky enough to live in a city much bigger than mine will fairly soon be getting Kaufman's directorial debut with "Synecdoche, New York."

Day for Night
A rather obvious choice I know, but how could you possibly leave off Francois Truffaut's valentine to making movies? You can't find it anywhere online for free, but if you can manage to find Richard Brody's "Auteur Wars" article from the April 7, 2008, edition of The New Yorker, it's just essential reading about Truffaut and Godard.

Living in Oblivion
Steve Buscemi as the director of a nonbudget indie flick that's just falling apart by the minute? This one from writer-director Tom DiCillo is almost as good as that premise promises, and James LeGros' turn as the preening star is just a hoot. A look at DiCillo's IMDB resume reveals this is the only flick of his I've seen, which I'll have to remedy very soon.

Ed Wood
If this list were done in proper order, I'd probably have to put this one at or near the top. Making a movie about the world's worst filmmaker (at least at the time ... he's surely been lapped in that category many times by now) is a ripe target for Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, and perhaps the best proof that when Burton sticks to original material rather than his wretched remakes, he's a heck of a good filmmaker.

Lost in La Mancha
Johnny Depp again, but why not? If you doubt that any of the stories you've heard about Terry Gilliam's obstinance and ego are true, you won't after watching this doco about his doomed attempt to make a movie of "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote." This also features an appearance from one of my favorite actors, Jean Rochefort, looking perfectly piqued at Gilliam's shenanigans.

This one is about TV not movies, but until it just jumps way into overkill in the final act it's easily one of my favorite flicks from Spike Lee. A very biting and bitter satire, it has Savion Glover and Tommy Davidson starring in a blackface minstrel show, and it's often even more outrageous than it sounds on paper. And you heard it here: I predict, from the limited clips I've seen so far, that Spike's "Miracle at St. Anna" will finally get him the Best Picture nomination he's clearly deserved for many, many years now.

Boogie Nights
Yes, it can get rather tawdry, but Paul Thomas Anderson's flick about Marky Mark's adventures as a '70s porn star is also just a great ensemble and period piece. And I dare you to try and find anything funnier than Don Cheadle trying to sell eight-track players while decked out in Country-Western attire as Buck Swope.

The Late Shift
Whew ... last one! I'm not sure this was the first movie that HBO ever made, but it's certainly the one that started to get the train rolling. It's been years since I've bothered to tune in to either David Letterman or Jay Leno, and I certainly won't give any of my time to Jimmy Fallon, but this insider's look at the late-night war that erupted after the retirement of Johnny Carson is just about pitch perfect.

Silliness from Rainn Wilson

I'm fairly certain the "The Rocker" with "The Office" star Rainn Wilson is going to be a good late-summer laugher, and he's definitely doing his part to make sure people turn out to see it. For the flick's viral (what an odd word) marketing pitch, he's teamed up with cutie Jenna Fischer for some extreme silliness at the Web site Free Jenna Now. I'll leave you with one sample clip, but I recommend visiting the site for a few laughs to make your Friday just a little more bearable. Peace out.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

All aboard the "Pineapple Express"

"It's like killing a unicorn, with like, a bomb."

Somehow I think the men's "round of 64" (as the equally nonstoned announcer kept saying over and over) Olympic badminton that was on this morning when I woke up probably would have been a lot funnier under the influence of some Pineapple Express.

And I promise, to the best of my ability, I will try to make this completely free of any stoner puns (so nothing about "high art" or "buds.")

From the outset of "Pineapple Express," you feel like you know the characters played by Seth Rogen and James Franco (even if you somehow haven't yet seen them together before in "Freaks and Geeks," just watch it already!), and that will be the test of how much you like this movie.

Personally, I liked them quite a bit, making the first half hour of "Pineapple Express" its most enjoyable segment. My only beef would be a fault of my own making: I had seen a lot of the funniest parts in advance. Even so, there's plenty of little gems like the quote at top (from James Franco, about smoking the titular weed) laced in the banter between his dealer and Rogen's perpetually stoned process server (and the action-hero segment about his dreadful job is really funny.) You may find Rogen's constant yelling as the situation deteriorates around them a bit annoying, but I think under the circumstances (witnessing a murder committed by a drug dealer [Gary Cole] and a cop [Rosie Perez], of course), I'd probably be at least as frantic.

As the movie shifts from comedy to action flick, there's one transition scene that I guarantee will have you laughing out loud from the opening blow. If you've seen it, you know I'm talking about that house fight with Danny McBride's Red which makes use of just about every fixture in sight (though I won't tell you how.) Until now I really hadn't been able to appreciate just how funny a guy McBride is, having only seen him in the instantly forgettable "Drillbit Taylor" and goofily entertaining "Hot Rod" (though I did just save his first real starring vehicle, Jody Hill's "Foot Fist Way," in my Neflix queue for when it comes out Sept. 27.) Here he sustains the flick as it starts to lose course near the end, and his constantly battered drug dealer is just a joy to watch.

The formula of "Pineapple Express" starts to shine through (see, I was gonna make a rather weak joke about "coming down," but I won't) as the flick builds to its surprisingly intense big showdown inside a farmhouse filled with legendary weed. It's not that it's not funny, which it is, or suitably violent, which it certainly is too. I just had the feeling that I've seen this all before and done funnier, specifically by Edgar Wright and crew in "Hot Fuzz."

And one final word about the ending, which I really appreciated because director David Gordon Green and writers Rogen and Evan Goldberg set you up for one of those cheesy, five-years-later endings before pulling a fast switch, and I admit I fell for it and laughed all the harder for being fooled.

The bottom line: I've probably been a little hard on this one only because of my own lofty expectations, but if you're expecting a stoner comedy with serious laughs and just enough heart, you won't be disappointed. Peace out.

P.S.: In my search for information on Danny McBride, I found out that he and Jody Hill have made a half-hour pilot for HBO called "East Bound and Down" (with apologies, I suppose, to Jerry Reed and "Smokey and the Bandit") starring McBride as a former pro athlete who has to return to his hometown as a substitute gym teacher. No idea if or when it will air, but definitely keep your eyes out for it.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

David Simon's "Treme" will be a "Wire" family reunion

Even with the simply sublime "Mad Men" back on the air and clearly still in top form and a slew of pretty great shows ("Pushing Daisies" would have to be the one I'm most jazzed about) finally set to return for hopefully full seasons, the end of HBO's "The Wire" has just left a huge void.

Luckily for us viewers, "Wire" mastermind David Simon is a man who likes to work and HBO is smart enough to hold on to its best talents. "Six Feet Under" creator Alan Ball will be back Sept. 7 with what should be a satisfying vampire series in "True Blood" with Anna Paquin, and in even better news, Simon is getting back into the game too in a big way - and with a lot of familiar faces.

For what is so far only a pilot (though it surely won't end up that way), Simon has moved his sights from Charm City to another American city in distress, New Orleans, where there's at least as much crime and corruption to work with as there was (and still is) in Baltimore.

"Treme," which takes its name from a historic African-American neighborhood in the Crescent City, will take a look at the lives of musicians and others struggling to get by in what Hurricane Katrina left them to deal with. "Wire" creative folks Eric Overmyer and Nina Noble are on board as executive producers and, in even better news (I know I'm burying the lead here), "Wire" cops Bunk and Lester and "The Corner" resident Fran Boyd are all set to star! (And though I try to use them sparingly, that's certainly worthy of an exclamation point.)

Wendell Pierce will play Antoine Batiste, an accomplished jazz trombonist who is now scratching for gigs, trying to support a live-in girlfriend and a new baby. Khandi Alexander, who after playing Fran on "The Corner" went on to star on "CSI: Miami" for seven years (though I can't say I've ever tuned in for an episode), will play Ladonna Batiste, the mother of Antoine's other two children, who is single-handedly keeping her bar afloat.

Clarke Peters, a k a superdetective Lester Freamon, will play Albert Lambreaux, a big chief of the White Feather Nation trying to bring the (Mardi Gras Indian, I assume) tribe's members home.

As you can probably tell from those few details alone, Simon's ready for this and should deliver something great. As he did with Baltimore on "The Wire," Simon told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that "Treme" would reach beyond the music scene to explore political corruption, the public housing controversy, the crippled criminal-justice system, clashes between police and Mardi Gras Indians, and the struggle to regain the tourism industry after the storm.

"It's basically a post-Katrina history of the city. It will be rooted in events that everybody knows," Simon told the paper. "What it's not going to be is a happy stroll through David Simon's record collection. It should not be a tourism slide show. If we do it right, it (will be) about why New Orleans matters."

All I can say is a resounding bring it on, ASAP!

AMC moving from '60s to '70s

Among the many charms of AMC's "Mad Men" (and man was that second episode of season two great) is the attention to detail it pays in reconstructing the world of early '60s New York City and its ad men.

Now, in its search for more original programming, the cable channel is looking to the '70s to turn Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" into a serial series.

Writers Christopher McQuarrie ("The Usual Suspects" and upcoming "Valkyrie") and Erik Jendresen ("Band of Brothers") have been hired to develop the project, which like the flick will be set in the early '70s. No word yet on who will attempt to fill the shoes of Gene Hackman as electronic surveillance expert Harry Caul, but given the dangers to privacy we deal with now the show could turn out be both timely and very entertaining.

Just as HBO passed on "Mad Men" (and then fired all the folks who made that rather astoundingly bad decision), ABC passed on this idea from the same team a few years ago. Even more interestingly, before that - way back in 1995 - producer Tony Krantz also tried to pitch it to NBC with Kyle MacLachlan in the lead. Talk about persistence!

Great TV news all around, but now I have to go to my actual paying job. Peace out.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Everybody must get stoned ... at the movies

For the record (and just in case any of my employers happen to read this), I have smoked pot exactly once in at least the last 10 years or so - in 2006 - and I didn't particularly enjoy it.

I do, however, as do more people than might want to admit it, really like stoner movies. I don't mean movies that are supposedly fun to watch while on drugs (though plenty of those are great.) And I won't include any of the Cheech & Chong flicks, even if they are the gold standard, just because it seems too obvious.

And all of this, of course, is in honor of "Pineapple Express," which I won't be seeing until Friday but which I'm virtually certain I'm just going to love. How in the world Seth Rogen became a bigger star than James Franco I'll never know, but seeing these two Freaks together in what looks like a thoroughly crazy flick should just be a joy.

So, without any further ado, here are six movies I really like that have at least a little bit to do with those funny cigarettes:

Dazed and Confused: Lining up for a free screening of this Richard Linklater flick while I was at the University of Georgia instead of going to class (which I did far too often at that point) with my bud Eric Rayburn is still one of the most fun times I've ever had watching a movie. I certainly never had as much fun as these kids did in high school, but that doesn't make this flick any less enjoyable.

The Big Lebowski: Is there a better stoner icon out there than the Dude? I think not, even if he never actually tokes up at any point in the movie. I've been slow to put this one near the top of the Coen brothers' oeuvre, but while my favorite flick from the bros remains "O Brother Where Art Thou," I've grown to love this one more and more each time I see it.

Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle: It was a truly sad moment when I found out I was too old to enjoy "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay." The guys were still entertaining, and Kal Penn is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors, but I just couldn't get into it. The original, however, is almost as imaginative as it is simply crude, and I keep going back to it again and again.

Brick: OK, drugs are just one of the many elements swirling through this high school film noir from Rian Johnson, but it's one of my favorite flicks, so I had to include it. Besides, I just saw the trailer for Johnson's sophomore flick, "The Brothers Bloom" with Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody and Rinko Kikuchi, and I'm convinced it's going to be one of the very best movies of 2008. In similarly good news, the trailer for Spike's "Miracle at St. Anna" played here in Macon over the weekend, hopefully meaning it's going to play everywhere once we finally get to see it.

Whatever: Count this as my candidate for the best movie that virtually no one has ever seen. Filmmaker Susan Skoog delivers a flawed but still seriously entertaining flick about growing up in New Jersey in the '80s in what would unfortunately turn out to be the only movie she ever got to direct (or at least so far, but it's been 10 years now.) If you can manage to get your hands on this one (I'd be willing to lend it to anyone with a VCR), it's worth watching for a fantastic performance from "Gilmore Girls" star Liza Weil and just an engaging little flick.

Super Troopers: This one is just riddled with pot from start to finish, and if I still smoked it, I'm sure I'd laugh even harder than I do when I return to this Broken Lizard flick every couple of months or so as cinematic comfort food. Though I thought "Beerfest" had its silly charms, I'm not sure the Broken Lizard guys will ever be this funny again, but as I just found out at the IMDB they will get another shot in 2010 with a "Super Troopers 2." Now that's a sequel I can get behind.

So there you have it. If you happen to see "Pineapple Express" before I do and want to give me your impressions in the comments, please do, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

"Swing Vote": Split decision

I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting from the first Kevin Costner flick I've seen in almost 10 years (the last being "For Love of the Game" in 1999.)

That said, I'm not a strong Costner hater. When he plays the "average guy"-type like he does in sports movies and certainly in "Swing Vote," I pretty much like him as much as anybody else. As I'll get to later, I just wish writer-director Joshua Michael Stern liked this kind of character too.

For the first almost 90 minutes or so, "Swing Vote" is exactly the kind of movie I like, and comes surprisingly close to real political satire - which means you shouldn't feel perfectly comfortable watching it. What makes the admittedly preposterous premise of one man's vote determining the actual outcome of the U.S. presidential election work is that it doesn't shy away from just how far the candidates would go to get that vote.

Even if the setups are more than a bit too broad, Stern and co-writer Jason Richman effectively poke fun at the kinds of issues that tend to dominate our political discourse and distract from the actual problems we have all around us. And watching Kelsey Grammer as the Republican president who embraces gay marriage and Dennis Hopper as the Democratic challenger who's coaxed into becoming stridently pro-life provoke genuine belly laughs. (The uncomfortableness, for me at least, is that it's so well-written it's really close to what we have right now, with Barack Obama unable to even take a position on offshore drilling and John McCain unsure of when or if he would try to pull our troops out of Iraq.)

And - in an even bigger surprise - it finds black and bleak humor in the circumstances of Costner's Bud Johnson, who gets fired from his job at a chicken plant and is pretty much taken care of by his young daughter who's played with - and forgive me for using this word - spunk by Madeline Carroll, who it's easy to see will be a big star soon. But building up Bud as a likable antihero with hard-to-swallow-but-funny jokes about Child Protective Services and cursing in discourse with children makes it all the more off putting when - in the last half hour or so - you find out that the makers of this movie actually hate hard-working people who are having a lot of trouble just getting by (which I guess I shouldn't be as surprised about as I was.)

The moment when this movie goes completely off course is telegraphed of course by the swelling music and more than a little bit of crying. And, as treacly and begging-to-be-Capra as it is (yes, even down to the sacks of letters stolen directly from "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"), I'd be disappointed by that but able to stomach it if this part were a lot shorter and more importantly if it didn't contain this line (SPOILER ALERT, OBVIOUSLY, SO IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THIS BUT STILL WANT TO, YOU MIGHT WANT TO STOP HERE): "I am America's greatest enemy."

I might have been paraphrasing a bit there, but when Costner's Bud Johnson says that is his teary-eyed Jimmy Stewart moment, it just reveals the real agenda of this movie - and frankly, why Democrats keep losing presidential elections. If you really don't want the "common man" to determine who rules us, what do you want, some kind of benevolent dictator?

That, however, is a different subject for a different time, and one I could go on about at length if this were a different forum. As it is, I'll stick to "Swing Vote," which sets up so much promise before it throws it all away at the end. I'd recommend this one as a tentative rental, because the satire - when it's there - is pretty sharp and worth tuning in for (and you can always cut it off if the end just becomes too much to take.) Peace out.

Friday, August 01, 2008

If you're gonna spoof, go for a big target ... like Michael Moore

Before I say anything bad about the man, let me say this first: I really like Michael Moore and most of his movies. "Sicko," which focused way too much on what's right with health care in Europe rather than what's wrong with it here in America, was a failure in my book - but a noble one at that - but I think all his other flicks have been right on-target.

And I swore after going to see "Date Movie" (admittedly only because Alyson Hannigan was in it, poor girl) that I would never again go see any spoof flick with the word "movie" in it. And I'm sticking to that, but one of the masters of the genre, David Zucker, is gonna take on Michael Moore in one spoof I think I could really go for.

Vivendi Entertainment has picked up North American rights to Zucker's "An American Carol," described by Variety as being about "a cynical, anti-American filmmaker who sets out on a crusade to abolish the July Fourth holiday. He is visited by three ghosts who try to show him the true meaning of America."

First of all, Michael Moore is in NO WAY "anti-American," but good spoofs always draw their targets with a broad brush. The late Chris Farley's brother, Kevin, will play the filmmaker (talk about ghosts!), and the cast will also include Zucker co-conspirator Leslie Neilsen, Dennis Hopper, James Woods and Jon Voight.

I'm assuming this will get a wide opening when it hits Oct. 3, along with - if you're lucky enough to live in a city bigger than mine - the great Fernando Meirelles' "Blindness" and another flick whose trailer you can find below.

So, if I like Michael Moore, why do I want to see him lampooned mercilessly by Zucker and company? Because even though he holds strong opinions and almost always makes movies good enough to back them up, he's also an extremely pompous dude who certainly deserves some good-natured ribbing.

"Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist" trailer

It's been quite a while since I've mentioned Michael Cera, but if you happened to visit here around the time "Superbad" came out a year ago you might well have assumed I have some kind of odd hetero-crush on the dude. Well, I don't, but any one who's seen "Arrested Development" (and if you haven't, why not?) knows he's just an extremely funny guy, and that's reason enough to talk about him from time to time.

Coming Oct. 3, he'll be back opposite Kat Dennings in "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist," a romantic comedy about - as best I can tell - a high school student who asks the girl standing next to him to be his girlfriend for five minutes so he won't be embarrassed by the ex-girlfriend who's shown up at his band's gig with a new beau. (After watching the trailer, I think I might be mixed up on just who does the asking, but does it really matter?)

Sounds too predictable and frankly, young, for me, but this is being directed by Peter Sollett, who six years ago made the nearly flawless flick "Raising Victor Vargas" (if you've never seen that one, do so on DVD now.) In his hands, the story of Nick and Nora's night in New York City could have a little "After Hours" and a little "Before Sunrise" thrown into it, or it could just turn out to be much worse than either of those fine flicks.

Anyways, enjoy the trailer, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. I'm debating whether or not to go see "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" or not. I know it's gonna be bad, but I often enjoy watching movies to see just how bad (like M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening," which just made me laugh hard for all the wrong reasons) they can turn out to be. Peace out.