Saturday, January 31, 2009

When's the last time you saw a great baseball movie?

Well, I actually saw "For Love of the Game" just the other day on DVD, and as sappy it is that one still just gets me every time, but I'm talking about a new-to-theaters, bona fide baseball movie.

I couldn't remember one for several years now, but "Half Nelson" creators Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden have one (very long) in the works that sounds just about perfect.

First premiering at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, their flick "Sugar" follows the fictional saga of Miguel "Sugar" Santos, a Dominican pitcher who comes up through a baseball academy in San Pedro de Macoris and gets a shot to test his talents in America. Though there have been occasional movies about minor league baseball ("Bull Durham" the most famous, of course), this is the first one I can think of that addresses the Dominican pipeline.

This is apparently going to finally get some kind of American release in April, but I'll probably have to catch it on DVD. Enjoy the trailer.

When it comes to sports movies, the only ones I like more than baseball flicks are ones about soccer. Heck, I even like the corny "Goal" series, which so far has followed Mexican immigrant Santiago Munez to Newcastle United and then to Real Madrid and - in the chapter I haven't seen yet - eventually to the 2006 World Cup.

There are much better soccer movies than those, of course, and the one I found a trailer for at the froggy film site looks like a real winner.

Starring Michael Sheen (and therefore by law, apparently, written by Peter Morgan, from a novel I now have to read by David Peace), "The Damned United" tells the story of very successful English football manager Brian Clough at his most unsuccessful point. Hired to coach Leeds United in 1974, Clough only managed to last 44 days, in which he managed to win only one out of six games and alienate just about everyone associated with the club.

This one is listed as coming out in March in the UK, and hopefully it will sometime after that play wide enough to even reach my little corner of the world. Anyways, here's the very enjoyable trailer. Have a great rest of the weekend.

Friday, January 30, 2009

What - if anything - to watch this weekend?

Actually, the best thing I could find out there this morning is that Lauren Graham is returning to primetime TV in something that's at least called a "comedy," part of ABC's big buy back into the sitcom game.

Graham, a k a Lorelai Gilmore the elder, will play a female talk show host who urges her viewers to just "Let It Go," but finds she can't follow her own advice after being dumped by her boyfriend. Sounds like a big ball of meh, but I was a big enough "Gilmore Girls" fan that I'll give it at least few episodes next fall.

But here today it's all about the movie weekend, which doesn't look great, but for a January weekend in Hollywood's silly season it certainly could be a lot worse. Is there really anything new out there worth watching this weekend (at least in wide-release world, which my little corner of the world is part of)? Here, in order of how much I want to see them, is the breakdown, and if you've seen any of these and want to offer a word of warning, please feel free to do so.

1. "Taken"
I saw Pierre Morel's "District B13" a few months ago on DVD, and it was pretty sensational. Morel's futuristic vision of Paris was a trip, and stuntman-turned-actor Cyril Raffaeli had the chops to keep up with the simply frenetic action. It shows the full potential of the new French action wave, but I can't shake the feeling that "Taken" will be - at best - a pale knockoff.

For one thing, rather than looking forward, Morel's new flick actually came out a year ago in France and - according to The New Yorker, at least - employs tired torture sequences that we've seen far too many times before. Even so, I'm willing to give it a chance because Liam Neeson (as a retired CIA agent, of course) is just cool and it will hopefully be a fun ride, not just yet another movie about all the evil things that happen when Americans venture overseas (I haven't been to Paris in years, but I'm fairly certain it really isn't all that dangerous a place.) Here's the trailer.

2. "The Uninvited"
I'm fairly certain I haven't seen any horror movies that are remakes of Asian flicks since "The Ring," but with Elizabeth Banks and David Strathairn somehow in this one I just might give it a chance. I actually have seen Kim Jee-woon's original South Korean flick, "A Tale of Two Sisters," and that one is as simply bizarre as it is creepy.

I can't imagine this version helmed by first-time feature directors and brothers Thomas and Charles Guard will be anywhere near as good, but I think I just might find out as a pre-Super Bowl matinee. Enjoy the trailer.

3. "New in Town"
Just when I think my rather extreme dislike of Renee Zellweger is unfair, she once again turns up in something like this, which just looks like the most familiar, fish-out-of-water tripe. And frankly, I've been to Minnesota several times now, and while I will concede some of those folks do talk kinda funny, so do a lot of the people down here in my adopted home of Macon, GA. Is that really enough to make the basis of a feature film? Apparently so, but not enough to make me watch it. Here's the trailer.

So there you have it. I could also, I suppose, get caught up on the prestige pics by seeing either "Revolutionary Road" or "The Reader," but after sitting through (and almost completely enjoying) Jonathan Demme's thoroughly dysfunctional "Rachel Getting Married," I think I'm just in the mood for some entertainment for the masses. Have a perfectly pleasant weekend, and as I said, if you've seen any of these and want to share your opinion, please don't hesitate to do so.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

One thing you most likely won't be seeing at this year's Super Bowl

Actually, before I get into any madness involving PETA, there's word this morning that Joe Carnahan, who has tried and failed to win the financing for several other movies since "Smokin' Aces," is now attached to direct a big-screen version of "The A Team."

Though I get proven wrong almost daily, so am well used to it by now, I really can't see this being anything but a mess, but I really liked Carnahan's "Narc" quite a bit, so I guess it's at least good to see the man working. Last I heard he was encircling a movie of James Ellroy's "White Jazz" or the Pablo Escobar biopic "Killing Pablo," either of which would most likely be better than seeing the further adventures of Hannibal and B.A. next summer (though, of course, I did just adore them as a kid.)

As for "Smokin' Aces," except for the very funny stuff with Taraji P. Henson and Alicia Keys, I thought that one was just a bloated disaster.

Here today, however, because I don't have time for much before heading out, it's all about PETA and the Super Bowl ad that NBC says is simply too racy for the big game. I may not agree with their goal, since I eat chicken at least once a day and have never felt too guilty about it, but I do like watching what PETA does as a constant provocateur.

And, I guess this ad featuring lingerie models and vegetables (remember, if you're watching this at work, I did warn you) does indeed provoke something. It's just about exactly what you would be expecting, but if you aren't offended by a list of female body parts, please read on after the jump for NBC's very funny second-by-second breakdown of just what they object to.

:12- :13- licking pumpkin

:13- :14- touching her breast with her hand while eating broccoli

:19- pumpkin from behind between legs

:21- rubbing pelvic region with pumpkin

:22- screwing herself with broccoli (fuzzy)

:23- asparagus on her lap appearing as if it is ready to be inserted into vagina

:26- licking eggplant

:26- rubbing asparagus on breast

Well, there's not really I can add to the words "rubbing asparagus on breast," so I'll simply say have a perfect passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Three - or four - of the weirdest things you'll hear today, I guarantee

Well, actually, the first isn't terribly weird, but it certainly is (with some reservations, of course) good to hear that the first big-screen installment of Tintin, to be called "Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn," is moving forward with huge names attached.

Paramount Pictures and Sony on Monday announced the start of principal production on the 3D motion capture animation film. Even better is that Billy Elliott himself, Jamie Bell, will be Tintin, and he'll be chased down by Daniel Craig as the evil Red Rackham.

For anyone unfamiliar with Tintin, he was the main character - a reporter, huzzah! - in Hergé's series of 24 comics. I have a couple of them on my shelf, and they're my favorite way to see if I can still navigate my way through anything in French.

Some other details from Monday's release (new and old) included that Steven Spielberg is directing the first installment in this planned trilogy, with Peter Jackson set for the second and a director-yet-to-be-named for the third. The movie, rather remarkably, is being written by veryfunnyman Edgar Wright, "Doctor Who" scribe Steven Moffatt and some dude named Joe Cornish.

And if Edgar Wright's on board, that means Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are too, to play the bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson. They'll be joined by Andy Serkis, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook and Gad Elmaleh.

But enough about a movie that's not set to come out until 2011. As promised, here are the three weirdest things I encountered this morning, two of which fall squarely in the category of "a man's gotta eat," and the third of which just makes me ill.

First up, and I missed this because I didn't bother to tune in to any but the last 10 minutes of the Screen Actors Guild Awards show, much less anything from the red carpet.

Somewhere in that three hours or so, Golden Globe winner Mickey Rourke (who lost out that night to Sean Penn, which is how the Oscars will probably break down too) revealed that he has agreed to follow up "The Wrestler" by actually becoming one at Wrestlemania 25, in a showdown with former WWE champion Chris Jehricho.

While I've never been to a live Wrestlemania event, at some point in the '80s I did score what is still my favorite baby-sitting gig, getting a free ticket to watch one year's extravaganza on closed-circuit TV as long as I agreed to take my two young neighbors with me. I have no idea what the card was, but I do know Hulk Hogan was there, and that I had a blast.

But could it possibly be a wise move for Mr. Rourke to jump into the squared circle? Well, I can't see him getting any serious movie work out of the deal, but I can't imagine he much cares either. I'd have to assume he's 1)having a lot of fun and 2) getting paid more than I make in an entire year, so why not?

Next up, and as an avowed enemy of any reality TV, I must say much sadder news, the great Mike White will be appearing on the next installment of "The Amazing Race."

Remember Mike White? Before deciding to run around the world for our "entertainment," he was (and surely still is) a very funny writer and director, responsible for penning "School of Rock" and "Nacho Libre" (which, yes, I do like quite a bit) and directing "Year of the Dog." He's also written a screenplay, "Them," about the fact that giant ants are somehow our real rulers, that will hopefully someday be directed by the aforementioned Edgar Wright.

Well before that, of course, he wrote three episodes of the simply perfect "Freaks and Geeks" and even appeared on one episode as Kim Kelly's water-headed brother, Chip. I had been hoping he would return to TV again after his short-lived Fox sitcom "Cracking Up," but I certainly wasn't expecting it to be like this.

For CBS' reality show, he'll be racing with his pop, Mel White, described as a writer, filmmaker, professor, pastor and gay-rights activist.

The Whites will be seen racing against a deaf guy and his mom, a pair of dwarf sibling stuntmen, a pair of sibling Harvard Law grads, a pair of hot redheads, a pair of blonde flight attendants and a pair of twentysomethings from The Bronx.

Oh well. I guess it could be worse. Here's hoping this is just a fun diversion with dad rather than any kind of permanent career move into TV's alternate reality.

And finally, saving the worst for last - and, really, I can't believe I'm typing this - Hilary Duff is set to play Bonnie Parker in a new take on "Bonnie and Clyde."

Just stop for a second and try to take that in, and then I'll continue ...

OK, here goes ... writer/director Tonya S. Holly says she was inspired to create this sure-to-be abomination - which she says is a "new adaptation," of course, rather than a "remake" of the 1967 film, which finds a home on the list of my top 10 films whenever I bother to compile them - after she found newspaper clippings about the gangster duo in an abandoned house on her family's property.

The big question is, however, how do you get from there to casting Hilary Duff in the role made famous by Faye Dunaway (and some joker I've never heard of named Kevin Zegers as Clyde Barrow)? I used to have a co-worker, Dan Maley, who said he was OK with his kids being infatuated with Ms. Duff since she didn't swear, take her clothes off or do anything else terribly harmful to younguns. But does that mean she can act? (For full disclosure, I've seen her in exactly one thing, a single episode of "Joan of Arcadia," so I guess I really can't be the judge of that.)

I do know that if Bonnie Parker heard this, she'd shoot young Ms. Duff right in the face, but since I'm slightly less prone to extreme violence, I guess I'll just have to sigh and start getting ready for work. Peace out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Become an uninvited guest with "Rachel Getting Married"

Before I launch into this review, did anyone else find it more than a little odd that noted thespian Katie Holmes was chosen to give out the best actor in a motion picture award at last night's Screen Actor's Guild Awards? Just a random thought ...

I have to say Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married" might just be the most unpleasant movie that I thoroughly enjoyed. And I can tell you, if you think you've seen every possible kind of movie wedding, think again.

What Demme has accomplished here, with a big assist from screen writer Jenny Lumet (daughter of Sidney), is something as overall as creepy as any horror movie, but instead of the usual gore the horrors here are all emotional and all too real. You never get the sense that you're really supposed to be there, and watching these extremely personal events unfold at a natural pace as an uninvited guest is a singular movie-viewing experience.

But I guess a word or two about the plot is in order, since the fairly straightforward title only gets things started. As the titular Rachel (RoseMarie DeWitt, a k a Don Draper's hippie mistress Midge on the first season of "Mad Men") is indeed getting married, her sister Kim (Anne Hathaway, as you probably know) is returning from nine months of drug rehab to steal some of the spotlight.

The movie is at its best when the two of them come together, and each sister would be a fairly trite cliche (the family success and the black sheep) if the parts weren't so well written and performed. Hathaway's rehearsal dinner toast, after begging her way at the last minute into the role of maid of honor, has gotten the most attention, and it is indeed a simmering pot of desperate neediness. But the reason it works so well is that it comes at the end of a series of wedding tributes full of the usual love and awkward moments, making it all the more jarring when Hathaway's Kim turns the spotlight on herself instead of the happy couple.

Hathaway is indeed exceptional here, but it's when we find out that there's a real tragedy buried among her many secrets and lies (which you won't hear about from me) that the actors around her get to excel. Bill Irwin as the father of the bride is hard to watch as he struggles to keep his face in a perma-grin as the big weekend starts to unravel. DeWitt's Rachel lets her resentment at this last-minute wedding intrusion simmer until it boils over, and at that point every word becomes a sharp dagger. One scene that perfectly captures the mix of bonhomie and real pain comes when Irwin and Rachel's husband-to-be Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe, who just happens to be black, a fact that creates refreshingly little to no drama) try to turn the tedious task of loading the dishwasher into a competitive sport to ease the tension.

I don't want to reveal too much more, but there is indeed eventually a wedding, and the joy it brings is just as real as the trauma, and a desperately needed respite. My only real beef with Demme's film is that he felt the need to lard up the reception a bit with more than a few of his music industry friends, but even here it was really nice to see Sister Carol East of "Something Wild" fame again.

In the end, if you can handle a brutal emotional battlefield, I can highly and almost unconditionally recommend "Rachel Getting Married." In closing, here's a flashback that just made me smile, Sister Carol performing "Wild Thing" for the closing credits of "Something Wild," which should brighten up a bit even the dreariest of Mondays. Peace out.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"Frost/Nixon" review

Say hello, good evening and welcome to one of the greatest political movies ever.

That bit of glorious hyperbole doesn't come from me, of course, but from the British tabloid The Sun. My sentiment would be, this was a pretty darn entertaining flick, but I really wish I could have seen the play.

The first question I always ask when I see a movie that's taken directly from the stage is, "did it gain anything in the transfer"? In this case, I'd say a conditional yes, with the big minus that it also adds one very unnecessary distraction.

Either at the urging of director Ron Howard or from the mind of playwright and screen writer Peter Morgan (I have no way of knowing which, frankly), the movie adds to the main dynamic of the buildup, actual showdown and aftermath of David Frost's interview with by then ex-President Richard Nixon a series of documentary-style, cut-in interviews with the other supporting players that only manages to take us out of the main story without adding any real insight or entertainment value.

Morgan, as he did with "The Queen" and his almost-as-good TV movie about Labor Party politics, "The Deal," is best at creating living history, and more specifically filling in the intimate details in the dynamic between historical figures who are much more alike than they originally know. Adding the mockumentary touches only dilutes the fact that he's written another whip-smart screenplay and handed it over to two first-rate actors, here as on stage, Michael Sheen and Frank Langella.

Sheen excels at playing characters, as he did with Tony Blair in both "The Queen" and "The Deal," who are in need of constant attention, seemingly aware of their own talents but still needing to have them reinforced time and time again. He captures perfectly just how insecure Frost was going into the Nixon interview (which he now claims cost $37 million pounds!), and the play's/movie's biggest strength is in naturally bringing out just how much Langella's Nixon felt the same way.

Mr. Langella has received a Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of Nixon, and it's well-deserved. It's no mean feat that he manages to make us almost feel sorry for Nixon without hedging one bit on the traits that brought about his fall from grace. Unlike Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of the former president in Oliver Stone's "Nixon," which I found far too often to be a caricature, you never see Langella as anything but Nixon's big ball of vanity, arrogance (of course) and, surprisingly, loneliness. It's that last trait that makes the final act of "Frost/Nixon" the best one, a quiet moment when Frost and Nixon meet several months later at Nixon's compound, La Casa Pacifica.

Which isn't saying that the pre-game action and the showdown itself lack the appropriate dramatic tension. Langella and Sheen (and, of course, Morgan) give their exchanges a wicked humor, but almost as much credit here should go to the uniformly solid supporting cast.

Similarly to "Man on Wire" (a better 2008 movie that, sort of, actually is a documentary), Morgan and Howard set up the staging of the interview as much as a heist than as any attempt at actual journalism. And any heist needs a solid slate of co-conspirators on either side, led here on the left by Sam Rockwell as Nixon antagoniste James Reston Jr. and on the right by Kevin Bacon as Nixon's post-White House chief of staff, Jack Brennan. They get the meatiest supporting parts because their convictions set up the main conflict at the movie's core, getting the truth vs. hiding it all costs, and they both just run with it. Toby Jones is (as usual) just a hoot as Nixon's "literary agent" Irving "Swifty" Lazar, and though I always like to see Rebecca Hall, she's given little to do here as Frost's girlfriend, Caroline Cushing.

In the end, I'd say Ron Howard's movie would have been great rather than very good if, like the superior "Doubt," it had had the courage to trust the inherent strength of its source work. As it is, it is indeed a nearly first-rate bit of political theater, but not for me in the category of Best Picture. If I had a vote, which so far exists only in my mind, I'd give that final slot to Darren Aronofsky for "The Wrestler" or Guillaume Canet for "Tell No One."

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to do my cooking for the week and then see Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married," which I'm really looking forward to. Peace out.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Who got the bigger Oscar shaft, The Boss, Batman or Dirty Harry?

Before I dive into anything about the Oscar nominations, the coolest thing I found this morning was actually casting news for what should be a rather wickedly good movie from Alfonso Cuaron.

The "Children of Men" director's next flick will probably be what the IMDB still calls an "Untitled Alfonso Cuaron Project," a small film about a family living in Mexico City in 1971, but I'm talking about what should come next.

"A Boy and His Shoe" is described as a road movie about young folks traveling throughout England, Scotland and France, and if you've seen "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (and if you haven't, why not?), you know the man knows a thing or two about road movies. And, even better, according to the Froggy film site Cinempire (if I have my rusty French right), he's recruited French everyman Daniel Auteil and Charlotte Gainsbourg to star in it.

Still best known so far as the daughter of iconic French crooner Serge Gainsbourg, Charlotte is turning into a fine actress herself. I've liked her ever since Claude Miller's "The Little Thief," and she and Heath Ledger together were easily the best thing about Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There," Cate Blanchett notwithstanding.

Anyways, enough about that. On to the Oscars ...

I was asked by my boss to write something handicapping the Oscars for the actual Telegraph newspaper, and I will about a week before the show or so, but for now just a few gripes, starting with the shoddy treatment of "The Dark Knight."

Now, I didn't put it in my top five for the year ("Milk," "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Wrestler," "Tell No One" and "Let the Right One In"), so I wasn't terribly surprised or upset to see it didn't get a Best Picture nomination, but I really would have liked to see a Best Director nomination for Christopher Nolan's accomplishment.

According to some fun facts compiled by Variety, this is rather amazingly only the fifth time that all five directors of the Best Picture nominees also got a Best Director nod, and I would usually say huzzah to that. It just seems to make sense.

This year, however, can you really tell me that Stephen Daldry, who has now received Best Director nominations for each of his first three films ("Billy Elliott, "The Hours" and now "The Reader"), is deserving of yet another nomination while Nolan is shut out for creating something as epically entertaining as "The Dark Knight"? Now, I haven't seen "The Reader," and I realize that makes my argument rather ludicrous, but this is my rant, so deal with it.

One of the two people who might have a bigger beef than Mr. Nolan would have to be Clint Eastwood, who I just assumed was entitled to a Best Picture nomination every time he sat in the director's chair, but this time got a big bucket of nothing for "Gran Torino."

Now, I would normally celebrate the death of this sense of entitlement, but I found "Gran Torino" to be more entertaining than any Eastwood-directed movie I've seen since "Bird." It took a while to grow on me, but for a reason that probably reflects poorly on me: I found myself laughing at the saltier of Walt Kowalski's racial slurs, and it just me extremely uncomfortable for a good portion of the flick.

That said, once I've had time to think about it, Eastwood's tale about his friendship with a Hmong family that moves in next door is a naturally entertaining tale, even if he is still a mortal enemy of subtlety (examples: Did they really have to play the military music every time he pointed a gun or, AND IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FLICK YET, PLEASE SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH, have him lying in the shape of a cross at the end of the flick?)

Those are small quibbles about a flick that while, again shouldn't have gotten a Best Picture nomination, should have at least garnered either a Best Actor nod for him, an Adapted Screenplay nomination for Nick Schenk or, at the very least, a Best Song nomination for his graceful theme song that plays at the movie's finish.

And, to wrap this up with the biggest head-scratcher of all, how in the world did they end up only nominating three songs in the Best Original Song category, "Jai Ho" and "O Saya" from "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Down to Earth" from "Wall-E"? The double nod for A.R. Rahman's "Slumdog" work (he's also, rightfully, nominated for Best Original Score) probably means they will cancel each other out for a "Wall-E" victory (actually, the "Wall-E" nomination that just made me smile was Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter and Jim Reardon with Best Original Screenplay for a movie that mainly features robot dialogue. Priceless.)

But, getting back to the songs, did they just get tired after picking three and stop? Along with snubbing Clint Eastwood's jazzy piano tune, they also ignored Bruce Springsteen's soulful theme song for "The Wrestler," which also closes out Darren Aronofsky's movie and is one of the Boss's best songs in years.

OK, enough about that. If I had to handicap it, I'd say the Best Picture race will be a three-way heat between "Slumdog Millionaire," "Milk" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and I guess you could do worse than that (though I've expressed here before my distaste for "Benjamin Button.") In closing, here's a video montage from the flick set to Springsteen's tune, since, amazingly, "The Wrestler" is STILL not playing wide enough to reach into my little corner of the world this week (though we do finally get "Frost/Nixon," "Rachel Getting Married" and "Slumdog Millionaire," so I should probably just be thankful.) Enjoy the song, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Does Ben Kingsley really deserve this?

I love looking at the Razzies list each year because, even though it's done with a spirit too mean even for me, it reassures me that - despite much evidence to the contrary - I don't see every movie that comes out, just almost every one.

In fact, the only movies on this list that I saw last year were M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." I can't see any reason for Indy to be here, and now that I look back on it, I had a lot of fun watching M. Night's flick too.

Now, I'm not saying it's not bad, but I conditionally recommend renting it if you - like me - enjoy laughing at just how bad a movie can be. Just a taste: When Marky Mark and his entourage come upon a house full of infected folks who aren't in a particularly good mood, he actually sings a Doobie Brothers tune through a crack in the door to soothe them. I can't make this stuff up.

The only other beef I could possibly have with this list is the inclusion of Sir Ben Kingsley, but I guess after appearing in "The Love Guru" he only has himself to blame. "The Wackness," however is one that's near the top of my Netflix queue right now, and I'm really looking forward to it. Anyways, after seeing who actually gets the Oscar nominations this morning, enjoy these for a good laugh, and scroll to the end for a visit from Dr. Manhattan!

Worst Picture
* Disaster Movie
* The Happening
* The Hottie and the Nottie
* In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
* The Love Guru
* Meet the Spartans

Worst Actor
* Larry the Cable Guy, Witless Protection
* Eddie Murphy, Meet Dave
* Mike Myers, The Love Guru
* Al Pacino, 88 Minutes and Righteous Kill
* Mark Wahlberg, The Happening and Max Payne

Worst Actress
* Jessica Alba, The Eye and The Love Guru
* The cast of The Women (Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Meg Ryan)
* Cameron Diaz, What Happens in Vegas
* Paris Hilton, The Hottie and the Nottie
* Kate Hudson, Fool's Gold and My Best Friend's Girl

Worst Supporting Actor* Uwe Boll (as himself), Uwe Boll's Postal
* Pierce Brosnan, Mamma Mai!
* Ben Kingsley, The Love Guru and The Wackness
* Burt Reynolds, Deal and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
* Verne Troyer, The Love Guru and Uwe Boll's Postal

Worst Supporting Actress
* Carmen Electra, Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans
* Paris Hilton, Repo: The Genetic Opera
* Kim Kardashian, Disaster Movie
* Jenny McCarthy, Witless Protection
* Leelee Sobieski, 88 Minutes and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

Worst Screen Couple
* Uwe Boll and Any Actor, Camera or Screenplay
* Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher, What Happens in Vegas
* Paris Hilton and either Christin Lakin or Joel David Moore, The Hottie and the Nottie
* Larry the Cable Guy and Jenny McCarthy, Witless Protection
* Eddie Murphy and Eddie Murphy, Meet Dave

Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel
* The Day the Earth Blowed Up Real Good
* Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans
* Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
* Speed Racer
* The Clone Wars

Worst Director
* Uwe Boll, 1968: Tunnel Rats, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale and Uwe Boll's Postal
* Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans
* Tom Putnam, The Hottie and the Nottie
* Marco Schnabel, The Love Guru
* M. Night Shyamalan, The Happening

Worst Screenplay* Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans
* The Happening
* The Hottie and the Nottie
* In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
* The Love Guru

Worst Career Achievement Razzie
* Uwe Boll

A visit from Dr. Manhattan

There's not much I can say about this except that 1) the good Dr. looks more than a little odd in his navy blue tighty-whities, and 2) I'm so happy that "Watchmen" is coming out so early in the year (in early March.) This fairly clever bit of viral marketing went up on this Watchmen site today, and it's here for you to enjoy too. Peace out.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Oscars predictions? Why not?

"George Bush is NOT the president ... we're alive! ... we actually made it!"
- Chris Rock

I certainly couldn't put it any better myself, so I'll just move on to something much, much more trivial. Along with the Oscar nominations coming tomorrow morning, there's evidence (though I can't yet call it proof) that Joss Whedon's horror movie might actually get made.

So, what is it? Well, it's called "Cabin in the Woods," and it was written (note, written, not will be written by Whedon and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"/"Angel" veteran Drew Goddard, who penned my most surprisingly entertaining movie of 2008, "Cloverfield" (please note, that designation is far from best, as we'll get into soon; I simply mean the premise sounded simply awful but the flick is pretty darn good.)

And, not only will "Cabin in the Woods" most likely get made, it's even luring some quality inhabitants. Bradley Whitford, star of "The West Wing" and, unfortunately, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and even better, "The Visitor" and "Six Feet Under" star Richard Jenkins are on board for the project.

As for what it's about, details are scant, but Whedon did tell Variety that Whitford and Jenkins will play two white collar workers who visit the cabin, where I can only assume not terribly pleasant things will happen. Stay tuned to this.

Now, however, on to the main order of the day. The big question is: Will "The Dark Knight" get a nomination for Best Picture? I'll tackle that and the four acting categories (I simply don't have time to do the 10 categories that will be announced at 8:30 EST Thursday morning.)

I thought about just waiting until just before these are announced tomorrow or just saying "Who cares about the Oscars?" and moving on, but I still care about them, so here goes:

Best actress:

If I were a betting man, I'd say the nominees will be:
Cate Blanchett: Easily the best thing about "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," even though that makeup they put on Brad Pitt was pretty cool too. This one's a lock.
Kate Winslet: Well, her name rhymes with weight, and she won two Golden Globes, so just pencil her in here for "Revolutionary Road," which is somehow finally playing in my little corner of the world this week.
Meryl Streep: I read an interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman in which he said Streep approaches acting like it's hand-to-hand combat, and you can certainly see that in "Doubt." I had no desire to see this one, but it's surprisingly good, and she is great in it.
Sally Hawkins The other Golden Globe-winning actress has the honor(?) of playing easily the most annoying role of the year in Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky," and doing so with style. My pick for the deserved winner.
Anne Hathaway: I have yet to see "Rachel Getting Married," but my parents went into it expecting more of a comedy after hearing an interview with director Jonathan Demme on Fresh Air and were of course surprised by what they found. My pick for the actual winner.
Biggest snub: Hiam Abbass certainly deserves recognition for her performance as a mother trying to get her son out of prison in "The Visitor," but I can't really see it happening.

Best actor:

Mickey Rourke: I was hoping that Oscar nom week would bring - shocking idea - a movie about professional wrestling to the American South, but apparently not in my little corner of the world (but we do, thankfully, finally get "Frost/Nixon.") If you get to see this, you'll see what I think is the performance of the year because I simply couldn't see anyone else playing the role of Darren Aronofsky's wounded warrior in "The Wrestler." My pick for the deserved winner.
Sean Penn: Though Rourke took home the Golden Globe, I can't imagine Oscar voters in the end won't give their vote to Penn for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, and why not? Penn finds all the quirks of Milk's personality that made him such an odd choice for a civil rights pioneer, and delivers a remarkable performance.
Frank Langella: I'll be seeing "Frost/Nixon" finally Saturday afternoon, and I expect to see a commandingly creepy turn by Langella as Richard Nixon. 'Nuff said.
Richard Jenkins: Seeing Thomas McCarthy's "The Visitor" get any recognition at all would be great, and this is easily its best shot. Jenkins is a joy to watch as he slowly lets his Walter Vale re-engage with the world.
Brad Pitt: The weak link in this chain by far. He was certainly a marvel to watch as the young boy trapped in the body of an old man, but the more and more he just looked like a slightly confused Brad Pitt, the less engaged I became with "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."
Biggest snub: If I had a vote, I'd give it to Jeffrey Wright for his sly and fierce turn as Muddy Waters in director Darnell Martin's "Cadillac Records," but I can't see that happening unless a lot of people look at their ballots just before submitting them and say, "geez, where are the black folks?"

Best supporting Actress:

Penelope Cruz: My pick for runner-up, Cruz is just manically funny and more than a little terrifying in Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."
Viola Davis: My vote for the actual winner and should-be winner coincide here. No one took over a movie better than Ms. Davis did for the 10 minutes or so she was in "Doubt," and that's the definition of a supporting role. Simply stunning.
Amy Adams: Actually, what I want to see Amy Adams in is "Sunshine Cleaning," for which I've seen the trailer at least three times now. In "Doubt," she plays the young nun caught in the middle between Streep's accuser and Hoffman's accused, and just keeps us in the titular "Doubt" throughout the movie.
Marisa Tomei: If it weren't for Ms. Davis, I'd predict Tomei would be taking home her second Oscar this year for her performance as the not-yet-beaten-down dancer who befriends "The Wrestler."
Taraji P. Henson: Judging from all the trailers and some movies I've seen, Henson is turning into the "It" woman (not girl, of course) for black directors, with roles in Tyler Perry's "The Family that Preys" and the Tyler Perry rip-off "Not Easily Broken," directed by Bill Duke. She'll be nominated here for being one of the bright spots in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."
Biggest snub: In case any one's wondering, yes, I'm well aware that I repeat myself, but I'd vote for Beyonce as Etta James in "Cadillac Records." Yes, Beyonce.

Best supporting actor:

Heath Ledger: The definite winner, and deservedly so, for his chaotic takeover of the role of The Joker.
Robert Downey Jr.: Why in the world not a vote for comedy? I can't see Tom Cruise getting in here for "Tropic Thunder" like he did at the Golden Globes because, well, he just wasn't that funny. Downey, however, as mega-actor Kirk Lazarus, certainly was, so huzzah to that.
James Franco: The former "Freak" got a Golden Globe nomination for his delightfully goofy role as Saul the friendly pot dealer in "Pineapple Express," but he'll be nominated here for his work as Harvey Milk's lover Scott Smith. It's been quite a year for the former reluctant member of the McKinley High A.V. club.
Josh Brolin: I'd like to see him get a Best Actor nod for "W.," but the field is just too crowded. Instead this will be for his portrayal of troubled killer Dan White in "Milk," which just left us appropriately confused about what really drove White to commit his heinous acts.
Michael Shannon: To be honest, I know nothing about this, but there have to be five, so why not Mr. Shannon for "Revolutionary Road"?
Biggest snub: Eddie Marsan is just a simmering pot of rage in "Happy-Go-Lucky," and once he boils over its unforgettable, so his name should certainly be called tomorrow morning, but won't.

Best Picture:

OK, here it is. I'd say the best predictor is to look at the Director's Guild nominees, which were: Danny Boyle for "Slumdog Millionaire," Gus Van Sant for "Milk," Ron Howard for "Frost/Nixon," Christopher Nolan for "The Dark Knight," and David Fincher for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Is that right? I'd say almost. Although I'd certainly like to see it, I don't think "The Dark Knight" will make the cut. The Academy, as a rule, doesn't usually anoint more than one movie that's at least as fun as it is "good," and I think that slot goes to "Slumdog Millionaire."

So, if "The Dark Knight" is out, what's in? I see four contenders: Sam Mendes' "Revolutionary Road," Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler" (huzzah!), Andrew Stanton's "Wall-E," or Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino." Of those, I predict Clint's movie will be the dark horse that just sneaks in the gate, so the big five will be:

"Slumdog Millionaire"
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"Gran Torino"

If I had to pick a winner today, I'd say "Milk," and I'd certainly be OK with that. Here, if I had a vote, would be my top five for the year:

"Slumdog Millionaire": I threw up a little in my mouth when I read this morning about how Mr. Boyle had to defend his movie in Mumbai after some idiot called it "poverty porn." I don't even know what that could possibly mean, but Boyle's movie is lively, fun and thoroughly enchanting, and that's enough for me.
"Let the Right One In": Please, please, please see this in its original form when it comes to DVD instead of waiting for the American version. This Swedish gem is as much a coming of tale as it is a suitably scary vampire flick, and just an all-around winner.
"Milk": Gus Van Sant's movie deals a lot more with the small details of San Francisco politics than I expected, and therefore could have been a real snooze, but it certainly never is. Instead, it's a celebration of Harvey Milk's life that's full of warmth and, of course, tragedy.
"Tell No One": I want to resist saying "they just don't make them like this anymore," but I'm afraid I have to. Guillaume Canet takes what easily could have been another by-the-numbers thriller and instead turns Harlan Coben's novel into the best mind-bender of the year.
"The Wrestler": Darren Aronofsky's flick sticks to the structure of the sports underdog flick but gives its hero a truly scary foe: Any semblance of an actual life. A professional wrestling movie as one the year's five best? Believe it.

So, there you have it. Tune in for the Oscar nominations tomorrow morning at 8:30 EST, and please feel free to tell me if I've snubbed any actor, actress or movie in particular. Peace out.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Diablo Cody is the voice of ... what?

I don't get Showtime - and have, in fact, never before now seen a Showtime show - but I do get Hulu (not a very exclusive feat, I concede) and have therefore seen Diablo Cody's new show, "The United States of Tara."

The show itself was a little better than I expected, but the funniest thing of all was the promo clip about Ms. Cody on the Showtime site. Now, I'm all for self-promotion (well, actually, I've never been very good at it at all), but this was enough to - really - make me do a spit take with my still very hot coffee Sunday morning.

In it, yarnhead Brie Larson, who plays Toni Collette's yarnhead daughter on the show, actually said this, and I don't think she was joking: "Diablo Cody is the voice of our generation ... blah, blah, blah ... I can't even speak to her."

Really? Granted I'm more than a little older than Ms. Larson, but I'll take, maybe, Barack Obama.

Even so, like I said the show is pretty good, and I have the sense it's going to get better. The only problem (and, yes, I guess it's a pretty big one) is the premise and how Toni Collette fits into it. Her multiple personalities are gross caricatures, and she looks so uncomfortable doing it that you get the feeling she's well aware of that. The rest of the characters, however, are fairly well drawn for a pilot episode, and I think Collette will get better as the show goes on, so assuming Showtime will keep letting me watch them for free, I'll keep doing so for at least a few more.

If you haven't seen it, there are certainly worse ways to spend your lunch hour than going here and doing so today.

As for Diablo Cody, if I have my French right (and I'm pretty sure I do), she has her ever-roving eye set next apparently on Shakespeare (and, since you're a writer who's almost as clever as you think you are, why not Shakespeare)?

According to the fantastic Froggy film site Cinempire, now that "Jennifer's Body" (in which, if I may be as piggish as possible, the titular "Body" belongs to the rather appropriately named Megan Fox) is in postproduction, she's going to write a modern version of "La Mégère apprivoisée," which is apparently the French title for "Taming of the Shrew."

My first reaction was, wasn't that done already on a sublimely silly episode of "Moonlighting"? Sheesh. As for Cinempire, even if you can't read French (and I really can't all that well anymore), it's still worth checking out. They report movie news like a lot of folks, but are quick to pounce on tidbits about filmmakers like Atom Egoyan or Pedro Almodovar, who don't usually get much attention from your average geeks. Plus, you can, if you really want to, see the poster for the upcoming Festival du Cinéma Espagnol de Nantes.

"Mad Men" finally gets its main man

Actually, I guess that would be Jon Hamm, who I have to assume is smart enough to never walk away from this series before it comes to its rightful end, but "Mad Men" really wouldn't be the same again if creator/mastermind Matthew Weiner had. Well, fortunately, that's not anything we have to worry about (so I can instead worry about whether or not my car can last until I have time to take it to my beloved mechanic Thursday morning.)

Word came down late Friday that Weiner had indeed signed a two-year deal with Lionsgate that will keep him on board through four of the show's projected five seasons. I can only imagine he's gonna hold out for real before signing a rather fat deal for the last hurrah.

The best news is that, according to Variety, along with a seven-figure payday for himself, Weiner was also holding out for - and received - a big boost for the show's budget. Now that he's on board, writing on season three is set to start immediately. Bring it on!

Easily the coolest thing I've seen today

Actually, this is so good I probably should have lead with it. Anyone who's been here before (and there are apparently a few of you, thankfully) knows that there's no movie that may never even come out I like to talk about more than Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are."

It now has a release of Oct. 16, 2009, and until I get to see the final project I'll still have doubts that Warner Bros. will let Mr. Jonze release the movie in anything approaching his original cut, which is apparently more than a little (appropriately, I think) warped. For now, we get a glimpse - courtesy of /film, where you can see more - of just how twisted his Wild Things might be, on these promotional skateboards Jonze plans to release through his Girl Skateboards Company. Though I tried my hand at skating as a kid, I was never terribly good at it (and, if I can confess, preferred roller-skating), but I think even I would learn a few moves for something as cool as this. Enjoy!

And, finally, a NSFW trailer

Although I kind of enjoyed Jason Segel's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," I also found it too short on laughs and too long on conventionality (though that "Dracula" puppet show at the end was a hoot). It's biggest crime was it wasted veryfunnyman Paul Rudd in a simply annoying role as a stoned out surfing instructor.

Thankfully, Rudd takes the lead role in the March 20 comedy "I Love You, Man," and he's surrounding by a first-rate comedy cast: Segel, Jamie Pressly of "My Name is Earl", Rashida Jones of "The Office", Jon Favreau, Andy Samberg and J.K. Simmons, who can make me laugh without saying a word. The trailer below is plenty funny, but be warned: It's also plenty rude, so please wear headphones if you're gonna watch it at work, and have a perfectly passable Monday.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Who are these "Crazies," and what the heck are they doing in Peach County?

Actually, the biggest movie news today that might concern anyone who doesn't live within 30 miles of me concerns two biopics in the works which could both turn out to be pretty friggin' cool.

First off, Jim Sheridan, who last made the rather instantly forgettable 50 Cent bio pic of sorts, "Get Rich or Die Tryin' " (man, do I hope "Notorious" - which is indeed playing here this weekend - is better than that!), is now returning to the Irish turf that he knows so well. Well, Irish-American anyway.

Sheridan will be directing and co-wrote the script for a pic about Boston mobster and FBI informant Whitey Bulger, based on the book "Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob" by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill (which just went on my reading list.)

I love mob movies as much as the next guy, especially ones based on real mobsters, so this should just be a lot of fun (and I'm sure Ben Affleck would give his left nut to play this, but I really just can't see it.)

Even better in my book, Focus Features has acquired the rights to "Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon." Now, I do agree there are too many music biopics out there, but cats just don't get much more interesting than Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

I recently bought a compilation of two Fela albums on the ITunes, "Open & Close" with "Aphrodisiac," and I can confirm they are just stunningly entertaining. Along with the music, though, Fela was also a political animal, often imprisoned in his native Nigeria before he died in 1997. Although I recommend these two guys for just about everything, I'd love to see Derek Luke (P.Diddy, or whatever his name is, in this week's "Notorious") or the "The Wire" vet who will be making a six-episode run soon on "The Office" (more on that in just a bit) in this meaty role.

Right here in Middle Georgia, and soon, there's something much more and appropriately crazy going on. I've so far managed to steer clear of almost all horror remakes, but I just might have to make an exception for this one.

As reporter Jake Jacobs reported in Wednesday's Sun News (which I lay out), there's a remake of George Romero's "The Crazies" in the works, and amazingly enough it's about to start filming in Peach County. Specifically, the filmmakers will invade Peach County High School and other parts of the county for filming from April 1-20.

So, what in the world is "The Crazies"? I haven't seen it, but as best as I can tell it's about what happens when a toxin is released into a town's water supply that, of course, causes ordinary people to go insane. Sounds good to me as long as it's a lot of fun, and now we know who will be here when it's filming.

Timothy Oliphant (Sheriff Seth Bullock on "Deadwood" who has managed to star in a string of just awful flicks since) and Radha Mitchell (who I last saw in the mildly engaging "miracle" movie "Henry Poole is Here") will be the stars, and if you want to see them, just stop by the school in that window and you might get lucky. And on one day, you'll probably see me too.

TV odds and ends

For most "Friday Night Lights" fans (meaning almost anyone who doesn't have DirecTV), it's been a long, long wait for the new season to hit NBC, but it finally does tomorrow night at 8.

Luckily, and thanks to the largess of always-welcome reader Jeremy, I've seen most of the episodes already, but I'll watch them all again on my bigger screen because they're just as good as ever.

Coincidentally, what will most likely be the last "FNL" episode ever hits DirecTV on the same night that the new season starts on NBC. I won't spoil anything for those of who will be tuning in tomorrow night (except for the teaser that, yes, Tim and Lyla are thankfully an odd couple again), but I can say they're clearly wrapping all the loose ends and doing so with a welcome dose of wicked humor.

And of course, for those of you who - like me - are old enough that you often stay home on Friday nights or else have a DVR, don't forget that the final episode run of "Battlestar Galactica" begins Friday night at 10 on Sci Fi. Bring it on!

Finally, there's some cool casting news for "The Office," and its non-Office spinoff from the series creators, which will premier right after the Super Bowl.

The name Idris Elba (teased so shamelessly just a few paragraphs ago to get perhaps a few people to read to the end of this) will be very familiar to fans of "The Wire" for his turn as Stringer Bell, but you should also check him out in "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" - the last movie from the late Anthony Minghella - once it hits DVD.

Now, in what should be a very funny run, he'll soon be appearing on six episodes of "The Office" as a new corporate suit who - among other duties - will finally try to whip poor Michael Scott into shape. Very cool.

For the new show from "Office" producers Greg Daniels and Mike Schur, "Saturday Night Live" vet Amy Poehler will star and be surrounded by former "Office" employee Rashida Jones, funny man Aziz Ansari and - most recently - Aubrey Plaza (who can apparently be seen in Judd Apatow's next flick, "Funny People.")

So, what's it about? Well, I don't know much, but this one sentence is enough to get me to watch at least a few episodes:

[The sitcom] is set in the office of Amy (Poehler), deputy chairman of the department of parks and recreations in Pawnee, Ind.

Vice chairman? Sounds just right to me, and I'll finally wrap this up with a coming three-episode turn on a show I just recently managed to get on board with, "Chuck," from a dude I can really only stand in small doses.

Goofy man Chevy Chase will play a technology mogul on three upcoming episodes of the show, which returns with new stuff Feb. 2. Unfortunately, it will be in 3-D, so I hope I will be able to stubbornly watch and enjoy it with only the glasses I need to make it through each day.

And, really finally since this has clearly gone on long enough, I'll leave you with this video preview of tonight's "The Office" episode, titled "The Duel." As any "Office" fan knows, that means Dwight and Andy, so definitely tune in, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Golden Globes get it just about right, but when will we all get to see these?

A hearty congrats at the start to who I would have to say was the real surprise winner at last night's Golden Globes, "In Bruges" star Colin Farrell. I would have cast my vote in the Best Actor/Comedy or Musical category for his co-star Brendan Gleeson, but it's still a well-deserved win for a smart role in Martin McDonagh's wickedly funny little flick.

The overall movie winner at the 66th awards show, however, was Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire," and a hearty huzzah to that as well. If that sets him up for a Best Picture (and hopefully that means best director, too, as it did at the Globes) victory, I'd be happy with that, since he made one of the most inventive flicks of the year that tells a warm and engaging tale.

My best five for the year, by the way: "Slumdog Millionaire", "The Wrestler", "Milk", "Let the Right One In" and "Tell No One". If I had to pick a single favorite right now, it would be Darren Aronofsky's "The Wrestler" by just a nose over Gus Van Sant's "Milk".

But, in what might the real predictor, what does the Director's Guild of America have to say? "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" — David Fincher; "The Dark Knight" — Christopher Nolan; "Frost/Nixon" — Ron Howard; "Milk" — Gus Van Sant; "Slumdog Millionaire" — Danny Boyle. I'm still not too confident that "The Dark Knight" really will sneak into the party, and if it doesn't, I'd look for Sam Mendes' "Revolutionary Road" to come crashing in.

In Best Feature Comedy/Musical, I was pulling for dark horse "Happy-Go-Lucky" from Mike Leigh, but I'm also content with a win for Woody Allen's little confection "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." When's the last time a major award win and Woody Allen's name appeared in the same sentence?

In the Actor/Drama category, Mickey Rourke was a well-deserving winner for his portrait of Aronofsky's wounded warrior. Likewise, kudos for the recognition of Sally Hawkins' fairly remarkable turn in "Happy-Go-Lucky" in the Comedy/Musical Actress category, easily my favorite female performance of the year, albeit a hard one to watch.

When it comes to the other actress categories, however, there's just further proof that, in Hollywood, there are apparently only two actresses deemed worthy of recognition: Kate and Cate. I like them both plenty, and will concede I haven't yet seen either "Revolutionary Road" or "The Reader", but did they really have to give Kate Winslet both acting awards? Sheesh. Of the women nominated, I would have voted for Meryl Streep in "Doubt" for the Drama category, and an extremely deserving Penelope Cruz for Best Supporting Actress in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

A final word about the movie winners before I move on the the greater point (and, yes, there is one buried down here somewhere.) I was extremely happy to see A.R. Rahman's victory in the category of Best Score for his soundtrack to "Slumdog Millionaire." The sweet Spanish guitar sounds that fill the background of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" are a lot of fun too, but you can't do too much better at all than the wildly infectious Indian techno pop that provides the back beat of "Slumdog."

Isn't it time, however, that these movies finally play wide and make what is normally the Hollywood silly season (which I peg at lasting until March 6, when it looks like "Watchmen" will actually manage to come out after all) a bearable time at the multiplex?

I can only assume that the presence of Leo DiCaprio guarantees a "Revolutionary Road" wide run very soon, but having already seen the trailers for "The Wrestler" and "Slumdog Millionaire" playing in my little corner of the world, I have to wonder why they haven't played here yet, and if these wins will indeed be enough to mean they come this week.

Already, this week is shaping up to be a fairly good one for movies. Personally, I'm really looking forward to seeing what George Tillman Jr. has come up with for the Biggie Smalls biopic "Notorious." With Biggie's mother as one of the producers I'm a little worried it will be a sugar-coated affair, but with a cast featuring Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Anthony Mackie and newcomer Jamal Woolard as Biggie himself, I really don't see anyway this one will suck.

I think Edward Zwick's "Defiance" is also widening enough to reach out this far too, but I can't say I'm as excited about that. Is it too much to ask that these (and, I'm afraid, "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," "Hotel for Dogs" and " My Bloody Valentine: 3D") be supplemented by two of my favorite movies of 2008 out here in wide-release world?

Well, enough about that. I'll close with this "sneak peek" clip from Pixar's next flick, "Up," introduced by director Pete Docter. It doesn't reveal too much more than the little we've already seen, but there are couple of cool storyboard shots from what I'm sure will be one of my favorite flicks of next summer. Enjoy, and have a perfectly bearable Monday.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My 10 (well, 14 or 15) best male performances of 2008

Since this is my list, after all, why in the world should I have to get it down to the rather random number of 10 any way?

Already, cutting it down to this collection meant omitting three small comedic performances I really liked, Russell Brand in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Brad Pitt in "Burn After Reading" (not, mind you, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"), and Peter Dinklage in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian."

So, without further ado and in simple alphabetical order, here are the ones who managed to beat them out. Please, as always, feel free to add any of your favorites or chide me for any glaring omissions.

Josh Brolin
Mr. Brolin, who has really just had back-to-back sensational years, could easily make this list for his portrayal of Dan White in "Milk," but he's really here for his spot-on take on "W." Anyone who has resisted seeing Oliver Stone's fairly nuanced portrait will be in for a surprise if they spring for it on DVD because, oedipal issues aside, it's a surprisingly even-handed work. And most of the thanks for that goes to Brolin, who plays W. as a mostly likable guy who's just clearly in over his head.

Francois Cluzet
The main reason Harlan Coben's work translates onto the French screen so well in "Tell No One" is the style of director Guillaume Canet, but leading man Francois Cluzet deserves a lot of notice too. Like Ricardo Darin in "El Aura" (a simply sensational film noir you should rent right away if you can), he just has that everyman look that's needed to anchor a seriously mind-bending thriller, and the skills to make easily the most harrowing street chase of the year look nothing but natural. And, if you live here in Macon, please go see this one Sunday afternoon at 2, 4:30 or 7:30 at the Douglass Theatre courtesy of the Macon Film Guild.

Robert Downey Jr.
If there was an overall acting award for body of work for the year, I think I'd give it to Downey for his roles as Tony Stark in "Iron Man" and Kirk Lazarus in "Tropic Thunder." The latter, which is at least as offensive as advertised and - when it goes "full retard" - just as funny, should certainly get a supporting actor nomination and without The Joker and maybe Eddie Marsan (more on him later) as competition, perhaps even take the prize.

James Franco
His performance as amiable pot dealer Saul Silver in "Pineapple Express" was the definition of good physical comedy, but he makes this list instead for his work as Harvey Milk's lover Scott Smith in "Milk." It's the tenderness (not that there's anything wrong with that) that he and Penn bring to the early scenes of Gus Van Sant's movie that just make the tragedy we know is coming hit that much harder, and it just shows why Franco is deservedly the most successful of the former "Freaks."

Brendan Gleeson
Though he's gotten little recognition for the feat, Martin McDonagh has managed to direct two of the year's most satisfying flicks in the ultra-dark comedy "In Bruges" and the heist flick "The Bank Job." In the former, he has just the right comic foil in Gleeson, who plows through McDonagh's take on the cliche of the thinking hit man with a sharp wit, and keeps you laughing so that the ending - which is over-the-top in a way I couldn't have imagined - just creeps up on you until it drops the hammer.

Richard Jenkins
I'm still mulling doing a list of the signature shots of 2008, and if I do, that final scene from Thomas McCarthy's "The Visitor" when Richard Jenkins' Walter Vale finally lets it all go will certainly make the cut. The reason it's so satisfying is not just because McCarthy has crafted an engaging if occasionally heavy-handed tale about immigration to the U.S., but even more so because Jenkins plays Walter on a perfect slow burn, getting re-engaged with the world around him at just the right pace. He should, and I think will, get the fifth Best Actor Oscar slot for this.

Heath Ledger
Not sure what I can say about his takeover of the role of The Joker that hasn't been said too many times already, so I'll just share my favorite two shots from the late Mr. Ledger's second-to-last flick (don't forget Terry Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus," assuming that ever really comes out.) From "The Dark Knight," I can't (and don't want to) forget that signature shot of Ledger's Joker riding away in a stolen police car, his head out the window and just reveling in the chaos he has just unleashed on the streets of Gotham, or when he's walking away from the hospital in that nurse's uniform, playing with the buttons on the detonator with that perfect look of crazed confusion. Rest in peace, Mr. Ledger.

Eddie Marsan
It's fitting enough that the only performance (in my book) that could rival Ledger's Joker for Best Supporting Actor comes next in the list. Mike Leigh is an expert at creating characters who tear at your emotions, and Eddie Marsan's Scott the driving instructor is no exception. You (or least I) want to find some kind of goodness under the rage that keeps building until his climactic showdown with the ever-positive Poppy in Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky," and he's just boiling throughout this minor masterpiece.

Danny McBride
Mr. McBride may never be considered a great actor by the standard definition, but in one of my favorite categories - comic sidekick - he's on top of his game. Along with playing the comicly indestructible Red in "Pineapple Express" and the blast-happy munitions expert in "Tropic Thunder," he also played the lead in and co-wrote one of the year's most-underappreciated laughers, director Jody Hill's "Foot Fist Way." If you like a good kung-fu comedy (and if you don't, why not?), rent this one right away, and definitely keep your eye on Statesboro, Ga.'s own Mr. McBride.

Bill Milner and Will Poulter
Of the two truly odd 2008 movies about making movies, I'd give the edge by a nose to Garth Jennings' "Son of Rambow" over Michel Gondry's kooky "Be Kind Rewind." As the two young stars of Jennings' at least semi autobiographical tale about a quest to remake "First Blood" (yes, really), Bill Milner and Will Poulter work well as the friends-turned-enemies-turned-friends-again who are crazy enough to undertake this quest during one long English summer.

Sean Penn
I can only assume Mr. Penn will be the big winner at tomorrow night's Golden Globes and again at the Oscars for his work in "Milk," and I have no problem at all with that, though I'd give my vote to the next guy on this list. As Harvey Milk, Penn just captures not only the drive that led Milk to pursue his career in politics after so many failures but also the devilish humor that marked his private life, and does it all in a surprisingly understated manner.

Mickey Rourke
"Milk" and "The Wrestler" are indeed wrestling in my mind for the title of best film of 2008, and I have a feeling Darren Aronofsky's flick will be on top by the time the Oscars roll around. As the aging grappler at its center, Rourke isn't just the only possible person you could see in the role, but just the embodiment of the wounded but still extremely vain warrior, and gives all the edge to this sports underdog flick about the biggest underdog you may ever see.

Brandon Walters
OK, this aboriginal kid may not even be an actor, but he was perfectly charming as young Nullah in Baz Luhrman's "Australia," and each time he said "cheeky bulls" it just made me smile. I see nothing on his IMDB list that says he'll ever manage to appear in another movie again, but here's hoping.

Jeffrey Wright
It's a shame that Mr. Wright is last on this list, because his portrayal of Muddy Waters in director Darnell Martin's "Cadillac Records" is certainly Oscar-worthy. I'll keep beating the drum for this underappreciated flick until my arms get really, really tired, largely because of Wright's pitch-perfect mix of anger and wicked humor that made him disappear completely into the role of the iconic bluesman.

And there, after more words than I had anticipated, you have it. As a final matter of business intended for only two people, I promised my friend Marvin Waters, a k a Randy to most of the world, that I would share this poem he wrote for his bride Barbara - who is an appreciated reader of this site - on the occasion of their second wedding anniversary today. Congratulations! Here goes:

10 after 3

All day
This day
Is our day


All day
Each day
Is our day

Not sure what in the world I could say after that, but I hope at least someone enjoyed this best actors list and didn't mind the sappiness that I gladly included at the finish. Peace out.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Will "Mad Men" really be back this summer?

The Variety piece about this that caught my eye does indeed feature the much more optimistic headline " 'Mad Men' Season 3 set for summer," and I really can't see anyway that AMC would really let its clear franchise show fail.

It was more than a little distressing, however, to hear that executive producer and creator Matthew Weiner, who has said he foresees a five-season arc for what is clearly TV's current best drama (with all apologies to "Friday Night Lights") still hadn't signed a new contract with Liongate. Sign the man up already! Here's what AMC president Charlie Collier had to say Thursday:

"As long as we get the writers' room up and running over the next few months, we're fine (for a summer launch)," Collier told reporters after the sesh, adding that he's optimistic that an agreement with Weiner will be reached soon.

Good news indeed, hopefully, since I just can't wait to see what happens to Sterling Cooper and, of course, to our hero Don Draper. Along with the "Mad Men" return came news about what AMC will be using it to launch, which sounds like it could be pretty cool in its own right.

The cable network is cooking up a six-part remake of the '60s British show "The Prisoner," set to star Jesus (a k a James Caviezel) as "No. Six" and, even better, Sir Ian McKellen as "No. 2," the mysterious official charged with extracting secrets from "No. Six."

A solid two-hour block of summer entertainment. I can only say bring it on.

"Iron Man 2" cast taking shape in great form

Perhaps even better than the news on who will play the villains in "Iron Man 2" is at least the implication that there will only be two of them (at least someone managed to learn something from the excremental "Spider-Man 3"!)

According to multiple sources, Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell are set to sign on as the big baddies who will do battle with Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark when the second installment hits in summer of 2010.

The Hollywood Reporter has the most details about Rourke's character, who would be called the "Crimson Dynamo" and be: "An evil version of Iron Man who battles the superhero in a nuclear powered suit of armor." Nothing but cool there.

Rockwell will play Justin Hammer, a multibillionaire and business rival of Tony Stark. I just love the possibilities opening up here, especially with the franchise continuing with great actors playing smart villains (following Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane), even if Terrence Howard is out as Rhodey and being replaced by the equally intriguing Don Cheadle.

What's Jean Pierre Jeunet up to?

When I first heard Jean Pierre Jeunet was going to direct a movie based on Yann Martel's "The Life of Pi," I can't say my reaction was much more than meh. I thought the novel, about a character (I'm not kidding) who survives for more than 200 days on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a tiger and various other zoo animals, had its charms, but I also just though Jeunet could do so much better.

Well, apparently so does he. After backing out of "The Life of Pi," he's now apparently well into something called "Micmacs a Tire Larigot" (and though I have a rudimentary knowledge of French, don't ask me what in the world that means.) Here, however, is a rather interesting snippet that falls short of a plot summary, courtesy of Twitchfilm:

Is it better to live with a bullet lodged in your brain, even if it means you might drop dead any time? Or would you rather have the bullet taken out and live the rest of your life as a vegetable? Are zebras white with black stripes or black with white stripes? Is scrap metal worth more than landmines? Can you get drunk from eating waffles? Can a woman fit inside a refrigerator? What’s the human cannonball world record?
Find out answers to these questions and more.
A comedy in the vein of Delicatessen and Amélie.

The IMDB describes it further only as "a satiric comedy set in the world of illegal gun trade," but whatever this turns out to be I only hope I get to see it fairly soon. The photo above is courtesy of Twitchfilm also, and they have plenty of more stills from "Micmacs a Tire Largot" you can view here.

"Amelie" is just one of those movies I return to a couple of times each year when I need a lift, and "City of Lost Children" is even better, so any news about Jeunet is welcome in this little corner of the world.

And, since it's Friday, I'll leave you with this fairly disturbing poster from Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail," set to drop in February. I'm a big fan of Tyler Perry, so here's hoping probably beyond hope that this turns out to remarkably funny. Peace out.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Vive la femme: My women of the year

It really sucks to be so sick you almost can't think straight, but it only happens to me once every three years or so, so I guess I really shouldn't complain.

And while I've managed to get it together enough to go to work, I haven't been able to muster the will for much else after that but sleeping and watching some mindless (but not stupid, big difference) TV, which has lately meant a big dose of "Seinfeld" (not that there's ever anything wrong with that!)

But now, with an hour and a half to kill before the so-called national title game, I really need some brain exercise, so without further ado - in simply alphabetical order - here are my favorite 10 (actually 12, with the combined entries) female movie performances of 2008. Please feel free to add your own, and enjoy:

Hiam Abbass
I've raved in full in this space about Richard Jenkins' performance in this film by "The Wire" veteran Thomas McCarthy, but it wouldn't have been complete without Hiam Abbass as Mouna Khalil to help draw him out. In a way, everyone in this flick is a "Visitor," as Abbass' Mouna, a Syrian immigrant searching for her son, certainly is in New York City. Her balance of anger, reserve and eventual gratefulness for the help of Jenkins' Walter hits just the right note, and they make a perfect combo.

Kathy Bates and Alfre Woodard
You can say a lot of bad things about Tyler Perry (if you want to, which I don't), but you have to admit that - like Woody Allen sometimes does - he really has a knack for writing smart, funny parts for women. And, surprisingly, he found his best yet for his first white star, Kathy Bates. The "Dallas"-style story of family intrigue in "The Family that Preys" falls short of good, but the tale of Bates' and Woodard's friendship - and the road trip it takes them on - is so entertaining you won't even mind the sap. And Kathy Bates, in particular, is just a hoot.

Penelope Cruz and Rebecca Hall
2008 was a surprisingly strong year for comedies, so I guess it shouldn't be too much of a shock that the aforementioned Mr. Allen finally managed to return to top comedic form with the lighter-than-air treat "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." Penelope Cruz got the best of it here, taking a manic turn in Spanish as the chronically crazed wife of Javier Bardem's Juan Antonio. Rebecca Hall, however, held up her end of the love quadrangle as the movie's real leading lady, and besides, I've always just really liked her ever since "Starter for 10."

Viola Davis
They really need to make another acting category besides supporting for the actor who makes the biggest impression in a movie in the shortest space of time. Call it the "impact" award if it must have a name. Last year I would have given it to Hal Holbrook for "Into the Wild," and this year it would certainly go to Viola Davis for her 10-minute-or-so turn in "Doubt." I can't really tell you anything about it because it makes both the movie and its plot, but I can guarantee you won't forget it for quite a while.

Sally Hawkins
I really hope Mike Leigh's "Happy Go Lucky" gets enough awards acclaim to play a little wider, because it's one of the oddest but also most endearing movies I've seen in quite a while (it didn't make my top 10 for the year, but would have been at No. 14 or so.) At its center, Sally Hawkins just plays a character so perpetually cheerful that you (or at least, me) want to throttle her, until you slowly get attached to her and realize just how good Hawkins is in this. It really is a litmus test for cynicism, and though I usually reject that kind of thing, this one just works perfectly.

Beyonce Knowles
I'm sure I don't have nearly enough influence to do Darnell Martin's woefully underappreciated "Cadillac Records" any good, but if any movie deserves a strong second life on DVD this is it. It's a consistently fun if offbeat musical biopic, and Beyonce is shockingly good as Etta James, just a combustible mix of pride, anger, vulnerability and yes, sexiness. And, yes, she really can belt out a mean rendition of "At Last" and, even better, "I'd Rather Go Blind."

Tea Leoni
Speaking of underappreciated, did anyone go see "Ghost Town" in the theater? There were probably at least four or five who did, and I'm sure that like me they found a treat for fans of Ricky Gervais and comedies that are aimed at adults (without forgetting to be at least a little silly.) I liked Tea Leoni in this one, however, at least as much as I did Mr. Gervais, and she manages to get the best of him in several scenes of this witty charmer.

Samantha Morton
I can't nearly go as far as New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis, who if I'm not mistaken gave four of her five best actress votes to the women of Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, NY," but I can take a second to praise Samantha Morton's work in it. Her bubbly Hazel is just the perfect inspiration for Philip Seymour Hoffman's Caden Cotard, and though Kaufman lost me by the end of this wierd but sometimes wonderful creation, they both soldiered through to the finish.

Marisa Tomei
If it weren't for Viola Davis, I'd definitely vote for Marisa Tomei's turn in "The Wrestler" for best supporting actress, and for Mickey Rourke as leading man, because Darren Aronofsky's flick is simply the best character study of the year. Not, mind you, the most inspirational of characters, but two of the most memorable, and it won't surprise me at all if she takes home her second Oscar this year (shocking, perhaps, but well deserved this time.)

Catinca Untaru
And, for the finale, youth is served. Tarsem Singh's "The Fall" works best as a story being devoured by a wide-eyed child, and young Catinca Untaru is just thoroughly charming as Alexandria. I learned from reading an article by Roger Ebert that she spoke little to no English when this began filming (two years ago!), and had to be coached line-by-line throughout, just making her performance all the more remarkable.

And there you have it. Please feel free to mention any one I have clearly snubbed (and believe me, I know there are many!) Peace out.