Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Can Johnny Depp rescue movies for adults?

Before I jump into gangsters or anything about Johnny Depp, there are at least three news nuggets that just thoroughly intrigue me today, so here goes:

* With Amy Adams now set to star opposite Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in David O. Russell's "The Fighter," you can now count it as one of the movies I'm most looking forward to for 2010. The drama revolves around the life of boxer "Irish" Mickey Ward (Wahlberg) and his trainer-brother Dick Eklund (Bale), chronicling their early days in Lowell, Mass., through Eklund's battle with drugs and Ward's eventual world championship in London. Adams, who makes absolutely everything she's in a little better, will play Charlene, a "tough, gritty" (well, I can't really see that) bartender who ends up dating Mickey.

The movie begins shooting next month in Lowell, and is there anyone you could make this sound any better? Sure, add Melissa Leo as Mickey's mother. Now I'm hooked.

* You know, I really should have more faith in Matt Reeves. I thoroughly enjoyed "Cloverfield," even though I expected going in to hate it, so maybe there's hope he won't make a mockery of "Let the Right One In," my single favorite movie of 2008, with his completely unnecessary remake, now called "Let Me In" (because, I suppose, the original just had too many words.)

I still can't see any reason to do this, and transport the movie to Colorado, but Reeves does at least seem to be a genuine fan of the material. As he told The Los Angeles Times about reading the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist:

"I was just hooked. I was so taken with the story and I had a very personal reaction. It reminded me a lot of my childhood, with the metaphor that the hard times of your pre-adolescent, early adolescent moment, that painful experience is a horror."

OK, fair enough. In the interview, he also disclosed that one extremely essential thing will remain the same. Oscar, the boy who becomes intrigue with the pale young girl who moves in next door, is 12 YEARS OLD, and therefore way too young to be played by Zac Efron.

Like I said, I'm still solidly against all this, but I have to admit it's getting me at least a little intrigued.

* When I heard that Duncan Jones, who directed easily one of my favorite flicks of this year with the traditional sci-fi tale "Moon," was going to next direct a submarine flick, you could call me rather psyched. Well, not so fast ...

Instead of "Escape from the Deep," he's apparently already working on something called "Mute," which he describes as a "thriller-mystery." Set in various locations around Berlin (Germany, not, oddly enough, the Eastern Shore of Maryland), it's about a woman whose disappearance causes a mystery for her partner, a mute bartender. When she disappears, he has to go up against the city's gangsters.

Excellent. And if you haven't seen "Moon" yet, do it as soon as you can on DVD (though no release date has been set yet), because Sam Rockwell is just amazing.

And speaking of gangsters and something amazing, if I may finally get to what should have been the lead, it really looks like Johnny Depp is walking right into a bear trap, as impossible as that seems.

I mean, really, what could be more all-American for the Fourth of July than a Michael Mann flick starring Depp as John Dillinger, Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis, the law man who doggedly pursued him, and Marion Cotillard as Dillinger's mol, Billie Frechette? Well, apparently a lot of things.

Trying to figure out if I could squeeze in a screening of "Public Enemies" on Thursday afternoon before I have to go to work (thanks to the glorious 11 a.m. movie, I think I can), I found something rather shocking (at least to me.)

At our two local multiplexes (the third, rather sorrily, doesn't even have Wednesday showtimes up yet), Mann's flick is getting a total of 12 showtimes daily. Fair enough, right? Well, not really, because the also-opening "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" gets 25 (thanks to 3-D), and even more egregiously, the holdover "Transformers" flick gets 24. Where's the justice in that?

I suppose it's what you get when you release a possibly Oscar-caliber flick (actually, with 10 finalists, I'd call it a mortal lock) in July. Given the way the deck is stacked, I'd have to predict "Public Enemies" will finish third this week, and be lucky to pull in $50 million, even with the holiday bounce. Mind you, I certainly want to be wrong.

The much bigger problem, as EW highlighted a few weeks ago, is that movies for adults have pretty much disappeared from mainstream theaters. I suppose "The Hangover" sort of counts, and "Star Trek" certainly appeals to all ages, but "Public Enemies" should just be a timeless tale that deserves a wide audience. Having watched the trailer several times now, I can assure you that, yes, there really is something therapeutic about watching Johnny Depp wield a Tommy Gun.

But, enough preaching for a Tuesday morning. Here's hoping I'm wrong, and Michael Mann's flick just does bonkers box office. Peace out.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Yes, I'll watch Ricky Gervais do ... well, just about anything

You know, I haven't been to a Broadway show in many years, but if I were to go wild and spring for one now it would certainly be what Julie Taymor is cooking up.

The stager of "The Lion King" has been working for some time now on a musical "Spider-Man," an idea so crazy that it should almost certainly work. And now she's got two of the main players from among her regulars.

Even Rachel Wood will play Spidey's paramour Mary Jane Watson, and the great Alan Cumming will play Norman Osborn/the Green Goblin. No word yet on who will play the webcrawler himself.

And, as a final word on all that, a formal apology from me to Ms. Taymor: I avoided seeing "Across the Universe" in theaters because it just looked like such a mess, but as happens what seems more and more every day, I was once again wrong. Yes, it's hippy, dippy and trippy, but it's also a heck of a lot of fun, so I'd definitely recommend a rental if you've never seen it.

And from here on out today, it's all about funny, and two flicks I'm certainly looking forward to.

Somewhere out in the desert of New Mexico (or maybe old Mexico, it's hard to tell), veryfunnymen Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have been working on something called "Paul," and it looks like just my kind of thing. Directed by Greg Mottola, whose last two flicks, "Superbad" and "Adventureland," have just been fantastic in my book, it's an American road movie starring the two of them and an alien they somehow manage to pick up at Area 51 on their way to ComicCon.

And now it's got a Web site you can check out here. It's pretty primitive so far, with only three videos and two collections of flicker pics, but it's still worth checking out and will surely get much better soon. If you visit, among the many things you'll learn is that the flick is set to feature Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio, among other funny folks, so keep your eyes on this one.

But the main event here today is the trailer for Ricky Gervais' fall flick, now titled "The Invention of Lying," which he co-wrote and co-directed with Matthew Robinson. It kind of looks like the most generic sort of romantic comedy, but since it's Gervais, I'm still betting it will bring the funny.

If I can make one more video recommendation, although just about no one in the world bothered to see it, "Ghost Town" is just a thoroughly entertaining little flick. Starring Gervais, a charming Tea Leoni and Wiig as a truly maddening doctor, it's well worth a rental too.

And with that, I'm off to enjoy a probably scorching day at Athfest, featuring Bloodkin, Patterson Hood and more, all for free. Enjoy the trailer, and have a great rest of the weekend. Peace out.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Quite possibly the greatest time-waster of all time

As anyone who's been here before well knows, I've always had a love for movie trailers.

That has waned just a bit as more straightforward commercials have invaded the premovie space (oddly enough, seemingly most often for beer and cars - not exactly a great combo), but, well done, they're still just the perfect way to get geeks like me jazzed up for movies months before they even come out.

And now, IFC.com has gone to the trouble of assembling what it considers the 50 greatest trailers of all time, complete with YouTube clips of each one. As with any list, you can quibble with their choices, but it does contain some real gems.

For example, it has both Spike Lee pushing "She's Gotta Have It" in character as Mars Blackmon and a teaser trailer for Sam Raimi's first "Spider-Man" flick that was dropped because of when it came out and its rather sensational use of the Twin Towers. From this year alone, both "Watchmen" and easily my single favorite trailer of the year, that plug for Spike Jonze's "Where the Wild Things Are" that features the Arcade Fire song "Wake Up," both made the cut.

Anyways, I can't think of a better way to kill up to an hour or so when you should be working on a Friday, so click here, enjoy and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Oscar's big gambit: Power to the people?

Before we get into this madness with the expanded Oscars, there's news about two things out there today that will snag a bit of this aging geeks' money, so I thought I'd pass on what I know.

The first is that the Director's Cut for Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" should be a truly wild affair. It's set to come to DVD the third week of July or so, and if you're lucky enough to live in New York, L.A. and maybe a couple of other cities you will be able to see it in a theater for one weekend only right before that.

The flick will clock in at an admittedly rather ridiculous 188 minutes, but if you're like me and loved the movie almost as the funny book by Alan Moore, I think you'll happily sit through it all. No word yet on whether or not there will be a giant squid anywhere to be seen, but I do know that it will restore one scene that was just sorely missing from the theatrical cut: The murder of Hollis Mason. This is a very poignant moment in the comic, so it's about damn time.

Comingsoon.net also had a bit this morning about something from Zack Snyder that I can't say I'm terribly excited about: A sequel to "300."

Now, don't get me wrong, it certainly will look cool. But didn't "300" have a definite ending already? Frank Miller is apparently hard at work on the comic that would precede the movie, but personally, I'd much rather see what Snyder can come up with for "Sucker Punch." Though it sounds a whole lot like "Pan's Labyrinth," I'm betting his tale of a young woman who creates an alternative reality to escape from a mental institution will be nothing but cool.

The second thing that caught my eye this morning may well only appeal to me, but here goes anyway: They're actually making a Fraggle Rock comic book. Things just don't get much odder than that, but I'm definitely in.

It seem that the Jim Henson Company is partnering with Archaia Comics to release a whole bunch of comics, everything from "The Dark Crystal" to "Labyrinth," with "Fraggle Rock" set to start it all off. With Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller hopefully still working on a new muppet movie, we may be looking at a second golden age for Henson's creations, and that would be just fine with me.

But beyond what interests me, of course, the biggest news of the day is the Oscars' big gambit: To double the number of best picture nominees from five to 10.

The move, which sounds great to me, leads back to a much earlier era; The last the time the academy had 10 Best Picture nominees was from 1931 to 1943. But why now?

Well, both the most obvious and probably the right reason is what happened last year with "The Dark Knight." Many folks, though by only a nose, not me, thought Christopher Nolan's flick should have received a Best Picture nomination. And, to be clear, if I had had a vote and there were 10 slots, I indeed would have given one of them to "The Dark Knight."

But what might it mean for this year? Well, I think it almost certainly means that "Up" will finally break into the Best Picture pack, and given it's rather rapturous reception, could even come very close to winning. Beyond that, if geeks are allowed to dream, could "Star Trek" even make the cut too? Probably not, but you can see how the wider field opens a bunch of possibilities.

My only possible beef with any of this is that it will probably make the already unbearably long Oscar broadcast even longer. My suggestion: Cut, immediately, that extremely morbid bit where the audience offers dead folks varying degrees of applause. That just makes me cringe every time I see it.

But, of course, beyond expanding the field to a wider range of films, there is a bottom-line factor that plays big into this. Though they won't say it publicly, I'd imagine the ability to stamp "Best Picture nominee" on 10 DVDs rather than five each year had to play a big role in this decision.

So, there you have it. Please feel free to chime in with any thoughts you might have on all of this, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Remember glorious 2-D animation? Miyazaki does, and it looks amazing

Before we get into all that, when I first saw this news, I assumed it had to be a joke, but apparently not. And given how much David Fincher's been a hired hand in his directing career, I guess it kind of makes sense.

It seems that Fincher, who in my book is in need of a winner after the sappy swill that was "Benjamin Button," is in final negotiations to direct "The Social Network," Columbia Pictures' upcoming movie about the creation of Facebook. Take that in for a sec, because it does just indeed seem quite ludicrous.

But the idea of a Facebook flick has a little more merit when you dig into it. The already-written script is by Aaron Sorkin, who before he became infatuated with the religious right was capable of producing some seriously witty stuff. It's based on the book "The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mezrich, and will be set at Harvard, where then-sophomore Mark Zuckerberg and his friends set up the social networking monster (yes, I'm on it, and it does prove to be at least a mild diversion.)

While I can't help but think this will be horribly dated if and when it ever gets made, and I can't fathom what beyond a truckload of cash would draw Fincher to it, something still has me holding out hope that it could be a lot of fun.

In much, much crazier directing news, it seems that Zhang Yimou, who last choreographed that simply insane opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics and hasn't directed a feature flick since 2006's "Curse of the Golden Flower," is now shooting a Chinese remake of the Coen brothers' "Blood Simple."

No, I'm not making that up, and I'm not really sure I could. Called "San Qiang Pai An Jing Qi" - which roughly translates as "The Stunning Case of the Three Gun Shots" - the "thriller-comedy" is set to be released later this year.

Now, I normally rail against remakes as much or more than anyone, but something about a Chinese director actually bothering to take on the Coens' little film noir just makes me smile and laugh, and you can bet I'm gonna see it as soon as I can.

And finally, before we get to the Miyazaki goodness, if you think you're having a bad day at work, just be thankful your boss isn't this guy:

That, of course, is the great Ricky Gervais, and the picture comes from his blog, which you can read here. It's a shot from his upcoming movie, "Cemetery Junction," which will (huzzah!) see him working with Stephen Merchant once again and be about three young men who sell insurance in Reading in the 1970s. "The Office" meets "Mad Men"? I'm there.

But of course, before I got sidetracked, this was supposed to be all about the trailer for Hayao Miyazaki's "Ponyo," which just made its debut and in just a minute-and-a-half or so looks like a real stunner.

And man do we need it. I know I'm just an old curmudgeon standing in front of a thundering freight train, but I sorely miss the good old days of 2-D animation. It's gonna take a revolution to turn back the clock now, and with the voice talents of Tina Fey, Matt Damon, Liam Neeson and even a lesser Jonas and a lesser Cyrus, plus the power of Disney behind it, I'm hoping this shot from the master will play really wide when it opens Aug. 14 and gets things started.

Who really needs to see this, beyond me, of course, is Pixar's John Lasseter, who, before making the fool pronouncement that his company would from now on only make movies in 3-D, expressed a love and admiration for Miyazaki's work. Here's hoping he sees this flick and has at least a partial change of heart.

Anyways, as you can see from the trailer, this is Studio Ghibli animation at its best. That scene when Ponyo rides out of the sea on the backs of a school of fish is just fantastic, and has me thoroughly jazzed to see this as soon as possible. Enjoy, have a passable Wednesday, and if you have a chance, take a break to watch some of the U.S.A.-Spain Confederations Cup semifinal this afternoon on ESPN. Peace out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Trailers and tidbits

Actually, the best news I could find out there this morning, and it's awfully vague, is that Bryan Fuller has once again left "Heroes"!

Now, I don't really have anything against "Heroes," but I did stop watching it during season two, when they absolutely squandered that potentially great storyline with Hiro in Japan. But Fuller leaving once again has nothing to do with "Heroes" and instead, hopefully, a lot to do soon with some more of the interesting TV that usually springs from his mind.

And to give credit completely where it's due, this quote comes from AICN. Here goes:

"Development was really starting to heat up, And it appears like I may be writing multiple pilots for NBC so that wasn't leaving a ton of room for 'Heroes,' unfortunately."

Now, anyone who bothered to tune in for the whimsical and sometimes wonderful "Pushing Daisies," Fuller's most recent creation for Warner Bros. and ABC, can only be excited about what might come next. Neither the AICN article, Michael Aussiello at Entertainment Tonight or the IMDB had any idea what this might be, but you can believe I'll pass it on as soon as I get any word.

And easily the funniest thing I've come in contact with in the last 24 hours or so is this blog maintained ny Matthew Robinson, the co-writer/co-director, along with Ricky Gervais, of the upcoming flick "The Invention of Lying." Along with tidbits about the movie, you get, in the two most recent posts, "Oh, the maid list" and "Sketch ideas I own," the kind of wildly inappropriate humor ("She must always refer to me as meester") that just makes the workday go by a little faster.

Except for that, today all I really have is a couple of trailers, but they're varying degrees of fascinating. The biggest surprise I heard after Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" (I've given up on checking whether or not I spell that incorrectly correctly) screened at Cannes (after the fact that he finished it at all) was that it really has little to do with the band of Nazi killers that Brad Pitt leads with the ridiculous accent. In this second trailer, we see a lot more of the greater story, which at least in part involves a plot to blow up a moviehouse full of top-ranked Nazis. Enjoy!

This second clip poses, but certainly doesn't answer, what must be a burning question to absolutely no one who bothers to read this, including me: Will I ever see another M. Night Shyamalan movie? The answer is most likely yes, especially since I found his last one, "The Happening," to just be delightfully, deliriously bad in many of the best ways (that scene of Markie Mark singing the Doobie Brothers into a cabin inhabited by aliens, or whatever that crazy movie was about, was just priceless.) Anyways, his next flick will be "The Last Airbender," and as you can see from the teaser trailer below, it just looks like the most generic brand of kung fu. It's actually based on the first season of an animated Nickelodeon show I've never seen, and it somehow stars both Dev Patel of "Slumdog Millionaire" and even veryfunnyman Aasif Mandvi of "The Daily Show." Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.

Monday, June 22, 2009

So, which classic tale will Tim Burton f*** up next?

Actually, easily the best (or, really, worst) story out there today is that Steven Soderbergh's "Moneyball," based on the book by Oakland A's smartguy Billy Beane and set to begin filming today, has suddenly been shut down by Columbia Pictures.

Details are sketchy so far, but it seems that someone at the studio read the latest script draft, which had been rewritten by Soderbergh himself from a first attempt by Steven Zaillan, and was much less than pleased. Now, I have no way of confirming this, of course, but after Brad Pitt walked away from "State of Play" fairly far into production, I have to wonder if Pitt, who was set to play Beane, also threatened to walk away from the project.

Either way, the bad news is all for us, because unless another studio steps up to revive this, we lose out on a possibly great baseball movie, a quickly dying breed of flick. (And, just as a reminder, the mighty Baltimore Orioles have just completed a 7-2 swing through the lowly National League East, so watch out!)

And easily the funniest would have to be that director Marcus Nispel (apparently the director of some form of "Friday the 13th," but I really can't give you first-hand confirmation of that) has found his steroid monster to play the new "Conan."

Am I the only person who remembers that old, extremely silly F/X show starring Timothy Stack, "Son of the Beach"? Now, if you don't, all you really need to know is that it was produced by Howard Stern, so you know the humor was straight from the gutter, but I also have to admit that as a spoof of "Baywatch" it just made me laugh.

Anyways, it seems that bodybuilder Roland Kickinger, who played lifeguard Chip Rommel (yes, the character's German, and that's exactly the kind of humor the showed reveled in) on the show has signed on to play the rather iconic role of "Conan." I can't see any possible way I'll see this, but I just thought someone out there might find this as oddly funny as I do.

But the most disturbing thing here today comes courtesy of USA Today, I believe, and it's the first character glimpses of what Tim Burton is cooking up for his take on "Alice in Wonderland."

Why disturbing? Well, to me, Burton is just the most maddening of directors. When he wraps his mind around a concept he clearly gets into, he can come up with some truly magical movies, such as "Ed Wood" or my personal favorite, "Big Fish."

Just as often, however, he feels the need to pop out remakes that either add nothing to the originals or, much worse, crap all over them. As an example of the former, his "Planet of the Apes" managed to be both thoroughly unnecessary and completely boring. His "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" was much more ominous, with Johnny Depp turning Willie Wonka into some kind of Michael Jackson-style freak and making the movie simply unwatchable once the factory doors opened.

Well, now we have these three pieces of character art that show his vision of "Alice in Wonderland" will be very colorful, and hopefully somehow better than these last two. Below are Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter (of course) as the Red Queen and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen. Enjoy, and have a perfectly bearable Monday. Peace out.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Cool Coens gathering in Macon, and the bizarro future of "Scrubs"

I don't think I'll ever be particularly good at social networking or understand the real use of Facebook beyond an amusing diversion, but it finally came through at least slightly last night.

Sitting at home on a Friday night watching the Braves blow out the BoSox (fairly pathetic I know, but entertaining all the same), I decided to check the facebook, blog, etc., and got this interesting post from my friend and boss Stephanie Hartley.

It seems that some group in Macon called the College Hill Corridor Commission, while being far from the most organized folks in town, are fans both of great (or at least extremely funny) movies and showing them outside, hence a rather cool happening Sunday night less than a mile from my house.

The original plan, which would have made me just say meh, was to show some version of "Shrek" this Sunday night. Well, thankfully, but with little notice, they've changed both the movie, "Raising Arizona" (huzzah!), and the venue, to Tattnall Square Park. There are few better communal movie viewing experiences than watching a very funny flick with a hopefully large group of people, so come and check it out this Sunday starting at 8 p.m.

But here today it's largely about a deliriously silly comedy that might appeal to people who might just not live within 20 minutes or so of my house, "Scrubs," which is somehow headed for a ninth season on ABC, but apparently in radically different form.

Before I launch into it, credit for all this goes to the seriously TV-obsessed Michael Ausiello of Entertainment Weekly, who got the goods in an interview with "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence.

Now, we already know that the core stars, Zach Braff and Sarah Chalke, will be back for very limited runs at best (and worst of all, Neil Flynn's delightfully deranged janitor will not be back at all), so to fill this void, Lawrence has come up a change of venue of sorts.

When the show returns next winter, John C. McGinley and Donald Faison will be the principal stars (in no way at all a bad thing), and they will now become med-school professors rather than active doctors. Take that in for a moment.

Actually, if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Since you have to start with a whole new crop of players, why not make them students and shake things much more than a bit? Anyone who tuned in for the truncated eighth season earlier this year will probably agree with me that the new crop of doctors shared only one trait: They were uniformly unfunny. So I guess they realized it's time for at least a gallon of new blood.

And besides, for classroom comedies, Lawrence at least seems to have his source material right. As he told Ausiello:

"It'll be a lot like Paper Chase as a comedy, It's going to be a different show. It'll still be life-and-death stakes, but if the show is just Scrubs again in the hospital with a different person's voiceover, it would be a disaster and people would be mad."

He said Sacred Heart wouldn't go away completely, since it will still be the show's base of operations and allow familiar faces to return from time to time, but it's still almost a complete change of course, and since "Scrubs" has defied death many times now, it's certainly not of me to doubt its creators.

And with that, I'll simply leave you with the trailer for the October flick "Zombieland," because what Saturday morning isn't at least a little bit better with a funny dose of zombies? Enjoy, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Trailer Thursday: A trio of fun clips

Actually, the first and most distressing news this morning comes from Latino Review, who I've never known to get anything wrong, as much as I wish they would this time.

Yesterday came the news that "Friday Night Lights" ultra-hottie (for lack of a more technical or less piggish) term Adrianne Palicki, along with Chris Hemsworth and Josh Peck, would be joining the cast of a remake of "Red Dawn." Unaddressed in that news, of course, is the question of why in the world anyone would want to remake "Red Dawn," but I really don't want to get into that today ...

Instead let's just deal with the rather depressing fact that none other than Tony Gilroy has apparently already turned in a rewrite of this monstrosity. Now, I thought "Michael Clayton" was perhaps a tad overrated but still very enjoyable, and I think I'm one of the very few people in the world who loved Gilroy's "Duplicity" almost unconditionally. Even if you didn't, I'd imagine it's gotta be pretty much a consensus that the man deserves better than this.

Oh well, I'll just say I hope he's being very well paid for this, and move on to three things that are just thoroughly fun time-wasters.

First up is another viral marketing installment from the makers of Judd Apatow's "Funny People," and I have to say, judging from the two clips they've put together so far, there's little doubt Apatow's third directorial effort will be thoroughly entertaining when it comes out at the end of July.

First came the trailer for the fake NBC tv show "Yo Teach!" starring Jason Schwartzman, which you can still watch here, and the clip below is even funnier. I don't want to spoil it too much, but it's Adam Sandler and Justin Long in a dead-on spoof of "Little Man" and any other flick that makes the always hilarious (sarcasm, in case it doesn't come through) move of putting a man's face on the body of a baby. Enjoy.

I was thinking the other day about doing a midyear scorecard of sorts, listing my 10 top movies from the first half of 2009, but I decided to cheat and put that off until the end of July to include the aforementioned Apatow flick and Michael Mann's "Public Enemies," set to drop July 1 with Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard and Christian Bale in the saga of John Dillinger vs. the FBI. Those would have to be the two flicks I'm most looking forward to for the rest of this summer (unless Hayao Miyazaki's "Ponyo" somehow gets a wide theatrical release, keep hope alive!), so enjoy this 90-second clip "Assault" clip, because what workday isn't just a little bit better with a good gun battle?

And finally, like apparently everyone else in the world, I just can't get enough of vampires. I've made my love for "Let the Right One In" (for the sorry American remake, that title is apparently too long - it will simply be "Let Me In" - blurg!) clear on this site many times, and I thought the second season premiere of "True Blood" just set things up perfectly (and I'm about to dive into the fourth of Charlayne Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels, on which it's based.)

But the one vampire vehicle I'm most looking forward to this year would have to be Chan-wook Park's "Thirst," the poster for which is at left. Of Park's movies so far, I've only managed to see "Oldboy" (another lame American remake alert - see a theme here?) and "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," and those were both just fantastic. As you can see from the (redband, though I really can't imagine why after watching it) trailer below, the flick is about a priest who goes to Africa to find the cure for a deadly disease but, of course, comes back as one of the walking dead. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Thursday. Peace out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The best movie of 2009 (so far, at least) .... flippin' sweet!

Before I get into all that, it's hard to tell who's the bigger winner with what's clearly the news of the day, Darren Aronofsky or us.

If I had to pick one, I'd say us, because along with being news that he's onto what should be a fascinating project, it hopefully means he's NOT making a remake of "Robocop." And if that's the first you're ever hearing of that, just pretend you never did, because hopefully now it will never happen.

Instead, the director of "The Wrestler" (one of my five favorite movies of 2008, along with "Let the Right One In," "Tell No One," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Milk") is turning to competition of a different sort with something appropriately twisted called "Black Swan."

Actually, as I type this, it doesn't seem real, which seems just right: Natalie Portman is (almost) set to star in "a supernatural thriller set in the world of New York City ballet." Specifically, she'll play a veteran ballerina who finds herself locked in an intense rivalry with a fellow dancer who may or may not be just a figment of her imagination. Bring it on!

Here today, however, it's all about what I can firmly call, after stewing with it for a day or so, the best movie of 2009 (so far, at least.) Sure, "Star Trek" was as thoroughly fun as it was refreshing, and unlike many people, I thought "Watchmen" was a nearly flawless adaptation of Alan Moore's oddly great graphic novel, but the best flick I've seen so far is something on a far different scale, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's sublime baseball movie "Sugar."

Actually, what makes "Sugar" work so well is that it starts with baseball as a backdrop but then tackles something much more compelling: Life in modern America, and what it must look like to someone who's just arrived in our often bizarro world.

"Sugar" tells the story of Miguel "Sugar" Santos, a 19- (I think, but with Dominican players, of course, who knows?) year-old Dominican pitching prospect who's owned by a fictional Kansas City team and toiling with other prospects at what seems alternately like a summer camp or a prison yard - or maybe something in between, a summer camp that just happens to have guard towers.

From the outset, you get a strong sense of the movie's two strongest suits, it's natural - I'd go so far as to say "organic" - pacing, and the equally natural banter of the ballplayers and everyone they encounter in their new world.

Sugar, played with raw charm by Algeniz Perez Soto, catches the eye of a scout and eventually gets promoted all the way to AA minor league ball in Bridgeport, Iowa, which might as well have been Mars. At this point, the flick easily could have succumbed to either of two predictable and familiar courses, the fish-out-of-water story or the rah-rah sports flick, but instead it takes the best elements of each and pretty much turns them upside down.

Sugar is taken in by an elderly couple who are freakishly but never quite cartoonishly devoted to minor league baseball, which I sorely wish we still had here in Macon. During this stretch, the movie often finds it grace in quiet moments as Sugar adapts to his odd new world, and the best scene of all comes when he simply learns how to order breakfast in a restaurant.

And the games themselves, while they will seem real to anyone whose had the joy of watching minor league ball, are never pitched as anything more than that. Sure, they're important, but only as we see it through the eyes of Sugar and his fellow ballplayers in how they can advance their fledgling careers.

This game-by-game stretch can get a bit too methodical, but it deftly sets up the knuckle curve that is the third act, when Sugar's tale becomes one of the immigrant experience in America and, more importantly, of the power of rational adults to simply change their minds. I certainly won't spoil it by telling you how, but Sugar eventually ends up at the home of Yankee Stadium, and it just makes a cycle that perfectly fits this movie about baseball and much more.

With "Under the Same Moon," "Frozen River," "Sin Nombre," "The Visitor" and now "Sugar," immigration has quickly become my favorite sub-subject for movies, and it's not hard to see why. No other subject better invokes the peril of the human condition, and Boden and Fleck have captured this just right in a movie that I can't recommend you see soon enough (as to when that might be, however, who knows, because I think it's finished its theatrical run and I can't find a DVD release date in sight yet.)

And with that, I have to get ready for the job that still pays me just enough to get by in this odd place called America. Peace out.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

If you have Netflix, Party Down!

You know, I really don't take proper care of my Netflix queue.

I visited it the other day to add the first season of "Burn Notice" and found it to be empty except for three movies and TV stuff in the "saved" category that have yet to come out: "Homicide: The Movie," "Margaret's Museum" and "Party Down: Season One."

Now, it looks like the first two will never come out, so I just kinda keep them there to keep hope alive. It was with the third, however, that I found a pleasant surprise.

I know you can watch movies instantly at Netflix, but have only done that so far with "Superbad" (still, except for maybe "O Brother Where Art Thou," the best way to kill a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon, and "To Kill a Mockingbird," just because.) When I visited the queue the other day to replenish it (any suggestions are welcome), I found you can also watch the entire first season of the extremely funny show "Party Down," even though the show doesn't come out on DVD for who knows how long (and, I checked, you can't do that at either the Starz site or Hulu.) Amazingly, however, you can apparently watch the great Angola Prison documentary "The Farm" at Hulu if you so choose.

But back to the matter at hand. I know I'll always sound like a rube until I die, and believe me, by now I'm just fine with that, but the Internets just continue to amaze me, and this is no exception.

"Party Down," given its pedigree ("Veronica Mars" creator Rob Thomas and veryfunnyguy Paul Rudd are among its creators) and cast (Adam Scott, Ken Marino, Lizzy Caplan, Ryan Hansen, the great Martin Starr and Jane Lynch, who I think has departed for "Glee," are all very funny in it), this show should be extremely funny, and it doesn't disappoint. But the show about a catering company full of former or extremely underemployed actors features a dark, very bitter kind of funny, so be warned.

The funniest thing to me in the first eight episodes (which is how far I've made it, out of 10) was Marino's character, the caterer who just wants to open a Soup R Crackers franchise, discussing with rapper Dro Grizzle (guest star Kevin Hart, remember him from "Undeclared"?) whether or not black people eat soup. You'll have to believe me that it's a whole lot funnier on screen than on paper, and the first season is riddled with very funny celebrity cameos, including in one of the episodes I haven't seen yet, a visit from "Veronica Mars" herself, Kristen Bell.

And OK, that's a long enough plug for a lazy Sunday morning. Peace out.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What will Pixar's first live-action movie be, and who will be in it?

Though any of you have much of a life will probably be out and about in some form tonight, I'll be at home watching my beloved Orioles most likely lose to my second-favorite baseball team (though there's a big gap between the two), the Atlanta Braves.

And after that, I'll certainly tune in for the final episode of "Pushing Daisies," which is dying far too soon tonight at 10 p.m. In what will have to serve as the finale, one-half of The Aquadolls (Nora Dunn and Wendie Malick), a synchronized swimming duo and rival to the Darling Mermaid Darlings, turns up dead, and of course Ned, Chuck and Emerson are on the case.

I've sung the praises of this fairy tale for adults loudly and proudly from the start, but on this sad occasion, I'll simply ask you this: How many shows in the past 10 years can you really call "unique" (a word that's used and misused far too often)? "Pushing Daisies," with its winning mix of humor, engaging story and pure whimsy, earned that title, and for that it will be sorely missed by at least by me.

But here today it's supposed to be about the star of another of my favorite TV shows, "Friday Night Lights," who's about to hit the really big time in what most likely will be the first live-action movie from the rather famous animation house Pixar.

I had thought that honor was going to go to "Ratatouille" and "The Incredibles" director Brad Bird with "1906," which just sounded like a perfect idea. Though I wasn't terribly impressed with the writing in the book by James Dalessandro, the story he came up with about the political intrigue that surrounded the great earthquake of 1906 in San Francisco was just crying out to be told on the big screen.

But it seems Bird has been hit both by trouble finishing the script and budget woes (at Pixar?), and it now seems that Andrew Stanton will get the live-action honor instead with "John Carter of Mars," set to begin filming in November in Utah. And, though most of the news reports I saw pitched it as Gambit from "Wolverine" landing the lead role, everyone should know that Taylor Kitsch is and always will really be Tim Riggins of the Dylan Panthers. Oddly enough, one of the female leads will be going to Lynn Collins, who played Hugh Jackman's "wife" in "Wolverine."

But, and if I were more of a proper geek I would probably know more about this, what in the world is "John Carter of Mars"? Well, it's a series of books by "Tarzan" creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, apparently, though I can't say I've ever read any of them (though that will change before this movie comes out.)

As far as I can tell, the story centers on a Civil War veteran who finds himself mysteriously transported to the red planet, where he gets involved with the planet's warring factions. I'm sure there's a lot more to it than that, and I'm also sure Taylor Kitsch will be great in what should turn into a series of flicks.

Oddly enough, I'm not sure how old the character is supposed to be, but also among the many actors considered for this part was Jon Hamm of "Mad Men." A truly odd combo there.

And I'll leave you today with this teaser trailer for Michael Moore's next, as yet untitled, flick, which as you'll be able to tell is going to be about the current state of our economy and just how we got into this mess. I'm kinda dreading just how smug, I-told-you-so he's gonna be about all this, but it's certainly a subject that fits him well, so here's hoping he comes up with something a lot more compelling and entertaining than the thoroughly missed opportunity that was "Sicko."

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see "The Hangover" (yes, I'm a week behind) rather than any remake of "The Taking of Pelham 123" or Eddie Murphy's latest family-friendly crap fest. And just a reminder that if you live anywhere near Macon, please come out to the Macon Film Guild's presentation of the baseball flick "Sugar" on Sunday at 2 (I'll be there), 4:30 or 7:30 p.m. at the Douglass Theatre. Peace out.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My problem with 3-D, and a fantastic film opportunity in Macon

Just in case you thought there might be some end in sight to the 3-D wave of animation (and eventually, I fear, nearly everything else), there was an odd story this morning that shows just how much it's taken over just about the entire world.

It seems that even Frenchies like Patrice Leconte, director of one of my favorite froggy mind-benders in "The Man on the Train" and many other flicks, is getting into the 3-D animated game. Granted, he's making something called "Le Magasin des Suicides" (literally, "The Suicide Store"), a "dark comedy" about a family-owned shop that sells suicide tools to a depressed and suicidal world.

At least the story sounds interesting enough, but as much as I've tried, I just can't get into 3-D animation as anything more so far than a gimmick. I thought Pixar's "Up" would be the movie that finally gets me on board, but I think I can now officially count myself as someone who just doesn't believe the hype.

Now, there was one movie so far that I thought really made fantastic use of the technology, Henry Selick's "Coraline," but that's really it. Every other time I've seen a 3-D movie (and there's been at least "Up," "Monsters Vs. Aliens" and "Nightmare Before Christmas"), the supposed thrill just left me cold, and I think I've finally figured out (after discussing it with my fellow cubicle slave Randy Waters) why.

It's those glasses, which to me just make the whole screen muddy. A big part of the thrill in animated movies for me is to see the vibrant colors used to create something as beautiful as a painting. Think back to when Remy the rat first beheld the cityscape of Paris in "Ratatouille" or when Kiki was flying over Mediterranean Europe in Hayao Miyazaki's "Kiki's Delivery Service." I just can't imagine those unforgettable images would be as magical if they had been run through the 3-D machine.

And beyond the muddiness of the images, I just feel like it removes me from the experience by a level or two, putting this filter between me and the screen that just creates a remoteness that limits my engagement with the movie.

Now, even if I am an increasingly old curmudgeon about this and other things (I listened to the Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow" the other day to see if I could get into it, but I can't ... I love hip-hop and always will [listening to Dead Prez right now], but I just can't stand that vodaphone crap, another gimmick that just distorts the beauty that is rap music), I am sane enough to realize there's really nothing I can do about it. I was tempted to go back and watch "Up" in 2-D to see if I would enjoy it more, but decided to save my money instead.

But before I go any further on in that longer-than-expected tangent, this was supposed to be a plug for the Macon Film Guild, which is showing what I expect to be a truly great flick this Sunday in "Sugar."

It's been forever since I've seen a great baseball flick in a movie theater, so I was hoping that this one from Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck would get a proper run, but it never materialized. I was bit underwhelmed by "Half Nelson," mostly because by the time I finally managed to see it the flick had been hyped so much that I was just expecting more, I guess.

With "Sugar," however, you can count me as thoroughly amped. The flick tells the story of Miguel "Sugar" Santos, a Dominican teenager who gets scouted as a pitcher and at 19 enters the U.S. minor league system with hopes of hitting it big.

The Macon Film Guild, which consistently shows quality flicks that should find more of an audience, is showing this one at 2, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Douglass Theatre in Macon, so if you're anywhere in the Middle Georgia area, come out and check it out, because it deserves a big crowd. If you're at the 2 p.m. show, I'll see you there.

And I'll leave you today with the first trailer I've seen for Martin Scorsese's next flick, "Shutter Island," which looks, thankfully, like it will be even crazier than I was hoping. Based on a Dennis Lehane novel, it of course stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a U.S. marshall who uncovers a nasty secret at a hospital for the criminally insane. It really looks like Scorsese making a B-movie, and almost a horror flick, and I can't possibly see anything wrong with that. Peace out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Take a bite: Three glimpses of "True Blood" season two

I love it when a rumor turns into truth, but even more when that truth turns out to be even better than believed, as is the rather amazing case with "Futurama."

Collider reported earlier this week that Comedy Central was in negotiation for 13 new episodes of the fantasticly entertaining animated show, but it turns out that was half the deal. The network has apparently ordered 26 new episodes, so far, to run over two seasons.

"Futurama" creators Matt Groening and David X. Cohen are already working on stories for the next season, set to premiere in mid-2010 with all the original voice cast returning.

Now I like "Family Guy" enough and I love "Scrubs," but seeing as there haven't been any new episodes of "Futurama" since 2003, I'd have to say this is the most remarkable story yet of a tv show getting resuscitated, and in honor of Bender, I'll just say "bite my shiny metal ass" and bring it on!

And this summer, two of my current favorites are returning, and I have to say, the more I hear about "Mad Men" show runner Matthew Weiner, the more I admire just how much he's an ornery sort. AMC apparently wanted to add two minutes of commercial time to the brilliant show about ad men, but Weiner balked and the network understandably gave in rather quickly, so the show will run until 11:02 or so when it returns at 10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16. And to answer the first question that popped into my mind, AMC assures viewers that DVRs will indeed record all 62 minutes.

But here today it's supposed to be all about Charlayne Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels and how they've morphed into "True Blood," which returns this Sunday and is the only show in several years good enough to get me to re-up on HBO for three months (but I'll surely be back again when "The Wire" creator David Simon's New Orleans show "Treme" hits next year.)

I like stories about vampires ("Let the Right One In" has lingered as my favorite movie of all of 2008) and especially funny ones, so I'm ashamed of how long it took me to come on board with Harris' trashy-in-all-the-best-ways novels. They're certainly far from high art, but for airplane reads there are few series I can recommend higher. I've read two-and-a-half of them so far, and I have to say Harris' mix of horror, humor, romance and Southern flavor, while perhaps not unique, is extremely addictive.

So, what's gonna happen in season two? I have no way of knowing everything, of course, but from what I know happens in the second Sookie Stackhouse novel, "Living Dead in Dallas," and with the help of these three clips courtesy of HitFix, I can give you at least a taste.

Though you certainly won't hear who it is from me, season two opens with the murder of one of the show's most colorful minor characters. Along with looking into that, in an unrelated case, Sookie (Anna Paquin, whose certainly all growed up) is called to Dallas to investigate an anti-vampire church/cult that has kidnapped the brother of Dallas' vampire sheriff (yes, really.)

One big and mostly good way the show differs from the novels is that it builds up minor characters that Harris largely ignored and gives them new life, the best example being Tara Thornton, played for great comic effect by Rutina Wesley. In this first clip, we find Tara still staying at the home of her rescuer Maryann ("Battlestar Galactica" 's Michelle Forbes), who I can tell you plays a big part in the early parts of "Living Dead in Dallas," and here meets Tara's mother (Adina Porter.)

Another character who gets a lot more play in "True Blood" than in print is Sookie's brother Jason (Ryan Kwanten.) He pretty much disappears after the first novel, "Dead Until Dark," but on TV, "True Blood" mastermind Alan Ball has him become involved with the anti-vampire sect, as you can see from the clip below.

And, of course, Sookie is called in to investigate the Dallas case, or more accurately ordered to by the local vampire sheriff, Eric, played by Alexander Skarsgard. In this final clip, Eric explains his order to Sookie's vampire paramour Bill (Stephen Moyer), who understandably isn't terribly pleased about it.

Anyways, that's probably way too much to write about one TV show, but it's summer and, well, there's not much else on at all. And for anyone who cares about this kind of thing, apparently Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer are now a couple in real life, too. Peace out.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The best day ever for fans of animated science fiction?

These are both rumors at this point, but since it's Monday morning, isn't it just much more fun to take them as fact, especially when that would just make the day so much cooler?

The first is actually pretty solid. It's long been known that David Fincher, for obvious and hopefully very twisted reasons, has wanted to make a third movie inspired from the universe of "Heavy Metal" magazine. I've never seen the second, something called "Heavy Metal 2000, but I certainly can't wait for a third installment, especially with the directing talent that's now on board.

If FilmSchoolRejects has this right, and I rather believe they do, the anthology film will now also include segments to be directed by Zack Snyder, that pirate guy Gore Verbinski and even James Cameron. Perhaps best of all, "Kung Fu Panda" director Mark Osborne will reunite with Jack Black to do a comedy segment. I know this will be blasphemy to all Pixar fans, but as much as I loved "Wall-E" (and I did quite a bit, and much more than "Up"), I thought "Kung Fu Panda" was the better movie of the two.

Even better than that crazy news in my book, though much less close to confirmed, is this wild word about the future of "Futurama" that comes from Collider.

I've enjoyed the "Futurama" TV-to-DVD movies quite a bit, but was amazed they managed to make four of them and was fairly certain that that would be the end for Fox's most abused animated series, a title it won by just a nose over "King of the Hill." And I have to say, if Collider has this right, and I'm betting they do, "Futurama" is even more of a survivor than Mike Judge's show, which had a thoroughly improbably 13-season run.

Finally getting to the buried lead that just makes me giddy, Collider says Comedy Central has ordered 13 new episodes of "Futurama." Let that sink in a minute if you're a fan of very funny, almost-as-smart sci-fi (and if you're not, why not?) I guess it's not all that surprising, since it seems like Comedy Central shows "Futurama" every night of the week, but pretty friggin' amazing all the same. And if you'll excuse me now, I have to return to the job that still manages to pay most of my bills. Peace out.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Screw the Emmys ... Critics right a lot of TV wrongs from past decade

Although I watch the Oscars every year without fail, I very rarely tune in for even a minute of the Emmys. Why? Well, I understand that HBO makes great shows (I just reupped for "True Blood" season two - bring it on!) and I find "30 Rock" to be extremely funny, but there are so many others shows that just get ignored year after year.

Well, Variety did an interesting survey this week with members of the Television Critics Association, asking them to pick the best TV shows and stars from the past decade. The winners will be announced later this summer, and though I seriously doubt it will happen, it sure would be nice to see Lauren Graham win something. Here are the nominees, runners up and some brief comments from me:

"Friday Night Lights"
"Mad Men"
"The Sopranos"
"The West Wing"
"The Wire"

"24," "Battlestar Galactica," "Big Love," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Deadwood," "Grey's Anatomy," "House," "Rescue Me" and "The Shield"

Now there's a category. Three of these shows, "The Wire," "The West Wing" and "Friday Night Lights," are among my all-time favorites, and I certainly love "Mad Men" too (and can't wait for August to get here already.) Oddly enough, did anyone know that Elizabeth Moss, a k a Peggy Olson, also played Zoey Bartlet on "The West Wing"? I didn't realize it until a few days ago. Anyways, I'd go with "The Wire," the best cop show of all time, here, with "Friday Night Lights" a close second, but I have a feeling "The West Wing" will prevail.

Connie Britton "Friday Night Lights"
Glenn Close "Damages"
Edie Falco "The Sopranos"
Allison Janney "The West Wing"
Mary McDonnell "Battlestar Galactica"
Kyra Sedgwick "The Closer"

JUST MISSED: Frances Conroy "Six Feet Under," Jennifer Garner "Alias, Sarah Michelle Gellar "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Rachel Griffiths "Six Feet Under" /"Brothers and Sisters," Sally Field "Brothers and Sisters" Holly Hunter "Saving Grace"

As much as I like Allison Janney and love her C.J., Connie Britton should be a big winner in this category. If you've never seen "Friday Night Lights" and think it's just a show about high school football, give it a chance, because Britton, Kyle Chandler and all the kids make it the best drama on TV now.

Michael Chiklis "The Shield"
Bryan Cranston "Breaking Bad"
James Gandolfini "The Sopranos"
Michael C. Hall "Dexter"
Jon Hamm "Mad Men"
Hugh Laurie "House"

JUST MISSED: Gabriel Byrne "In Treatment," Kyle Chandler "Friday Night Lights," Ian McShane "Deadwood," Denis Leary "Rescue Me," Martin Sheen "The West Wing," Kiefer Sutherland "24"

Most of the action is in the runners up here. I appreciate that NBC tried to give McShane something to work with on "Kings," but he'll never get a role as good as Al Swearengen. Out of all these, my five would be McShane, Chandler, Jon Hamm, James Gandolfini and - rather than Martin Sheen, who is indeed great - Richard Schiff (Toby Zeigler) from "The West Wing."

"30 Rock"
"Arrested Development"
"Curb Your Enthusiasm"
"The Daily Show"
"Everybody Loves Raymond"
"The Office"

JUST MISSED: "The Big Bang Theory," "Flight of the Conchords," "Frasier," "Freaks and Geeks," "Friends," "Sex and the City," "The Simpsons," "Two and a Half Men"

I love that they just threw "The Daily Show" in the comedy category where it squarely belongs rather than into some goofy "late night" list. And huzzah to "Freaks and Geeks"! It's not terribly surprising that it would get love from critics, but it still just makes me very happy. Among the finalists, I'd go with "Arrested Development" here, by just a nose over "The Daily Show" and "30 Rock."

Tina Fey "30 Rock"
Lauren Graham "Gilmore Girls"
Patricia Heaton "Everybody Loves Raymond"
Jane Kaczmarek "Malcolm in the Middle"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "The New Adventures of Old Christine"
Mary-Louise Parker, "Weeds"

JUST MISSED: Jennifer Aniston "Friends," America Ferrera "Ugly Betty," Jenna Fischer "The Office," Felicity Huffman Desperate Housewives," Lisa Kudrow "Friends"/"The Comeback," Debra Messing "Will and Grace"

No contest here. Whether you want to call "Gilmore Girls" a comedy, drama or - bleh! - a dramedy, Lauren Graham should take this one running away. I love Mary-Louise Parker too, and it's nice to see some love for the blissfully silly "Malcolm in the Middle," but Graham is easily the most underappreciated TV actress of the past decade. 'Nuff said.

Alec Baldwin "30 Rock"
Jason Bateman "Arrested Development"
Steve Carell "The Office"
Larry David "Curb Your Enthusiasm"
Ricky Gervais "The Office"
Kelsey Grammer "Frasier"

JUST MISSED: Zach Braff "Scrubs," Neil Patrick Harris "How I Met Your Mother," Jim Parsons "The Big Bang Theory," Ray Romano "Everybody Loves Raymond," Tony Shalhoub "Monk," Charlie Sheen "Two and a Half Men"

Carell vs. Gervais? I'd take Gervais every time, but in this category I'd give the nod to Bateman as the leader of the Bluth clan. I've given up any real hope that there will ever be an "Arrested Development" movie, but man wouldn't that be fun? And, as silly as "Scrubs" is, Braff is indeed very funny too, so kudos.

And with that, I'm off to Chicago for the weekend to hang out with mi hermano and watch two soccer matches (MLS Friday and U.S.-Honduras Saturday.) I'm also gonna hit the Art Institute of Chicago and - me being me - maybe a movie Saturday afternoon, "The Limits of Control" if I can find it. So I won't be seeing either of the two big comedies opening this weekend, but please feel free to let me know if they're any good or not. Peace out.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

When you've got nothing else, why not a cute baby?

If only to convince people that my somewhat negative review of "Up" doesn't make me just a cynical bastard, I just had to share this clip I found on We Love You So, a sort of production blog for "Where the Wild Things Are."

I've mentioned that site before, so I won't go on about it, but having watched the "Where the Wild Things Are" trailer in the theater and heard the kids around me cheer and howl at the end, this clip just made smile. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Trailer Reaction from We Love You So on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Minority report: A slightly dissenting view of "Up"

Before I get into anything about Pixar's "Up," there's great news out there today about Duncan Jones, a k a David Bowie's son and the man who directed the best slice of old-fashioned sci fi I've seen this year, "Moon."

For his next project, Jones will direct "Escape From The Deep," the story of a World War II U.S. navy submarine that sank after a torpedo malfunction, leaving the crew stranded on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Faced with drowning, nine men made it out alive after swimming the 180 feet to the surface without getting the bends.

I love submarine movies, so that all sounds great to me, but I'm still more than a little peeved that "Moon," featuring a top-notch performance by Sam Rockwell, never got any proper distribution in the U.S. - definitely catch it on DVD as soon as it hits there.

But, getting back to "Up," I should probably just keep this to myself, because for the most part I enjoyed Pixar's latest offering almost as much as everyone else in the world has seemed to. However, I didn't find it to be top-shelf Pixar, which for me includes "Ratatouille," "The Incredibles," "Wall-E" and "Toy Story."

So then, what kept me from loving "Up" unconditionally, which I certainly wanted to do going in? Well, from the outset it's a much more somber affair than I had been led to believe, but that certainly wasn't the problem. In fact, it turned what could have been the most mediocre of montages into perfectly concise storytelling as it opened by telling the life story of Carl Fredricksen (a seriously curmudgeonly Ed Asner) in heartbreaking fashion (and I'm not afraid to admit it was the first, but not the last, time that "Up" had this grownass man on the verge of bawling.)

And if I can skip ahead to the big action climax, it's a set piece that has Carl and young Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai, who gets the movie's best line with his enthusiastic "But it's a talking dog!") battling the movie's big bad in an aerial encounter that finally delivers on the full promise of 3-D. It had me holding my breath and experiencing a serious fear of heights, and I'd imagine the real peril it puts our heroes in might be a bit much for the kiddies, but it's also just tons of fun.

So then, where's the beef? Well, to paraphrase Russell in talking about the middle of "Up," "But it's a flying house!" Watching it take off is indeed as remarkable as I could have expected, so I was just amazed at how little time they spent in the air before reaching their South American destination. I mean (AND THIS IS A BIG SPOILER, SO READ ON IF YOU DON'T WANT TO FIND OUT) really, having Russell almost instantly find it with his GPS device? Where's the adventure in that?

And once they're - sort of - tethered to the ground again, I was hoping for much more of a B-movie, Indy Jones sort of tale, but this part just never really got going, in large part because the big bad Charles Muntz, voiced by Christopher Plummer, was just one of the worst Pixar characters I've ever encountered. By having him stop well short of total madness, they also rob him of any real motivation and make this portion of the tale - in my opinion - just much less compelling.

Perhaps I'm being too hard on what is, after all, a kid's movie and a moving tale about one man reaching his life's aspirations. But this is Pixar, after all, and I've come to expect nothing short of perfection. And besides, like Carl Fredricksen, I guess I just like to complain, so please feel free to let me know all the ways I'm just off base on this one. Peace out.