Friday, December 25, 2009

Apparently, you don't mess with Denzel Washington

Though I was sure I had had my full of apocalyptic movies, on the advice of Bob of Bob and Justin's Mad Movie Blog, I went to see "The Road," and I have to say it was an extremely pleasant surprise.

Bleak? Sure, but it builds at a natural pace to the perfect ending. Not having read the book, I enjoyed that the event that leaves our heroes, a father and son played by Viggo Mortensen and young Kodi Smit-Mcphee, in the predicament we find them in at the outset is only hinted at in the movie itself. For once, you don't have everything spoon-fed to you, and I didn't mind that one bit.

Though there's a full slate of good flicks out today, and more than a few I still have to catch up on, I'd recommend making time for this if you can handle something that, be warned, is extremely bleak until its glimmer of hope ending.

And I'll take another chance on an apocalyptic tale in honor of the Hughes brothers, who have just been missing from movie theaters for too long. Remember them? Albert and Allen Hughes managed to direct four stylishly entertaining flicks - "Menace II Society," "American Pimp," "From Hell" and my favorite of their movies so far, "Dead Presidents" - before pretty much disappearing in 2001.

Now, however, they're back Jan. 15 with "The Book of Eli," which stars Denzel Washington as a lone man fighting his way across the United States to protect a sacred book which contains the secrets to saving human kind. That sounds pretty meh to me, but like I said, I'll see it out of mad respect for the Hughes brothers, and with Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis in this too, it could - against pretty serious odds - turn out to be a lot more entertaining than I fear.

Below is a featurette about the fight choreography, which shows Denzel in action as our hero. Enjoy.

And with that, I'm off for a week. Though I won't be posting anything to this site, I will be seeing plenty of movies while In NYC, definitely "Up in the Air" (finally!), "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus" and "Broken Embraces." Starting Monday, Jan. 3, it will be best of 2009 week here, with this schedule:

Monday: Best female performers of the year (featuring Gladys Knight!)
Tuesday: Best male performers of the year
Wednesday: Best animated movies of the year
Thursday: Best movies of the year
Friday: Finally, with the 2009 winner revealed, I'll offer my 10 best movies of the '00s (better late than never, hopefully.)

And what that, I'm out. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

David Cronenberg and Sigmund Freud? Bring it on!

Avatar 3D. Most amazing visuals I've ever seen. Story-wise, meh. But credit for all the Iraq war parallels. Notice that?

It's really apropos of nothing, but I just thought that Twitter burst from the alwaysveryfunny Elizabeth Banks summed up James Cameron's movie rather perfectly, so I had to share it.

As far as actual news today, there's word of a new David Cronenberg movie coming together, and on a subject that seems perfectly tailored to his view of the world and with a cast that's pretty solid too.

With full credit to The Playlist, which as far as I can tell broke this news first, it seems that the Australian distribution company Hopscotch Films has announced that two "Inglourious Basterds" (my favorite movie of 2009), Christoph Waltz and Michael Fassbender, plus Keira Knightley have all signed on to star in "The Talking Cure," which Cronenberg is directing based on the 2002 play by Christopher Hampton.

In it, Knightley would play Sabina Spielrein, a "beautiful young woman, driven mad by her past." For help, she turns to Carl Jung (Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Waltz).

Christoph Waltz as Sigmund Freud? Sounds like perfection to me, especially since Cronenberg's best movies deal as much with psychological as physical violence, especially my favorite of his flicks, "Spider."

But will any of this ever come together? Well, with that cast you would certainly think so, but Cronenberg is also attached to possibly direct a movie based on the Robert Ludlum thriller "The Matarese Circle," with Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington set to star.

As promising as that might sound, here's hoping "The Talking Cure" jumps it in his directing queue, and that he gets to work on it fairly fast, because it's just been way too long since the world has seen a David Cronenberg movie.

Just how did Kevin Smith manage to "Cop Out" on "A Couple of Dicks"?

No matter how he tries to defend it, "Cop Out," the new name for Kevin Smith's buddy cop movie starring Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis and set to drop in February, is just nothing but boring in my book. And judging from the trailer you'll find at the end of this post, the movie itself probably won't be much better either.

But, any time Smith is given a forum to spout off, he always says at least a few things that make me smile, as he did when discussing the new title with Entertainment Weekly's Hollywood Insider blog. It's worth reading the whole thing, but here are a few highlights if you don't have the time, starting with exactly why he had to drop the "A Couple of Dicks" name in the first place:

(Be warned: The language in this, as usual with Mr. Smith, is more than a little salty.)

Kevin Smith: Look, losing A Couple of Dicks was almost akin to losing my own dick. It was a perfect buddy-cop movie comedy title. Everyone knew it. You couldn’t say that title to somebody without a f—ing smile crossing their face. But what I had gone through with Zack and Miri Make a Porno — “porno” had become very problematic, it became tough for us to advertise [the film], blah blah blah. Warner Bros. decided, “Hey man, we’ll call the networks and see if we’re going to get any problems [with A Couple of Dicks as a title], months before the movie’s ever going to come out.” The top 3 networks — CBS, ABC, NBC — said we can’t run one of your spots before 9 o’clock. ... So my feeling was like, it’s an R-rated movie, so who the f— are we talking to anyway before 9 o’clock? Warner Bros’s feeling was like, “Hey man, the sports audience, dickhead. We have to advertise to the sports audience on Saturday and Sunday and all those sporting events usually take place before 9 p.m. in the evening.” At which point, I was like, “Oh wow, you guys are way smarter than me.”

You still certainly can't convince me that "Cop Out" is any way a funny fallback, but he went on to explain how the title could have, amazingly, possibly been even worse:

Smith: So for months now, they’ve always had A Couple of Cops as kind of this fallback thing — a placeholder, essentially. And then all of a sudden, one of the producers of the movie was like, “Hey they’re locking the title, because the trailer is going to be put on Sherlock Holmes.” And I was like, “This is an abundance of wonderful and horrible information.” I want to be on Sherlock Holmes because everyone on the planet will probably go see it on Christmas, but I don’t want it to be A Couple of Cops. That just seems like we didn’t even try! We went from a really clever title to the least clever title of all time. I was like, “God that title is going to feel like such a f—ing cop out.” And [the producer] goes, “We should just call the movie that.”

OK, I know that's a lot of Kevin Smith for people who, like mi hermano, just find the man to be a tremendous tool, but any fans of juvenile comedy will at least smile at this final bit which includes the perfect, fan-suggested tagline, which means it will never appear on a movie poster.

Smith: We were making up sequel titles in our heads, dude. Like, you know, Two Bigger Dicks. Or Dicks 2: It Just Got Harder. Somebody online said you could take Cop Out and vary it with like, “Rock out with your Cop Out!” Hopefully that will be a tagline on a poster or a trailer. And if it is, we owe that random dude on Twitter like at least a few free passes.

But what about the trailer, which appeared this week? Well, like I said above, it really doesn't look too promising at all, even with an appearance from the alwaysveryfunny Susie Essman of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." I love Morgan on "30 Rock," but it's clear he's only as strong as the material he's working with, and "Cop Out" just looks way too weak. It certainly appears like Mr. Smith's stint as a hired hand for Warner Bros. will result in exactly the kind of "comedy" that appears and disappears very quickly each February. Anyways, "enjoy" the trailer, and have a perfectly pleasant Christmas eve. Peace out.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Avatar" the trilogy? Plus, a Tuesday trove of clips

If one dose of James Cameron's "Avatar" was enough (or more than enough) for you, this can't come as good news: He has at least two more visits to Pandora in mind.

Personally, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, but by the end I certainly felt I had enough, especially since the battle royale finale seemed to wrap things up rather neatly. Cameron, however, has other ideas in mind. Here's what he had to say to MTV:

"We'll follow Jake and Neytiri. I have a trilogy-scaled arc of story right now, but I haven't really put any serious work into writing a script."

But will it be another 15 years or so before we get a second installment? Probably not. More from MTV:

"From the time we capture and finish the capture, it's literally nine to 10 months to get the CG characters working, to get their facial musculature working. So now we have Jake, we have Neytiri. Sam can step right back into it, the characters will fit them like a glove, and we'll just go on. So a lot of the start-up torque that had to be done for one movie really makes more sense if you play it out across several films."

As for the original itself, the final box office tally bought a bit of good news: It's opening weekend total was actually $77 million domestic, $4 million more than originally calculated, but still just short of Will Smith's December opening record of $77.2 million with "I am Legend."

Worldwide, "Avatar" topped $230 million in its first weekend.

And, in a final bit of trivia about "Avatar," since that's still what I have on the brain, RealD has announced that nearly $40 million of its domestic take was from 3-D viewing, more than half the total. While that certainly seems impressive on the surface, and an omen to people who, like me, still enjoy good, old-fashioned 2-D most of the time, remember that each person who watched the movie in 3-D paid at least $2 more to do so, and even more if it was in Imax. Just sayin'.

All I have after that today is a quintet of clips, which offer varyings amounts of cool.

First up comes the U.K. trailer for Ridley Scott's take on "Robin Hood," which stars Russell Crowe and is set to come out in May. Though I'm still not completely sold on the need for this, the U.K. trailer is a lot less "Gladiator" than the previous U.S. cut and therefore by force at least an improvement. Enjoy.

Horribly inappropriate cursing from young children? Wickedly cool (hopefully) stylized violence? In the right dose I can certainly enjoy both of these guilty pleasures, which we'll get plenty of from Matthew Vaughn with "Kick-Ass" in March. Though the f-bomb from young Chloe Moretz in this redband introduction to her character, Hit-Girl, is just perfectly dropped, the later c-word (I did warn you, watch it with headphones on at work) is a lot more jarring. Enjoy.

Next up come two peaks at animated offerings coming next Summer, first what I believe is a TV clip introduced by director Lee Unkrich for Pixar's "Toy Story 3." I'm frankly getting a little tired of the "toys in peril and need to escape" storyline, but it's Pixar, so I'll certainly be there to check it out in June. Enjoy.

Next is one I'm much more excited for, an odd teaser of sorts for "Despicable Me." The animated offering stars Steve Carell as the evil Gru, who hatches a plot to steal the moon. Silly, sure, but I predict a lot fun too. This odd little clip features a couple of Gru's minions. Enjoy.

And finally, saving in my opinion the best for last, here's the third clip I know of for "Youth in Revolt," which is set to star veryfunnyman Michael Cera and finally come out in early January. Anyone who's been here before knows I love the novel by C.D. Payne, and in this clip we are introduced to Francois Dillinger, the ultra-smooth and ultra-dangerous alter ego of our hero, Nick Twisp. Enjoy.

P.S.: The Blogger spell check is, once again, not working, so please excuse any misspellings on my part. Peace out.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The weird, often wonderful, world of "Avatar"

I don't really think its possible, but given the weather on the east coast this weekend, should we feel sorry for James Cameron? (I feel much more sorry for my poor friends in D.C. who got buried in snow - which I know from personal experience is pretty much a mini-apocalypse for the nation's capital.)

Thanks at least in part to the storms, his "Avatar" only took in $73 million domestic in its first weekend, finishing second for a December opening to Will Smith's "I am Legend," which opened to more than $77 million (you just don't mess with the Fresh Prince.) Cameron's movie did, however, take in a rather impressive $159 million overseas, so I suppose he just might eventually break even in a few weeks.

But, much more importantly, is the movie any good? The short answer: Yes, often magically so. It's also hokey, bloated and all the other things you might have feared going in, but if you give into it, he really has managed to make a genuine sci-fi epic the likes of which we haven't seen on the big screen for many years (I've heard "Star Wars" mentioned so many times this week that it makes me sick, so you won't hear it again from me.)

What he hasn't done is "revolutionize moviemaking," or at least I hope not, because as much as I liked visiting his world of Pandora, I really hope there isn't even more of a rush to embrace 3-D. (Yes, I'm well aware that there's nothing I can do to stop it, much as I might try.) He really needs to take some lessons from W. in the expectations game, because if he could just keep his big mouth shut for a bit, people would find that what he's actually crafted is a flick that would have been much more comfortable in the '80s, in spite of all its technological prowess.

That's not entirely an insult, because the often-cheesy dialogue fits the very familiar story just fine, but, as Nell Minow also pointed out, with all the brains behind this, couldn't they come up with a better name for the coveted mineral the humans are hunting for than "unobtainium"? Sheesh.

But of course, we don't go to a James Cameron movie for the story, and he doesn't waste much time at all on the setup. I was, in fact, more than a little confused at first about how or why exactly our hero, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is taking over the Na'vi avatar inhabited by his late brother. The Na'vi, as I'm sure you know by now even if you haven't seen this, look like extremely fit blue horsecats, which would make Napoleon Dynamite smile but can be seriously distracting from the world that Cameron has created here.

And what a world it is. Once the action moves to Pandora, a planet prized by we humans for the aforementioned mineral and because - as is apparently the assumption for any movie set 100 years in the future or so - we've laid waste to our own living space. Jake infiltrates the Na'vi in his avatar for the mining company but his allegiances start to shift to the natives, thanks in large part to his love for one Na'vi in particular, Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana. And, given Cameron's infatuation with the scantily clad Na'vi form, who can blame him, even if they are blue horsecats?

It's when Jake and Neytiri start to explore Cameron's brave new world that the movie finally takes off, and it really is amazing to behold. The realm of Pandora is essentially a rain forest at its roots, but Cameron has filled it with all kinds of wonders, from flying mountains to glowing trees, and we (or at least I) feel the thrill of discovery along with the two of them.

In fact, I know this is a reach, but in this middle stretch it often feels almost like a Terrence Malick movie - granted, a Terrence Malick movie on some seriously psychedelic drugs and with the volume turned up to 11. I'm still a 3-D skeptic, but for the first time since Henry Selick's "Coraline" I didn't mind wearing a second set of glasses just to watch this, and after a while I was so sucked in that I often forgot I was wearing them.

But, of course, we dastardly humans are there to ruin it all, and Cameron has found the perfect weapon of mass destruction in Stephen Lang. He hams it up throughout as Col. Quaritch, the muscle behind the hunt for "unobtainium" (just typing that makes me still giggle), and certainly brings to mind another Cameron hero who somehow managed to become the governor of California (it certainly helps that, in the inevitable battle royale, he inhabits a giant robot suit a la a Terminator.)

With a nifty transition involving Jake's mentor with the company, played with resolve and empathy by Sigourney Weaver, Cameron indeed shifts to unleash as much energy as he put into creating this beautiful place in an attempt to destroy it, which takes up most of the last 45 minutes or so. And the battle itself is electrifying. It's actually a good thing you have the 3-D glasses on at this point, which kind of keeps your head captive, because if it were to escape for just a second and think too much you might not be able to give in to just how ridiculously fun it is to watch blue horsecats on what appear to be neon pterodactyls and armed only with bows and arrows take on a force with considerably more firepower.

We know who's going to win this battle, but Cameron has imbued the movie with enough of his mythology in a surprisingly brisk two hours and 40 minutes or so that we actually care about the outcome. I'm still not sold on Sam Worthington as an actor, even in purely buttery popcorn fare like this, but that's not enough to take away from what Cameron has accomplished here.

Has he revolutionized moviemaking? Nah, but for $500 million or so he did at least manage to craft an extremely fun movie and just the sweetest kind of eye candy.

And that's about all I have to say about that. If you've seen "Avatar" and want to disagree with me, please feel free, and have a perfectly pleasant Monday. Peace out.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Yes, James Gunn will get to work again

After the pretty much complete box-office failure of James Gunn's "Slither," it really seemed impossible that any kind of studio would back him for a new movie, but thankfully I'm wrong once again (I'm pretty used to it by now.)

And the thing with "Slither" is, it's really a pretty fantastic movie. It's no "Shaun of the Dead," but in its own way it very deftly mixes humor and horror, and you really can't go wrong with stars Elizabeth Banks and Nathan Fillion. Since a total of maybe six people saw it in theaters, I'd highly recommend a rental for the rest of you.

And now, rather amazingly, Gunn is now filming in Louisiana another movie he has also written, "Super," and it sounds pretty promising for a late-summer comedy (which is where I'm guessing this would fall.) In it, Rainn Wilson will star as a man who, after seeing his wife get hooked on drugs and taken off by a drug dealer, decides to don a costume and grab his lug wrench to go after her. Doesn't sound like much of a comedy, I know, but in Wilson and Gunn's hands I'm sure it somehow will be (and Wilson more than John Krasinski or Steve Carell of "The Office" clan certainly deserves a great big-screen comedy - "The Rocker" wasn't it. And in a more than slightly tangential "The Office" connection, Gunn and Jenna Fischer were married for about seven years, but are no more.)

The rest of the cast will be Kevin Bacon, who has just been announced as the drug dealer, Liv Tyler as Wilson's wife, and even Ellen Page somehow too, but I have no idea in what role. "Gilmore Girls" fans should take note that the usuallyveryfunny Sean Gunn, James Gunn's brother, will have a part in this too.

I know that's a lot of information about a movie that won't come for at least six months or so, but I like writing about things when I find them, especially to exercise my brain on Saturday mornings. I just hope it didn't hurt yours. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see "Avatar," and hoping it doesn't suck. Peace out.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Doc Holliday meets Jack Sparrow? Bring it on!

I really don't have much to say today because I stayed up rather late watching Sam Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell" again at the best possible time - 'round midnight - and I have to say, it's still the most fun movie of 2009. If you can stomach a movie in which a gypsy woman torments poor Alison Lohman by - among many other delightfully gross things - vomiting her dead cat on to her (yes, really), give it a chance.

But what little time I do have is mostly about a subject I love, and one we really have just about none at all of any more, Westerns.

It seems that Paramount Pictures is hoping to make a Western-genre tentpole flick with "The Further Adventures of Doc Holliday." I'm not sure this is the most promising analogy, but just for those who doubt just how fun this could be, Paramount says it will be "a history-based action-adventure tale in the vein of 'Pirates of the Caribbean'."

If that's what it takes to get them to make this then I'm all for it, because seeing "Deadwood" turn up at number nine on the AV Club's best tv of the 00s list has me really jonesing for a good Western. But who should play Doc Holliday? Well, I'm sure Paramount will at least ask Johnny Depp to do it, but anyone who's seen "Tombstone" knows there's only one man for the job, and I'm sure he could use the work: Val Kilmer. He made that movie with his comedic turn, which even at its funniest never forgot that Holliday was one bad mother... well, you know.

No idea when all this might actually happen, but a really fun Western for summer of 2011 sounds great to me.

All I have besides that is the teaser for what could be a genuine disaster, but out of love for Joan Jett I'm hoping will somehow turn out to rock at least a little. All you can really tell from this clip for "The Runaways," the biopic about the rather seriously rocking girl group being directed by Floria Sigismondi, is that they at least got the look of Joan Jett, being played by Kristen Stewart, and Cherie Currie, being played somehow by Dakota Fanning, just about right. And they do appear to rock performing "Cherry Bomb." The curiosity factor alone will be enough to get me to go see this when it drops in March. Enjoy the trailer, and have a great weekend. Mine will include "Avatar" and "The Road," the latter of which I'm gonna see at the recommendation of always-reliable movie critic Bob Connally. Peace out.

P.S.: Though you can't make her out in this clip, Alia Shawkat, a definite favorite around here, has a role in this too, which I only mention because I'm thoroughly psyched to be going to see Tony Hale present "The Best of Buster Bluth" tonight in Macon.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bryan Singer making return to the X-Men? Bring it on

After watching the purely craptastic "X-Men: The Last Stand" and the entirely mediocre "Wolverine," I wasn't sure there was anything that would be able to bring me back to the franchise at this point, but Bryan Singer - rather amazingly - is about to do it.

Stealing more than a bit of the thunder from the Los Angeles premiere of "Avatar" Wednesday night, Singer let slip to a MySpace television crew that he had indeed signed on the previous day to direct "X-Men: First Class," which should be nothing but cool.

Why? Well, Singer, of course, directed the first two X-Men movies, and while "X-Men" is a perfectly fine superhero movie, "X2: X-Men United" is one of the very best in the genre, right up there in my book with "Spider-Man 2."

Here's exactly what Singer had to say about the matter: "I'm ramping up to do a movie called 'Jack the Giant Killer' at Warner Bros, and I just yesterday signed a deal to do an 'X-Men: First Class Origins' picture, which is kind of cool. I'm very excited."

I have yet to see any actual confirmation of this from the trades, but since I'm at least willing to assume the man isn't flat-out lying, I have to take this as true and great news, made all the more unlikely given how Singer spurned Fox once already to direct "Superman Returns" instead of the third X-Men flick (which I don't think even he could have saved.

But what exactly is "X-Men: First Class"? Well, it comes from a script by "Chuck" co-creator Josh Schwartz, and will look at the early days of our mutant friends at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. Schwartz has yet to do anything wrong on TV in my book (yes, I even watch "Gossip Girl," and "Chuck" is simply fantastic), so this certainly now seems to be in all the right hands.

Is Disney killing achingly bad comedies?

Probably not, but John Travolta and Robin Williams certainly have to be wondering if that's the studio's new mission.

First this week (or maybe last, I really don't know) came news that new Disney boss Rich Ross (not to be confused with the Miami rapper Rick Ross, I suppose) had terminated a virus called "Wedding Banned" (get it?), which would have been a "comedy" starring Williams about a divorced couple who kidnap their daughter on her wedding day in order to prevent her from making the same mistakes they did. Even though the always very funny Anna Faris and Diane Keaton (as daughter and mother, I presume) were set to co-star in this, it's probably best that it never sees the light of day.

And now, Disney has also stepped in to stop the "Wild Hogs" plague too. "Wild Hogs 2: Bachelor Ride," would have brought back Travolta, Tim Allen, Martin Lawrence and even poor William H. Macy for a production that would have launched next summer, with Walt Becker coming back to direct again, but Disney has halted all that for good.

Like I said, I don't really believe this puts even a dent in the bad comedy factory, but it has to at least be some kind of progress, right?

"The Freshman," the tv show?

My fellow cubicle slave John Parnell likes to quote from "The Freshman" all the time. Remember that one? I do, and though it was a genuinely funny flick, most of its charm came from the truly oddball pairing of Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick in the tale of a NYU freshman who gets involved with the mob (and fine dining and exotic lizards, of course.)

Now it seems that USA, which has unleashed a flurry of original shows in the past few years ("Burn Notice" is one I always tune in for, and it will soon return for a fourth season), has latched on to this idea for a series, with the movie's writer/director, Andrew Bergman, on board to at least write the series adaptation.

Can this work? I seriously doubt it, because like I said, most of the charm of the original came from the Brando/Broderick combo, and obviously that can never happen again. USA, however, has proven me wrong before, so certainly keep your eyes on this one.

OK, what else? Well, I suppose I could have led with this, but it's easily only the second-best superhero movie news of the day. Below is the first trailer for Jon Favreau's "Iron Man 2," set to start the movie summer May 7, with Robert Downey Jr. back as our hero and Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke and even Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson somehow coming along too. As you can see from the trailer, Tony Stark is certainly every bit as brash as we remember, so here's hoping he's just as funny too. Rourke as Whiplash, at least, should make a first-rate big bad. Enjoy.

Next up comes two clips for flicks that promise to bring the funny, but about the first oddity, at least, I have my doubts. "Hot Tub Time Machine," judging from the trailer below, will almost certainly be as goofy as it title promises when it drops in March, starring John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Michael Cera's bff and even Darryl from "The Office," aka Craig Robinson. It's directed by "Grosse Pointe Blank" writer Steve Pink and, as you'll see from the trailer, at least returns Cusack to the ski slopes like "Better off Dead," so I'll at least give it a chance. Enjoy.

And finally, courtesy of MTV comes a look at what should be a better comedy, "Dinner for Schmucks," a remake of the Froggy flick "Le Diner de Cons," which has sat near the top of my Netflix list for a while now but somehow hasn't yet made its way into my mailbox. The title is pretty self-explanatory, and as you'll find out from the clip, Steve Carell is the titular schmuck in this flick being directed by Jay Roach and coming out in July. Enjoy, and have a perfectly endurable Thursday. Peace out.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

For Tuesday, a cache of clips

With the Golden Globes nominations coming later this morning, here's hoping that my favorite movie of this year (and it's held the top spot for a long time now), Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," fares very well.

So far from the critics associations, it has won at least a couple of screenplay awards (notably from the New York Film Critics Online awards) and of course pretty much universal recognition of Christopher Waltz as best supporting actor, and when the list goes to 10 has even made the best picture cut for a few too (a precursor for the 10-picture Oscar field)?

If I had a vote, which I obviously don't, I'd give it to QT for just a wildly fun story told with the most style and guts of the year, which is just about exactly what I ask for from a movie. Number two, which meets all those criteria except for perhaps the "fun" part, is Kathyrn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker," which has emerged along with "Up in the Air" (which I have yet to see) as the most likely contenders for best picture, along with perhaps "Precious."

Anyways, since the Globe nominations aren't even announced for a couple of hours or so (yes, I get up early), that's enough of that. In other news, "Gilmore Girls" fans, of which you can proudly count me one, should take note that Lorelai herself, Lauren Graham, is making her return to broadcast TV Monday, March 1, at 9 p.m. in NBC's "Parenthood."

The premise itself - an offshoot of the overrated movie of the same name - sounds rather meh to me, but with "Friday Night Lights" showrunner Jason Katims behind this and Peter Krause of "Sports Night" (and other shows, I know, but that's my favorite) also starring, I'm certainly gonna give it a shot, mostly to see Lauren Graham in the spotlight again.

That makes for a potentially fun night on NBC when paired with "Chuck" at 8, which thankfully returns to its Monday home Jan. 11 (after a two-hour premiere the previous night, huzzah!), even if it all still does somehow lead into Jay Leno's entertainment-free hour.

And what about "Friday Night Lights" itself? When will that be returning to NBC? Best as I can tell, not until summer, which is certainly a long time to wait to find out how things will shake out after Coach Taylor's move to the new East Dillon High School.

And in another tidbit before the clips begin, here's hoping Natalie Portman can avoid getting punched in the face by David O. Russell during the filming of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies." It seems the volatile director - known as much for movies like "Three Kings" and "I Heart Huckabees" as for his infamous tirade in the face of Lily Tomlin on the set of the latter - has either signed on or is about to to write and direct the movie based on Seth Grahame-Smith very funny update on Jane Austen's novel.

Now on to the clips. First up, appropriately enough, is Quentin Tarantino announcing what are - so far at least - his nine favorite (nine, I suppose, since he of course left out his own movie) flicks of 2009. I'll let you discover the other eight for yourself, but I have to say I thoroughly agree with the love for Sam Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell," which I'm certain will make my top 10 for the year. Enjoy.

Next up comes a couple of clips for the next best thing to a new White Stripes album (where the hell is that?), the upcoming documentary "The White Stripes: Under the Great White Northern Lights," which I think is coming to DVD soon. First up is a kick-ass clip of them performing "Shake Hands" live, and after that is the rather mundane teaser trailer. The band's Web site, by the way, has just about the ultimate time-waster, a video jukebox that's a great way to avoid, say, working for 45 minutes or so. You can find it here, and I recommend it highly.

The White Stripes: "Let's Shake Hands"

THE WHITE STRIPES | MySpace Music Videos

Next up is is an even more "Kick-Ass" clip, I suppose, since it comes from the upcoming Matthew Vaughn movie of the same name. I believe this clip originally aired this year at the San Diego Comic-Con, but it's new to me, and perhaps to you too. The flick, about kids who decide to become superheroes, looks like it will be really funny - hopefully in the right ways - when it hits April 16. All I can tell you so far is that there's something oddly enjoyable about watching Nicolas Cage shoot a young girl in the chest from short range. Enjoy.

And finally, saving I think the worst for last, here is the first trailer I know of for Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood," set to drop in May. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since it stars Russell Crowe, but I'm just not buying the prince of thieves as "Gladiator" angle he clearly seems to be going for here. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.

P.S.: Any misspellings you see here surely exist, but since the Blogger spell check wasn't working, please accept my apologies instead.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Review: "The Princess and the Frog"

Any thoughts I had that I was simply too old and often cynical to enjoy "The Princess and the Frog" were reinforced upon my arrival.

Along with a lobby teaming with hyper young ladies, there was also a (hopefully well-compensated) black princess, decked out in a version of Tiana's beautiful blue dress, tiara and all, for the kids to get their pictures taken with. I wisely avoided getting involved in any of that and instead got a seat near the front, in front of three whole rows reserved for a birthday party, a definite gamble on my part.

Once the movie started, however, after a couple of extremely loud and obnoxious trailers for upcoming 3-D menaces (be warned, "Cats and Dogs" is gonna be everywhere next summer), it just envelops you with its rich colors and takes you back to a time when not only were cartoons drawn by hand but charming (if extremely familiar) stories were able to be told without a gerbil shooting fire out of its butt (or whatever may have happened in "G-Force," which I somehow managed to avoid.)

At the beginning we meet Tiana and her very rich (and white) friend Charlotte, for whom Tiana's mother (Oprah Winfrey) is making one of many princess dresses. The idea that the two of them from the exact opposite sides of the tracks would not only be friends as children but into adulthood in Jazz Age New Orleans is very hard to swallow, but if you're able to suspend your disbelief for two hours or so, I promise you'll be rewarded by what we see when Charlotte and her mother step into the streets of the Big Easy.

If anything, the vibrant cityscape, often appropriately imbued with the purple and gold of Mardi Gras, is nothing short of a valentine to the city that once was (and indeed, it's a little chilling at the end when a hard, steady rain begins to fall.) As the two of them make their way through the city to their shotgun house at twilight, it's just a gorgeous reminder of why I hate having to put on a second set of glasses just to watch all the color get sucked out of movies.

Be warned, however: From here on out, the story is indeed pretty slight, and since we all know going in that kissing the frog prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) just turns Tiana into a frog too, its really robbed of most suspense. Thankfully, it just gets trippier as it goes along, and really about as dark as a movie for little girls can get thanks to the perfect villain, Dr. Facilier (Keith David, who, also having voiced The Cat in "Coraline," is just having a banner year for voicework.) The voodoo doctor gets the best song, "Friends on the Other Side," and steals every scene he's in as he also steals Prince Naveen's essence and makes him turn all froggy.

Given Disney's obviously tortured past with both black characters and the South (I've said it here before, but in this context it certainly warrants mention: I simply adored "Song of the South" as a kid, and still do), it's in fact rather remarkable that voodoo is both a good and bad force in this flick. In order to get their human forms back, Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) and Naveen are joined by an alligator who just wants to play jazz (Michael-Leon Wooley) and a firefly (Jim Cummings), who once he gets over how proud he is of the fact that his butt lights up is very funny. And the hand-drawn animation is at its best in two scenes, one of the fireflies leading our motley crew through the bayou to the toothless voodoo queen Mama Odie and, closer to the end, as Dr. Facilier unleashes his shadow agents to track down Naveen.

It's all mostly a big gumbo pot of fun, but what about Tiana herself? Well, Disney's first black princess is a predictably safe - if more than a little boring - character, one who extols the virtues of hard work and constantly turns down entreaties from friends to hit the town. I certainly appreciated how completely unhip both Tiana and the movie itself are, but they didn't really have to make her quite so square, too. But, baby steps. With as much money as this should make, both 2-D animation and black characters in animated movies for all audiences should get a boost from it, so it will be interesting to see where Disney and other animation houses go from here (hopefully back to the future!)

My main fear going in was that the music from Randy Newman would be extremely generic, and except for the aforementioned song from Dr. Facilier, it almost always is. He wisely, however, drenches them in the zydeco, Cajun and jazz flavors of New Orleans, which makes them all go down easy enough, even if you forget them as soon as you walk out the door. As I type this I'm listening to a performance by Allen Toussaint at the Village Vanguard (streamed for free by NPR here), which just reminds me how much better the songs would have been had they hired a genuine jazz man (black or white) to take on this score rather than the safe and familiar Newman.

But that's a very minor beef with a genuine Disney fairy tale that, as it builds to the finish that every Disney princess finds, also revels in the New Orleans that once was and hopefully will be again, and for that it's a real accomplishment and a thoroughly entertaining flick.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Will the best scripts of 2009 be the best movies of 2010?

The short answer to that question is of course not, because it certainly takes a lot of steps to get a movie from great script to even somewhat good flick.

And though I have to admit I had never heard of it until I stumbled on it yesterday at, Franklin Leonard has been releasing "The Black List" (rather unfortunate name, but great idea) since 2004. It's a list of the best scripts that Leonard, now an executive at Universal, has received each year, in 2009 culled from 97 offerings. You can read the whole thing here, but below are a few highlights from the top 10 that caught my eye, with commentary from me.

1. The Muppet Man
By Christopher Weekes
I had no idea that a biopic about Jim Henson was in the works, but I'm just jazzed beyond all reason that it is and may even be coming soon. Like everyone of a certain age, I grew up with the Muppets, and just loved them, especially the thoroughly magical "Muppet Movie." This is listed as being set up at the Jim Henson Co., so may not exactly be an objective view, but who would really want to watch a hatchet job about Jim Henson anyway? With this and (maybe) a new Muppet movie coming from Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, it truly could be a new golden age for my favorite puppets (who somehow even have their own very fun Youtube channel, too.)

2. The Social Network
By Aaron Sorkin
I just lent out my copy of Sorkin's "Sports Night" to my fellow cubicle slave Randy Waters, and he now shares the minority view with me that it's even better than Sorkin's "The West Wing." Either way, his wit shined again in 2008 with "Charlie Wilson's War," and hopefully will also with this story about the creation of Facebook (which I'm somehow on.) In the words of Leonard, the "fascinating biographical elements of Shattered Glass meets the courtroom drama of Kramer vs. Kramer, without the tears." Namechecking one of my favorite movies ("Shattered Glass") will get my attention every time, and with David Fincher directing this for an October 2010 release starring Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake (a surprisingly good actor), this is definitely one I've got my eyes on.

3. The Voices
By Michael R. Perry
I certainly like twisted movies, and from the right perspective I also don't mind some horrific violence thrown in too, so this sounds right up my alley. According to Leonard, this one's about a schizophrenic worker at a bathtub factory who accidentally kills a beautiful woman from his workplace. While trying to cover his tracks, he starts to hear voices from his foul-mouthed cat and dog. In describing it as like "watching the lovable pig from Babe join forces with American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman," Leonard already had me hooked. Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo) will apparently direct this if he can find someone crazy enough to take the lead role.

5. Cedar Rapids
By Phil Johnston
You can count Miguel Arteta's "Youth in Revolt" starring Michael Cera as one of the near-future movies I'm really looking forward to, so it's certainly good news to hear that his next one should be a winner too. He's attached to direct this flick starring Ed Helms as a small-town insurance man who hasn't accomplished much of anything until he gets invited to represent his company at the Cedar Rapids insurance convention. Helms is still the funniest guy on "The Office," and with Alia Shawkat, John C. Reilly and even Sigourney Weaver set to co-star, it should be a real hoot.

6. Londongrad
By David Scarpa (The Day The Earth Stood Still and co-wrote The Last Castle)
It seems like forever since I've seen a great spy movie (or at least one without Paul Greengrass' uncontrollably shaky camera), but this one certainly seems to fit the bill. It's an adaptation of Alan Cowell's 2008 book "The Terminal Spy: A True Story of Espionage, Betrayal and Murder," which chronicles the life and death of Alexander Litvinenko. The story itself seems way too good to be true, with Litvinenko allegedly poisoned by radioactive tea, but it really did happen in 2006, and thoroughly fascinated me at the time. Leonard says the script evokes "Born of the Fourth of July, Silkwood, and Robert DeNiro’s history-of-the-CIA saga The Good Shepherd - but in Russia, with spies," which sounds great to me. Warner Bros. has apparently optioned the script, and I somehow think I read Johnny Depp has been attached to star in it, though I read so much about movies that I could be just all wet about that.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to see one movie today, but I can't decide between "Invictus" and "The Princess and the Frog." I'll eventually see them both, but I'm leaning with starting with Disney's return to 2D animation. Peace out.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tyler Perry and Buster Bluth in Macon? Yes, really

Before I get into any of that, today, Natalie Portman, Jane Austen and zombies? Yeah, I'll be there.

When you set out to write a book called "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," you're really setting yourself up for a fall, because, well, who can deliver on a premise that good? Well, having read the book, I can tell you that Seth Grahame-Smith - with, of course, a big assist from Jane Austen - certainly did, because the book is a hoot.

And now it seems that Natalie Portman has signed to both produce and star as our zombie-fighting heroine Elizabeth Bennet in a movie version. That makes me giddy just writing it. Now, if they just could make zombies the new vampires, the world would certainly be a much better place.

And only something that good could knock this (admittedly somewhat old, but if you live here, still intriguing) news from the lead: Tyler Perry is coming to Macon (if anything deserves an exclamation point, that's it, but I just really don't like them.)

Yes, Madea herself will be taking to the stage at the Macon Centreplex on Feb. 9 as Perry unveils a new stage play, "Madea's Big Happy Family." As is the course with his ventures, I'm sure that if the audience eats this up it will become one of his movies someday soon.

Unfortunately, the tickets are rather insanely expensive, starting at $47.50 and ranging up to $77.50 - a little too rich for my blood, especially with the tickets on sale right before Christmas. I encourage anyone who can afford to, however, to check out this opportunity. Tickets (if there are indeed any left) are available at www.maconcentreplex or by calling (478) 751-9232.

In another Macon event that's much more within my budget and just as dear to my heart, the name just sums it up perfectly: "The Best of Buster Bluth with Tony Hale."

"Arrested Development" fans (and if you're not one, why not?) will certainly know what that means. It seems that Tony's parents live in Macon, and he's agreed to host this event at the Cox Capitol Theatre to benefit the Macon Film & Video Festival. At 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, he'll be screening his three favorite "Arrested Development" episodes, and then take questions from the audience (and one of them, perhaps from me, will surely be about the alluring possibility of an "AD" movie.)

And best of all, it's only $10, which doesn't count the couple of beers I'll consume during all this goodness.

And in a final bit of Macon news, the Macon Film Guild is showing a movie this Sunday that I've been waiting for most of the year to see, "Cold Souls" (which of course means I'll have to work that day, and not be able to go ... shark farts.) Paul Giamatti stars as an actor who, tired of his daily existence, jumps at the opportunity to have his soul removed. It's when he later decides he wants it back that the apparently very clever fun from writer/director Sophie Barthes really gets going.

For those who will actually be able to go, and I encourage anyone who loves good movies to do so, the showings are at 2, 5 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Douglass Theatre in downtown Macon.

Finally, since I know a great number of the few people who bother to read this don't live anywhere near Macon, I'll leave you today with a couple of video clips that caught my eye this morning.

The first, also related directly to "Arrested Development," is, as best as I can tell, the opening for a pilot called "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" that's being pitched for the UK's Channel 4. The premise it sets up - David Cross navigating the high-speed world of modern London - is great, and as you can see from the clip, it's also got Will Arnett at his blustery best. Enjoy, and if you're watching this at work, for God's sake do it with headphones on, because the language is more than a bit salty.

And what could be better than that? Six minutes of "Chuck," of course. The first half finale of "Glee" was indeed, as my friend and boss of sorts Stephanie Hartley says, "gleetastic," but now that most shows have gone dark for December, there's nothing I'm looking forward to more on TV than the return of our favorite bumbling now-apparently-super spy.

NBC has upped the season three order from 13 to 19 episodes, and the show is set to return with a two-hour episode Sunday, Jan. 10, before settling into its regular Monday night slot with another hour the next night. Great news all of that, and just to what your appetite a little further, here's a six-minute preview of season three from NBC, which shows some of Chuck's new skills and that, thankfully, all our Buy More buds (including Tony Hale) will be making a return too. Enjoy the clip, and have a perfectly enjoyable Thursday. Peace out.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My (and only my) best movies of the decade: The 2008 edition

OK, I should probably address the elephant in the room before I get into the 10 movies that made my best of 2008 list: Though it did the first time I did this list at the end of 2008, "The Dark Knight" no longer makes the cut.

Does that mean Christopher Nolan's great movie has somehow gotten worse with time? Of course not. It just means that I've watched all of the movies that make it at least twice since they came out in theaters, and some have just lasted with me longer than that one, for whatever reason.

Overall, I'd say 2008 was kind of a down year for movies, though I was certainly happy to see Danny Boyle win the big prize for "Slumdog Millionaire." It just wasn't as deep a field as usual for movies that really won my heart and mind, but still one featuring plenty of winners.

And it was indeed hard to get it down to just 10 movies. Here are the ones, along with "The Dark Knight," that just missed the cut: "In Bruges", "Under the Same Moon", "The Visitor", "Man on Wire", "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and "The Class."

As usual, please feel free to add any movies you think I might have snubbed or just tell me I'm all wet with this list, which begins now.

"The Fall"
Going into Tarsem's odd but very endearing movie, all I had heard was about the stunning visuals, and how they had been created without the use of any CGI. Well, it is indeed gorgeous to look at, but the movie itself is even better in its story, which is all about the power of storytelling. Lee Pace of "Pushing Daisies" (rest in peace) stars as an injured stuntman who tells a fellow hospital patient, a young girl played by the thoroughly charming Catinca Untaru, a tall tale about five mythical heroes. It just gets crazier and crazier, and though it gets more than a little out of control, I still found it to be nothing but fun to watch.

"Frozen River"
Immigration makes a great movie subject because of the obvious human factor involved, and 2008 was a banner year for flicks on the subject. "The Visitor" and "Under the Same Moon" worked very well, but "Frozen River" stands above because of its steely, almost noir feel as it tells the harrowing tale of a woman in desperate circumstances who teams up with a Mohawk Indian to get into the business of transporting immigrants across the U.S.-Canada border. It's just a fantastic debut from writer/director Courtney Hunt, and you can feel the pain of former "Homicide" star Melissa Leo in every frame (and she certainly should have won an Oscar for this.)

"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"
A silly choice? Sure, but also a sweetly and smartly funny one, and how well director Peter Sollett knows New York shines in how he manages to capture the young bridge-and-tunnel set. Michael Cera again, and I would tell him he needs to finally grow up if he didn't have such a winning streak playing teenagers. It certainly continues here, and he has a natural chemistry with Kat Dennings, giving this flick a surprising amount of both heart and soul.

"Happy Go Lucky"Can you really make a movie in which the lead character is thoroughly annoying and yet still have your audience rooting for her? That's the accomplishment of director Mike Leigh's little movie and even moreso of British actress Sally Hawkins, who dives right into Poppy's exasperating optimism. If you stick with it, I can guarantee that even the most cynical of moviegoers (I'm often among them) will warm to the story as we watch Poppy adapt to the world (and her to it), and slowly find out just why she acts so oddly. And Eddie Marsan, who has at least a small part in the upcoming "Sherlock Holmes" flick, is perfectly menacing as Poppy's nemesis of sorts, an extremely angry driving instructor.

"Slumdog Millionaire"
Though, as you'll find out at the end of this, there are at least two movies from 2008 I rate higher than Danny Boyle's Oscar magnet, he and this flick were still very deserving winners. In a story that's most obviously Dickensian in its roots but eventually sprawls to work in some fitting aspects of classic American gangster movies too, Boyle just imbues "Slumdog" with an extremely strong sense of place, in this case India. The overarching game-show structure starts to wear thin by the end, and Dev Patel's performance robs some of the passion out of the love story at its core, but it earned the smile that was on my face by the time the entire cast breaks into that dance routine to A.R. Rahman's "Jai Ho." (And, as an aside, if you like silly teen shows, which I sometimes do as mindless fare to wind down my workday, "Skins," which in its first two season starred a young Patel, is surprisingly good, and you can get it from the Netflix.)

Though it can't shy away from the grand political themes that surround the life of the late Harvey Milk, Gus Van Sant's movie shines brightest when it looks at politics on the micro level, in Harvey's many attempts to win a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It's also not terribly surprisingly a very tender movie at times, and the thanks for that go as much to Oscar winner Sean Penn as to James Franco, who portrayed his lover, Scott Smith, and certainly should have won the Supporting Actor Oscar for this. The movie also just ends nearly perfectly (where it by force had to, of course), leaving us but not forcing us to think about what was to come with AIDS and its effect on gay people.

"Cadillac Records"
I'm pretty sure this Darnell Martin movie didn't make this list the first time I did it, but like the music it celebrates, "Cadillac Records" just gets better with time. Rather than tell the straightforward story of Chess Records, writer/director Martin instead wisely focuses on the personalities of the musicians that made the Chicago label so successful for a short time. Jeffrey Wright gives Muddy Wolf a quiet pride, but the surprise here is that he's at least matched by Beyonce (yes, really), who makes you feel the pain in Etta James' tortured life, and Columbus Short, who takes over the movie for the short time he gets to play harmonica man Little Walter. Martin is only listed as having directed some TV shows since this winner, which is a genuine shame.

"The Wrestler"
Darren Aronofsky's movie does indeed follow the tried (and tired?) pattern of rah-rah sports flicks like "Rocky" and many clones that followed it, but none of them since "Rocky" had a hero worth cheering for as much as Mickey Rourke's titular grappler. It can indeed be very hard to watch, both because the wrestling itself can be extremely bloody and because our hero is pretty much a complete failure at everything in his life except when he's in the ring, and it can be heartbreaking to see how hard he clings to it. My mother rightly pointed out that there's no way someone could have a heart attack and climb back into the wrestling ring so fast, but it is just a movie after all, right?

"Tell No One"
OK, these last two are indeed my two favorite movies of 2008, and coincidentally enough, I saw them both ("Tell No One" for the second time) at the 2008 Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival. I assure you, however, that that had little to do with how highly I hold them in my heart. Guillaume Cantet's "Tell No One," based on the novel by Harlan Coben, is a mind-bending film noir of sorts that's full of fantastic twists and fits well in the French tradition of psycholigical thrillers. It also contains, in the drawn-out "reveal," my single favorite scene of 2008. I had to watch it the second time to make sure it all adds up, but it indeed does, to a thoroughly engaging movie. And finally ...

"Let the Right One In"
Any one who's been here before knows how much I love this movie, and it has sat comfortably in the top spot for 2008 and as easily one of the best flicks of the past decade. Tomas Alfredson's movie, often as chilling as the bleak Swedish winter in which it takes place, works as both a first-rate horror story and a charming coming-of-age tale about first love - which just happens to be with the girl next door who is also a vampire (OK, I know that's a spoiler, but it's revealed very early on.) And the scene that best rivals the "reveal" of "Tell No One" is what happens when Eli, after teaching young Oskar to stand up for himself, finally has to step in herself at the community swimming pool. Just a perfect horror shot, and one of many that will stick with you for a long time. I shouldn't be surprised by anything by now, but it still just angers me to no end that both "Let the Right One In" and "Tell No One" are set for English-language remakes, in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Though I've said it at least a hundred times, I'll leave you with another plea to please go see the originals instead of these soon-to-come pale imitations.

So, there you have it. It may be a while before I do the 2009 list, because it of course wouldn't be fair to do so without having seen all the movies I can, but I can tell you that right now "Inglourious Basterds", "The Hurt Locker" and "Sugar" hold the top three slots.

Please feel free to chime in with any of your opinions, and have a perfectly endurable Wednesday. Peace out.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Two short doses of some pretty seriously funny stuff

Should it really take a person two days to come up with a list of the 10 best movies of 2008? By any logical measure, no, but I'm afraid that's the case.

I can tell you that I have the 10 in mind, and they have changed in the past year. Though the top two are set in stone, and the top five are all still there, "The Dark Knight" is one that has fallen a few slots to no longer make the cut. I still love Nolan's movie quite a bit, but the competition was very intense.

So, that will be coming tomorrow, but today all I have is a couple of clips that deliver at least a little bit of funny. Well, in the case of the first one, a lot of funny.

Though I was far beyond the target audience when I first read, C.D. Payne's absurdist comedy "Youth in Revolt," it's a book I thoroughly enjoyed. If you were to read it, be warned: The premise is as old as time, a 14-year-old meets the girl of his dreams and schemes to get her. But Payne's work is much darker than you might expect, and a heck of a lot funnier.

Now, even though he still has the baby face, I'm sure there's no way Michael Cera would even try to play a kid that young, so I'd imagine our hero, Nick Twisp, must be at least 16 in the movie, set to finally come out Jan. 8. The first trailer for this flick was just dreadful, but this "red-band" version looks a lot more promising, and has me thoroughly psyched to see this. Enjoy.

The second is rather remarkable in that the Kids in the Hall are actually back together, and fans of their singularly juvenile humor (yes, I'm one) will be happy to see they haven't matured much at all. The clip below is for "Death Comes to Town," a short series they're doing for the CBC, and then hopefully very soon Comedy Central or somewhere else I can see it. Unfortunately, there's not much Dave Foley at all, but a Kids in the Hall reunion is reason to rejoice indeed. Enjoy, and have a perfectly acceptable Wednesday. Peace out.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

My (and only my) best movies of the decade: The 2007 edition

Before I get into any of that, it seems there may actually be a good baseball movie in the works, an increasing rarity that's certainly reason to rejoice.

Michael Lewis' "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" has already had more than a bit of a tortured past. Steven Soderbergh had been attached to direct the story of how Billy Beane turned the Oakland As into a contender on a tight budget, with Brad Pitt set to play Beane, but the plug was pulled on that by Columbia just five days before production was set to begin.

Now, however, director Bennett Miller, who has already appeared on this 10-day extravaganza of my opinions with "Capote," easily one of the best movies of 2005, has been hired to revive the project, with a new script from Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Pitt will still play Mr. Beane, and I love baseball movies so much that this bit of news already has me rather giddy.

But getting back to 2007, the vagaries of time and space have joined forces to engineer an upset of sorts. I've been extolling the virtues of "Ratatouille" for many years now - as if it actually needs my help - but it's been knocked from the top spot by a more serious contender. Read more below to find out what it is.

All in all, 2007 was a really good year for movies - so good in fact that I've cheated a bit this time and let the list go to eleven (as everything really should) to accommodate a movie that was actually made in 1977. And here, just in case it jogs anyone's memory and give you some rental suggestions, is the rather long list of honorable mention movies: "The Lives of Others", "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls", "Breach", "Starter for 10", "300", "The Namesake", "The Host", "The Wind that Shakes the Barley", "The Lookout", "The TV Set", "Grindhouse", "Waitress", "Eastern Promises", "Michael Clayton", "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford", "The Kingdom", "King of Kong", "Talk to Me", "Control", "Away from Her", "Gone Baby Gone", "Knocked Up", "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", "Shoot 'Em Up", "Across the Universe", "American Gangster", "Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten", "Margot at the Wedding", "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", "Juno", "Atonement","Sweeney Todd", "Charlie Wilson's War", "There Will Be Blood", "Walk Hard" and "The Orphanage."

Wow. I wouldn't blame anyone for giving up now, but we're just getting started. Here, without any further delaying (in dishonor of Dick Cheney, I've decided to never use the word "dither" again) from me, here are my top 11 favorite movies of 2007, and as usual, please feel free to add any you think I may have snubbed.

Most of the complaints I've heard about David Fincher's best movie are what I think actually make it work so well. He does indeed take his time telling the story of the Zodiac killer, and more specifically about two men, a cartoonist and a reporter, who became obsessed with the still unsolved case. Obsession is in fact what this tale is really about, and it's sold perfectly by the performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr.

"Killer of Sheep"
This nearly flawless little movie by Charles Burnett is the entry from 1977 that got its first real theatrical release in 2007. Made as Burnett's thesis film while he was a student at UCLA, it tells the story of a slaughterhouse worker and his family, and how they struggle to get by in Watts living ever so slightly above the poverty line. It's a vivid portrait of American life, and well worth renting on DVD if you've never seen it (I had to check the Netflix to make sure it had ever gotten a DVD release, which it has.)

"Rocket Science"
Speaking of obsession, anyone who's been here before (and there are apparently a few of you) knows I talk about this autobiographical romantic comedy of sorts from director Jeffrey Blitz quite a bit. It's actually a truly terrible title, but this often painfully charming portrait of a teen stutterer who somehow ends up joining the debate team and having his heart ripped out by his debating partner captures the hell that often is high school. It's made a star of Anna Kendrick, who's already garnered some best supporting actress awards for this year's "Up in the Air," and really should have with Reece Thompson, who plays our hero here.

I really don't think you can re-create the magic that flowed through this Irish romance from director John Carney, but stars Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard have tried anyway, musically at least, reuniting this year to record a CD as the Swell Season. It's a beautiful record, but be warned: It's all about heartbreak, which has never sounded lovelier. Carney's movie is a musical love story that tells its tale with hardly any budget at all but plenty of humor and heart. I love this movie more than any words from me can really express.

"No Country for Old Men"
Even the Best Picture Oscar for this bleak Western of sorts wasn't enough to get the Coens' latest, "A Serious Man," distribution wide enough to reach my little corner of the world, so I have yet to see it even as it garners plenty of end-of-year kudos. Though "No Country for Old Men" isn't my favorite Coens' work (a tie between "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother Where Art Thou"), they definitely put their unique stamp on Cormac McCarthy's tale of drugs, money and death in West Texas. Calling it a meditation on violence would be accurate but really understates just how entertaining and darkly witty it is, and in a cast full of macho bravado, Scot Kelly Macdonald certainly deserves more credit than she got for her work as Carla Jean.

Juvenile as it may be, I'll make no apologies for including this Greg Mottola movie, because it was the most fun I had watching a movie in 2007, and really, what more can you ask for? The dual stories of two teenagers (Michael Cera and Jonah Hill) who just want to get laid and two truly amateur cops (Seth Rogen and Bill Hader) who often act more foolishly than the kids unfold at a brisk "After Hours" pace, and it's just funny from start to finish (and, puerile as it was, I don't think I laughed harder at anything all year than Hill's diatribe about his "ghostbusters lunch box dick treasure chest.")

"I'm Not There"
Todd Haynes' extremely nonlinear bio pic of sorts about Bob Dylan uses six (I think, it has been a while since I've seen this one) different actors, ranging from a young black child (Marcus Carl Franklin) to Cate Blanchett, to play Dylan, but never quite gets to a full portrait of the enigmatic poet. Fittingly, he instead made the movie a kaleidoscopic series of vignettes that add up to a hazy dream that's a joy to behold until it falls off the rails at the end when Richard Gere tries to play Billy the Kid. The best and most tender scenes are shared by the late Heath Ledger and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

"The Savages"
A quick check of the IMDB revealed that director Tamara Jenkins doesn't have any projects listed after this flick, which is a shame, because "The Savages" is a real winner. Laura Linney, a definite Reel Fanatic favorite, and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as the titular "Savages," two brilliant but self-absorbed siblings who finally have to face up to familial responsibility to care for their ailing father, who neither of them have spoken to for 20 years or so. Both are at their best here, and it just perfectly captures this awkward situation which all of us will eventually have to deal with.

I recommended this one for a Macon Film Guild screening, and though they took me up on it, I don't think it was a very big hit, unfortunately. Directors Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi bring Satrapi's graphic novel about her life growing up in Iran and Europe to colorful life on the big screen despite animating it most often only in stark black and white. It's a poignant coming of age story packed with plenty of humor as precocious Marji grows into a woman who struggles to feel at home in either the strict world of Tehran or morally looser Vienna, and is just thoroughly entertaining.

Up until about six months ago or so, Brad Bird's best animated movie (by just a nose over "The Iron Giant") reigned as my favorite movie of 2007, and it still holds a lofty position in my heart. In glorious 2-D, which is the only way I ever want to watch animated movies, Paris looks as gorgeous as it would had this been made by Hayao Miyazaki as we meet Remy, the rat who just wants to be a chef. It can be more than a little unsettling as he and his fellow rats take over the kitchen at Gusteau's, but this movie is packed with something sorely missing from almost every animated movie I see nowadays (and I see quite a few): wonder. And besides, it contains easily my favorite scene of 2007 as critic Anton Ego's steely culinary heart is finally melted by Remy's simple dish of ratatouille. Priceless.

"Into the Wild"
My appreciation for this Sean Penn (if you wanna hate, please, keep it to yourself) movie only grew after I went back and read Jon Krakauer's book about doomed American dreamer Christopher McCandless. Comparing the two just reinforces how well Penn condensed the sprawling tale of how McCandless abandoned his promising future after graduating from Emory University to embrace a more than slightly less than traditional lifestyle. If you don't know how this story ends, you won't hear it from me, but Penn treats both McCandless and his suffering parents with respect, keeping this apolitical and just turning it into a great American road movie. In a flick packed with great performances, Emile Hirsch as McCandless and Hal Holbrook and Catherine Keener in supporting roles as people he meets in his travels all deserved to be not just Oscar nominees, but winners. And, in case you couldn't tell, this one has lingered in my mind as my favorite movie of 2007.

So, there you have it. As I said, please feel free to add any of your favorites. I'll leave you with a real oddity. I saw the original "Death at a Funeral," and found it to be an amusing enough diversion. When I heard there was going to be an American remake, I just shrugged it off as something to ignore, but it actually looks mildly intriguing. Somehow directed by Neil Labute, it now features a mostly black cast led by Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence, and the trailer is below. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.

Friday, December 04, 2009

My (and only my) best movies of the decade: The 2006 edition

Before I get into all that today, the National Review Board has spoken, and has christened Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" as the best movie of 2009.

I can't really argue with that since I haven't gotten to see it yet, but there are plenty of other things to celebrate in its list. Anna Kendrick, a definite favorite around these parts, was named Best Supporting Actress for Reitman's flick, and Jeremy Renner for "The Hurt Locker" and Gabourey Sidibe for "Precious" were very worthy winners in the breakthrough acting categories. Duncan Jones was also rightly hailed as one of three breakthrough directors for "Moon."

It also included a real oddity, but also surely well-deserved: A "Special Filmmaking Achievement" award for Wes Anderson for the witty "Fantastic Mr. Fox," which wasn't enough, however, to earn him a spot on the mysterious board's Top 10 list. Here it is:


I haven't seen "An Education," "Invictus" or "The Messenger," but of those I have seen on this list, I know "The Hurt Locker" and "Inglourious Basterds" will make my list for the year, and suspect "Star Trek" and "Where the Wild Things Are" will too.

But enough of that, this is supposed to be all about 2006, so here goes.

Perhaps its just that as the years get closer to this one I remember more movies (man, I really hope that's not the case), but 2006 really was just a banner year for movies.

It was, of course, the year of that trio of Mexican directors who rose to the top all at once, and two of them will make the list below, with the other in the honorable mention. And it was really agonizing to cut it down to 10, so here are the last five that almost made the cut: "The Queen," "Dreamgirls," "Notes on a Scandal," "Hard Candy" and "Wordplay."

And, before I get to today's main event, here are the other honorable mentions, all damn fine film in my world: "Neil Young: Heart of Gold," "Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion," "V for Vendetta," "The Child," "Slither," "Akeelah and the Bee," "An Inconvenient Truth," "Once in a Lifetime," "Hollywoodland," "The Last King of Scotland", "The Departed," "Little Children," "Babel," "Borat," "Stranger than Fiction," "Flushed Away," "Casino Royale," "Rocky Balboa" and "Letters from Iwo Jima."

Whew. I got a bit of the carpet tunnel just typing all that, but here now are my top 10 movies for 2006, and as usual, please feel free to add any you think I might have snubbed.

"A Cock and Bull Story"
From all I've read (and I read a lot more celebrity gossip than anyone my age rightly should), Steve Coogan can be as much of a prick in real life as he is in movies like this witty little gem from Michael Winterbottom. Movies about making movies has to be my favorite subgenre of flicks (or in this case, I suppose, a movie about not making a movie), and this one about an attempt to film the "unfilmable" novel "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" is among the best.

I really like movies about South Africa (you'll find another one on this list soon), and this one from director Gavin Hood tells a powerful (perhaps the most misused word in talking about movies, but in this case, I think, accurate) story of a truly rotten person trying to find an ounce of redemption in the consequences of his acts. To clear that up a bit for anyone who hasn't seen this, it's about a Johannesburg hood who, after killing a woman during a car-jacking, discovers there is a baby in the backseat, and how that changes his life. Sounds more than a bit cheesy on paper, but this won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and for once they got it exactly right.

"Dave Chappelle's Block Party"
If it weren't for those pesky Mexicans, Michel Gondry's movie, which is indeed just a big party celebrating Dave Chappelle and great hip-hop and R&B music, would be my favorite for 2006. Even if you don't like hip-hop music (and if you don't, keep it yourself, please), the fun is just thoroughly infectious as Dave hosts a Brooklyn street concert featuring Dead Prez (my favorites at the time), Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott and even the Fugees. In fact, the only person who apparently didn't have fun at this party was Kanye West, but he really doesn't seem to enjoy himself much anywhere.

"Thank You for Smoking"
Satire has really lost its bite in many of the movie attempts nowadays, but Jason Reitman hit the target with this flick based on the even more scathingly funny novel by Christopher Buckley. The casting, from Aaron Eckhart as the lead and truly slimy tobacco lobbyist to supporting players including Maria Bello, David Koechner and the always-very-funny J.K. Simmons, is almost uniformly perfect, with the only real hole being a horribly miscast Katie Holmes as a reporter (not believable for a second.) Though she plays a key role, it's not enough to detract from the excellent work of everyone else. And for a satire from this year that's even better, catch Armando Iannucci's "In the Loop" when it hits DVD on Jan. 12.

When perusing the best of 2005 list from Mad Hatter, always a welcome visitor here, I found this debut from Rian Johnson listed by someone in the comments, and was afraid I had somehow misplaced it, but I think it does indeed belong on the 2006 list. No matter what year you put it in, it's a rather remarkable first feature. I love film noir (there will be another one coming up on this list very soon), and Johnson's flick transports the genre to the hell that is high school, with a great Joseph Gordon-Levitt starring as a loner who investigates the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend and ends up infiltrating a small-time high school crime ring. See this one right away if you haven't.

"Catch a Fire"
Phillip Noyce's movie set in apartheid-era South Africa has more to say about terrorism and the anger that would drive someone to commit horrific atrocities than almost any of the movies made during our "war on terror" (I'm sure glad Barack Obama has yet to use that tired term), and says it in an engaging tale to boot. Derek Luke delivers, for my money, the best male performance of the year as Patrick Chamusso, an apolitical oil refinery foreman finally driven to join the African National Congress movement and fight the power after his treatment during interrogation about an attack on the refinery where he works. Interestingly, this flick was written by Shawn Slovo, daughter of the anti-apartheid activists Joe Slovo and Ruth First.

Pedro Almodovar's love for women doesn't shine any brighter than in this flick, and it certainly doesn't hurt when those women are Penelope Cruz and the underappreciated Carmen Maura. I'm perhaps ranking this too high, but this ghost story of sorts revels in secrets and lies as the best Almodovar flicks do, and the Spanish settings of Madrid and Alcanfor de las Infantas come to vibrant life on his palette as much as the colorful characters. I really can't do the rather twisted plot justice on paper, but I really love this film.

"El Aura"
I guess you'd have to call Fabian Bielinsky one of my favorite directors, because though he only managed to direct two movies before tragically dying at only age 47 in 2006, the year I'm celebrating now, they're both nearly perfect. The first, "Nine Queens," was a first-rate con job movie, and this film noir of sorts is even better. Ricardo Darin stars as a taxidermist suffering from epilepsy who dreams of committing the "perfect crime," and has even worked out in his head just how it would go down. Things slowly get crazier and crazier after he gets invited on a hunting trip and gets the chance to actually follow through on his plans, and the intensity just builds on a perfect slow boil.

"Children of Men"
Genuinely entertaining science fiction as allegory is a sadly dying art. Danny Boyle tried and failed rather miserably with "Sunshine," but Duncan Jones - with a huge assist from Sam Rockwell - fared much better with "Moon," which I'm fairly certain will find home on my top 10 for this year. Even better, however, is this odd road movie of sorts from Alfonso Cuaron (the second road movie of his to make my decade's best 100 list, with "Y Tu Mama Tambien"), which adapts the P.D. James novel about a future in which no babies have been born for 18 years. A bureaucrat and former peace activist (Clive Owen) joins forces with his revolutionary ex-wife (Julianne Moore) to protect a young woman (Claire Hope-Ashitey) who has become mysteriously pregnant and may hold the key to humanity's future. It sounds like the plot of those paint-by-numbers "sci-fi" flicks that come out in January and February and are just unwatchable, but with big assists from supporting players Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Caine, Cuaron lets this often horrific journey travel to just the perfect glimmer of hope. Mi hermano says this is the best movie of 2006, and I can almost agree with him, except for the only one that was better ...

"Pan's Labyrinth"
Movies that revel in both the power and danger of imagination always appeal to me. It's why I can almost guarantee you'll see Tarsem's "The Fall" on my 2008 list, and also what makes Guillermo del Toro's best movie my favorite from 2006. It's a shame, in a way, that "The Hobbit" has consumed so much of his time, because as much as I want to see what he finally comes up with, I really wish he'd tell another tale set during the Spanish Civil War, because this one and "The Devil's Backbone" are real winners. It tells the story of Ofelia, the bookish daughter of a ruthless Spanish army captain who imagines an elaborate fantasy to help her escape from the harsh realities that surround her. Few movies better capture this ability that children cherish and that we too often lose as adults, and young Ivana Baquero would get my vote for the best female performance in a movie for this year. Just a wild tale that I still watch at least twice a year, and it's just as engaging each time.

And there you have it. Perhaps a bit longer than the others, but that's what happens when I only work a half-day due to furloughs. I hope you enjoyed it, and as usual, please feel free to add any I have egregiously snubbed and check back soon for the 2007 edition. Peace out.