Friday, April 30, 2010

"Chuck" vs. the flash mobs: Fans to show love, but here's what the show really needs

"Chuck" fans are nothing if not both loyal and creative, and being a big fan of the show nearly since the beginning, I can see why.

With the show apparently on the bubble once again (though it's just crushing "Heroes," which I haven't watched since season 2 just went horribly awry), fans who live in cities much bigger than mine (Chicago, Seattle, San Diego and Philadelphia, to be precise) are staging "flash mob" events to show the love on Monday. So, if you happen to be walking through one of those cities Monday and are accosted by a stranger in a green Polo shirt and khakis (an approximation of the Buy More uniform) extolling the virtues of the show, take a second to listen, because it really often is that good.

And if you do live anywhere near any of these burgs and perhaps want to take part, here's the lowdown here. But while It's extremely nice to see "Chuck" fans showing all this love (assuming any of these actually come together), what we really need is something from the show's creators if indeed the show gets a fourth season (and I'm fairly certain it will.)

Before I launch into any criticism, however, a word or two is due about the many things that have gone right this year. Although I was skeptical about it at first, the Superman/Daniel Shaw story line played out nearly perfectly once it got going, especially the end of the arc that saw the demise of Shaw. And the last episode, with its mix of grand romance and some delightful Hitchcockian touches, was a reminder of just how good the show can be.

Most of all, though, it's been nice to see that the show's humor is alive and thriving, especially at the Buy More and even more so when Morgan and Casey reluctantly join forces. OK, with all that good stuff out of the way, here's my biggest problem with season three so far, and the thing that really needs to change in the next one (I'm just gonna assume it's happening until I hear otherwise - the power of positive thinking!)

Quick, if you're a fan of the show, tell me: What in the world is the Ring? I understand that it's a successor group to Fulcrum that is equally obsessed with the Intersect, but what after that? The group has been so poorly developed as a baddie that it's at best only a pale imitation that adds nothing to the story.

What "Chuck" really needs is a genuine Big Bad, like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" used to do in each season, though if anything even bigger and badder. Remember the "Chuck" season one episode "Chuck Vs. the Sandworm," in which our hero exposes Laszlo to the glories that were the best of the "Bond" villains? Well, it's high time for the show to get its own completely over-the-top "Bond"-style baddie.

After all, what's the Intersect about more than control? A human computer that holds all the secrets of the CIA, FBI and any other kind of spook the U.S.A. has come up with? An idea that crazy needs a villain that's just as crazy, crafty and creative. I can't imagine "Chuck" creators Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak would ever read this, but even so, there's my two cents about how to make your very good show even better. 'Nuff said.

And after that, all I have today is a reminder that my favorite TV drama, "Friday Night Lights" (yes, it's even better than "Mad Men"), returns to NBC one week from tonight. With season four opening with Coach Taylor banished to coach at the new East Dillon High, things certainly begin in a tight but fun spot, so I can't wait for the show to return to network TV (and if you've seen it on DirecTV already, please do tell me if the show's still in top form.)

And finally - and rather coincidentally - if you happen to live in one of America's very large cities, there's an "OSS 117" sequel hitting American theaters hopefully sometime soon, and a trailer out today. Reel Fanatic friend Bob was kind enough to introduce me to the French "OSS 117" series, a seriously funny Bond spoof starring Jean DuJardin as the bumbling spook (and a successor to the 1960s series of the same name.) The humor is extremely broad, but I can certainly dig it, and I think I'll make the drive up to Atlanta if and when "OSS 117: Lost in Rio" ever hits theaters there. Enjoy, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Is Steve Carell really about to resign from "The Office"?

Quick, think of the two worst people you could possibly imagine to play John F. and Jackie Kennedy. OK, now banish those from your head, because the History Channel has booked what I can promise you are two worse choices than anyone could have possibly come up with.

I assumed it was a joke until I saw in a few places this morning that Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes are to play, respectively, JFK and Jackie O (this would certainly be much more watchable if the roles were reversed!) in the History Channel miniseries "The Kennedys," a scripted offering coming in 2011.

Now, it's not really that Greg Kinnear, aka the poor man's Joel McHale, is a bad actor. It's that he's just kind of there, never having made much of any impression at all in any movie I've seen him in. But Katie Holmes? Sheesh. I guess Vanessa Hudgens turned them down.

The rest of the cast, however, is in much better shape. Throw in Barry Pepper, a definite Reel Fanatic favorite, as Robert F. Kennedy, and Tom Wilkinson as family patriarch Joe, and you've certainly increased the odds that I'll tune in, and possibly for some reason other than to see just how much of a disaster this can be.

Even more ludicrous than all that, however, would have to be the most bizarre use of 3-D I've heard of yet (and there's plenty of competition for that title.) I first heard several years ago that someone was going to make a movie of Yann Martel's enchanting novel "Life of Pi," and was psyched when that someone was Jean Pierre Jeunet, who would certainly seem to have the sense of wonder needed to pull this off (and I'll certainly be driving to Atlanta if I ever get wind of a proper U.S. release for Jeunet's "Micmacs.")

Now, however, comes word that that good idea has died, and instead Ang Lee is eyeing the project. OK, fair enough. Though I never bothered to see Lee's Woodstock comedy, I've seen just about all of his other movies, and they're pretty much uniformly excellent. What he has in mind for this, however, is just insanely wrong.

Word comes from Indiewire that he's now scouting locations in Taiwan and Pondicherry for a "3-D magical fantasy adventure crammed with visual effects," with a price tag of more than $70 million. Say what? Did he even read the book? Martel's novel, while thoroughly charming, isn't the easiest read, with most of the "action" taking place on a stranded boat containing a child, a hyena, an injured zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger. Add to that that Martel's main motif is a convincing defense of zoos, and you hardly have the makings of a gangbusters adventure flick.

The kicker to all this is that Fox hasn't exactly given the greenlight to this madness yet, and I have a strong feeling they never will, at least not in this intended form.

OK, before I got distracted by all that silliness, this was supposed to be about Steve Carell's apparent planned exit from "The Office" after next season. This could, of course, just be a ploy for big bucks after his contract expires after next season, and with the show being's NBC's top scripted offering, perhaps a good one, but here's what he had to say to BBC Radio:

Question: How long will you stay with The Office for? How many more series? How long does your contract run?
Steve: Contract through next season.
Question: And will you stay after that?
Steve: I don’t think so. I think that will probably be my last year.

So, let's take him at his word. Would it be the end of the show? Not necessarily. It has steadily built into a very solid ensemble comedy, and Carell, though he's a funny guy, is far from the funniest character on the show. I could easily see it continuing, and though he's currently booked for a FX show set to start in June, I don't think you could do much funnier for a potential replacement than Louis CK, who's already had a run in NBC's Thursday night lineup as a cop who was pitching woo to Leslie Knope on "Parks and Recreation."

But perhaps the better question is, since next year will mark the seventh season, is that really enough already? The show is still dependably funny from week to week, but no show should run forever, and frankly, "Parks," "30 Rock" and often "Community" too are better in any given week.

Stay tuned to find out how this all shakes out, but in the meantime, know that if you have Netflix, all incarnations of "The Office," Limey and U.S., are now available to stream on your computer. I've been watching some old U.S. shows lately, and it's been a fun trip through the past.

OK, enough of that. All I have left today is a trio of videos, so let's get to it. For some time now, the Farrelly brothers have been at work on an omnibus comedy a la "Kentucky Fried Movie" that will feature directing contributions from Elizabeth Banks (huzzah!), Bob Odenkirk, Griffin Dunne and others. Well, you can add to that mix an update on "Robin's Big Date," a short comedy flick that starred Sam Rockwell and Justin Long, respectively as Batman and Robin. The two will reprise their roles for director James Duffy, and will be joined by Leslie Bibb as Catwoman and John Hodgeman as the Penguin. Sounds funny to me, and you can judge for yourself in the original movie below. Enjoy.

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Next up comes new trailer for "Splice," which I think will be the surprise hit of this summer. And I noticed the Warner Bros. imprint at the beginning, meaning this will hopefully play wide enough to even reach my little corner of the world when it opens June 4. As you'll see below, Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody star as two scientists who mess with human DNA and, rather predictably I suppose, get some disastrous results. Enjoy.

Splice in HD

Trailer Park Movies | MySpace Video

And finally today comes the first trailer I've seen for a flick I had never heard of until this morning, a Disney biopic about "Secretariat." I can't say that sounds all that thrilling to me, but anything that can breathe new life into horse racing is only a good thing in my book. Actually, for a slight digression, my fellow cubicle slave Randy Waters had a great idea for the Kentucky Derby, coming Saturday: Move it to prime time and watch the ratings skyrocket, at least for the magical two minutes or so. In the meantime, enjoy Diane Lane and John Malkovich in this trailer for "Secretariat," apparently coming October 8, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Crazy Heart" director plotting what would be just about the perfect followup

Though Scott Cooper's "Crazy Heart" isn't my single favorite movie of 2009 yet (that distinction goes to Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds"), I've seen Cooper's movie twice now and it just keeps getting and better in my mind, much like Sean Penn's "Into the Wild" did, so just give it time.

The movie just has such a natural pace and feel to it that it makes the utterly familiar story go down extremely sweetly, and it certainly doesn't hurt that the Dude is so great in it. And now, it seems that Cooper is lining up two other top-notch actors to take on an epic Southern saga.

Making the rounds to promote "Get Low," in which he plays a cranky old man who wants to plan his own funeral party so he can attend it, Robert Duvall revealed that Cooper has been lined up to direct "The Hatfields and the McCoys" for Warner Bros., from a script by Eric Roth (the "Forrest Gump" scribe, so he certainly needs and deserves a chance for atonement). Duvall, who had a small but key part in "Crazy Heart," has signed on to star in it, and he said Brad Pitt is now being courted to join him, though exactly what roles each would play is so far not at all clear.

Cooper, who made his debut with "Crazy Heart," is definitely one to keep your eyes on, so I'll certainly share more about this whenever I find it. And, apparently bored on the junket circuit and wanting to chat, Duvall also took the occasion to tell Movieline something about the status of Terry Gilliam's truly quixotic "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" too.

He revealed that "the Irish guy who was in 'Crazy Heart'," who we have to assume would mean Colin Farrell, was approached to play the role that Johnny Depp tried to the first Gilliam tried to make this movie, but has - probably wisely - turned it down. Duvall, however, said he will be in the movie, playing some kind of "Latin guy," assuming it ever gets made.

And if you've ever been the seriously satisfying - albeit depressing - documentary "Lost in La Mancha," which chronicles the epic failure that was Gilliam's first attempt to make this movie, you know the odds against this ever happening this time are pretty steep. Here's more of what Duvall had to say about the obstacles that remain:

"They [the producers] need a name. He's [Gilliam's] going after two people now, but he doesn’t want to say who they are until after he gets them. But it’s been six months he’s been after people. And it’s a bigger budget than his others. And he doesn’t stick to a budget, they say. He goes on and on. And he’s got locations picked out in Spain. So it’ll be very exciting. And when the time comes — and I know for sure — then I’ll start riding horseback every day … But you know, when the time comes - I can’t really start preparing for it until it’s greenlit. Until it’s really greenlit."

Duvall certainly and understandably has his doubts, and coincidentally enough, this news comes in the same week as the DVD release of Gilliam's "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus," which, having seen it, I can say is a movie he probably should never have completed.

When my family goes to New York just after Christmas each year, a big part of the gathering is getting to see movies you wouldn't where we normally reside. My brother usually lets me drag him to one movie I want to see but he's almost certain will suck at least a little bit. Two years ago it was Steven Soderbergh's seemingly interminable "Che," an utter act of hubris, though Benicio Del Toro certainly gave it his all, and this year it was "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus."

Everyone knows by now the saga of how Heath Ledger died during the filming of this flick, and Gilliam turned to three big stars - Depp, Farrell and Jude Law - to finish the job. Well, what I can reveal to you is, after making an oddly entertaining flick during the portion Ledger was around for, Gilliam - predictably perhaps - then just lets his movie go completely out of control to the point that the last 45 minutes or so just make no sense at all. I'm still glad I saw it, but I can't really recommend the experience on DVD for anyone else except as a film oddity.

OK, that all went on a bit longer than I had originally planned, so I'll simply leave you today with a couple of videos. The first is the first full trailer I know of for Irish director John Carney's "Zonad." You may remember Carney from the truly magical musical "Once," but this is something completely different: The story of a mysterious stranger who arrives in an Irish village in the 1950s and passes himself off as an alien. Sounds like exactly the kind of goofball comedy I love, but I'll almost certainly have to wait for DVD to ever see this one. Enjoy.

And finally, I'll leave you with something even odder, the new video from MIA, who we (or at least I) haven't heard from since her "Paper Planes" became an earworm that bore into my skull for most of a year. This song, unfortunately, isn't nearly as catchy, and be warned that the video is 9 minutes long. It has, however, apparently been banned from YouTube because of its extreme violence (don't say I didn't warn you), so "enjoy" it while you can (and be warned, if you're a Ginger, really don't watch this). Peace out.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Atlanta Film Festival report No. 4: "The Secret to a Happy Ending" with the Drive-By Truckers

One of the many good things you can say about director Barr Weissman's documentary about the Drive-By Truckers, "The Secret to a Happy Ending," is that in order to get a lot out of it, you really have to be a fan of the band, which he clearly is.

That's because what he's made here, while it is indeed an engaging portrait of the Southern rockers who have been at it now, rather amazingly, for more than 20 years, is far from anything approaching a VH1-style conventional musical biopic.

Instead Weissman, who has made a living as a movie editor and has directed at least two self-released previous documentaries I'd love to be able to see, uses the band's songs themselves, which at their best really are stories, to tell the story on film.

It starts, appropriately enough, with Patterson Hood, who along with Weissman and drummer Brad Morgan were on hand for Friday night's Georgia premiere to close out the Atlanta Film Festival, playing "Bulldozers and Dirt" on the mandolin. This early DBT's track perfectly sets the stage for a look at the world from which the band sprang and still calls home, the American South.

And along with letting the band members tell their stories through word and song, Weissman introduces moviegoers to some of the most colorful characters who populate their musical world, including a visit with the ancient George A. Johnson, immortalized in the Patterson Hood song "Sands of Iwo Jima." Hearing Hood talk about his great-uncle's life as you see Johnson hold Hood's sleeping baby girl is a moment almost too tender to take. There's also an extended look at the life of Gregory Dean Smalley, the Atlanta musician who died way too early and was "The Living Bubba," and a visit with Wes Freed, who has created the artwork for every DBT's album since "Southern Rock Opera."

But the main stars, of course, are the band members themselves, and Weissman clearly had warts-and-all access during the five years or so he spent with them on the road, and the movie perhaps paradoxically gets better and better as the band starts to almost unravel. "A Blessing and a Curse," which I happen to be listening to right now, has grown into my favorite DBT's record, with "Decoration Day" a close second. It's easily the band's most intimate album, so it's often hard to watch the pain (including the end of the marriage of band member Shonna Tucker and former member Jason Isbell) that went into making it.

It led, of course, to Isbell eventually quitting the band, but though I won't reveal exactly how, it also came close to bringing about the demise of the whole group too. But this is, in the end, a movie made by an albeitly very talented fan of the band, but in the end a fan just the same, so he packs the movie with little moments that will make you smile even in this "World of Hurt." My favorite of all would have to be Mike Cooley's solo performance of "Space City" and the heartbreaking story behind it.

In the end, like I said, this isn't a movie likely to win many converts, but for fans, it's a complete and completely engaging portrait of a band that will hopefully just keep on rocking for at least another 10 years or so. It's currently making the festival circuit, so keep an eye out for it, and will eventually of course be available at Netflix, Amazon, etc., and I'll certainly let you know about that when it comes.

For the closing night of the Atlanta Film Festival, Hood, Weissman and Morgan took questions from the audience, and that's when Hood revealed just why it took so long for the movie to be completed. Weissman was ready to wrap things in 2005, after the completion of "A Blessing and A Curse," but as Hood pointed out, at that point the title "The Secret to a Happy Ending" would just have been an entire misnomer. At Hood's request, he ended up sticking around for another two years or so, when things ended on a much better note (and if you haven't bought the DBT's latest, "The Big To-Do," do so immediately ... it's their best in the last five years or so.)

After the Q&A, Reel Fanatic fave Ray McKinnon took the stage, and the band unveiled the "video" for "This F*****g Job," which is really a short film starring McKinnon and directed by "That Evening Sun" director Scott Teems. Finish that off with a short performance by Hood, Morgan and new Drive-By Trucker Jay Gonzalez, and you certainly have the makings of a perfect evening out. And that's exactly what I am now. Peace out.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Go see "Kick-Ass" already and just have a hell of a lot of fun

Actually, before we get into any of that today, why not start with some truly "Kick-Ass" casting news?

If you were to list my favorite actors, Hal Holbrook would easily find a spot in the top five. He made "Into the Wild," a movie that still just continues to get better and better with age, and he was even better than that as the star of "That Evening Sun," a genuine Southern gothic that should really be coming to DVD very soon, so keep an eye out for it.

Now he's gonna get the chance to be a truly bad MF as a short-term cast member of "Sons of Anarchy," which in its second season last year really became a great TV drama. When season three returns in September, Holbrook will star in the first four episodes as Gemma's (Katey Segal) father. I was gonna watch anyway already, but they've certainly amped up my interest with that news.

And in even crazier news, I really didn't think there was any way you could get me to watch a remake of "Arthur," even though I do find Russell Brand to be very funny, but I think they've now actually pulled that off.

How? By casting Dame Helen Mirren in the role made legendary by Sir John Gielgud, therefore changing it from a butler to a nanny, something which Brand could almost certainly use in his real life too. There is, of course, still a very large chance that this could just suck all kinds of balls, but with Helen Mirren in it I can at least guarantee you I'll be there to watch it crash and burn.

OK, before I got sidetracked by that little bit of business, this was supposed to be a defense of "Kick-Ass," though having seen it twice now, I'm still rather amazed that Matthew Vaughn's thoroughly entertaining movie needs one.

And this really isn't in response to Roger Ebert or anyone else who has questioned the morality of so much violence being perpetrated by a 12-year-old (my best guess, I really have no idea how old kids actually are.) I'm willing to dismiss that as the ramblings of a sometimes cranky old man, especially since I'm pretty rapidly becoming one of those too. All I can really say is IT'S A FRIGGIN' R-RATED MOVIE!!!

Instead, it's more about what "Kick-Ass" really is rather than what it isn't, because judging by the week one box office numbers, I have to assume that the majority of people who happen to stumble by here today haven't seen it yet.

Because what Vaughn has really accomplished is to make one of the very few non-animated movies that manage to bring a genuine comic book vibe to the big screen. Terry Zwigoff managed to do it by capturing perfectly the spirit of Daniel Clowes' "Ghost World," and the just criminally underrated "Shoot 'Em Up" - though more like Looney Tunes than comic books - managed to contain all of the fun of comic books too (and if you haven't seen this little comic gem, rent it immediately!)

And in many ways, Vaughn has accomplished the same rare feat with his movie about the comic book "Kick-Ass." Ebert and others were at least part right - it does indeed start with the violence. Perhaps my moral compass is just completely askew, but when I knowingly go into an R-RATED movie with the name "Kick-Ass," I think I've pretty much ceded any right to be offended. And besides, I wasn't. I was entertained.

I don't want to give too much away, but the two action set-pieces involving Hit-Girl (young Chloe Moretz, who is just a delight) are easily the two best I've seen this year, and are among the best of the last 10 years or so too. The first starts in darkness, then turns into a trick of lighting and is just expertly shot. And the grand finale, well, all I'll tell you is that it does involve a bazooka and another much cooler weapon that I won't reveal to you here. Let's just say I defy you not to laugh out loud once you hear the strains of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" ring out.

But it's not all about the violence. Just about everything in "Kick-Ass" is fun, funky and very often outrageous, as comic book movies should be. Nicolas Cage is funnier than he's been since, well, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" as Hit-Girl's guardian, Big Daddy, and the near-constant riff on superhero worship manages to sustain itself through the whole thing.

My only qualm with the first movie and fear for the inevitable sequel (but only if the box office numbers somehow pick up, probably) is that that McLovin kid is definitely a one-trick pony. Saying any more than that would only spoil things.

And in week two, there's at least a fighting chance that "Kick-Ass" could somehow win the week, considering the fecal matter - "The Back-Up Plan" and "The Losers" - that's polluting multiplexes this week. If you're having doubts about this and trust me at all (a dangerous proposition, I certainly concede), give "Kick-Ass" a chance in week two. 'Nuff said. Peace out.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I didn't think it was possible, but yes, there is a limit to what I consider "free speech"

I know this is supposed to be about movies, and has for the last few days or so, but I run things around here, and something I read in the paper (which everyone should do, dammit!) this morning just set me off, so I'm afraid you'll have to bear with me.

Up until this morning, I really thought I indeed had no limits for what I would consider "free speech." I've not once been offended by anything I've seen in a movie. Now, mind you, there certainly have been some sickening things in the early movies of John Waters, but they were still far too silly to be anything I'd ever consider "offensive."

But of course, one of the chief glories of living in a truly free country is that people are free to do just about anything they want and, sometimes unfortunately, to most often put that to film.

Why am I getting into all of this? Because I almost vomited up my Cheerios (no product placement intended) this morning when I read what our Supreme Court has now said it's OK to do in this country, as long as you have the good sense (according to them, mind you) to film yourself.

The specific case, which I don't have the name of in front of me, springs from a man in Mississippi who was reportedly making "educational" movies about dog fighting. Let that sink in for a second before I get into the roots of all this, which are, believe it or not, even weirder.

In the mid-'90s, President Clinton wisely signed into law a ban on making so-called "crush" movies. I feel extremely dirty just writing this, so I'll get through it as quickly as possible. There are apparently people in this weird world of ours who get off on watching women crush mice or other small creatures with their feet, usually while wearing stiletto heels.

That we live in a world in which such a law is needed in the first place is almost as disheartening as the fact that yesterday, by a rather amazing vote of 8-1, the Supreme Court says this has to be allowed as a matter of FREE SPEECH. Like I said, the specific case involved the dog-fighting videos, which if anything is even more repulsive, but this madness all originates from the apparent RIGHT to watch small animals die for your pleasure.

Now that I've laid all that out, I'm not sure what else to say except that it just makes me completely sick that hurting animals in any way could ever be construed as anything even approaching free speech.

And thus endeth anything remotely serious here today, I promise. And just to keep the subject away from movies for a bit longer, it's a pretty epicly good day in TV news out there, with two shows I adore announcing their return and an official date for when we'll finally get to see "Mad Men."

It starts for me with the announcement of a second season of NBC's "Parenthood," which will be coming this fall. I don't know yet if it will be a full 22-episode run, but frankly, I've gotten to the point where I enjoy shows more in the 13-episode cable-style run anyway.

And if you're not watching "Parenthood," I can only say you're missing out on what TV can be when it really tries to produce a smart, sexy and funny drama (I refuse to use the word dramedy) for adults. With a cast led by Lauren Graham, Peter Krause and Dax Shepard, it indeed deals with the issues of "Parenthood," including having a child with autism (or some version of it) and finding you had a child that you weren't told about until you were in your 30s and he's about 5 years old (or so, I have no idea how old kids actually are, never having had one to deal with myself), and it does so in a universally entertaining way that even I can relate to.

You'll have plenty of chances now to catch this show created by "Friday Night Lights" mastermind Jason Katims, and I can only urge anyone who happens to stop by here today to do so on Tuesday nights.

Even better than that, and given the fickle but brilliant mind of Larry David just as unlikely, it's also been announced that "Curb Your Enthusiasm" will return for its eighth season beginning in 2011.

I was a little disappointed by the "Seinfeld" anti-reunion that took place last season, but even weak "Curb" is still funnier than just about anything else on television. And now that David Simon's "Treme" and the third season of "True Blood" have me indentured to HBO for the next six months or so, I'll probably just stick around now long enough to welcome back the delightfully cynical Mr. David, who should finally reunite with TV wife Cheryl Hines unless, which is just as likely, he once again manages to screw things up.

And in the best possible relief to the summer TV doldrums, AMC has announced that "Mad Men" will return for its fourth season beginning July 25 at 10 p.m., meaning we won't have to wait as long as we did last year.

I think I'm far from alone in thinking that the show has gotten better season by season, and the end of season three, with Don Draper and his chosen few breaking off to create a new firm as Bertie is breaking away from him, was just perfection. Bring on some more, already.

And even better is that shortly after the return of "Mad Men," AMC will be premiering something called "Rubicon" which sounds like exactly the kind of political thriller I dig.

The show, which will premiere with back-to-back episodes on Aug. 1 from 8-10 p.m., is about a NYC-based government intelligence agency where "nothing is what it seems" (of course.) I'm not making that sound at all appealing, I know, but I've read more about this show that makes me think it will be a real winner.

OK, I suppose this should be at least a tad about movies, so I'll close with this DVD-only clip from "Crazy Heart," easily one of my favorite movies of 2009. In the clip, Bad Blake (very worthy Oscar winner Jeff Bridges) meets his son, who in the actual movie only brushes him off over the phone. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Atlanta Film Festival report No. 3: "The Good Heart"

Since when I'm not on vacation (like I am now), this is often about movie news, here's first a tidbit that intrigued me this morning.

If I were list say, 10 or so favorite directors, I think Greg Mottola would make the list somewhere in the bottom half. His movies are far from complex works of art, but I have unconditional love for "Superbad" and almost as much for "Adventureland," so I'm certainly a fan.

He'll be back this summer (I believe, but I've allegedly been wrong at least a few times before) with "Paul," which sounds like nothing but a big geeky ball of fun. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star as a couple of British blokes on a cross-country tour of the U.S. on their way to Comic-Con who encounter and sort of adopt the titular alien on a visit to Roswell. Count me as thoroughly psyched for that, whenever it will actually be coming out.

And now comes word of his next project, which will be a romantic comedy but likely less raunchy (but hopefully nearly as fun) as what he's done this far. He's signed on to write and direct a movie based on the novel "Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry" (the title of which rather wisely will be shortened to simply "Important Artifacts.")

The movie, is set to star Brad Pitt and Natalie Portman (sheesh, can a movie just be too good looking?) in a tale described as "a fictional estate auction catalog full of personal items and photographs from the four-year romance between a male photographer and a younger food columnist." Like I said, fairly heady stuff for Mottola, but I'm still intrigued.

However, since I'm a guest at the Atlanta Film Festival, this is supposed to be about the pretty uniformly great sights I've seen there, and I'm certainly happy to share them (I suppose this would feel more like "working" if I were ever to get paid for it.)

We start (and perhaps finish, depending on how long I go on about this flick) with "The Good Heart," which I was thoroughly psyched to see on the strengths of its two leads, Brian Cox and Paul Dano, who would both make any short list of my favorite actors. And, unlike with most of the movies being shown at the festival, you can probably see this one right away for a few bucks using the On Demand function, depending on your cable provider.

And, despite some qualms (the ending is ludicrous!), I'd say it would be well worth it for an evening rental. I deliberately read nothing about the movie going in except for the barest of plot structures: Cox plays a cantankerous bar owner who takes in a young homeless man (Dano) and tries to make him his protege. Within that loose framework, however, what you get is much more of an intense character study than you usually find in movies nowadays, and a real showcase for its two stars.

The two are brought together after Cox's Jacques, who is none-too-slowly drinking and smoking himself to death, suffers what is apparently not his first heart attack and meets Dano's Lucas, who has tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide, in the hospital. It would be hard to find two sadder sacks, so they form an immediate bond, and Jacques decides to help Lucas out (and get in the process an indentured friend, of course.)

Most of the joy in watching "The Good Heart" comes in seeing the two of them spar with each other and slowly adopt to each other's idiosyncrasies, which are many. In lesser hands, the story arc - Jacques slowly lowering all of his hostility and Lucas realizing there's something to live for - would be pretty seriously hallmark stuff, but here it never fails to engage. Most of the credit for that goes to Cox, who clings to Jacques' maddeningly inane fixations, like how to make the perfect cup of coffee, and makes you almost understand why he lives that way even as you just want to shake him and yell "wake up!" Dano, however, holds up his half of the successful equation too, letting his nerve build up at a steady pace until he finally stops taking all of Jacques' considerable abuse.

But there wouldn't be enough for a feature-length movie with just the two of them, so a temptress inevitably enters the picture to compete for the attention and affection of Lucas in the form of Sarah, played with vibrant appeal by Stephanie Szostak. Even better, however, are the bar regulars (none of them played by anyone you would recognize, so I'm not gonna bother to try and track down their names) who turn this into something we haven't seen since "Barfly," a genuine drinker's movie. And though that may not sound terribly appealing, I promise you that you'll be surprised by just how perfectly writer/director Dagur Kari knows this world, and how quickly what seem like deep bonds can be revealed as the empty shells they are, especially when a patron manages to piss off Jacques for what is inevitably the most trivial of "infractions."

OK, as predicted, I went on about that longer than I had planned, but it would be a real disservice if I didn't mention that the ending, which I won't reveal, will either bewilder you (as it did me, though not nearly enough to not like this movie) or seem like a natural fit. All I'll say is that if you think about the title a bit while you're watching this, it won't seem like nearly as much of a slap in the face as it did to me.

This one isn't showing again at the Atlanta Film Festival, to which I'll be returning Thursday, but like I said, you can probably find it on cable On Demand, and if you like Paul Dano and Brian Cox (and if you don't, why the heck not?), I hope I've made enough of a case to make you want to check it out.

And I'll leave you today with the trailer for a movie that looks like it will appeal to me in the same sort of way. Called "Get Low," it stars Robert Duvall as a man who decides he wants to plan his funeral party so he can attend it, and Bill Murray as the attorney who helps him plot this madness. It's set to come out in at least some corners of the world on July 30. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Atlanta Film Festival report No. 2: Of history real and imaginary, and all very funny

Actually, before I get into any of that today, a bit of leftover business. Director CB Hackworth has asked me to pass along that copies of the engaging documentary "Crossing in St. Augustine" can be purchased here. I reviewed the movie in full yesterday, but just to sum up, for a look at a sordid chapter in American history - specifically what went down in St. Augustine, Fla., in 1964 - which I knew nothing about before watching the flick, I recommend this doco very highly.

OK, onto the new stuff. Quick, think of the funniest movies you've ever seen. Four come to mind for me, and they're pretty much tied: "Super Troopers" (yes, really), "Duck Soup", "Office Space" and "This is Spinal Tap."

The last one falls into the category of "mockumentary," a genre I thought had been exhausted by now in the work of Christopher Guest and others, but I found out Saturday afternoon at the Atlanta Film Festival that I was wrong (it's OK, it's happened a few times before.) Because I can submit to you without exaggeration that writer/director Wendy Jo Cohen's "The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek" is as good as Guest's best work ("Best In Show", in my book) and almost on a par with "Tap" itself. And again, yes really.

If you're gonna make a comedy about the Civil War, first of all, good luck, and second of all, one thing you definitely have to have is false earnestness, and Cohen has this in spades, as do the various actors who play the "expert" talking heads. I won't spoil too much of the funny, because the jokes fly here about as fast as they do on an episode of "Family Guy," and thankfully hit their targets a whole lot more often, but here's a sample: A French scholar commenting on Britain's secret involvement on the South side, "comment vous dites, they were tired of being your bitch."

It's all pretty much that funny, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The movie itself wisely focuses on the life stories of four members of the oft-forgotten "Rhode Island 13th," a union regiment who would lead the charge in the titular key battle: Johnathan Franklin Hale, who was sent to West Point by his father to toughen him up after he had been largely raised by his mother and many sisters, and finds he certainly enjoys the company of so many men; Li Shao-Zu, a Chinaman who is already in his 70s when he joins the Union campaign, of course, as the laundry man; Elijah Swan, a mixed race former slave who, to the great benefit of his fellow soldiers, develops into one of the first "black nerds"; and Rowena Oaks, whose woeful tale is best summed-up with the words "one-armed whore," who's only out for revenge on her pimp. Not the most battle-ready battalion, but certainly one that's perfect for generating laughs.

And it's the attention to faux detail in telling their stories that makes Cohen's movie work so well. From the letters from the battlefield to period ditties like "The Whore's Lament," it all really does take on the air of something - as the credits claim - that could have been made by "Grace Burns," a relative of Ken Burns.

The biggest joke of all, however, and there really as many good ones as I promise, comes when Cohen films the actual "battle" scenes, which is actually just her moving her camera every whichaway over an empty battlefield. I probably garnered several stares, because I practically rolled over laughing at this dig at my single-biggest movie pet peeve, the inability of directors like Paul Greengrass (though he's hardly the sole offender) to hold their cameras still for more than a few seconds at a time.

If you're anywhere near Atlanta, I highly recommend going to see "The Battle of Pussy Willow Creek" when it screens for the second time at the Atlanta Film Festival at 12:20 Tuesday at the Landmark Midtown Cinema. To learn more, click here. Enjoy the trailer for the movie I have to bet will win both the jury and audience awards in the feature category, and then stick around for a look at "Alley Pat: The Music is Recorded," which I think will do the same for documentaries.

Director Tom Roche's "Alley Pat: The Music is Recorded" is certainly the very definition of the way-overused phrase "labor of love," since the video editor worked on it for eight years and will probably only be able to show it publicly very few times (more on that later.)

What his long years of toil have produced is a portrait of longtime Atlanta DJ James "Alley Pat" Patrick that entertains as much as it enlightens about a life very well lived. Patrick, who worked at various radio stations around Atlanta beginning in 1951 or so, earned his nickname both by the alley blues that dominated his shows and for the alley talk that made his shows so infectious (I can only attest to that via the movie, since I had admittedly never heard of him until watching Roche's flick.)

Though Roche enjoyed the participation of many people who worked with Patrick through the years, he wisely lets the movie be dominated by choice cuts from Alley Pat's career on the air, which were unfailingly funny. He was a true pioneer in the arena of "shock jock" talk, but unlike the clowns who clog up the airwaves nowadays, he was never mean-spirited. The best cuts are indeed commercials he made for local businesses in which he would almost always slag the establishment he was supposed to be plugging, but in a way that was so funny the advertisers would still keep coming back.

Roche keeps things brisk and intersperses it with many of the great tunes that Alley Pat played through the years, heavy on John Lee Hooker and, of course, Ray Charles. It was only in the Q&A afterward that I learned the (and I can't remember the technical term for it) scale showing how often Alley Pat just blew out the volume way beyond reasonable levels was actually measuring what we were seeing and hearing on screen. Very clever touch.

I won't go on any more about this extremely engaging documentary for this reason: Due to the copyright laws involving the music, Roche said he will never be able to release this on DVD, and will in fact only be screening it one more time, some time later this summer at the Auburn Avenue Research Library (I'm probably getting the name of that wrong, but forgive me). Would it have been wiser to leave the music out? Surely, but the movie wouldn't have been nearly as entertaining.

After the movie, Roche got a well-deserved round of applause, but that paled in comparison to what came next: In one of those moments that can only happen at the Atlanta Film Festival, the place erupted as 91-year-old Alley Pat himself ambled up to the front of the theater. True to form, he used at least two words you never use in public (or best in private either) even though he only spoke for a few moments. He was greeted by people who had been listening to him through the years, and even one grateful Atlanta civil rights activist who he had bailed out of jail during his stint as a bondsman. Just a magical end to a perfect day.

I'll leave you with clip of Alley Pat speaking at the funeral of his very good friend Hosea Williams, a longer version of which wraps up Roche's movie. Even in this short form, it really captures the spirit of the man. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Monday. Peace out.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Atlanta Film Festival report No. 1: "Crossing in St. Augustine"

You know, wi fi really is a crazy thing. On the other side of my hotel room, when I tried out the hotel's connection, I got nothing, but if you walk across the room and set up shop right by the front door, it comes in crystal clear. Bizarre.

But, less than one paragraph in, I already digress. This was supposed to be the first of three or so posts about the offerings at this year's Atlanta Film Festival, and from here on out it will be, specifically "Crossing in St. Augustine."

If you've never heard of this flick, I wouldn't be surprised, because until I received the program for this year's film festival, I never had either. But it pretty perfectly sums up what makes the ATL fest such a unique experience.

Soon after I had settled into my seat Friday afternoon for "Crossing in St. Augustine," a fairly old black gentleman with a rather large head came and sat right in front of me. I was thinking of asking him to consider one of the many empty seats all around me when I realized that the man seated right in front of me and already intently munching on popcorn was civil rights pioneer Andrew Young, so I instead simply said hello and decided that, among many other things, the man has certainly earned the right to sit wherever he damn well pleases.

We were, after all, here to watch a movie in which he's one of the main stars, and which was produced by his foundation. But the real strength of this flick about what went down in "America's Oldest City" in 1964 is that it takes the stories of players of lesser renown but even more import and puts them front and center.

The antiquated setting, complete with a slave market in the center of town (yes, really, but very few have the nerve to call it that) highlights the absurdity of this puerile chapter in American history, and the two veins that run through the stories of people who were there at the time are pride and humor - pride at what they accomplished, but a welcome dose of absurdist humor that it was indeed their "friends and neighbors" who turned on them so violently when things all boiled over.

Among the unrecognized players in this sordid saga you meet in this engaging documentary is Robert Hayling, a dentist who took it upon himself to organize the black teenagers of St. Augustine to march through the streets, sit at lunch counters and various other things most of us take for granted. Hearing the amazement in his voice as he told how people who had just recently sat in his dentist's chair were now attacking him and his young charges in the streets is a singular experience. Also still alive and in the movie are two girls (now women, of course) who were among the "St. Augustine Four," four teenagers who were locked up after trying to order a hamburger at the local Woolworth's, and spent many months in prison after they refused to rat on Hayling for "contributing to the delinquency of minors" (we never hear from the two boys, who it's rather ominously hinted just sort of disappeared after they went to prison.)

But the incident which gives the movie its title involves Mr. Young himself, and a late-night march which he had been sent to St. Augustine to stop. I don't want to spoil too much on the off chance you get to see this someday, but it was the great Hosea Williams who, after Young arrived, egged on the young crowd and told them Young was there to lead them.

Suitably shamed, Young indeed leads the march through town, and there is amazing but extremely hard to watch - especially with the man himself seated right in front of me and still intently munching popcorn - footage of Young getting savagely beaten, and one young man lying atop of him like a human tarp to absorb the blows. Simply devastating to watch.

The signature shot of "Crossing in St. Augustine," however, is the one that most clearly highlights the absurdity of it all, and though I had no knowledge of this, apparently played a key role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Again, I won't spoil it all for you, but seeing the black and white photo of a white hotel owner actually pouring acid on the white and black people who had sneaked in to integrate his pool is something I will never forget and, according to the filmmakers (and I'm prone to believe them), it was the final act that shamed the Southern senators who were filibustering the Civil Rights Act to drop their action and let it pass.

All in all, a very entertaining portrait of a chapter of American history I had been woefully ignorant of, and afterward, Mr. Young rose to speak and brought up to the stage with him two of the men, one white and one black, who had integrated the pool that day. With men that old you don't really have a proper Q&A session, because their answers tend to go on for at least five minutes, but people were more than happy to just let them talk.

As I've done more than I had planned to about this movie, but I really just couldn't help it. I had planned to discuss the documentary that followed it on Saturday night, "Alley Pat: The Music Is Recorded," but that will have to wait until tomorrow, because I'm on vacation, dammit, and I've spent long enough on this for now. I'll simply close by saying that it's this enthusiastic embrace of history as a living being that makes the Atlanta Film Festival a truly unique experience. Peace out.

P.S.: If you're anywhere near Atlanta, please come on and get in on all the fun at the Landmark Midtown Cinema. The festival continues through next Friday, and you can learn more and buy tickets here.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cannes lineup a sign of great things to come

Though I'm not headed to the Cannes Film Festival and probably never will, I am off to the Atlanta Film Festival 365 for the second year in a row beginning Friday (for me, though the opening night movie, "Freedom Riders," is tonight), and you can count me as thoroughly geeked up for it.

Unlike the star-studded froggy festival, Atlanta's gathering is a much more homespun and genuinely Southern affair, heavy on documentaries, this year with an accent on comedians and musicians. Two highlights are sure to be James Franco's "Saturday Night," which goes behind the scenes of "Saturday Night Live" (which I admittedly haven't actually watched live in at least five years), and the closing night movie, "The Secret to a Happy Ending," a doco about the Drive-By Truckers which will be followed by an "intimate" concert by the band. Yeah, that's gonna rock, and I'll be there.

If you're anywhere near Atlanta, I can't recommend an event higher than this one. The opening night movie is being shown tonight at The Carter Center and the grand finale is at the 14th Street Playhouse next Friday, April 23, but in between all the action takes place at the Landmark Midtown Cinema. To see the schedule and purchase tickets, click here.

But for the rest of the world, I suppose the biggest news out there today is that the Cannes Film Festival, returning in mid-May (without me), has unveiled its nearly full lineup, so far featuring 16 films in competition, three screening out of competition, 18 films in the Un Certain Regard slate and two midnight movies. Add to that the opening night flick, Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood" (3-D comes to Cannes - sheesh) and a special screening of "Abel," directed by "Y Tu Mama Tambien" star Diego Luna, and you've got just about everything.

And I say just about because up to seven movies could still be added to the lineup, and at least two marquee titles are as yet missing. I had really been hoping for the return of director Bruce Robinson with "The Rum Diary," based on the novel by Hunter S. Thompson and starring Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard and Reel Fanatic fave Richard Jenkins. If you haven't seen Robinson's sublime "Withnail and I" from way back in the day, I implore you once again, please do so. He is truly a lost master.

Another movie expected to be announced but absent was Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life," set to star Brad Pitt. Malick, of course, wasn't snubbed - his movie, not shockingly at all, simply isn't finished yet. There's still hope that it will be by the time the festival rolls around.

The full list is at the bottom of the post, and it contains plenty of movies by directors that better-educated movie buffs may be more familiar with than me, so if you recognize any you like please let me know. Today, I'll simply stick to what I'm looking forward to most, which would have to start with the return of "Babel" director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu with something called "Biutiful," screening in competition.

All I know about the movie so far is that it is about a policeman who is forced to confront a childhood friend who is now involved in drug dealing, and that Javier Bardem stars in this somehow, most likely as the cop, I'd imagine. Definitely sounds like one I want to see as soon as possible.

Screening out of competition will be movies from three big-name directors, Oliver Stone's "Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps," Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" and Stephen Frears' "Tamara Drewe."

Fox must really think it has something good in the Stone sequel starring Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan, because the studio pushed it from a release next week until September so that it could screen at Cannes. The Frears movie, however, is the one I'm really jazzed for. It's apparently based on a Guardian comic strip by Posy Simmonds which is a modern reworking of Thomas Hardy's "Far from the Madding Crowd." Nothing but fun there.

And back in competition, there's at least one movie that might actually make it out to my little corner of the world, Doug Liman's "Fair Game." Liman, you might remember, made his debut way back when with the sublimely silly "Swingers," but he's certainly on to much more serious material here with the story of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, to be played by Naomi Watts.

But best of all in my book will be a new flick by Mike Leigh, "Another Year," which will be screening in competition. And yes, I say that knowing nothing at all about this except that it stars Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton. Leigh is just one of those directors whose work I take on faith, and if you want proof of why, look no further than his last movie, "Happy Go Lucky," which starred a radiant Sally Hawkins as the irrepressibly and thoroughly annoyingly cheerful title character. I love that flick.

OK, before we get to the full movie slate, as promised, anyone who makes it this far deserves a reward, so here goes. The folks over at EgoTV have come up with a series of Team Leno posters using the Team CoCo fonts, and they're all pretty damn funny. And I really have nothing at all against old people, just Jay Leno, who is dead to me. Enjoy this sample poster, stick around for the full Cannes lineup after that, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

"Another Year," U.K., Mike Leigh
"Biutiful," Spain-Mexico, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
"Burnt by the Sun 2," Germany-France-Russia, Nikita Mikhalkov
"Certified Copy," France-Italy-Iran, Abbas Kiarostami
"Fair Game," U.S., Doug Liman
"Hors-la-loi," France-Belgium-Algeria, Rachid Bouchareb
"The Housemaid," South Korea, Im Sang-soo
"La nostra vita," Italy-France, Daniele Luchetti
"La Princesse de Montpensier," France, Bertrand Tavernier
"Of Gods and Men," France, Xavier Beauvois
"Outrage," Japan, Takeshi Kitano
"Poetry," South Korea, Lee Chang-dong
"A Screaming Man," France-Belgium-Chad, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
"Tournee," France, Mathieu Amalric
"Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," Spain-Thailand-Germany-U.K.-France, Apichatpong Weerasethakul
"You, My Joy," Ukraine-Germany, Sergey Loznitsa

Out Of Competition
"Tamara Drewe," U.K., Stephen Frears
"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," U.S., Oliver Stone
"You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger," U.K.-Spain, Woody Allen

Un Certain Regard
"Adrienn Pal," Hungary-Netherlands-France-Austria, Agnes Kocsis
"Aurora," Romania, Cristi Puiu
"Blue Valentine," U.S., Derek Cianfrance
"Chatroom," U.K., Hideo Nakata
"Chongqing Blues," China, Wang Xiaoshuai
"The City Below," Germany-France, Christoph Hochhausler
"Film Socialisme," Switzerland-France, Jean-Luc Godard
"Ha Ha Ha," South Korea, Hong Sang-soo
"Les Amours imaginaires," Canada, Xavier Dolan
"Life Above All," France, Oliver Schmitz
" Los labios," Argentina, Ivan Fund, Santiago Loza
"Octubre," Peru, Daniel Vega
"Qu'est-il arrive a Simon Werner?," France, Fabrice Gobert
"Rebecca H.," France, Lodge Kerrigan
"R U There," Taiwan, David Verbeek
"The Strange Case of Angelica," Portugal, Manoel de Oliveira
"Tuesday, After Christmas," Romania, Radu Muntean
"Udaan," India, Vikramaditya Motwane

Special Screening
Diego Luna - "Abel"

Midnight Screening
Gregg Araki: "Kaboom"
Gustavo Hernandez: "The Mute House"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's more fun, Jane Lynch voguing or hot chicks doing "On the Waterfont"? You decide

In the only thing even approaching news you'll find here this morning, it seems that HBO has already renewed David Simon's "Treme" for a second season after only one episode, and bully to that.

The premiere drew 1.4 million viewers in its combined airings, pretty far from sensational, but still better than the 890,000 or so viewers that the five season premieres of "The Wire" averaged (what in the world does everyone else watch on TV?)

Even so, this isn't much of a surprise. HBO has shown tremendous loyalty to Simon through the years, and if you watched the premiere of "Treme," he does indeed have something magical working here. I will say, though, that the premiere certainly moved at a leisurely pace as it introduced the large roster of characters. It was, however, great to see Kermit Ruffins on TV, and my favorite character so far has to be Kim Dickens' restaurateur, but Melissa Leo and John Goodman (man, does he just keep getting bigger and bigger?) will certainly have a lot to work with too.

And in a smidgen more of HBO news before we get to a trio of videos that are guaranteed to brighten up even the dreariest of Wednesdays, it seems that Diane Keaton has just signed on to play a character based on Nikki Finke for a new half-hour comedy titled "Tilda." And if you don't know who Nikki Finke is, congratulations, because that's probably a sign that you - unlike me - have better things to do with your lives than read her drivel on Deadline Hollyood Daily. She's a movie writer of sorts, but mostly just the most annoying kind of gadfly, and certainly a fun role for Keaton to play with.

OK, after that today it's all about funny videos. If you didn't watch the return of "Glee" last night, well, everyone makes mistakes, but it's not about judgment around here. If you did, you'll probably agree it was pretty great, but the musical numbers were the most underwhelming part. That shouldn't be a problem next seek with the "The Power of Madonna" episode. If you stuck around until the end last night, you got Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) doing Madonna's "Vogue," and when it comes to comedy, it just doesn't get much funnier than this. Enjoy.

Thanks to a heads up from Nell Minow, I now subscribe to Roger Ebert's slightly more than monthly newsletter, and I can recommend it to anyone who loves movies. He mostly posts videos that people send him, but they're also almost always very entertaining, as is the case here. Subscriptions cost just $4.99 a year, and without further ado, here indeed are hot chicks doing "On the Waterfront." Enjoy.

And finally today, the sound on this isn't great, but this handheld spy clip from the opening night of Conan O'Brien's "Prohibited From Being Funny" tour shows just how much of a misnomer that is. The opening video introduction is at least watchable, and is vintage CoCo, but unfortunately, once he takes the stage the audio just becomes atrocious. Still worth watching, however, especially now that we now O'Brien will be returning to late night this fall every Monday-Thursday on TBS. Enjoy the clip, and have a perfectly bearable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Coco's long, strange trip heads to TBS, and I'm with him

The first thing I thought when I heard yesterday that Conan O'Brien had spurned the advances of Fox for more money and, let's face it, surely more job security at TBS, was man would be it great to see another "Late Shift," this time about the rather tawdry adventures of CoCo and the soon-to-be-vanquished Jay Leno (hey, one can dream, right, even though he's clearly more indestructible - but much less funny - than a cockroach.)

If you've never seen that HBO movie, it detailed the war between Leno and David Letterman, and just how Dave ended up walking over to CBS, with comic precision. I'm sure you can still rent it, and it's well worth it.

And even though any new version of the story would surely make for a kinda rough portrait of both its main players, I think the TBS deal is nothing but a winner for O'Brien, and here's why.

Had he somehow managed to swing a deal for an 11:30 show on Fox, he would have been under the same constant pressure that thankfully killed Leno's 10 p.m. adventure, complaints from the affiliates. They were apparently, and rather amazingly, balking at pulling their "Simpsons" reruns or "Cops" or whatever the hell else they have on at 11:30 now, and frankly, who needs that?

At TBS, for which the motto "Very Funny" has so far only expressed itself in almost constant reruns of "The Office" (which is, granted, indeed just that), he's clearly gonna be the lord of the manor.

Here are the details, as I know them. The TBS deal only started coming together last week, after George Lopez called O'Brien (easily the best thing he's done for comedy in many, many years) and asked him to consider coming to TBS. Under the deal, starting in November, Lopez's show (which, in all honesty, I've never watched in its entirety, but I've seen enough to deem it not terribly funny at all) will move to midnight, easing the way for CoCo at 11 p.m.

The as-yet-untitled show will only air Monday-Thursday (because, after all, who wants to work on Friday if you clearly don't have to?) O'Brien will apparently earn about $10 million a year, roughly what he had been making at NBC, and much more importantly, own the show, a la Dave Letterman. There's not much I can say to sum up just how good news this really is, so I'll let Conan himself do it just about perfectly.

“In three months I’ve gone from network television to Twitter to performing live in theaters, and now I’m headed to basic cable. My plan is working perfectly.”

And you have this promise from me: Though I'm pretty strictly an in bed by 11 kinda guy, I'll gladly stretch that for a half hour at least to make room for your return. Welcome back, Conan.

OK, this is technically supposed to be about movie news, so here are four nuggets I found fascinating this morning, before we wrap things up with a couple short videos that are pretty much guaranteed to make you smile.

Did you see "Date Night"? I did, and while it could certainly have been zanier for my taste, it was still pretty darn funny, even in the none-too-brave-or-new-world that is the new New York, and that was almost entirely thanks to the chemistry of NBC's comedy titans, Tina Fey and Steve Carell, though James Franco and J.B. Smoove were very funny in it too.

So, even though their movie somehow lost out to that "Clash of the Titans" remake (which I still haven't seen, and probably won't), it shouldn't come as much of a surprise at all that they're already making plans to team up on the big screen again. According to the L.A. Times, Fey and Carell will appear together in something called "Mail-Order Groom," which was apparently at least partly penned by Fey's hubby, Jeff Richmond.

In the comic premise, Fey would play a lonely woman who orders the titular "Mail-Order Groom," only to get, in the form of Carell, not exactly what she bargained for. I'm laughing at that already, and I can't really see any way in which this won't come together extremely quickly. Stay tuned.

And, keeping things in comedy for another second or two, Vulture has apparently gotten its hands on the script for "A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas," and shared what it will be about. Personally, I thought Kal Penn and John Cho started to lose their comedy buzz more than a little bit by the end of "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay," but I'll never get too old for good stoner comedies, so here's hoping they deliver with chapter three this Christmas.

Here's what it will be about, according to Vulture: Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg’s script tracks down Harold and Kumar 10 years after the events of the second film. Now in their 30s, Harold is married and living the idyllic family life while Kumar lives in their old apartment and has just had his license suspended for smoking weed. More importantly, Harold is drug-free, but all that’s about to change when Kumar drops by and burns down a special Christmas Tree — soon enough, the two are on the road to find a replacement.

Excellent. Throw in Neil Patrick Harris and all kinds of fun drugs, and I'll certainly be there.

After that today, things get a little more serious in the form of news about what Froggy directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud are cooking up as their followup to "Persepolis" (before it just gets crazy with word of what exactly happened to Craig Brewer, remember him?)

If you haven't seen the animated movie "Persepolis," there really are very, very few rentals I can recommend higher. Based on the Satrapi graphic novel of the same name, it's all about her life growing up in Iran and Europe, and it's just an amazing bit of filmmaking. For the duo's next project, they'll again turn to a Satrapi illustrated novel (which I'll certainly now have to read) called "Chicken with Plums."

All I know about it so far is that the movie will again be about Iran somehow, but this time they will be working in live-action rather than animation, and actor Mathieu Amalric will be one of the stars. In any format, Satrapi and Paronnaud just make movies (or rather, so far, a movie) I love watching, so definitely keep your eyes on this one.

OK, just to end on a crazy note, before a couple of short videos, does anyone remember Craig Brewer? He managed to direct what has become without exaggeration one of my all-time favorite movies with the rap-and-roll fable "Hustle & Flow" and then the simply bizarre "Black Snake Moan" before just about completely disappearing.

Well, know he's back, but not in any kind of form I could have predicted. It seems that whichever big studio had the bright idea to remake "Footloose" has now hired Brewer to direct it, from a script he wrote himself. The project was originally in the much more predictable hands of "High School Musical" director Kenny Ortega (who actually directed quite a few episodes of "Gilmore Girls" too, oddly enough) with Chace Crawford of "Gossip Girl" to star in the Kevin Bacon role (thus sealing his fate in the six degrees game), but now both of them are gone. Brewer, I suppose, makes this a little more interesting, but mostly it's just a depressing tale of just what a guy's gotta do to eat these days.

But enough of that depressing stuff. "Glee" returns tonight, and that's more than enough reason to go out with two things that just made me smile. First up comes a band I had admittedly never heard of called Anamanaguchi (and forgive me, guys, if I'm somehow misspelling that) performing what will apparently be the theme song for the upcoming "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" video game. The movie it's attached to is already surely getting more buzz than it needs, and I'll be doing my very insignificant part to contribute to that, but as for this, it's just two minutes or so of punk-pop bliss, which is just about what I at least needed to start off a Tuesday morning. Enjoy.

And finally today, this 15-second only but still extremely foul (remember, I did warn you) commercial clip for "Kick-Ass" just about perfectly encapsulates what will hopefully be its primal appeal. It's sublimely not safe for work, so if you watch it without headphones, you have only yourself to blame. Enjoy, and have a perfectly bearable Tuesday. Peace out.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Two crazy rumors, one to laugh about and one to hope for

You know, I would suggest someone try to shame The Sun if it had even an ounce of it left, or the folks who put it out just clearly didn't have so much fun f***ing with the entire world.

The British's tabloid's latest creation, as I've dutifully documented above by sharing the photo, is the immediately shot down but still very funny rumor that one Robert Pattinson would be playing Kurt Cobain in a biopic to be titled "All Apologies." And, as you might be able to tell, that's Scarlett Johansson in the photo as Courtney Love, who Love has supposedly and rather immodestly suggested should play her.

All I can really say about all that is great title, and I'd imagine that last bit about Courtney Love is probably the only thing approaching truth in it. But it's still just a heck of a lot of fun.

And, in a rumor that I would much more readily get behind, the co-creators of "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" - which along with "Coraline" shares the distinction of being one of the two 2009 animated movies that were better than Pixar's "Up" - are eyeing a sequel in the form of "Pickles to Pittsburgh," the soon-to-be-released followup children's book by Judith Barrett.

In the new work, according to Publisher's Weekly, the townspeople of Chewandswallow find themselves still cleaning up all that food rained down by Bill Hader's Flint Lockwood. In what should make for a globe-trotting adventure, they come up with a global food distribution plan, hence Eggplants to Ecuador, Chili to Chile and the titular "Pickles to Pittsburgh."

I'm laughing at that already, so here's hoping this somehow happens, and soon. And in the meantime, Comedy Central has released a short clip of next week's episode of "South Park," which will be the rather seriously amazing 200th one. Never strangers to excess, as you'll see from the clip, co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are bringing back every celebrity who has been mercilessly mocked during the show's run for a class-action lawsuit against the city. Nothing but funny there, especially the return of Mecha Streisand. Enjoy, and have a fantastic rest of the weekend.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Twin Peaks 2.0? Not hardly, but not awful either

ABC has indeed released the first 14 minutes of its upcoming take on oddity called "Happy Town," and while it is truly more than a little insulting to release this on or very near to the 20th anniversary of David Lynch's TV masterpiece, it's actually better than I thought it would be.

But more on that at the end. First up comes news from David Cross that's sure to upset "Arrested Development" fans, but considering all the bulls*** we've been fed about an "AD" movie, I really don't think you can blame him for being probably the much more realistic messenger. Here's what he had to say to

"(I)t's not going to happen. Way too much time it's been (since the show ended). I mean, there's so many people involved. Everyone's doing their own thing, you know. And everybody's aged. It's just not going to happen. I'm sure I speak for everybody when I say we'd love for it to happen, we'd love to work on it, but just I don't think ... not going to happen."

Unfortunately, everything he had to say there makes a lot of sense. So consider the idea dead at least for now, but in the meantime remember that series co-creators Mitch Hurwitz and James Vallely are set to return to Fox (I believe) next fall, with Gob Bluth in tow. Will Arnett is indeed to co-star in "Wilde Kingdom" as what sounds a whole lot like his "Arrested Development" character, a dude who falls for a do-gooder played by Felicity herself, Keri Russell. Even though "Sit Down Shut Up" was just the epitome of awful, I'm still betting this will be a winner.

After that today, it's all about stylish horror, both in the form of a new film from Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and a truly creepy visit from Werner Herzog.

First up the Fresnadillo news. If you saw what he did with "28 Weeks Later," a far more visceral affair than its predecessor, "28 Days Later," you know the man has a talent for directing great horror flicks. And now comes word that he's signed on to direct something called "Intruders," which will star Clive Owen and Daniel Bruhl, a.k.a. the "Nation's Pride" from Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds."

All that's known so far about the story is that it will be about an 11-year-old girl who is battling demons of some kind, but given the man's track record (he also directed the seriously satisfying Spanish thriller "Intacto"), this is definitely one to keep your eyes on.

And in something more immediate but at least as creepy, director Werner Herzog has taken a little time to put his own twisted spin on "Curious George," and since it was easily the funniest thing I found this morning, it's well worth a listen. If you like this, I believe he does his own take on "Madeline," too, which should be easy enough to find. My favorite line here has to be "George quickly learns a hard lesson about desire," but it's really all good. Enjoy.

OK, finally, though nothing can really properly follow that, ABC has indeed put the first 14 minutes of its upcoming series "Happy Town" online, and if the purpose was to get me to keep watching, mission accomplished, I suppose. It's not great, but it will apparently star "Angel" vet Amy Acker, never a bad thing, and the story about a mysterious killer does seem to hold some promise, even if the obvious attempt to emulate the magic of "Twin Peaks" is most likely going to be a constant annoyance. Anyways, enjoy, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

I always suspected Ronald McDonald was pretty much pure evil

An advisory word for anyone reading today: If you make it to the end, you'll find the most recent Oscar winner for Best Animated Short Film, the Froggie flick "Logorama," embedded at the bottom, and it's extremely worth watching (and it inspired the title of this post.) But before that ...

This may be rather amazing news to no one other than me and Bob Connally, but it seems that not only has Bruce Robinson apparently finished his movie of the Hunter S. Thompson novel "The Rum Diary," but it may even be headed for Cannes.

For anyone unfamiliar with the flick, it stars one Johnny Depp as an American journalist working for a newspaper in Puerto Rico who gets involved in a love triangle and surely all other kinds of trouble too. The movie also stars Aaron Eckhart, Amber Heard, Giovanni Ribisi and Reel Fanatic fave Richard Jenkins.

So who in the world is Bruce Robinson? Well, before pretty much disappearing for more than 20 years now, he managed to direct the ultimate buddy comedy of sorts, "Withnail & I," and the almost-as-good "How to Get Ahead in Advertising." He's been sorely missed around here, so any word of "The Rum Diary" finally moving towards one day maybe seeing a movie screen anywhere near my little corner of the world is certainly welcome news.

And in really good TV news, if you haven't been watching NBC's "Parenthood," you've really been missing out. Sure, it can be awfully schmaltzy, but it's also pretty epicly good storytelling, and Lauren Graham, Peter Krause and yes, even Dax Shepard are all great in it.

Well, now it seems the show, created by "Friday Night Lights" guider Jason Katims, is finally starting to pick up some mojo, winning its time slot Tuesday night for perhaps the first time, even managing to beat out a new episode of ABC's "The Good Wife."

Seriously, this is what good TV looks like, so catch it while you can, which looks more and more like it will be for at least two seasons.

And in much bigger news about TV people I really like, it seems that Aziz Ansari has just signed on to be one-half of what, at least around here, will make a comedy dream team with Danny McBride.

"Zombieland" director Ruben Fleischer has signed on to direct an action-comedy called "30 Minutes Or Less" as his next project, and now those two - my favorite two comedians working today, in case you missed the hint - have signed on as the leads.

Written by Michael Diliberti and Matthew Sullivan, the script revolves around a junior high history teacher (Ansari) and a pizza-delivery man (McBride) who are forced to rob a bank when one of them is strapped to a bomb vest.

And in a final bit of news before we get to the promised movie, now that I'm reupping with HBO this week in time to watch the premiere of David Simon's post-Katrina series "Treme" this Sunday, it seems they're determined to never let me go again.

Along with series coming from all kinds of top-shelf directors (Martin Scorsese, Kathyrn Bigelow and Lee Daniels, among them), HBO has now signed "School of Rock" and "Freaks and Geeks" scribe Mike White for a new series that sounds just about perfect to me.

Laura Dern (remember her?) will star in "Enlightened" as "a self-destructive woman who has a revelatory experience at a treatment center and becomes determined to live an enlightened life." That already sounds funny to me, and the show has received a 10-episode pickup and will begin filming this summer.

And you may remember that Laura Dern did her best work in years in the HBO movie "Recount" (which was somehow written by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Gilmore Girls" veteran Danny Strong) as dragon woman Katherine Harris.

OK, as promised, anyone who bothered to stick around (or perhaps skipped) until the end today deserves a reward, so here goes. Like most of the world, I just assumed that Nick Park's latest Wallace & Gromit flick, "Wallace & Gromit in a Matter of Loaf and Death," was gonna win the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, but it lost to something called "Logorama," made by Frenchies François Alaux and Hervé de Crécy. Subtle? Nah. But this glimpse of the secret lives of the advertising mascots who truly run our lives is wickedly funny, especially the inhabitants of the zoo. Having now watched this and the latest Wallace & Gromit offering, I deem this a worthy winner by a nose. Enjoy the flick embedded below, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Logorama from Marc Altshuler - Human Music on Vimeo.