Saturday, October 30, 2010

Iannucci to fire his satirical gun for HBO

If you've never seen Armando Iannucci's "In the Loop," there are very few rentals I can recommend higher, for two reasons: First, it's just first-rate political satire of the kind we very rarely see nowadays, and second, Peter Capaldi's extremely foul-mouthed turn as Malcolm Tucker is something you'll never forget once you've seen it.

Though I doubt the great Mr. Capaldi will be along for his latest venture, any word of Iannucci coming to American TV for more sharp political satire is certainly welcome in this corner of the world.

It seems that HBO, determined to order at least a pilot from every great director working today, has ordered one for an Iannucci series called "Veep," with Julia Louis Dreyfus in talks to star as the titular vice president of the United States.

Iannucci will write this with "In the Loop" co-writer Simon Blackwell and at least direct the pilot, so this should just be fantastic when it all comes together. And just in case you really have no idea just how funny Malcolm Tucker and "In the Loop" are, here's a choice sample of some of his best stuff. Enjoy the clip, keep an eye out for the show, and stick around afterward for a bonus visit from Alan Partridge.

What could be funnier than that? Trust me, when you watch the whole movie, not much, but Alan Partridge is one thing that just works for me even better. As you'll see from this silent clip below, with surely some help from longtime co-conspirator Iannucci, Steve Coogan's signature buffoon is coming out in a series of webisodes as the host of the radio show "Mid Morning Matters With Alan Partridge" starting Nov. 5 on the Foster's beer Web site (I'm not sure exactly what the URL will be yet, but I'll certainly let you know.) Even without any dialogue, you can see as much from Coogan's antics as from the reactions of everyone around him just how funny this can be. Enjoy, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Christopher Nolan: 2D's caped crusader?

When reading the big news about Christopher Nolan's third Batman movie, I got the distinct impression that he could have walked into Warner Bros. and told them he was going to make it an animated musical called "The Dark Knight Prances," and they would have simply said "OK."

After all, when your movie makes almost as much as "Titanic," I suppose you have at least a bit of pull. And thankfully, Nolan is choosing to use this as a force for good, and hopefully putting the final nail in using 3D for anything beyond children's movies.

Along with the title, "The Dark Knight Rises," the only other thing that Nolan revealed about the 2012 flick this week was that when asked, he indeed told Warner exactly where they could stick their 3D. Beyond this being simply great news, it also just makes perfect sense, since Nolan already uses a unique technology for his cameras, and therefore has no need for such useless gimmicks.

That's all he's really revealed so far, except for that the Riddler won't be the big bad this time around, but on both of those counts I'd say so far he's off to a great start.

In other actual movie news today, Wendell Pierce, aka Bunk from "The Wire" and Antoine Batiste on "Treme," has somehow landed a part in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn." I have no idea what part he will play, and even less about what's going on in the "Twilight" movies, but I just had to laugh at that.

And before we move on to something even sillier involving Mad Man Roger Sterling, there's also a good bit of news about a movie that will come out in at least some corners of the world very soon, and it sounds like a potentially great one.

Who doesn't like a good kung fu movie? Well, I do, so "Bruce Lee, My Brother" sounds tailor made for me. Drawn from the memories of Lee's siblings, the $4.6 million Chinese production will take a look at his life growing up in Hong Kong. Someone named Aarif Lee, no relation to the kung fu master, will play the young Mr. Lee when this comes out Nov. 27, so keep an eye out for it if you can find it.

After I stopped laughing at the idea of Roger Sterling's memoirs actually being published, I had to think to myself, yeah, I'll probably buy that. After all, when you're feeling down, what could possibly be a better pick-up than some words of wisdom from "Mad Men"'s best character?

The book, to be called "Sterling's Gold," will hit bookstores in November. And though John Slattery's picture will appear on the cover, the book itself springs completely from the mind of "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner.

So, what will you get if, like me, you spring for this bit of silliness? Here's a sampling from the preface:

The book consists of “a few things overheard, a few things to live by, and hell, a few things I’ve apparently said and had repeated to me the morning after a party when I called to make amends."

Instead of a straight forward memoir, it will instead be a collection Sterling's "witticisms," divided into chapters with very basic names such as “On Clients”, “Things to Say to Creatives”, “On the Art of Seduction… and What to Say to Close the Deal”, and “On Some Memorable Colleagues.”

And just in case you doubt that Roger Sterling can be an inspirational figure, here are some examples of his accumulated pearls of wisdom:

You want to be on some people’s minds. Some people’s you don’t.

The day you sign a client is the day you start losing them.

Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons and eventually they hit you in the face.

Don’t you love the chase? Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Those are the stakes. But when it does work out — it’s like having that first cigarette. Your head gets all dizzy, your heart pounds, your knees go weak. Remember that? Old business is just old business.

When a man gets to a point in his life when his name’s on the building, he can get an unnatural sense of entitlement.

Remember, when God closes a door, he opens a dress.

I certainly don't think I can add anything wiser than that, so with that, I'll just wrap it up and wish everyone, with the help of Roger Sterling, a perfectly bearable Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Rather than thinking about a workday Wednesday, I've got Lisbeth Salander on the brain

You'll have to forgive me if I have Stieg Larsson and his "Girl" novels just tattooed on my brain at the moment.

You see, since the last Harry Potter novel, I haven't bothered to take on a 700-page novel until now, and Larsson's "The Girl With Who Played With Fire" has drained a lot more out of me than I could have imagined it would, but with the end finally just a tantalizing 15 pages or so away and in sight later today, I can say it's been well worth it, because it's just a first-rate police procedural with the benefit of starring - without exaggeration - one of literature's greatest heroines of all time in the goth hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander.

I don't know how soon I'll have the energy to take on the the final chapter, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest," but coincidentally enough (and not at all by design), I've managed to finish up "The Girl Who Played With Fire" just as the Swedish movie made from it hits DVD, and I can assure you it will be on my weekend viewing slate in some form. In fact, I just checked, and it's available from Netflix streaming, so right to my brand new Blu Ray player for Saturday night. Huzzah!

I was surprised to find that the first two Swedish movie installments were helmed by different directors, because if you haven't seen Niels Arden Opley's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," starring the unforgettable Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander, it's a thriller so good that it really stands alone as an example of how to flawlessly transfer a great novel into a great movie thriller. Rent them both this weekend for what I guarantee will be a wicked good viewing time.

The sequel coming this week was directed by someone named Daniel Alfredson, who also stuck around to direct the upcoming third and final chapter "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" (though there are all kinds of rumors swirling about a posthumous Lisbeth Salander coming out - stay tuned for more on that as soon as I hear it.)

And there's news, appropriately enough for Halloween week, about Opley being offered by CBS Films a project that could turn into a super horror movie.

The studio has bought the rights to Jennifer Egan’s 2006 best-seller "The Keep," and is in final negotiations to acquire the adapted screenplay written by "The Skeleton Key" scribe Ehren Kruger.

So, what's it about? Well, according to what I've read, it's "a story within a story about two cousins with a shared secret who reunite to renovate a legendary haunted medieval castle that turns dreams and nightmares into reality."

That could easily turn into high cheese or something truly creepy in all the best ways, and after watching what Opley did with "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," I'm betting on the latter. Definitely stay tuned for more on this as soon as I can find it.

OK, that's really most of what I have time for this morning, but since Zach Galifianakis is now rumored to be one of the humans getting a cameo in Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller and James Bobin's "The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made," it made me think of this OK Go video which is pretty easily the funniest Muppet clip I've encountered in recent years. All I'll say is that it's a staring contest between OK go drummer Dan Konopka and Muppets drummer extraordinaire Animal. Who wins? You'll have to find out yourself, and it's well worth watching. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The best fall TV show almost noone's watching: FX's "Terriers"

OK, OK, I know this is supposed to be about movies, but when you're in a week so bad that we only have one new movie, "Saw 3D," that's justifiably terrified of critics, I think it's alright to change the subject for just a bit.

Now, I suppose there may be a good TV or show this fall that I've simply missed, but contrary to what many of my co-workers probably think, I don't simply watch everything on TV. That said, however, I did try to sample as much as possible of the new offerings this fall,and they seem to be pretty universally awful.

We did have a brief respite starting Sunday with PBS' "Sherlock," but that will only last for two more weeks, at least in this incarnation. The Masterpiece Mystery offering starring Benedict Cumberbatch (yes, really) and Martin Freeman as, respectively, Holmes and Watson, transports the tale into modern London but, despite the distraction of way too much texting, manages to nail the wit and wisdom of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's creation a whole lot better than the recent movie did.

After that ends, though, what will we be left with? HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," which has six more episodes left in its first season, has garnered many much-deserved plaudits, but there's one other show this year that's edging up to greatness in the shadows, FX's "Terriers."

Though I do occasionally get recognized around town because of the version of this I write for the Macon Telegraph, mostly and not terribly oddly at the video store or Macon's only movie theater, I rarely get any e-mail about it. I did, however, receive an interesting one the other day from Danny Elliott of Warner Robins, who implored me to talk about this very-little-watched FX series (the premiere drew only a rather paltry 1.6 million viewers), so that's what I'm going to do.

For the many people who have managed to miss this show, which airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m., it's about two guys, one a former cop and one a former thief, who have now joined forces as unlicensed and often unscrupulous private detectives. The leads are played by Donal Logue, who may be known to TV viewers as the star of the sitcom "Grounded for Life," and Michael Raymond-James, who fans of HBO's "True Blood" will recognize from season one as the vampire killer Rene.

The two of them, Logue the former cop and Raymond-James the former thief, find a natural chemistry as they now meet in the middle. It's often very funny, but never dives into by-the-book buddy sitcom-style comedy.

And the cases they take on, starting with a doozie in the pilot involving a major land developer who has at least some part to do with multiple murders - including that of one of Logue's former drinking buddies - are uniformly interesting from week to week. The best so far, episode three, starred Olivia Williams as the wife of a bank manager who may or may not be having an affair. As the bank manager tasked Logue's Hank to find out the truth, it just kept getting more and more twisted in the hard-boiled kind of way that TV mysteries so rarely still delve into nowadays.

Like another recent FX offering, "Justified," which returns for season two in February, "Terriers" develops in a sometimes slow but always natural groove, and as it does, it just gets better as we meet the characters who populate the main duo's lives, particularly Logue's sister on the show, Steph, played by his actual sister, Karina Logue. On the show, she's a manic depressive who depends on her brother for survival, and it's a fascinating relationship to watch unfold.

The bottom line: If you like good, old-fashioned TV mysteries with a scruffy edge, tune in for FX's "Terriers" while you still can. The beauty of being on FX rather than a major network is that it's guaranteed a full, 13-episode season one run, which means five more episodes, even if this is the only season. Not many people watch this show, but I know at least Danny Elliott and I do, and many more other people should too.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A real "Battlestar Galactica" prequel? Bring it on!

When the second incarnation of "Battlestar Galactica" left the Syfy airwaves in 2009, it left a real void for fans of genuine, smart sci-fi, so this is certainly good news

Executive producer David Eick, one of the big brains behind the version that began in 2004, has pitched to the station a prequel of sorts called "Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome," and it has so far picked up at least a 2-hour pilot. The show takes place in the 10th year of the first Cylon war, and follows the exploits of young ensign William Adama, a recent Academy graduate and now a rookie viper pilot. In the 2004 show, of course, Adama was played by the great Edward James Olmos, but they'll now clearly have to cast some new blood for this.

According to the plot synopsis, Adama "finds himself assigned to the newest battlestar in the Colonial fleet, the Galactica. The talented but hot-headed risk-taker soon finds himself leading a dangerous top secret mission that, if successful, will turn the tide of the decade-long war in favor of the desperate fleet."

Nothing but epic awesomeness there, and though there's no word yet if co-creator Ronald Moore will once again be involved, here's a final word from Eick to give "Battlestar" fans a sense of just how good this could be.

"While maintaining the themes of politics, social propaganda, and the timeless question: what does it mean to be human? - 'Blood & Chrome' will also return us to the authentic, relentless depiction of combat and the agony and ecstasy of human-Cylon war, which was the hallmark of 'Battlestar Galactica's' early seasons."

I don't have too much after that today before the videos because, before working on a Saturday, I have to go swimming and then do my laundry, but there is a bit of goodness to get to for fans of Wes Anderson.

No, unfortunately, it isn't any more details on the film he apparently plays on shooting next spring or so, but it is a glimpse of his writing before he went on, with his first three movies, to make three of my favorites in "Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums."

Thanks to the head's up from for this link to a short story he wrote for the University of Texas literary journal Analecta. I haven't read it yet, but I just printed it out, so will do so today to take my mind off of laundry for a bit. Enjoy the story here.

OK, on to the videos. I can't remember a movie in recent history that's had as much trouble simply coming out (no pun intended, really) as "I Love You Phillip Morris." Is it simply that the characters played by Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor are gay? I suppose so, and that's truly sad, because as you'll see from this first full trailer I know of for the movie by "Bad Santa" creators Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, it looks pretty wickedly funny. Look for this in what surely will be a limited release Dec. 3, and enjoy the trailer.

I'm a big, big fan of the UK teen skeen "Skins," and an even bigger fan of Baltimore, but sadly, I can't see this turning out to be anything but awful. It seems that MTV is remaking the great show (which aired on BBC America here, I believe) with a cast of way-too-fresh-faced (the original cast was rather scruffy) young Americans, and somehow transporting the action from the north of England to Charm City itself. If you've seen the original, you'll see that they at least kept a few of the characters' names, but seemingly none of the spirit of the original show. "Enjoy" this trailer for the show, apparently coming in January.

OK, where better to end up today then with the trailer for a movie I'm definitely psyched to see at the end of this year, even if it does look rather morose. John Cameron Mitchell is best known as the stage and later movie creator of Hedwig, the star of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," still by a wide margin the greatest botched sex change/punk rock movie ever made. As you'll see below, he's come up with something completely different for "Rabbit Hole," his new movie starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, set to come out hopefully everywhere in December. It's about a couple dealing with the death of their very young son, and though that indeed sounds thoroughly depressing, I love Mitchell's work and I'll watch Kidman in just about anything, so I'm there. Enjoy the clip, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"I've had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday-Friday plane!"

Dear Scream Awards: In my mind, Piranha 3D was the best movie of the year after Toy Story 3, so calling it "Best Worst Movie" seems uncool.

I have to agree with that little missive from James Gunn completely. I suppose you can't call "Piranha 3D" a great movie, but it was a hell of a lot of fun for what it was, so putting "worst" anywhere does indeed seem a little misguided.

And later today, there will be the first clip I know of from Gunn's "Super," and its just as deranged as you could possibly expect from a movie that stars Rainn Wilson as a self-made, avenging superhero.

But before the clips, there is a good bit of news about one of my favorite directors. I really have no time at all for "Wizard of Oz" sequels, prequels or "reimaginings" of any kind, so I certainly hope this will somehow come before "Oz the Great and Powerful," which Sam Raimi is also attached to direct, with Robert Downey Jr. starring as the wizard himself.

I'd much rather see him do a remake of "Day of the Triffids," the sci-fi tale of mobile, bloodthirsty plants who start preying on humankind after a meteor show renders more than 99 percent of the world's population blind (yes, really).

That just sounds like the perfect kind of Raimi fun, so it's certainly a good thing that Mandate won the auction to the source material, Jon Wyndham's 1952 novel, and that Raimi says he wants to jump into the director's chair. Definitely stay tuned for more on this as soon as I can find it.

And before we jump into the clips today, there's just one more bit of coolness to dispense. If, like me, you can't wait for the return of Conan to late night on TBS beginning Nov. 8, there's a fun toy to keep you occupied in the meantime. Beginning yesterday, Team Coco began broadcasting a live feed from behind the scenes at their workplace, and as far as I know, it's still going here.

OK, now on to the clips, and I promise the rather epicly funny one at the end will finally make the headline of this post make sense. But first comes, I have to warn you, a thorough monstrosity. Pixar's "Toy Story 3" was pretty much a masterpiece, and easily one of my favorite movies of 2010 so far, but what it has apparently spawned is entirely regrettable: Yes, a "Cars 2." I guess it was inevitable, but "Cars" is by a wide margin my least favorite Pixar movie, and as you'll see from the teaser trailer, the sequel looks like it will be just as bad as you could have possibly imagined. "Enjoy."

Next, as promised, comes the first clip I know of for James Gunn's "Super." Though, without exaggeration, Gunn's last movie, the horror/comedy "Slither," only made about $8 million at the box office, I quite liked it, so I can't wait to see what he has cooked up now. And the good news is that, with this having been picked up by IFC, the skewed superhero tale starring Wilson, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler and even young Ellen Page too will come to TV via IFC On Demand whenever they get around to releasing it. Enjoy the clip, and if you happen to hear when this will finally come out, please do let me know.

And finally today, in a definite case of saving the best for last, the Hollywood Reporter was kind enough to compile this collection of some the most egregious examples of what happens when movies get dubbed for TV. It's hard to pick out which one is the best, but the "Scarface" stuff is seriously funny. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A cool Wednesday cache of clips

Before we get in to that, however, there are some bits of good news out there this morning, and it all starts with "Chuck."

With the still fairly great spy comedy premiering in the fall this year, I just assumed that a full fourth season had already been booked, but silly me. It apparently had to earn that right, and NBC has just announced that that will indeed happen (along with, unfortunately, a full season of "Outsourced" - who the hell watches this crap? And if this means something bad for the return of "Parks and Recreation," well, I of course won't be able to do anything about that, but I will be rather friggin pissed about it.)

As for "Chuck," this season had gotten off to a bit of a rough start in my book, with the show really unsure how to deal with Chuck and Sarah as a couple, but Monday's episode with Casey's "funeral" was a real winner, so here's hoping the show is back on track for its full 22-season run.

In movie news, if you didn't see Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer," I highly recommend a rental. It was a whipsmart political thriller until the ending is wrapped up way too neatly, and any movie that has that much Ms. Cross - a.k.a. Olivia Williams - definitely can't be all bad.

And now comes word that he's assembled a first-rate cast for his next directing project, "God of Carnage." John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet will play the leads in the movie based on the Tony award-winning play by Yasmina Reza, about two sets of parents who meet after their kids brawl in the schoolyard, and they get along worse than the kids did.

Reilly will play Michael, the role originated onstage by James Gandolfini, and Foster plays his wife, so by force I would have to assume Waltz and Winslet (what a pair) play the other couple. Filming for this begins in January in Paris, so definitely keep your eyes on it.

And finally, before we dive into the clips today, it seems that Ben Affleck may be closing in on his directorial followup to "The Town."

Speaking of that flick, I know I'm in the minority, but the more time and space I get removed from it, the more it just leaves me cold. Sure, an expertly directed crime thriller with a great cast in top gear, but the story was just so familiar to the point of being tired.

But I digress a bit. Despite my unheard reservations about "The Town," Affleck found himself more than a bit of a hot property after its release, being courted for and turning down the next "Superman" flick (which went to Zack Snyder) and a movie called "Tales from the Gangster Squad," about the police force who cracked down on Jewish mobsters in 1940s Hollywood.

Now, however, he seems to be circling something that he's actually interested in, and thankfully it would pull him out of his Boston crime rut. Warner Bros. wants him to direct a movie based on the Ken Grimwood novel "Replay," about a 45-year-old man who has a fatal heart attack while trying to prevent the murder of a jogger in New York's Central Park. Instead of dying, however, he is stuck in a "replay" of his life beginning at age 18 in Brooklyn. With his knowledge of the future, he changes his life and builds a financial empire, only to die again at age 45. The "replay" continues, however, as he and the murdered jogger fall in love and struggle to break the cycle of their repeating lives.

Despite the rather "Groundhog Day" nature of its premise, that actually sounds pretty intriguing, and despite my reservations about "The Town," Affleck is a genuinely great director in the making, so stay tuned for more on this as soon as I find it.

OK, getting into the clips today, where in the world else would you start than with the teaser trailer for what could quite possibly be the funniest movie of 2011, Greg Mottola's "Paul." As you'll see from the trailer, it stars dynamic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as two geeks on their way to Comic-Con in a Winnebago when they - naturally - encounter the titular extraterrestrial, voiced by Seth Rogen. With "The Daytrippers," "Superbad" and "Adventureland" under his belt, Mottola has yet to direct a movie I didn't like quite a bit, so enjoy the trailer, and definitely keep an eye out for this to come out March 18.

It seems like forever since Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu last directed a movie, and it has indeed been four years since "Babel," which I loved almost unconditionally, though I know many people who didn't. Soon to come out will be his new flick, "Biutiful," starring one Javier Bardem. Here's the synopsis, courtesy of The Playlist:

Biutiful is a love story between a father and his children. This is the journey of Uxbal, a conflicted man who struggles to reconcile fatherhood, love, spirituality, crime, guilt and mortality amidst the dangerous underworld of modern Barcelona. His livelihood is earned out of bounds, his sacrifices for his children know no bounds. Like life itself, this is a circular tale that ends where it begins. As fate encircles him and thresholds are crossed, a dim, redemptive road brightens, illuminating the inheritances bestowed from father to child, and the paternal guiding hand that navigates life's corridors, whether bright, bad - or biutiful.

Rather heady stuff that. Enjoy this, the first full trailer I know of, and keep an eye out for this in surely limited release starting Dec. 29.

Biutiful Trailer
Uploaded by ThePlaylist. - Check out other Film & TV videos.

The first trailer for David O. Russell's "The Fighter" really didn't seem to promise much more than an average sports underdog flick starring Mark Wahlberg, but Sunday's fuller look that came with the finale of "Mad Men" (I miss it already!), had a lot more of Amy Adams and Christian Bale in it, and just made it look like a much more intriguing flick. Here's a look, and keep an eye out for the movie itself Dec. 10.

So, what can fill the Sunday void left by "Mad Men"? Well, nothing really, but "Sherlock," coming to PBS' Masterpiece Theatre (or whatever the heck its called now) for three installments beginning this Sunday, should at least be small solace, and I'll definitely be tuning in. As you'll see from the promo below, someone named Benedict Cumberbatch (yes, really) plays Sherlock himself, and the great Martin Freeman (of the UK "Office" fame and apparently the new Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit") plays Watson. Enjoy the clip, definitely tune in for this, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Movie of the week: "Gran Torino"

I suppose this is a rather un-American kind of thing to say, but as a director, Clint Eastwood has never been one of my favorite filmmakers.

My big problem with his movies is he decided very early on that he would make subtlety his archnemesis (and don't even get me started on what he did with one of my favorite boxing books to make that "Million Dollar Baby" monstrosity.)

He's back in theaters this week with "Hereafter," and like many of his recent movies, it deals with nothing less than life, death and what might just come after. I'm on the fence about going to see it because it all looks awfully hokey, but I'll probably break down and give it a chance Sunday afternoon.

Here today, however, it's all about one of his recent movies that bucked his hamhanded tendencies and has therefore lingered in my mind for a long time, 2008's "Gran Torino."

As his final role in front of the camera (and to his credit, Eastwood has stood by that claim so far), his role here at first seems like an odd choice to go out with. Walt Kowalski is pretty much the curmudgeon's curmudgeon, an angry old man who time has clearly left behind while at the same time surrounding him with faces that all look very foreign and frightening to him. In anyone else's hands, this role, still hard to watch as it is, would be simply cringeworthy as we watch Walt hurl the most bitter of racial epithets at the Hmong neighbors who have taken over his suburban Detroit neighborhood.

And though we know going in that this will be about Walt's rocky road to redemption, what ultimately makes this movie as surprising as it is entertaining is that it's all handled with grace and as a comedy of manners (or often lack thereof) that goes down smoother and smoother as the movie goes along.

For anyone who missed out on this (and it's well worth a rental, and I believe is still lingering on some Redboxes around town), Eastwood's character slowly develops into what could have been a caricature of his "Dirty Harry" persona but still mostly works as a testament and coda to his long acting career as Walt is forced to come to the defense of two of his young Hmong neighbors who are terrorized by a neighborhood gang.

Within this simple template, Eastwood's tale goes in many different directions. It's in large part a meditation on violence, which in Eastwood's best movies always has very real consequences, but what makes it all so watchable is that he never lets the movie move much beyond what it ultimately is: A very polished B movie about the power of vengeance and what happens when you succumb to it.

And in the end (or at least until the very end), Eastwood's "Gran Torino" is most remarkable for what I usually find to be his directorial efforts' greatest faults: The subtlety with which it delivers the can't-we-all-just-get-along message at its core. It's this that makes "Gran Torino" not only one of the best movies of 2008, but also one of the very best of Eastwood's very long and still going career.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What's up next for Gus Van Sant?

Though he's made many movies I love, Gus Van Sant really is just about the most maddening of moviemakers.

For every "Elephant," "Paranoid Park" or "Drugstore Cowboy," there's crap like his shot-for-shot remake of "Psycho" (which, yes, I really did sit through just to see if he really did it that way and, yes, he did) or "Good Will Hunting" (I know almost everyone loves that movie, but I guess I'm just a cynical kind of dude - I really can't stand it.)

And it's really hard to tell from the trailer below where his next flick, "Restless," set to come out Jan. 25, will fall. As you'll see, "Restless" tells the story of a 16-year-old girl (Mia Wasikowska) who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and falls in love with an off-beat boy (Henry Hopper) who likes to attend funerals and is suffering from the death of his family — which somehow produces the ghost of a young, Japanese kamikaze pilot from World War II.

Got all that? Like I said, this really could go in just about any direction, but I go see everything Gus Van Sant makes, and Mia Wasikowska has yet to pick a movie I haven't at least liked, so I'll definitely be there assuming this opens wide enough to reach my little corner of the world. And if you haven't seen "Elephant," probably my favorite Van Sant movie, do yourself a favor and rent it. Enjoy the trailer.

And coming before that, Dec. 3 (I believe, but it keeps changing), will be a more guaranteed mind freakout, Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan." The movie stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as two young ballerinas who take their competition to an extreme level. Four beautiful posters for the flick have just come out, and just by looking at them, you can tell there will be a whole lot more going on than you find in that brief description. I've added my favorite here below, but to see them all, click here to visit Empire Online.

And finally, what's better to wrap up a short Saturday report than bee hive tether ball? In case you couldn't tell already, this clip comes from "Jackass 3D," which I'm not sure I'll have time to catch this weekend but I certainly support in spirit, and will certainly catch before it leaves the theaters. I do know that I'll be going to see "Red" this afternoon, and am really looking forward to it. Enjoy the clip, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Will we really get "The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made"? Here's hoping

If Jason Segel somehow manages to screw up his very-long-gestating Muppet movie, I'd be genuinely surprised, because as the pieces have - very slowly - come together, it all seems to be coming together perfectly so far.

The latest pieces to fit into the puzzle are the humans, apart from Segel, who long ago swiped the human lead in this for himself, and now he's surrounded himself with people I always like to watch. Amy Adams, Chris Cooper and Rashida Jones are all in negotiations to join the cast of what I believe is still titled "The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made."

In the movie, assuming it ever really happens, Adams would play Segel's character's girlfriend, Jones would play a TV executive, and best of all, Cooper would be the big bad, an oil man who - of course - wants to drill for black gold beneath the Muppets' studio.

And along with this casting news, it seems the story from Segel and co-writer Nicholas Stoller has changed in the many months since this was first announced. One of the benefits of making your movie at Disney, I suppose, is you probably constantly have really smart people giving you advice, and it seems that after table reads with Pixar folks like John Lasseter and others, the movie will now be loosely based on a Jim Henson idea originally titled "The Cheapest Muppet Movie Ever Made." In Henson's pitch, Gonzo is hired to direct a film, but ends up blowing his entire budget on the first day, and turns to his Muppet friends to bail him out and help him finish the flick.

Sounds like a classic Muppets premise to me, and though I have no actual idea when filming is set to begin on all this, to be directed by "Flight of the Conchords" vet James Bobin, it still has a release date set of Christmas Day 2011, so Muppet fans like me, keep hope alive!

Just a short report after that today with one more bit of good news, then it's off to a busier than usual Friday on which I have to care for some dogs and cats along with the regular daily grind.

Coming together much faster than "The Greatest Muppet Movie Ever Made" is "Sopranos" creator David Chase's as-yet-still-untitled first feature film.

He's found his three relative unknowns to star in the rock 'n' roll coming of age flick set (natch) in New Jersey: John Magaro, Jack Huston and Will Brill (mission accomplished, I suppose, because I've never heard of any of them.) Even better, he's now hired guitarman-turned-actor-turned-garage-band-promoting-DJ Steven Van Zandt, aka Silvio on "The Sopranos," to supervise the music for this and serve as executive producer.

The movie, set to begin shooting in January in New York, follows a group of suburban New Jersey guys making their way during the 1960s as a rock band called the Twilight Zones. Many of Chase's "Sopranos" behind-the-camera running mates have followed that up by working on HBO's sublimely entertaining Atlantic City crime epic "Boardwalk Empire," so here's hoping Chase now finds similar success on the big screen.

OK, all I have for the big finale is the first five minutes or so of the upcoming animated (in 3D if you choose, I have to assume) flick "Megamind," set to come out Nov. 5 with the voices of Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt, Tina Fey and Jonah Hill. Judging from this preview of sorts, the film should at least be very funny, and that's really usually all we can ask for from animated flicks nowadays. Enjoy the clip and have an at least excellent weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The only movie I've walked out of (well, sort of) in ... well, it seems like forever

Before I get into any of that today, there's some rather amazing news about Luc Besson out there today, especially since the man very rarely bothers to direct movies these days that ever see their way into American movie theaters.

Even so, I'm sure just about everyone remembers the weird, wild and mostly wonderful "The Fifth Element." Sure, there are better sci-fi movies, but there aren't many that are more fun.

So, it's rather amazingly good news, courtesy of the froggy site, that Besson has been quietly plotting a return to that kind of big sci-fi epic. He told Europe 1 he's currently designing the creatures for a flick he would shoot in 2012 or 2013 for release in 2013 or 2014 (a ways out, I know, but since the man rarely deigns to step behind the camera any more, I guess we shouldn't be surprised.) Here's a bit more of what he had to say about it to Europe 1:

"When I did 'The Fifth Element,' I already had the technological tools that were a little outdated. With the advent of digital technology, it is amazing what you can do. The technique has caught the imagination. One can imagine anything, there will always be technicians to follow you in your delusion."

This could, of course, all fizzle out, but it sounds like nothing but cool so far, so stay tuned.

OK, after that today, I'm rarely in the business of telling people to not go see movies, but I'm gonna come fairly close today. I usually like to let people make up their own minds on just about anything, but I had a viewing experience the other day that just left my brain scarred, and unfortunately I'm still thinking about it five days later.

Allow me to explain. Though I still don't own a cell phone (and never will), I decided to update my viewing to at least the late 20th century by buying a flat TV that doesn't weigh 100 pounds and a blu-ray disc player. It's been great discovering this "new" technology (at least to a Luddite like me), and especially enjoying the Netflix watch instantly content streamed onto my TV (just watched the first season of "Veronica Mars" again, and indeed, TV just doesn't get much better than that.)

And last Saturday, I finally decided I should at least rent a blu-ray disc to see what all this picture quality was about. After a quick trip to the Redbox, I was rather happy to be coming home with Michael Winterbottom's "The Killer Inside Me," which I had wanted to see for a long time now.

Well, I never thought I would ever be a prude when it comes to movie violence, and I still really don't think I am, but be warned if you haven't seen it: This movie is thoroughly disgusting, and I couldn't bring myself to watch enough of it to find out if it eventually has any redeeming value.

I don't want to spoil too much of this in case anyone out there hasn't seen this and still wants to, but I'll tell you exactly how far I made it into Winterbottom's movie starring Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson. About 15 minutes in or so, there's a scene in which Affleck's character, a small-town sheriff of some sort, slowly and methodically beats to death a prostitute he's taken up with, played by Alba.

Now, I suppose there's some merit in the realism of this shot, but it nearly made me vomit, and frankly just kind of left me dazed. I made it through a few more minutes of the movie, which indeed looked amazing, before I had to just turn it off, the first time in as long as I can remember that I started a movie and simply couldn't finish it (hence the walked out of ... sort of, since I didn't actually walk out of my own house.)

I normally love Winterbottom's movies, in particular "24-Hour Party People" and "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story," and one of the things I respect about him as a filmmaker is that he dives into all kinds of genres, so I'll definitely come back to him, but this was one time that I simply couldn't take it.

Please, if you've seen this movie, do let me know if it gets any better, because I really can't imagine any scenario in which I'll be able to bring myself to try and watch it again.

OK, after that rather rambling diatribe, all I have left today is a quartet or so of videos, and they're all pretty good. First up comes, finally, a promo for Conan O'Brien's new TBS show, premiering (I believe) Nov. 8, that fits his comedic skills. Those "Missing You" promos we're OK, but this one, complete with a car filled with "illegal fireworks from New Hampshire" and unpopped popcorn, is much, much better. Enjoy, and certainly tune in for whatever Conan's got cooked up when he finally returns to late night.

I definitely plan to go see "Red" this weekend, because from what I've read and seen so far it seems to be nothing but a big ball of goofy fun. There's plenty of viral marketing out there for the flick starring Bruce Willis, Dame Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Mary Louse Parker and others, but surely none of it as funny as this latest installment of Zach Galifianakis' "Between Two Ferns" bits, this time with Willis. As usual, the interview flames out rather spectacularly, but not before Galifianakis manages to get in some choice zingers such as "Were you ever afraid 'The Whole Ten Yards' might be too good"? Enjoy the clip.

Is it me, or does just about every new show outside of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" and FX's "Terriers" just kind of suck this year? The only other one I've tuned in for so far is "Raising Hope" on Fox, with the recommendation of a co-worker, and that's kind of amusing, but otherwise, not a single show has managed to capture my attention. Am I missing anything good? I really doubt it, but please let me know if so. Thankfully, with one of my favorite shows from last year returning early (in February), relief is in sight. The first season of FX's "Justified," starring "Deadwood" lawman Timothy Oliphant, got off to a slow start, but eventually developed into a nearly first-rate drama. The finale was fantastic, so I can't wait to see where it picks up for take two. Enjoy the trailer for the show's return.

And finally today, I can't imagine I'll ever get to see this movie in any kind of theater, but I love Serge Gainsbourg, so I'll definitely watch it on my spiffy new blu-ray player someday. The rather long clip below is the only trailer I know of for the documentary about the late French pop star by Pascal Forneri. The title, "Gainsbourg, l'homme qui aimait les femmes" ("Gainsbourg, the man who loved women"), is certainly appropriate for the man who somehow romanced Brigitte Bardot, Jane Birkin and many other beautiful women, and thankfully, also fathered the great Charlotte Gainsbourg, a definite reel fanatic fave. Enjoy the trailer, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Gainsbourg, l'homme qui aimait les femmes : la bande annonce
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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Oh, the horror! My 10 or so favorite monster movies

When it comes to modern horror movies, I'd be the first to admit that I'm more than a bit of a wimp.

I just can't see the attraction of gorefests like "Hostel" or the "Saw" movies (yes, there's a 3D version coming out very soon, if that's your thing), and in particular I just don't have much stomach at all for movies that showcase the torture of women.

That said, however, I do love a good horror movie, and when you mix that up with a little humor, it's even better. Here, to get everyone in the Halloween spirit, are my 10 or so favorite horror movies, in no particular order.

Universal Studios Classic Monster Collection: If you spring for the whole box set, you get a big bite of truly classic horror with "Dracula" "Frankenstein," "The Mummy," "The Invisible Man," "The Bride of Frankenstein," "The Wolf Man," "Phantom of the Opera" and "Creature from the Black Lagoon." Or, you can buy them all individually for less than $10 a pop, and you really can't go wrong with any of these early favorites.

"Let the Right One In": Almost no one went to see the recent American remake of this Swedish vampire movie, "Let Me In," but do yourself a favor and rent the original this Halloween. Part horror movie and part coming of age tale, it's a truly unique movie experience, and my single favorite movie of 2008.

"The Orphanage": Orphanages are scary enough, but when you make them haunted it's that much more fun, and ghost tales just don't much more stylishly frightening than this Spanish flick from director Juan Antonio Bayona.

"Rosemary's Baby": If I had to pick one single favorite horror movie, this one from Roman Polanski would be it. Author Ira Levin's tale of the ultimate deal with the devil is a creepy as it is campy, and once you see it, I guarantee you'll never get Ruth Gordon out of your head.

"The Shining": Probably the most quotable horror movie of all time, it's easily the most fun movie Stanley Kubrick ever made and probably also the most fun Jack Nicholson ever had on screen too.

"The Evil Dead": No director better mixes humor and horror than Sam Raimi, and this is his masterpiece. Zombies have always been much more scary to me than vampires, and what could be worse than an army of them? Besides, has anyone ever heard of a cuddly zombie? 'Nuff said.

"Drag Me to Hell": A double shot from Raimi, because he really is a horror maestro. After the thorough disaster that was "Spider-Man 3," Raimi desperately needed to get back to his wickedly fun roots, and this gypsy curse tale was just the perfect cure. I bought this one for $5 at a Redbox machine a while ago, and go back and watch it every few months or so, and get thoroughly creeped out each time.

"Cloverfield": I normally have little time for "found footage" movies (don't even get me started on the friggin' "Blair Witch Project"), but this monster movie from Matt Reeves is a welcome exception. It expertly builds the tension until the monster is finally revealed near the end, and it's very well worth the wait.

"Near Dark": Long before Bella met Edward or Kathryn Bigelow won the Best Picture Oscar for "The Hurt Locker," Bigelow made this, my favorite vampire movie. Adrian Pasdar stars as young man who joins an evil pack of vampires because - why else? - he's chasing a pretty girl. Definitely watch this vampire Western (yes, really) if you can find it.

"Shaun of the Dead": That the great Simon Pegg is the most dead person in this zombie zoo may be the biggest and best joke in Edgar Wright's flick, but there's much more fun to discover if you've never seen it, and I guarantee that the pub scene will make you think twice before stopping into a seemingly tame watering hole you've never visited before. Simply hilarious from start to finish.

And there you have it. Please feel free to add any of your favorites I managed to snub (believe me, I could have taken this list to at least 20), and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Harry Potter and the turning point in the fight against unnecessary 3D?

Actually, the photo above, of course, has nothing at all to do with the main topic at hand, but it's so epicly good that I really couldn't think of anywhere else to start today.

In case you can't tell, it's the great Michelle Williams (easily one of my favorite young actresses) as Marilyn Monroe, and the resemblance is strong enough that it almost borders on creepy. It's from a film, shooting now, titled "My Week With Marilyn" and directed by Simon Curtis. Using the diaries of Colin Clark, an assistant on the set of the 1956 film "The Prince and the Showgirl," it tells the story of the production, which teamed Monroe with Laurence Olivier. Definitely something to keep an eye out for.

But the main event here today is what I sincerely hope will indeed be a turning point in the battle against 3D, or at least against the kind of crappy 3D conversion that's simply tacked onto too many movies after they've already been shot.

The news: The first half of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," set to come out Nov. 19, will only be released in traditional 2D and IMAX, rather than being converted into craptastic 3D.

A victory against one of the most ridiculous film gimmicks of all time? Not quite. Warner Bros. is hardly making some kind of artistic stand here - according to the studio's news release on this, they simply ran out of time.

And, making this news even more of a mixed bag, the studio still plans to convert the second chapter, set for release July 15, 2011, into 3D, which just makes the whole situation very strange.

Still and all, any time a major release (and does it get much more major than Harry Potter?) backs away from the 3D madness, I have to smile at least a little bit, no matter what the reason.

The only case of I know of in which a big-time director has so far just said no to 3D for reasons beyond simple timing is Zack Snyder's upcoming "Sucker Punch," set for release in March 2011. Last I had heard, at least, he was resisting all entreaties to mess with the mostly or perhaps now completely finished film, so here's hoping he and wife/producer Deborah keep up the good fight.

OK, enough of that. Just one more bit of good news today and then an epicly awesome trailer, because I have a full day of errands ahead of me. My wallet clearly tells me I should drop HBO, but every time I'm about to, they come up with something strong enough to keep me hooked.

Currently, "Boardwalk Empire" is even better than all the critical hype built it up to be, and though they're clearly acquired tastes, I really dig the comedies "Bored to Death" and "Eastbound and Down" too.

And now comes word of an HBO movie pairing that sounds just about perfect. I normally can only take Al Pacino in small doses, because his usual habit of simply yelling all his lines just gives me a throbbing headache, but if you re-pair him with David Mamet to tell the crazy story Phil Spector? That should indeed be a wall of awesome once it all comes together.

Finally today is the first trailer I know of for Peter Weir's "The Way Back," and you can tell already from this short footage that the movie starring Colin Farrell, Saoirse Ronan (hah, I spelled that right without cheating) and Mark Strong will be on the scale we should expect from the director of "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" (and oddly enough, nothing else between that 2003 film and now.) As you'll see from the clip below, the movie, set to come out soon hopefully everywhere, tells the story of a band of prisoners who escape from the Russian Gulag and then go on an epic journey back to the rest of the world. Enjoy the trailer and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Friday, October 08, 2010

What's that I smell?

There are so many jokes about stink colliding in my head that I'm just gonna have to let them go and play this one straight and let you imagine the consequences:Yes, Mike Myers really is going to play a live-action Pepe le Pew.

Let it sink in for a few seconds just how amazingly bad that is going to be, and then I'll move on to a couple of bits of actual good news in a very short report because I stayed up way too late last night watching the Braves get shut out by a 13-year-old girl (and man can she pitch.)

First up is that someone named Tom Vaughan (who I had never heard of) is going to be directing a movie based on one of my favorite satirical novels, "Boomsday." The book is by Christopher Buckley, the same wiseacre who penned "Thank You for Smoking," and the wickedly sharp story is about a Washington D.C. publicist/blogger who gets in over her head when a politician uses her suggestion that all Baby Boomers commit suicide in order to save Social Security as a campaign selling point.

If you're not laughing at that, then this clearly won't be a movie for you, but trust me, the book is a real smart hoot. And a quick look at Mr. Vaughan's resume shows he directed the thoroughly charming little British romantic comedy "Starter for 10," starring James McAvoy and Reel Fanatic fave Rebecca Hall, so this is now definitely something to keep your eyes on (and trust me, if you can find it, "Starter for 10" is well worth a rental.)

After that today, there's just a bit of great TV news before a couple of clips. "Sons of Anarchy," which has inevitably centered on the search for Jax's son Abel this season, has just been reviewed for a fourth 13-episode run next year by FX. Great news there, because the show has only improved on last year's doozy of cliffhanger, and while it's not quite on the level of a "Mad Men," the motorcycle gang show is still one of the best dramas on TV right now.

OK, like I said, I'm already running behind (no way to start a day), so I'll leave you with a couple of trailers I found this morning. First up comes the second (I think) trailer for the third "Narnia" movie, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader," set to come out (unfortunately in 3D) on Dec. 10. Though they haven't caught on on the big screen as well as "Harry Potter" or the "Lord of the Rings" movies, I just have a soft spot for the innocence and wonder of the "Narnia" tales, and this one should be fantastic. Enjoy.

And finally today comes the second full trailer I know of for Danny Boyle's "127 Hours," which for me is the next absolute must-see movie coming up on the calendar (now that Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's "It's Kind of a Funny Story has, rather inexplicably, not opened wide enough to reach my little corner of the world - at least yet.) As you'll see from the trailer, though the movie is about a climber (played by James Franco) who gets his arm trapped under a boulder for the titular amount of time, it still seems to be brimming with energy and optimism. Enjoy the trailer, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Is there no end to the foreign-remake madness?

A guy said to me today: 'I want to get your autograph before one of us dies.' I smiled and said :'You first I hope.'

That's really apropos of nothing, but that missive from the great (and no longer so omnipresent) Michael Caine was easily the funniest thing I read this morning, so I had to pass it on.

And before I spill any bile over the plans of a director whose work I normally really dig, let's continue the good vibes with some news that, while ancient by Internet news standards, still just makes me smile: Emma Stone will indeed be in "500 Days of Summer" director Marc Webb's reboot of the "Spider-Man" franchise as Gwen Stacy.

Nothing but great news there. If you haven't seen "Easy A," do yourself a favor and do so while it's still in theaters, because while it's lighter than air and too silly by at least half, it's also often wickedly funny, and I guarantee you won't be able to take your eyes off of Emma Stone in this clearly star-making turn.

Now, with "The Social Network" star Andrew Garfield signed as Peter Parker and Stone in the mix, all that's left is to sign Mia Wasikowska as Mary Jane Watson, and this still almost completely unnecessary endeavour will at least be cast perfectly.

And speaking of unnecessary, that brings us to today's main event, and though I love the two movies that most-often-screenwriter Billy Ray has managed to direct, "Shattered Glass" and "Breach," today's news about him is bleak indeed.

I can't even bring myself to ask any more if Hollywood ever learns anything, because the answer is just so resoundingly no. You would think that after the rather epic failure of "Let Me In" ($5 million or so in week one - and reviewed by me yesterday, if you're interested in scrolling down), Matt Reeves' completely pale imitation of "Let the Right One In," there would be at least a brief pause in the stampede to remake foreign-language films only a year or so after they leave theaters.

Apparently not, because today comes word that Ray has now signed on to direct a remake of the Argentinian crime thriller "The Secret in Their Eyes," which won this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Take a second to think about just how bad an idea this is.

If you've seen the original, you know that it's not a flawless film, but director Juan Jose Campanella's tale of a retired investigator (the simply sensational Ricardo Darin) who reopens an old rape and murder case as he simultaneously relights an old flame with a former co-worker (Soledad Villamil) goes in all kinds of unexpected directions as it delivers a solidly mindbending film noir of sorts.

And anyone who's seen this (as I have now three times - it's that good) also knows that's its steeped in the twisted politics of Campanella's Argentina, and that presents the biggest (though far from the only) problem with Ray's plans here. Inevitably, I suppose, he will update the story and move it to the United States, almost certainly losing a lot in translation.

The only things I can say in Ray's defense are that he doesn't get offered directing opportunities very often (the aforementioned films are the only ones he's directed so far, I believe, a real shame), and that he's far from alone in spreading this Euro-remake cancer.

The most prominent case, of course, is "The Social Network" director David Fincher's remake of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," currently shooting, I believe, in Sweden. I have full faith in Fincher, but the original "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" is just about perfect as both a literary adaptation and just as a brutally efficient and entertaining thriller, so the stakes here are very high.

And, unfortunately, now that one of my favorite movies of 2008 has been shat upon by Matt Reeves, the other one is now getting the same treatment. "The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford" writer/director Andrew Dominik is now apparently writing a version of the first-rate French thriller "Tell No One," perhaps with an eye on directing it himself too.

I would continue on with this rant, but I'm still rational enough to know no one who can do anything about it is listening, so let's just move on to a couple of bits of good news instead.

Apparently, like much of the world, ready to move on quickly from what Matt Reeves has done to his nearly flawless horror movie, "Let the Right One In" director Tomas Alfredson has lined up a new project to direct once he wraps up his take on the John Le Carre classic "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy."

After that espionage thriller, filming now with an all-star cast that includes Colin Firth, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Jared Harris, Mark Strong and the great Ciaran Hinds, he's signed on to direct "Larklight," a bit of steampunk from author Philip Reeve.

The story is set in a Victorian-era alternate universe in which mankind has been exploring the solar system since the time of Isaac Newton and revolves around a brother and sister who team with a band of renegade space pirates to save the world from destruction at the hands of a madman.Steve Knight (“Eastern Promises”) is rewriting the script for this, which sounds like nothing but fun to me.

Alfredson is certainly a director to keep your eyes on, so stay tuned for more on this as soon as I can find it.

And finally today, before a video or two, comes simply fantastic news that really may only be of interest to me and Bob Connally, but it's still just incredibly cool.

In a news bit about Steve Coogan's possible upcoming return to British TV as Alan Partridge for a six-part series, great news in itself, the real lead was buried. Coogan is now apparently already shooting a 12-part Alan Partridge Internet series, which will begin appearing online Nov. 5 (I have no idea where yet, but as soon as I know that, you will too.)

If you've somehow never seen Coogan as the TV host Partridge, it's almost always exceptionally funny. He's played the character for a long time now, through multiple radio and TV series, and here's a video sample of just how funny he can be. Enjoy.

And finally, since this has clearly gone on more than long enough, I'll leave you today with what I believe is the first full trailer for John Landis' upcoming graverobbing comedy "Burke and Hare," starring Andy Serkis and Simon Pegg. I believe Landis has wrapped shooting on this, but I have no idea when it will be getting a U.S. release, or how wide that will be. Enjoy the trailer, and definitely keep an eye out for this one. Peace out.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

This time, they let the wrong one out

Believe me, it really brings me no pleasure at all to be kicking a dog when it's clearly down ($5 million in week one ... I didn't see that coming ... sheesh), but I've had a burning opinion about Matt Reeves' "Let Me In" that runs counter to all the critical praise I've been reading about it, so I just have to let it out.

Now, before I lay into it, please know that though I'm one of the many people who have nothing but big love for "Let the Right One In," the Swedish movie by director Tomas Alfredson, I certainly went into Reeves' take with more than an open mind. I had let the hype - through trailers, pictures, etc., - get me psyched for this, which just made it more of a failure when I finally got to see it.

And the real problem - and why this certainly should never have been made in the first place - is that Reeves really would have been damned no matter which way he decided to go with this.

Had he somehow turned this into a "Twilight" kind of affair, with older kids and more romance (as I'm sure some idiots at least asked him to do), this would have been an unmitigated disaster. As it is, he was, if anything, far too reverent of the original work, turning this far too often into just a shot-for-shot remake, making it all the more unnecessary.

Which is a shame because, when he has the courage to show it, Reeves often has a sure hand as a director. At moments in "Let the Right One In," there are things going on in the background that demand your attention and pay it off, but those are unfortunately outweighed by the simple imitation of Alfredson's work, and in almost every case it's a pale imitation at that.

By the time it gets to the end - and I won't spoil it any more for anyone who somehow hasn't seen either of these movies than by saying simply "pool" and "train" - you (or at least I) are left with the strongest sense that you've seen this all before, and done much better.

And unfortunately, except for focusing in even tighter on the kids at the story's core (more on that later), almost every change Reeves was brave enough to make was the wrong move.

First and foremost, his movie almost completely lacks in sense of place, one of the definite strong suits of "Let the Right One In." In the original, the bleak Swedish winter was used to tremendous effect to subtly amplify the isolation of Oskar and Eli. In Reeves' movie, however, apart from establishing that it is indeed awfully cold in Los Alamos, N.M., in the winter, this is almost completely lost, in large part due to the thoroughly obtrusive (and, although I'm well aware I'm repeating myself here, unnecessary) score by Michael Giacchino. When it isn't telegraphing what's coming next, it's simply eliminating any of the ethereal feel - often conveyed by silence - that enveloped the original movie.

And this lack of sense of place also extends to the supporting characters who populated the suburb of Stockholm. In "Let the Right One In," we not only meet this band of beaten-down survivors, but get to know them at least a bit. This made Eli's brutal attacks hit all the more harder. In Reeves' movie, however, we know almost nothing about the residents of Owen's (the American Oskar) neighborhood except for that he likes to watch them with his telescope, and that drains any emotional heft from what Abby (the American Eli) has to do to them to survive.

Which brings me to by final peeve with what Mr. Reeves has done here before, I promise, I will have something good to say about it too. When we finally see Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) go on the hunt for blood, any real horror is almost completely mitigated by the cheesy, cheesy, cheesy (did I mention cheesy) CGI that Reeves chooses to employ. The attacks look so fake that I found myself laughing out loud, surely not the reaction that Reeves intended (or that the people around me who shot me glares wanted to hear.)

OK, like I said, I really did go into this with both an open mind and heart, and there certainly are some good things about Reeves' take too, and they all come down to the two kids at the story's core, played to nothing less than perfection by Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee. I can say without exaggeration that we are enjoying a rather remarkably strong class of young actors in movies these days, and these two should be at the forefront of that wave for many years to come.

Reeves' choice to focus in tighter on the relationship of Abby and Owen is rewarded by his young stars in almost every scene when they're alone together. Moretz and Smit-McPhee expertly map the range of emotions that each child feels, Abby from hesitancy to desperation and Owen in the opposite direction, until their paths ultimately converge. Two scenes in particular, when Owen tries to introduce Abby to the pure joy of candy and when he still thinks the "you have to invite me in" thing is a game, show that - and I never thought I would say this - both Moretz and Smit-McPhee improve upon the already stellar performances by Lina Leandersson and Kåre Hedebrant in "Let The Right One In."

Richard Jenkins also brings a welcome weariness to the role of Abby's "father," but ultimately, it all goes for naught because the movie they've clearly all poured their best work into just never should have happened. In the end, while certainly not as bad as Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot take on "Psycho," Matt Reeves' "Let Me In" is yet another American remake of a superior film that, despite some outstanding acting, just had no business ever being made (and in case anyone's wondering, yes, I do have as much respect and affection for "Let the Right One In" as many more people have for Alfred Hitchcock's best movies.)

Friday, October 01, 2010

Who are the two dissenters raining on David Fincher's parade?

Actually, before I get into that, there are two tidbits about creative folk whose work I often enjoy out there today.

Though he certainly hit a rough stretch in my book with "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" and "The Darjeeling Limited," Wes Anderson has also made four movies I truly adore in "Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore," "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox," so any word of the man getting back to work is welcome around here, even if that info comes in the form of the skimpiest of details.

According to Production Weekly's twitter feed, the title of his next movie will be "Moonrise Kingdom" and, best of all, he has plans to shoot it next spring. The only other detail available right now is that he's looking for two 12-year-olds, a boy and a girl, to play the leads.

So, something for children (and not completely jaded adults) like "Fantastic Mr. Fox"? Perhaps, but this will apparently be a live-action affair instead. No matter what, this is good news all around, so stay tuned for more about is as soon I can track it down. ...

In TV news, when it was revealed that "Pushing Daisies" mastermind Bryan Fuller (who also had a big hand in the early stages of "Heroes," before that show completely derailed) had signed a new deal with NBC, that was certainly a promising development. If you've never seen the show that ran for 22 episodes on ABC a few years ago, it was just the definition of whimsy and a perfect little bit of escapist TV.

So I was really looking forward to finding out what he would sink his teeth into next, but according to the always reliable Michael Ausiello at Entertainment Weekly, it's just a remake of "The Munsters," and while that certainly has a little potential in his hands, it mostly just sounds extremely tired.

Even with Ausiello saying the series has been described as "Modern Family meets True Blood," and I have a lot of time for both of those, I just can't say much but meh to this idea so far. ...

And finally today, having given in long ago to any notion that I would somehow boycott Matt Reeves' "Let Me In" on general principles, I've set my viewing schedule for what really should be one of the best movie weekends of the entire year: David Fincher's "The Social Network" on Saturday afternoon, followed by "Let Me In" on Sunday afternoon.

And while Reeves' still thoroughly unnecessary remake of the perfect Swedish vampire coming-of-age tale "Let the Right One In" is doing a more than respectable 83 percent positive at Rotten Tomatoes, Fincher's flick was approaching the perfect score achieved by "Toy Story 2" until a couple of holdouts spoiled the party and knocked "The Social Network" down to 97 percent.

So, who are these two flies in the ointment? Well, they, not surprisingly, have brought their own opinions about much more than the movie itself (and that's their right, of course) into their attempts to judge it.

First up is Armond White of the New York Press, who if he wanted attention, has certainly gotten it this time, with more than 6,000, often very harsh, comments on his review posting at Rotten Tomatoes.

White has earned the reputation as more than a little of an iconoclast for trashing movies like "The Town" and "The Kids Are All Right," and while I can't go with him completely on either of those, I do have to agree that they were both at least a little overrated.

Where he really stepped in it this year, however, was in his completely wrongminded thrashing of "Toy Story 3," calling Pixar's best movie since "Ratatouille" simply "besotted with brand names" (it's about toys, after all ... sheesh.)

So, what's his beef with "The Social Network"? Well, I encourage everyone to read his full review here to find out, but my reading of it is that he just generally finds Hollywood to be a morally bankrupt kind of place, and while that may or may not be true, letting that generality cloud your view of specific films is a sad approach to take. Here's a sample:

Like one of those fake-smart, middlebrow TV shows, the speciousness of The Social Network is disguised by topicality. It’s really a movie excusing Hollywood ruthlessness. That’s why it evades Zuckerberg’s background timidity and the mess that the Internet has made of cultural discourse.

There's much more like that proving that White craves, along with attention, easy answers in his movies, something I've never had much time for.

The second holdout (and there may indeed be more by the time I finish writing this) is someone named Prairie Miller (yes, really) of a conservative blog NewsBlaze, who, perhaps predictably, has a problem with Hollywood's "in-your face cocky" portrayal of Harvard culture, therefore managing to trash both of this country's supposedly elitist coasts without - much like White - saying much at all about the movie itself. Read the whole thing here, but here's a sample:

Though according to filmmaker David Fincher, who seems to already have an experienced handle on scrutinizing budding sociopaths with Fight Club, Se7en and Zodiac, and as mapped out in a series of legal depositions inserted into this film, Zuckerberg had a flair for ripping off both ideas and profits from fellow matriculated collaborators in this venture. Cavalier when not in your face cocky, the gabby snob navigates a Hollywood notion of Harvard in what seems less brainiac boot camp than an Ivy League Club Med where nobody does homework.

Now, both of these writers have a lot more readers than I do, and perhaps rightly so, but is it all surprising that the only two dissenters from what has been almost universally hailed as a great movie have done so due to preconceived notions they clearly took into the movie with them?

Everyone's welcome to their opinions though, of course, and if I have time before I, sadly, have to work on Sunday, you'll get mine on David Fincher's "The Social Network." And with that, have a great weekend, and go see lat least one new movie if you have the time. Peace out.