Saturday, February 26, 2011

A first look at Kelly Reichardt's Western, "Meek's Cutoff"

As we slowly emerge from a rather seriously dreary movie winter, good movies are coming with us, and the poster above is for one I'm definitely looking forward to. James Gunn's "Super" stars Rainn Wilson as an average guy who transforms himself into the super hero shown above, The Crimson Bolt, to take out the drug dealer (Kevin Bacon, naturally) who has absconded with his wife (Liv Tyler). Throw in Ellen Page as his sociopathic sidekick, and I'm certainly in.

And best of all, if you live in the world of wide releases only like me: This is an IFC release, so it should be coming to IFC On Demand on your cable box right around the same time it hits (a few at least) theaters April 1.

But what really caught my eye this morning was the first trailer I know of for director Kelly Reichart's Western, "Meek's Cutoff," which will be coming to at least some theaters a week after "Super," and will probably be the first 2011 movie I'll drive an hour up the road to see in Atlanta.

Judging from the one Reichart movie I've seen so far, "Wendy and Lucy," starring Michelle Williams as a young woman whose fragile life unravels after she loses her dog, this new flick will be a really low-key, low-action affair, but I'm still betting on something pretty great.

"Meek's Cutoff," which again stars Williams and also Paul Dano, tells the story of Stephen Meek, a hired guide who, according to The Playlist, "led an ill-fated contingent of wagons through a shortcut en route to the Willamette Valley in 1845."

Here's more of the official synopsis from Oscilloscope, which is releasing this:

The year is 1845, the earliest days of the Oregon Trail, and a wagon team of three families has hired the mountain man Stephen Meek to guide them over the Cascade Mountains. Claiming to know a short cut, Meek leads the group on an unmarked path across the high plain desert, only to become lost in the dry rock and sage. Over the coming days, the emigrants must face the scourges of hunger, thirst and their own lack of faith in each other’s instincts for survival. When a Native American wanderer crosses their path, the emigrants are torn between their trust in a guide who has proven himself unreliable and a man who has always been seen as the natural enemy.

Man, does that sound great to me. Enjoy the trailer, and if you happen to live in one of this country's very biggest cities, definitely check this one out on April 8. Peace out.

Meek's Cutoff
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Friday, February 25, 2011

A Friday clip cache, aka when will it be safe to go the movies again?

I know this is always the time of year when movies just suck, but am I the only one who thinks that, so far in 2011, the stench has been even stronger than usual? It seems like forever since I've bothered to see a new movie in a theater, and though the Macon Film Festival was a very nice diversion, there has to be some relief in sight in the feature film arena.

And luckily, though there's no chance I'll be seeing either "Hall Pass" or "Drive Angry" this weekend, there is some good stuff right on the horizon. The one I'm most looking forward to in the coming month, as evidenced by the retro poster at the top of this post, is Zack Snyder's "Sucker Punch," which while it may indeed be imagination overkill, I'll take whatever genuine imagination I can get at this point. It opens March 25.

Before that, in fact as soon as next week, there are two entries that will get me to the multiplex for the first time in at least a month: "The Adjustment Bureau," a sci-fi/romantic thriller of sorts starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and even Roger Sterling too; and "Rango," the animated Western with Johnny Depp as a chameleon (yes, I have fairly low standards this time of year.)

And the week after, that, I'll certainly take a chance on the "Goth" retelling of "Red Riding Hood" with Amanda Seyfried, and if it somehow plays wide enough, "Sin Nombre" director Cary Fukunaga's take on "Jane Eyre" starring Mia Wasikowska.

So, if you're looking for potentially good movies in wide release again, keep hope alive, and here are two more new trailers for movies coming in the next month or so that I'll bite on. First up comes the first red band trailer for "Paul," and as you'll see, it earns its red status mostly because of the foul-mouthed, titular alien, voiced by Seth Rogen. This will all be extremely silly, but with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost starring in a movie written by them and directed by "Superbad" director Greg Mottola, about the duo discovering the titular (yes, I just like saying that) alien on a road trip to Comic Con, I'm definitely in when this opens March 18 (director Thomas McCarthy's "Win Win," which I'm certainly looking forward to, also opens this day, though I can't see it being wide enough to reach my little corner of the world.) Enjoy the clip.

Next up comes Duncan Jones' followup to "Moon," and though it looks like potentially a pretty generic thriller, I like "Moon" more than enough to take a chance on "Source Code" on April 1. As you'll see from this new trailer, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a soldier who finds he has the ability to step into the identity of another man for eight minutes in the hopes of stopping a Chicago train bombing. Like I said, time-clock thrillers really aren't my thing, but I'll check this out with somewhat high hopes. Enjoy the trailer, and stick around for some further video odds and ends.

OK, looking further into the future, "The Hangover Part II" is set to come out May 26, and all you can gather from this first teaser trailer is that Todd Phillips at least knows his first "Hangover" movie was very funny (and it was). What it doesn't tell you is that this time the boys (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis) head to Thailand for Helms' character's wedding (I have to assume to the hooker played by Heather Graham in the first movie, but her name's not in the IMDB credits for the new flick, so who knows?) Anyways, enjoy the clip, and keep hope alive that, since they really don't show us much of anything new, they're hiding some really good jokes.

I've been reading George R. R. Martin's first "Game of Thrones" book, and though it's sensational, it's a very complicated realm that should be a challenge to pull off right for TV. But that hasn't stopped HBO, thankfully, from trying, and the "Game of Thrones" series is set to debut on the channel beginning April 17 (bring it on already!) In this, the longest featurette I've seen yet, Martin, show creators David Benoiff and D.B. Weiss, and others explain a bit of what you'll be getting into with this, and just trust me, it's going to be epicly good. Enjoy.

And finally today, if you're lucky enough to live in UK you may have had a chance to see Benedict Cumberbatch (aka Sherlock Holmes in "Sherlock") and Johnny Lee Miller on stage in director Danny Boyle's production of "Frankenstein" at the National Theater. Here, for the rest of us, is the trailer for a version that is coming to at least some theaters in March, and I have to assume will be heading to PBS as soon as this summer or so. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. Peace out.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oscar predictions: Who should and will win

Actually, the main question that pops into my mind about the Oscars this morning is why in the world do they wait so long between announcing the nominees and declaring the winners? Rather than building suspense, it really just sucks a lot of fun out of it as all the other awards get to go first, adding up to kudos overkill.

Still and all, they are the Oscars, so I'll tune in. And here are my predictions of who will win - and my picks of who should win - on Sunday night's broadcast.

Best Supporting Actress
The nominees: Amy Adams, "The Fighter"; Helena Bonham Carter, "The King's Speech"; Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"; Hailee Steinfeld, "True Grit"; Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom".
Should win: Jacki Weaver. If you haven't seen this gritty Australian gangster flick, definitely rent it if only to see how Weaver runs her family of two-bit crooks with her unique version of a mother's love.
Will win: Amy Adams and Melissa Leo should cancel either out here, with Hailee Steinfeld emerging as the winner, and why not? She really should be in the Best Actress category, but she was funny, fierce and fragile all at once in the Coen brothers' flick.

Best Supporting Actor
The nominees: Christian Bale, "The Fighter"; John Hawkes, "Winter's Bone"; Jeremy Renner, "The Town"; Mark Ruffalo, "The Kids Are All Right"; Geoffrey Rush, "The King's Speech".
Should win: John Hawkes, who as uncle "Teardrop" held all the cards he had about the movie's main mystery very close before playing them with perfect precision to help his niece find out the truth about his brother.
Will win: Unless he gets steamrolled by the "The King's Speech" express and Geoffrey Rush, who should really be a Best Actor nominee anyway, Christian Bale will run away with this for throwing himself so completely into the role of crack-addicted boxing trainer Dickie Eklund.

Best Actress
The nominees: Annette Bening, "The Kids Are All Right"; Nicole Kidman, "Rabbit Hole"; Jennifer Lawrence, "Winter's Bone"; Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"; Michelle Williams, "Blue Valentine".
Should win: Michelle Williams. Along with Ryan Gosling, a major omission from the Best Actor field, she made up one half of the doomed couple at the center of Derek Cianfrance's great movie, and made her heartache surprisingly compelling - if not exactly fun - to watch.
Will win: This is easily the strongest category of the night, but in a battle mainly between Annette Bening and Natalie Portman, Portman will prevail for her portrayal of Nina, the ballerina driven way beyond the brink of madness in "Black Swan."

Best Actor:
The nominees: Javier Bardem, "Biutiful"; Jeff Bridges, "True Grit"; Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network"; Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"; James Franco, "127 Hours".
Should win: James Franco, who is the co-host of this year's Oscars broadcast with Anne Hathaway, took us on the full ride of emotions in Danny Boyle's exhilarating "127 Hours", even as he was trapped in a hole for most of the movie.
Will win: There's no stopping the king here, so Colin Firth will prevail for his pitch-perfect performance of stammering monarch George VI.

Best Director
The nominees: Darren Aronofsky, "Black Swan"; David O. Russell, "The Fighter"; Tom Hooper, "The King's Speech"; David Fincher, "The Social Network"; Joel and Ethan Coen, "True Grit".
Should win: Darren Aronofsky turned what easily could have been a schlocky B-movie (and often still is) into a superb psychological thriller with "Black Swan," and for that he should be rewarded.
Will win: There's nothing people hate more here than a Best Director/Best Picture split, but I think that's what we'll have, with David Fincher winning Best Director for turning Aaron Sorkin's whip smart script about the creation of Facebook into an equally fun movie.

Best Picture
The nominees: "Black Swan", "The Fighter", "Inception", "The Kids Are All Right", "The King's Speech", "127 Hours", "The Social Network", "Toy Story 3", "True Grit", "Winter's Bone".
Should win: Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone", a coming of age tale/film noir set in the Ozarks, has long been my favorite movie of 2010, and time has done nothing to change that.
Will win: The early buzz was for "The Social Network", but the late mojo is behind "The King's Speech", which will prevail, and as a period piece that has managed to become the people's champ without being stodgy, I can certainly live with that.

And there you have it. Please feel free to let me know of any of these you think I just got completely wrong and, for an awards list that's always much more fun (and a lot shorter) than the Oscars, check out the Bob Awards here. Always a great read. Peace out.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Macon Film Festival dispatch: "Passenger Pigeons"

I had to feel for writer/director Martha Stephens as she introduced her movie, "Passenger Pigeons," to about six people (including me) at the Macon Film Festival, but what those select few witnessed was a genuinely entertaining and often moving debut feature film that takes a hard but heartfelt look at life in Appalachia.

"Passenger Pigeons" opens with a scene familiar to all, a roadside memorial, but this one isn't for a highway crash. Instead, we soon learn its for a man who died in a mining accident in Eastern Kentucky, and it's there we meet Elva (Caroline White), who's being interviewed by a newspaper reporter. She is part of one of four stories that Stephens weaves together to find some hope but few easy answers in the wake of this tragedy.

The best of these, and the one that's at the movie's center, is that of Moses (Bryan Marshall), who returns home to Kentucky to bury his brother. Unable to face it directly at first, he goes to smoke pot with some old acquaintances before visiting his brother's widow Annie (Karrie Crouse) and bonding with the nephew, Benny (Will Casse), he hardly knows at all.

The other characters we meet are Buck (Earl Lynn Nelson) and Nolan (Brendan McFadden), an odd couple of coal industry suits sent to do put the best face possible on this for the company, one about to retire and the other his replacement. Much of the movie's humor comes from what happens when they're forced to camp out for the night.

Also in this tableau are Elva and her boyfriend Jesse (Kentucker Audley), who works in the mines and, despite Elva's wishes otherwise, can't see himself doing anything else. And finally, Stephens herself plays the young activist Robin, who comes to town with the unfortunately timed task of protesting against the coal companies but instead finds friendship with retired miner Valentine (Jim Johnstone) in one of the movie's best moments of grace.

Its in the skill with which Stephens loosely ties these stories together that I was reminded of the work of Robert Altman and John Sayles. They never quite collide and are never forced to unfold at anything but a natural pace, and together they weave a portrait of a community that's running low on hope that still tries to find it wherever they can.

As for Stephens, she's raising money now to shoot another story set in Kentucky, "Pilgrim Song," so here's hoping she makes it. As for "Passenger Pigeons," catch this one if you can, because it certainly deserves to be seen by more than the few people who joined me for it in Macon.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Macon Film Festival dispatch: "Beijing Punk"

There really isn't a better way to wind down after a very long Friday, at least if you're me, then with a documentary about Chinese punk music. Yes, really.

I went into Shaun Jefford's "Beijing Punk" expecting a blast of loud, fast fun, and that's exactly what it delivers, along with a little about to think about along the way. For a little background, Jefford explains at the outset that he took his camera to the Chinese capital in the year of the Olympics looking for an interesting story behind the big one, and finds his centered around the punk club D-22.

He loses a little focus in the beginning with kids who certainly look like punks, but only give him quizzical looks when he asks if they like punk music. Before it slips too far into mockery, though, he finds his groove by wisely focusing on three bands and their stories.

The first, and by far the most interesting (and often frightening) is Misandao, a Chinese skinhead band (let that sink in for a second before continuing), and its frontman Lei Jun. Rather than trying to explain just what a Chinese skinhead would be angry about, Jefford just lets Lei Jun and his bandmates show it as they swig cough syrup by the bottle and eventually talk about Hitler in chillingly neutral terms.

Less scary but more entertaining are Demerit and Hedgehog. The fun in learning about these two young bands is in seeing how the language of punk music is universal and how much it gets filtered through the unique state of trying to express it in a communist state.

The kids of Demerit delight in explaining that they don't have jobs because "working" in China means putting in 12-hour days, and as they show off their squalid living conditions and declare their absolutely filthy bathroom "punk," it's hard to argue with them. The trio Hedgehog is the most musically entertaining of the three groups (but then, I've always been a bit of a shoegazer when it comes to indie rock, and they are too), and it's a hoot to hear the two male members explain the appeal of having a female drummer (who, as almost all female drummers do , kicks all kinds of ass).

All in all, it's an interesting look at a scene that's still fresh and on the rise, and a world well worth visiting for an hour or so.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

If you read one thing today ...

Actually, it's not this, but I'll lead the way. If you never watched Starz's short-lived but rather seriously good "Party Down," you really missed out.

The often wickedly funny show was available for a time streaming on Netflix, and a quick check reveals that that's the case once again. If you have that, put it in your queue, but be warned, this has something to offend just about everyone.

The show, about a group of way underemployed wannabe actors/writers working as caterers, sprang from the minds of "Veronica Mars" creator Rob Thomas and veryfunnyguy Paul Rudd, among others. And now, those two plus stars Adam Scott, Jane Lynch (who obviously moved on to bigger, but not better shows), Ken Marino, Lizzy Caplan, Martin Starr, Ryan Hansen and others have all contributed to Details magazine's "oral history" of the show, and though you might rightly think nine pages is a lot to read about a show that barely lasted two seasons, I guarantee that this piece charting the series' "rise" and all-too-rapid fall is just a great read.

And in case you missed out on the show entirely (which apparently many, many people did), here's the trailer, which in itself is already full of laughs. Enjoy, and stick around for a video that's even better.

OK, finally today (short report, granted), there's probably no way that Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Commando" is appropriate viewing for a 9-year-old boy, but it's really impossible to hard with the enthusiasm that this Tanzanian kid has for it. It was put together by the African community development group Mamahope, and before it hits you with something to think about at the end, just enjoy Alex giving this spirited shot-by-shot breakdown of the big action scene, in which he rather excitedly explains, "Everything's ready for fighting!" Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

In musical offerings, Macon Film Festival moves to its own beat

The beauty of any film festival, and thankfully the one that opens Thursday here in Macon, is the opportunity to see a variety of things you've never experienced before.

And, appropriately enough for this city with a rich musical past and present, the Macon Film Festival has sprinkled through its many offerings some musical documentaries that will expose you to some genuine characters. Here are three that should be well worth checking out.

If you were to tell me a "rappin' cowboy" was performing on stage, I'd probably run in the opposite direction, but a movie about the life of one? I'm in.

Director Elizabeth Lawrence's "Roll Out Cowboy" spends some time on tour with Chris "Sandman" Sand, who, according to the movie Web site's own description, "looks like Woody Guthrie but sings like LL Cool J." Again, not my thing in the least, but the fun in this should come in seeing what the audience thinks of this in his ultra-small town of Dunn Center, N.D., and elsewhere as Lawrence and her crew follow him on tour in 2008. You can check out the trailer below and the movie itself Friday at noon at the Cox Capitol Theatre.

Roll Out Cowboy from Roll Out, Cowboy on Vimeo.

Later Friday and also at the Cox (at 6 p.m.) comes something about as different from that as you can get, "Beijing Punk." And with the tagline, "What happens when 1.3 billion Chinese discover punk?", how can you not want to find out?

Director Shaun Jefford dives into this odd scene in 2008, the year of the Beijing Olympics, and as you'll see from the trailer below, it's the definition of chaos, but if your ears can take it, I'm betting on a lot of fun, too.

And finally, "Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone," is the one movie I'm most looking forward to at this year's Macon Film Festival.

The word "unique" is thrown around far too often in both movies and music, but with Fishbone, it actually applies. A band of black musicians who played an intoxicating mix of funk, punk and ska, no one really knew what to do with them when they first appeared in the late '80s, and as you'll see from the movie, they really don't know what to do with each other, either.

With members who are genuinely crazy, and one who was charged with kidnapping after trying to rescue another from what he considered a "cult" (yes, really), this really should be an oddly inspiring portrait of failure, and with great music to boot. Directors Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler chart the band's rise, fall and attempt to rise again, with narration by Laurence Fishburne. Check out the trailer below, and the movie itself at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Douglass Theatre.

And of course, those are just three of the many offerings. Look for a more complete schedule at the festival's Web site, and please, go see at least one Macon Film Festival movie.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

DVD pick of the week: "Night Catches Us"

After watching writer/director Tanya Hamilton's "Night Catches Us" for the second time, I had to go and double check that it really is her feature film directing debut. It indeed is, and as such, its a bold and often powerful vision from an exciting new voice in the world of movies.

And it certainly doesn't hurt that in Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington she has two of the best young actors - black, white or anything else - working in movies today to tell at once a both intimate and ambitious story about the Black Panther movement and, more importantly, how its successes and failures impacted the individuals left in the wake of its peak.

Hamilton's movie opens with the pledge of allegiance read over images from the black power movement and ending with a question mark. Though it lacks subtlety, as her story does at points throughout, its an effective way to introduce a movie that asks big questions about the movement's effectiveness.

After that we find Anthony Mackie's Marcus Washington returning to Philadelphia in 1976 for the funeral of his father. The prodigal son gets a less than warm welcome from his brother Bostic (Tariq Trotter), who has joined the Nation of Islam, and this is the first sign among many that for Marcus, it's very hard to go home again.

From the outset of "Night Catches Us", we get a strong, effective and most importantly natural sense of time and place, accomplished not with the cartoonish attire that mars far too many portrayals of the era, but instead with the overall mood (or perhaps what Jimmy Carter famously called malaise), and with a big assist from the Roots (do they ever stop working?) in providing a funky soundtrack that pulses throughout the movie. And it helps that, having visited Philadelphia myself last year, I can report that some of the neighborhoods there do indeed look like they were frozen in time more than 30 years ago.

As Marcus reacquaints himself with his old surroundings, we slowly find out more about the world and the woman, Kerry Washington's Patricia Wilson, he left behind. In the past that shaped them and clearly still in many ways haunts them, Marcus and Patricia were soldiers in the Black Panther Party, along with Patricia's late husband, Neil, who goes unseen except in photographs but clearly hovers over everything that unfolds in "Night Catches Us". Patricia is now a lawyer raising her 9-year-old daughter Iris and 19-year-old cousin Jimmy, who is by far the more immature of the two dependents, and often much of the neighborhood, opening her home to any of the kids who need a hot meal.

Marcus also bumps up against more of his old Black Panther running mates, and that's when we find out more about his story, and why it's so hard to return. As we meet Duane "DoRight" Miller (played by Jamie Hector, aka Marlo Stanfield on "The Wire", and more on similarities with that great show later), we find out that Marcus is suspected of snitching to the feds in the case that led to Neil's death. And the truth about what did and didn't happen in that story shapes the most compelling portion of Hamilton's often complicated tale, and allows Mackie and Washington to truly shine.

Against the wishes of the older man she's involved with, Patricia offers Marcus a room in her home, and as they slowly become closer, the secrets and lies of their past also come simmering to the surface. "Night Catches Us" is at its best as they dance around the truth of their past as Iris, curious about what happened to her father, asks more and more questions. Even as Patricia claims "we don't talk about the past," she clearly clings to her idealized vision of it. Washington and Mackie let the percolating passion play out in glances that say much more than Hamilton's occasionally heavy-handed script, and its just a delight to watch the two of them on screen together.

Marcus and Patricia try to live in a world that is gray rather than starkly black and white, where, much like on David Simon's "The Wire". right and wrong collide so strongly they are often almost indistinguishable. It's when Hamilton steps out of this cocoon, however, to ask bigger questions about the often contradictory goals of the black power movement, that her story falls apart a bit in the third act.

Unlike with "The Wire", the white cops in "Night Catches Us" are one-dimensional composites that too often veer into caricatures. This robs much of the power from Jimmy's story, which asks one of Hamilton's most important questions: What is left behind after, rightly or not, so much anger is stirred up?

That Hamilton falls a bit short of answering this pales next to what she has accomplished, however, in diving into a period of American history that has too often simply been (for lack of a better word) whitewashed and telling the compelling story of two people caught up in it. She also assembles and utilizes the best largely black ensemble cast I've seen (also keep an eye out for another "The Wire" vet, Wendell Pierce, aka Bunk, as a detective who keeps hounding Marcus) since Darnell Martin's very entertaining "Cadillac Records". Check "Night Catches Us" out now on DVD, and definitely keep an eye out for what Tanya Hamilton, having dealt deftly with a complicated episode of America's past, now does with her own future.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Friday clip cache, starring X-Men, Arthur and Pixar

I have no idea who all the dudes playing the 13 dwarves are, but it just warms my movie heart to see Martin Freeman in the photo above for "The Hobbit," even if he's not in his Bilbo Baggins costume, so there you go.

And before we get to the videos, there are a couple of tidbits of news out there that caught my eye, so bear with me.

Buffy ... well, at least Sarah Michelle Gellar, is coming back to TV this fall in a series that sounds fairly promising, and now it's starting to flesh out its cast. "The Ringer," created by two of the brains behind "Supernatural," stars Gellar as a woman on the run from the mob (or the law, or something, I'm not really sure yet) who takes the identity of her twin sister, only to find out sis is in some trouble too. So, Buffy in two parts, and now we find out that "Lost" vet Nestor Carbonell is joining the CBS drama as the FBI man charged to protect her so she can testify against the mob. Yeah, I'll check out at least a few episodes of that.

And in actual movie news about Jennifer Lawrence because, well, I'll watch her in just about anything, she's apparently signed on for Oliver Stone's "Savages," and though it's been years since he's made anything even approaching great, this sounds promising. The movie, based on the book by Don Winslow, is about two friends and pot dealers from Laguna Beach who, as their business thrives, come up against a Mexican drug cartel who kidnaps and holds for ransom their shared girlfriend (Lawrence). Juicy. And though I can't imagine there's any way that Lawrence will prevail in the Best Actress Oscar race for her performance in "Winter's Bone," she or Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine" would get my vote, so here's hoping. (And in case you have trouble taking your eyes off that photo, you can thank my co-worker Mike Stucka for pointing it out ... it's apparently from Rolling Stone).

For her next part on screen, though, Lawrence plays Raven/Mystique in "X Men: First Class," which brings us to the first of today's three clips. With this coming from "Kick-Ass" director Matthew Vaughn, I have high hopes, since that was easily one of my favorite movies of 2010 (and made my top 10). The few photos that have leaked so far have been a little sketchy, but as you'll see from this first trailer, this should be an old-fashioned, but also hopefully great, superhero affair, with some somber thrills. Enjoy, and tune in to find out exactly what Vaughn has managed to do with this on June 3.

OK, I've railed about thoroughly unnecessary remakes as much as anyone, but I can't help it: This, at least from the trailer (which may well, of course, have all the funny bits), looks friggin' hilarious. As you'll see from this first trailer below, Russell Brand jumps into the role of "Arthur," which turns out to be funny enough, but when you add Dame Helen Mirren as his butler/nanny and Luis Guzman (welcome back!) as his driver/sidekick, this looks really promising. Besides, even if you like Russell Brand (which I really do), there's just something soothing about watching him get punched in the face by Mirren, and Guzman's Robin suit is something to behold. Enjoy the trailer, and keep an eye out for this on April 8.

And finally today, since it's Friday, and just in case you didn't hate your own job quite enough, Elena Myzik, one half of the New York Times' most recent incarnation of the Carpetbagger blogging team, recently got to go behind the scenes at the Pixar studios, and it's indeed about as amazing a place as you might imagine. Enjoy this video about her trip, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. At least part of mine will be taken up reviewing both the most recent Doctor Who christmas special and Tanya Hamilton's "Night Catches Us" on DVD for, so things could certainly be worse. Peace out.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The impossibility of replacing Helen Mirren, and much, much more

This idea has already died once for the best of all possible reasons: They couldn't find anybody to follow in the footsteps of Dame Helen Mirren in playing the role of Jane Tennison. Of course they couldn't, because it would be impossible.

But that apparently won't stop people from trying. Although the simply awful idea was shelved as a midseason possibility once already, NBC is now trying to revive a "Prime Suspect" reboot once again, this time with its eyes on Maria Bello to play the lead. Take a second or two to think about just how much this would be trading down, though she is obviously a very pretty lady.

If you've seen Mirren in anything, and I'm going to have to assume everyone has, you know she would be hard to follow in any role, but this one in particular really can't be played by anyone else. Along with "The Wire" and "Homicide," "Prime Suspect" is the only other cop TV show that I've bothered to watch in the last 20 years, almost entirely because of the desperate humanity she brought to the role (I meant to watch "Chicago Code," since it comes from the "Terriers" guys, but I simply forgot, as many other people apparently did too.)

So, here's hoping this idea is already D.O.A. Here's what Bello, who recently starred on some incarnation of "Law & Order," apparently, had to tell Entertainment Weekly about the matter:

“There may be interest in me doing it, but I haven’t read anything yet or talked to anyone in-depth about it,” Bello told EW exclusively while attending the 10th Annual Movies For Grownups Awards on Monday. “I’m possibly interested. Definitely nervous to even think about taking over for Helen Mirren. C’mon! How could anyone compete with her? Didn’t she do about 10 of them and win an Emmy every time? I’m open to things right now. I’m just trying to go with the flow of my life and I’ve been going back-and-forth to Haiti trying to help out. That has felt good, but I am also wanting to do something spectacular with my life work-wise and that may end up being it.”

Even with Peter Berg of "Friday Night Lights" apparently roped in to running this, I really can't see how it would be anything but a spectacular failure, so just move on, please!

In much better TV news, Zooey Deschanel, who is one of those women I'll definitely watch in just about anything, is about to sign for a Fox sitcom for the fall, with the rather colorful title of "Chicks and Dicks."

Of all the possibilities that might be swimming through your dirty minds, the "dicks" here are apparently her three roommates. The comedy would have her playing an elementary school teacher who, fresh from a break-up, moves in with a trio of "immature young men." Sounds an awful lot like "The Big Bang Theory" to me, but like I said, for her, I suppose I'll watch at least a few episodes of just about anything.

OK, a lot of stuff to get to today, so forgive the schizophrenia, but I don't have a ton of time to do this in the morning. Paul Dano, who I saw most recently in the engaging little oddity "The Extra Man," is reteaming with "Little Miss Sunshine" directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris for something even odder that springs from the mind of his girlfriend, Zoe Kazan.

Kazan, who just happens to be the granddaughter of Elia Kazan, wrote the script for "He Loves Me," in which Dano will play a writer who wills Kazan's character into existence by writing her to love him. Sounds like nothing but fun to me.

And fans of "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (I first wrote the first word of that as "assassassination," perhaps distracted by the rather saucy presence of Carla Gugino at the end of this post .. stay tuned) director Andrew Dominik is slowly assembling a first-rate cast for what should be a grand heist flick with "Cogan's Trade."

One Brad Pitt plays Cogan, a hit mans' point person who becomes involved in the investigation of a heist that hits the mob at a high-stakes poker game. Now comes word that the always great Richard Jenkins is joining the game as a lawyer who's collecting information on the game. Definitely keep your eyes on this one ...

And speaking, sort of, of Jenkins, Thomas McCarthy, who directed him in his Oscar-nominated role in "The Visitor," has just signed on with Disney to write the script for what should a really fun baseball movie. "Million Dollar Arm" will be based on "the inspirational story of how sports agent J.B. Bernstein discovered professional pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel through his Indian reality show.”

If that sounds a lot like "Slumdog Millionaire," so what. Here, courtesy of Collider, is a brief synopsis of the tale:

Bernstein reportedly got the idea for the reality show when he was watching cricket and realized that the throwing motion wasn’t that different from baseball. The show launched in India in 2008 with over 40,000 applicants including Singh and Patel, who were the two finalists. They were brought to the U.S. and improved their English by listening to rap and watching action movies. Singh and Patel became the first Indian athletes to sign professional baseball contracts when they picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even better, Singh and Patel probably didn’t know they were being picked up by one of the worst baseball teams of all-time.

Wow. No word yet if McCarthy would also direct this, but given the chance, I can't imagine he'd turn it down. In the meantime, McCarthy has one of the movies I'm most looking forward to for 2011, "Win Win" starring Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan, coming out hopefully wide enough to reach my little corner of the world March 18.

OK, to keep it on movies, here are two rather obvious examples of Oscar bait, one for this year and one for next. First up comes next, and the first photo of Meryl Streep as "The Iron Lady," Margaret Thatcher. The appearance is admittedly uncanny, and I have no doubt that Streep will be great in this biopic, being directed by "Mamma Mia" director Phyllida Lloyd (say anything snarky about that you may want to .. not having seen that movie, I really can't.) The movie has a great supporting cast with James Broadbent as hubby Dennis and Richard E. Grant as Michael Heseltine. Here's the photo, and keep an eye out for the movie sometime later this year.

And getting back to this year's Oscars, former "Homicide" star Melissa Leo is up for a Best Supporting Actress award for her work in "The Fighter," and certainly should be. If I had a vote, however, I'd vote for young Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit," who should really be in the Best Actress category, but that's not really her fault. Anyways, apparently wanting to win (and why not?), Leo has taken it upon herself to mount her own ad campaign, which is very effective in its simplicity. Enjoy, and "consider" ...

Though this has certainly gone on long enough already today, I'll leave you with two videos that caught my eye. The first is the first trailer I know of for "Elektra Luxx," which beyond the obvious allure of starring Carla Gugino playing a porn star who dresses up occasionally as a nun, has the promise to be a pretty oddly solid little comedy. From director Sebastian Gutierrez, it's a sequel of sorts to his 2009 movie "Women in Trouble," which I enjoyed quite a bit. As you'll see from the trailer, it also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Adrianne Palicki of "Friday Night Lights" and many other beautiful women, so enjoy, and keep an eye out for this in at least some corners of the world in March.

And finally, saving quite possibly the best for last, here's the first trailer I know of for the Sundance comedy "Submarine," a British coming-of-age tale from first-time director Richard Ayaode. The plot (15-year-old desperate to lose his virginity and keep his parents together) sounds terribly familiar, but as you'll see from the trailer, it has more than a little "Rushmore" spirit to it, and it also stars Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins as the parents, so bully. Not sure when this will come out in America, but enjoy the trailer anyway, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Macon Film Guild screening puzzling but ultimately satisfying "White Material"

Claire Denis' "White Material," which the Macon Film Guild is screening as its February offering, is one the most challenging movies it has ever shown, but one that delivers rewards that make it well worth the effort to consume it.

As the movie opens, we find the great French actress Isabelle Huppert running down a dirt road in an unnamed African country, and just what she's running from or toward is a mystery that Denis unfolds slowly and like a good riddle, playing engaging tricks with time to bring us into this story at multiple points and from all kinds of different perspectives.

Huppert plays Maria Vial, who we eventually find out operates a coffee plantation with the family that is crumbling as quickly as is the post-colonial world around her. As bands of rebel soldiers - many of them children - close in on her beloved land to take it away, she remains as defiant as she is delusional to the reality of her surroundings, not at all unlike a modern-day Scarlett O'Hara.

This, however, isn't Tara, and as the story slowly and elliptically unfurls, we find out that Maria, while still attached to the land, is quickly becoming as estranged to her family as she is to this unnamed country. She is separated from her husband, played by Christopher Lambert, though they still operate what's left of the plantation together, and his father still lives there. Their son is a layabout who isn't engaged by much of anything until he's consumed by the heart of darkness, just many that beat through this enigmatic work.

Into the chaos of her personal and business life, Maria welcomes "The Boxer," a wounded rebel fighter played by Isaach De Bankolé, who will be familiar to fans of Jim Jarmusch movies. Though he clearly has his own band of loyal followers, he has at least as many enemies, and the discord among the rebel forces just adds to the tension of what Denis has cooked up.

And at the center of all this, its Huppert herself that gives the movie the emotional resonance that's sometimes lost in its puzzling delivery. Her frail appearance is almost completely at odds with the iron will with which she clings to this decaying empire, which just makes her seem all the more of an outsider in this place she still desperately wants to call home. It's a remarkable performance.

If you're not in Macon, keep an eye out for this on DVD and blu-ray from Criterion on April 12, but if you are, definitely turn out at the Douglass Theatre this Sunday for a unique movie that drops you into the heart of Africa for an engaging allegory about its past and present that doubles as an often mesmerizing mystery.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

How much cute can you handle?

Usually, with me, it's just about zero, but I'll make an exception this time because these clips are pretty much all very funny, too.

Here, courtesy of Moviefone, are kids acting out four of the Best Picture nominees for this year's Oscars, in order, "The Social Network", "127 Hours", "The King's Speech" and "The Fighter." The kids taking on Aaron Sorkin's rapid-fire dialogue is pretty priceless, but I think best of all might be the poor kid who takes time to pick a winner during the clip of "The Fighter."

What would made these even better? Perhaps if they had tried to do "Winter's Bone" or "The Kids Are Alright," though I suppose we don't really want to go there ... Enjoy!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

For Thursday, a little animation extravaganza

With a title like that, where else to start than with the return of "Beavis and Butthead" to MTV?

Mike Judge mentioned some time ago that he had been monkeying around with his old friends and had come up with material for 30 new episodes or so, but until now, there hadn't been any word that anyone had picked them up. This week, however, MTV indeed announced at its upfronts that the dastardly duo will be returning to the network, perhaps as early as this summer.

No matter how old I actually get (and it is fairly old), I don't ever think I'll ever really be too old for a few minutes with these guys, so here goes .... a classic, the guys watching Radiohead's "Creep," and then stick around for more animated goodies, and finally the trailer for one of the movies I'm most looking forward to for 2011.

To keep the funny going, and much funnier than "The Simpsons" has been in many years (though perhaps they've undergone some kind of renaissance of funny I've missed, because I haven't watched an entire episode for years now), the folks at College Humor were kind enough to take the best of McBain - easily one of the show's funniest characters - and edit it into one little four-minute-or-so movie. As that, it really works, and it's a hoot. Enjoy.

Next, even though this is clearly extremely old, I'm a sucker for anything Maurice Sendak, and Nell Minow was kind enough to point out to me that, along with listening to Carole King's great "Really Rosie" soundtrack, which I do whenever work gets to be even more of a bore than usual, you can watch segments of the 1975 TV special individually on YouTube. Even if these were designed to be instructional songs for 5-year-olds, they're simply fantastic at any time for anyone, evidenced by this clip of "Chicken Soup With Rice." Priceless.

I can't say I have extremely high hopes for "Rango," the animated Western of sorts starring one Johnny Depp and coming out March 4, but I've been wrong at least once before, and probably already today (but it is early), so here's hoping. What I do know is that I like Los Lobos quite a bit (mi hermano gave me a live recording which I think is called "Chuy's Garage" - if it were possible to burn a hole in a digital file, I would have done so with that by now for sure), and they've recorded this fairly nifty theme song for the movie. Enjoy, and then stick around finally for the nonanimated trailer for a flick that I think is really gonna sneak up on people and be a charmer.

Los Lobos - Rango Theme Song by antirecords

Thomas McCarthy, when he isn't acting on "The Wire" or in movies like, yes, really, "2012," is easily one of my favorite directors. "The Visitor" and the "The Station Agent" are both sublimely entertaining little movies, and he's got two upcoming projects that should be well worth checking out. He directed at least the first episode of HBO's upcoming series "Game of Thrones," and, well, I can't say anything really about that except watch it! But he's also got a movie coming out March 18 called "Win Win," and it's one of those that looks just tailormade for me. As you'll see from the trailer below courtesy of The Playlist, it stars Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan in a sort of "The Blind Side" in the world of high school wrestling. I'm probably not selling it very well, but watch for yourself and I think you'll agree this is one to look out for. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Win Win
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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Can women really have fun in movies?

Before we get into any of that, the two oddest things I came across this morning both involve Tyler Perry, who I almost always enjoy, but most of all when he's behind the scenes rather than in a fat suit and drag.

That certainly won't be the case for "Madea's Big Happy Family," coming to theaters April 22. It should be a return to broad comedy along with the big drama, which would be a welcome shift after "Colored Girls" (which I mostly enjoyed until I finally felt beaten down by it all.) This time out, he's got Bow Wow (no longer Lil, and don't knock it unless you've seen him in one of my favorite movies, "Roll Bounce"), and a bunch of regulars like David and Tamela Mann, plus even that Old Spice guy.

A truly nightmarish visual bit about that flick at the end, but in the meantime, in an odd case of trading down (in acting, at least), it seems that Tyler Perry has somehow replaced Stringer Bell (aka Idris Elba) in the coming reboot of the Alex Cross series on film.

In the past two Alex Cross movies, "Kiss the Girls" and "Along Came a Spider," the role of the detective and psychologist was played by Morgan Freeman, making this an even odder transition. In the new movie, "I, Alex Cross," with a script penned by James Patterson, who wrote the the Alex Cross novels, our hero tracks the rapist who may have murdered his pregnant wife years earlier.

This all begins shooting in June, and I suppose I shouldn't be so skeptical, since I've liked almost all of Perry's movies so far, but once he's donned that Madea suit, I just really can't see him being taken terribly seriously in this. Here's hoping I'm wrong.

But on to the main event. Kristen Wiig has a new movie coming out in May, "Bridesmaids," and as you can see from the first trailer below, it's squarely from the Judd Apatow (who's a producer) camp of comedy - except that it's all women in the main roles. I realize that shouldn't be much of a surprise, but unfortunately it is. When's the last time you can remember women getting to have this much fun in a big-studio, hopefully raunchy summer (well, almost) comedy?

And besides all that, except for a truly unfortunate joke at the end of the trailer (still worth sticking around to the end for to see just how bad it is), this all looks truly rather funny. Along with Wiig, who along with writing the script for this plays the maid of honor charged with putting it all together, it also stars fellow "Saturday Night Live" star Maya Rudolph as the bride, plus veryfunnywomen Melissa McCarthy (aka Sookie on "Gilmore Girls" and one half of CBS' Monday night show about fat people) and Ellie Kemper (Erin on "The Office"). It's also directed by "Freaks and Geeks" vet Paul Feig, so here's hoping this girl's club turns out to be as funny as it should be. Enjoy the trailer, then stick around for, as promised, a truly nightmarish vision of Madea.

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Say what you want about Tyler Perry's movies, but he always manages to at least grab people's attention with the posters, and this one for "Madea's Big Happy Family" is no exception. As if "Black Swan" weren't already scary enough ... enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Movie buffs of Middle Georgia unite: The Macon Film Festival nears

With the Macon Film Festival returning for its sixth year starting Feb. 17, it's time to get geared up for some great movies you won't be able to see anywhere else around town - or many places on Earth, for that matter.

A full schedule and more about the special guests who make the evening screenings such unique events will be available at and in the Telegraph (where I toil daily) next week, but for now, here's a sneak peek at the four movies that will be offered as special screenings nightly at the Cox Capitol Theatre from Feb. 17-20 (the festival itself also spreads out to the Douglass Theatre and Macon Convention Center - it's impossible to keep a good thing down.)

And as a final caveat, I've only seen the last of these, but changing that is what a good film festival's all about, right?

First up, at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17, will be "Freedom Riders," a documentary about the hundreds of college students who flocked to the South in 1961 to demonstrate against segregation. Veteran filmmaker Stanley Nelson's movie made its debut at last year's Sundance Film Festival and will be aired on PBS in May, but you can see it much earlier than that at the Macon Film Festival.

Feb. 18 at 8:15 p.m. will feature "Black, White and Blues," directed by Mario Van Peebles, son of the legendary director Melvin Van Peebles. Starring Michael Clarke Duncan, Taryn Manning, Tom Skerritt and even Luke Perry (yes, that Luke Perry), the movie tells the story of a troubled blues musician who is drifting through life often in a drunken haze until a mysterious stranger arrives to tell him his grandfather has died and he must travel back to his Southern hometown to claim an inheritance. From what I can gather, this will be a road movie traveled both through the American South and on the road to redemption, and it should be great.

The first special guest I know of (though there will be more with each nightly screening) will be director Nick Moran, who will be on hand Feb. 19 at 8:30 p.m. for the screening of his movie, "The Kid." Based on the best-selling memoir by Kevin Lewis, who co-wrote the screenplay with Moran, the movie tells Lewis' story of surviving a life that started in a poverty-stricken London council estate and later has him caught up in a criminal underworld where he's dubbed "The Kid." Lewis' ultimate survival and escape from this rough life should make a stirring tale. You may remember Moran, by the way, as Eddy in "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," so definitely turn out to hear him present his movie if you can make it.

And finally, Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. comes the final evening special screening, and having seen this one I suspect they've saved the best for last. "Get Low" stars Robert Duvall as an old curmudgeon (the kind of character I can more and more relate to) who, as he nears the end of his life, decides to throw his own funeral while he's still alive so he'll be able to hear what everybody says about him. This movie is filled with wickedly sly humor and more than enough heart, and since it co-stars Bill Murray as the lawyer charged with making this all happen, can you really go wrong? A great way to wrap up the festival.

As I said at the outset, this is just a small taste to whet your appetite for what's come during the four days of the Macon Film Festival, but there's much, much more in store. For a more complete schedule and ticket information, visit, and check back in The Telegraph next week for more about the movies and special guests that make this event so much fun.