Saturday, April 30, 2011

Atlanta Film Festival review: "Terri"

Think - when's the last time you saw a new movie that is truly unique? For me it had been quite a while, but I managed to catch one with Azazel Jacobs' "Terri," the opening night movie for this year's Atlanta Film Festival 365.

And what makes that all the more amazing is that it comes with such a familiar structure - the lovable authority figure who reaches out to the high school misfit and teaches him or her how to live life (another of one those? Sheesh.) But both the greatest strength and simultaneously a weakness is that "Terri" doesn't initiate a grand, transformative experience for the titular hero here, just gives a bit of dignity to a kid who sorely needs some.

When you first meet Terri, you'll see, however, just how much of an accomplishment even that will be. Jacob Wysocki, who I had never seen in anything before, plays the rather rotund kid who wears pajamas to school because, well when you see him, I think you'll understand. It's just one of the many uncomfortable situations that Jacobs plays for a mix of humor and drama that, while it never really picks a side, doesn't have to. And Wysocki, from the way he runs as Terri to the contempt for the world around him he expresses in his face, is a natural comedian and someone you'll fall in love with from the start.

Not surprisingly, Terri has few friends at the high school he only bothers to turn up to sporadically at best. Who has time for that when he has to concern himself with catching the mice who roam the attic in the shack he shares with his senile uncle, Creed Bratton of "The Office" fame in a restrained performance that will catch you by surprise.

The job of drawing Terri out of this rut falls to school principal Mr. Fitzgerald, played by John C. Reilly in another fairly great performance in his second career act as a comedian. This isn't, however, the broad kind of role he delivered in taking over "Cedar Rapids," though he does do some yelling in an attempt to convey at least a smidgen of authority. He just plays a guy who's clearly in over his head, but still tries to reach out to the misfits (or, as Terri calls them, "monsters") who cross his path each day. The best scenes in "Terri" involve Reilly and Wysocki squaring off and looking for some common ground, which they eventually find they have more of than either expected.

Jacobs' movie, based on a screenplay he wrote with novelist Patrick Dewitt, is more than a bit too episodic in its first half, but it gets better as the scenes grow longer, culminating in one completely uncomfortable take on the "Breakfast Club" scenario of the outcast summit. I don't want to spoil any of what happens when Terri eventually finds two friends in Heather (Olivia Crocicchia), the pretty girl with a bad reputation, and Chad (Bringer Zadina), a kid so angry he can't find much else to do than constantly pull his own hair out. These kids definitely aren't all right, and what happens when they come together with a bottle of whiskey and some of Terri's uncle's pills will be the most polarizing aspect of this movie, assuming anyone gets too see it when it gets at least some kind of theatrical release in July.

In the end, though it could certainly use some more narrative drive, what Jacobs' movie has is plenty of humanity, and in that it reminded me of the movies of Thomas McCarthy, one of my very favorite directors (probably also admittedly because I saw "Win Win" yesterday, and that was sensational.) If you get the chance to see it, I think you'll enjoy this tale of a genuine misfit searching for a little bit of dignity. I know I did.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Harry Potter, X-Men and much more on a jam-packed Thursday

Before we get into some truly fun trailers for smashes coming this summer and fall, there's some other movie news out there, and for me it all starts with the news that "Rabbit Hole" playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is headed back to the big screen.

If you haven't seen "Rabbit Hole," it's out now on DVD, and there really are very few recent movies I can recommend higher. It features a sublime performance from Nicole Kidman and just tells a great story very well, with touches of wicked humor throughout.

And now, Lindsay-Abaire will have another great leading lady to work with as he adapts his current Broadway hit, "Good People," for the big screen. Frances McDormand, who plays the lead role on Broadway, will do the same for the movie.

So, what's it about? Well, it's set in Boston's working-class Southie neighborhood, and McDormand plays Margie Walsh, a high school dropout and single mother of a mentally disabled daughter struggling to make ends meet. On Broadway at least, Tate Donovan plays a successful former classmate of Margie's who enters into a relationship with her, but no word yet on whether he will reprise that role for the movie.

"Rabbit Hole" focused on similarly odd relationships, so this should be a real winner. And just in case you need any more convincing, here's a clip of McDormand in the play on Broadway. Definitely stay tuned for more on this.

In other news, you know, I can really take or leave Sacha Baron Cohen. Like most of the world, I loved "Borat," but I couldn't even bring myself to watch "Bruno" (and if I'm somehow missing on some kind of comic masterpiece with that one, please let me know.)

His next collaboration with co-conspirator and "Seinfeld" veteran Larry Charles, however, sounds like something I'll definitely be into, especially since he's whittled his candidates for the female lead to, for my money, probably the funniest two women in movies, plus one other solid choice from TV.

The duo are working on "The Dictator," "inspired" by "Zabibah and the King," a novel purportedly written by Saddam Hussein. Cohen would play dual roles of a goat herder and eventually the titular dictator, and now comes word that he's down to Anna Faris, Kristen Wiig and Gillian Jacobs to play the female lead.

Anyone who's been here before knows that I'm extremely partial to Faris and Wiig, but am a big fan of "Community," too, so any of these comediennes would make what already sounds like a very funny movie even better. But for my money, if I had to choose, I'll take Anna Faris every time.

OK, now on to some great clips for a Thursday morning, starting with a couple of trailers for sure-to-be summer smashes. In fact, if I were a betting man (and I no longer am), I'd put my money on "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2" being the highest-grossing flick of this summer. My favorite among both the books and movies will always be "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," but part one of the finale was fantastic, too, and I can't wait to see the saga finally come to a close July 15 (though, for me at least, certainly not in 3D!) Enjoy the trailer.

Next up comes the first trailer I've seen that really has me thinking that Matthew Vaughn will deliver something fairly great when "X-Men: First Class" really launches Summer when it drops June 3. Enjoy what should be the final trailer for it.

Does the world really need another "300"? I really don't, but even if this trailer for Tarsem Singh's "Immortals" seems to promise just about exactly that, I still have enough faith in Singh to be looking forward to this. If you've never seen his "The Fall," there really are few better examples of truly imaginative filmmaking, and I recommend watching it as soon as you can. And with an eclectic cast that features Superman Henry Cavill, Freida Pinto and somehow Mickey Rourke, too, this should be nothing but fun when it finally drops Nov. 11. Enjoy the first trailer I know of for it.

And finally today, tonight will indeed bring the final appearance of Steve Carell's Michael Scott on "The Office," and NBC has stretched the episode out to 50 minutes to make room for it (though I'm looking forward to the also-extended episode of "Parks and Recreation" that will follow just as much.) The run-up to his departure has been some of the show's funniest stuff in years, and tonight should be no different. I probably won't watch it until next week, though, because today I'm off to the Atlanta Film Festival 365 for the first of two weekends, and really looking forward to it. Enjoy this short clip from tonight's episode of "The Office," and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

If at first you succeed ... plus a big Wednesday clip show

Well, if you're Aaron Sorkin, if you've done something exactly right the first time (even if it was severely under appreciated), just do it all over again almost exactly the same way.

Does anyone remember "Sports Night"? It was a truly great Sorkin show that ran for a couple of years simultaneously (I think) with the early years of "The West Wing." As you may remember, it was about a sports news show hosted by two dudes and produced by two women, with another producer as a rival for one of the hosts' affections.

Just believe me, it was a whole heck of a lot better than I'm making it sound here. In the original version, the two hosts were Josh Charles and Peter Krause, the producer was Felicity Huffman and the associate producer was the sorely-missed Sabrina Lloyd. I frankly can't remember who played the other part, but you get the idea.

Now, fast forward about 10 years or so, and Sorkin has sold something called "More as This Story Develops" to HBO, and with the exception that it's about a news rather than sports show, it sounds like pretty much exactly the same thing, with pretty much the same cast dynamic taking shape (and although it may sound like I'm complaining, I'm really not ... "Sports Night" was fantastic.)

This time around, if all the pieces fall into shape, Jeff Daniels will play the host, Marisa Tomei the producer (and following the "Sports Night" model, probably unrequited love interest), Alison Pill of "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" will play the associate producer and Olivia Munn will play a business news reporter and undoubtedly rival for Daniels' affections. I could be wrong of course, but that certainly does sound familiar, no?

Either way, I'll definitely be tuning in when this hits HBO, perhaps sometime this fall.

And in just a bit of movie news, it seems that Russell Crowe is reuniting with the source of his best movie so far, "L.A. Confidential," for his first directing effort.

Crowe would also star in "77," based on a James Ellroy script that is apparently being rewritten by someone else. Best as I can tell, per Deadline, it's about the unsolved murder of an LAPD officer, and the nationally televised shootout in South Central L.A. between the Symbionese Liberation Army and the LAPD, as seen through the eyes of two police partners, one black and one white.

Sounds like typically juicy Ellroy stuff, so stay tuned. And now, on to the clips ...

OK, today, these are pretty much in descending order of funny until the end, a plug for tonight's premiere of the 15th (really!?!?) season of "South Park." First up, courtesy of The Onion, comes an interview with the screenwriter of "Fast Five," 5-year-old Chris Morgan. Now, I have nothing against the Fast and Furious flicks (that Tokyo one is some pretty seriously satisfying Saturday afternoon viewing for a half hour or so), but this is seriously funny. Enjoy.

Today Now! Interviews The 5-Year-Old Screenwriter Of "Fast Five"

Next up is the first red band trailer for Kristen Wiig's "Bridesmaids," courtesy of Myspace, and having watched it, I'm now certain the ladies are going to bring a whole lot of funny when this drops May 13. You do have to feel more than a little bad for Melissa McCarthy, who is apparently going to be one running fat joke in the flick, but she does at least seem to be in on the joke. Enjoy.

OK, these next two I'm a little more dubious about, but I like the stars of both, so here goes. Paul Rudd, who can be really funny when he allows himself to be (just trust me, "Role Models" is a minor comedy classic), stars as the titular idiot in "Our Idiot Brother," set to come out Aug. 16. Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks and Rashida Jones all play his sisters, so here's hoping this will be a whole lot funnier than I'm expecting. Enjoy.

And for the last of our trailers, there isn't a comedienne working today who deserves a great starring role more than Anna Faris. She's just a natural wit (and yes, I even love "House Bunny"), but I don't think the role she's been waiting for arrives with "What's Your Number?", for which the titular question seems to be addressing how many rom-com cliches can be stacked into one two-minute or so trailer. Oh well. "Enjoy" this trailer, and then stick around for a much better look back at her career so far, courtesy of the New Yorker.

And finally today, Trey Parker, Matt Stone and friends are indeed back tonight, and only those guys could combine Steve Jobs, the iPad and ... well, just watch the clip to see. I'll just say it's expectedly both disgusting and simply hilarious. "South Park" returns to Comedy Central (and my DVR) tonight at 10 p.m. Enjoy the clip, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Atlanta Film Festival 365 returns Thursday with a world's worth of fun flicks

If you're looking for something outside the regular wide releases in the coming days (though, trust me, "Water for Elephants" is well worth checking out for Sara Gruen fans and everyone else, too), consider taking a trip just up the road from Macon to the Atlanta Film Festival 365.

The festival, which kicks off Thursday night and runs through Saturday, May 7, offers a great mix of Georgia-inspired and -made movies with many more offerings (well more than 150) from all around the world. Here's just a sampling of what you'll find at the festival, which takes place mainly at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, with a few screenings at the Plaza Theatre, too.

The movies that have yet to hit theaters anywhere else start with Thursday's opening night flick, "Terri," a comedy about a teen misfit opening probably in limited release July 11 and starring John C. Reilly and Creed Bratton of "The Office" fame. Other sneak peeks available at the fest are "Things Fall Apart," starring rapper 50 Cent as a college football star struck by a debilitating disease, screening Saturday night, and Denis Villeneuve's international drama "Incendies," which revolves around the situation in Lebanon and screens Friday, May 6, at the Plaza Theatre. Here's the trailer for "Incendies":

And though the Atlanta fest offers films from many different countries, the focus this year is on Africa, and in those offerings are some really intriguing possibilities. Among the movies I'm going to try and catch (yes, I'm using some of my vacation time for this) are "An African Election" (Saturday afternoon), a documentary about the 2008 election in Ghana; "Africa United," the closing night movie on Saturday, May 7, about African kids who journey to see the 2010 World Cup in South Africa; and "Bouncing Cats" (Thursday, May 5), a documentary about bringing hip-hop culture to the children of Uganda. Here's the trailer for "Africa United":

Music, as it does with Macon's own great film festival, runs through many of the Atlanta Film Festival 365 offerings. Among the movies I'm hoping to catch are "Beatboxing - The Fifth Element of Hip-Hop" (Thursday, May 5), which explores the history and evolution of that odd art form, and "Rejoice and Shout" (Sunday), a documentary about the history of black Christianity and gospel music in America. Here's the joyously noisy trailer of sorts for "Rejoice and Shout":

Along with new movies, the Atlanta fest also goes out of its way to bring back to the big screen classic titles that are still very relevant today. Although it was added to the schedule well before the great director's death, the recent passing of Sidney Lumet adds even more resonance to the Tuesday night screening of "Network," his dramatic dissection of TV news, at the Plaza Theatre. Later comes Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver," which screens Thursday, May 5, also at the Plaza Theatre, and just pulses with the kind of rage too many people in American feel right now.

These are obviously just a very few of the offerings available at this year's Atlanta Film Festival 365. For a full schedule and information on tickets, visit, and if you have the time, definitely take on a chance on some of the intriguing movies on the slate starting Thursday.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

DVD pick of the week: "Rabbit Hole"

On paper, John Cameron Mitchell's "Rabbit Hole" would seem to be the most dour of viewing experiences: A movie about a couple dealing with the death of their young son, and how to continue in its wake. What it has in common with Mitchell's debut movie, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," however, is that in spite of it subject matter its a little joy to watch and is spiked throughout with humorous touches that make it all the sweeter to take in.

And it certainly doesn't hurt that the couple at the center of this is played by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart. Kidman, in particular, is at her very best here, and received a Best Actress Oscar nomination, though of course lost out (rightly) to Natalie Portman for "Black Swan" in a very talented field.

From the very beginning of "Rabbit Hole," it's impossible to keep your eyes off of Kidman's Becca. Even when she's clearly just going through the motions of her daily life (standing in front of the dryer, for example, the whole time that clothes are drying), you can see in her face everything that she craves and fears all at once, mostly re-engagement with the world around her. That starts with her husband, Howie (Eckhart), from whom she's been distant ever since their young son Danny was killed in a car crash several months earlier. Though the role as written is pretty much to react to Kidman's emotional ride, Eckhart nonetheless delivers a nuanced performance.

And as Becca's world slowly starts to re-expand, a wicked humor creeps into the script by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on his stage play. It comes first with her family, including misfit sister Izzy (who for unspecified reasons has just managed to somehow get fired from Applebee's), played by Tammy Blanchard, and her over-empathetic mother, played with natural ease by Dianne Wiest, mostly in the form of what you can and can't talk about in such situations.

The humor gets more wicked as Howie and Becca attend a support group for parents who have suffered the same tragedy with a child, an activity Becca just can't stand. It's an uncomfortable delight to watch the contempt unfurl on her face before she explodes on some poor sap who had the gumption to say "God needed another angel." It's here also that we meet Gaby (Sandra Oh), whose natural face for empathy belies the role she will play of temptress.

Mitchell and Abaire slowly add to their tale a mystery that keeps the story moving, cleverly introduced and framed by the drawing of what we eventually find out is a comic book. As Becca first stalks and then confronts a young man in the neighborhood (I won't spoil it by telling you who he is), their secret encounters are increasingly poignant without ever being too mawkish.

And Mitchell, who shows a deft directing hand throughout, is at his best in the final third. Without ever hitting us over the head with it, as Becca starts to slowly re-engage with the world, he equally slowly lightens the color palette, giving the movie a "Virgin Suicides"-kind of dream-like feel by the time she reaches the long night that will bring her back.

Be warned: This is a world of extremely raw emotions, and none of them are held back here. But what makes Mitchell's movie so entertaining is that it's ultimately about life rather than death, and just how to go about living it. In the end, that - and a sublime performance from Nicole Kidman - are what make "Rabbit Hole" well worth checking out on DVD.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Friday full of fun stuff - and at least one serious thing

This post does indeed include the final movie shot by photo journalist Tim Hetherington, but it's a Friday morning, so let's start out with some potentially very fun TV news before we get into anything like that.

So far, this "news" only comes from the New York Post's page 6, but here's hoping it's true, because it could be rather great.

Aaron Sorkin is at work on a pilot for HBO titled "More as the Story Develops," which would star Jeff Daniels as the host of a cable news show. If it's anywhere near as good as what Sorkin did for cable sports news with "Sports Night," still his best work, I'm definitely in. And according to the Post at least, he's just about perfectly cast the executive producer role played by Felicity Huffman on that show, this time with Marisa Tomei.

One other thing that is definitely about to happen, though I'm not entirely sure I want to see it again after all this time, is the return of Patsy and Edina to the BBC. Yes, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley are apparently in the final stages of a deal to make three new episodes of "Absolutely Fabulous."

Like I said, I'm more than a little skeptical that they can still bring the funny, but if Dawn French is back as Saunders' co-writer/conspirator, I'm in for at least three episodes to find out.

OK, now for something serious, but I promise I'll move on quickly after that. As most everyone knows by now, Tim Hetherington, a photo journalist who went on to co-direct the Afghanistan war documentary "Restrepo" with Sebastian Junger, was killed recently while covering the current conflict in Libya.

An incredibly sad thing that, and as my friend and Telegraph photographer Grant Blankenship pointed out, just as we honor the brave men and women who fight to protect this great country, we should likewise honor those brave enough to report on it. 'Nuff said.

And with that, here is "Diary," a short film that is the last one Hetherington made before he died. It's well worth 20 minutes or so of your Friday morning, and here's how Hetherington himself describes it:

'Diary' is a highly personal and experimental film that expresses the subjective experience of my work, and was made as an attempt to locate myself after ten years of reporting. It's a kaleidoscope of images that link our western reality to the seemingly distant worlds we see in the media.

Enjoy, and then stick around for two videos that I promise are more appropriate for a Friday morning.

Diary (2010) from Tim Hetherington on Vimeo.

This next clip, while not as funny as I might have hoped, does come with some news to introduce it.

Ruben Fleischer, director of the simply fantastic "Zombieland," has now wrapped "30 Minutes Or Less" and moved on to prepping his next flick, "The Gangster Squad," and he's about to get a great cast for it.

The flick, based on a series of L.A. Times articles, tells the true story of a secret police task force that went after Meyer Harris "Mickey" Cohen, a high-profile gangster who was a member of the "Jewish Mafia" in the 1940s. And, according to Variety, Sean Penn is in talks to take the lead in this, with Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin expected to quickly follow suit if he does.

And in the meantime, here's the first red band trailer for Fleischer's next movie, "30 Minutes or Less," set to come out Aug. 12. As you'll see from the trailer, it stars Jesse Eisenberg, veryfunnyman Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride in a story about two guys (Eisenberg and Ansari) who are forced to rob a bank. Like I said, I'm hoping the movie itself will be a damn sight funnier than this trailer which, being of the red band variety, make sure you watch with headphones if you're at work. Enjoy, and then stick around for the trailer for what could be a real charmer/sleeper this summer.

OK, finally today comes the second trailer I've seen for the British flick "Submarine," which looks like it was made just for me. It looks like your typical coming-of-age movie, but from what I'm seen so far I'm still betting on very funny and very charming, much like the criminally overlooked "Rocket Science" from a few years ago (rent that already!). It also doesn't look like the kind of movie that has any prayer of playing in my little corner of the world when it comes stateside on June 3, but now that it somehow sports the words "Ben Stiller presents," who knows. Enjoy, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Totoro+Ponyo=pure bliss, plus a small clip show

I'd love to give credit for this cartoon, but I really have no idea who made it. I do know, however, that even without any words, it's simply adorable, and perfect for a Wednesday morning.

And even better than that, a click on Hayao Miyazaki's name at the IMDB reveals he's now listed as directing a sequel to my favorite of his, "Porco Rosso," titled "Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie." Bully. (And to see the cartoon in all its glory, simply click on it a few times to see it really embiggened).

I should probably just stop there, because I really don't think anything can top that cartoon, but I'll try. Next Thursday, I'm off to the Atlanta Film Festival, and hopefully with a ticket to see "Terri," the opening night movie (I won't find out what comes with my press pass until I get there, unfortunately.) As you'll see from the trailer below, the movie, directed by Azazel Jacobs and starring Jacob Wysocki, John C. Reilly and even Creed Bratton of "The Office," is about an outcast, just about my favorite kind of flick. Enjoy.

I sure wish I got BBC America, because after getting a copy of the latest "Doctor Who" Christmas special from, I'm really jonesing for more. Season six comes to the network on Saturday night, if you're lucky enough to get it, and just in case you needed a refresher course on the history of the good doctor and his exploits, the Fine brothers are here to help, and this is really funny stuff. Enjoy.

And speaking of funny, there really is no better place to end up today than with this Funny or Die "trailer" for a Monopoly movie. This would be even funnier without the depressing reality that there really will be a Monopoly movie, but even with that sad fact, this is really hilarious stuff. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Remember good, old-fashioned books?

Repackaged TV shows, comic books (too often, it seems) and even board games (yes, really). It certainly seems like anything can be fodder for movies these days, but far too often the most obvious source gets overlooked: Good, old-fashioned books.

This year, three books that I've enjoyed to varying degrees are coming to the big screen, and it starts this week with "Water for Elephants."

On paper at least, Sara Gruen's popular novel, being directed by Richard Lawrence (director of "I Am Legend" and a whole lot of music videos before that), seems like it would be a hard one to screw up in movie form, because the story is just so naturally epic. And with Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz and the great Hal Holbrook, it features a first rate cast, too, so here's hoping it all works out.

Another wildly popular book that is making the leap to movies this year is Kathryn Stockett's "The Help," but in this case, I'm hoping the flick will be a lot better than the novel. While I didn't hate Stockett's work, I found it to be full of stock characters drawn in broad strokes of black and white (and that, despite the book's subject matter, has nothing to with race). As a movie, however, it has great potential.

In this case, too, the story of a young Southern woman who led a group of black maids to find the voice for their grievances has a perfect cast, led by solidly funny lady Emma Stone in the main role of Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan and Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark, the leader of the maids. Keep an eye out for this as counter programming to all the super hero flicks and late summer comedies Aug. 12. Here's the first trailer I know of for it:

And finally, from a book intended for readers much younger than me that nonetheless managed to thoroughly engross me, Martin Scorsese will bring Brian Selznick's young adult novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" to the big screen Nov. 23 as the shortened "Hugo Cabret" (and, unfortunately, in 3-D, but I think I've lost that battle already).

The magical story is about a boy who lives a secret life inside the walls of a Paris train station. There, he discovers one of French filmmaker George Méliès' automatons, which were mechanical, wind-up figures, and that's when the tale really gets fun.

For the movie, young Hugo is played by Asa Butterfield, with his friend Isabelle being played by Chloe Moretz (a Georgian and the unforgettable Hit-Girl from "Kick-Ass") and the station inspector being played by Sacha Baron Cohen. Even in awful 3-D, I really can't see anyway that Scorsese can make this into anything but a completely fun holiday flick.

I always try to picture the books I'm reading as movies (Williams Boyd's spy saga "Restless" would make a great one, but no one's jumped on that yet), so here's hoping they can continue to inspire great filmmakers in this increasingly digital world. Peace out.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What's ahead on season two of terrific "Treme"?

I suppose it's somehow appropriate that as I write this, there are storm sirens going off here in Macon. Nothing serious right here, as far as I can tell, but not the greatest thing to wake up to on a Saturday morning.

Much more pleasant are thoughts about David Simon's "Treme," which is surely to be overshadowed by the premiere of HBO's "Game of Thrones" tomorrow night (my DVR is ready), but makes its season 2 premiere seven days later.

If you missed out on season one, you're apparently far from alone. Not surprisingly, given how slow the show can unfold, it was just as slow to catch on with viewers (I don't have the numbers in front of me, but they definitely weren't great.) But the same was true with Simon's "The Wire," and well, hopefully we all know how great that turned out to be.

No other show that I can think of debuted with such an immediate and thoroughly organic sense of time and place, and then let its stories unfold at a rhythm perfectly suited to the city it chronicles. And those stories, a mix of horror and hope in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, can be thoroughly engrossing if you give them the time to suck you in.

And here, courtesy of the Hollywood Reporter, is a taste of what's ahead on the new season, followed by a preview video from HBO with, of course, some simply sensational music.

Per THR, season two jumps ahead more than a year after Katrina, a time when "crime is up, help is slow, tourism is way down and outsiders with money are pouring in to profit from the reconstruction." Though there's apparently mention of the savior (Drew Brees) that would finally deliver the city gridiron glory, that's in the future.

Here's what's ahead for key characters, per THR, with the very best news of all being that the great Kim Dickens will give up on the Big Apple and return to New Orleans for season two (AND, PLEASE NOTE, IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN SEASON ONE, BUT WANT TO, THERE'S A RATHER GINORMOUS SPOILER IN PARAGRAPH ONE, SO YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP THAT ONE!)

As Season 2 kicks off, we find Toni (Melissa Leo) still trying to fight the good fight but still hurt by the suicide of her husband, Creighton (John Goodman). Daughter Sofia (India Ennenga, now a full-time cast member) has seemingly absorbed her dead father’s rage and despair over the state of New Orleans, and that puts additional pressure on Toni.

Antoine (Wendell Pierce) has designs on starting his own band; Albert (Clarke Peters) is dumped out of the bar he revamped when the owner returns; Albert’s son Delmond (Rob Brown) begins to feel the allure of New Orleans again when his fellow New Yorkers disparage the culture; and Janette (Kim Dickens) also tires of the Big Apple as she works under a demanding but talented chef (Anthony Bourdain has been added to the writing staff, so the kitchen banter and attention to detail is exceptional).

Meanwhile, DJ Davis (Steve Zahn) is still pissing off his bosses at the radio station, still railing against the dying of the culture, but at least he’s got a blossoming relationship with Annie Tee (the lovely and talented Lucia Micarelli). Sonny (Michiel Huisman), noted screw-up and Annie’s ex, takes one step forward and two back, as expected. Lt. Colson (David Morse, who also gets upped to full-time cast member) continues to deal with the police department’s handling of crime in the city. And a newcomer from Dallas, Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda), adds to the political intrigue and race to reshape New Orleans.

Sounds like exactly more of the same to me, so I can only say bring it on. Keep an eye out for this beginning April 24 at 10 p.m., following "Game of Thrones." And, as promised, I'll leave you with this brief season two preview of sorts featuring a slammin' brass band. Peace out.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose: TV's best drama returns tonight

Actually, there's one thing out there today that, if not better, is at least odder, and that's good enough for me.

Having grown up around the Chesapeake Bay, I'm well aware that it's unfortunately full of all kinds of poisonous things that live there and kill the oysters and fish, largely from the chicken s$#% that rolls off the farms and into the waterway. It's still a stretch that these toxins would make the leap and start killing human beings on a large scale, but in the realm of horror movies, I suppose anything's possible.

It seems that Barry Levinson, a Baltimorean who, back in the day, made one truly great movie about Charm City ("Diner") and several more fairly good ones ("Tin Men" and "Avalon" among them), has returned to Maryland and made a horror movie titled "The Bay." The flick will apparently be a found footage kind of thing about an isopod parasite that is unleashed from the bay and carries a horrific, untreatable disease.

Laugh if you want to, but much more than just about any other kind of horror story you might be able to cook up, that truly terrifies me, so I'll be there to see this, probably with my eyes covered at several points.

But the main event here today is the return of TV's best drama (yes, better than "Mad Men" and anything else you can name in my book) to NBC tonight for what will be its fifth and final season. And from what I've heard from folks who are lucky enough to have DirecTV and have seen this already, the show really goes out on top.

If you've never seen the show, you've really missed out on a true original: A prime-time TV series that takes a fairly hard look at life in modern middle America, but still manages to be extremely addictive. And transitioning from season three to season four with a cast of new kids mixed in with the regulars, the show somehow got even better, largely due to the addition of Michael B. Jordan (yes, really, with the B added I suppose to remove any confusion) as Vince. He's an actor I've loved watching grow up, first as the truly doomed Wallace on "The Wire" and now both on "Friday Night Lights" and also as Alex on the almost-as-good "Parenthood" (and man has that show piled on the drama lately!)

Like many great shows, "Friday Night Lights" will get most of its recognition after it leaves the air. Although Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton have rightly been nominated for best acting Emmys, if this final season is as good as I'm expecting, a posthumous Best Dramatic Series nod should be coming too.

But back to the present. Not to spoil too much, but here's a bit of what you'll see on tonight's premiere, courtesy of AICN, followed by a preview from NBC, and then stick around for two more trailers that caught my eye this morning.

• The East Dillon Lions, with only two wins last season, are to take on the state champions this week in something called The Whataburger Kickoff Classic.
• Both Julie Taylor and Landry Clarke are now high-school grads and spend most of their components of the episode saying goodbye.
• Landry’s band performs a final concert, and they sound great.

OK, now on to the trailers, starting with easily the most literal title since "Snakes on a Plane," "Cowboys & Aliens." With a title like that, you'd better deliver exactly what's promised, and as you'll see from this first theatrical trailer, it does. And thankfully, it looks like Jon Favreau's movie starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde will be just as much fun as it should be when it drops July 29. Enjoy.

And finally today, a clip that's really just perfect for a Friday morning. I had never heard of "Casa de mi Padre" until this morning, but judging from this trailer, it should be a real hoot. As you'll see, Will Ferrell (funny in any language) somehow stars in this spoof of telenovelas that also features the "Y Tu Mama Tambien" duo of Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, and even Pedro too. Keep an eye out for this some time later this year, enjoy the trailer, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. And if you haven't yet, please go see "Hanna," because it really is the best theater movie I've managed to see so far this year. Peace out.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cannes lineup a sign of great things to come

Actually, before I get into any of that, there are two bits of very good news out there today, so let's get right to it.

First up, pretty easily the best coup that PBS' "American Masters" documentary series has pulled off so far: Two nights with Woody Allen, coming this fall. At least two hours on Woody's career, with his participation? Yeah, I'm definitely in.

And even better, one of my favorite books is being made into a movie this summer, and it's even being filmed right here in Georgia. If you've never read Warren St. John's "Outcasts United," I really can't recommend a piece of nonfiction much higher, even if you're not as big a soccer fan as I am.

The book tells the story of a team of mostly African refugee kids whose families, if they have one, have been relocated to Clarkston, Ga., a community very happy to take the government money that comes with them, but not always as keen for the new residents that come with it. It's just a great story about modern America, and it should make for a fantastic flick.

"Under the Tuscan Sun" (which I haven't seen) director Audrey Wells is the helmer for this, which is somehow being financed by Universal, even though it will of course star a group of unknown African kids. And who knows? If I finally get off my ass and answer one of the calls for extras that go out for all the movies filmed here (hey, we even had "Zombieland"!), you might even see me sitting in the stands watching one of the games. Definitely keep an eye on this one.

OK, on to the main event, before we wrap things up with a couple of great videos. The full lineup for the Cannes Film Festival has just come out, and as usual it features a lot of movies from directors I've never heard of and a few that stand out immediately.

The biggest player is Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life," starring one Brad Pitt, but Pedro Almodovar should also garner plenty of attention with "The Skin that I Inhabit," as should Lars Von Trier with "Melancholia," starring Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg. One other that stands out to me is "The Kid With a Bike," the latest creation from the Belgian Dardenne brothers, who made the simply sublime "L'Enfant" and "Le Fils," among other movies.

The Un Certain Regard category features Gus Van Sant's latest, "Restless," starring Mia Wasikowska. And the Out of Competition list has plenty of star power, with Jodie Foster's "The Beaver," starring that wacky Mel Gibson, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" with Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, and even "Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom of Doom." Here's the complete list:

In competition:
* The Skin That I Inhabit – Pedro Almodovar
* L’Apollonide – Betrand Bonello
* Foot Note – Joseph Cedar
* Paterre – Alain Cavalier
* Once Upon A Time In Anatolia – Nuri Bilge Ceylan
* The Kid With The Bike – The Dardenne Brothers
* Le Havre – Aki Kaurismaki
* Hanezu no Tsuki – Naomi Kawase
* Sleeping Beauty – Julia Leigh
* Tree of LIfe – Terrence Malick
* La Source de Femmes – Radu Mihaileanu
* Polisse – Maïwenn Le Besco
* Harakiri – Takashi Miike
* We Have A Pope – Nanni Moretti
* Melancholia – Lars Von Trier
* This Must Be The Place – Paolo Sorrentino
* Drive – Nicholas Winding Refn
* We Need To Talk About Kevin – Lynne Ramsay

Un Certain Regard:
* Restless – Gus Van SantMartha Marcy May Marlene – Sean Durkin
* The Hunter – Bazur Bakuradze
* Halt auf freier Strecke – Andreas Dresen
* Skoonheid – Oliver Hermanus
* Hors Satan – Bruno Dumont
* Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro – Robert Guédiguian
* The Days He Arrives – Hong Sang-Soo
* Bonsai – Christian Jimenez
* Tatsumi – Erik Khoo
* En maintenant, on va ou? – Nadine Labaki
* Ariang – Kim Ki Duk
* Loverboy- Cătălin Mitulescu,
* Toomelah – Ivan Sen
* Yellow Sea – Na Hong-Jin,
* Miss Bala – Gerardo Naranjo,
* L’exercice de l’Etat – Pierre Schoeller,
* Oslo, August 31st Joachim Trier
* Travailler fatigue – Juliana Rojas, Marco Dutra

Out of Competition:
* The Beaver – Jodie Foster
* The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius
* Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Rob Marshall
* La Conquete – Xavier Durringer
* Kung Fu Panda 2: The Kaboom Of Doom – Jennifer Yuh

Special Screenings:
* Labrador – Frederikke Aspock
* Le maître des forges de l’enfer – Rithy Panh
* Un documentaire sur Michel Petrucciani – Michael Radford
* Tous au Larzac – Christian Rouaud

OK, now as promised, on to the videos, starting with Peter Jackson's first production diary for "The Hobbit," and at 10 minutes it's a real treasure. With shooting about to begin, he offers a tour of some of the sets and introduces some of the cast. As great as the "Lord of the Rings" movies are, I've always had a very soft spot for "The Hobbit," both because it's just much more of a kids story and because I learned to play the pianos to those great songs from the animated flick. Enjoy the clip.

And to wrap things up today, just a silly little clip leftover from the most recent new episode of "Parks and Recreation," featuring Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones. If I'm not mistaken, all four of NBC's Thursday night comedies will be new tonight, with the beginning of Will Ferrell's short run on "The Office" a definite highlight. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In honor of the late Sidney Lumet: Free movies!

Before we get into any of that, and afterwards some other video treasures, you really can't do much better for extremely funny news than those wacky Chinese.

It seems that, upset with how the country has been portrayed in recent movies, whoever controls such things in China has come up with a novel solution: Ban time travel in movies and TV. Take a second to let that sink in.

Here's what film critic Raymond Zhou Liming had to say, apparently in support of this madness:

“The rationale [for the time travel ban] is that whatever isn’t possible in the real world belongs to superstition."

Well, with logic that solid, it's really hard to argue. Here's a bit more from Zhou, via the Hollywood Reporter:

“Most time travel content that I’ve seen (in literature and theater, that is) is actually not heavy on science, but an excuse to comment on current affairs."

Fair enough, I guess. If I had the power, though, I'd ban something really harmful, like movies with too many endings. Now that would be movie justice.

OK, now on the videos, first two from Sidney Lumet, then two more that I guarantee it's well worth sticking around for. When Sidney Lumet died recently, we lost one of our truly great directors, and if they were all online in their entirety (and I could find them), I could easily post 10-20 of his movies. Heck, I even really, really like "The Wiz."

For the sake of efficiency, however, let's just stick to two, one of his first and his very last. First up comes "12 Angry Men," a movie we all surely had to watch in grade school, and still one of the finest legal dramas ever made. The flick starred Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E. G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, John Fiedler, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec and Robert Webber, and here (if I'm not mistaken - I didn't have time to watch the whole thing) is the movie in its entirety. Enjoy.

Next up comes Lumet's last movie, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," a little crime drama that proves he was on top of his game until the very end. The 2007 movie starred Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney and even Amy Ryan. It's a pretty superb flick all around, but if you're going to watch any of this at work, please be warned: Marisa Tomei, as she has fairly often recently, gets naked early and often in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," so don't say I didn't warn you. Enjoy the movie.

After that today, I just have two more clips that caught my eye this morning, starting (where else) with Larry David and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." As you'll see from this behind-the-scenes teaser for season eight, Ricky Gervais, Michael J. Fox and even Bill Buckner are all set to appear, and the Fox stuff looks particularly funny in the true Larry way. We have to wait, unfortunately, until July 10 to see the show move to New York, but enjoy this clip now.

And to wrap things up today, courtesy of Screen Rant and to get you in the mood for summer, here is the ultimate summer movie trailer. An example of film editing at its finest, it manages to pull together clips from "Thor," "Cowboys and Aliens," "X-Men: First Class," "The Hangover Part II," "Cars 2" and others for one simply awesome trailer. In fact, it's nearly guaranteed that these three minutes or so are probably better than many of the movies they feature. Enjoy, and have a perfectly endurable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

DVD review: If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise"

Toiling largely in the shadows of popular culture, Spike Lee is nonetheless doing some of his most important, insightful and yes, entertaining work in telling the story of New Orleans, as he first did with "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts" and now with "If God is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise," coming to DVD on April 19.

Lee returns to the city five years after it was thoroughly savaged by Hurricane Katrina, framing his story with ecstasy and then agony, starting with the Saints' victory in the Super Bowl and wrapping things up (four hours later) with an examination of the BP oil spill. And, through interviews with people who have either stuck it out there, managed to return or simply moved on, he tries, in the early segments, to get at the psyche of the Crescent City. It is, as several people note, a city with both a serious inferiority complex and schizophrenia, where, as one woman states, it's a "blessing and a privilege" to live, even as the disasters keep coming.

As he does with his best works of fiction ("Bamboozled" and "Get on the Bus" in my book), Lee lays out the city's dilemma in words and images that are equally striking. It's hard to argue when you hear residents describe the shackling of housing projects as "ethnic cleansing" or later when the term "dispersants" is used for much more than something to spread out spilled oil. It's with images, however, that Lee makes his most penetrating points, as when he uses the stone steps that are often all that remain to introduce a segment about the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, but much less subtly or successfully as the bodies simply start to pile up at the end.

The meat of Lee's story this time out is pretty much the rebuilding of the city from the ground up, or in effect as one resident puts it, "nation building." As he examines the services we all take for granted - from policing to health care - there are at least as many failures as successes, from the still-closed Charity Hospital to the Dr. King Charter School of Excellence, which was reopened and reborn through the sheer will of the people who depend on it.

What makes this all go down a lot smoother is that it's peppered throughout with interviews with a wide variety of New Orleans residents whose lives are very engaging, along with both heroes and goats who have had an impact on the city. In the latter categories are retired Lt. Gen. Russell Honoré, who was sent to take charge in the wake of Katrina and has evolved into a local hero, and on the opposite end, former FEMA chief Mike Brown, who to his credit submits to an interview and even has the nerve to refer to himself now as an "emergency management consultant" with a straight face.

And it's humor like that in these dire circumstances that makes Lee's movie so watchable, even if he of course could have used an editor brave enough to question its length. The funniest point in Lee's second New Orleans documentary comes early as a man who's been dispersed to Houston explains, with his wife sitting beside him, how he was looking for "a churchgoing woman with a house," and since he admittedly has a foot fetish, how their coming together was a matter of "fate, and probably feet."

In the closing credits, the many personalities reintroduce themselves holding picture frames, which just reinforces what makes what is ultimately a four-hour civics lesson as entertaining and often riveting as it is important: The people. And they are what make Spike Lee's "If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don't Rise" worth checking out on DVD.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Jeff Buckley biopic in the works (and I even resisted saying "hallelujah")

Actually, there's even better news out there, so why not start there?

If you haven't seen "Black Dynamite," there are few rentals I can recommend higher. A spoof that, rather than simply compiling a string of barely related jokes, instead serves a lovingly rude tribute to the blaxpoitation films that inspired it, it's just fall-down funny from start to finish.

And now it seems the movie will live on, sort of, as an animated offering on Adult Swim (yes, please!) The animated series is being developed by Carl Jones of "The Boondocks" (not one of my favorite shows, but this is something quite different), and it will feature the voices of "Black Dynamite" stars Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite himself), Tommy Davidson, Kym Whitley and Byron Minns. No word yet on when this will debut, but you'll know as soon as I do.

But today was supposed to start with news of a potentially great music biopic in the works, so here it is. Now that we're fairly removed from the glut of them led by "Ray and "Walk the Line," I've kind of got a hankering for one again, and certainly for one about the great Jeff Buckley.

Before drowning in a harbor in Tennessee way, way, way too early, Buckley managed to create one amazing album with "Grace," which I still listen to all the time. The only question I had when I first saw this (at Deadline) was why his story hasn't been told until now.

The man taking up the charge is Jake Scott, son of one Ridley, who has directed "Welcome to the Rileys" (which I haven't seen) and music videos for the likes of R.E.M., Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins. Nothing but good news there, so I'll just leave you with my favorite Buckley song, "Lilac Wine," performed live, before a closing shot from Jon Stewart

It's not a shock either that Jon Stewart would devote an entire episode of "The Daily Show" to the departing (huzzah!) Glenn Beck, or that it would be extremely funny. It's so good, in fact, that if he bothered to watch it, I think even Mr. Beck would have to admit he enjoyed it (except, perhaps, when he was compared to mononucleosis). Enjoy this excerpt, and have a great weekend. As for me, I'm off to do so some swimming, and then hopefully for an entertaining double feature of "Your Highness" and then "Hanna." Peace out.

Friday, April 08, 2011

A Will Ferrell kinda Friday

I know the man has his haters, but I've always been more than a bit of a Will Ferrell fan. Certainly, he can be annoying in excess, but he had the best comedy of 2010 in my book with "The Other Guys" (with Emma Stone and "Easy A" in a close second), and I'm really looking forward to his short stint on "The Office" beginning next week. More on that in a bit.

Here today, he's the common element in a trio of videos that are all I have time to post because my power went out for about 30 minutes this morning. No fun, but I know people who had it off for days this week, so really nothing to complain about.

First up today, Jack Black, Ferrell, his protege, John C. Reilly, Danny McBride, Elijah Wood, Seth Rogen, Rainn Wilson, Will Arnett and others all appear in "Party for Your Right to Fight," a two-minute teaser of sorts for the upcoming Beastie Boys album "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two," due out May 3. The real moral of this is this many white dudes should really never try to act so black, but there's just something truly entertaining about watching Ferrell break dance.

And after that today, all I have is two clips from Ferrell's debut as the short-term replacement for Steve Carell's Michael Scott on "The Office," which begins Thursday. He should be really funny in this, but won't be the new permanent boss next season, who will apparently be one of these five: Arnett, Ricky Gervais, Catherine Tate, James Spader or Ray Romano. An eclectic bunch, so bring it on. Enjoy the clips, have a great weekend, and go see at least one movie this weekend, since we seem to have four opening that might just not entirely suck. Peace out.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Robert Redford to resurrect the big baseball movie

Where to start in a baseball season in which, while the Orioles have lost a game, they're still in first place in the American League East, and for once by power of something besides sheer alphabetical order? With talk of a grand baseball movie, of course.

It seems that Robert Redford, who has been shopping the idea of a Jackie Robinson movie for some time now, is finally getting things rolling with the choice of a writer/director, Brian Helgeland. And being Robert Redford, he's scooped up a choice role for himself: Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager who brought Robinson to the big leagues.

The movie will apparently focus on the complicated relationship of Robinson and Rickey rather than specifically on Jackie's breaking of the MLB color barrier, but no matter what the focus, there are few genres of flicks I love more than the big baseball movie, so bring it on!

It will be a short report today because I was up rather late (well, by my standards, anyway) watching "Spamalot" (thanks, Stephanie!), and therefore got up late too. There is, however, some big news out there about just who might be the new boss of "The Office" when Steve Carell steps down at the end of this season.

Following Michael Scott's rather nifty proposal to Holly (Amy Ryan), it was revealed that Will Ferrell will at least be serving as an interim boss, but that's apparently only for a few weeks. Shame, because he's a better candidate than just about anyone else set to interview on the show's season finale (or at least better than anyone who could actually get the job.)

Now scheduled to interview to be the next boss of Dunder Mifflin, according to the seriously TV-obsessed Michael Ausiello, are these five people: Ricky Gervais, Gob Bluth, Ray Romano, James Spader and Catherine Tate.

While having Gervais be the boss for a season or two would certainly be a scream, I really can't see him doing that. And, as Ausiello points out, Ray Romano already has a fairly great show of his own with "Men of a Certain Age," and Arnett is already committed to some kind of other pilot for NBC.

That leaves Spader and Tate, I suppose, and I'd have to say the latter would be the FAR superior choice. Nothing against Spader, who could potentially be very funny, but Catherine Tate is simply great. Perhaps best known for her role as Donna Noble on "Doctor Who," she was also fantastic in "Starter for 10," a rather criminally underseen British romantic comedy starring James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall (rent that one already!) She certainly gets my vote, but no matter how it turns out, this should just be a really fun finale.

OK, I was going to post the New Yorker's profile of veryfunnywoman Anna Faris, but it's behind a pay wall, but just trust me: If you don't get the magazine, it's worth buying this issue, just for that.

And the last thing I have today is the latest Funny or Die production which, though it starts a bit slowly, falls solidly into the former category once it gets going. The "When Harry and Sally 2" of sorts clip stars Billy Crystal, Dame Helen Mirren, Rob Reiner, Adam Scott and even Mike Tyson (but no Meg Ryan), and is pretty sublimely silly. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A fun Wednesday morning clip show

Actually, before we get into any of that, there's great news out there today for fans of "Mad Men," and given what all's been happening in the past few weeks, we certainly need some.

In the latest small step in its plan for world domination, it seems that Netflix has paid almost $1 million per episode to begin streaming the first four seasons of "Mad Men" beginning July 27. Yeah, I'll watch that. Even better, the site has also scooped up the syndication rights for the next three upcoming seasons too, taking us to the planned end of Matthew Weiner's run for the show. Bully.

And after that tidbit today, I've got a quartet of clips, starting with, if not the best, certainly the funniest one. A warning, however: everything you need to know about this clip is in its title: "Danny McBride & David Gordon Green talk monster balls." It's even more foul than that, thankfully (in fact, I wouldn't just watch this with headphones at work - it's visually raunchy too, so be careful). Actually, this is the first great movie weekend of the year. Since I'm going to see the Braves and Phillies on Sunday, I'm gonna try and squeeze in a double feature of "Hanna" and either "Arthur" or "Your Highness" on Saturday, leaving the left out one and "Soul Surfer" for next weekend. Four movies I want to see in one weekend? Nirvana. Enjoy the clip.

Next up comes a TV spot for J.J. Abrams' "Super 8," set to drop June 10. Few movies in recent memory have managed to change my opinion so much with its preview clips. I've gone from not much interested at all to wanting to see this, mostly because of the kids making movies angle, so here's hoping it doesn't disappoint. Enjoy.

HBO has been on more than a bit of a roll lately. I haven't watched "Mildred Pierce" yet, but simply because I'm saving all five episodes to watch all at once. I did, however, watch that Douglass McGrath documentary about Jerry Weintraub that aired Monday night, "His Way," and that was a minor delight. And better than all that, "Game of Thrones," with at least the pilot directed by the great Thomas McCarthy, is finally set to begin April 17 (on a Sunday, naturally.) If, like me, you really can't wait that long, however, you can watch the first 14 minutes or so below. You're welcome.

And finally today, definitely saving the silliest for last, I sincerely hope that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stan Lee know just how funny this is, because it really does look like the height of cheese. Below is the full trailer for their "The Governator," coming to some kind of TV in 2012, apparently. "Enjoy," and have a perfectly endurable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Chomet's "The Illusionist" casts enchanting spell

An animated movie being screened by the Macon Film Guild? A rare occurrence indeed, but "The Illusionist" is a charming choice, an old-fashioned animated tale that gets much of its magic from its innocence.

The somewhat surprising Best Animated Picture Oscar nominee this year is from French director Sylvain Chomet, as was a previous Guild selection, "The Triplets of Belleville." And like that flick, "The Illusionist" features no discernible dialogue, yet has a whole lot to say.

The simple story, from a screenplay co-written by Chomet and the late French director and comedian Jacques Tati, centers on one key question: Is magic real? As the movie opens, we meet the magician Tatischeff, who is struggling as much with his ornery rabbit as he is the fact that he's becoming a relic in a world drawn to much more modern and flashy forms of entertainment.

With his run in Paris ending, Tatischeff accepts a drunken invitation from a wedding guest to bring his act to Scotland, and there he meets Alice, a young girl who becomes captivated by his magic tricks, including the gift of some much-needed shoes. Tati has said he originally wrote the story in the 1950s as a tribute to his estranged eldest daughter, and the relationship of Tatischeff and Alice indeed unfolds like that of a father and his child.

Though there's nothing at all unseemly about the relationship (it's in fact entirely innocent), it's still what makes "The Illusionist" not really a movie intended for kids. As Alice grows up and the allure of Tatischeff's tricks starts to fade, she slowly discovers the joys of the world around her (including, of course, boys) and the two of them start to grow apart. It becomes a poignant tale about loss and regret, but never loses the charm that makes it so enjoyable.

Everything about "The Illusionist" is old-fashioned, from the hand-drawn, gloriously 2-D animation that makes the European cities the duo visits a beautiful tableau to the jokes that pack a sly punch without ever clobbering you over the head.

And though the story is in the end a bit slight, Chomet wisely wraps things up in 80 minutes or so, while "The Illusionist" still has its own magic. All in all, his movie is well worth a trip to the Douglass Theatre this weekend for this latest offering from the Macon Film Guild. In full disclosure, however, you won't see me there, because this Sunday I'm off to Turner Field to watch Cliff Lee and the Phillies battle the Braves in this baseball season in which my Orioles are somehow 4-0. Now there's a magic act. Peace out.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

An extended look at "Water for Elephants"

Actually, before we get into any of that, a couple of tidbits about TV, starting with a question: When's the last time you actually tuned in for a live broadcast of "Saturday Night Live."

For me, I couldn't even tell you for sure, because it's been well more than 10 years. I can, however, guarantee you that I will be tuning in one week from today, when they've managed to land the perfect host: Dame Helen Mirren, presumably to pimp the "Arthur" remake starring Russell Brand and somehow Luis Guzman too that comes out that week. Yeah, I'll watch both of those.

And HBO has just announced that the summer's funniest stretch begins at 10 p.m. July 10 when Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" returns for (I think) its eighth season. Last season's "Seinfeld" reunion of sorts was more than a bit of a dud, but with the show hitting New York this season and Ricky Gervais set to appear in some form, I'm betting on a return to very, very funny.

OK, on to the main event. Although I'm certainly going to see Duncan Jones' "Source Code" today and really looking forward to it, and thoroughly enjoyed the slyly witty "Cedar Rapids," my money is on "Water for Elephants" as the first great movie of 2011. I quickly devoured the novel by Sara Gruen, a rather epic romantic triangle tale that unfolds at a traveling circus. And the casting of this, with Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon and, looking great in these clips, Christoph Waltz as the circus' big man around the tent, looks just about perfect. And though he makes no appearance in these seven minutes or so courtesy of, keep an eye out for definite Reel Fanatic fave Hal Holbrook too. Enjoy these seven scenes from the movie, and stick around afterward for something truly very funny from "Parks and Recreation."

Quietly, "Parks and Recreation" has surpassed "Community" in my book as the funniest entry in NBC's Thursday night lineup, and this 15-minute blooper reel shows you many of the reasons why. Among other things, look out for Nick Offerman being so funny that he makes the camera man walk into a door frame, and the great Louis C.K. tell a simply disgusting dog joke. And take note, not surprisingly, the language in this can get a bit foul, so if you're somehow working on this Saturday, certainly watch it with headphones on. And if you'll excuse me now, I'm off to do some swimming and then see "Source Code." Peace out.

Friday, April 01, 2011

A fun Friday clip show

I suppose the news of the day is Matthew Weiner's inevitable deal with AMC for three more years of "Mad Men," but the most I can really bring myself to say about all that is that should TV ever, even when it's this good, be so complicated?

Here, however, are the details as I know them. With the deal (actually with Lionsgate, I believe), Weiner has agreed to do a fifth and sixth season, and if AMC wants it, a seventh season. I can't imagine they wouldn't, so what that gives us is an effective end for the show after seven seasons. I read somewhere that Weiner planned to end it after five, but things are certainly going strong now, so why not two more?

As for AMC's demands, the show, as it airs on the network, will be indeed two minutes or so shorter to incorporate more ads, but the much more onerous idea of product placement has been shelved. And as for any demand to cut or slim down the roles of characters to cut costs, I'm not sure about that, but Weiner always kind of rotates in supporting players anyway, so I doubt we'll even notice when this finally returns early next year.

OK, enough serious stuff, but there is word this morning about when two other of my favorite shows will be returning. In the past five years or so, there's only been one TV drama I've enjoyed more than "Mad Men," and that's NBC's sublime "Friday Night Lights." That show will be wrapping up its run (and probably already has on DirecTV) on NBC with this final season beginning appropriately enough Friday, April 15, and it's certainly been a great five-year run.

Also returning soon will be David Simon's New Orleans drama "Treme," on Sunday, April 24 to HBO. If you missed season one, you really missed out on a true American original, a show that moves albeit a bit slowly, but at its own rhythmic pace much like the city it portrays, and takes a lot of time for fantastic character development. If you missed it, there's really no reason I can see not to get started with season two anyway if you get HBO.

Not too many details are known about what's coming in season two, but I do know that food writer Anthony Bourdain has joined the writing staff, and that the great David Morse, who played the police chief in season one, will now be a series regular. Here's a bit more of what Simon had to say about what's in store:

"We are following the actual timeline of post-Katrina New Orleans as a means of understanding what happened -- and what didn't happen -- when an American city suffered a near-death experience. In doing so, we're trying to address ourselves to what the American experiment has become and what possibilities remain for us."

Making the role of cops more central can only be an improvement, so I'll definitely be tuning in for this. And after that today, I just have a quartet of clips, two trailers and two music clips that are just goofy fun. First up comes the first full trailer for "The Hangover Part II," which is set to drop May 26. As you'll see from the trailer, and probably already know, this time around Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms end up in Bangkok, and in my estimation at least, it promises to deliver some solid laughs, especially once Ken Jeong of "Community" turns up once again. Decide for yourself.

Next up comes the first trailer for something at least slightly more serious, the Will Ferrell dramedy "Everything Must Go," which is set to open in at least limited markets May 6. I hope Ferrell is enough to get this flick based on a short story by Raymond Carver to eventually play much wider, because I really enjoy Ferrell when he tones it down a bit. Enjoy, and stick around 'til the end for a very funny soccer joke.

OK, on to the music. First up comes the music video for the National's "Think You Can Wait," which doubles as the theme for director Thomas McCarthy's "Win Win," which is in at least a few theaters now. The song itself has a fairly groovy Nick Cave kind of vibe, and the video is a fun collection of bloopers from the movie, but it really just makes me want to see it, and has me contemplating a drive up to Atlanta this Saturday to do just that. Enjoy.

And finally today, where better to end up on a Friday morning than with Zooey Deschanel serenading Winnie the Pooh? If you've ever heard what she's doing with M. Ward as She & Him, you know it's the sweetest kind of California pop, and she carries that sound into the song from the movie featured here, "So Long." And if you've never checked out She & Him, do it already. I guarantee you won't be disappointed. And smile, folks, because it's baseball season, and the Orioles begin tonight against the Rays. Bring it on!