Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Is 3-D finally dying? The signs increasingly say yes

Change never comes easy.

And, I suppose, there are certainly more pressing issues today than the soul-sapping power of 3-D in movies, but if you're a fan of them (like me, of course), it's at least a real problem, especially during the height of the movie summer.

For movie fans, though, this summer's developments may actually be key in bringing about the insidious gimmick's demise, and for that Hollywood would have no one to blame but itself.

Quick, think, when was the last time that the addition of 3-D to a movie really dazzled, much less even mattered? For me, you have to go all the way back to Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland," and there have been a whole lot of 3-D movies released since then (for which many I refused to put on those silly glasses on top of the ones I need simply to see what's in front of me.)

And beyond the sheer glut of 3-D movies (16 of them between May and September of this year, with two big, upcoming titles being "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"), there's the fact that (for me at least) it just adds nothing to the movie-watching experience, instead just draining the screen of color and often energy, too.

The problem is particularly galling with animated movies, which are now almost universally released in 3-D. In this, if I can exaggerate what I really think is only slightly, movie studios reveal themselves to be little more than pusher men, getting kids hooked on this shiny trick before they can figure out just how little they really get out of it. Luckily, however, unlike drug addicts who are truly too far gone, moviegoers do still have a choice, and the signs, according to numbers from the New York Times (and pointed out to me by always-welcome reader Jeremy Jirik), are finally starting to point to us just saying no to unnecessary 3-D.

One 3-D flop this summer was "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," which made just 47 percent of its domestic box office take from 3-D ticket sales in week one (as a rule, successful 3-D blockbusters are expected to make about 60 percent of their first-week take from 3-D sales). Add to that last week's debut of "Kung Fu Panda 2," which made only 43 percent of its long Memorial Day weekend, $53 million take from 3-D ticket sales, and got absolutely trounced by "The Hangover: Part II," which pulled in about $118 million from Thursday-Monday.

But nothing this well entrenched will die easily, and the 3-D pushers have to take heart in its overseas performance, where fans flocked to the latest "Pirates" movie in 3-D in huge numbers. Is it, to be blunt, because they're simply dumber than we are? Of course not. It's just because 3-D hasn't been around as long or been as prevalent in some parts of the world as it has here, so there's still the thrill of the new. Eventually (I hope), everyone will see this emperor's clothing of movie gimmicks for exactly what it is.

Do I want movies to die? Certainly not. I just want them to stop leaning on this crutch which has by now much more than worn out its welcome. But what can we do aid in its demise? Well, when they're good, go see genuine, old-fashioned 2-D movies, be they big (like this week's "X-Men: First Class") or small (if you're here in Macon, check out the simply sublime "Of Gods and Men" with the Macon Film Guild on June 12.)

And in the meantime, just keep hope alive that 3-D will soon be something we can look back on with disgust. Peace out.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Michael Mann revving up something that could be really fun

Actually, though I wish it were something more solid (like when exactly we might get to see it again), any news about "Mad Men" in motion is welcome in this little corner of the world, so let's start there.

When we finally do get to see the great show again, which will apparently be some time in march (nards!), Jon Hamm will be directing the season five premiere, following in the footsteps of John Slattery, who directed two episodes from season four. Why? Because he's Jon Hamm, and if he asked to do this, do you really think anyone at "Mad Men" was going to say no?

Still a long time to wait, but at least there is a deal in place now to keep showrunner Matthew Weiner around through a seventh season, when the show is set to end.

And in movie news, one of Michael Mann's great strengths is giving his movies a strong, sometimes suffocating sense of time and place (see "Public Enemies," which I liked a whole lot more than just about anyone I've talked to about it), so he should really have a lot of fun with what Variety says he's about to sign on for.

The director is eyeing "Go Like Hell," which will be based on the book "Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari and their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans" by A.J. Baimes (sounds like what might be next on my reading list, since I'm finishing up Patrick DeWitt's sublimely funny "The Sisters Brothers").

As the book title makes fairly clear, it's about, according to the book's rather minimal official site:

The remarkable story of how Henry Ford II, with the help of a young visionary named Lee Iacocca and a former racing champion turned engineer, Carroll Shelby, concocted a scheme to reinvent the Ford company. They would enter the high-stakes world of European car racing, where an adventurous few threw safety and sanity to the wind. They would design, build, and race a car that could beat Ferrari at his own game at the most prestigious and brutal race in the world, something no American car had ever done.

Sounds like a perfect match for Mann, who hasn't directed a feature film since "Public Enemies," and I love movies about American ingenuity (see "Tucker"), so here's hoping it happens. Stay tuned ...

After that today, I just have a couple of videos, but the first one has Muppets, so bully. There's not much new here at all, but just in case you're planning to skip "The Hangover: Part II," consider me sharing this second teaser for "The Muppets" that both spoofs and will precede it as a public service. Enjoy.

To close today, Zach Galifianakis' "Between Two Ferns" segments for Funny or Die often tend toward to the latter, but he does bring some of the funny in this clip featuring Will Ferrell. And just to bring the "Mad Men" vibe full circle, keep an eye out for Jon Hamm near the end. And with that, I'm off to do some laundry, go swimming, and then probably see "Kung Fu Panda 2" in glorious 2-D. Peace out.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Remember Alexander Payne? He's finally back

Quick, can anyone remember how long it's been since Alexander Payne has made a feature film? Rather amazingly, it's been since 2004, with the seriously satisfying "Sideways."

Which is a real shame, because when he gets a chance to work, he's easily one of my favorite directors. On top of his game, as with "Sideways" and the even better "Election," he just has a wicked sense of humor with a real bite that I appreciate. And for an earlier pick that you can somehow still find at Netflix, "Citizen Ruth," while a much broader kind of flick, is a satire about abortion politics starring Laura Dern that holds absolutely nothing back.

His only real misfire so far, at least for me, was "About Schmidt," which garnered mostly very positive reviews, but to me was just a sappy, truly pointless mess.

Anyways, he's finally back again now with "The Descendants," something serious looking that just happens to star one George Clooney. Best as I can gather, it's about a land baron (Clooney) who's working to reconnect with his daughters after his wife is injured in a boating accident. Like I said, cheerful stuff, but I'm betting on some sly touches, and that this will be a real winner when it comes out Dec. 16.

And in perhaps even better news, we might just not have to wait so long for Payne to direct his next movie after this one. According to the IMDB, he's at least attached to direct a movie based on the novel "Fork in the Road" by Denis Hamill. Though I haven't read that book, here's the synopsis from Publisher's Weekly, which makes it sound like fun stuff:

Twenty-five-year-old film director Colin Coyne goes to Dublin to write a screenplay about his alter ego Kieran, an Irish American from New York who goes to Ireland to find the girl of his dreams. Scripting his film as he lives it, Colin discovers that the line between art and life has been erased by Gina Furey, a gypsy he catches trying to pick his pocket in a crowded pub. Soon he's involved in a passionate but ultimately dangerous affair, with consequences that far exceed anything Colin might have imagined.

Juicy. Who knows if that will actually happen, but in the meantime, enjoy this first trailer for "The Descendants," and then stick around for some more truly raunchy fun from the ladies of "Bridesmaids."

You (or at least I) got the feeling watching "Bridesmaids" that with that many truly funny women in one place, there must have been a lot of pretty great stuff left on the cutting room floor. I'd have to imagine a lot more of that will be on the eventual DVD release, but in the meantime, Funny or Die has released this collection of outtakes that's definitely in the former category. Be warned, if you're watching this at work, do so with headphones, because it is sometimes truly and delightfully foul. You get a lot more Jon Hamm (with Kristen Wiig making monkey noises), and thankfully some more Melissa McCarthy too. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A big Wednesday clip show, with the Muppets and Larry David

Actually, let's start out with a couple of nuggets of movie news first, starting with what just might be the first chink in the armor of 3-D (hey, one can dream right?).

I don't really think unnecessary 3-D is going to go away any time soon, but lost in the fairly low domestic numbers and critical lambasting of "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" was a subset of numbers that was very intriguing.

Blockbuster movies made in (or more likely just converted to) 3-D are generally expected to take in 55 to 65 percent of their opening weekend take in 3-D ticket sales. Well, domestically at least, the latest "Pirates" took in only 47 percent of its $90 million from 3-D sales.

Just an outlier, perhaps, and international audiences apparently still went gaga for 3-D and the movie itself, but in this war, I'll take any small victory I can get. Keep hope alive!

And in other movie news, "Jane Eyre" and "Sin Nombre" director Cary Fukunaga has signed on to direct the Civil War movie "No Blood, No Guts, No Glory," based on the Great Locomotive Chase.

In case you're unfamiliar with that bit of U.S. history, it's about an escapade in which 20 Union soldiers in disguise took over a train and ran it ragged on the Western & Atlantic Railroad tracks, doing extensive damage and cutting Confederate communications lines along the way. It's an amazing story that's been the inspiration for one other movie already, Buster Keaton's "The General."

I liked "Jane Eyre" OK, but if you're looking for a great rental, "Sin Nombre" is fantastic, and Fukunaga should have nothing but fun with this ambitious project.

OK, now quickly on to the videos, starting with (where else?) the first trailer I know of for the Muppet movie coming out this Thanksgiving. Best as I can tell, the title has now been shortened to simply "The Muppets," and as you'll see from this clever teaser, it stars Jason Segel, Amy Adams and all your favorite Muppets. This teaser at least has the simple, old-fashioned feel I was expecting, so definitely bring it on. Enjoy.

"Game of Thrones" gets better each week on HBO, and with the HBO Go I've enjoyed catching up with all the episodes of Jonathan Ames' rather sublimely funny "Bored to Death," but what I'm really looking forward to is the return of Larry David and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." We'll have to wait until July 10 for the new season, but here's the first teaser trailer I know of for it, and as you'll see, Larry is just as socially awkward (blacks blush!) as ever.

And keeping with TV comedies, there really wasn't a better one this past season than NBC's "Parks and Recreation," and Emmy consideration would certainly be warranted. Well, Universal Studios has wisely picked up on this, and in its Emmy push, has put all 18 episodes online in their entirety for you to enjoy over again. The link to those is here, and in the meantime, also enjoy this clip of the best of Rob Lowe as Chris Traeger, "literally" one of the funniest characters on TV now.

And finally what better way to finish up a Wednesday report than with full movies? Though I'm more than a little psyched to see what Steven Spielberg will come up with for "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" this Christmas, I enjoy the old-fashioned look of Hergé's comics even more. Spielberg's flick will actually be based on three Tintin tales, and here's one of them, "The Crab with the Golden Claws," in its simply and gloriously animated entirety. Enjoy, and then stick around for a parting shot from the Beatles.

The truly fun rock 'n' roll movie is probably dead and gone by now, and sorely missed. To brighten up your Wednesday morning, I'll leave you with easily one of the funnest, the Beatles' "Help!", in its entirety. Enjoy, and have a perfectly endurable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Summer of sequels: Is there anything good left on the menu?

I'm sure it's happened before, but it's been particularly galling that for the past two weeks we've had nothing but sequels in wide release.

And of course, that's not going to change any time soon, so rather than complain about something I can't do anything about (though anyone who knows me knows I do plenty of that, too), let's just take a look at what's on the sequel menu this summer to see if there will be anything worth ordering.

"Kung Fu Panda 2"
What's not to love about a panda that does kung fu? Of the two sequels opening this weekend, I'm definitely in for this one.

"The Hangover Part II"
When someone pointed out to director Todd Phillips that the story of this one looked exactly like the one for the first "Hangover," he basically said, "so what, it's just a comedy." He's right, I guess, and I certainly laughed at No. 1, so I'm up for one more round with the guys, this time out in Bangkok. Opening Friday.

"X-Men: First Class"
Matthew Vaughn will probably never make a movie as cool as "Kick-Ass," but from what I've seen so far, this prequel (not a sequel, I know, but bear with me) about the origins of the "X-Men" should be great. My only complaint: Between the trailers and every other kind of clip, it certainly seems like I've seen most of the movie already, so here's hoping there's something left to surprise us. Opening June 3.

"Cars 2"
The cars as international super spies? Sounds too silly even for me, who sees far too many animated movies, so I think I'll just say no to this one (which would make it the first Pixar movie I've skipped.) Opening June 24.

"Transformers: The Dark of the Moon"
No one spreads mass destruction better than Michael Bay, if that's your thing, and the third installment in his giant robot saga should be the loudest one yet. I'm not sure I can take any more myself. Opening June 29.

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2"
Not just a sequel, but the second half of a sequel? It's getting hard to keep all this straight, but the end to J.K. Rowling's wizarding tale should be the best movie in wide release for the rest of this summer, so I'm definitely in. Opening July 15.

"Final Destination 5"
This one just raises too many questions. If I skipped the first four of these (which I did), won't I just be confused if I start now? How can there already have been four, if No. 1 was supposed to be the "Final Destination"? And wasn't that actually supposed to arrive last Saturday? Now my head just hurts. Opening Aug. 12.

"Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World"
This one looks like its squarely aimed at kids, and what in the world is wrong with that? Robert Rodriguez usually has a lot of fun when he makes movies for younguns, and I loved the first of these movies, but I think I'll just have to skip this course unless it gets some incredibly good buzz. Opening Aug. 19.

And to close, if I can, a plug for a non-sequel that I finally managed to catch up with last weekend, and may well be out of theaters by now, "Soul Surfer." Yes, it's a Christian movie, but a fairly subtle one at that, and who can't be inspired by the story of Bethany Hamilton, the professional surfer who lost an entire arm in a shark attack? The surfing action is beautifully shot, the acting (especially from young AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany) is solid, and it's just a genuine feel-good story well told. So, catch it if you still can (it was still playing at the Galleria in Centerville last weekend), and keep an eye out for it on DVD if not. Peace out.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why it's time to shut down "The Office," plus a visit from Conan O'Brien

"If you're going to jump a shark, jump a big one."

Say what you want to about Ricky Gervais, but as easily one of the funniest people on the planet, he certainly should know when something is genuinely funny and when, well, it simply isn't. And, unfortunately, as he correctly pointed out, the latter was very often the case with Thursday's "The Office" finale.

It wasn't just the piling on of guest stars and giving them each about two minutes at most of screen time, but on top of that they gave almost all of them nothing to work with. James Spader was OK, and Jim Carrey arrived at the very end to provoke one of the only real laughs, at least from me, of the entire show.

And you know, it didn't really even annoy me by the end (BIG SPOILER AHEAD) that they didn't even bother to pick a new boss after all that build-up, because it really didn't feel like a show I want to keep watching anyway. It was, awkwardly and often painfully, more like a muddled pilot for a show still trying to figure where it wants to go, and for one that's been on so long, that's just pretty pathetic.

The best possible scenario now? Darryl gets the job, because Craig Robinson is still a very funny dude, and perhaps he can salvage this mess, but it's going to be a rather epic task.

As for me, I'm most likely done with "The Office," but not with everything on NBC's Thursday night lineup, because if you stuck around for the hour-long "Parks and Recreation" finale, you saw a show that's still fresh and genuinely funny, often wickedly so.

The first half was good, but once poor Lil Sebastian died and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) decided to reorganize the office (putting Ron Swanson in that great captain's chair), it was all comedy bliss from there.

I have to assume Aziz Ansari will be back, and the promise of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler, who I've grown to like a whole lot more than I did before this show) running for office means I definitely will be too.

And to wrap things up today, here's the first trailer I know of for "Conan O'Brien Can't Stop." Though I would have ponied up for a straightforward documentary about when he took his comedy show on the road, this instead promises to be a much more behind-the-scenes kind of look, which should be even better. I have no idea when or if this is going to make a theatrical run, but keep an eye out for it if you live in a bigger corner of the world than I do, and have a great rest of the weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bawdy "Bridesmaids" and the power of momentum

Though I didn't read the article because it's behind a Variety pay wall and, well, I'm cheap, this headline is what caught my eye this morning: ' "Bridesmaids" beats "Thor" at midweek box office.'

Having seen the movie and pretty much loved it, I'm not terribly surprised, but it's great news all the same. Fueling the fire is word of mouth among women and - by natural progression - the dudes they're convincing that it's nothing to be scared of.

It indeed isn't, but the movie is kind of a bait and switch, though one that still manages to entertain throughout and won't leave anyone feeling cheated. If you go in having watched the commercials and clips and are expecting a raunch fest fitting of the house of Apatow, you won't be disappointed. About halfway in, however, it switches gears seamlessly into more of an observational comedy about growing up and still keeping the friends you had when you were younger and care-free.

There's no way, of course, that it will beat "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" this week, but it should come close to matching the $25 million or so it made in week one, and that would be a real accomplishment. Heck, given the rather scathing "Pirates" reviews and the fact that No.3 was just so bloody awful, I think I just might go see "Bridesmaids" again this week if I go to the movies at all.

And though Kristen Wiig is the big star at the center of it all, Melissa McCarthy steals every scene she's allowed to be in, and word has come this week that she's teamed up with "Bridesmaids" co-writer (with Wiig) Annie Mumolo to pitch a new comedy to paramount for McCarthy to star in, and here's the premise:

“When your husband is ill and his doctors are out of ideas, piling in the minivan with your pals to steal the Stanley Cup is one way to go.”

Sounds funny already to me, and I've loved watching McCarthy ever since "Gilmore Girls" (though I still can't bring myself to watch her CBS sitcom about fat people), so definitely bring it on.

Mumolo herself, it's just been announced, has signed a blind series development deal with ABC Studios. No idea yet on what she might come up with, but it will be produced by Tagline, the company behind USA's "Psych," and if she hatches anything nearly as funny as that mindlessly but often gloriously entertaining show, it should be great.

And with all this momentum surrounding "Bridesmaids," what of the inevitable sequel? Director Paul Feig says it's already been discussed. Here's what he had to say about it to Vulture:

"I mean, it depends how we do in the next couple weeks, but I know there's definitely ... it's already been brought up. You just want to make sure that you do it as well as you did the first one and try to make it better, even."

Something to look forward to, but in the meantime, if you're having any doubts, don't: "Bridesmaids" is a first-rate comedy for anyone who likes to laugh. 'Nuff said.

And after spending more time on that than I had planned, I'm running short of it, but there is one other bit of news that caught my eye this morning, and it's great for "Treme" fans (like me, for sure).

If you've been watching the rather somber-so-far season two, one of the definite highlights has been Antoine Batiste's (Wendell Pierce) drive to form his own band. As he proved with a suitably soulful rendition of Al Green "Love and Happiness" on Sunday's show, the man has the musical chops, and he's just signed on for a movie that will let him show them off even more.

"The Wire" vet has just signed on to play B.B. King in the biopic "B.B. King and I." Michael Zanetis co-wrote the screenplay based on his experience as a drummer who met King at a 1980 concert and struck up a lifelong friendship. Making this even better, Patrick Fugit of "Almost Famous" fame will play a fictionalized character based on Zanetis. Michael Schroder is on board to direct this, with shooting set to begin in September (most likely around the third season of "Treme" that's just been announced, bully!). Definitely keep an eye on this one, because Pierce is just a natural fit, and deserves to be a much bigger star.

And though I should probably offer a musical clip of Pierce in action to segue into the clips, I couldn't really find one, so here instead is my favorite version of the far-too-oft-covered "Hallelujah" (yes, I think it's better than Jeff Buckley's). I had the honor and pleasure of seeing John Boutte perform this in the same club, D.B.A. on New Orleans' Frenchmen Street, and it was amazing. Best of all in this clip is how he hushes the raucous Saturday night crowd almost instantly. Enjoy, and then stick around for a preview of the upcoming season of "True Blood."

Though I've enjoyed "True Blood" so far, as a fan of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels, it can be frustrating to see the rather extreme liberties they've taken with the source material. I'm all for original thinking, but the books are very funny and fairly great as is, and "Game of Thrones" has proven so far that you can certainly go by the book and still come up something thrilling. Anyways, this clip seems to imply that with the new season that begins at 9 p.m. June 26 on HBO, they'll at least partly be telling the story of how Eric lost his mind to a powerful coven of witches and became Sookie's house guest, my favorite story line from the novels. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wednesday clip show: Will there be anything good on TV this fall?

Actually, before we get into any of that, just a bit of movie news, because anyone who's been here before knows that "The Other Guys" was my favorite comedy of 2010, and now comes word that stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg will be teaming up again.

This time out it will be for something called "Turkey Bowl," a Warner Brothers comedy in which they will play rival football coaches of small-town teams whose big showdown is a Thanksgiving Day game.

Sounds like pretty typical Ferrell sports-related fare and a chance for Marky Mark to shout a whole lot, but out of love for "The Other Guys," I'll probably spring for a matinee ticket for that.

And now rather quickly on to the clips today, since I'm already behind (it is Wednesday, after all), starting with a couple of movie clips and then, as promised, a look at some of what's coming to TVs this fall (and a warning, even though Zooey Deschanel appears, it isn't all pretty).

First up comes the first trailer I've seen for "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn," the first, I believe, in at least a planned trilogy and set to come out just in time for Christmas. This is just a teaser, but it does raise hopes that Steven Spielberg has indeed come up with a pretty grand adventure for the young Belgian detective, but I have at least one quibble: Does the kid at the end of this clip look anything like the beloved cartoon character created by Hergé? I think not. Enjoy the clip, anyway.

I have to say, of all the wide-release offerings coming this summer, I think J.J. Abrams' "Super 8" has risen to the top for me. Perhaps its clever marketing or I'm must feeling nostalgic for some good, old-fashioned '80s-style (dare I say Spielbergian?) fun. Anyways, enjoy this clip from the movie, which sets up the big crash that unleashes ... well, I don't know, but I can't wait to find out on June 10. Enjoy.

OK, moving on to TV, I try against steep odds to remain optimistic, so let's start with the good and work our way down. Keeping with J.J. Abrams, though he's not directing the pilot, his Bad Robot company is behind Fox's "Alcatraz," starring Jorge Garcia, Sam Neill and somehow Parminder Nagra of "Bend It Like Beckham," too. As you'll see from this promo clip, it involves the titular prison, time travel and some really bad dudes. Sounds like the perfect mix for escapist TV, so I'm in. Enjoy the promo.

I haven't watched "Napoleon Dynamite" for years, but I'm fairly confident that in movie form, at least, it will stand up over time. As an animated series? Not so sure. I have, however, given up on almost all animated offerings now on TV ("South Park" is the lone holdout, but I don't think I'll ever really be able to quit that), so there's a potential hole to fill. Anyways, as you'll see from this Fox promo clip (didn't realize until now that it's all Fox today), all the original cast members return for this, so I guess everyone needed the work. Enjoy the clip, and then stick around for something that never, never should have happened to poor Zooey Deschanel.

OK, instead of saving the best last, I've just put the worst off as long as I could (and hey, I did suffer through a Helen Mirren-less "Prime Suspect" clip, too, but I spared you that). If you told me Zooey Deschanel would be getting her own sitcom and that her character would sing a lot, I'd be hooked. Until I saw this. It just looks excruciatingly (sp?) awful, even though she's a game player in it. "Enjoy" this promo clip for the upcoming Fox show "New Girl," and have a perfectly endurable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

5 for 30: The best of ESPN's sports movies

On the surface the idea of ESPN producing a series of short documentaries (30- of them, so far) wouldn't seem like the recipe for greatness, but if you pick and choose wisely among them, some surprisingly entertaining moments can be found in its "30 for 30" series.

The movies, in fact, are much like sports itself: If all you did was watch sports all day, you wouldn't have much of a life at all, but picking out what appeals to you - which for me this time of year means Braves' and, when I can find them, Orioles' games - certainly makes life a little more sweet.

And this week on DVD, ESPN has released the second collection of "30 for 30" films, making them now available in two volumes or as individual titles. Or, if you're on a budget and a Netflix kind of person like me, I know the movies I've listed below are all available for rent individually.

So, with full regional and sports bias on display, here are my five picks for the best of the "30 for 30" movies, with the titles followed by their directors.

"The Band that Wouldn't Die": Barry Levinson
Though most of Baltimore has moved on with the success of the Baltimore Ravens, Levinson's valentine to Charm City focuses on my kind of people, those who never gave up their love of the long-gone-but-never-forgotten Colts. The Colts band members that remained behind when the team left are a colorful bunch whose mix of anger and still-burning enthusiasm is an entertaining mix.

"The Two Escobars": Jeff and Mitchell Zimbalist
The 1994 FIFA World Cup should have been a grand celebration of the game and our country, and it was, except for one black mark: The appalling death of Colombian player Andres Escobar after his own goal in a match against the host team. The Zimbalists' movie looks at his life and that of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, and the connections between the murders of both men. The best movie of the bunch.

"Without Bias": Kirk Fraser
There were certainly more important historical events that happened during my childhood, but few hit me harder than the death of Len Bias (hey, when you're 16 years old, these things do lose a bit of perspective.) Fraser's movie, before it drifts off into an unfortunate and tangential segment about legalizing drugs, re-creates that awful night with Maryland players who were there, and it's often chilling to watch.

"The Legend of Jimmy the Greek": Fritz Mitchell
The life of Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder, from his career as a Las Vegas bookmaker to his time on "NFL Today," is certainly great fodder for a movie, and Mitchell almost succeeds at making it work, except for one big flaw: a voice over that's clearly not from Snyder but, I guess, is supposed to represent his voice. It really takes away from the story, but if you can get past that (or even try to ignore it), this is an engaging tale of a man who lived life very large.

"The Birth of Big Air": Jeff Tremaine, Johnny Knoxville and Spike Jonze
There's nothing I love more in movies than big, beautiful dreamers, and you won't find many as gloriously goofy as BMX rider Mat Hoffman, whose singular pursuit of catching "big air" from a bike ramp, and its effects on all aspects of his life, is lovingly documented here by three of his friends and co-conspirators. Easily the most fun of the "30 for 30" movies, and really, what more can you ask for from a movie like this?

And there you have it. Please feel free to add your picks of any I may have snubbed, and since this a free-form kind of forum, any sports documentaries you love, since I'm always looking for rental ideas (in that broader category, my choice is still Aviva Kempner's "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" - perfection), and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Treme gets a surprising third season, plus a free Lizzy Caplan movie

I love David Simon and Eric Overmyer's "Treme," but have to admit, this second season has so far been a real downer. No less entertaining, but, as Simon's stuff often is, very hard-hitting and more than a little difficult to watch.

And still thoroughly engrossing, if you take the time to dive into its tapestry of very richly drawn characters struggling to survive in the world of New Orleans post-Katrina. A bleak place, for sure, but still littered with moments of levity among the drama, with Antoine Batiste's (Wendell Pierce) efforts to start a band a very funny ride.

And now comes word that, even though the second season premiere on April 24 was down nearly 50 percent from the first season premiere, there will indeed a season three next year on HBO, and I can only say bully to that. Simon and crew obviously have a lot more stories to tell from the Crescent City, and I'll be watching.

After that today, there's really a theme in the news, being beautiful women who I like to watch on screen, be it big or small, starting with the confirmed return of Sarah Michelle Gellar to TV, and surprisingly to the channel (sort of) where she started way back when with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

"Ringer," in which Gellar will play twin sisters, was originally headed to CBS, but has instead been shipped off to the CW, which CBS co-owns. The show is about a set of twins, Bridget and Siobhan, who grew apart after a tragedy and couldn't be more different. Bridget takes over her sister's identity when she goes on the run from the mob. It turns out Siobhan has died in an accident, but she also has a hit out on her. Juicy stuff.

This could of course very be nothing but awful, but I've been known to watch CW shows that are even worse as mindless entertainment after a long day, so I'm in for a few episodes at least of this.

In other TV news about a show actually heading to CBS, the always very funny Kat Dennings will co-star with someone named Beth Behrs (I have no idea who that is, clearly) in something called "Broke Girls," a comedy that revolves around two 22-year-old women who "tackle life in New York City as they try to make their dreams come true." I always like watching her, and if you're looking for a rental, for a romantic comedy that's actually as funny as it is sweet, check out "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," with her and Michael Cera.

And that's a rough segue of sorts, because Cera has signed to a movie called "Magic, Magic," that only caught my eye because it will also co-star one Catalina Sandino Moreno - remember her?

Before resurfacing a couple of years ago in Steven Soderbergh's at-least-five-hour "Che" (OK, I might be exaggerating a bit there, but trust me, only slightly ... what an excruciating act of hubris!), she had only managed to appear in one other movie that I had taken notice of, but it happened to be my favorite movie of 2004, "Maria Full of Grace."

If you haven't seen that little gem, in which she plays a drug mule, rent it as soon as you can find it, and I guarantee you'll love it. And I have no idea what part she'll play in this latest movie, but I do know that it also stars Juno Temple and Emily Browning, is being directed by Sebastian Silva, and is about "a girl on vacation in Chile who begins to lose control of her mental faculties."

OK, enough about that. I promised you a free movie, and here it is. And for a comedy short (that's often pretty painful to watch), it's a real winner. Called "Successful Alcoholics," it's about a couple (Lizzy Caplan and T.J. Miller) who get back together seemingly only so they can manage each other's rather prodigious alcohol intake. Sounds pretty depressing, I know, but not surprisingly, it's also very funny. It's directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and co-written by he and Miller. Enjoy courtesy of Funny or Die, and have a great rest of the weekend. Peace out.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday fun: Of "Parenthood," time travel and more

After that rather sublime photo of Sir Ian McKellen from the set of "The Hobbit" just well, because, I like it, we actually start with TV and NBC today because it's that time of year, and they keep picking up shows I really like.

This one isn't all that surprising, since I think "Parenthood" did very well last season and got stronger as the year went on, but it's still good to know that one of my favorite TV dramas is getting a full third season starting next fall. The show, created by "Friday Night Lights" guru Jason Katims, is indeed soapy and sometimes awfully dopey too, but it has a great cast led by Lauren Graham (welcome back!) and Peter Krause, and it's just full of humor, humanity and heart, the perfect mix after a long day of work. And besides, I challenge anyone to point out a more entertaining hour in the past year on network TV than the "Parenthood" finale, which was just a doozy.

So, great news there, but now on to some movie tidbits. If it indeed seems like just about anything can be fodder for a movie idea these days, you're right, but before you judge this too quickly, remember: At least its not somehow "based" on a board game.

This one, in fact, springs from a classified ad in something called "Backwoods Home Magazine" (yes, really). Here's the text of it: "WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke ... You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."

And even though the ad was unfortunately just a joke (and a pretty great one at that), that hasn't stopped Big Beach and the Duplass brothers from picking up on it, and even hiring some dudes named Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly to, respectively, direct and write this. And I'd leave it at that, except that this is also attracting a pretty first-rate cast.

The flick, to be titled "Safety Not Guaranteed," is about a trio of magazine employees who investigate the ad, and it will star Kristen Bell and Aubrey Plaza, and has somehow just added the rather sublimely funny Jeff Garlin of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," too. Stay tuned ...

In other movie news, Martin Scorsese has agreed to be really, really annoyed by Lars Von Trier for something that will definitely be bizarre, but could be a lot of fun, too. Scorsese has apparently taken up the challenge issued by Von Trier to be tortured by the latter in a remake of his own movie, "The Five Obstructions."

The original, which I haven't seen, had Von Trier challenging his mentor, filmmaker Jørgen Leth, to remake his 1967 picture “The Perfect Human,” five times, with different conditions, or ‘obstructions’ each time (and these are per The Playlist, hence the quotes) — "in Cuba, with no shot lasting more than 12 frames, in ‘the worst place in the world,’ but without showing that place, in any way he chooses (as a punishment), as a cartoon and, in something of a twist, a version already made by Von Trier himself, but with narration from Leth."

Sounds like pretty wicked fun, and though when this was first rumored with Scorsese, the thought was the movie might be "Taxi Driver," nothing has been confirmed yet. What I do know is that, before that, the next movie Scorsese will be making is "Silence," starring Daniel Day Lewis and Benicio Del Toro and set to begin filming early next year.

That is about a group of Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in the 17th century to try and spread the Gospel. Sounds like perfect Scorsese material, and keep an eye out before that for his next movie to hit theaters (unfortunately in 3D), "Hugo Cabret" (shortened from the title of a book I adore, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret"), starring Hit-Girl Chloe Moretz and Asa Butterfield and coming out Nov. 23.

OK, this has gone on longer than I intended already today, but there's one more movie in the works that caught my eye this morning. Director Jay Roach, when he's not making screwball comedies like "Meet the Parents" or that "Dinner for Schmucks" remake, also manages to make pretty good political dramas, as he did for HBO with "Recount" and is now doing for the network again with "Game Change," about the 2008 Obama-McCain race. And in another project, he's combining those two paths for something called "Rivals" that sounds like it was just tailor-made for me.

Set for release in August 2012, it's set to star Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as two politicians jockeying for position in a small congressional district in South Carolina. I'm laughing at that already, so I'm definitely in. And with that, I'm off. Have a great weekend, and definitely go see "Bridesmaids." Peace out.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Will "Chuck" really rise yet again?

What in the world does it take to kill "Chuck"?

Don't get me wrong: I love the show, but the numbers this season have been atrocious, starting out at a still fairly respectable 2.0 among the 18-49 set, but then slowly and consistently sliding down to the 1.4 of last week. And frankly, if you watched the coming next week at the end of last week's episode, what we clearly saw happen to Sarah didn't, well ... you know. Just plain silly.

Even with all that, however, according to Deadline, NBC is currently negotiating with the creators for a fifth, 13-episode season, though I don't yet know if that would be in the fall or spring (assuming the deal gets done at all.) And, even given my beefs with this season, I've got enough love for the show to stick it out until the bitter end, whenever that may be.

But in much, much worse news, NBC has followed up on its most dastardly of plans and picked up the American redo of "Prime Suspect," the simply sublime UK police serial starring Dame Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison.

Who can fill her shoes? Well, no one, but in this abomination of a new "idea" for a show, Maria Bello gets the task. And, just to make it worse, Peter Berg, who was at least involved in the early stages of "Friday Night Lights," is involved in this as an executive producer. Just shame, shame, shame all around.

OK, enough of that. On to the movie news, because there is a bit of it out there today, and it's all pretty good, starting with word of a new Martin McDonagh movie taking shape.

It's been a few years now, but he managed to make easily one of my favorite movies of 2008 with "In Bruges," which is in fact the first movie I bought on blu-ray once I finally gave in and bought a player. It's just a perfectly, wickedly funny little hitman comedy starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, and I recommend it extremely highly as a rental if you've never seen it.

And now, Farrell has signed on with McDonagh again for something called "Seven Psychopaths," and it's attracting a great cast to go with him. The movie apparently tells the story of a screenwriter (Farrell) struggling for inspiration who gets drawn into a dog kidnapping scheme by his oddball friends (Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken, picture that). "Things take a turn for the worse," per Variety, after a gangster's (Mickey Rourke) dog goes missing. Picturing all that in the hands of McDonagh has me laughing already.

Also taking shape with a pretty first-rate cast is an adaptation of the Henry James novel "What Maisie Knew," with the newest addition being Alexander Skarsgard of "True Blood" fame.

The movie will move the story to contemporary New York and center on 6-year-old Maisie, who gets caught in the middle of the divorce of her parents, Julianne Moore as a rock 'n' roller of some sort, and Steve Coogan (who I'll watch in just about anything) as "a charming but distracted art dealer. Skarsgard will play Moore's new husband, and filming is set for August in New York. Stay tuned ...

And, in the last bit of news before we get to a couple of videos, frequent Coogan co-conspirator Michael Winterbottom has latched onto a new movie, this time with Jack Black.

Although I couldn't even make it through all of "The Killer Inside Me," which was just thoroughly disgusting (and I don't get offended very easily at all), I count "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" and "24-Hour Party People," both with Coogan, among my favorites. And, coming to at least a few theaters and then VOD quickly in June will be Winterbottom's "The Trip," which follows Coogan and bud Rob Brydon on a series of conversations in posh English restaurants. I'm in for that, for sure.

And now comes word that, after that, Winterbottom will now make "Bailout," a comedy based on Jess Walter's novel, "The Financial Lives of The Poets." The novel details the story of one man's (Black) attempt to come back from the brink of financial ruin after meeting a couple of losers in a late night supermarket. Timely stuff that, and Walter has apparently penned the screenplay, too.

OK, before I'm off for my morning swim, a quick couple of videos. First up, though there have been plenty of trailers and character sketches from Matthew Vaughn's "X-Men: First Class," finally set to drop on June 3, this is the first actual footage straight from the movie I've come across. Enjoy, and then stick around for one more video that promises the funny, but looks like nothing but disaster.

Finally today is the first trailer I've seen for "Horrible Bosses," set to come out July 8. Unfortunately, despite the fact that it stars Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and even Charlie Day of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," and is directed by "King of Kong" creator Seth Gordon, the trailer at least doesn't look all that funny at all. Oh well, judge for yourself and please feel free to tell me if I'm wrong, and have a perfectly pleasant Thursday. Peace out.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Wednesday chock full of fun news

There's a lot of movie stuff that caught my eye this morning, but the two best bits come from Fox's fall TV schedule, so let's just start there.

Along with killing off five shows that I never bothered to tune in for, the network also added two that I'll definitely give a chance to next fall at its upfronts.

First up is "Alcatraz," which comes from J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot company and is a crime drama revolving around a team investigating the mysterious reappearance of the prison's 1960 inhabitants in the present. Sounds like a pretty serious mindf%$#, and it will star Jorge Garcia of "Lost."

Perhaps even better, Fox has also picked up something called "The New Girl," a comedy starring Zooey Deschanel, who I'll certainly watch in just about anything. This show is about a "quirky female teacher" (Zooey, natch) who becomes roommates with three guys: A man-child, a player and a cynic. Bring it on.

And in one final bit of TV news, I saw a few reports this morning that led with the headline "Martin Freeman leaving 'The Hobbit'," but reading into it just a bit revealed it's just for a short while and so he can work on more "Sherlock" with Benedict Cumberbatch. Bully, because the three episodes they showed a short while back on PBS with Cumberbatch as the titular detective and Freeman as his pal Watson were fantastic.

OK, like I said, a pretty busy day of good movie news, so I'll just get to it briskly before some fun videos, and at least one that's simply bizarre.

First up, now that, thankfully, Darren Aronofsky won't be wasting his time on yet another movie about "The Wolverine," he's now hitched up with George Clooney for something that sounds much more interesting.

According to Vulture, he's now at work on a science fiction movie titled "Human Nature," which will star Clooney as a man who is cryogenically frozen, only to wake up in a future where humanity has become pets to another species. That's all I know about that, but it certainly sounds like a perfect Aronofsky mind-bender.

In other news, Niels Arden Oplev, who made one of my favorite recent thrillers with his take on Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," has now set his sights on a genre thriller with a great cast.

The movie, called "The Last Photograph," is a revenge story starring one Sean Penn as a special ops soldier who goes to Afghanistan to track down who murdered his brother, and Christian Bale as a photographer who documented the killing. Sounds like juicy stuff.

Moving quickly (I do have an actual job that still pays me something, after all), there are few genres of movie I love more than boxing flicks, and it sounds like "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" director Jeff Feuerzeig is putting together a potentially sweet one.

Naomi Watts, Liev Schreiber and Christina Hendricks will star in "The Bleeder," based on the true story of former New Jersey heavyweight boxer and womanizer Chuck Wepner, who boxed 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali and apparently inspired Sylvester Stallone to pen 'Rocky.' " Fun stuff, that, and I assume Schreiber would play the fighter.

And in a final bit of news before we move on to the videos, it's already known that, in a more-than-slightly odd change up, Tyler Perry will be playing Alex Cross, the role already played twice by Morgan Freeman, in "I, Alex Cross." And now comes very welcome word that Frenchy Jean Reno is joining the cast too.

This time out, James Patterson's creation is squaring off against a psychotic mob hitman to be played by Matthew Fox. No word yet on what role Reno will play, but he can class up just about anything except that remake of "The Pink Panther," so this could be fairly great.

OK, now on the videos. Not surprisingly, what Pedro Almodovar has cooked up now looks as bizarre as it will hopefully be entertaining, as I almost always find his movies to be. "The Skin I Live In" reunites the director with Antonio Banderas, and is a revenge tale that tells the story of a plastic surgeon (Banderas, I have to assume) on the hunt for the men who raped his daughter. It's in competition this year at Cannes, but for now enjoy this very short clip to whet your appetite.

Next up comes a bit of fun courtesy of MTV News. As everyone probably knows, there's another pirate movie starring Johnny Depp coming out soon (May 20), called "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides." I'm still on the fence about seeing it, although the presence of Penelope Cruz cutting up is certainly a plus. What I did like, at least, was this bit of Legos fun. Enjoy.

I assumed that this week's "South Park" would be all about Osama Bin Laden, but it seems I'm wrong once again (don't worry, I'm used to it). Instead, in something that could be wickedly funny, they take on the royal wedding, which in Trey Parker and Matt Stone's warped minds actually involves a Canadian princess. By the way, NPR is streaming the "Book of Mormon" soundtrack here, and it's just perfectly profane entertainment. Enjoy that and this brief clip from tonight's episode.

And finally today, how better to start Wednesday than with a free movie? I know it has its detractors, but "O Brother Where Art Thou" is still my favorite Coen Brothers' movie, and you can now watch it in its entirety on YouTube. This looks good at full frame, and watching it certainly sounds like a lot more fun than working. Enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Wednesday. Peace out.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Funny Girl(s): Truly funny female movie characters

Actually, putting this together was harder than I anticipated, and certainly not because I don't find women funny or because there aren't a lot of very funny women in Hollywood.

That's not the problem. Instead, it's that when you browse any list of the truly great comedic roles, the sad fact is that most of them are played by men (the reverse, at least right now, is true on TV, but that's a different subject for a different day). It's just a fact, and one that we (or at least I) can't change, so instead of lingering on it, in honor of the funny women of "Bridesmaids," here are six very funny female roles from my movie shelf that I go back to often:

Tracy Flick, "Election"
Not exactly the cute Reese Witherspoon we know now, but her role in this high school battle of wits with the outmatched but game Matthew Broderick is her funniest one, and every time Tracy scrunches up her face in righteous anger, I still laugh out loud.

Marge Gunderson, "Fargo"
Not surprising, I suppose, that Joel Coen would write (along with his brother, of course) the best female character he's ever come up with for his wife, Frances McDormand. Marge, the very pregnant and just as clever police chief played by McDormand, gives the movie much of its sense of place, its strongest suit, and is just extremely funny along the way.

Annie Hall, "Annie Hall"
You can argue that even when he played opposite women his own age, Woody Allen didn't necessarily think much of them, because he made Annie Hall as hippie and dippy as possible, but thanks to Diane Keaton, hilarious, too.

Patricia Franchini, "Breathless"
Her French was truly atrocious (which provided much of the humor), but Jean Seberg goes toe to toe with Jean Paul Belmondo in Jean-Luc Godard's lighter-than-air gangster flick of sorts, and their flirting is just pure comedic bliss.

Poppy, "Happy-Go-Lucky"
The real charm of Sally Hawkins in this infectious Mike Leigh movie is that her Poppy is so thoroughly upbeat throughout that you want to either cheer for or choke her, depending on your outlook. In the end, it's a role so great it can melt even the most cynical of hearts, even mine.

Enid, "Ghost World"
Whatever happened to Thora Birch? Before she seemingly disappeared completely, she played Enid in this movie based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes, a character who savagely skewers everything that's wrong in her world even as she searches for her own place in it.

And there you have it. A brief list, I know, but please feel free to add any I may have snubbed (there are many, many I'm sure) and go see "Bridesmaids" this weekend if you like to laugh with truly funny women.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

When you're Will Smith ...

Actually, first off, just in case you're having any doubts, go see "Thor" if you're a fan of big, cheesy and thoroughly fun summer flicks. It's all three, and I loved it.

OK, moving on to the main attraction today, when you're Will Smith, I suppose getting to work with Quentin Tarantino is simply the logical next step, but if he indeed signs on for what QT is cooking up now, as the Hollywood Reporter reports he's likely to do, it should be nothing but cool.

For anyone who needs a catch-up, Tarantino's next flick will be a Western (though, as he himself has said more than once, it's indeed more of a "Southern") titled "Django Unchained." In it, if he takes the part, Smith would play the titular freed slave who teams up with a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz, natch) to reunite with his wife, and the two eventually set their sights on Django's former owner. Samuel L. Jackson is apparently on board to play the house slave of an "evil" plantation owner.

Sounds more than a bit crazy, right? Certainly, but look at the plot for "Inglourious Basterds" on paper, and that seemed ludicrous too, but it turned out to be by a pretty wide margin my favorite movie of 2009, with several scenes that are still permanently burned on my brain. Definitely stay tuned for more on this whenever I find it ...

In one more bit of movie news before what has to be best trailer I've seen all week, Bill Murray will be joined by one of my favorite actresses when he plays Franklin D. Roosevelt in an upcoming movie. Mull over for a second or two just how good Murray as FDR could be ...

The movie is called "Hyde Park on the Hudson," and it focuses on FDR's love affair with his cousin and is set during a June weekend in 1939 when the British King and Queen visited his upstate New York cottage in the first-ever visit to America by a member of the British monarchy. Juicy stuff that, and now comes word that definite Reel Fanatic fave Laura Linney has signed on to play the cousin, with Roger Michell (who back in the day directed still my favorite Jane Austen adaptation, that "Persuasion" starring Amanda Root and Ciaran Hinds) directing.

Sounds like slightly more serious stuff for Murray, but he'd be funny at a funeral, so I'm sure he will be here too.

And finally today, to wrap up a short Saturday morning report, I had never heard of this flick from "Man on a Wire" director James Marsh until I found this trailer this morning, but it looks fantastic. "Project Nim" follows the real-life project in the '70s that set out to teach a chimpanzee sign language and embed him in a family of humans.

As you can imagine from that scenario, it got more than bit crazy (as one of his keepers points out in the trailer, Nim liked "alcohol and driving fast.") It was also an important experiment, however, and it looks like a fascinating flick. Enjoy the trailer, keep an eye out for this in at least some markets July 8, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. Peace out.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Of Bouncing Cats and a lot of other fun stuff

There are many things that make the Atlanta Film Festival 365 a thoroughly fun experience, but its international offerings each year may be the very best one.

This year, the focus has been on Africa (with other movies from all around the world, too), and after the engrossing documentary "An African Election," I followed that up last night with "Bouncing Cats," a genuinely unique movie experience.

The flick's title comes from the words that Ugandan kids use to make a beat when they have no music to dance to (try it, "bouncing cats, bou-bouncing cats"), and it chronicles the work of Breakdance Project Uganda. And though it never shies away from depicting how tough life is in the war-torn country, it's truly uplifting to see the joy these kids get from simply dancing (and they're really good, too.)

The hero here is Abramz Tekya, who started the group and travels the country spreading his b-boy gospel. As the movie begins, he brings breakdancer extraordinaire Richard "Crazy Legs" Colon of the Rock Steady Crew to tour the country and teach the kids some new steps. Along the way, you meet several of them and hear their stories, and its often as moving as it is simply infectiously fun.

My only real beef was the sometimes blatant product placement (the movie was financed at least in part by Red Bull, something I've never had the need to try), but director Nabil Elderkin's movie nonetheless pulses with the beat that drives these kids (and as a plus, it also features great African music by K'naan, Amadou and Miriam, and others), and even manages to capture a few genuine moments of grace in a land that sorely needs some. Highly recommended if you can ever find this at a film festival or surely soon on DVD. Enjoy the trailer, and then stick around for what else caught my eye this morning in movie news.

Bouncing Cats Trailer from Bouncing Cats on Vimeo.

OK, now on to what I found on the interwebs this morning, starting with the fact that it's good to be either lucky or good, but best of all both. "The Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal had already been at work on a movie about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden before, well, we all know what happened last Sunday.

So, with that rather fortuitous development, they're of course going to change the ending, and Australian actor Joel Edgerton has just signed on to play one of the special ops soldiers who carried out the operation. The only downside to all this (well, there could be several, but let's just stay positive here), is what is apparently the working title: "Kill Bin Laden."

Really? Sheesh. I suppose "Slay the Bastard" must have been taken.

And in better news, as a fan of stop-motion animation and an even bigger one of Aardman's version of it, this news about the studio rising, quite literally, from the ashes is just all-around excellent.

The company's Bristol, England, main studio was destroyed by fire in 2005, but now, with help from Sony Pictures Animation, company co-founder Peter Lord (co-director of "Chicken Run," too) is going to direct a stop-motion flick titled "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," set for release in March 2012.

So, what's it about? Here goes, per Aardman.

Hugh Grant provides the voice of Pirate Captain – a boundlessly enthusiastic, if somewhat less-than-successful, terror of the High Seas. With a rag-tag crew at his side (Martin Freeman, Brendan Gleeson, Russell Tovey and Ashley Jensen), and seemingly blind to the impossible odds stacked against him, the Captain has one dream: to beat his bitter rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Salma Hayek) to the much coveted Pirate Of The Year Award. It’s a quest that takes our heroes from the shores of exotic Blood Island to the foggy streets of Victorian London. Along the way they battle a diabolical queen (Imelda Staunton) and team up with a haplessly smitten young scientist (David Tennant), but never lose sight of what a pirate loves best: adventure!

Sounds incredibly silly, but hopefully really fun, too, and any news about the studio that created Wallace and Gromit coming back to life in grand form is just nothing but great to hear.

OK, I had some more planned today, but I'm gonna try and catch "Thor" this morning (yes, it's great to be on vacation), so I'll just close with a couple of videos. First up comes a trailer of sorts for "X-Men: First Class" which shows us some more about Hank McCoy/Beast, being played by Nicholas Hoult of the UK "Skins" fame. And yes, it also features Jennifer Lawrence as Raven Darkholme/Mystique, and as anyone who's been here before knows, I never consider that a bad thing. Enjoy, and of course, keep an eye out for Matthew Vaughn's flick June 3.

And finally, in a definite case of saving the very best for last, this is the first trailer I know of for "The Trip," a new flick from Michael Winterbottom starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as, well, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon being, as usual, very funny. The movie, being released in at least a few theaters by IFC on June 10 and then quickly to VOD on June 22, pretty much just follows the two of them on a tour of posh eateries as they discuss their careers, impersonate just about every actor they can think of, and just generally just give each other a lot of good-natured hell. Sounds like exactly my kind of thing. Enjoy the trailer, keep an eye out for this if you can find it, and have a great weekend. Peace out..

Thursday, May 05, 2011

What's next for Danny Boyle?

This is only a rumor I've seen at one site, Deadline, so far, but it's pretty friggin' great, so I'm gonna go with it.

Unfortunately, the next thing that Danny Boyle will be directing that anyone will be able to see will be the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Olympics in London, but before and again after that he's apparently returning to the grittier kinds of movies that he was known for in the early days.

Per Deadline, he's going to begin directing the thriller "Trance" in London this September, and here's what the site says it's about:

"I'm told it's an art heist gone wrong, and it's got the dark, sexy, hard-edged tone of Boyle films like Shallow Grave and Trainspotting," says the site.

Not much to run with there, but "Shallow Grave" is indeed one of my favorite movies of all time, and though he's made plenty of great movies since they started to take on a much more optimistic tone (except for "Sunshine," man did that suck), a return to the early days for Boyle should be nothing but fun. Unfortunately, with the Olympics coming, he's going to begin the filming this Fall, but then put this on the shelf for a while, and then pick it up again for a potential March 2013 release. Bummer there, but still mostly good news. Stay tuned ...

In other movie news, the animation company Laika, which with "Coraline" has made what is still the only animated movie I've really enjoyed watching in 3-D, is joining up with Focus Features for a new stop-motion offering. Unfortunately for them, "Coraline" mastermind Henry Selick has moved on to Pixar (I think), but it still sounds like what they're cooking up now should be a lot of fun.

"Paranorman" is a comedy/thriller about a small town being attacked by zombies and has a voice cast featuring, among others, Casey Affleck, Tempestt Bledsoe, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Elaine Stritch.

And though Selick is nowhere to be found, this seems to be in good hands with "Flushed Away" director Sam Fell and Chris Butler, storyboard supervisor for "Coraline," teaming up to direct this. Butler also wrote the screenplay.

OK, after that today, a fairly brief look at what's ahead on "The Office," segueing into a couple of videos that caught my eye this morning.

After watching the departure of Michael Scott, which if Will Ferrell hadn't been on it would have been just about perfect, I think it would have been, frankly, a great place to simply end the show for good. Nothing against Ferrell in general, because I often like him quite a bit, but he's simply not funny on "The Office," and the truly nonfunny scenes with he and Andy (Ed Helms) just took away from Michael's pretty universally great goodbyes (having Creed hoist his "World's Greatest Boss" mug was an especially nice touch).

So, now that he's gone, what's ahead? Here, courtesy of NBC, are the synopses for the next three weeks, going until the end of the season.

Tonight: "The Inner Circle"
Deangelo’s true management style is finally revealed; he plays favorites by creating his own “inner circle.” Guest stars: Will Ferrell, Cody Horn.

Next Week: "Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager"
Dwight takes over as acting manager and applies draconian tactics to the office. Meanwhile, Gabe tries to win Erin back. Guest star: Kathy Bates.

May 19: "Search Committee"
Season Finale. Double episode. Guest stars: Jim Carrey, James Spader, Will Arnett, Ray Romano, Ricky Gervais, Catherine Tate.

That's a lot of star power, obviously, but my money and my fan heart are still on Catherine Tate, simply because that would be the best possible outcome since the show apparently must go on.

And to prove that I really, in general, have nothing against Will Ferrell, he returned as George W. Bush (of course) just in time for the death of Osama Bin Laden for this Funny or Die video. The whole thing is pretty great, so I won't spoil it with any more words from me except to say stick around until the end when he explains why this is "a great day for America." Priceless.

And finally, I had been pretty skeptical that "Green Lantern" would amount to anything but thoroughly silly, but while it certainly will be that, judging from this first trailer, it should be pretty epicly fun too. Starring Ryan Reynolds and "Gossip Girl" Blake Lively and being directed by Martin Campbell, it's set for release June 17. Enjoy the trailer, and if you'll excuse me, I'm off now for a swim and then headed back to the Atlanta Film Festival. Peace out.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Summer 2011 movie preview

Though summer doesn't officially begin for at least a few weeks, in movie terms it got off to a faster-than-expected start last week with "Fast Five," and is now set to really explode with the release of the first big superhero flick.

So, here are the 10-plus movies I'm most looking forward to seeing between now and the end of August, with a couple of caveats. First of all, these are only my picks. It won't have every superhero movie coming out (there are four, if you're wondering) or pirates, and though there is an animated sequel, it's not "Cars 2." And second, these are only the movies likely to open where I live, so though I really want to see the British flick "Submarine," you won't find it here today.

And with that, in order of release (which may, of course, change), here goes:

May 6: "Thor"
I'm thinking I'll skip "Captain America" unless it just gets some really big buzz, but this is one "Avengers" lead-in I'm definitely in for. Directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Chris Hemsworth as the warrior cast out of Asgard and sent down to Earth, I've been hearing that, like the first "Iron Man" flick, this will be one with almost as brain as brawn (and hopefully a lot of fun, too.)

May 13: "Bridesmaids"
I know women are funny, and you most likely do, too. So why is it so rare for a group of truly funny chicks to get to star in a movie where they get to really act up? That's a topic for another day, but this time out veryfunnywoman Kristen Wiig, who wrote the script, is the maid of honor planning a rambunctious bachelorette party and more that should just be a hoot to watch.

May 26: "The Hangover Part II" and "Kung Fu Panda 2"
At least there's a week off between "Bridesmaids" and the sequel to the movie that's pretty much its dude equivalent. The first "Hangover" was nothing but funny, so especially when Ken Jeong turns up again as Zach Galifianakis' "plus one," this one should be, too. And as for "Kung Fu Panda 2," I'm thinking it will share an impressive trait with its predecessor: Being an animated movie that's better than the Pixar movie it shares the same year with (Yes, I thought "Kung Fu Panda" was better than "Wall-E," and am certain the sequel will be superior to "Cars 2.")

June 3: "X-Men: First Class"
I doubt director Matthew Vaughn can re-create the genuine comic-book spirit that pervaded "Kick-Ass," and probably won't really try, but as the trailers have gotten better, I'm more and more convinced that this tale of the cold-war origins of Magneto, Professor X and other mutants (though a lot less than in "X-3") should be a real winner.

June 10: "Super 8"
If it's what I'm expecting, than director J.J. Abrams' flick about a group of kids who make an otherworldly discovery should harken back to the kinds of movies that Steven Spielberg made back in the '80s, and that would be just fine with me.

July 8: "Horrible Bosses"
The workplace revenge comedy is a truly tired gambit, but since this comes from "King of Kong" director Seth Gordon and stars Charlie Day of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," I'm hoping this tale of three friends who conspire to murder their bosses will be dark enough to be a summer treat.

July  15: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"
Though "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (two movies you'll notice didn't make this list) should give it a run for the money, the end of Harry Potter's long saga (in 2D for me) should be the box office champ this summer, and just a much better movie than either of those. Bring it on.

July 24: "Cowboys and Aliens" and "Crazy, Stupid, Love"
With the most "Snakes on a Plane" title of this summer, as long as Jon Favreau's flick indeed delivers plenty of the titular cowboys (Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford among them) battling alien invaders, how can you really go wrong? Also this week, Steve Carell makes his first post-"Office" movie appearance in "Crazy, Stupid, Love" as a dude facing divorce who gets advice on pitching woo from ladies' man Ryan Gosling. The thought of the two of them together already makes me laugh.

Aug. 12: "30 Minutes or Less" and "The Help"
"30 Minutes or Less," Ruben Fleischer's follow-up to the sublime "Zombieland," stars Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari as two dudes forced to rob a bank. I'm betting on very funny. And in genuine counterprogramming, "The Help," based on Kathyrn Stockett's novel about a Southern woman who leads a group of Mississippi house maids to tell their stories, should finally make a big star out of Emma Stone.

Aug. 26: "Our Idiot Brother"
With Paul Rudd unleashed to be genuinely funny as the titular idiot and Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks and Rashida Jones all tarring as his sisters, I'm hoping this will somehow be as good as the sum of its parts.

So, there you have it. A few more than 10, and I'm still sure I left some out, so please feel free to add any I may have snubbed, and have a perfectly pleasant Tuesday. Peace out.