Sunday, August 21, 2011

What's next from Pixar? Dinosaurs, the human mind and more

There's really no way Pixar can be expected to make the best animated movie released every year (in fact, for me, already "Kung Fu Panda" was better than "Wall-E" and "Rio" was a good bit better than "Cars 2.") If they simply get back to making some movies based on fresh ideas - and wild ones at that - they will still, however, have a starting-out leg up on all the competition.

But just before we get into all that, and some big announcements at this week's D-23 Disney event, the photo above released at the confab shows Chris Cooper, who plays the big bad in "The Muppets," finally set to come out Nov. 23. Bring it on, already!

Also at D-23, the Pixar arm of the animation giant added details to its upcoming slate that fleshes out what the studio will have to offer for its next four flicks, and there's definitely some interesting stuff in the pipeline.

Next up will be "Brave," starring definite Reel Fanatic fave and "Boardwalk Empire" star Kelly Macdonald as the voice of the young Scottish princess Merida. What's been described as Pixar's "first fairy tale" will, of course, since its set in Scotland, also by force feature the voices of Billy Connolly and Colin Ferguson, and be released June 22, 2012.

Unfortunately, after that Pixar will get back into the sequel (well, actually prequel) game with "Monsters University," which brings back the voices of Billy Crystal and John Goodman, and adds Dave Foley, for a follow-up to "Monsters, Inc." The new movie will focus on Sully and Mike's early days at the University of Fear, and is set to come out June 21, 2013.

It's after that, however, that things start to really get interesting, with two new movies announced at D-23.

The first one, to be helmed by "Up" co-director Bob Peterson, is about dinosaurs, and is described by the following question: "What if the cataclysmic asteroid that forever changed life on Earth actually missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct?" Hopefully with echoes of my single favorite animated movie, "The Iron Giant," this one will be about a particular young boy and his dino friend, and is tentatively set for Nov. 27, 2013.

So, two Pixar movies in 2013? Bully. And after that, things should really get fun, as fellow "Up" co-director Pete Docter will "take you to a place that everyone knows, but no one has ever seen: the world inside the human mind." It's coming May 30, 2014.

For a long time now, when it comes to quality animation, it's really been Pixar's world, and we're just visiting, but at least (with the possible exception of "Monsters University) for the next few years it should be a world full of interesting flicks that will make it worth the trip.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday morning funnies, with Louis CK, Ricky Gervais and Warwick Davis

Speaking of funny, for men (and women, of course) of a certain age like me, "Moonlighting," for the five seasons or so it ran on ABC, was pretty much the very definition of it for TV, so the return of Glenn Gordon Caron to the realm of private eyes can only be good news.

Among other things since "Moonlighting" went off the air in 1989, Caron has developed the series "Medium," but now he's getting back to something that should be more fun, a series based on real-life private investigator Pamela Slaton, who specializes in reuniting clients with long-lost loved ones.

So, not quite the same thing, but I'm still betting on something worth watching coming from all this.

And comedy of a very different - and much darker - sort will surely come with Roman Polanski's "Carnage," and will hopefully even come to my little corner of the world when this opens Dec. 16. Having seen Yazmine Reza's great play, on which this is based, in Minneapolis, I can tell you that it is indeed savagely funny, and with Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz all starring in the movie, it should be a real treat. Here is the first trailer I know of for it:

Next up today comes the first teaser trailer I've come across for "American Horror Story," the new series that "Glee" and "Nip/Tuck" creator Ryan Murphy has developed for FX. Delivering solidly on its "Snakes on a Plane"-style title, the show is indeed about an American family that moves into a house that is rather haunted. The fairly phenomenal cast features definite Reel Fanatic fave Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Francis Conroy and even, oddly enough, Jessica Lange. Keep an eye out for the show on Oct. 5, and enjoy the trailer.

OK, now on the promised Saturday morning funnies, starring for my money two of the funniest people in the world. In fact, though I'd still put Bill Murray No. 1, with what he's doing on his "Louie" sitcom of sorts, also on FX, Louis CK has vaulted into the second slot for me. If you've never seen it, you're really missing out. Granted, his humor isn't for everyone, since, as you'll see from this clip in which Conan O'Brien wisely just lets him riff, he's the kind of person who, like me, finds children auditioning for "Shindler's List" or (as in the clip he shows from "Louie") dressing up in black face to be very funny. Enjoy the interview.

And finally today, there are very few things I enjoy watching more than Ricky Gervais and the Muppets, so why not combine the two for some sadistic humor? Gervais' humor is indeed more than a bit mean, and his latest foil, Warwick Davis, is clearly in for some punishment on their mockumentary series "Life's Too Short," which will hopefully be coming to HBO sometime soon. To say any more would spoil this, so just enjoy it, and have a great rest of the weekend. And anyone considering seeing the "Fright Night" remake, know that it was written by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" vet Marti Noxon, and while never close to as funny as that, it's much better than the average horror movie remake. Not a ringing endorsement, I know, but it's at least worth a Saturday afternoon matinee. Peace out.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Women and the power of word of mouth, plus a short Friday clip show

It may well be just coincidence, but I at least find it very interesting that three of the movies which have benefited most from good word of mouth this summer are all movies about and primarily starring women.

First up came "Bridesmaids," which had a very big opening and then just kept going as more and more dudes got the word that this isn't just a movie you have to be dragged to: It's so genuinely funny you can just go and enjoy it it thoroughly. And that has led to a seriously healthy domestic box office take of more than $167 million, and made genuine stars of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy.

Next up came "Soul Surfer," which had a built-in audience from the start as a Christian flick, but slowly expanded beyond that as the word spread that the story of one-armed wonder Bethany Hamilton was inspiring no matter how you look at it, and the movie itself is just flat-out entertaining (I've seen it twice now, and it's again in my Netflix queue, so you can certainly count me as a champion of it.) "Soul Surfer" rode that wave to an outsized domestic box office take of more than $43 million (I actually thought it was a bit more than that.)

And now comes word that "The Help," the new movie about Southern maids in the '60s starring Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer, is expected to remain atop the box office in its coming second week. Granted, its four new competitors - "Fright Night", "Conan the Barbarian", "One Day" and "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World" - are all pretty pathetic entries. Of them all, I might go see "Fright Night," only because the reviews so far are promising a fun and funky little flick, and Colin Farrell should be a hoot.

And as for "The Help," if you're worried about it at all, please let me reassure you: It is indeed a very faithful adaptation of the very definition of an Oprah Winfrey book club selection, but it's also genuinely moving and even more importantly, just very funny from start to finish. And on top of that, it's packed with first-rate performances from all the leads, plus a scene-stealing gem from Jessica Chastain, who is just a brilliant ball of comic energy as the delirious Celia Foote (and Chastain, who can be seen in the upcoming movie "The Debt" and, as you'll see from the trailer below, also "The Texas Killing Fields," is just having one heck of a good year.)

So, what is it about women and word of mouth? Perhaps they just trust each other more than us dudes do. I have no idea, but if it leads to more movies written and directed by, plus starring, women, I'm certainly all for it. 'Nuff said.

OK, that went on longer than I had intended, but it's a subject that fascinates me, so forgive me. After that today, there's just a bit of news about two people I always like to see, and then just a couple of clips.

First up, buried in a truly unfortunate report that Tony Scott, bereft of anything approaching an original thought, now has his sights set on remaking "The Wild Bunch," was word of something much more interesting he wants to cook up with The Dude.

Apparently before he butchers Sam Peckinpah's great Western, he has plans to make "Hell's Angels," a narrative history of the notorious motorcycle gang. Normally I'd kind of just say meh to that, but the movie, to be based both on the book by founding Angels member Sonny Barger and also incorporate aspects of Hunter S. Thompson's tome on the gang as well, would - if Scott gets his way - apparently star Jeff Bridges as Barger. Now you've got my attention. Stay tuned for more on this as soon as I can find it. ...

And finally today, before a couple of clips, Sarah Silverman has found a home at NBC, for a show that surely won't be as delightfully crude as her much-missed (at least by me, though I'm the only person I know who watched it) Comedy Central show, but should still deliver plenty of funny.

No idea if this will be in the fall lineup or be a midseason replacement, but the good news is that the show, starring Silverman as a woman readjusting to single life following a decadelong live-in relationship, will be co-written by the very funny comedienne and two of her "Sarah Silverman Show" co-conspirators, Dan Sterling and Jon Schroeder. Keep your fingers crossed that something genuinely funny comes from all this (I'm betting on yes.)

OK, now on to the clip show, starting with the first trailer I've seen for an upcoming true crime movie titled "Texas Killing Fields." With a name like that, I suppose it doesn't need too much of a plot description, but the flick starring Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chastain and definite Reel Fanatic fave Chloe Moretz, is about two cops who are on the trail of a prodigious serial killer who dumps his victims in the titular marsh dubbed the "killing fields." Moretz plays his latest potential victim, and though I suppose this could all somehow suck, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, so I'm in. Keep an eye out for it in at least some American cities (though why in the world something like this would be limited is beyond me) in October, and enjoy the trailer below.

Finally today, though he's made one movie I just can't stand (and in fact couldn't even finish), "The Killer Inside Me," Michael Winterbottom has made many, many more that I love, chief among them "24-Hour Party People" and "Tristram Shandy." I missed his earlier entry this year, "The Trip," which just looked like a comedy treat with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, but now he's got another movie coming out just in time to be shown at this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

As you'll see from the trailer below, "Trishna" stars the simply ravishing Freida Pinto in Winterbottom's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'Urbervilles." Not sure when this will have a U.S. release or when I'll ever be able to see it, but here's hoping it will be soon, because it looks fantastic. Enjoy the trailer, and have a great weekend. Peace out.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Muppet mania, the cover song edition, plus lots more fun stuff

A free preview of the Muppets-inspired "Green Album" is indeed the highlight around here today, but before that, there's a lot of fun news out there this morning, so let's just get right to it.

To start, no one I can think of is in more need of a genuinely funny comedy than Jason Bateman. Well, to be fair, I suppose there's at least a slight chance that it's "The Change- Up," but so far I've managed to avoid that, so I'll never know.

Much more likely should be something he's just signed up for with veryfunnywoman Melissa McCarthy, who's become one of the summer's true breakout stars with her rather outrageous (and sublimely funny) performance in "Bridesmaids." The two are set to star in "The ID Theft," and all I really know so far is that Bateman will play the victim of the titular ID theft by McCarthy's character. Stay tuned for more when I find it ...

And in other movie news, if I'm not mistaken, there are at least two Jeff Buckley biopics in the works, and now one of them has found its leading man.

Actor/singer-songwriter Reeve Carney, Broadway's Peter Parker in "Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark," has signed on to play Buckley in the as-yet-untitled biopic being directed by Jake Scott. The movie would certainly have to go better than that "Spider-Man" debacle has so far, and they apparently have full rights to Buckley's memoirs and music, so here's hoping something good springs from this.

After that it's almost exclusively about TV news before we finally get to the promised Muppets goodness, starting with a taste of what's to come on "The Office," courtesy of the seriously TV-obsessed James Hibbert of Entertainment Weekly.

With Steve Carell now gone, "The Office" should probably just be shuttered for good, in my opinion, but it does at least sound like they're trying to come up with some fun stuff for when James Spader takes over as the new boss. Here's a somewhat-spoilery taste:

* An established character will be promoted from within to take over as permanent Scranton branch manager subsequent to Robert California’s (Spader) promotion to CEO.
* Dwight will build a Productivity Machine that will evolve into something of a Doomsday Device.
* Riddled with hormones thanks to a second pregnancy, Pam will grow so paranoid she will come to rely on Dwight as the only individual she can trust to be honest with her.
* The entire Scranton warehouse staff will win the lottery and quit. (Something tells me somebody forget to offer Daryl his usual stake now that he’s no longer working in the warehouse.)

The Pam and Dwight stuff in particular should be a treat, so if you're interested, tune in again to find out how this all pans out on Sept. 22.

In other TV news, it's not terribly surprising that HBO is keeping its hands on director Todd Haynes, since it always holds on to talented people and his first HBO project, "Mildred Pierce," was just an Emmy nomination magnet (and awfully entertaining, if you haven't yet seen it.)

Now it seems he's signed for a full series, and one that could possibly reunite him with Julianne Moore. "Dope," based on the novel by Sara Gran, is about a recovering heroin junkie in 1950s New York, and certainly seems like material that's suited to Haynes' usually fully trippy style.

OK, I've buried this last TV bit at the end not just because it comes full circle with Jason Bateman news, but because as with all talk of an "Arrested Development" movie, it should be believed at your own peril. Screen Rant, however, has what it says is the plot line for an "AD" movie, so here goes.

According to the site, the movie follows the Bluth clan's attempts to make their own movie about their lives to compete with one narrator Ron Howard is working on. That said, it of course perfectly matches up with where the show itself left off, so this could just be another false start. Keep hope alive ...

Whew. This really has gone long enough already, I suppose, but there's at least one very funny video out there this morning, so I'll share it with you before we finally get to The Muppets. A YouTube user with the handle of pleatedpants and clearly enough time on his or her hands to match the imagination, has created this video that compiles scenes from "25 Actors Before They Were Famous in Three Minutes." It's pretty much as fun as that title implies, and definite highlights include Sarah Jessica Parker on "3-2-1 Contact" (huzzah!) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt on "Roseanne." Enjoy.

OK, I really do have some things to do before work today (including voting and swimming), so we're almost finished. To introduce the Muppets tribute album, there's first some fresh news about something the Jim Henson Company is cooking up with reality TV pioneers Bunim/Murray. And it sounds like a heck of a lot more fun than any reality TV show I've ever heard of.

"History Of," which as far as I can tell has yet to find a specific TV home, would have pop culture events re-enacted by Henson puppets, not necessarily, but possibly, including Muppets. According to The Wrap, Chris Regan, a former writer for "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," has signed on to be showrunner and the show will feature surprise celebrity cameos.

Not terribly surprising, since the Muppets and their friends will be everywhere in advance of the November release of "The Muppets," the new movie starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams and all their little friends. One other arm of the marketing machine is "The Green Album," a collection of Muppets favorites covered by popular artists of the day. There are hits (Weezer's faithful but fun "Rainbow Connection" and Andrew Bird's "Bein' Green"), and a few misses, but the whole things wraps up in around a half hour, just like an episode of "The Muppet Show."

NPR is streaming the album, due for release Aug. 23, now, and I've embedded their player below. First, the track listing, followed by the streamer itself, so enjoy, and have a perfectly passable Tuesday. Peace out.

1. Muppet Show Theme Song OK Go
2. Rainbow Connection (feat. Hayley Williams) Weezer
3. Mahna Mahna The Fray
4. Movin' Right Along Alkaline Trio
5. Our World My Morning Jacket
6. Mr. Bassman Sondre Lerche
7. Halfway Down the Stairs Amy Lee
8. Wishing Song The Airborne Toxic Event
9. Night Life Brandon Saller
10. Bein' Green Andrew Bird
11. I Hope That Something Better Comes Along Matt Nathanson
listen 12. I'm Going to Go Back There Someday Rachael Yamagata

Saturday, August 13, 2011

An extended look at season two of "The Walking Dead"

I'll get to that in just a few minutes in this very short post, but first comes word that French director Laurent Cantet, who made the extremely engaging "The Class," is now filming his English-language debut, and it's based on a novel that I adore.

Shooting on "Foxfire," based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, is taking place in Canada. The novel is about "a group of humiliated 1950s high school girls in upstate New York who form a secret society to wage a campaign of retaliation and justice in a male-dominated culture," as the Hollywood Reporter described.

Pretty heady stuff there, but having read the book, I can confirm it's pretty fun, too, and as he did with "The Class," Cantet will be using a cast full of young, unknown performers. Definitely stay tuned for more on this as it develops.

But the main event here today is a rather epic, four minute-plus trailer for season two of AMC's "The Walking Dead," which debuts on Oct. 16. Having watched it, I can confirm that the folks who are left on the show still know how to nail the hell out of suspense, but I do fear that with Frank Darabont gone it will miss out a lot on the human factor, a big part of what made season one so compelling. Here's hoping I'm wrong. Enjoy the trailer, have a great weekend, and please, go see "The Help," because it's pretty great. Peace out.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Jonathan Demme and Stephen King teaming up for cool time trip

It seems like forever since I've seen a movie directed by Jonathan Demme, and even longer since I've seen anything that sprang from the over-active mind of Stephen King. I did, however, enjoy Demme's last movie, "Rachel Getting Married," quite a bit, and I have "Something Wild" just sitting in my Netflix streaming queue. And now also comes word that the director, who doesn't work nearly often enough, is teaming up with King for what should be a pretty epicly fun time trip.

Demme is attached to write and direct a feature film based on King's upcoming novel, "11/22/63," which as you can perhaps guess from the title is a science fiction work that centers on the assassination of JFK. Here's the official plot description from King's website:

Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students — a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk. Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane — and insanely possible — mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life — a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

Sounds like a movie trip well worth taking, so stay tuned for more on this as soon as I see it. And after that today, before a couple of videos, it's all about TV comedy, starting with a show that I was slow to pick up on, but have now become quite addicted to this summer: Psych.

Silly? Sure, but how could a show about psychic detectives be anything else? Luckily, thanks to stars James Roday and Dule Hill, it's also always fast and funny, and it wears its geek flag proudly, especially with the sublime "Twin Peaks" tribute episode "Dual Spires" (get it?), the last one I've managed to catch so far. And now comes word from USA that season six will premiere on Oct. 12 at 10 p.m. Bring it on already!

And in other potentially very funny TV news, Larry David's constant enabler and agent on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," the great Jeff Garlin, has just signed a deal with ABC Studios to write, executive produce and star in a half-hour comedy. No word yet on just what it might be about, but with Kid in the Hall Bruce McCullough on board to co-write this, I'm still betting on something very funny.

Now on to a couple of videos to wrap up an admittedly short report so that I can get some housework done before going to see "The Help," starting with the second trailer I've seen for "50/50," one of the movies I'm definitely most looking forward to for this fall. As you'll see from the trailer, Reel Fanatic fave Joseph Gordon Levitt stars in the comedy of sorts based on Will Reiser's battle with cancer, and he's joined by Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick, who I'll watch in just about anything outside of the "Twilight" oeuvre. Enjoy the trailer, and keep an eye out for the movie on Sept. 30.

And finally today, I just bought the album "Watch the Throne" by Jay-Z and Kanye West, and though it's gonna take a little while to absorb all that ego, it sounds pretty epicly good so far. Below is the video for the first single, "Otis," which was apparently directed by Spike Jonze, though you really can't detect many signs of that. What is has, however, is a great sample of Otis' "Try a Little Tenderness" and, for some reason, Aziz Ansari failing pretty miserably at dancing. Enjoy, and have a perfectly pleasant weekend. Peace out.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Thursday clip show, with Harold, Kumar and even Black Dynamite

Before we get into any of that, does anyone remember Amy Sherman-Palladino? Before she quit her own show between the sixth and seventh (final) seasons, she was the creator of "Gilmore Girls," a show that was miles better than it had any business being.

The CW show starred Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel as a single mother and her teenage daughter, and on paper that should have been enough to keep me away. And for the first couple of seasons, it was, but I eventually caught on an up, and I'm certainly glad I did.

Along with the great relationship - and two electric stars - at its core, the show had genuine quirk, not the forced and piled on kind (though there was a whole lot of it), but the organic kind that genuinely makes you laugh (and is sorely missing almost everywhere else on TV.) And it also had very fast - and almost equally smart and funny - banter, something you don't find outside of Aaron Sorkin's best work.

And I tell you all that to tell you this: After first attempting a post-"Gilmore Girls" comeback with the disastrously short-lived "The Return of Jezebel Jones" with Lauren Ambrose and Parker Posey (how in the world do you make her not funny? Sheesh), she's now back in a pretty big way, scripting a pilot for ABC based on the best-selling book "The Nanny Diaries."

If that sounds familiar, it's already been made into a movie I somehow managed to miss starring Scarlett Johansson and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (who also made the delightful "American Splendor" and, more recently, "The Extra Man," well worth a rental.)

And on paper, this new show, about an NYU undergrad hired to care for the 4-year-old child of a wealthy New York family, sounds as unpromising as "Gilmore Girls" first did to me, too, but since I was wrong once, I'll probably at least tune in for the pilot for this, when and if it ever materializes. Welcome back.

OK, after that today, it's nothing but filthy fun, I promise, starting with the first trailer I've seen for "A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas." Yes, 3D, but as you'll see from the trailer, it's as much a target as a prop, and should be put to some pretty friggin funny use. I'm not sure there really needs to be a premise for a Harold and Kumar movie, but this time out Harold (John Cho) is happily married when Kumar (Kal Penn), of course, shows up to drag him back into his hedonistic ways. I hope I never get too old to enjoy a good stoner movie, and here's hoping also that this turns out to be one (I'm betting on yes) when it opens in November. Enjoy.

And finally, satires don't get much smarter or funnier than what Michael Jai White and director Scott Sanders cooked up with "Black Dynamite," so I was plenty happy to hear the saga was continuing in animated form on Adult Swim. I have no idea if this is going to series, but with the first short episode embedded below, I can tell you two things: Though it's not quite as funny as the movie (and really, few things are), it's still pretty darn good, and also, please be warned, this is EXTREMELY not safe for work. Enjoy it when you're sure it won't get you in trouble. Peace out.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

For normally quiet August, a surprisingly strong week for movies

Two movies that I (and perhaps you) want to see in one week in August? That only seems to happen once about every five years, so we should definitely beat the heat and take advantage of it. Plus, here in Macon, the Film Guild offers a bonus pick on Sunday that takes a different look at the settling of the American West.

First up, getting an early start on the week by opening Wednesday is "The Help," based on the very popular novel by Kathryn Stockett. Having read the book, I mostly enjoyed it, but with its very broad characters drawn in stark black and white (and I'm not talking about race here) with few touches of grey, and equally broad humor, I think it will work even better as a feel-good movie.

For anyone who hasn't read the novel, it's about a listless University of Mississippi graduate, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (played in the movie by Emma Stone), who convinces the black maids of '60s Jackson, Miss., to tell their stories. She's surrounded by a pretty first-rate cast, with Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer leading the maids, and Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain and Allison Janney all playing supporting roles.

On a surely much cruder but hopefully also funnier note comes "30 Minutes or Less," director Ruben Fleischer's followup to his rather sublimely entertaining "Zombieland," this time with an even sillier premise: A slacker pizza delivery driver is kidnapped by some ne'er-do-wells who strap a bomb to his chest and force him to rob a bank. And yes, that's a comedy.

"Zombieland" star Jesse Eisenberg returns as the main slacker, and he's surrounded by solidly funny people, including Aziz Ansari of "Parks and Recreation" and Danny McBride, so I'm betting on this being a winner.

As far as the third new wide-release movie of the week goes, I've managed to somehow miss out on all the "Final Destination" carnage thus far, so I'm fairly certain I'll be able to just say no to the fifth installment (yes, really) without really missing anything.

And finally, rounding out a full movie week, the Macon Film Guild is presenting director Kelly Reichardt's Western, "Meek's Cutoff," Sunday at 2, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Douglass Theatre. I haven't seen this one yet, but I have seen Reichardt's "Wendy And Lucy," and enjoyed it quite a bit.

From that experience, I can tell you that Reichardt's movies do move more than a bit slowly, but "Wendy and Lucy," which like "Meek's Cutoff" stars Michelle Williams, was thoroughly engrossing, as I suspect this tale of a band of settlers traveling through the Oregon desert in 1845 will be, too.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

FX bets big on comedy, plus what Werner Herzog's bringing to Toronto

With its 10 p.m. Thursday comedy block of "Wilfred" and then "Louie," FX has put together pretty easily the brightest spot in summer TV (and yes, that means I've never seen "Breaking Bad," not out of any particular animosity toward it, but simply because there's only so much TV one man can watch, even me.)

And now, in not terribly surprising but still welcome news, comes word that the network has just renewed them both for 13 episode runs, "Louie" its third and "Wilfred" its second, and also given a rather amazing eighth and ninth season orders to "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."

"Louie," in particular, has really grown in its second season to become one of the best sitcoms around, with star (and writer, and even editor, too) Louis CK rightly nominated for an Emmy for best actor in a comedy.

Using his status as a "comedian's comedian," he's had Dane Cook and even better, Joan Rivers, on for memorable stints, with the latter producing both some of the year's funniest and most uncomfortable moments, all within the space of about 10 minutes. Best of all, however, have been Louis' particularly pathetic attempts to pitch woo to Pamela Adlon, who also played his wife on "Lucky Louie" and is clearly the closest thing he has to a comedic soul mate.

As for "Wilfred," if you've never seen the rookie sitcom starring Elijah Wood as a stoner slacker who just happens to be able to talk to his neighbor's dog, Wilfred, you're really missing out on something fun.

The show wisely started out about as dark as possible, with Wilfred being a tormenter determined to bring out the absolute worst in Ryan (Wood) at every turn, before slowly evolving into a mix of guardian angel and demented devil (though thankfully, still much more often the latter.) Showrunner and star Jason Gann, who dons the rather ridiculous dog suit to play Wilfred, said on the Television Critics Association tour that as the show was starting, they presented him with a photo of Ian McKellen's Gandalf with his arms around Wood's Frodo, but with Wilfred's face superimposed over Gandalf's. Seen through that prism, the show just gets even funnier.

And thankfully, just as those steadily improving shows wrap up their current seasons, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" will return the following week, with season seven premiering at 10 p.m. Sept. 15. Season seven? Really? How in the world did that happen, and with it getting two more seasons, did it manage to become the longest-running sitcom in basic cable history?

The answer is that it never gave an inch toward developing any kind of conscience at all, with its gang of characters not just embracing but reveling in their vileness (Mac, Dennis and Frank) or patheticness (Dee and Charlie, and yes, I know that's not actually a word), and all five in their depravity. The promos for season seven, one of which I've included below, give the show a very funny Hallmark effect, with the ending title card particularly spot-on. Enjoy, and stop by the FX site to see all of them.

OK, in one more short bit about TV before moving on to what Werner Herzog is premiering at this year's Toronto Film Festival, the Television Critics Association gave out its awards Saturday night, and got at least two things exactly right.

There's still too much and very predictable love for "Modern Family," which I still sometimes tune in for but delivers perhaps two real laughs a week, but also in comedy they righted a serious Emmy wrong by giving an "Individual Achievement in Comedy" award to Ron Swanson, aka Nick Offerman, who also hosted the awards presentation. If you've somehow missed Ron Swanson, the true hero of "Parks and Recreation" and Libertarians' patron saint, be sure to make up for that by tuning in when the show returns this fall.

And as much as I hate that great shows often don't get any critical love until they're already gone, it was certainly nice to see the critics give their "Program of the Year" award to the recently departed and already sorely missed (at least by me) "Friday Night Lights." I really don't believe any of the noise I've seen from Peter Berg about continuing with a "FNL" movie, and really, why bother? The show clearly went out on top, and it's just nice to see smart people recognize that. Here are all the winners.

Individual Achievement in Drama: Jon Hamm (Mad Men, AMC)
Individual Achievement in Comedy: Ty Burrell (Modern Family, ABC) and Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation, NBC)
Outstanding Achievement in News and Information: Restrepo (National Geographic Channel)
Outstanding Achievement in Reality Programming: The Amazing Race (CBS)
Outstanding Achievement in Youth Programming: Sesame Street (PBS)
Outstanding New Program: Game of Thrones (HBO)
Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries and Specials: Masterpiece: Sherlock (PBS)
Outstanding Achievement in Drama: Mad Men (AMC)
Outstanding Achievement in Comedy: Modern Family (ABC)
Career Achievement Award: Oprah Winfrey
Heritage Award: The Dick Van Dyke Show
Program of the Year: Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC)

And finally today, not surprisingly, Werner Herzog will bring surely one of the most challenging and genuinely powerful movies to the Toronto International Film Festival in September with "Into the Abyss," his new documentary focusing on American inmates condemned to death row. He also interviews their families as well as those of their victims for what should be a well-rounded but awfully hard to watch portrait of the American criminal justice system. Enjoy these three short clips, and have a great end to your weekend. Peace out.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

First look: Three clips from Sarah Polley's "Take This Waltz"

If you haven't seen Sarah Polley's directorial debut, "Away From Her," I'd recommend a rental right away. Yes, it's a movie about Alzheimer's disease and therefore by force not the most upbeat of movies, but the chronicle of its effects on an elderly couple is one of the best flicks I've seen in the last five years or so, and just an all-around astonishing debut.

And now, Polley is back at this year's Toronto Film Festival with her directing follow-up, the romance of sorts "Take This Waltz." (As an aside, Canadians really are infatuated with Leonard Cohen. ... Along with giving this flick its title, his music runs throughout "Barney's Version" starring Paul Giamatti, just out on video, and also well worth a rental.)

But I digress. "Take This Waltz" stars Reel Fanatic fave Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen in a story of a young Toronto couple dealing with issues of fidelity as a new man enters the picture. Newcomer Luke Kirby plays said Lothario, and as you'll see from the clips below, Sarah Silverman also appears in this, though looking much more serious than usual.

I'm not sure when this might be coming out in theaters in at least some corners of the world, but definitely keep an eye out for it, and enjoy the clips. Peace out.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Friday news, with Catwoman, Kenneth Lonergan, Jonah Hill's foul-mouthed "Sitter" and more

That, of course, is Anne Hathaway in costume as Selena Kyle/Catwoman in Christopher Nolan's upcoming "The Dark Knight Rises," riding a motorcycle with an apparently monstrously large front wheel. And I have to say, now that we've seen Bane and Catwoman, nothing about the slow reveal for this flick so far has me thinking it will be anywhere near as good as "The Dark Knight," but I live to be proven wrong (and manage to accomplish it almost every day.)

And moving on, in other movie news, does anyone remember the name Kenneth Lonergan?

If not, I wouldn't be terribly surprised, but before he pretty much disappeared completely from the world of movies, he managed to make easily one of my favorite flicks of the '00s (and really, of all time) in "You Can Count on Me." If you've never seen that little movie starring Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo as an estranged brother and sister trying to, well, simply deal with life, I'd recommend tracking it down as soon as possible.

And with that movie being a pretty solid arthouse hit, Fox Searchlight signed writer/director Lonergan to make a followup titled "Margaret." Here's what, at least when Lonergan began shooting the movie in 2005, it was to be about, courtesy of AICN:

MARGARET centers on a 17-year-old New York City high-school student who feels certain that she inadvertently played a role in a traffic accident that has claimed a woman's life. In her attempts to set things right she meets with opposition at every step. Torn apart with frustration, she begins emotionally brutalizing her family, her friends, her teachers, and most of all, herself. She has been confronted quite unexpectedly with a basic truth: that her youthful ideals are on a collision course against the realities and compromises of the adult world.

Sounds like pretty heady stuff, and looking at the cast list, I'm fairly certain that Anna Paquin, way back then, played the teen at the movie's center. It was also set to (and still does) also star Matt Damon, Ruffalo, Rosemarie DeWitt, Allison Janney, Jean Reno, Krysten Ritter and, from "You Can Count on Me," Matthew Broderick and Kieran Culkin.

But between then and now, a number of odd things happened, most importantly that Lonergan had no idea how to end his own movie. It clocked in at three hours-plus, and he ended up in court with studio folks about his inability (or unwillingness) to shorten it.

Well, I tell you all that to tell you this: Lonergan's "Margaret" is now finally set to come out in at least some corners of the world and in some form on Sept. 30. And even with such a tortured past, I'll be there to see whatever comes out of all this.

And in news of a movie that should turn out to be much more fun, Louis Leterrier is cooking up a first-rate cast for his magical police tale "Now You See Me," which is about, according to Variety, "a crack FBI squad in a game of cat and mouse against a super team of the world's greatest illusionists, who pull off a series of daring bank heists during their performances, showering the profits on their audiences while staying one step ahead of the law."

Sounds like nothing but big fun to me, and now comes word that Ruffalo and Amanda Seyfried are about to join a cast that already features Melanie Laurent of "Inglorious Basterds" and Jesse Eisenberg. Not sure exactly which roles the latter two will play, but I do know that Ruffalo will play the head FBI agent and Seyfried an expert at building the criminal team's magical devices.

I hope I never get too old to enjoy this kind of thing, and in the same vein, thanks to the recommendation of always-welcome reader Jeremy Jirik, I've also just started reading "Midnight Riot" by "Doctor Who" scribe Ben Aaronovitch, and it's exactly what the title promises. Highly recommended summer reading.

And to segue into today's clips, I'm also sure I'll never get too told for seriously raunchy R-rated comedies, when they're done right (which I'm certainly not expecting from "The Change-Up," so I think I'll just say no to that.) Even if David Gordon Green's "The Sitter" indeed just looks like a mix of "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express" with foul-mouthed kids, it still also looks like exactly the kind of comedy I can dig. Here, courtesy of IGN, enjoy this first red-band trailer, with an appropriately foul introduction from Jonah Hill and his young co-stars, and keep an eye out for the movie on Dec. 9.

And finally today, here's the second trailer I've seen for the single movie I'm most looking forward to for this fall, Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy." Just as the director made wintery Sweden, the setting of his simply fabulous vampire tale of sorts, "Let the Right One In" (still streaming on Netflix, if you've somehow never seen it), such a key part of the story there, you can tell from this UK trailer that he'll drop us fully right in the middle of cold-war era Britain for the spy games in Le Carre's novel. The movie's rather amazing cast features Gary Oldman (as the mole hunter George Smiley), Colin Firth, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch (from the BBC's "Sherlock"), so keep an eye out for this in the USA on Nov. 18, and enjoy this new trailer. And if you'll excuse me now, I'm off to do some swimming and then catch a matinee of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Peace out.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

DVD picks of the week: "Rio" and "Soul Surfer"

Along with the promise of fall movies just around the corner, late summer brings something else for movie lovers: Some of the year's best movies finally start to trickle onto DVD.

This week brings two of mine, the best animated movie I've seen this year and the inspiring story of Bethany Hamilton.

First up is "Rio," and on paper at least, there's no way this movie should be as good as it is. The story is at once very familiar, that of fish (well, actually birds) out of water, this time a blue macaw raised in comfortable domesticity until forced to fend for himself (with, of course, the help of new friends, this being a children's movie) in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

But what sets "Rio" apart from the animated pack is vibrant color, both local and overall. The streets of Rio spring to life in vibrant hues rarely seen in animated movies these days, especially if you watch them in muddied 3-D. Add to that a cast of memorable characters led by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway as the macaws and also featuring voice work by the likes of Jane Lynch, Tracy Morgan, Wanda Sykes and other funny people, and you've got a great rental idea for this week.

My second weekly pick is "Soul Surfer," a nominally Christian movie that, even without that quality, couldn't help but be inspiring as it tells the tale of Bethany Hamilton, the Hawaiian girl who lost an arm in a shark attack but still went on to a successful career as a professional surfer. What it isn't, however, is mawkishly sentimental, dealing much more with life than dwelling on tragedy.

The movie has two principal strengths, starting with the performance of AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany. Her passion for the character shines through, and she gives Bethany an infectious spirit that makes this great story even better. And secondly, the surfing action throughout is first-rate, and beautifully shot in Hawaii and Tahiti by director Sean McNamara.

Add all that together and mix in just a good story very well told, and you've got a movie well worth a rental.

Guild to climb the 'Tree of Life'

The Macon Film Guild has some very interesting movies coming up in the next few months, starting with the Kelly Reichart Western "Meek's Cutoff" on Aug. 14 and then the Italian psychological thriller "The Double Hour" in September. It's in October, however that the guild has scored a real coup with Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life."

The great director's immensely personal movie won the Palme D'Or for best film at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and having seen this, I can confirm it's well deserved. In an at least partially autobiographical tale, Malick tells the story of a boy growing up in a suffocating family in Texas in the 1950s, and uses this springboard to ask powerful questions about faith and the meaning of life.

Believe me, it's all much, much better than I can make it sound here, so go ahead and mark your movie calendar for "Tree of Life" on Oct. 9 at the Douglass Theatre, and note that because of its 138-minute length, there will only be two screenings, at 2 and 7:30 p.m.