Friday, June 30, 2006

Sympathy for the Devil and the Word Players

The Devil Wears Prada, an adaptation of the infamous 2004 roman à clef by onetime assistant to Vogue magazine editrix Anna Wintour-turned-chick-lit princess Lauren Weisberger, is set in the stimulating microcosm that is Manhattan, where whom you wear is just as important if not more than whom you know. At least according to this movie.

It follows the travails of recent college graduate Andrea Sachs, a wide-eyed young journalist who reluctantly takes a position as an assistant at Runway, the Holy Grail of fashion, even though she would much rather be writing serious articles for The New Yorker.

I could write an entire essay on why people really need to start considering that entertainment writing is just as important – and hey, someone’s got to do it! – but I think that if you’re reading this you probably know my take on this matter. All I will say is information, not matter what kind, is important. (In a way, this struggle of Andrea’s was strike 1 for the movie, come to think of it.)

Anyway, I recently heard a snippet of a phone interview between Bravo and Anne Hathaway, who plays Andrea in The Devil Wears Prada. I remember her saying something along the lines of how the movie sort of explores how young people reconcile their idealism with the reality of the world.

In a way, it does just that – albeit in terribly stylish fashion (thanks to costume designer Patricia Field, whose fashion-forward credits include HBO’s Sex and the City). But this breakthrough is by no means inventive; The Devil Wears Prada was a clever title for a generic book and now a clever title for a derivative movie, and not even Chanel, Jimmy Choo, or Prada can help that.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie is rather enjoyable, particularly because of Meryl Streep’s devilish turn as Runway’s editrix Miranda Priestly, a woman so fiercely chic and driven she epitomizes post-modern career womanhood. But it has a bit of a hard time maneuvering its way out of the many shtick-y corners it pits itself into in its very high Manolos. (Streep, by the way, can also be seen in the enjoyable ensemble A Prairie Home Companion.)

For one, The Devil Wears Prada features an almost obligatory makeover: Andrea goes from drab to fab almost as quickly as she not only compromises her idealism but also her values (only to eventually find herself once again, naturally). How passé!

And Miranda’s viciousness proves to be a statement of sorts, of course, but as we’re shown a side of hers she doesn’t allow anyone or even herself to know about, the movie asks that we forgive her a little, and we shouldn’t have to.

We should, however, want to be smarter. Or at least I did after journeying into the world of Will Shortz, the crossword puzzle editor at The New York Times. Known to millions as NPR's "Puzzle Master," Shortz (pictured, at left) has spent his entire lifetime studying, creating, and editing puzzles, and has built a huge following along the way.

Wordplay introduces us to Shortz's diehard fans – which include President Bill Clinton, Sen. Bob Dole, The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, the Indigo Girls, and New York Yankee Mike Mussina – and lets us in on why more than 50 million Americans do crossword puzzles every week.

It also takes us to Stamford, CT, where the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament has been held for almost 30 years. Hosted and directed by Shortz, the tournament is the nation's oldest and largest crossword competition – and a true battle for almost 500 competitors.

I remember solving crossword puzzles with my dad once upon a time, so Wordplay proved most enjoyable. It also proved to be an eye-opener: I’m not very smart…at least crossword puzzle-smart. But if this documentary had been a high-stakes pop culture quiz, then perhaps I would’ve had a shot at figuring out some of the clues with the people on screen.

Either way, Wordplay is a three-letter word for a good time. So is The Devil Wears Prada (seriously… it may be a little too I've-seen-it-done-before-yet but it is effective, and any movie that features two Madonna songs, "Jump" and "Vogue," is fine by me).

My Rating *** (for both)

Photos: 20th Century Fox (The Devil Wears Prada); IFC Films (Wordplay).

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Back to the Super

Director Bryan Singer and screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris (X2: X-Men United) picked a pretty self-explanatory title to tell this new chapter in the story of Superman, arguably the world’s favorite superhero, and his alter ego Clark Kent.

Following a mysterious absence of five years, Superman (played by newcomer Brandon Routh) has indeed returned to Earth. It is without further ado and with great wide-eyed pleasure that I declare Superman Returns a triumphant homecoming for a dear friend.

The movie picks up right where the Christopher Reeve-starring Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980) left off. As we know, the Man of Steel was born on Krypton, a planet that is no longer, and was raised by adoptive parents on a farm in Kansas.

Having adopted his Clark Kent persona, working at the Daily Planet in Metropolis and pining after his beloved Lois Lane (Blue Crush’s Kate Bosworth), Superman has made it his mission to fight for "truth, justice, and all that stuff."

But when scientists discovered what they believed could be Krypton, Superman had to see it for himself, and so he left Earth.

While he was gone, crime rose in Metropolis and everywhere else, and Lois Lane moved on with her life. She wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial "Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman," got engaged to quite a man, and had a son who is about 5.

Oh, and his archenemy, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), was sprung from prison dead-set on using Superman's secrets for his own personal gain and glory. Talk about coming home to a mess!

As I said, though, if anyone can rise above these challenges – in this case literally – it is our Superman. And that he does in Superman Returns, a terrific superhero movie with enough action and gravitas to restore an iconic character to glory.

Routh fills the famous Superman suit beautifully (and that’s not a take on his good looks…or maybe it is, come to think about it), and makes the character his own. He may not be as imposing as Reeve was when he donned it just yet, but I am looking forward to seeing Routh grow into the role.

The same goes for Bosworth as Lois Lane, who had to win me over more than anyone would have thought it (let me just say that, from the movie’s trailer, I had issues with her hair, if you will).

The story is – and I’m loosely quoting Singer – quite the "chick flick," told as much from Superman/Clark Kent’s perspective as from Lois Lane’s.

By not dwelling for too long, if at all, in our hero’s dual personality, Singer manages to deal rather nicely with the issue at hand – the Man of Steel’s return – and set up the story for future exploration of this particular conflict (and you know there will be sequels).

The one thing I could say the movie lacked was a show-stopping fight between Superman and Lex Luthor.

The epic battle between good and evil that ought to have accompanied this epic return is all-too brief and perhaps somewhat unremarkable (then again, for as much a threat as Lex Luthor is, dealing with his mischief is more pressing, so I’ll let this slide for now).

Seeing Superman return is like seeing a good old friend come back into our lives. The world is much different from when we first met him, but I’m glad to see he isn’t.

My Rating ***1/2

Photo: Warner Bros.

Friday, June 23, 2006

R.I.P. Mr. Spelling

Aaron Spelling, the record-setting producer of countless TV guilty pleasures, including Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place, and Charmed, passed away yesterday at age 83. He had suffered a stroke last Sunday, but remained under at doctor’s care in his home in Los Angeles.

Wife Candy and son Randy were at his side at the time of his death, though daughter Tori was reportedly not present. Her portrayal of her parents in her semi-autobiographical VH-1 comedy series, so noTORIous, is believed to have caused a months-long rift between the erstwhile Donna Martin and them, though People reports that she had reconciled with her father.

Craving a Small but Tasty Treat This Season?

I know you are all waiting for the return of the Man of Steel next Wednesday. Having seen the small little production already, I can almost guarantee that the wait will be well worth it, as the return of Superman is a crowd-pleaser that will appeal to the wide-eyed child within everyone on this planet.

So – tee hee – buck up, and wait just a few more days.

I ask you to wait because that is what you’ll have to do if you want to watch Strangers with Candy, a prequel to the critically acclaimed Comedy Central 1999-2000 series that opens in New York on the same day as Superman Returns.

For this reason alone you so need to check it out. Amy Sedaris, the series and movie’s co-creator and star, is not only one heck of a funny lady (as evidenced by her appearance on last night’s Late Show with David Letterman) – she is also a brave one.

The movie follows the story of Jerri Blank, a 46 year-old ex-junkie and ex-con who emerges from her long prison stay with a special goodbye prison riot with her cellmates and returns to high school in a bid to start her life over, only to confront the most dangerous gang of all – the cool kids.

After a long bus ride, Jerri arrives at her childhood home to find that her father is now in a coma and has re-married and fathered a child. Although mortified by her stepdaughter's return, his new wife begrudgingly allows Jerri to move in when the family doctor suggests that her presence might bring her father out of his 32-year coma.

Hilarity ensues.

Strangers with Candy co-creators Stephen Colbert and Paul Dinello also appear, while Sarah Jessica Parker, Justin Theroux (Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle), Matthew Broderick, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ian Holm, and Allison Janney cameo.

Photo: ThinkFilm.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Cannes, Schmannes – I Can’t Wait for Southland Tales

In May, the director of the cult sensation Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly, premiered his latest, Southland Tales, at the Cannes Film Festival. Recently, Entertainment Weekly reported in its online Pop Watch that the screening "went over badly."

The dispatch went over to say that people in the audience hated the film, and that with few exceptions, the reviews were "eviscerating, with what seems like an emphasis on the word ‘incomprehensible.’" Didn’t critics say the same about Donnie Darko?

And yet, I can’t wait to see Southland Tales. (The film doesn’t have a domestic distributor yet, and, given its reception, it seems unlikely it will be shown in America as it was in Cannes.)

I sure hope it does get picked up, if anything because Kelly fans will want to see just what he has done with his ensemble cast, which includes The Rock, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, former SNL MVP Cheri Oteri, Justin Timberlake, Mandy Moore, and Miranda Richardson, among others.

The story, written by Kelly, sounds like a humdinger. Set in L.A. in 2008 during a three-day heat wave just before a huge 4th of July celebration, an amnesia-stricken action star meets up with an adult film star developing her own reality television project and a police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy.

Incomprehensible or not, Southland Tales sounds rather original. For an industry that likes to ascribe filmmakers words like "auteur" and "visionary," Hollywood would prove itself terrible shortsighted if it didn’t let Kelly show his audience the film he wanted to make.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Britney Wants Us to Leave Her Alone, Y'all!

I got super inside word today that while everyone was buzzing about Britney Spears’ not-going-to-happen birthing trip to Namibia and her semi-moving waterworks display on Dateline (for the hard-hitting-and-never-glib Matt Lauer and the world’s sake), Madonna's onetime kissing buddy had private-jetted it into Miami for a quick family getaway.

I guess she needed it after excellently channeling the cheap drag queen within on TV – that makeup…those awful hair extensions…and that chipped nail polish! Yuck.

I mean, whatever happened to the Britney of yesteryear (check her out at right)? Pop tart needs to hire herself a stylist to help her look youthful, fresh, and fun once more, already!

Anyway, she and her scrub husband, Kevin Federline, a.k.a. K-Fed (seriously?), arrived in town for him to promote his upcoming CD (first Paris, and now him...the end must be near) and are expected to hit South Beach nightclub Mansion tonight for a good friend of theirs’ birthday bash.

The two, and baby Sean Preston (no word on whether they brought their "manny" along for the trip), were the picture of happiness at the beach yesterday (Spears did tell Lauer that life with Federline is, "awesome").

People magazine has a couple of pictures on their website, which you can see here and here.

Hey, if it makes her happy. She did tell us it was her prerogative, y'all.


Update: Britney didn't show up at Mansion, but K-Fed sure did (and played DJ for the crowd, which even for this pseudo-celeb is much too cliché). Rent's Taye Diggs also turned up at the club, sans wife Idina Menzel, though (do they ever do anything fun like this together?).

Whom Would You Hang With This Weekend?

Opening this weekend is Nacho Libre, a movie I’ve been anticipating
for quite a while now.

In the movie, Jack Black plays Ignacio (his friends call him Nacho), a Mexican friar who moonlights as a lucha libre wrestler to raise money for his orphanage (and to impress a woman).

If the trailer was any indication, this is going to be a really fun time at the movie theater. (Nacho Libre was co-written, with School of Rock’s Mike White and Jerusha Hess, and directed by Napoleon Dynamite’s Jared Hess, so expect irreverence and hilarious maladjustment galore.)

Slowing things down a little bit is a couple who first captivated us more than 10 years ago in Speed

In The Lake House, Sandra Bullock plays an in independent-minded doctor who once occupied an unusual lakeside home – and who has begun exchanging love letters with its newest resident, a frustrated architect (played by Keanu Reeves).

When they discover that they are actually living two years apart, they must try to unravel the mystery behind their extraordinary mailbox before it is too late – but for what?

The movie’s trailer had me hooked me the second I heard the hypnotic “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane
, even though it left me thinking it may turn up to be a bit too Frequency-ish.

Finally, the Sydney Pollack-helmed Sketches of Frank Gehry takes a look at the life and work
of the renowned architect. The biodoc features commentary by, among others, Julian Schnabel, Dennis Hopper, Bob Geldof, Milton Wexler, and Gehry himself.

So whom will you hang with this weekend? Will it be a funny wrestler, a reunited couple, or a master architect?

Photos: Paramount Pictures (Nacho Libre); Warner Bros. (The Lake House).

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Could This Be Another Sign of the End of the World?

Well…it’s happened. We finally get to see and hear a side of Paris Hilton we haven’t yet as the heir-head tries her hand at singing.

Seriously, the four horsemen can’t be all that far behind, right (and I don’t mean that in a naughty way!).

Her first single, the reggae-lite "Stars Are Blind" is out, and though my first impression was, "Uh, can you say overproduced Gwen Stefani wannabe?" I have to admit the song is pretty darn catchy. It's lyrically mediocre at best and outstandingly poor at...not its best. It's probably going to be huge.

By the way, I caught a phone interview between Hilton and Miami’s Y-100.7 FM last week, in which the celebutante said it took her this long to get the record done and out because, "I was shy."

You don’t say. I guess there’s nothing like a semi-steamy sex tape with another gal's hubby to take the edge off, though.

And get this – she announced that she's going on a European tour soon, which, naturally, "is going to be really hot."

You've been warned. Now check out her new video in which she frolics on the beach with a hot stud while vamping it up like only she can.

Photo: AOL Music.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Psst…She Has Something to Say to You

Warner Bros. Records announced today that I’m Going to Tell You a Secret, Madonna’s provocative documentary of her stunning and highly acclaimed “Re-Invention Tour” of 2004, is scheduled to be released on June 20.

Madonna is currently in the middle of the American leg of her Confessions Tour.

Helmed by Jonas Åkerlund (the director of her "Ray of Light" and "Music" videos), I’m Going to Tell You a Secret gives us an up close and personal view of the artist’s daily life while out on the road. It also features beautifully filmed sequences of the undisputed Queen of Pop performing some of hits both old ("Vogue," “Like a Prayer”) and new ("Nobody Knows Me”) and a profoundly moving version of the John Lennon hit "Imagine."

You can read my review here.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Eclectic Cast Voices New Animated Film this Christmas

In Luc Besson’s upcoming Arthur and the Minimoys, 10-year-old Arthur has a lot on his plate: a real estate developer is about to snap up his grandma's home – and there's no way Arthur is going to just hang around and see this happen.

In a bid to save the house from being demolished, Arthur (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Freddie Highmore) goes to the "other side," looking for his grandpa’s much-fabled hidden treasure in the land of the Minimoys, a tiny people living in harmony with nature.

There, Arthur meets Princess Selenia (voiced by this icon) and her brother, and together they set off to look for the treasure that will save his beloved grandma’s home.

Arthur and the Minimoys is scheduled to arrive in theaters this Christmas. It co-stars Mia Farrow and also features the voices of David Bowie and Snoop Dogg.


Saturday, June 10, 2006

What the Reviews – and I – Say About The Break-Up He Said/She Said

Dubbed the movie starring pop culture phenomenon Vaughniston, a.k.a. Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston, The Break-Up follows the story of Gary and Brooke, a Chicago couple who, after two years together, break up but stay together as neither will movie out of the condo they co-own together.

I finally caught The Break-Up last night. I wanted to last weekend, but to be honest the poor reviews kept me away. But when I heard that a couple of exes had gotten in the way of a bunch of X-Men’s hopes of a second week of top moneymaking, I knew that I’d broken up with Vaughniston much too soon.

I know – could I be any shallower!

I have to say, though, having finally seen the movie, I really don’t get why other critics found The Break-Up to be "broken," "dull and trivial," or "a mess" – in other words, "a major disappointment."

I found it to be quite funny (at least the first 50 minutes or so), and rather authentic (throughout and especially the other 50 minutes), if a bit long.

This isn’t your typical romantic comedy – both Vaughn and Aniston said so while doing press – because it has a twist to it. The reason, I believe, most critics and some in the audience have found the movie disappointing is they’ve been spoiled by years of romantic comedies ending wrapped up in a bow.

That’s just not real – people don’t get the happy ending as often as their cinematic counterparts do. The movie is supposed to be messy, and Gary and Brooke are supposed to be "unsympathetic" and "squabble and snarl" because that’s what people do when they reach the end of the love road.

I will be the first to tell you that movies ought to be escapism at its finest. But the movie is called The Break-Up. Enjoy it – odds are it’ll be the only one you ever will.

Photo: Universal Pictures.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Get to It, TV Fans!

Every year, the lovely and intrepid Kristin Veitch over at E! Online gives couch potatoes everywhere the chance to nominate our favorite actors and shows of the past season for a Tater Top Award.

This is by far the coolest award and quite possibly the highest honor an actor can receive because it comes from us, the people who tune in week after week.

That, and it’s a really good way to show the good people at the Emmys (and to a lesser degree the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards) which shows ought to be recognized.

Past Tater Top winners include oft-snubbed actors like Gilmore Girls’ Lauren Graham and Scrubs’ Zach Braff, as well as cult favorites the Emmys have consistently failed to even acknowledge, like Alias, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Veronica Mars.

So props to Kristin for, yet again, giving us a fantastic chance to show our appreciation to the cancelled-to-soon Invasion and the sure-to-be-missed Arrested Development, the I-have-yet-to-check-it-out Battlestar Galactica, as well as bona fide hits Grey’s Anatomy and 24.

Get voting!

Photo: (Grey's Anatomy).
An Inconvenient Truth That Warrants a Necessary Look

In the new documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore, the man who, as he puts it, "used to be the next president of the United States," takes an uncompromising look at the hot topic (no pun intended) of global warming.

The movie is quite informative and compelling (this in spite of Gore’s rather robotic yet concise presentation of facts). Once everything was said and done, though, I couldn’t help but feel as though the former vice president offered little in the way of a somewhat concrete solution.

Yes, we can all help reverse what human activity has created. But is it too little, too late?

And was Gore pointing the finger (not only at the current administration, but also at those who came before and the choices they had and continue to have to make)?

Of course he was – and he is to be applauded and supported for it. Clearly, the planet’s well being is an issue for which Gore has tremendous passion and concern.

Having seen him vigorously fight the decision that kept him from taking office in 2000 (America really elected him, after all), I cannot help but hope to think that Earth has a good advocate in him. We should all try and do our part as well.

Our future is in our hands – we just need to let go of our gas-guzzling SUVs (or at least pay attention when we drive them) and begin to take better care of our environment to ensure that the next generations don’t suffer the consequences of post-modern life’s indiscriminate pollution.

Gore has traveled the world delivering a presentation on the global climate change and its effects. As the title of the movie reveals, this issue is an inconvenient truth that indeed warrants a necessary looking into.

Yet, I’d still like to ask Gore just what can we all really do about this common problem of ours. Is this not a problem that the governments of the world can handle (better)? Can you and I really effect change in our world?

Of course we can – and we must. The truth is every little bit really does help.

My Rating ***

Photo: Paramounts Classics.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Dawn of the Bond

Have you seen the trailer for Casino Royale (Nov. 17) yet?

Well, get to it!

As you may or may not know, Casino Royale examines James Bond's formative years, as he goes from being a mere "blunt instrument" to become one of finest double-0 agents to ever serve on Her Majesty’s secret service.

Playing Bond this time around is the smoldering Daniel Craig (Enduring Love, Layer Cake) a mighty fine, if controversial, choice of an actor, if you ask me.

After watching this trailer, I’ve only got three letters to describe him and the revitilization of the franchise: H. O. T.

Photo: MGM/Columbia Pictures.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Brittany Murphy on Video for DJ Paul Oakenfold

In April, I told you about how Brittany Murphy’s singing aspirations had materialized, as she purrs her way into the music scene with "Faster Kill Pussycat," one of the tracks on DJ Paul Oakenfold’s "A Lively Mind," which also features Pharrell Williams and Spitfire.

Well now the hot track has a hot video to go with it. Check it out here – I really think that this song can be huge this summer.

Who would have thought it; I mean, as I mentioned in a previous post, I used to find Murphy rather annoying way back when she was making her way in Hollywood.

But now…now, much like her, I’m singing a new tune, and thinking that she just may be (once again?) the It Girl of the season – and for singing, no less!


Friday, June 02, 2006

The Emmys Are Coming!

TV Guide published its
Dream Emmy Ballot last week – yes, it’s that time of the year again.

I was thrilled that they remembered to single out Arrested Development and The Comeback’s Lisa Kudrow; gave a nod to The Office’s John Krasinski and two 24 supporting players; and continued to show their support for Gilmore Girls’ Lauren Graham and Veronica Mars’ Kristen Bell.

Yet, I cannot help but add my two cents.

Why was there no mention of Invasion? Sure, the show’s been cancelled, and considering this it should probably be recognized in the writing category at the Emmys, of which TV Guide made no prediction.

After all, Invasion boasted some of the most intriguing, albeit frustratingly slow-paced at times, storytelling I have seen on TV in recent years, though, and I am going to miss it so. A nice shout-out would've been very cool.

And where were HBO’s Extras and Rome?

I love TV Guide, and I live for columnist Michael Ausiello (not to play favorites, Kristin Veitch over on E! Online is also a weekly must read).

I love that they singled out quality television (Grey’s Anatomy, Scrubs, The Office, My Name Is Earl, Weeds, Entourage, Lost, The Closer). And I love that they fairly gave nods (or not) to the show(s) that will unsurprisingly score by the boatload when actual nominations are announced July 6 (Desperate Housewives, I’m looking at you!).

But couldn't they have at least mentioned some of the other deserving shows of the past season?

Photo: UPN (Veronica Mars).