Thursday, August 31, 2006

I Wish She Knew How to Quit Them

It is not a secret that I heart Sarah Michelle Gellar, but I am starting to seriously question the Chosen One’s…well, choices.

Gellar has signed up to make Addicted, a remake of a South Korean film called Jungdok that follows the story of a woman whose husband and brother-in-law end up in comas after an accident. Things take a thrilling turn when the brother-in-law wakes up first…claiming to be her husband.

The movie is being produced by one of the companies behind 2004’s The Grudge and The Grudge 2 (Oct. 13) – in which Gellar starred and made a cameo appearance, respectively.

Addicted would be the fourth movie with a supernatural bend that Gellar has been involved in since Buffy the Vampire Slayer went off the air – tear – in 2003.

All right, The Grudge was huge hit for Gellar, which, as a fan, made me very happy. I don’t expect the sequel to be or do any better, and since it’s not her movie per se I’m not too worried about its potential failure to be blamed on her.

But enough, already! All these choices make me concerned, especially when I see
how little buzz The Return (Nov. 10) is generating, or that given her only stab as a romantic comedy leading lady in Simply Irresistible was anything but, the stakes for the recently completed The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing might prove much too high.

Then again, some of her Gellar’s other projects, like the troubled Southland Tales and Alice, give me plenty of hope that her star will continue to shine bright.

Photo: Columbia Pictures (The Grudge).
It Still Holds a Tune

There is a beautiful, beautiful song I love that I don’t get to hear all that often.

It’s terrible how that happens, isn’t it?

The song is called “Unplayed Piano,” and was released as a single in June 2005 in support of the “Free Aung San Suu Kyi 60th Birthday Campaign,” a global initiative to free the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize recipient on her 60th birthday that June 19.

It was written for Suu Kyi by Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan following a visit by Rice to Burma in July 2004 – and marked the first release from Rice (an artist I discovered thanks to a third-season episode of Alias) since his tremendous debut, O, in 2002.

All artists' royalties from the sales of "Unplayed Piano" go to supporting the Burma Campaign U.K. and the U.S. Campaign for Burma.

For more information, click here.


Friday, August 25, 2006

The Songs That I Like

Recently, several reports of payola (like this one...and this one) and an undeniable bias against certain performers (a petition has had to be made to get Madonna back on the airwaves) have made it quite evident to me that American radio is not only boring, but also rather morally bankrupt.

I mean, how many more times do I have to listen to Kelly Clarkson’s “Walk Away” or Rihanna’s “Unfaithful” on my local “hit” music channel?

I say, Enough, already. There are plenty other songs out there. Some – the Queen of Pop's infectious "Get Together and “Jump" come mind – are tremendously worthy of being played on the radio.

It’s a sad state of affairs when I have to keep pushing you to give DJ Paul Oakenfold’s “Faster Kill Pussycat” (featuring Brittany Murphy) a good listen. Or when I have to turn to YouTube (because video, it seems, really did kill the radio star) to check out Fergie’s funtastic “London Bridge,” the lead single off the Black Eyed Peas singer's debut solo album, The Duchess.

My only consolation is that radio is paying attention to Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake – although I hope they won’t burn “Ain’t No Other Man” and “SexyBack” to the ground like they almost have Nelly Furtado’s “Promiscuous” (though they are slowly getting around playing her "Maneater”).

Oh, and it also helps that Nick Lachey’s “What’s Left of Me” came out on top of Jessica Simpson’s “Holiday” rip-off “A Public Affair.” But that's something entirely different, no?

And you know it: I like me some pop – and I’m not sorry…it’s human nature. Now, if only radio was really all about pop(ular choice) nowadays, everyone would be happy.

Sssssssilly, Sssssssilly Snakes

So I saw Snakes on a Plane last Sunday.

I know – alliterating much!

I have to say I hoped it would be worse. The movie’s cheese factor was really high, but the bad factor wasn’t. And I have to say I kind of hoped the movie would be a bit more craptacular than it was.

After all, incessant fan chatter on the Internet pretty much since production was announced easily turned the Samuel L. Jackson vehicle into the bona fide must watch of summer, yet Snakes on a Plane failed to sting the way it was expected to, both at the box office and with yours truly.

Sssssssn’t it a shame when that happens?

Photo: New Line Cinema.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Crank It Up!

Chev Chelios (Snatch’s Jason Statham), is about to begin his morning with an unexpected wake-up call – and we are going to be riveted by the rest of his day.

Groggy, practically unable to move, and with a heart that's barely beating, he hears the voice of thug Ricky Verona, who reveals that our likeable antihero has been poisoned in his sleep…and has only an hour to live.

As it turns out, Chelios is a hit man who freelances for a major West Coast syndicate. You know…because these are difficult times.

Anyway, because a run of the mill job the night before went awry – he let his target slip away in an effort to quit the killing biz and start a new life with his girlfriend Eve (Amy Smart, soon to be seen on TV’s Smith) – now Chelios must keep moving to stay alive.

The only way to keep the poison from stopping his heart is to keep his adrenaline flowing – cranking, if you will. And with the clock a-tick-tockin', Chelios has to cut a swath through the streets of L.A., wreaking havoc on those who dare stand in his way, to rescue Eve from danger, stay two steps ahead of the bad guys, and search for an antidote to save his life.

It’s a pretty imaginative and straightforward premise for an action movie that promises to be nothing but fun. So let’s get Cranking. Sorry…couldn’t resist. The movie opens Sept. 1.

Photo: Lionsgate Films.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hearting Penélope Cruz Takes Work

Pedro Almodóvar’s buzz worthy Volver will have its North American premiere next month at the 31st Annual Toronto International Film Festival.

I am really looking forward to seeing this film, particularly because of one Penélope Cruz, an actress I have mocked in the past because of her accent (petty – I know – but check out the trailer of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and tell you understand her!) and choices (Tom Cruise – really?).

Up until now, Cruz has pretty much remained an acting enigma to me, yet I’ve tried to keep an open mind when it comes to her because Almodóvar has nurtured her talent.

Set in Spain, Volver follows a generational story of three women: a good mother who is desperately in love with a man who is far from being a saint, a young mother carrying a hard life upon her shoulders (Cruz’s character), and a hairdresser whose shop is the meeting point for all the neighborhood gossips.

The film has already garnered Cruz rave reviews. Actually, she and her female co-stars – The Sea Inside’s Lola Dueñas, Yohana Cobo, Chuse Lampreave, Blanca Portillo, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’s Carmen Maura – shared the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. So not to repeat myself, I am really looking forward to seeing her in this.

Volver is set to open in limited release on Nov. 3.

Photo: Sony Pictures Classics.

Friday, August 18, 2006

It Is Time for Fiesta

I caught a Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival screening of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s Quinceañera last night, and I found the film – which won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival this year – to be quite good.

It follows the story of Magdalena (Emily Rios), the daughter of an Echo Park Mexican-American family, who falls from grace – i.e., girlfriend gets pregnant – a few months before her quinceañera (the Latino Sweet 16…but at 15).

Needless to say, this doesn’t go over very well with her religious family, especially with her father. Drama ensues, so Magdalena leaves her home to move in with her great-great uncle Tomas (Chalo González, in a turn worthy of some serious awards buzz). Now, Tio Tomas is an old misfit of a man, and seems more at ease with people that vibe like him: his new landlords are a gay couple, and already living with him is Magdalena's cousin Carlos (Jesse Garcia), a tough cholo also cast out by his parents (he’s a troublemaker and so not what they would want him to be).

The Sturm und Drang of the film comes from the trio’s struggle to pull together as a family of outsiders, and makes for a rather enjoyable, albeit predictable movie to watch.

As I walked out of the movie theater, though I couldn’t help but feel that Quinceañera didn’t feel completely authentic. I don’t know what it was still, but I this thought hinges on the fact that I found the storytelling to be perhaps a little myopic – neither filmmaker is Mexican – pero nothing but respectful.

’Twas all very nice and all, but this is a story that could have been told with more cultural authority by, you know, a filmmaker of color for whom quinceañeras actually register.

My Rating ***

Photo: Sony Pictures Classics.
Let the Sunshine In

I’m going to tell you about Little Miss Sunshine.

Forget your mutants, returning superheroes, and swaggering pirates.

This is a darling little indie that, with its attention to detail (courtesy of husband-and-wife directing duo Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris), darkly touching laughs and poignant truths (from a script by Michael Arndt), and stellar acting, has more than earned its buzz.

The dysfunctional family road trip dramedy stars Abigail Breslin, a cherubic rising star who made her debut in 2002’s Signs. She plays 7-year-old Olive Hoover, a little girl with a big dream: she wants to be crowned Little Miss Sunshine.

The only problem is she lives in Albuquerque with her very dysfunctional family – her father (Greg Kinnear) is a loser of a motivational speaker, her mother (Toni Collette) is barely hanging in there, her brother (Paul Dano) is a Nietzsche aficionado who has taken a vow of silence, her gay uncle (Steve Carell) has just tried to commit suicide, and her Grandpa (Alan Arkin) is a ne'er-do-well with a drug habit – and the beauty pageant is in Redondo Beach, Calif.

But the girl can’t help it, and neither can the Hoovers. So they set aside their own issues and band together to hit the road in a broken-down yellow VW bus to try and make Olive’s dream come true.

I think what I like best about the film is it really covers all the bases: it is funny and it is sad; it has heart and it has smarts; and it while it marches to the beat of its drum, it is quite the crowd-please.

Little Miss Sunshine is a ray of light, and I hope that you can bask in it.

My Rating ****

Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Happy Birthday, Queen M!

May you have many, many, many more!

Now dance and sing, get up, and do you thing.

And “Jump,” already!

Photo: Screen Gems (Swept Away).
Acting the Fools…For You

Four years ago this fall, I missed jackass: the movie when it hit silver screens across the nation.

I just couldn’t bring myself to pay the price of admission to see what would Johnny Knoxville and his motley crew do now that they could take the concept of their hit MTV show – a bunch of guys performing dangerous and idiotic, though terribly funny stunts, just to see what happens – to the extreme.

All right, I didn’t really “miss” the movie, but avoided it, rather. I just didn’t think wasabi snorting, rocket skates, or mean paper cuts were for me.

But I was wrong.

And although I eschewed any thought of checking out the movie, I did what any self-respecting person would do: I rented it almost a year later – and laughed the night away.

Now, I can tell you that I’m so going to watch Jackass: Number Two when it opens this Sept. 22. How could I not? Check out the trailer and tell me you won’t try to be first in line to get your ticket.

Photo: Paramount Pictures (Jackass: Number Two).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Laughing All the Way with the Banks

I read some terrific news today: The Hollywood Reporter…uh...reported that actress Elizabeth Banks (Seabiscuit) has landed the role of a hyper Santa’s Helper (and Vince Vaughn’s love interest) in next year’s Joe Claus, and is in talks to star in Definitely, Maybe, a romantic comedy in which she and Rachel Weisz would play Ryan Reynolds’ college sweetheart and new girlfriend, respectively.

I looove Banks, and I’m not just saying this because I had the chance to talk to her about her role in last summer’s Heights – she was a doll – at which time she also told me how much she liked working with Madonna in Swept Away (complimenting the Queen of Pop is always a point-scorer with me).

I’m saying this because she is the real thing, and every time I see her on screen I know I’m in for a treat.

Banks’ ability to turn the smallest of roles into something memorable is rather outstanding: Her quick scenes as Betty Brant in the Spider-Man films give me hope her role will be expanded soon; her performance as a randy bookstore clerk in The 40-Year-Old Virgin still makes me and my BFF chuckle; and her guest-starring stint on TV’s Scrubs last season had me wanting her to join the show full time.

She, along with the force to be reckoned with that is Amy Adams (a recent Academy Award nominee for Junebug), gives me plenty of hope in an entertainment world populated by starletbots.

Banks will be seen next in Aug. 25’s Invincible, while Adams is currently stealing scenes in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Photo: Universal Pictures (The 40-Year-Old Virgin).

Friday, August 11, 2006

Simply Irresistible, Pt. 2

Entertainment Weekly has chosen this fall’s Casino Royale and its new James Bond, the fantastic Daniel Craig, to feature on its latest cover.

Let me just say it now: fall can’t get here soon enough.

The 21st installment of the spy series, which is based on author Ian Fleming’s first OO7 novel and examines James Bond's formative years, will arrive in theaters on Nov. 17.

While Craig was a controversial choice to take over the role most recently played by Pierce Brosnan, producer Barbara Broccoli is confident the actor is everything Bond should be.

“He’s sexy and charming and virile [and elegant], but can also be dangerous,'' she told EW.

Umm, bring it on!

Photo: MGM/Columbia Pictures.
Simply Irresistible, Pt. 1

I know this is a bit silly (OK, very silly), but I just couldn’t resist posting this link to the new Cover Girl commercial starring Keri Russell, for whom – if you read this – you know I live.

The erstwhile Felicity has always been gorgeous, but jeez, if she gets any more beautiful I’m going to have to say something…or not.

Look for her in the upcoming Rohtenburg, August Rush, and Waitress.

Photo: Paramount Pictures (Mission: Impossible III).

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Tale of Two Heroes

Director Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center follows the true story of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno, two Port Authority Police Department officers who rushed into one of the burning towers on Sept. 11 to help rescue people, but became trapped themselves when the towers collapsed.

It is the second feature film of the year to address the terrorist attacks of almost five years ago.

Unlike April’s United 93, which recreated the doomed trip, from takeoff to hijacking to the realization by the passengers onboard that their plane was part of a coordinated attack unfolding on the ground beneath them, World Trade Center is told from the point of view of the first responders on the scene at Ground Zero.

This makes the film more relatable, as it vividly captures the confusion and uncertainty of what was going on in New York City. We were right there with the rest of America and the world that morning, yet Sgt. McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage), Officer Jimeno (Crash's Michael Peña), and countless others were actually there.

This film, which co-stars Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal as their respective agonizing wives, is a testament to their courage.

I know the question among some moviegoers remains: Is it too soon for such a film? My answer, much like it was in the spring, is no. I still think it is not too soon to be reminded of a tragedy that changed the course of our lives – especially considering that its effects are still very much felt today.

Stone may have his least controversial “controversial” film in World Trade Center. It is a pretty dignified and straightforward account of events, with nary a hint of a political stance. This is a good thing.

Sept. 11 happened; it is part of our reality – to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. So, again, it is not too soon, especially when, cinematically speaking, the remembrance is respectful and well executed.

My Rating ****

Photo: Paramount Pictures.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

You Gotta Love Madonna

Madonna was just in Rome, where she performed one of her many sold-out “Confessions Tour” shows at Lo Stadio Olimpico – capacity: 82,000 – just a mile away from Vatican City.

Naturally, her performance in Italy was surrounded by controversy. And would she have it any other way? Not!

So why were Rome's Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish leaders so…umm…crossed with Madonna this time?

Well, because one of the sections of the “Confessions Tour” features the Queen of Pop wearing a fake crown of thorns and being raised on a 20-foot glittery cross as she sings her beautiful “Live to Tell” against a video backdrop showing images of Third World poverty and numbers representing the 12 million children orphaned by AIDS in Africa.

Jeez, you would’ve thought she did something truly heinous. Madge is only channeling the divine within her to raise awareness of a cause. Isn’t there supposed to be divine within all of us, anyway?

Surely, charity is less infuriating than say, this. (I think it is art, by the way.)

The religious leaders probably thought, “Charity, schmarity!” as they banded together to bash Madge for moving forward with plans to perform the mock-crucifixion last Sunday, and called for a boycott of the show. If only they could band together to help alleviate the tensions – many of which are driven by religion – that currently make the world bleed.

Alas, you can’t negotiate with a pop star, and Madonna not only went ahead with her plans – she donned the shirt pictured at right as she left her hotel the following day. You just gotta love her!

On a related note, Madge recently told Time magazine about a “big, big project” of hers, which entails raising at least $3 million to aid orphans in Malawi (a Pennsylvania-sized country in southeast Africa). The money will go toward a care center, as well as improved economic, food, and health programs for the area.

In addition to the fundraising and the new center, Madonna is also financing a $1 million documentary about the region's orphans, and has met with President Bill Clinton and other prominent officials about bringing low-cost medicine to the region.

She is expected to touch down in Africa once she is done touring in October to oversee the center's development. Then in November, her primetime concert special, Live to Tell, airs on NBC. And yes, it is expected to feature the “controversial” performance.


Friday, August 04, 2006

That’s the Dog Days of Summer for Ya

August can be so hot – and so not in a hot way.

The days are long, the heat is out of control – as it is its wont, I s’ppose – and the fall movies and TV season are still a good six weeks away (The Closer, Saved, and Entourage have been terrific summer companions, but I cannot wait for the return of Grey’s Anatomy, Lost, and The Office).

Speaking of The Office, have you seen the webisodes NBC has been playing on the show’s official site? They make up a 10-part whodunit that’s just too funny to miss. If you’re a fan, this is definitely for you.

Anyway, the eighth month of the year is really for the dogs, but it could be worse. So here are a few of the things I’m looking forward the most from now until September.

Quinceañera, the indie darling that won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival this year, made its grand entrance today (so look for it as it expands). World Trade Center debuts next Wednesday, with Pulse, a horror movie starring Veronica Mars herself, Ms. Kristen Bell, following suit two days later. Then on Friday, Aug. 18, Little Miss Sunshine and Snakes on Plane arrive and hiss their way into a movie theater near you.

However, if you can’t be bothered with getting out of the house, worry not: the second season of Showtime’s Weeds sprouts Monday, Aug. 14 at 10 p.m., and the one and only season of HBO’s underappreciated The Comeback is now out on DVD.

Note to self: I really wanna see more of that! So will you, though, if you give the Lisa Kudrow laugher a good chance, which, by the way, earned the erstwhile Friend a much-deserved Emmy Award nomination. See her win – she better win – when the Emmys are presented live on NBC on Sunday, Aug. 27.

The MTV Video Music Awards – a different kind of awards show if you and I ever saw one – will air live from New York's Radio City Music Hall the following Thursday. Don’t forget to vote, vote, and vote for Madonna’s “Hung Up,” which is up for five awards, including Video of the Year. I said go vote. Jeez, people!

Now, on the music-for-purchase side, Christina Aguilera’s Back to Basics drops Tuesday, Aug. 15. Justin Timberlake’s sophomore effort, FutureSex/LoveSounds, won’t be out until mid-September, but you’ll be able to purchase this import of his contagious new single “SexyBack” on Aug. 29.

So that’s my August in a nutshell. I feel like I should probably read a book – in October.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Joker Returns

It was reported today that Academy Award nominee Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain) will play the Joker in the sequel to last year’s Batman Begins, the commercial and critical hit revitalization of the Batman franchise.

Christian Bale will reprise his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman, while Christopher Nolan (Memento) will direct the follow-up, titled The Dark Knight. Production is set to begin in early 2007.

Ledger resurrects a role teased at the end of Batman Begins, and oh-so memorably played in 1989 by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's Batman.

While I don’t have anything against the erstwhile Casanova, is the Aussie the right choice for the role? The Joker has always been a heftier, older guy, hasn’t he?

I suppose that’s what made Ledger such a think-outside-the-box choice. Nolan and Co.’s vision for the new era of Batman films has been one rooted in change…in taking the story to a new level. So as long as Katie Holmes isn’t asked back, everything’s cool and dandy.

Still, I cannot help but wonder what say, Jack Black would’ve done with the role.

Photo: Focus Features (Brokeback Mountain).