Friday, October 31, 2008

Little Big Top

By turns amusingly sour and unassumingly sweet, Little Big Top is a lightly likable trifle that benefits greatly from the offbeat casting of vet heavy Sid Haig (The Devil's Rejects) as Seymour Smiles, an aging, unemployed circus clown who's fortuitously sidetracked on the road toward self-destruction. You can read my full Variety review here.

Trouble the Water

Talk about being in the wrong place at the right time: Kimberly Rivers Roberts, an aspiring rapper and self-described "street hustler" living in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, had just recently purchased a Sony camcorder in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina slammed into her city.

Like too many other residents of their predominantly African-American neighborhood, Kimberly and her husband, Scott Roberts, lacked the wherewithal to evacuate, so they stayed put. At first, Kimberly was happy to play the part of "interviewer," pointing her camcorder at relatives and neighbors while asking how they would ride the storm. But then the rains came. Kimberly and Scott, along with a handful of others, wound up warily watching from their attic while waters from breached levees flooded the streets — to the point of submerging stop signs — outside their home. And throughout it all, Kimberly continued to operate her camcorder, instinctively capturing indelible images that are the heart of a powerful new movie aptly titled Trouble the Water.

You can read my entire Houston Chronicle review here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Tinker Bell

Do you believe in fairies? Well, the folks who made Tinker Bell sure hope that you (or your kids) do. You can read my Variety review here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Anaconda 3: Offspring

A sequel in name only to the notoriously campy Anaconda (1997) and the tragically less funny Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004), Anaconda 3: Offspring bids to launch a direct-to-video franchise as a cliche-encrusted action-thriller aimed at undiscriminating genre fans. (A follow-up already has been filmed and is duly promoted on this pic's DVD.) Curiosity-seekers might take a peek, if only to see whether top-billed David Hasselhoff -- like Jon Voight in the original -- is devoured by a rapacious reptile. He isn't, however, which very likely will hurt home video sales. You can read my full Variety review here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Do you Hulu?, an online video site launched less than a year ago, continues to attract an ever-increasing audience with its ever-expanding library of movies and TV shows. Indeed, according to one report, Hulu was the 6th most watched video site on the entire Internet in September, clocking in more than 142 million streams -- ahead of ESPN (128 million streams), CNN (118 million streams) and MTV Networks (97 million streams). How does Hulu do it? In part, by offering totally free streams of great films like Nobody's Fool, Robert Benton's exceptional 1994 comedy-drama starring the late, great Paul Newman.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Would Obama or McCain be the better 007?

According to Daniel Craig: “Obama would be the better Bond because -- if he’s true to his word -- he’d be willing to quite literally look the enemy in the eye and go toe-to-toe with them. McCain, because of his long service and experience, would probably be a better M... There is, come to think of it, a kind of Judi Dench quality to McCain.”

Hope, not fear

I had to stay in line about a half hour before casting my early vote today. It was worth the wait.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Robert Davi puts up his Dukes

Looks like Josh Brolin isn’t the only alumnus of The Goonies who’s enjoying a career uptick. Veteran character actor Robert Davi – a memorable Goonies baddie – is about to launch the long-awaited theatrical release of The Dukes, his first effort as a feature filmmaker, after a long tour on the international festival circuit. (I was pleased to present Davi's enjoyable comedy-drama as my Critic’s Choice selection at the 2007 WorldFest/Houston International Film Festival.) In addition to directing and co-writing The Dukes, Davi stars (alongside Chazz Palminteri and Peter Bogdanovich) and sings in the movie, which opens in New York Nov. 14, and expands to other markets Nov. 21.

As I wrote in my original Variety review: "Davi neatly balances humor and heart while smoothly moving to a doo-wop beat in The Dukes... a low-key charmer about members of a '50s vocal group who, nearly five decades after their fleeting heyday, contemplate crime to fund a long-sought comeback. With Davi and Chazz Palminteri fronting a first-rate ensemble cast, and a tasty soundtrack of golden oldies, this unpretentious indie dramedy has much to recommend...

"Although George (Palminteri) and Danny (Davi) occasionally join their fellow Dukes for a gig on the nostalgia circuit -- where, due to Danny's temperamental demands, their bookings are becoming increasingly rare -- the two middle-aged cousins rely on steady jobs as cooks in an Italian restaurant run by their Aunt Vee (Miriam Margolyes).

"George thinks it would be a nifty idea to buy a shuttered nitery and turn it into a Doo Wop Club where the Dukes would headline. Unfortunately, neither he nor his fellow crooners -- including the over-eating Armond (Frank D'Amico) and the easily excitable Murph (Elya Baskin) -- have enough money to finance such a scheme.

"Their longtime agent (a well-cast Peter Bogdanovich) tries to help his hapless clients recycle their few big hits in an oldies compilation... But when those plans come to naught, even the initially reluctant Danny is forced to reconsider George's dicey plan to burglarize a dental clinic.

"Working from a script he co-wrote with James Andronica, Davi proves gracefully adept at shifting tones and varying moods, sometimes within a single scene. (Take note of the way he merges knowing satire and affecting pathos while Danny and his fellow Dukes humiliate themselves for a TV commercial director). There's a nicely respectful hint of Big Deal on Madonna Street throughout the scenes in which the amateur criminals plan and execute their latenight break-in to swipe gold used for dental fillings. Crime doesn't pay, of course. But it does provide at least one good laugh (for Danny, at least) in a modestly clever plot twist.

"Best known for playing intimidating badasses in films ranging from The Goonies to License to Kill, Davi gives himself ample opportunity here to appear tender as well as tough, so that Danny remains sympathetically vulnerable as his desperation mounts. The actor is at his best in a quiet scene where Danny's son asks him why he no longer sings. 'Daddy's time passed,' he wistfully replies. 'And now it's tough for him to do that.'"

Monday, October 20, 2008

Remembering Paul Newman

The folks at the Denver Film Festival have graciously invited me to take part in their Nov. 22-23 tribute to the late, great Paul Newman. So I'll be introducing special screenings of The Hustler (7 pm Nov. 22), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (3:45 pm Nov. 23) and Nobody's Fool (6:30 pm Nov. 23) -- and discussing Newman's extraordinary life and work with film critic Robert Denerstein (while, of course, taking questions from the audience) during a 2 pm Nov. 23 program titled "Paul Newman: The Last Movie Star." Be there, or be square.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dead end

Just how bad is Sex Drive? It's a raunched-up, dumbed-down version of The Sure Thing. At its frequent worst, it plays like a ‘80s teen-skewing comedy that John Hughes might have made if Hughes were entirely bereft of taste and talent. You can read my Variety review here.

TV update

Remember: This weekend on At the Movies, I'll be part of the "Critic's Round-Up" discussion of Religulous.


Last year, my Variety colleague Alissa Simon aptly described the Spanish-produced thriller REC as "Night of the Living Dead meets The Blair Witch Project." And, really, you could say pretty much the same about its Americanized remake, Quarantine, a modestly inventive and sporadically exciting horror flick predicated on the idea that whiplash pans, inconstant focusing and other faux cinéma vérité embellishments can refresh even the moldiest of zombie-movie tropes. You can read my Variety review here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A free peek at George Bush's home away from home

Can't wait for Oliver Stone's W.? Then click on Crawford, David Modigliani's surprisingly even-handed and occasionally poignant account of the impact on the citizenry in the small Texas town chosen by George W. Bush to be the site of his co-called “Western White House.” (Yeah, that's right: The place Harold and Kumar dropped into in their last movie.) Filmed over several years, the documentary plays like a rise-and-fall drama populated with colorful, contrasting characters who have profoundly mixed feelings about being used essentially as props in Bush’s political stagecraft.

Life imitates art?

Did someone forget to tell Gerard Butler that RocknRolla already had wrapped?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


David Kehr’s writing about film is so consistently smart, stylish and insightful that it’s all too easy to take for granted his New York Times coverage of classics newly released on DVD. So please let me call your attention to a particularly impressive column – one that intelligently analyzes two wildly disparate movies -- that appeared today in the NYT.

"Locket & Key"

The music of Donna the Buffalo has been labeled as alternative-country, Americana, folk-rock -- and a dozen or so other things. But the group is more than plain ol' country enough for Great American Country. Which is why this video for their terrific new single, "Locket & Key," is set to debut Friday (Oct. 10) on GAC's Edge of Country program. (BTW: The video was co-directed by the great Mary Stuart Masterson and her husband, actor Jeremy Davidson.) But wait, there's more: The more the video is requested, the more GAC will play it. If you like it, you can visit here and ask for more.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Not-so-instant replay

If you missed At the Movies this past weekend, don't despair: You can go to the show's website, click on the tab for Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and see the "Critics Round-Up" featuring... well, me. (BTW: I'll be back on the show next week, for a discussion of Religulous.)

Creepy old ads

These really are... creepy.

Willie Nelson in 3-D

Are you ready for The Red-Headed Stranger in 3-D? Stereo Vision Entertainment, Inc. has announced plans to produce Secrets of the Lost San Sabas, a film in which Willie Nelson will play "an Indian guide to afterlife on a 300-year quest for justice. The movie's filled with ghosts and goddesses from the Aztec Nation, along with some of today's most colorful characters, all shot in state-of-the-art, digital 3-D." Cowabunga.

More bad news about How to Lose Friends

The opening-weekend b.o. gross was, to put it politely, disappointing. And now there are reports that the book on which it's based contains... well, to put it even more politely, unattributed quotes.


OK, come on, admit it: You knew this was coming. And here is the official announcement. I would like to go on record as volunteering my services as a talking head for any TV chat show that needs, er, a qualified film expert to discuss this hot topic. And I can give you the name of a conservative political observer who'd be qualified to hold up his end of the discussion.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Simon Pegg: Just playing, nothing personal

In How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, Simon Pegg plays Sidney Young, a cocky Brit journalist who thinks he's being ever so clever -- but comes across as obnoxiously pushy and socially maladroit -- while condescendingly questioning showbiz celebrities for a glossy U.S. magazine. (The film is loosely based on the real-life misadventures of transplanted Londoner Toby Young during his less-than-spectacular stint as a Manhattan-based contributing editor for Vanity Fair.) So I had to ask Pegg: Did he think of his performance as a kind of sweet revenge on real-life reporters he's encountered?

Not really.

"Fortunately," Pegg told me a few days ago, "I’ve never had to contend with a Sidney Young myself. I mean, Sidney as a journalist is kind of self-defeating, because I imagine the skill behind interviewing as a journalist is the ability to inspire conversation. To make sure your subject opens up. Rather than just interrogating the subject into shutting them the hell up. And I have to say, I have been interviewed by people who have asked me stupid questions, or have been a little too prying. But in that instance, you just sort of deflect. Because, look, you do interviews because you have to promote your product in order to get people to see it. So you have to treat every interview as being important.

"But, yeah," Pegg allowed, "it was interesting to be on the other side of it."

You can read my entirely non-condescending interview with Simon Pegg here.

"So you're a dog, right? What's that all about?"

I cackled like a besotted hyena when I saw Andy Samberg's "Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals" segment last night on Saturday Night Live. And I've laughed just as hard while repeatedly viewing this clip today. Don't get me wrong: I like the political stuff on SNL so far this season. But there's something almost Monty Pythonesque about the off-the-wall, WTF absurdity of this sketch. It helps, of course, that Samberg has Wahlberg nailed. But it also helps that... well, his co-stars are so delightfully deadpan.

Tina Fey strikes again

Plus, this time, she's got Queen Latifah as Gwen Ifill. Cowabunga.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Redford remembers Newman

"I first met Paul Newman in 1968, when George Roy Hill, the director of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, introduced us in New York City. When the studio didn't want me for the film — it wanted somebody as well known as Paul — he stood up for me. I don't know how many people would have done that; they would have listened to their agents or the studio powers." More from Robert Redford here.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Flash of Greg Kinnear

Greg Kinnear felt "an incredible responsibility" while playing embattled inventor Bob Kearns in Flash of Genius "because of how much I ultimately respected the man — based not only on the script, which was a starting point for me, but also because of all the research I did, all the people I talked to. Truthfully, I didn't know anything about him — had never read the New Yorker magazine profile, didn't know anything about his legal battles — until I was offered the role. And the more I came to know him, the more I felt a real obligation to him. . . . I wanted to, as accurately as possible, leave the audience with a sense of who this man was. The idea that, at the end of the day, it wasn't about money, it was about principle — that, to me, made his fight all the more incredible." You can read my entire Houston Chronicle interview with Kinnear here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

At the Movies: Ben and Ben and... me

This weekend and next on At The Movies, the nationally syndicated film-review show now hosted by Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons, I'll be a member of the "Critics Round-Up," joining the discussion of Religulous and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (both of which, incidentally, I quite liked). Please check your local TV listings, watch or TiVo the program -- and then, of course, e-mail the producers and tell them how wonderful I was.