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Saturday, March 11, 2006


Starring: Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry, Tania Saulnier

The Pitch: A town is plagued by a bunch of eel-like alien baddies that turn people into zombies.

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The Buzz: Well, even if Universal wasn’t thrilled by the box office of “Serenity,” it looks as though they’re happy with Nathan Fillion, who plays the town sheriff. Rooker, surprise, plays a violent psychopath. Has he ever played a good guy in a movie?

Trailer Highlight: Whether they back it up or not, the opening scene was awfully funny; they list a bunch of the classic horror movies and the years they were released, then the words, “THEY WERE FOR SISSIES.”

Bottom Line: There are few things we love more than a good horror B-movie. It’s got the horror and the B-movie part down; we only hope it’s also good.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Ice Age: The Meltdown

Release Date: March 31, 2006

Cast: Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Seann William Scott, Will Arnett

Ice Age: The Meltdown
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Plot Summary: In "Ice Age: The Meltdown," our sub-zero heroes from the worldwide blockbuster CGI film "Ice Age" are back -- Manny the woolly mammoth, Sid the sloth, Diego the saber-toothed tiger and the hapless saber-toothed squirrel known as Scrat. In the new film, from the Academy Award winning creators of "Ice Age" and "Robots." the Ice Age is coming to an end, and the animals are delighting in the melting paradise that is their new world. Manny, Sid, and Diego quickly learn that the warming climate has one major drawback: a huge glacial dam is about to break, threatening the entire valley. The only chance of survival lies at the other end of the valley. So our three heroes, along with a mammoth named Ellie (Queen Latifah) and her two 'brothers' -- possums Crash and Eddie -- embark on a mission across an increasingly dangerous landscape towards their salvation.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006


A Road Trip Worth Taking

Transamerica - Felicity Huffman
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Felicity Huffman is absolutely brilliant as a pre-op male to female transsexual forced to take a cross-country road trip with the son she never knew she had in the smart, touching dramedy, “Transamerica.”

A film that’s all about family, "Transamerica" deftly addresses a delicate topic without ever digressing into campiness or making a parody out of the film’s subject matter.

Writer/director Duncan Tucker sets the bar incredibly high with this his feature film debut. Tucker’s “Transamerica” takes the so-called normal dynamics of a family and adds a few delicious twists. A father receives a phone call informing him his son’s in a New York jail. Up until the phone call, the man had no idea he fathered a child.

That’s a twist we’ve seen before however in “Transamerica,” the long-lost dad is a transgender woman now named Bree who’s days away from having the genital operation which will in essence be the final step in the long process of becoming a woman.

Bree knows the only sexual dalliance she had in her life as a male was a misguided fling in college, and this teenage boy must be the result of that brief relationship. But that knowledge does nothing to settle her already frazzled nerves.

Locked up in NY, Toby (Kevin Zegers) has no idea his dad is a transsexual living in stealth mode, meaning no one outside of a couple of doctors know the person he thinks is his dad is not biologically a woman. Unsure of what to do, Bree confides in her therapist who in turn refuses to sign off on Bree’s surgery until she deals with the situation.

Arriving in New York from LA, Bree introduces herself to Toby as a church woman whose mission it is to help him get straightened out. Toby’s basically a good kid, he’s just had a hard life and has turned to hustling on the streets as well as doing drugs to get by. The two are about as unlikely a pair of traveling companions as could be dreamed up. As they journey from the East Coast to the West, their relationship goes from antagonistic to civil to something much deeper.

Transamerica - Felicity Huffman
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With the meaty role of Bree in “Transamerica,” Huffman gets the opportunity to spread her wings and soar. Huffman alters her voice, her walk, the way she carries herself, and with the assistance of some heavy duty makeup, gets lost inside this character. Huffman delivers a career-defining performance for which she’s earned nothing but praise.

Former “Air Bud” star Kevin Zegers transitions from kid roles to young adult with this performance. While all the attention has been focused on Huffman, Zegers’ no less outstanding. Playing a street hustler who wants to work in the adult film industry – or a pet store – Zegers is the key to making “Transamerica” work. One false move by Zegers as Toby and the story would have a ‘we’re winking at you’ feel. It doesn’t thanks to solid support from Zegers.

Delivering strong performances in supporting roles are Fionnula Flanagan as Bree’s high-strung mother, Burt Young as her more understanding father, and Graham Greene as a man who gives the traveling companions a lift when their car is stolen and who becomes infatuated with Bree - without knowing her history.

Felicity Huffman and the other nominees for Best Actress at the Oscars
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“Transamerica” caught me by surprise in a good way. At first unsure about the lead role being played by a female, I came to understand why the character of Bree needed to be played by a woman.

This is a surprisingly heartwarming movie and one of those rare films that leaves you wanting more. Where do Bree and Toby go from here? By the time the credits roll, we’ve become so involved in their lives that we want that question answered. How many movies can we say that about? To my way of thinking, far, far too few.

*Review by Rebecca Murray, Your Guide to Hollywood Movies


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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Date Movie

A Pointless Parody of Romantic Comedies

“Date Movie” is one of those movies made with a ‘damn-the-critics, full-speed-ahead’ attitude – and that’s fine. Not all movies are made to please the people who watch them for a living. But the thing is, I don’t have a problem with raunchy comedies, fart jokes, and other bathroom humor. I do however have a huge problem sitting through a ‘comedy’ movie that’s just not funny.

Truth be told, I was actually looking forward to “Date Movie” because the premise sounded like it could lend itself to some pretty amusing scenes. I also admire the film’s star, Alyson Hannigan, from her days playing a lesbian witch on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I’m not too proud to admit I laughed my butt off at “Scary Movie” and since this comes from – as they make clear in the advertisement – two of the six writers of that parody of horror films, I was prepared for comedy aimed at teenaged boys.

Date Movie
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What I wasn’t ready for was a movie in which the filmmakers thought including a scene where the romantic leads beat up a homeless man was great comedy. What did a spoof of those disgusting bum fight videos have to do with skewering romantic comedies? Absolutely nothing.

The plot (if it can be called that) involves a hugely overweight, lonely woman named Julia Jones (Hannigan) who is desperate for a husband. Awaking from a nightmare in which she's left at the altar by Napoleon Dynamite, Julia visits a matchmaker, gets a “Pimp My Ride”-style makeover/liposuction treatment, and winds up on the film’s version of “The Bachelor.” She ends up with the handsome British hunk, Grant Fonckyerdoder (Adam Campbell), after he mows down her competition with a shotgun. I kid you not.

From there the movie rapidly deteriorates. Julia takes Grant home to meet the parents (played by Eddie Griffin and Meera Simhan) who really want their daughter to marry an African-American, Greek, Japanese, Indian, Jewish man, and then Grant takes Julia’s family to meet the Fonckyerdoders (Jennifer Coolidge and Fred Willard). Exactly when are things supposed to get funny?

Throw in a pooping cat, a Michael Jackson look-alike who tries to pick up a little boy (yeah, that’s comedy gold), and even a large-bootied woman who’s supposed to remind us of Jennifer Lopez (that's original) and you've basically got the highlight reel from "Date Movie."

“Date Movie” feels as though the writers wrote a scene and turned to each other and asked if it was nausea-inducing. If the answer was yes, then it was included in the movie. There’s no real story, no real point to the film other than to cram as many uncomfortably stupid scenes into an 80 minute movie as possible.

If a film could suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, “Date Movie” would be it. Scenes are edited together at an annoyingly fast pace leaving way too many set-ups without any pay-offs. Just as you pick up on the movie they’re supposedly parodying, the scene cuts to another rom-com sequence without ever allowing the previous bit to finish up.

The film lampoons “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “Shallow Hal,” “Mr and Mrs Smith,” “Hitch,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “When Harry Met Sally," and "Pretty Woman," as well as a few films that are by no means romantic comedies (“Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars Episode III,” “Kill Bill”), and the Paris Hilton car washing/hamburger eating TV commercial. With all that rom-com and other assorted parody material ripe for the picking, you’d think the filmmakers could have come up with something – anything – that works. That would be giving the guys behind “Date Movie” way too much credit.

Writer/director Aaron Seltzer and co-writer Jason Friedberg should have asked their “Scary Movie” buddies to lend a hand. This is one film that might have actually benefited from the efforts of a few more screenwriters. As it is, "Date Movie" is a poor excuse of a parody film with silly gross-out gags replacing any real humor.

*Review by Rebecca Murray, Your guide to Hollywood movies


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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

How Did Brokeback Lose? Theories Abound

(New York City) It was chatted about, joked about, argued about, spoofed. Brokeback Mountain was everywhere in our popular culture - yet it lost the big Oscar it was supposed to win.

Was there a Brokeback backlash? Or was Crash, directed and co-written by Canadian Paul Haggis, just the worthy contender that came on strong in the final best-picture stretch? There were as many theories being offered up Monday as there are Brokeback parodies on the Internet.

One theory was that, despite the hoopla, the endless late-night monologues and the clever imitations, people (Academy voters, that is) didn't really love the soulful saga of two gay cowboys - and perhaps even felt uncomfortable with its themes.

"Sometimes people pretend to like movies more than they actually do," said Richard Walter, who heads the screenwriting program at UCLA's film school. "But this film wasn't really THAT good. What it tried to do was great, sensational. But what it actually accomplished wasn't so great. You can't really buy the love story."

Film critic Kenneth Turan, writing in the Los Angeles Times, said the problem wasn't with the film's quality. Rather, he said, "you could not take the pulse of the industry without realizing that this film made people distinctly uncomfortable."

"In the privacy of the voting booth ... people are free to act out the unspoken fears and unconscious prejudices that they would never breathe to another soul, or likely, acknowledge to themselves. And at least this year, that acting out doomed Brokeback Mountain."

Gay activists did not necessarily agree.

"I don't think it has anything to do with the subject matter," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest American gay rights group. He noted that Brokeback and Crash both dealt with "tough issues like indifference and intolerance."

"I was certainly disappointed," Solmonese said. "But I would trade that Oscar for all the positive conversations that this movie spurred between parents and their gay children, or between employees and their gay co-workers. That impact transcends any accolades."

Some people focused on the demographics of the typical Academy voter: older, and city-dwelling. Author and Brokeback co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry thought that was key to his film's loss.

"Members of the Academy are mostly urban people," McMurtry, who won the adapted screenplay prize with Diana Ossana, said backstage at Sunday night's ceremony. "We are an urban nation. We are not a rural nation. It's not easy even to get a rural story made."

McMurtry could have added that not only are Academy voters urban, they are from Los Angeles _ the city that is the heart of Crash, a racial drama depicting the intertwining experiences of an array of characters over 36 hours. The film, featuring a huge and accomplished cast ("Raise your hand if you're NOT in Crash," host Jon Stewart quipped to the crowd), also won for original screenplay and film editing.

Brokeback director Ang Lee, who won the directing prize, said he hadn't a clue why the film didn't take the best-picture award. "They didn't vote for it," he said. "I don't know. You asked me one question, and I don't know the answer."

But his brother had an opinion. Lee Kang, speaking in Taipei, suggested American bias was involved. "When the locals are voting, they will have this, whether you call it nationalism or something else," he said.

Haggis, for his part, said he hadn't "for a second" believed the whispers, which grew louder as Oscar night approached, that Crash had the momentum to overtake Brokeback.

"I didn't believe any of that nonsense," he said. "In fact, we were so shocked. I mean, we're still trying to figure out if we got this."

Crash came out to mixed reviews in May, considered much too early for a film to stay in voters' minds. But Lionsgate Films reminded voters and critics of the film's potency by flooding them with copies of the DVD late in 2005.

In winning over the heavily favoured Brokeback, the film evoked major upsets of the past, most recently the 1999 triumph of Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan. Another famous underdog champ was Chariots of Fire, which in 1982 beat both Warren Beatty's historical epic Reds and the family story On Golden Pond.

One disturbing difference for the Academy: a lot more viewers tuned in to see those upsets. An estimated 38.8 million people watched Sunday's telecast on ABC - down eight per cent from last year and the second-worst showing in nearly two decades, according to Nielsen Media Research. Except for the 2003 count of 33 million viewers - when Chicago took the best-picture award - viewership hadn't dipped below 40 million since 1987.

So what is to be learned from Sunday night's upset result? Not much, says Walter, the film professor. You just really never know what Academy voters are going to do.

"It's just a crapshoot," Walter said. "You go to Vegas and you put your money on number 17."

"There is NO lesson to be learned from all this. It doesn't mean a thing."


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Mission Impossible III - update

Mission: Impossible III (abbreviated M:I:III) is the upcoming third film based on the television series Mission: Impossible.

Tom Cruise reprises his role of IMF agent Ethan Hunt, and stars along with Ving Rhames, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Michelle Monaghan, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Laurence Fishburne, Keri Russell [1] and Simon Pegg. The film is currently in production under the direction of Alias creator J.J. Abrams.

According to the film's distributor Paramount Pictures, M:I:III is scheduled to be released May 5, 2006, though it was originally set to be released in May of 2004. Filming began in Rome, Italy in July of 2005. The film has been kept under extremely tight wraps, and very little is known of its plots or new featured characters. From the latest trailers it can be inferred that Hoffman plays a villain in this installment.

Location filming took place in Berlin, Italy, Shanghai, Virginia, and California.

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Production history

* Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) was slated to direct M:i:III but dropped out in favor of another film. [2] Fincher was then replaced by Narc director Joe Carnahan, but he quit in a dispute over the film's tone.

* Dean Greogaris and Frank Darabont worked on early drafts of the screenplay.

* Production of the movie was halted in late 2004 so that Cruise could work on War of the Worlds.

* Originally set for release in 2005, the delay in shooting caused early cast members Carrie-Anne Moss and Kenneth Branagh to pull out. Scarlett Johansson and Lindsay Lohan were also suggested as Cruise's co-star. Ricky Gervais - who had acted in an episode of J.J. Abrams' television series Alias - was cast in a supporting role, but pulled out when the part expanded. British actor and screenwriter Simon Pegg has now been cast to play Ethan Hunt's sidekick.

* There are rumors that Scarlett Johansson was actually cast, but left the movie in pre-production when Cruise tried to recruit her into Scientology. It is thought that, as they dined together at one of his homes, during the dinner he opened a false door and revealed several high-ranking Scientology ministers. She "politely excused herself" and left the production. [3] The incident occurred right before Cruise recruited and began a relationship with current fiancée Katie Holmes.

* Cruise allegedly made a mock trailer of the stunts he wanted to perform in the movie for a group of his friends. An official teaser trailer has since appeared[4] online on Yahoo! Movies.

* Cruise also asked for permission to film in the Reichstag building in Berlin but was refused.



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Monday, March 06, 2006

Special Report - The 78th Annual Oscars

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DS Official Venue Poster - The 78TH Annual Oscars

The OscarsThe Oscars

Best Picture:

"CRASH" - Mark R Harris, Bobby Moresco, Paul Haggis, Cathy Schulman, Don Cheadle, and Bob Yari - Producers


Best Animated Feature Film:

"Wallace & Gromit - Curse of the Wererabbit"

Wallace & Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Best Actor:

Philip Seymour Hoffman - "Capote"

Philip Seymour Hoffman - Capote

Best Actress:

Reese Witherspoon - "Walk the Line"

Reese Witherspoon - Walk the Line

Best Supporting Actor:

George Clooney - "Syriana"

George Clooney - SYRIANA

Best Supporting Actress:

Rachel Weisz - "The Constant Gardener"

Rachel Weisz - The Constant Gardener

Best Director:

Ang Lee - "Brokeback Mountain"

Ang Lee - Brokeback Mountain

Best Original Score:

Gustavo Santaolalla - "Brokeback Mountain"

Gustavo Santaolalla - Brokeback Mountain

Best Original Song:

"It's hard out here for a pimp" - Music and Lyric by Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard - Three 6 Mafia - "Hustle and Flow"

It's hard out here for a pimp - Hustle and Flow

Best Adapted Screenplay:

Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana - "Brokeback Mountain"

Larry McMurtry, Diana Ossana - Brokeback Mountain

Best Original Screenplay:

Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco - "CRASH"

Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco - Crash


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Sunday, March 05, 2006

16 Blocks

Cast: Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse

16 Blocks
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When I think of director Richard Donner, my mind gravitates toward titles like Superman and Lethal Weapon - high points in the filmmaker's career. Recently, however, Donner's output has been less impressive, and includes the bloated excess of Assassins and the awfulness of Timeline. Sadly, 16 Blocks is not a film to recall the glory days. It's a cobbled together mess of clichés that fails to surprise at any of its turns. Despite occasional bursts of suspense, the movie as a whole plays out as a long 95 minutes, with its lack of inventiveness leading us more frequently into tediousness than tension.

16 Blocks is a high concept movie: a broken-down cop (Bruce Willis) is charged with taking a criminal/witness (Mos Def) on a 16 block trip through New York City, from a police lockup to a courthouse. Along the way, they become targets of dirty cops (led by David Morse) who are anxious to silence the witness. Plus, there's a time element. If the testimony doesn't happen by 10:00 am, the Grand Jury will be disbanded and the cops will be free. Once could see how this premise could result in a white-knuckle thriller. Or a bore of a retread. 16 Blocks comes closer to the latter.

Take the Bruce Willis character, for example. Jack Mosley is an overweight, aging, alcoholic detective with a checkered past. He appears to be on the verge of having a heart attack. This guy's the oldest stereotype in the cop movie book. Willis' performance is competent, but the character is hackneyed. Mos Def plays Eddie Bunker like a typical motormouth. This is another generic character - the criminal with the heart of gold. All he really wants to do is move to Seattle and run a cake bakery. Of course, over the 90 minutes (or thereabouts) they're together, they become lifelong chums. That's the way it goes with movies like this. In the Lethal Weapon series, Donner was able to fashion a credible friendship between two mismatched individuals. In trying to work something similar in 16 Blocks, he takes too many shortcuts.

The most interesting character in the film is David Morse's Frank Nugent, perhaps because Morse puts more energy into his portrayal than Willis and Def combined. Bad guys are always more fun, but this is a case when you almost find yourself rooting for them. Of course, the film does all it can to turn them into caricatures except dress them in black. At every opportunity, we're given another chance to see that they are Not Nice Men. Shades of gray don't mean much in simplistic movies like this.

I could remark about 16 Blocks' assault on the viewer's credulity, but it has bigger problems. There's no chemistry between Jack and Eddie (not surprising, since the characters just met). The ending demands stupidity and a loud mouth by Frank, and involves one of the most tired tricks in the "open mouth, insert foot" book. If you don't see this coming, you should be ashamed of yourself. It's as obvious and telegraphed as most of the other plot points in this movie.

To be fair, Donner manages to sneak in occasional scenes that build some suspense. There's the initial showdown in the bar which, in a more complex movie, might lead us to believe it could go either way. The bus/hostage crisis also works, although it had me remembering how much more exciting things were in Speed. I guess that's the difference between a vehicle careening around city streets at 55 mph and one standing still.

It takes about 90 minutes to make this particular 16 block trip. On some days in New York, that's par for the course. Next time, take the subway.

*© 2006 James Berardinelli


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