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Tuesday
Feb122008

Coens Get 'Yiddish'

coens.jpgIt's interesting, to me at least, that Joel and Ethan Coen made their name as inventive writer-directors and they'll probably wind up winning their first Best Picture for an adapted screenplay. Sure, they'd worked with previously published material before, but never a novel, and certainly not a novel by one of America's great writers.

Perhaps seeing that as a new formula for success, the Coens will next adapt Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon for the film version of The Yiddish Policeman's Union.

Chabon (Wonder Boys) is just short of a miracle worker in writer's clothing, and while I'm surprised some of Chabon's earlier books (*cough* Kavalier and Clay) haven't yet made it to the screen, anything is progress, and being handed the Coens is certainly about as good as you could as from a major studio.

Variety reports that Columbia owns the rights to the book, which revolves around Jewish settlers are about to be bounced out of their homes in Sitka, Alaska by the U.S. government, which has decided it belongs to the indigenous peoples. Then it gets weird, and Coen-y: "Against this backdrop is a noir-style murder mystery in which a rogue cop investigates the killing of a heroin-addicted chess prodigy who might be the messiah."

OK then.

No production or release date is set, but what a proposition this must be for the Coens: A great source, confidence from a big studio, and - one suspects - time and control over the finished product. It's good to be the king(s).


Tuesday
Feb122008

Movie Trailer - Keanu Wears a Badge in 'Street Kings'

I like the cast for Street Kings, formerly known as The Night Watchmen. Having said that, I don't know how well the pieces go together. I mean, I'm not a big Keanu Reeves fan, but there are things he plays pretty well, and a have a feeling he won't be a huge disappointment as a member of the LAPD. It's not like he's portraying Thomas Jefferson or something.

In limited duty in a number of films, I've always dug big Terry Crews. I think he'll have limited duty again, since he's the cop who gets killed here. Forest Whikater we know all about and there's even a wild card here in the form of Hugh Laurie.

See what I mean? The movie was also co-written by James Ellroy, who knows a thing or two about cop stories. I'm not sure that all these lines are meant to cross, but they will in just a couple months.


Street Kings says to hell with procedure on April 11th.

Tuesday
Feb122008

New to DVD - 'Martian Child'

martianchild2.jpgKindred spirits meet in pretty conventional ways in the movies. Martian Child is really not too different in that regard, but it has a good soul, one that tries lots of combinations for its characters before the right one clicks.

John Cusack is a natural to play a reclusive writer with a gloomy outlook. It kind of goes without saying. By extension, you could see Cusack, or at least the characterization of Cusack we often see, not fitting in as a child. Writer David Gordon admits to it and credits it for his success as a science fiction author.

But David life is incomplete. He found someone who understood him, which I can say from my own corner of the world is truly unique, and then that someone was gone. Two years later, David tries to fill that void by adopting a boy that reminds him of a picked on kid who grew up to be a fairly well-adjusted sci-fi writer.

But this boy has deep scars. Dennis (Bobby Coleman) claims he's from Mars. We see it as a defense mechanism for a child for whom Earth doesn't make much sense. Dennis spends his days inside a box, wears sunscreen and sunglasses indoors and only eats Lucky Charms.

Despite his best efforts, David still doesn't completely break through Dennis' defenses and finds it hard for himself to move forward with anything, whether it's the book with the fast approaching deadline, resolving the death of his fiancee or connecting with a kid he hoped he could understand and help.

There are easy resolutions for stories like these, and maybe Martian Child eventually winds up there, planting a flag in a bedrock of sappiness, but it does so only as a last resort. Director Menno Meyjes and writers Seth Bass and Jonathan Tolins are clearly in favor of keeping Dennis a Martian child as long as possible, and the unbelievable work by Coleman, then only nine years old, is just heartbreaking.

Cusack has found new life, taking the kind of roles that allow him to keep those things we like about him as an actor while exploring new territory. He's vulnerable in Martian Child, but it's unlike his vulnerabilities in Say Anything, Being John Malkovich or High Fidelity. It's something new, kind of like he's a child again.

Tuesday
Feb122008

New to DVD - 'No Reservations'

nores01.jpgWistfully, the master chef (Catherine Zeta-Jones) muses to her analyst (Bob Balaban), "I wish there was a cookbook for life."

That's a thumbnail sketch of the depth present in No Reservations, an unequivocally sub-par movie that never dares to try anything original or risky, never flirts with a character type that hasn't been ripped from a hundred office romance movies that have come before it, and never tries to win as much as it tries not to lose.

It's a movie featuring gourmet cuisine that has all the impeccable artistry of yesterday's grilled cheese sandwich.

As Kate, Zeta-Jones is less glamorous than you're used to, for whatever that's worth, but neither the actress nor the character exudes much warmth or charisma. In part, that?s by design.

However, a fair amount of the reason for it is an ever-present aloofness Zeta-Jones can?t shake.

When Kate inherits her niece (Abigail Breslin) following an accident, Kate is all thumbs, especially in the kitchen. Third graders don't usually go for foie gras, surprisingly enough.

But there's another radical shift in her life. The arrival of the niece means less time at her restaurant, which forces the ownership to hire the hunkiest, most carefree male chef they can find (Aaron Eckhart).

To say this movie sticks to the recipe is like saying French fries are bad for you. From the dialogue to the performances to the trailer to Philip Glass? soundtrack, nothing in No Reservations welcomes you to go a little deeper than surface. Predictability is the special of the day, and they?re about to run out of it.

Worst of all, No Reservations feels lazy. This movie is based on an exceedingly superior German film called Mostly Martha. From my recollection, there are very few structural differences between the two, but one feels inspired and feels fascinated with its characters.

It goes without saying that the other one is No Reservations.

Tuesday
Feb122008

New to DVD - 'We Own the Night'

weown1.jpgI didn't think it was possible for a movie to be as good as We Own the Night was for 90 minutes and then instantly become so irrevocably bad.

Director James Gray has assembled a lot of pieces that fit together seamlessly: Mark Wahlberg is always steady playing a cop, his physical presence hidden just beneath the surface of a shiny outward morality; Robert Duvall is absolutely who you'd call to play a tough but fair patriarch and aging police chief; Joaquin Phoenix has always been a bit of a wild card, so casting him as Wahlberg's brother, the nightclub manager who turned his back on law enforcement, is a natural choice; hell, even Eva Mendes hits the mark in We Own the Night.

On top of that, Gray has made a movie about the Russian mob in New York before (Little Odessa), so as this film builds to an unforgettable climax, it's inarguably a legit cop drama, the kind we could use more of. But then the wheels come off in a manner I just can't recall with any other movie.

Gray credibly establishes a brewing drug war in New York in the late 1980s, and manages to pit Wahlberg and Phoenix on opposite sides without its necessity becoming burdensome. Their volatile relationship boils over, there are surprises along the way, and it all ramps up to a pair of terrific scenes, one involving Phoenix in a Russian drug lab and the other one of the best car chases in a long while.

And suddenly, We Own the Night becomes a different movie. The performances slip, with Phoenix adopting what sounds like a much thicker accident than before the chase. Mendes begins to shriek like a banshee. The story becomes unhinged and the payoff feels tacked on, even improvised.

So what happened? You got me. My thought was the film was re-shot after audience tests revealed the original ending hit too hard. But that doesn't appear to be the case.

The ending of this film is more important than, say, the ending to The Brothers Solomon. But what was once a cop drama all too easy to buy betrays itself when it needs to end strong. Nothing in the last half hour feels authentic and worse, nobody in front of the camera seems comfortable playing it out.