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The “Paranormal Activity 2″ trailer: This time, there’s a dog and a baby! (updated)

Uhm, I really don’t think that’s going to do it, guys. Even as a teaser, this doesn’t even hint at raising the stakes or going into some new area that was unexplored in the first non-film film. Back to the drawing board, maybe?

I was scared by and impressed with “Paranormal Activity,” but let’s agree that, like “The Blair Witch Project,” it was more of an entertaining stunt than an actual film in the traditional sense, and therefore extremely difficult to repeat or top. On the other hand, the budget for this kind of thing is so low that I suppose a nice profit is guaranteed, so go for it, Paramount.

UPDATE: Nikki Finke reports that this trailer was pulled from Cinemark theaters because of complaints in Texas that it was too scary. And I thought I was a scaredy cat. Jiminy.

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Starz cancels “Party Down”

Here’s another one for the brilliant-but-canceled pile.

Party Down” had been in a holding pattern for months. The second season finished filming late in ’09, and new Starz president Chris Albrecht – who was not with the network when the show was developed, and who was at HBO back when that channel passed on an earlier iteration of the series – wasn’t in a hurry to order a third, even though all the actors were on one-year contracts and available to take other jobs that would prevent them from returning to the show. (It had already happened with Jane Lynch, and it happened this year with Adam Scott and Ryan Hansen.)

Albrecht said in January that he wanted to see how the show performed when it came back and… it did not perform well. “Party Down” was one of the funniest comedies on television, but it was also one of the least-watched. The season finale drew an average of 74,000 viewers, according to TV By the Numbers. That is not a good total.

74,000 viewers? That is just criminally — CRIMINALLY — underrated.

“Party Down” was hilarious, especially this season, and the entire run should be available for Netflix subscribers as part of its streaming service.


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Hell’s Kitchen: making short work of Season 7

The producers and suits at Fox are annoying me. I am and have been a fan of “Hell’s Kitchen” for several years now, but I don’t need to see 2 hours of it every Tuesday night. It just seems like they are trying to get the season over with. I mean, we started on June 1 and now there are just 8 contestants left, meaning this season will wrap up way before the fall TV slate is close to beginning. I’m not sure what they’re thinking, but they probably have their reasons. Anyway, I’m committed to this blog, so here we go….


This episode began with Chef Ramsay introducing a couple that was about to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, Sal and Marcy. Hell’s Kitchen would be catering the party, and the chefs would have to update the menu that Sal and Marcy had for their wedding reception–chicken Kiev, steak Diane, and trout almondine. So far, Ben, new to the red team, was getting along with his teammates. So far.

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Los Angeles Film Festival Recap: The Movies, part 2

Following on from last night’s post, here are some more reactions to the movies I saw at the recently wrapped Los Angeles Film Festival…

Johan Hill in * “Cyrus” — This played early in the festival and was pretty much concurrent with it’s opening in theaters. I’ve already said in passing elsewhere that I enjoyed the film quite a bit despite some flaws and, by now, you’ve probably heard something about this oddball romantic comedy of gently Oedipal horrors. It first came  up on my radar some time ago when I interviewed Mark Duplass, one half of the directing Duplass Brothers.

About the worst thing I can say about “Cyrus” is that, unlike the similarly improvised film Mark stars in, “Humpday,” which also involved a woman caught between two problematic men, the female role here is relatively under-developed. The fact that that movie was written and directed by a woman, Lynn Shelton, is, I’m sure, not entirely coincidental.

There’s also been something of a cinephile backlash to the Duplass’s camera work, among other issues, which may interest you wonks. You can read about that via Glenn Kenny, Bill Ryan (my further thoughts are in comments at his place) and Jim Emerson.

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“Strangers don’t last long here.”

It appears that there was so much consternation in response to a cleverly odd online teaser trailer for Paramount/Nickelodeon’s “Rango” that the original video disappeared from YouTube within hours a couple of weeks back. Well, now it’s back (you can see it at the link above) and we also now have this more conventional, but still very clever trailer for the CGI animated film starring the voice of Johnny Depp and an impressive all-star supporting cast as well as the very good writer John Logan on board.

It might be just my love of westerns talking, but I completely dig this trailer. That’s interesting because up to now director Gore Verbinski hasn’t been on my radar very much — I’m not a “Pirates of the Caribbean” fan, to put it mildly. This little varmint oater with a surreal edge, however, has me expecting good things.

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Blu Tuesday: Hot Tub Time Machine, The White Ribbon and Predator

Now that the U.S. has been eliminated from the World Cup, most Americans will probably get back to their normal lives, but for diehard soccer fans like me, the quadrennial tournament remains the best form of entertainment around. Nevertheless, there are still several great titles being released this week, so if you are looking for something to pad out your daily soccer diet, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.

“Hot Tub Time Machine” (20th Cent. Fox)

It won’t become a cult classic any time soon, and the title is probably the funniest thing about it, but “Hot Tub Time Machine” is still a solid comedy thanks to its great cast and a smart script by Sean Anders and John Morris – the same guys responsible for the equally funny “Sex Drive” and “She’s Out of My League.” From the inspired casting of John Cusack and Crispin Glover (who’s involved in a hilarious running gag involving his bellhop character losing his arm), to playful nods to “Red Dawn” and the King of Bullies himself, William Zabka, the film is a love letter to popular 80s cinema with the comic sensibility of today’s R-rated comedies. It’s just too bad that the Blu-ray’s special features are so tame, because this is a movie that would have benefited from hours of outtakes.

“The White Ribbon” (Sony Pictures)

Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” – winner of the 2009 Palm D’Or and Globe Globe for Best Foreign Language Picture – features an intriguing story, solid acting, and some truly beautiful cinematography. And yet, it’s perhaps one of the most unsatisfying films that I’ve seen in the last few years. Set in 1913 Northern Germany on the eve of World War I, the film centers around a series of mysterious accidents involving the children of a small farming village. Like most of Haneke’s films, “The White Ribbon” is a slow-burn – building tension over the course of its lengthy 144-minute runtime – but when it arrives at its climactic ending, the only thing that the director has to show for it is an open-ended analogy to WWI that will likely confuse and frustrate a lot of people. Up until that point, however, Haneke delivers one helluva suspense film, and though you might not like the way it ends, it’s worth seeing for the craftsmanship alone.

“Predator” (MGM)

With Robert Rodriguez’s reboot of the sci-fi action franchise due out on July 9th, MGM has unsurprisingly re-released the original “Predator” on Blu-ray for the second time in two years. What makes this edition different than the first, however, is a new digital restoration that holds up remarkably well, despite some special effect shots that really show their age. I almost forgot how much fun this movie is, and although Arnold Schwarzenegger is without a doubt the star of the film, the supporting actors definitely leave their mark – from Carl Weather’s cocky CIA agent to Jesse Ventura’s minigun-carrying commando. The single-disc effort also boasts a sneak peek of “Predators” and a new featurette that takes a look at the legacy of the original movie with interviews by Rodriguez and Nimrod Antal. If nothing else, it will serve to get you excited for the new film when it rolls into theaters in a few weeks.

Also Out This Week:

“The Crazies” (Universal)
“The Warlords” (Magnolia)
“When You’re Strange” (Eagle Rock)
“Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” (20th Century Fox)

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Los Angeles Film Festival Recap: The Movies, part 1

Absent any actual movie news bombshells (not the quite possibly fake or misleading nuggets that you might have heard about), for the next day or so I’ll be posting with thoughts about the just completed Los Angeles Film Festival. There will be some kvetching later, but first I’m going to concentrate on the more positive aspect of the festival, which are the films themselves, even if most of them already screened at other festivals. I’ll be going in random order over what I saw, ignoring a few films I walked out on which may or may not be an accurate reflection of their quality.

* No one walked out on “Four Lions” which got an uproarious reaction from the crowd I saw it with and won the audience prize. It might well have been the best film I saw at the festival. However, I can’t be sure because I was very late to it and probably missed at least 15 or 20 minutes, which was partly my own fault/bad habit but mostly the result of…oh, yeah, I promised to save the kvetching for later.


Getting back to “Four Lions,” it’s a very ballsy English ultra-black comedy about an Islamist terrorist cell in need of a bit more cells of the gray variety if it’s going to rack up the kind of body count every suicide bomber dreams of. It makes a fit companion piece to the equally dark and zany, and really quite similar in style and manner, “In the Loop.” It’s director, interestingly, is best known here as one of the stars of the popular BBC America series, “The IT Crowd,” Christopher Morris.

* “Animal Kingdom” is a sharp witted, muted Australian crime thriller and a cautionary tale about really bad surrogate parenting, made much worse when cops start pulling extra-judicial executions. (Has this been a common problem in Australia?)  Though there are definite but subtle echoes of “Goodfellas” and “Sexy Beast,” this film has a style and story all its own from talented first-timer David Michôd. Even so, it nearly lost me during its middle portion, it’s a bit too dour, even for the subject matter, and features a dull, annoying music score that strives way too hard to underline the seriousness of the story. Still, the seeds are being planted throughout for a last act that is character driven crime suspense of the best kind.

The film is anchored by three outstanding performances from three actors of varying ages who are essentially unknown here — Jacki Weaver, who is sweetly chilling as the underage grandmother hen of the group, hasn’t been seen in the States since she appeared in Peter Weir’s 1975 “Picnic at Hanging Rock” — but they won’t stay that way for long. The one known face in the film, Guy Pearce, is almost as good, playing essentially the Australian cousin of his morally compromised, not entirely likable cop from “L.A. Confidential.”

* “Monsters” — Ever wonder what would happen if an old fifties monster movie like the George Pal “War of the Worlds” decided to concentrate on characterization and its romantic subplot, and kind of let the rest of the story take care of itself? This mostly improvised film from effects guy/writer/director Gareth Edwards is actually a lot more like ur-rom-com “It Happened One Night” than the film it’s most frequently compared to, “District 9,” as it focuses on a tough-guy news photographer (Scoot McNairy) escorting the beautiful-but-engaged daughter of his media mogul boss (Whitney Able) across a Mexico plagued by giant squid monsters. It’s not nearly as funny as it sounds — it’s not really meant to be, nor is it as compelling as Newsweek critic-turned-programmer David Ansen was claiming, though there are some interesting political echoes.

It is, however, gorgeously imagined and, including the somewhat comically old-school squid monsters, something of a visual miracle considering what appears to have been a minimal budget. Nevertheless, Edwards concept of basically filming where he could and then trying to shoehorn those stolen locations into a storyline with entirely improvised dialogue, doesn’t even come close to flying dramatically. His shoehorning of effects worked better.

More to come.


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Tonight’s trailer: “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

Unlike the last time I presented something associated with “Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows,” I’ve personed up and watched the new official trailer below. I’m happy to report that I’m pretty sure it didn’t spoil the first 100 pages of the book for me, as past trailers might have done. It’s also a fairly nice, impressionistic, non-story detailing piece that actually piques your curiosity, though. What an idea.

H/t Cinematical.

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The Next Food Network Star: you either have it or you don’t

Last night’s episode of “The Next Food Network Star” featured two unique challenges. The first was a chili pepper challenge, in which the 9 remaining chefs had to stake their claim to a specific type of chili pepper on a table and then create at dish with it to present on camera for 30 seconds. The winner would have their dish featured at all three of Bobby Flay’s restaurants.

Paul made a scallop dish with habanero and coconut sauce; DAS made some sort of sushi with tuna; Aria made a pork tenderloin with chili marinade; Herb a yellow chili spring roll with crab salad; Brianna made chili and chicken kabobs; Serena had Anaheim peppers and made a salad with mango and avocado; Tom made poblano with chorizo; Aarti made a steak with serrano chutney; and Brad made chicken and shrimp with coconut peanut sauce using Thai chiles.

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Entourage 7.1 – Stunted

For anyone that read my preview of the new season, you probably weren’t too surprised by the events that took place in tonight’s premiere, but I still enjoyed the episode a lot and think that it’s a strong start to what could be another great year for the series. With Eric more or less taking a backseat this week, the bulk of the episode revolved around Vince on the set of his new action film. And if you thought Vernon, the fictional German director of “Smokejumpers,” was intimidating, wait until you get a load of real-life actor/director Nick Cassavetes. Worried that the audience will know he’s cheating by using stunt doubles for Vince, Nick begs him to do an upcoming car chase sequence himself, and he agrees. That is, only because he doesn’t want Nick to think he’s a pussy, but the minute that Nick leaves his side, Vince goes running to Eric and Ari for help in breaking his promise without Nick knowing it was him who spurred them on.


Ari has more important things going on in his life as the new head of the biggest agency in the world. He’s got big plans for the company, including a possible deal with the NFL regarding the league’s TV rights, and yet instead of sending someone else to get their hands dirty (much to the annoyance of Mrs. Ari), he visits the set to speak with Nick himself. It doesn’t quite go as planned, however, after he threatens Nick to get the studio involved when he learns that they haven’t been insured for the stunt because he hasn’t told them about it. Nick threatens Ari to keep his mouth shut, and then delivers a little payback later on by taking a full-page ad out in Variety with a picture of Ari in drag and the following text below it: “Ari Gold. My Friend, My Agent, My Bitch.” Has Ari Gold finally met his match? Apparently, because I don’t think we’ve ever seen him step down from a challenge before – and that includes the aforementioned “Smokejumpers” director, whom Drama once referred to as a “cocksucking Nazi bastard.”

Nick piles on the pressure, though, and Vince decides to do the stunt, which doesn’t go as planned when the car fails to brake properly after jumping off a ramp through a gauntlet of pyrotechnics. Vince emerges from the wreck unharmed, and though he appears to be a little shaken at first, once he realizes that he’s okay, he wants to go again. The look on his face seems to say otherwise, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Vince’s big storyline this season involved him becoming a thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie. It would definitely be an improvement from previous years, as Vince tends to get the short end of the stick when it comes to character development.

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