Greetings to the New Series: “Terriers”

One hates to fall back on the hoary old “if you looked up such-and-such in the dictionary, you’d find a picture of (INSERT NAME HERE)” cliche if it can possibly be helped, so rather than bringing up the topic of character actors and plugging the name “Donal Logue” between the parentheses, can we at least agree that there are precious few individuals who are so readily identified as “that guy who was in that thing we watched that time”?

I mean, seriously, God love you, Donal, but it takes a real character actor to be able to headline two seriously funny sitcoms (“Grounded for Life” and “The Knights of Prosperity”), one of which ran for five freaking seasons (that’d be the former), and still be known as “that guy who was in that thing we watched that one time.”

Still, my fingers are crossed that Logue’s latest series, FX’s “Terriers,” will be the one that finally cements his name in the collective consciousness of today’s TV viewers…and, for that matter, let’s hope it also helps out his co-star, Michael Raymond-James, because these two guys have got some great chemistry going on. Fortunately, with a trio of executive producers that includes Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”), Ted Griffin (“Ocean’s Eleven”), and Tim Minear (“Angel,” “Firefly,” and “Dollhouse,” as well as several series not created by Joss Whedon, including “Wonderfalls”), it was always a given that “Terriers” would capture the attention of the critics, and by virtue of being on FX, the chances of the show surviving long enough to build a decent-sized audience are pretty solid.

Oh, and did we mention that it’s also really, really good?

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Joss Whedon is (probably) the Avengers’ master now

I personally won’t be utterly sure it’s real until the man himself writes about it over at Whedonesque, but news today came via both Mike Fleming and (unlinkable/unreadable w/o subscription) Variety that mega-culty writer-producer-director Joss Whedon will be directing “The Avengers” as well as reworking the screenplay already written by Zak Penn.

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It’s important to note that no one’s saying it’s yet a 100% done deal, just that Whedon and Marvel Studios are in “final negotiations.” I imagine that could mean anything from lawyerly due diligence, to the movieland equivalent of leaving a real estate transaction in escrow, to quibbling over whether craft services on the film will provide marshmallows along with the hot chocolate. Still, there is certainly some truth to the story, and not only because Fleming and Variety are highly reliable sources, but also that, if there were not, Whedon himself would almost certainly have piped up about it by now. He’s known for staying in touch with his fans and has quickly squelched many a baseless, “squee!”-generating rumor.

As a confessed Whedonite, I’m sure I’m biased, but I love this idea. When I first got seriously hooked on Whedon’s “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” TV series, it was because I felt something of the same sense of involvement in the characters and backstory I had when I had become involved in the often soapy plot complications of Silver Age Marvel comics. When Whedon cites Charles Dickens and Stan Lee as his two favorite authors, it makes perfect sense to me.

More objectively, I’m not really that surprised that Marvel choose him and I think he’s a shrewd pick from their point of view. Some commenters have argued that Whedon is not an experienced action film-maker. I don’t think they’ve been paying attention. He’s supervised four action-heavy television series (“Buffy,” “Angel,” “Firefly,” and “Dollhouse“) and has directed one very strong action-packed movie space opera (“Serenity“) complete with space-car chases, martial arts, and even a bit of sword play mixed with down-and-dirty street fighting. I think he’s got that ground covered.

Joss WhedonMoreover, he brought the film in with what is, by current standards, an impossibly tiny budget for a movie with copious effects and action ($40 million) and, in my book at least, he did so with plenty of cinematic style. That has to please the notoriously tight-fisted Marvel Studio heads and probably puts them somewhat in mind of their other “risky” choice of “Iron Man” director Jon Favreau, who prior to making “Zathura” had pretty much no experience with action or effects. More or less like “Serenity,” that film garnered good reviews but did kind of badly at the box office.  At $65 million, it was a somewhat higher budgeted box office disappointment, however.

“Serenity” fared poorly because it was a based on a TV show (“Firefly”) that most people had never seen, and was cursed with a premise and background that was very difficult to explain. Moreover, the title reminded people of very non-action-movie things like meditation, spas, and adult diapers. Worse, Universal was not really prepared to risk extra money on a months-long publicity campaign to try and bring the audience up to speed on what Whedon’s “verse” was all about. “”The Avengers” will not have that problem. It’s about a group of superheros doing superheroic stuff together. People will get it.

As a fan, I do have one concern — well, not a concern, but more a point of curiosity. Whedon has had, for the most part, rather fabulous luck with acting ensembles comprised mostly of unknowns, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do with actual superstars like Robert Downey, Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson. This is, however, also the first time he’s not chosen his own cast but been given a ready-made ensemble, and it’s not like he can really make any major changes if he’s not happy with the way things are jelling. It’s just one of many aspects of this production that should be interesting to follow.

  

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No fooling, it’s Thor’s-day at the movies

I don’t usually do these kind of posts on Thursdays, and it’s April Fools’ Day. However, there’s simply too much apparently non-joking, actual movie news to leave for Friday. So, here we go.

* Of course, in Hollywood, it’s not always easy to spot the April Fool’s story from the real thing. That’s why IESB frontloads their big possible, eventual scoop today with all sorts of promises that they’re not joking. Anyhow, it appears that #1 cult creator Joss Whedon, most recently of “Dollhouse” and “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” fame, is supposedly on the short list to direct “The Avengers,” currently being penned by Zak Penn.

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If you’re skeptical about this, you’re far from alone. Just check out the slightly quizzical reaction from Whedon’s robotic and slavishly devoted cult — of which I am a known member — over at Whedonesque. (I’ve even forgiven Whedon for listening too much to Rahm Emmanuel and selling out to big pharma and not fighting hard enough to keep the public option in the health care bill….Oh, wait, wrong blog.) Still, Whedon’s known for staying in touch with his fans. I strongly suspect that, if the story were completely unfounded, he’d have posted something about it by now.

One creative point. Some fans seem skeptical that a collaboration between Penn and Whedon could work. Well, of course, Whedon has actually done any number of rewrites and polishes on other people’s scripts — a lot of folks give him credit for most of the wittier portions of “Speed” — and though Penn has been involved with some pretty conventionally dull flicks in his day, he’s not completely lacking imagination and humor. His little seen 2004 comedy-thriller mock-documentary, “Incident at Loch Ness,” has some remarkably hilarious moments,  most of them courtesy of Werner Herzog, playing himself and also taking a cowriting credit. If Penn’s good enough for Herr Herzog, he’s perhaps good enough for Joss Whedon.

* Speaking of “The Avengers,” the movie about the only actual deity in the group, “Thor,” is currently in production and director Kenneth Branagh talked about the film and his affection for the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby/et al comic books in today’s L.A. Times. This was not some random publicity glad-handing but a deliberate effort to squelch some unpleasant — and, to my ear, unlikely — rumors being reported in the tabloid press which allege open on-set criticism/anger directed at newcomer-lead Chris Hemsworth from venerable master thespian Anthony Hopkins, presumably relating to the 26 year-old star’s relative lack of experience, at least compared to Hopkins.  Hopkins, who’ll be playing Thor’s even more venerable dad, Odin, and Branagh have strongly denied the rumors and painted a picture of a happy set.

I was fairly impressed with Hemsworth’s work in the opening of “Star Trek,” so I tend to lean towards the official story here. He’s also a veteran of an Aussie soap, “Home and Away,” and history teaches us that soap vets tend to become pretty good actors when actually allowed time to learn their lines properly and develop characters. I don’t know much about Hopkins on a personal level except that he’s gotten this far in his career without these kind of incidents being an issue that I can think of. I suspect it would take a titanic lack of talent/ability to visibly annoy him at this point.

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Musical biopics with a difference. Maybe. Part 1

Talking with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” while promoting the very funny musical biopic spoof, “Walk Hard,”  star John C. Reilly made a telling observation. He noted that such figures as Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, Jim Morrison, and Johnny Cash were all very different people with very different lives, but the movies about them tended to be all kind of the same. This month in Europe, that proposition is being tested by two very interesting looking films about two extremely unusual musicians who were so unusual I never particularly expected to see a movie about either of them. Hopefully, both will make it stateside in due time.

The first movie is “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll,” about Ian Dury. Dury, with his crack back-up band, the Blockheads, was a figure in my personal favorite wing of the punk/new wave era of the late seventies that was embodied by his label, Stiff Records. He fashioned a surprisingly effective and popular combination of English music hall, “blue” humor, and Parliament/James Brown style funk and early hip-hip. Partially disabled by polio, he had the requisite difficult life and, physically and in every other way, he was born to be played by outstanding Peter Jackson stand-by Andy Serkis, for once free of make-up efx or motion-capture.

Olivia Williams (“Dollhouse,” “Rushmore”) seems to be everywhere all of a sudden, and I’m completely okay with that. And, as Dury’s son, that’s young Bill Milner from “Son of Rambow.” I do have to say the real-life Dury was slightly better at carrying a tune. Still, looks good and the reviews so far are promising.

Next: an arguably even more dysfunctional, but even more talented, French musical madmen gets his biopic.

  

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An action-packed movie Monday

Lots going on…

* Via Merrick at THR.

New Line has picked up a pitch from Darren Lemke, the writer behind the studio’s Bryan Singer project “Jack the Giant Killer,” that reimagines the classic tale of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” as an action-adventure movie.

I’m thinking Steven Seagall for the lead, with Jet Li as Kato, though I’m not sure how either of them are at dancing to the music of Tchaikovsky. Okay, actually, this version won’t be a ballet  (obviously) and they’re going for more of a “Chronicles of Narnia” vibe.

* Brad Pitt will be producing, but not playing the lead, in an action-oriented flick about the young Vlad Dracul (his buddies call him “the Impaler”). I’d prefer if they would be honest and call this “Dracula Begins,” but the actual title is “Vlad.” The studio will be the “Twilight” driven Summit. How much you wanna bet this vampire-to-be has a tortured love-life?

* Hand drawn animation appears to be coming back to Disney in a big way. Yay. Film-maker Brendon Connolly has some interesting hints.

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* And one more item from THR/Heat Vision that I can’t really ignore. Cowriter-producer Peter Jackson has announced that auditions for “The Hobbit” have begun and the only role that’s precast is Ian McKellan as Gandalf. So, actors, if you’ve got a snub nose, a pasty complexion, are never chosen first for basketball, and have hairy feet, I suggest you get into gear. They are denying rumors that James McAvoy could be in the running for Bilbo, though he does have an overall Baggins thing going on, I think. Another actor who screams “hobbit!” to me is writer Peter Morgan’s favorite star, Michael Sheen of “Frost/Nixon,” “The Queen,” and “The Damned United.” Of course, whoever it is, I guess it will have to believable that he’ll look like Ian Holm when he gets on in years.

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