Midweekish movie news

It’s oh so late (or early) as I write this, but let’s see how much I can cover before my very late dinner and maybe a cocktail.

* I woke up to this morning the realization that Netflix has become a liberal cause celebre. It has to do with Comcast attempting to charge Level 3, a provider of Netflix’s streaming, a fee which the company says would effectively block access by cable companies to the interwebs and threaten the net neutrality that allows a site like this one to be readily usable. Brian Stetler at NYT has the details.

* Not sure how the Deadline team got scooped on this, but some lesser known sites have word that Tom Hanks‘ next acting gig, after wrapping directing duties on the upcoming “Larry Crowne,” will be in the new drama from the team that brought us “The Hurt Locker,” writer Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow. It’s the Latin America set “Triple Frontier.”

* Two categories of people get to say exactly what they want: the elderly and universally beloved film stars who took a creative risk and essentially made a franchise. Johnny Depp isn’t quite yet at the early bird dinner stage of his life, but he had some interesting things to say about Disney executives’ initial reaction to his Jack Sparrow — really, the only thing I ever liked about the “Pirates of the Carribean” franchise, other than the ride. They hated Depp’s performance, and for some rather disturbing juvenile reasons.

Johnny Depp runs for his life

* Nikki Finke claimed her “toldja” this morning over the actually really smart choice of having this year’s Oscar telecast hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway. Both clearly have comedy chops, Hathaway can sing, as she showed a couple of years back during the “Frost/Nixon” gag in Hugh Jackman’s opening number, and best of all, they’re not satirists like Jon Stewart and Chris Rock and therefore probably won’t perturb Hollywood’s well-manicured egos. The egos must, above all, be maintained. (H/t Anne Thompson for the Jackman vid.)

* The Independent Spirit Award nominations were announced today. Not too surprisingly, some of the biggest nominees were “127 Hours,” “The Black Swan,” “Greenberg,” “The Kids Are All Right,” (directed by Lisa Chodelenko, interviewed here by Ross Ruediger) “Rabbit Hole,” and “Winter’s Bone,” which already collected some Gotham Awards a day or so back.

* I’m sure the role of the U.S. Secretary of State in “X-Men: First Class” isn’t huge, but anything that keeps Ray Wise onscreen, where he belongs, works for me.

* RIP director Mario Monicelli, who passed on a day or so back at age 95. I have no excuse for having never seen “Big Deal on Madonna Street,” I fear.

Okay, that’s all for tonight. The gods of sleep and hunger have just about claimed me.

  

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Midweek movie news

Big movies are in the news today.

* James Cameron apparently won’t be directing the latest iteration of legend of Egyptian queen Cleopatra. Instead, he’ll spend the next few years doing the inevitable: “Avatar 2” and “Avatar 3.” Apparently, the commitment now is partially in return for Fox making a large donation to green causes Cameron supports.

* Christopher Nolan gave Geoff Boucher the title of the next Batman installment “The Dark Knight Rises” — not very inspiring. Having previously eliminated Mr. Freeze as the film’s big bad, he also eliminated the Riddler. That leaves Catwoman, the Penguin, and…Man-Bat?

man-bat-2

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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.

93211_first-look-princess-and-the-frog

* 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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Old dogs, new tricks, and Matt!

Matt Damon in

You’re pre-weekend box-offfice preview will be up bright and early tomorrow morning, but first I have a couple of what Rachel Maddow calls “Holy Mackeral stories.” Both of them involve old movie reliables trying new stuff, and somehow Matt Damon is involved in both movies.

* Back in 1955, Clint Eastwood had uncredited bit parts in two sci-fi monster/horror flicks from director Jack Arnold, “Revenge of the Creature” (the sequel to the 3-D hit, “Creature from the Black Lagoon”) and “Tarantula.” Since then, he’s somehow managed to steer clear of anything remotely fantastical either as an actor or a director — until now. “Hereafter” is being kept under wraps but the story is said to be in the same general ballpark as “The Sixth Sense.” It’s being written by Peter Morgan, also a first-timer in tales of the supernatural, though the playwright/screenwriter of “Frost/Nixon” and “The Queen” is also branching out genre wise with the 23rd James Bond movie. As suggested above, the star will be Matt Damon, who has been around the supernatural before. However, I suspect this film won’t have a whole lot in common either with Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated “The Brothers Grimm” or Kevin Smith’s “Dogma.”

All of this is not to say that director Eastwood can’t do scary. His 1971 directorial debut, the witty and suspenseful “Play Misty for Me,” was pretty thoroughly grounded in our reality but had some definite terror elements.

* Now, Michael Douglas found himself in a pretty similar predicament to Eastwood’s “Misty,” character in the 1987 hit, “Fatal Attraction,” but there’s pretty much no similarities in anything he’s done before with his next project. I don’t know how I’ve missed it, but the actor commonly associated with such super-macho characters as Gordan Gekko (soon to be reprised in the upcoming “Wall Street” sequel) and ultra-horny cop Nick Curran of “Basic Instinct” will be playing Liberace, the glitzy pop-classical concert pianist for whom the word “flamboyant” might have been coined. Directing the film will be Steven Soderbergh, returning to his nonfiction well that earned him one of his biggest commercial successes with “Erin Brokovich” and, he hopes again, with this week’s wide release of the fact-based comedy, “The Informant.”

Just to tie things up in a nice ribbon, as reported by People — who somehow found a picture of Michael Douglas looking oddly like Liberace might have looked later in life — “Informant” star Matt Damon will play Liberace’s longtime partner who ultimately sued the Las Vegas star in a palimony suit. I’m not sure it’s fair to say he “outed” Liberace. This will not, of course, be the first time that Matt Damon has played a gay character. That would be “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”

And, now, a moment of vintage Liberace. Definitely not with Matt Damon.

  

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Academy Awards recap: Oscar loves Nazis, hates robots, superheroes

Wow. Just…wow. Do you ever wonder just what movies the Academy voters are watching, and if they’re seeing the same movies the rest of us are? I certainly had that thought after scouring through the list of nominees for the 81st Academy Awards, when I saw that most of my favorite movies – one of which made over half a billion dollars – were discarded in favor of an overripe Nazi legal drama. And, just to have some fun with how far off some of these selections are, I’m going to include the Rotten Tomatoes freshness ratings. Let’s start at the top:

Best Picture
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (72%)
Frost/Nixon (91%)
Milk (92%)
The Reader (60%)
Slumdog Millionaire (95%)

Now, fellow BE movie critic Jason Zingale and I admit that we are in the minority on “Milk” – it’s a fine movie, but neither of us understands what people think is so wonderful about it – but I’m not surprised to see it here. It’s about a gay California poilitician in the year that Prop 8 passed. Of course Hollywood’s going to get behind this one. But “The Reader” for Best Picture? You have got to be kidding me. Look again at that freshness rating. Sixty percent, which means only three out of every five people liked it. Granted, “Benjamin Button” isn’t rated much higher, but movies with that kind of scope and reach always have their detractors. (Indeed, in our local film critics’ poll, “Benjamin Button” finished ninth.) Simply put, “The Reader” has no business whatsoever being nominated for Best Picture, not in the same year that saw the release of “The Dark Knight” (94%) and “WALL-E” (96%).

So why is it here? My personal theory: because Hollywood’s liberal populace sees Kate Winslet’s character getting tried for war crimes, and fantasizes about doing the same to George W. Bush. Get over yourselves, people. “The Reader” isn’t about you, or us, or now. It’s overdone melodrama, nothing more.

Best Actor
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Man, I’m torn here. On the one hand, I’m thrilled for Richard Jenkins that he finally got a lead role, and earned an Oscar nomination for his efforts. On the other hand, Clint freaking Eastwood just gave his final acting performance, and it was unforgettable. Again, I don’t think Sean Penn belongs here, but I’m starting to think Jason is right when he says he’s going to win. Damn. I’m totally pulling for Mickey Rourke.

Best Actress
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Kate was far better in “Revolutionary Road,” for my money, and for the life of me I can’t understand why the Academy is throwing that movie under the bus. This is not a strong list of nominees, if you ask me. My money’s on Melissa Leo to surprise the world.

Best Supporting Actor
Please. Does it even matter who else is nominated here? This is Heath Ledger’s to lose, and he’s not going to lose. Bonus points for nominating Robert Downey Jr. for “Tropic Thunder,” though.

Best Supporting Actress
Both Amy Adams and Viola Davis from “Doubt” were nominated, and will surely split the vote. I’d like to see Marisa Tomei (“The Wrestler”) or Taraji P. Henson (“Benjamin Button”) win, but my gut tells me Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) will be the winner.

Best Director
Danny Boyle, Danny Boyle, Danny Boyle. Again, Stephen Daldry is here for “The Reader,” while Christopher Nolan (“Dark Knight”) and Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E”) watch from the cheap seats. Absurd.

Best Animated Feature
Here’s your bone, “WALL-E.”

Best Foreign Language Film
Where the hell is “Let the Right One In”? Inexcusable oversight, that.

Best Song
Where the hell is “The Wrestler”? They know that Springsteen wrote it, right? Wouldn’t that alone guarantee it a nod? Ugh.

Best Documentary
God help them if something other than “Man on Wire” wins this.

Come Oscar night, I’m going to make sure I don’t have anything heavy in my hands when they announce the Best Picture winner. Because, if for some ungodly reason “The Reader” wins, I will kill my television, then fly to Hollywood and burn the place to the ground. Academy, you’ve been warned. Do the right thing.

  

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