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Box Office Preview: Board Games, Pregnancy, and something like ‘Borat’ 2


The Dictator

At this point if you don’t know what you’re getting walking into a Sacha Baron Cohen movie, you’ve probably never seen a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. That’s not to say “The Dictator” won’t be funny, but if you’re expecting 100 percent originality, you might want to look elsewhere.

“The Dictator” is the story of a North African, you guessed it, dictator, who’s called to answer for his crimes in front of the UN in New York. Believe it or not, it’s loosely based on a romance novel allegedly written by Saddam Hussein. Yeah, that Saddam Hussein, and yeah, romance. Anyway, when John C. Reilly strips him of his beard, nobody believes he’s a dictator anymore, so he has to find his way working in a food co-op with Anna Faris.

Fish out of water on the mean streets of America? Sounds an awful lot like “Borat,” but if it’s funny, who cares? I guess that raises the question, is “The Dictator” funny? The film is sitting at a 63 percent on the Tomatometer, so it’s probably more “Borat” (good) than “Bruno” bad. One thing the film has to set it apart from Baron Cohen’s previous work is that it’s not in his trademark interview-heavy mockumentary format. This probably means “The Dictator” sacrifices the more outrageous comedy that comes from duping public figures and nobodies alike for a semi-coherent plot.


Battleship

Now “Transformers” I get, theoretically anyway. There are characters, good guys and bad guys. It’s shit, but it makes sense, and more importantly it had Megan Fox. But a movie based on Battleship, the board game?

Apparently “Battleship” has a plot, but I’ll leave that explanation for Jason in his Bullz-Eye review. I imagine there are ships involved. Anyway, this movie looks like a turd. It’s at a 35 percent on the Tomatometer, and the consensus over there is that the film is “too loud, poorly written, and formulaic to justify its expense.” Jason’s viewpoint was a bit more optimistic:

But while the film does feel a little bit too much like a Michael Bay explosion-rama at times, to my surprise, it works remarkably well as a mindless piece of popcorn entertainment. It won’t wow you in any way, but “Battleship” knows that it’s big, dumb summer fun, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more.

If that’s the case, so be it. But I have a question, and I’m being completely serious here: what is the world of Hollywood writing coming to when we’re getting movies based on 70-year old board games? What’s next, the Monopoly man going on a Godzilla-like rampage through the streets of Tokyo? Terrorists knocking down buildings with a voodoo Jenga tower? Thank you Screencrush for the ideas, but sad as it may be “Battleship” is a real thing, so there’s no more time for mockery, moving on.


What to Expect When You’re Expecting

It’s a romantic comedy, so already we know what we’re getting into here, don’t we? There will be cliches, love, a second act rife with conflict, and ultimately, a happy ending. But every once in a while a movie comes along that breaks the mold, throwing all those banal stereotypes into a pot and coming out with something great. This is not that movie. Let me repeat again, because I know eyes can wander over a word or two: this is not that movie.

That fact is especially unfortunate when you look at the film’s star-studded cast, which includes Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Chris Rock, Thomas Lennon (“Reno 911!”), Rodrigo Santoro (like 4 episodes of “Lost”), as well as the recent success of “Think Like a Man,” which was also based on a self-help book.

If I could guess, and I can, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” tells the story of a number of couples, each with their own relationship problems centering around pregnancy and child-rearing. It really doesn’t matter, this movie is at a 23 percent on the Tomatometer. As such, you should avoid it like the plague.

If you’re looking for a recommendation this weekend, I’ll say “The Avengers,” just like last week and the week before, and yes, even if you’ve already seen it. Now, last week I also recommended “Dark Shadows” to big Johnny Depp or Tim Burton fans. The same goes here, “The Dictator” is sure to be enjoyable for fans of Sacha Baron Cohen’s work.

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

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This Weekend at the Movies: Transform Your 4th of July, Hanks Style

There are big weekends, and then there are MASSIVE weekends. The release of a new Michael Bay movie, the third film in the TRANSFORMERS franchise at that, makes this a gigantic weekend. But if robots aren’t up your alley, maybe Tom Hanks is. If not them, perhaps Selena Gomez. If none of those, screw you!

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

When director Michael Bay was out stumping for the first Transformers film, he said that he’d love to make a small, character-driven film, just for a change of pace, but that he can’t help but make these huge gigantic movies because he’s afraid they’ll just stop making them. And while that seems absolutely insane with summer blockbusters trying to outdo each other year after year, there doesn’t seem to be any bigger movie this summer than Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Sporting a relatively modest Rotten Tomatoes score of 36% (the first scored 57, the second a mere 20), reviews tend to be on the side of “it’s fun, sure, but c’mon, robots?” Though even the negative reviews mostly note that the climax – a nearly hour-long rampage through downtown Chicago - is staggering to behold. And in 3D. In a relatively modest summer at the box office, with few breakaway hits, this could be one of the few huge ones.

Larry Crowne

I was always disappointed that Tom Hanks didn’t direct another movie after That Thing You Do, one of the most assured directorial debuts and a very fine music film that also, miraculously, gave us one of the greatest pop songs of all time. And while Larry Crowne is kind of taking a beating in the press, scoring lower than Dark of the Moon on Rotten Tomatoes, I know I’m not the only one perfectly happy to head out for a new Tom Hanks movie. This one concerns a middle-aged man (Hanks) who, after getting fired from his job for having never gone to college (which seems like a bad reason to fire somebody, but I guess we’ll see), sets out to do just that. And maybe kiss Julia Roberts in the process. MAYBE.

Monte Carlo

In a plot that could ALMOST be a screwball comedy, Selena Gomez is mistaken for an heiress and taken on a whirlwind tour of, you guessed it, Monte Carlo. The difference is that Selena Gomez plays two roles. And that the movie also provides a launching pad for a new hit single. Claudette Colbert would have none of that. NONE OF THAT.

Stay tuned next week for an ensemble comedy with a great cast, and a family “comedy” with Kevin James.

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Stop me before I summarize the movie news again

It’s like a disease, I tell ya’…

* THR’s Borys Kit has the shortlist of actors being considered for the new Marc Webb “Spiderman” and, not surprisingly given Webb’s good taste in actors, they’re a pretty strong bunch, with the biggest name being the one-time “Billy Elliot” and the Tintin to be, Jamie Bell.

Megan Fox* Much as I am not a fan (I’m not sure who is, exactly), it was once tempting to think that maybe Michael Bay was perhaps showing good judgment by letting Megan Fox go from the next “Transformers” flick. If Jeff Schneider at the Wrap has his facts right, however, it might just be another reason to think even less of him and also, maybe, to worry about her. And is it really possible that the earlier reports were part of a bluff, which Fox has now called? Oy. H/t The Playlist.

* More from Borys Kit. I’ve written about Carl Erik Rinsch a couple of times here. He’s a very interesting commercial director who’s a protegee of Ridley Scott and who has an arresting visual style of his own. Now, it appears possible that his first feature film could be that new version of “Logan’s Run,” which maybe someone other than me remembers was actually based on a book — way better than the lame seventies movie, if my teenage opinions can be trusted — written in 1967 by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. Rinsch definitely has a feel for science-fiction, I think.

* The Frairs Club’s next roastee will be one Quentin Tarantino. Expect cursing, but perhaps better written than usual. Lots of geek and pot-smoking jokes too, no doubt.

* If  you’re a killer, but forget you’re a killer, are you still a killer? And if you remember, can you start over and drop your bad habit? Those are the questions that appear to be the topic of “Jack,” which John Cusack has just signed on to. No word on who’ll be playing his no doubt brilliant and beautiful, yet vulnerable, doctor.

* Steve Carrell playing the big-in-the-Philippines songwriter of “We Built This City”? Works for me.

* Speaking of signing on, the new editorial director of THR aka The Hollywood Reporter is the former editor-in-chief of Us Weekly. Anne Thompson wonders just how complete a shift to celebrity journalism this might mean for the venerable trade pub, which may not really be a trade for very much longer if her pessimistic/realistic guess is right.

* Ever wondered why the residents of Skull Island bothered to put a Kong-sized door in that giant wall meant to keep the big ape out? Greg Ferrera has a theory.

* I didn’t even know this was happening, but the John Williams Blogathon is under-way at Edward Copeland’s place, celebrating easily the most famous film composer of our era. Yes, his work on “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” etc. is pretty great, but there’s he’s got more musical quivers in his bow than you might think.

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A warning to Michael Bay and the folks behind “Transformers 3″

Do not replace Megan Fox with Hayden Panettiere. Nothing good can come of it.

I had only halfheartedly followed the whole “Megan Fox is out of ‘Transformers 3′ story,” mostly because I didn’t grow up playing with Transformers toys and therefore have no particular affinity for the film franchise beyond the “it looks cool” factor, but when Bullz-Eye’s beloved CEO called me today during lunch and casually mentioned how he’d heard that former “Heroes” cheerleader Hayden Panettiere was one of the names being bandied about as one of the many possible replacements for Fox, I almost gagged on my PB&J.

I don’t know that you’ve followed my feelings on Ms. Panettiere over the course of my three encounters with her at the TCA Press Tour, but let’s just say that she necessitated the institution of a Three-Strikes-And-You’re-Out rule…and I don’t even have anyone else on my list with two strikes!

Here’s the story of my experiences with her, as related in my wrap-up of the 2009 tour:

In 2007, I managed to ask her precisely one question, which she answered lazily before wandering away.

In 2008, I waited patiently for an interview as she finished a casual conversation, and although both she and her publicist clearly saw me, they both turned and walked in the opposite direction when the conversation was over. I unintentionally but audibly said, “Oh, no, you didn’t,” at which point her publicist attempted to pacify me by assuring me that she had to go to the ladies room and would be back. (She wouldn’t be.)

This year, I decided I’d give it one last shot.

As I was steeling myself for her impending indifference, a colleague came up and said, “Do you want to double-team her?” Just as we were heading her way, another critic beat us to the punch by calling Hayden’s name…and I saw Hayden’s eyes roll as far back as she could muster, then turned and offered about the most fake smile imaginable, in no way hiding the “I don’t want to be here, let alone answer your questions” look in her eyes. My colleague and I approached nonetheless, and we watched as several other writers entered the newly-created scrum. After the fourth or fifth time Hayden reacted to a new tape recorder as if someone was thrusting a knife at her, I finally just said, “Screw this” (albeit under my breath), and bailed out.

Seriously, Michael Bay, you don’t want Hayden Panettiere in your film. You’ve just gotten rid of one moody coquette. You don’t want to replace her with another one.

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All the movie news that fits my schedule

With Cannes starting to wind down — or with people probably starting to leave in the manner of Hollywood folk at lengthy fests much in the way Los Angelenos leave sporting events early — maybe the news will start to slow down a bit as well. In any case, it’s looking like I won’t be around to cover it tomorrow, and then comes the weekend movie preview, so this will have to tide you over for a bit.

Megan Fox in * Our top story tonight, however, is far away from anything likely to screen in, or even out of, competition at the world’s most famous film festival. Seems that Megan Fox, who you might remember compared director Michael Bay to Hitler some time ago, will not be returning in “Transformers 3.” Apparently Bay has finally realized there are lots and lots of unnaturally attractive young women in Hollywood and some of them can act a little.

In any case, Nikki Finke brings you a crash course on the apparent Fox/Bay hate affair, while AICN’s Merrick reminds you of some of those other unnaturally attractive women.

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Cameron attacks Beck! Beck attacks Cameron! Kevin Smith attacks me (and every other critic in the world)!! MI:4 gets jiggy with directorial possibilities!!!! It’s auteurs gone wild!

I was honestly going to take tonight off to focus on some other stuff I need to get done but then Kevin Smith, James Cameron and, er, Glenn Beck — yes, you heard me, Glenn freaking Beck, have made that impossible.  Between the three of them, I could probably do five thousand words alone. Just let’s say there’s a whole lotta lameness going on. On the other hand, Michael Bay is actually making as much sense as Cameron these days. It’s a weird world we live in. And that’s not all,  to wit…

James Cameron
* In a massive example of what this liberal feels falls under the category of “dude, I’m not sure you’re helping,” while talking to the press, James Cameron launched into a somewhat humourous expletive filled tirade against Glenn Beck, the newest and by far the looniest resident of the Fox News asylum. Naturally, this was grist for the mill of John Nolte over at Andrew Breitbart’s frequently even more unhinged far right film blog, Big Hollywood.

Now, it would probably take me the aforementioned five thousands words to explain why the vast majority of what Nolte ordinarily writes is, I believe objectively and factually, complete horse puckey. However, here there is a definite kernel of truth in noting that Cameron’s decision to release an initially stripped down “Avatar” single disc with zero extras on Earth Day, naturally to be followed by more deluxe editions in the future, doesn’t exactly fit in with the environmentalist message of the film or Cameron’s claims to be not too terribly concerned with making scads of money. Though, to be fair, Fox — owned by Rupert Murdoch — does have something to say here as well.

Of course, Glenn Beck has responded and, watching said response, during the first half I was thinking: “Good work, James Cameron, you’ve given Glen f–king Beck a chance to look sane.” But, fortunately for my view of the universe, Beck’s need to over-dramatize, even in an attempt at humor, prevented him from looking too stable or stable at all.

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Steven Zeitchik of the oh-so-liberal (in comparison to Big Hollywood) L.A. Times provides the video and some context involving Cameron’s involvement in a 2007 documentary touching on the historical reality of the New Testament. Big Hollywood provides the same video and some very different context on the same film. I simply don’t have the time to investigate that one right now.

Three things I’m sure of, however: 1. One of these men is a gifted egomaniac; 2. the other is a former “Morning Zoo” shock jock who has found the only job on the planet requiring even less intelligence and sense of responsibility; 3. the best way to turn the public off the entire issue of the environment is for James Cameron and Glenn Beck to have a debate about it.

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From Captain America to “American Idiot”

It’s your late night movie news.

* The big breaking news around the film geek blogosphere is that THR’s Heat Vision blog is reporting that Chris Evans will, indeed, play Captain America. I’ve only seen Evans in the first half-hour of “The Fantastic Four” (that was as far I made it through that one) but let’s say that, for the time being, I’m having a very hard time getting excited about this news.

* Moving from a project I’m interested in with some casting I’m not finding so interesting right now, we move on to some very interesting casting for a project I’m really not that personally interested in except to root for it to do as little business as possible because of the kind of filmmaking it symbolizes. It appears that John Malkovich, Francis McDormand, and Ken Jeong will all be in…wait for it…”Transformers 3.” Christopher Campbell has the predictably cynical and amusing blog reactions. I should add that I have absolutely no criticism of them for being in it. If Michael Bay wants to give me a few hundred thousand to do something connected to one of his films, I’m taking it. Now, if he wants me to say something nice about the flick, that’s going to cost a whole lot more.

* The bidding deadline has been extended a bit for the sale of MGM to make room for an offer from Time Warner. I imagine that would put the classic-era and later MGM library all under one corporate umbrella, which could make life a bit less confusing for us film buffs.

* I love spy movies. Also, in theory, I have no problem with movies based on video games — apart from the fact that I can’t think of one that people actually like very much, much less that I’ve personally seen and liked. Still, with all the great spy novels of all shapes and sizes that there are, the thought of a spy movie based on a video game does not make me very happy.

* I’m confused, is “Everything Must Go” starring Will Ferrell, which starts production this week with financing direct from its producers, really going to be an entirely non-comedic film, or is it being billed as a “drama” simply to distinguish it from Ferrell’s usual ultra-wacky comedies? To me, the premise sounds laden with a potential for dark humor, though I don’t know the Raymond Carver story, I do know he occasionally indulged in that.

* Previews begin the day after tomorrow on Broadway of the new stage musical, “American Idiot.” With a book by Green Day singer and lyricist Billie Joe Armstrong, the show’s “dialogue” is, as I understand, almost entirely sung.  It ran to mixed-to-positive reviews last year in the main theatrical venue of the Green Day’s California Bay Area hometown, Berkeley Rep. While not all the critics were high on the NoCal edition of the show, apparently Tom Hanks and his producing partner Gary Goetzman like it and are “in talks” to turn the production into a feature movie. I love some of the music on the highly acclaimed original album, so I’m intrigued by this one, though I could easily see it turning out horribly. (The music video featured by Kevin Jagernauth of the Playlist shows one way example of how a film version could go rather badly wrong.)

One thing this is not is a “jukebox musical” along the lines of “Mamma Mia!” but a concept album adaptation closer in spirit, I imagine, to “Tommy” and “Pink Floyd’s The Wall.” Still, one hurtle all these movies rarely overcome is the difference in energy between a live performance of a great rock and roll tune and the inevitably more packaged version you’ll get in a movie. Personally, I’ll be impressed if anything in the film version, if there ever is one, matches the intensity of the performance below.

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Golden Globe movie wrap-up: It’s an “Avatar,” “The Hangover” kind of a crazy, mixed-up night

First of all, I would like to thank my DVR for allowing me to watch a three hour telecast in less than 115 minutes. Also, Will Harris, you crazy Golden Globes Premium Hollywood TV live blogger, put down the Maker’s Mark and go to bed!

But, before I get carried away with paraphrasing Sandra Bullock‘s Best Actress in a Drama acceptance speech tonight, first of all let me make clear that I’m not going to attempt to one-up Mr. Harris’s live-blog extravaganza. No, I’ll simply start by linking to a complete list of tonight’s results and some (I’m thinking relatively brief) thoughts on the cinematic goings on tonight.

Okay, so here’s that link to the results courtesy of /Film and now on to the bloggy/thinky portion of tonight’s festivities.

Big deals: Clearly, the film headlines tonight are the awards that went to James Cameron’s ultimate-big-deal of a movie called “Avatar” and this year’s ultimate mega-successful modestly budget comedy, “The Hangover“. It’s the kind of comedy that never gets nominated for, much less wins, awards no matter how well constructed, and this was one incredibly well-constructed comedy. I’m delighted to see it get this kind of recognition. I truly couldn’t imagine a better movie with that premise and its success shows that you can make a male-oriented farce that respects its viewers’ intelligence and better natures. As for “Avatar,” does anyone even care what I think? It is what it is. Ask me again in a couple of months.

Biggest non-surprises of the night: The supporting actor twosome Mo’Nique from “Precious” and Christoph Waltz from “Inglourious Basterds” won, yet again, and seem about as big a lock for Oscars as you ever get. Both are sure getting a lot of practice at the art of acceptance speeches. Mo’Nique’s speech was both king of moving and way over-the-top in that actory way some folks (like Drew Barrymore, who praised it one of her typically overwhelmed acceptance speeches) just eat up with a fork. Waltz, who really does seem to be a pretty humble guy, was a bit more low key with a nice riff on the international nature of the Hollywood Foreign Press’s awards. I think we’ve got a buddy-cop movie, possibly directed by Michael Bay, with Waltz and Mo’Nique in our collective futures. “Bad Goys”?

Jeff Bridges Best Actor award is starting to edge into the same kind of category and he’s starting to look like a gigantic Oscar shoe-in. It’s as if everyone suddenly remembered how great he’s been in countless movies all at the same time. “You’re really screwing up my under appreciated status here,” he said. As well they should.

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The Scream Awards go down the rabbit hole (updated)

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There was a time in this world when young people were frequently slightly ashamed of being bigger than average fans of horror, science fiction, fantasy, and especially comic books. I, personally, wasn’t embarrassed …and I paid a price. Those days may be over. In any case, the capacity crowd that showed up for Spike TV’s Scream awards, largely in costume and largely dramatically over- or under-dressed for a nighttime outdoor show after a very warm day, seemed more like club kids and less like the kind of uber geeks who become entertainment bloggers and film critics and stuff like that.

The Scream Awards are, in their fun/silly way, a big deal. Big enough to attract a good number of stars and even a few superstars like Tobey Maguire, Jessica Alba, Morgan Freeman, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp and his living legend “Pirates of the Caribbean” muse, Rolling Stone Keith Richard.

I, however, am not such a big deal and was reminded of that fact when, prior to the show I found myself with the less fashionable members of the not-quite paparazzi on the “red carpet” (actually a checkered walkway) with my little digital camera and even smaller digital recorder device, wondering whether I’d really get a chance to ask a question of one of the super-famed folks, knowing that the only question I could think of at the time would be something in the nature of “What’s it like be the most notorious rock and roll star in the world, having your blood changed, and snorting your late father’s ashes?” That probably would have been inappropriate, especially if I asked it of Jessica Alba.

What actually seems to happen at events like this is that, if you’re a small-timer especially, most of the big stars either go through another entrance or walk right by you at warp speed. Meanwhile, folks who are a bit more anxious to meet the press find their way to you with the help of PR types. As an example, for about half a second, I was almost able to talk with actor Karl Urban, who did such a great job homaging DeForest Kelly while putting his own hilarious stamp on “Bones” McCoy in “Star Trek.” However, within a nanosecond he remembered he was in a big hurry and politely scurried off.

After a few odd reality show people I didn’t recognize, and the pretty young actress who assays the part of “Female Addict” in “Saw VI,” our first actual notable was statuesque model turned actress Tricia Helfer. Helfer is, make no mistake, a true superstar to TV sci-fi fans and is best known as Number Six, aka “the hot blonde cylon” on “Battlestar Galactica.” The actress appeared with her significant other, the owner of a British accent and a Giaus Baltar-style beard, but I’m sure that’s a total coincidence. I had a not terribly consequential discussion with her — lost because I apparently forgot to press the “on” button on my digital recorder. One would expect no less an effect from Number Six. UPDATE: Yeesh! As pointed out by my PH compatriot John Paulsen, the actress was actually Kate Vernon, who played the lady-MacBeth-like Ellen Tigh. It is true, all statueseque blonde women in shiny dresses look alike to me! My apologies to all concerned or unconcerned.

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Crime and punishment, Hollywood style

I’m going to defer this weekend’s box office preview for the morning because we have several fairly major breaking developments that probably shouldn’t wait. Guess who figures in the first item…

* In the case that director Marina Zenovich built in “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” — that the world-class director was both a criminal perpetrator and victim of legal malfeasance — one damning element was an interview with a former D.A. who was not supposed to have been involved in the case. As recounted by the L.A. Times’s Jack Leonard, David Wells said that he suggested to Judge Lawrence Rittenband that he could effectively sentence Polanski to jail time by ordering the accused director to undergo “diagnostic testing” in Chino State Prison, overruling the determination of a probation officer.

As described in the documentary this is, to say the least, outside the bounds of what is permitted in a situation like this. (In the context of the film it comes off as almost a petty vendetta.) Now, Wells claims that he lied. I’m not sure how to take that except that it’s never a good situation to be in when something you said may get you into trouble, and you suddenly claim that you were lying. At that point, you’re an admitted liar, the only question remaining is a matter of timing.

Roman Polanski, Douglas Dalton...and Neil Diamond?

At the same time, my own position on this case could be changing to the point where I may disagree with some of what I wrote in my review of the Zenovich film. I commend you to two extremely thoughtful posts on the matter: one by Anne Thompson (who also gets a huge h/t for this item) and the other by Karina Longworth. Karina’s take on the film was quite different from mine, but all of her points are at least valid and some may well be a lot more than that.

* A horrifying story I’d forgot all about reemerged today, as if to coincide with the Polanski matter. Roger Avary, who shared story credit and an Oscar with Quentin Tarantino on “Pulp Fiction,” co-wrote the screenplay for “Beowulf, and wrote and directed 1993′s “Killing Zoe” and the 2002 Bret Easton Ellis adaptation, “The Rules of Attraction” and also used to have a pretty lively blog, has been sentenced to a year in prison for gross vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated.

Although Avary previously argued he was not drunk at the time of the accident which killed one friend and severely injured another, his blood alcohol level was reportedly above the legal limit. (No stories I can find say by how much, though legally and morally, I’m not sure if it matters.) He was also reportedly driving over 100 miles per hour. I wouldn’t want to live with what he must have on his conscience. Use a designated driver, wait several hours, if need be, until you are completely sober, take a cab, drink at home, or don’t drink at all.

* On a vastly lighter note, Nikki Finke broke the news today that cinephile-bane Michael Bay will be back at the helm for “Transformers III” with a presumably chastened Megan Fox. In this case, the crime will be on the screen and the punishment will be endured by critics.

* Also another “toldja!” from the mighty Finke: Leo the MGM lion may be a shadow of his former, but he will live to roar another day.

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