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Get ready for “Birdman”

“Birdman” is getting a ton of buzz with its all-star cast featuring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Amy Ryan. Check it out this weekend.

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The League of Quality Superhero Animation plugs “Crisis on Two Earths” at Paley Center

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It’s an old story. You’re a superhero minding your own business and then you bump into someone who looks very familiar but, well, something’s just not right. Gee whiz but this person looks a lot like you and is even wearing similar clothes, but then you notice your new acquaintance looks like he or she is made from rocks, uses terrible grammar and does everything the opposite of you. (“Me want to not save world!”) Or the newcomer looks like one of your deadliest enemies, but turns out to be no Bizaaro, but as heroic as you are. What’s a superhero to do?

It’s an old superhero comic story that has yet to find its way into a big-time costumed-hero flicks — but at least it’s finally been used in a solidly entertaining and often slyly funny direct-to-DVD animated production. Rated a mild PG-13 for non-deadly “action violence,” Warner Home Video’s “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths” shows us the fall-out of an alternate universe where the equivalents of our most famed superheros are essentially costumed Mafioso, while a bald guy named Luthor and a joker named the Jester vainly fight the power of organized caped crime.

When the alternate Luthor (Chris Noth) manages a reality jump into the original DC Comics Universe, he enlists the aid of  most of the Justice League. And so, Superman (Mark Harmon), Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall), and a less than cooperative Batman (William Baldwin), become involved in a desperate quest to free Good Luthor’s universe from super-powered criminal domination by the vicious Crime Syndicate and it’s Jersey-thug-like leader, Ultraman (Brian Bloom) — and also to stave off the possible destruction of all existence by an off-his-evil meds Dark Knight of the Soul, Owlman (James Woods), and his only slightly more sane GF, Super Woman (Gina Torres).

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The 72 minute direct-to-video feature was premiered at both of the coastal outlets of the Paley Center, and I attended the one located on Earth Prime’s Beverly Hills. Us members of the local geek press were allowed to commune with members of the cast and crew and, in my case, that started with the extremely busy animation casting and voice director, Andrea Romano. The loquacious performer and voice director, whose work includes everything from “Animaniacs” to “Spongebob Squarepants” and “Ben Ten,” is held in as high esteem by super-animation fans as any actor, writer, or director. Her work on DC superhero projects goes back to the early nineties and “Batman: The Animated Series,” which revolutionized superhero cartoons with quality writing from creators like Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, animation, and, thanks to her efforts, acting.

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A chat with Joshua Leonard of “Humpday”

Joshua LeonardWhen you’re dealing with the press, what topic could possibly overshadow your new, Indie Spirit award-nominated and generally very well received comedy about two more or less ordinary straight dudes who decide to make a porno of themselves having sex…with each other? Well, “Humpday” star Joshua Leonard has had to deal with one of those “be careful what you wish you” show business situations in that the second film he was in about ten years back was an enormously profitable, zero-budget worldwide hit and horror pop-culture phenomenon – one that happens to be referenced in nearly every review of a certain recent zero-budget DIY horror hit.

Still, as one of the three actors/cum camera people/cum screenwriters who endured a deliberately scary and uncomfortable shoot in “The Blair Witch Project,” Leonard has leveraged his decade old flavor-of-the-month status into a solid career as a working actor with scores of credits ranging from the HBO movie “Live from Baghdad” to recent episodes of the new TV series, “Hung,” also on HBO. He’s also become a director. “Beautiful Losers,” a documentary he co-directed, is just hitting home video after a run on the festival circuit, and he recently completed shooting his dramatic feature debut as a writer-director, “The Lie.”

Still, he’s clearly very proud of his involvement in writer-director Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday” alongside costar and previously interviewed fellow film-maker Mark Duplass – now a very close real-life buddy — and happy to have contributed to a new tightly-plotted but improvised movie where there was absolutely no attempt made to convince the world he was dead. His portrayal of Andrew – puppyish Peter Pan, would-be artiste and compulsive traveler/bohemian – remains the extremely funny heart of the film. He’s also, I was happy to find, a really fun guy to talk to. He’s obviously a lot more smarter and 10,000 times more mature than his movie alter-ego, but he’s every bit as easy to hang out with – even on a twenty-minute phone call set up by a publicist.

PH: I don’t always say this, but I really did like “Humpday.” I thought you guys were great.

JL: Thanks, man. What have you hated recently?

PH: [Laughs] I’m a critic, we could blow out entire time talking about that.

JL: [Laughs] That’s what I want to know.

PH: Fortunately, nothing of yours. Okay, so I’m going to ask everyone I talk to on the movie this question….

Just before I saw the movie at the L.A. Film Festival, I had reviewed the DVD for “The Odd Couple.” It was kind of interesting because it was sort of two of the poles of the male bonding thing and of course the whole idea of “bromance” has been  out now. I was just wondering how you thought “Humpday” fit in with all these movies that have been out there on this general topic.

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“Basterds” at the box office

There are actually four new major releases coming out this weekend, but only one you’ll likely be hearing much about…and you’ve already been hearing about it, and hearing about it, and hearing about it, and we (mostly me) here at Premium Hollywood have been as guilty as anyone.

Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” is set to make upwards of $25 million says jolly Carl DiOrio of THR and The Wrap’s Lucas Shaw. Those of you who have been following this know that the film’s take has been given more attention than a lot of movies because many suspect it will be crucial to the fortunes of Harvey and Bob Weinstein, formerly of Miramax and now of The Weinstein Company. (They say that they’re actually doing okay.) Harvey Weinstein is such a well known character that all the makers of “Entourage” had to do was hire similarly proportioned character actor Maury Chaykin and call him “Harvey” and 1/3 of the audience probably knew who was referenced. The Weinsteins have always been something of a throwback to the movie moguls of old times with their seat of the pants judgments and risk taking, so that lends a bit drama to the matter.

As for the critical reception, it’s about as good as Tarantino and the Weinsteins could have asked for, especially given that the film’s Cannes premier was greeted with a chorus that some have described as negative but was really all over the place; some proclaimed instant love, others expressed varying degrees of disappointment, and others were baffled. Now, after some apparently very effective tinkering on Tarantino’s part, the U.S. chorus at is singing mostly in harmony with an 88% “Fresh” at Rotten Tomatoes.  Though there has been a smattering of controversy over the film’s “once upon a time in Nazi occupied France” tone/plot no-longer-surprises, it’s a far cry even from the debates over violence that raged over “Kill Bill, Volume 1.” Oh well, one less source of free publicity.

Inglourious Basterds There is an additional lure this time. For once, Tarantino isn’t reviving the career of his lead actor but is actually benefiting from the presence of an A-lister in no particular need of a comeback in Brad Pitt. The possible fly in the ointment is that we critics are different from other people: we see more films. No director on the planet so makes movies for movie fans as Tarantino and, as with his other films, there’s always the chance that viewers who aren’t fully steeped in cinema might be lost at sea. As Anne Thompson wrote a couple of weeks back after seeing what she thought was a greatly improved cut of the film:

“Inglourious Basterds” is great fun—for cinephiles. It’s not a mainstream movie. If it gets to $50 million domestic there will be cheers through the corridors of Universal and Weinstein Co. And it should easily do better than that overseas.

That second part of Thompson’s prophesy has already begun to be proven, with Variety‘s Pamela McClintock reporting Tarantino’s strongest opening yet in France, Belgium, and Francophone Switzerland. As for the reaction of regular ol’ Americans, only time will tell. Still, everybody seems to be expecting it to defeat the similarly male-leaning and violent “District 9” and at least match the $25.1 million opening weekend of “Kill Bill, Volume 2.

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