A busy Monday in movieland…

…And not a whole lot of time to talk about it.

* Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” tested as the most memorable film commercial during last night’s hugely rated Superbowl and understandably so, it’s genuinely beautiful stuff. Past versions of the classic, however, have been somewhat hampered by the episodic — you might even say pre-Pythonesque — structure of Lewis Carrol/Charles Dodgson’s freewheeling children’s literary classic. (The first work of art to ever really blow my mind, I think.) The idea this time is to get around that problem by turning the film into something like a sequel to the original as concocted by writer Linda Woolverton. Storylines, or the lack thereof, have been Burton’s Achilles heel in the past, so this should be interesting.

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* The late Michael Jackson’s doctor has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

* We’ve had movies based on toys and board games, so why not a new movie based on this blog?

* In the seventies and eighties, horror films were often named after holidays. Now it’s ensemble romantic comedies, apparently.

* “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” meet “Mr. and Mrs. Jones.” (I guess “Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Episode 1” didn’t do well in focus groups.)

* I’ve always loved Robert Wise’s great film of “The Andromeda Strain” and there are few movies I’ve detested more than Wolfgang Peterson’s “Outbreak.” (A virus is threatening all of humanity and I’m supposed to be distracted by an adorable monkey on loan from an overrated sitcom and helicopter chases???) I’m sure Steve Soderbergh’s “Contagion” will at least try to be closer to the Wise approach. Soderbergh may be uneven because he’s so unafraid to take huge chances, but when he pulls a movie together, few are better.

* Yet another item from Deadline|Hollywood’s ace, non-venomous reporter, reporter, Mike Fleming. Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of Michael Mann, is directing her first big feature (but not her first feature). It’s an intriguing sounding fact-inspired thriller about a series of unsolved Texas murders tied with the drug trade.

  

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Tuesday late night movie news

It’s pretty clear that nothing going on in movieland tonight is going to be able to compete with the sheer entertainment value of the NBC late night TV quagmire, but there’s definitely stuff to talk about.

* Peter Saarsgard of the very good “An Education” is a highly intriguing actor who I’ve been following for some time, especially since catching his work in the underrated “The Dying Gaul” at Sundance a few years back. No matter what kind of character he’s playing, he seems to have a real gift for moral ambiguity. If he’s cast as a villain, we think he must have a good side, and if he’s cast as someone more upright, we wonder if there isn’t something underhanded going on. Anyhow, Borys Kit reports that it looks like he might be playing the villain side of the street in the Green Lantern movie. Could be good.

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* The longest named director in show business is back on “The Tourist,” a remake of a French thriller to star Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is the very talented and personable multilingual director behind “The Lives of Others.”

* Simon Brew has some more on the upcoming “Spiderman” reboot announced yesterday. His list of possible new Spideys has two interesting entries that I can’t quite agree with. Daniel Radcliffe actually makes some sense, but we’ll have to see how his American accent is, though I’d personally advise the soon-to-be ex-Harry Potter to avoid overly franchisey roles for a while. Michael Cera would be interesting but, I fear, disastrous. He’d have to get muscular and we know what happens to funny young actors when they become too obviously physically fit. Just ask Anthony Michael Hall.

The trick with Peter Parker is that the actor has to be believable both as a vulnerable demi-nerd, and as the sinewy superhero. Tobey Maguire was actually a really outstanding choice.

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Friday film news dump, pre-Halloween edition

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So much going on today that, unless my Google Reader is lying to me, not a single one of the many film sites and blogs on my list of usual suspects has mentioned that Christopher freaking Lee was knighted today. (I, however, will be paying my respects in the next post.)

Meanwhile….

* The biggest news of the day was expected, I guess. The New York offices of the once might mini-major Miramax, founded by Harvey and Bob Weinstein and since sold off to Disney, have been closed and the annual slate of films significantly downsized. In addition, the division’s “prexy” Daniel Battsek is stepping down, though he is supposed to be supervising the consolidation of the NYC and L.A. offices through January and no replacement has been set. Not surprising in tough times for “small” films. Anne Thompson partially blames what you might call movie mission creep, among other factors.

The main problem with the studio sub-divisions that are being slashed if not eliminated is that they simply don’t return enough on investment. They inevitably drift away from small-scale divisions that push low-budget films into more ambitious upscale operations with more employees and more overhead. With growth comes bigger budgets, more P & A, wider releases, more grandiose Oscar campaigns and often, smaller profits.

Her entire piece is definitely worth a look as she mentions how even some seemingly successful award pictures as “There Will Be Blood” and “Doubt” became money losers or earned less than you might think due to marketing costs and award campaigns.

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Movie moment for an alien nation #1

With “District 9” likely to be one of the most important films released this year, as well as a healthy moneymaker, I thought I’d do a few movie moments reminding us that Neill Blomkamp’s film is hardly the first politically charged movie about resident aliens. Actually, they all are, it’s just that some are more upfront than others.

I’ll start with the trailer for probably my favorite science fiction film, ever. It’s also the first movie I know of about an alien that openly addressed politics.

For more, check out my review of the DVD of 1951’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still” which was put out last year to coincide with the release of the 2008 remake.

  

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Encounters at the End of the World

I’m a reasonably big fan of Werner Herzog, the film performer, documentarian, and wryly humorous, neurotically heroic philosopher-poet. When it comes to his hugely acclaimed fiction films, however, I can become impatient with their emphasis on pure thought over pure storytelling. Though it is a reasonably straightforward documentary, “Encounters at the End of the World” has elements of both sides of Herzog’s output. Instead of being driven by a sharply dramatic real-life narrative like the one in Herzog’s brilliant 2005 nonfiction, “Grizzly Man”, 2007’s “Encounters” is basically a quasi-philosophical and psychological exploration of just what it is that drives a certain species of extremely intelligent people to frozen (still, for the time being) Antarctica — a place that, as Ernest Shackleton learned the hard way, might as well have had a giant “no human beings allowed without space-age technology or a death wish” sign pasted on it.

Herzog obviously loves the hyper-intelligent rebels and happy misfits the place attracts as much as its sometimes mind-blowing beauty. There’s also plenty of cinematic and verbal rumination, including a soliloquy by Herzog in which he muses about what he sees as the impending end of all human life in a more or less fatalistic matter — not so much an “if” as a “when.” On the other hand, in a brief, intriguing interview with a former linguist, the director also appears to be deeply concerned with preserving dead languages for future generations…so, maybe he’s not expecting the end tomorrow. Still, for all its bone-deep beauty and for the sweetness of its intentions, its Herzogian concern with reality-based eschatology makes “Encounters at the Edge of the World” easily the most disturbing G-rated inquiry into science and possible end times since Robert Wises’ “The Andromeda Strain.”

Click to buy “Encounters at the End of World”

  

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