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Your end of week movie news dump

A ton has happened since my last of these posts and I’m sure I’m missing plenty, but here are just a few of the interesting things going on in the movie world as this rather loony week finally ends.

* Bryan Singer will be producing, not directing, the next “X-Men” prequel. He’ll be directing “Jack, the Giant Killer” instead. And another Mike Fleming story, an exclusive this time: “Paranormal Activity 2″ has a director. He’s Tod Williams, best known for “The Door in the Floor.” Sounds to me like Paramount is keeping things modest, wisely.

* The very ill Dennis Hopper got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame today.  Amy Kaufman has video of the ceremony which included Hopper rather gently chiding the paparazzi for an incident which caused him to fall. The video itself ends with photographers yelling “Viggo!” and “Jack!”

* Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” with Russell Crowe as Robin will be opening Cannes this year. The plot description put me somewhat in mind of the angle the great director Richard Lester and writer James Goldman took on the legend in a film I’m quite partial to, “Robin and Marian,” which starred Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn.

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Your late night and early morning movie news

John Krasinski* The smart and likable John Krasinski of “The Office” may be out of the running for the Captain America movie though his agent appears to be keeping busy. I take it some fan boys didn’t think he was sufficiently ultra-muscular or traditionally handsome or something enough for the role, but I find that a bit weird — especially considering that Steve Rogers starts out as an ordinary guy and it’s not Krasinski’s McLovin or something. He’d be a good choice and I hope they change their minds.  The other reputed candidates aren’t as well known to me, but the guy from the “Tron: Legacy” trailer certainly doesn’t strike me as anything too special based on what I saw there.

* It used to be that winning the best picture Oscar had major repercussions at the box office. At least for the so-far low-grossing “The Hurt Locker,” that might not be the case, though I’m sure it’s DVD sales will be a lot better than they would have been otherwise. The Iraq war drama appears to be caught in the crossfire between theater owners and studios over DVD releases.

* The show has taken its share of critical lumps, but Sunday’s Oscars did just fine in the ratings.

* Jim Emerson on the latest self-destructive move of Variety. Why do newspapers of all stripes seem to think that increasing prices and decreasing value is the way to salvation? I’d really like to know how that’s supposed to work.

* Howard Stern can be funny, but this item and accompanying clip, about his and cohost Robin Quivers’  nasty, idiotic reaction to “Precious” star Gabourey Sidibe’s career prospects reminds me of what made me dislike him rather strongly back in the day– it’s not just the nastiness, it’s the fact that he doesn’t have a damn clue what he’s talking about. Or is it the case that John Goodman, Chris Farley, John Candy, Victor Buono, Dom De Luise, Nick Frost, Jonathan Winters, Jonah Hill, and countless other, admittedly mostly male, actors who are in the fat-to-obese category have had “no” careers over the last several decades?

Not that overweight actors, especially including severely obese ones like Ms. Sidibe, shouldn’t try to lose weight if they want a larger selection of parts and a longer and healthier life, though it’s always vastly easier said than done. Still, it’s definitely not true that she will “never” work again if she stays at her present weight. She’s already got work on Showtime.

* In Hollywood, imitation is the sincerest form of success envy. And so, it’s possible that Warner Brothers may be looking at the huge first-week success of “Alice in Wonderland” and thinking about going to meet the Wizard. One thing is true — as wonderful as the MGM classic is, the weirdness of the very long series of books has barely been touched by the movies,

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Will “Avatar” become the Octo-b.o. king?

HmmmYes, folks, at last we have a teeny-tiny bit of suspense and disagreement among the prognosticators of b.o. (that’s “box office” for those who’ve never read Variety).  Hot off the news that’s she stands to be mythologized by HBO — and make no mistake, the “no-holds-barred” fictional film blogger “Tilda” will be inspired primarily by Finke and not Sharon Waxman or especially Anne Thompson — she most definitely bars certain holds, including insulting people for sport — Nikki Finke writes that it’s just possible that “Avatar” could be knocked off its perch by a movie that few males will see except under the most extreme forms of feminine duress.

The kicker here, of course, is Superbowl Sunday, when a large majority of the male public will be obsessed with the game as well as the beer and fat-heavy snacks that go with the event. Of course, some women like football, some men lack the sports-obsession gene (that’s me), and lots of people who really don’t follow football at all will still be watching the game with friends and family. But many females will still be flocking to our nation’s cinemas, and the younger ones especially may be attracted to “Dear John.”

The wartime love story is currently at 30% on Rotten Tomatoes and directed by Lasse Hallström,who is a long way from his “My Life as a Dog” days as an arthouse favorite. La Finke notes that Sony and Relativity Media’s sentimental romance starring Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum was defeating the mighty Na’vi on Fandango by a margin of 20 percent. Even rival Fox execs concede re: Sony executives’ hopes for an upset: “They are not suckin’ on a crack pipe.”

Still, the more establishment voice of The Hollywood Reporter‘s jolly Carl DiOrio states fairly unequivocally that James Cameron will, in fact, reign for one more week — though that may well be it. Still, I wonder just what kind of pipe he and his editors might have been smoking that allows him to describe the violent action thriller-comedy, “From Paris with Love” as another female skewing movie — it’s certainly not a traditional romance.

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Okay, the title might skew could be misleading to some (at least those who don’t know their early James Bond), and women certainly won’t mind looking at “The Tudors” star Jonathan Rhys Meyers.  However, take one look at the trailers and clips and it’s clear this is a real testosterone-fest of an over-the-top action film, embodied by a goateed, shaven-headed John Travolta as a brutal CIA agent and Finke is probably right that it could steal some of the male thunder of “Avatar.” Well, everyone’s allowed the occasional foul-up and jolly Carl certainly is part of “everyone.”

The consensus seems to be that the film from future “Dune” director Pierre Morel will perform below the numbers for “Dear John,” especially given a male-drained Sunday. Its reviews, by the way, are about equally underwhelming. On the other hand, this highly biased critic definitely recommends you take a look at “We’ll Always Have Paris“  — a Bullz-Eye feature on Paris-based movies that I had, of course, absolutely nothing to do with.

That’s pretty much all the news that fits save for noteable Oscar-nomination driven expansions in terms of theater count of “Crazy Heart,” the very good “An Education,” and “Precious.”  Those latter two-films especially might also not be harmed by the big game.

Gabourey Sidibe in

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A scary Tuesday night at the movies

*  The rep of PG-rated horror these days couldn’t be much worse. So, I have no problem believing CHUDster Devin Faraci that a publicist sent out a blast e-mail crowing about the R-rating given to “The Wolf Man” for “‘bloody horror, violence and gore.”

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I’m excited enough about what appears to be a nicely movie-movie stylized general approach to the movie from director Joe Johnston, of the underrated “The Rocketeer” among other movies, to still be looking forward to seeing this, I think. Moreover, I am a fan of the fairly sanguinary (and, to me, truly freaking scary in more or less the best way possible) “An American Werewolf in London,” but I’m still a bit nonplussed. I realize I’m a bit of wuss about too much gore, certainly compared to the typical horror fan.

Nevertheless, I can’t help finding the attitude of AICN’s Quint a little Stephen Colbertesque in its equation of blood and gore to “nards” (Colbert would just come right out and call it “balls”). I also think making a tough, scary film really doesn’t have that much to do with how much colored corn syrup you throw around. But then who listens to a guy who likes musicals?

* The most disconcerting news about “The Wolf Man” is not the above, but the news last month about the decision to apparently drop a mostly completed score by Danny Elfman. Yesterday, Jon Burlingame of Variety wrote an even more disconcerting piece arguing that film composers are being devalued. Here’s the article ending quote from respected composer James Horner (not my personal favorite, as it happens, though he’s certainly worked on plenty of good movies and I’m perhaps not giving him enough credit):

“No one just says, ‘What do you think of my picture? I want you to write what’s in your heart.’ I haven’t heard that in years. That simple concept does not exist anymore.”

Michael Stuhlberg in Apparently, though, it does for some composers, when they’re working with really good directors. Michael Stuhlberg’s interview with Anne Thompson a while back indicates the Carter Burwell’s music may have changed the tone of Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man” considerably and that he was given considerable latitude. Real filmmakers apparently still realize that musical choices — when and how to use it, or not use it –  are absolutely crucial.

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Friday film news dump

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Howdy folks, I’ve been a bit distracted by a couple of big pieces I did earlier, but the movie world moves on and, in the tradition of the White House emitting unpleasant stories late on Fridays to avoid too much notice, we have a couple of new bummer items and some more typical stuff from before that I missed.

* Nikki Finke is breaking the news of some possibly very serious fiscal problems at MGM, though I have to admit that these sorts of details are about as clear as mud to this innumerate fiscal ignoramus. In any case, the once-dominant studio has long been a shadow of its former self and isn’t even really a studio anymore (though it owns UA, and boy is that a complicated story for a tired guy to follow/remember right now). It sold off its historic lot in 2004 — where I actually spent a few hours on Tuesday, as it happens — to Sony, which is a change I’ve yet to get used to. Still, they have their fingers in a few pies. As Finke reports, if the not-studio really does go bankrupt, it could affect both the upcoming adaptations of “The Hobbit” and the ever-present James Bond series through its ownership of the also much-smaller-than-it-used-to-be United Artists.

* In news that is worse because it’s certain, the popular Cinevegas Film Festival is taking a break next year and, it sounds like, the year after that and who knows for how long if the overall economy doesn’t pick up. Of course, Las Vegas is probably one of the most shell-shocked places in the U.S. by the real estate bubble and general over-development. During the boom times, I would go to Vegas, look at all the ultra-high end restaurants, spas, and especially the stores and wonder when they’d run out of rich people.

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Loose ends

Carlito's Way -- Al Pacino and Sean Penn

I haven’t been paying quite as much attention to the cinephile end of the movie blogosphere as I should lately, so we’ll start there.

*  It’s never too late to check out the Brian DePalma blogathon that wrapped up yesterday at Tony Dayoub’s Cinema Viewfinder.  I’m actually not a member of the DePalma cult that includes everyone from the late uber-critic Pauline Kael to Quentin Tarantino and probably 70% of the male cinephile population. I dig a few of his movies a great deal and the oddball horror/suspense musical satire, “Phantom of the Paradise” has a special place in my heart. On the other hand, I have serious problems with even some of his most well-regarded films including, or perhaps especially, especially “Blow-Out.” There’s a cheapness to his films and tendency to wallow in despair that I can’t support.

Of course, that’s just me and Dayoub wrapped up yesterday in grand style with a fairly personal piece about “Scarface” (vastly overrated by many; I’ll take the Howard Hawks “Scarface” over it any day) and “Carlito’s Way” (which I think is underrated and overall just a solidly good movie). Anyhow, stroll around the site and you’ll see pieces by some of the true superstars of cinephilia.

* Speaking of great film lovers, you won’t find detailed appreciations of DePalma coming from The Self-Styled Siren — nor of Michael Mann or Sam Peckinpah.  Her bailiwick is classic era films (ending roughly around 1965) with an eye towards melodrama and comedy. Though her identity remains a secret, her fans are legion and definitely includes your humble host.

Her latest post is an attention grabber: “Ten Melos the Siren Would Watch Instead of Mad Men” which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a fascinating list that males who want to expand their minds beyond the usual guy movie obsessions should definitely contemplate. And, yes, there’s a vigorous debate over “Mad Men” in comments, as well as an unsolicited cocktail recipe from me. If you’ve been looking for the inevitable backlash over the acclaimed series, which I personally love as much as anyone, there’ll be no more enjoyable place to find it.

Some news after the flip….

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RIP Army Archerd

Army ArcherdHe might have seemed as much of a permanent Hollywood fixture as the Chinese Theater or Musso & Frank, but columnist Army Archerd, for decades the writer of the “Just for Variety” column, past away yesterday from cancer at the age of 87. Growing up in Los Angeles with a permanent eye fixed on the movies, I was nevertheless rarely a regular Variety reader except when I was lucky enough to be working someplace with a subscription, but Archerd’s importance was obvious.

He was a fairly far cry from the muckraking and abrasive Nikki Finke and a much further cry from the punishing, often vindictive, gossip/entertainment columnists of the past like the mean-spirited but powerful Walter Winchell and Hedda Hopper. Indeed, I had kind of forgotten that the younger Archerd had fought the Hollywood blacklist. Winchell and Hopper had done very much the opposite.

When Archerd broke a personal story about a celebrity it wasn’t to try and “destroy” them and, in the most famous instance, it was a social good — though not everyone thought so at the time. For those who can’t remember the news that aging onetime superstar Rock Hudson had AIDS, it’s hard to explain the importance of the event. It was the first time many had even heard of the disease, which was already devastating the lives of untold numbers of people. Even in L.A., where Hudson’s sexual preference was an open secret even outside the show business world, the news raised the awareness of the quickly spreading disease far beyond the confines of the gay community, where it was already a devastating fact of life. Outside of Hollywood, it was also maybe the moment where “middle America” became aware that some of their favorite performers were not heterosexual.

For me, however, however, Archerd was always the pleasant, calm guy I grew up watching at the Oscars or at the Hollywood Christmas Parade. I was never a regular reader of his column, but he was just always there. I don’t know what to say except that I half expect those cement footprints in front of the theater Sid Grauman built might go away, too. Nikki Finke and, of course, Variety have excellent obituaries up.

Also, see Finke’s comments. Starting off with one by actor/activist Mike Farrell (“MASH”), it’s a pretty moving tribute.

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“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” mini-box office preview

While I personally seem utterly immune to the charms of Michael Bay’s battlebots or anything remotely relating to them, I am, alas, a lousy barometer of mass taste. Indeed, Gregg Killday of The Hollywood Reporter and Variety‘s Pamela McClintock are speaking in terms of past super-hit franchise films, including “Spider-Man 2″ and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” as all signs seem to be pointing to a pretty huge five-day period for the loud epic.

All signs, except reviews, that is. Our own Dave Medsker‘s split decision is, if anything, towards the more positive side of the spectrum of reviews. Rotten Tomatoes has the sequel at a not so good 27%, down 30 points from the more acceptable 57% score the first film received. Indeed, the probably unsurprising amount of critical vituperation exhibited against the 2.5 hour flick is worth noting. The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw mirrors my reaction to the first film (the part I made it through, anyway) with his comparison to “watching paint dry while getting hit over the head with a frying pan.” Roger Ebert might be a gentler soul, but he is little kinder and offers the kind of observations that make his negative reviews such fun to read:

The human actors are in a witless sitcom part of the time, and lot of the rest of their time is spent running in slo-mo away from explosions, although–hello!–you can’t outrun an explosion. They also make speeches like this one by John Turturro: “Oh, no! The machine is buried in the pyramid! If they turn it on, it will destroy the sun! Not on my watch!” The humans, including lots of U.S. troops, shoot at the Transformers a lot, although never in the history of science fiction has an alien been harmed by gunfire.

Transformers: Revenge of the FallenOthers, like Luke Y. Thompson — an interesting guy I just had the pleasure of chatting with less than 48 hours back — defend the film as silly fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Cinematical’s Todd Gilchrist, though, goes to an entirely different place:

Michael Bay, condensing the cumulative total of the spectacle from all of his seven previous films into one unwieldy, gargantuan opus, has exceeded even the possibilities of sequel-driven “moreness,” combining his own muscular, high-gloss sensibility with the conventions of blockbusters past, present, and probably future to create a monolithic action masterpiece that feels destined to be the biggest movie of all time.

I’m not sure all the words mean exactly what he thinks they mean — I’m still getting my head around “monolithic action masterpiece” (“monolithic”?????) — but I guess the gist is people will be watching. Choose your poison.

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How “The Office” has kept the Jim/Pam romance fresh

Brian Lowry of Variety lauds the fact that the writers of “The Office” have kept the Jim/Pam dynamic from going stale.

Much of the credit goes to the writers and performers involved, and it’s a testament to their talents that Pam and Jim have recently enjoyed a relatively stable, even happy relationship — despite her impulsive decision to join boss Michael (Steve Carell) in his stand-alone business endeavor — without sending that key aspect of the show toppling into disarray.

In most instances — and “The Office” hasn’t been immune to this — taking the romantic plunge has subsequently required erecting some arbitrary impediment to again pull the same characters apart, usually with varying degrees of credibility. Mindful of the fact that happy couples are hardly the fixings for good drama (and can be equally challenging in comedy), writers thus find themselves dismantling romances that they have meticulously labored to inspire the audience to root for — as evidenced by the visceral thrill of the “Office” second-season finale, when Jim finally let Pam know how he felt about her.

Lowry mentions “Moonlighting” and “Cheers” as shows that suffered after the two leads finally got together, but doesn’t go into much detail about how “The Office” has been able to avoid the usually inevitable staleness.

To me, “The Office” is much more than Jim and Pam. I don’t know that you can say the same thing about “Cheers” (Sam/Diane) and certainly not “Moonlighting” (David/Maddie). “Cheers” featured a strong supporting cast, but Sam and Diane were still the central figures. On “The Office,” one could argue that Michael Scott is the main lead. Jim and Pam are up there, but the whole show doesn’t revolve around them. Once they got together, the writers deftly transitioned the more romantic storylines over to Michael, who continues to struggle to find companionship in his life. By doing this, the writers are able to check back with Jim and Pam from time to time and highlight the best (and funniest) things about being in a secure, committed relationship, while continuing to mine Michael’s love life — as well as the whole Dwight-Angela-Andy love triangle — for consistent laughs.

The bottom line is that, at heart, “The Office” is an ensemble comedy, and by spreading around the wealth, the writers can spread around the risk. If handled correctly, this characteristic can make a show “jump the shark”-proof (or at least “jump the shark”-resistant), which is one reason “The Office” has been so strong for so long.

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TV Roundup: “Dollhouse” ratings fall, “Scrubs” update and more

- DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD writes that the “Gossip Girl” spinoff (“Lily”) is already dead, and TV.com speculates its because there just isn’t enough room for all of the hour-long dramas the CW wants to debut next fall. That is, unless “Privileged” gets the boot. I, for one, find Lily van der Woodsen to be the most interesting character on “Gossip Girl” and would like to see a spinoff surrounding a young Lily in the ’80s.

- THE LIVE FEED reports that the ratings for the series finale of “Dollhouse” dropped to a season-low. Not a good sign.

- Amidst all the information that VARIETY provides in terms of new shows for fall, it looks like “Scrubs” and “Better Off Ted” may each see another season. After watching the season finale of “Scrubs,” I have no idea where they go from here, but hey…

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