If it’s behind-the-scenes stuff to which you spark, in all aspects of life, and you’ve already watched all the bonus features on all of your DVDs, check out the campaign trail blog of Meghan McCain, the 23-year-old daughter of John McCain. Sure, a few Facebook/sorority-type pictures slip the groove, but there are some good photos included, particularly the very cinematic first shot from this recent stop in Pennsylvania. Actually, I just noticed that the bulk of the pictures are credited to professional photographer Heather Brand, which explains the acute eye for composition. Interestingly, too, the younger McCain seems to have interned at Newsweek and Saturday Night Live, the latter of which might explain Lorne Michaels’ contributions.
Plumber by day and student by night, Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews, below right) is an angry, wound-up guy. He has a girlfriend he doesn’t really seem to like, a therapist whose advise he can’t fully embrace, and a scarred past that leaves him prone to irrational outbursts. When his community college professor (Robert Englund) becomes overtaken by an awakened ancient evil and is reanimated in belching, vomiting, meat-craving form, Jack finally realizes he can’t run from his Batman-esque back story (the brutal murder of his parents, though here via a nasty beast), so he grabs his socket wrench and decides to kick a little monster ass.
Lean, thinly sketched and, as the title aptly indicates, unapologetically populist in tone, Jack Brooks channels Slither and particularly early Sam Raimi, all by way of Tales From the Crypt. There isn’t much in the way of frills or production design (the movie is seemingly budgeted only for its bookends and final act), but director Jon Knautz makes up for it by keeping things moving fairly briskly. If there’s a problem, it’s that the script withholds its protagonist’s transformation for too long, and could additionally use a bit of an upgrade in swaggering archness. Otherwise, though, grading on a curve, it’s easy to glimpse the potential franchise cult appeal here; all that awaits is the hearty blurb of endorsement from Bruce Campbell. For more, from the movie’s official web site, click here. (Brookstreet, R, 85 minutes)
Super-hot power couple Téa Leoni and David Duchovny are ready to rock. CBS has acquired the comedy spec Born to Rock from writers Jess
Walter and Mark Steilen, according to The Hollywood Reporter, with the aforementioned married couple and Dan Cortese
attached to produce. The story centers on a group of marginal, aging rock
session players who, because of a mix-up in their demo tape, end up
catching a record executive’s attention for a children’s song written on a lark, and finding unlikely success as a
Wiggles-type children’s band. Nice. I don’t even need Will Ferrell and more cowbell — without knowing anything else, give me Leoni, Duchovny, Jason Bateman and William H. Macy, and I’m there.
With dozens of people already posting horrified YouTube video reactions to its trailer, George Lopez seems to realize that Beverly Hills Chihuahua represents a certain cultural flashpoint. I asked him about forthcoming animated movie at the Los Angeles press day for Henry Poole Is Here over the weekend, and he seemed to walk the line between good-natured, company-man endorsement and conceding, albeit in coded fashion, that the movie is a flaming trainwreck-in-waiting.
“I’ve heard [about the viral videso],” Lopez says, a broad smile breaking out across his face.
“I think Garry Shandling said one time, ‘I don’t care if they laugh or
moan, it’s still a reaction, and I accept both equally.’ So I know that
people are mocking it, they hate it, and the New York Times did
a story about how annoying the trailer is. And when you can get that to
the New York Times, that means… well, I mean, if we make everybody sick by the
time the movie comes out, I think the movie will be a huge success.” (Side note: huh?)
“But this movie is either the best trailer you’ve ever seen, if you’re under 10, or the most annoying thing you’re ever going to see,” Lopez continues. “That song will get in your head, and you’ll be singing ‘Chihuahua!’ at work. That trailer with the chihuahuas in headdresses walking down an Aztec temple singing this rap song — it’s a wonderful place for Latino actors to be able to do a movie like this, that the whole Disney machine is completely behind. I think kids will love it, and some parents will… well, have to take their kids to it. And the story of a chihuahua from Beverly Hills who’s trying to find its bark is not very unfamiliar from some of the greatest movies ever done. I say it’s like Citizen Canine.”
Co-created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park debuted in the late 1990s in the shadow of The Simpsons, but about five or six years into its run on Comedy Central the series lapped its groundbreaking predecessor as the funniest and most consistently shrewd animated peddler of sociopolitical commentary on television. The release of its 11th season on DVD only confirms its ongoing genius, featuring a number of new classic episodes.
Coming off a year in which Parker and Stone memorably assayed the hybrid car craze (“Smug Alert!”), the James Frey memoir debacle (“A Million Little Fibers”), the debate over evolution being taught in school (the two-part “Go God Go”) and the online gaming craze (the groundbreaking “Make Love, Not Warcraft,” portions of which featured the show’s kids doing battle as their animated avatars), the creative bar was set awfully high. Right from the start, though, the 11th season of South Park delivers.
Season opener “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson” finds Randy Marsh, little Stan’s father, appearing on Wheel of Fortune and making a rather unfortunate guess during the game, choosing the word “niggers” instead of “naggers” as the correct answer to the clue “People Who Annoy You.” While Stan tries to understand Token’s feelings on the matter, Randy embarks on a self-centered campaign to ban the word, burdened as he is by the discrimination he feels from being known as “That Nigger Guy.” An amazing, razor-sharp send-up of the Michael Richards/Laugh Factory debacle, the episode is side-splittingly funny (without even getting into Cartman’s battles with a dwarf who comes to speak at the kids’ school), and it makes a powerful social point to boot — African-Americans don’t need whites trying to convince them that they “feel their pain” with respect to racial slurs, they only need them to acknowledge that they’re probably not in a position to truly understand the deep-seated hurtfulness of a word with that much of a nasty, oppressive history.
The next episode, “Cartman Sucks,” finds Cartman pranking an asleep Butters by taking a series of photos of him in sexually compromising positions… including one with his penis in Cartman’s mouth (?!). Naturally, Butters, unaware of any of this, misunderstands the definition of the word “bi-curious,” which prompts his parents to send him to a right-wing de-homosexualization camp. (Paging Ted Haggard!) Another instant classic, this episode attacks religious intolerance and hypocrisy, all while letting Stan and Kyle blister a panicked Cartman — who works to cover up the existence of the photos before they get out — as gay, something he hadn’t considered when mock-fellating Butters.
Other episodes include “Le Petite Tourette,” which finds Cartman learning about Tourette’s Syndrome, and feigning his affliction with it so that he might go around cursing people out (it’s hard to believe it took 11 seasons for Parker and Stone to work this idea in); and “The Snuke,” a faux-political thriller, presented in the style of 24, in which a nuclear weapon is hidden in Hillary Clinton’s… well, I don’t want to spoil it. Bono gets rapped in “More Crap,” wherein Randy battles the U2 frontman for the record of the world’s largest “number two.” (There’s a twist ending here that helps save this otherwise bizarrely personal salvo against Bono, along with the fact that crap sizes are measured in “Courics,” as in Katie.)
Tackling, in (relatively) epic visual scope, the spectre of terrorism as applied to a literal war on the mind, the three-episode “Imaginationland” arc is the 11th season’s putative sociopolitical highwater mark, but in fact the aforementioned “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson” is probably the most focused, eviscerating political statement on this set. Running a close second is the equally hilarious “Night of the Living Homeless” (above), a zombie movie send-up in which shuffling, change-needing homeless folk overrun South Park, scaring the bejesus out of the locals and forcing the kids to again save the day.
Spread out over three discs, and housed, like previous seasonal releases, in expansive gatefold packaging in a nice (and this time light purple) cardboard slipcase, the DVD extras here consist only of episodic mini-commentaries by Stone and Parker. Running several minutes apiece, these introductions contain a few bon mots here and there, like the fact that “Imaginationland” was originally thought of as potentially another long-form movie idea. The series itself is of course the main thing, with enough legitimate laughs to sincerely earn repeat-viewing enjoyment. That said, a bit more behind-the-scenes material on these sets would really send the collectible factor through the roof. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. A+ (Show) C+ (Discs)
Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami takes what at first blush might seem a rather tenuous hypothesis — that the city helped make the man — and makes diverting enough, micro-biographic hay out of it that one doesn’t hold the lasting credibility of the thesis (only half run up the flagpole to begin with) too much against it. It is what it so obviously is — merely a lens through which this hour-long PBS title can cast backwards glances, and examine one of the more inherently intriguing cultural figures of the 50 years.
In 1960, a young, hungry, Olympic gold medal-winning boxer named Cassius Clay came to Miami, determined to become a professional world heavyweight champion. In the end, he became something more — a towering legend, a figure who transcended his sport. Blending together period piece footage with modern-day interviews, this film chronicles Clay’s life in Overtown — a neighborhood considered “Harlem South” in days gone by — his affiliation with and training at the famed Fifth Street Gym in Miami Beach, and his adoption of the black separatist teachings of the nation of Islam, which of course led to him changing his name to Muhammad Ali. The film also includes a consideration of Ali’s friendship with Malcolm X, his famed encounter with the Beatles, his dramatic victory over heavyweight champion Sonny Liston and his subsequent refusal to fight in the Vietnam War — all episodes that played out, to one degree or another, in this bustling southern Florida city, which Ali enjoyed for its cuisine and weather as much as its gregarious locals.
The talking-head boxing stuff in Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami is fairly old hat, having been well chewed over by all sorts of ESPN and Sports Century retrospectives over the past decade. Even if you know just the broad strokes of the run-up to the Liston fight, the detail here is garnish, additional color that pales next to the colorful banter of Ali in general. Much more interesting is the additional shading provided on Ali’s relationship with Malcolm X, a friendship that was (and is, owing to the fact one was taken from us long ago by an assassin’s bullet, and the other more or less so by disease) widely misunderstood. Ali’s quest for enlightenment and spiritual peace wasn’t some lark, and it’s interesting to ponder what would have developed had the two had an opportunity to remain close.
Housed in a regular Amray case, Muhammad Ali: Made in Miami comes presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen format, enhanced for 16×9 televisions. The English language 2.0 stereo mix more than adequately handles its meager aural demands, and in addition to a preview trailer, there’s also a supplemental featurette — a conversation with the film’s writer-producers, Gaspar Gonzalez and Alan Tomlinson. To purchase the disc via Amazon, click here. B- (Movie) C+ (Disc)
Producer Gary Lucchesi, who together with Tom Rosenberg runs Lakeshore Entertainment, had a sour experience with his first foray into the horror genre, in the form of Midnight Meat Train. Distributor Lionsgate dumped the movie on 102 screens, including many discount and dollar theaters, merely to to fulfill the letter of its contractual obligation. At the recent press day for Henry Poole Is Here, I asked him about what happened, from his perspective.
“A disaster — we were completely screwed. It was a nightmare,” says Lucchesi. Lionsgate explained their rationale, “but it went from being the highest-testing trailer they ever had, with a different regime, to it being, ‘We couldn’t figure out television spots.’ And then they said it was like this movie Bug that they had made, but at that point it was a different executive team at Lionsgate, and that’s the reality. Sometimes… in this business you need advocacy on the marketing and distribution side just as much as you need an advocate when you start making the movie. We have an example here with Overture, who I presume is treating you nicely; they’ve treated us great. You believe that they’re sincere about their affection for the movie, they’ve worked very hard on the television spots and the trailer. There was thought that went into the poster, there was attention and care given to everything that’s going on, they’re spending money to try to market it. There’s a game plan, and if it works it will be a credit to their tenacity and their steadfastness. That’s usually the normal thing, but then there are times when the studio says, ‘Hey, we don’t get it. We wish we hadn’t made the movie.’ I mean, they had money in the film, just like we did, and they said, ‘We don’t want to do horror anymore,’ basically. And we hadn’t done any horror prior to that. We liked Clive (Barker), he’s a great guy. Ryuhei (Kitamura, the director) came in, we hired him, he worked really hard.”
Here Lucchesi pauses, and cocks his head slightly to the side for just a moment. “I like staying alive, I enjoy what I do, I enjoy the challenges,” he continues. “To make losers makes it harder to make anything, and we make a variety of product. I will tell you that had Midnight Meat Train worked, it would’ve been easier to make another Henry Poole. That’s the reality. Right now, in terms of the future, we’re looking at probably doing slightly bigger titles (at Lakeshore). We have Underworld 3, Crank 2, we have The Ugly Truth, which is a comedy with Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler; we’re doing Fame, The Lincoln Lawyer — they’re bigger titles, they’re not as susceptible to the (marketing) challenges of smaller movies. But we did a number of them. That’s Hollywood.”
Over on FilmStew, Richard Horgan has a fairly polite take-down of the forthcoming Anaconda 3 (which has apparently already debuted on Sci-Fi Channel, and hits DVD in October) and, more generally, the pipeline-product mindset that in particular Sony has employed in mining “franchise opportunities” (see Starship Troopers 3, I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, a couple Wild Things sequels, etcetera). As outside venture capital dries up and film companies seek to further mitigate risk, look for this trend to spread. There will be a day, in the not-too-distant future, when two-thirds to three-quarters of all studio films will spawn these sorts of spin-offs, and the hushed, shameful release campaigns that accompany them.
In 1940, relentless and punishing Nazi air strikes had Great Britain on its knees. The Royal Air Force was desperate for planes, and their supply of U.S. aircraft, sent on ship convoys, had been sunk in the icy Atlantic Ocean by prowling German U-boats. In response, a remarkable decision was made — to fly the planes individually across the unforgiving expanse of sea. Because of the official position of American neutrality, a message went out through only the “aviation grapevine” — that a secret operation in Montreal needed experienced civilian pilots. The benefits were irresistible — a large paycheck, a chance to fly the latest aircraft, and a vital and important job in aiding America’s ally to boot — but the risks were also colossal. These so-called cowboys of the air are among the forgotten heroes of World War II, can-do volunteers who embodied the improvisational spirit that was key to the eventual Allied victory.
Narrated by Carlo Rota, Flying the Secret Sky tells their story — of passionate, risk-taking young men braving treacherous winter skies over the North Atlantic in primitive, unarmed airplanes. Told largely by the pilots themselves, including one American civilian who ferried about Winston Churchill, this 75-minute film uses never-before-seen home movies and rare footage of the “Ferry Command” aircraft and crews to reveal one of the great unknown stories of both WW II and aviation history in general — the secret transfer of hundreds of military aircraft. Director William Vanderkloot skillfully interweaves the personal anecdotes into a compelling larger tapestry, and composer James Oliverio’s original work subtly underscores the tension of some of these voyages.
Housed in a regular Amray case, Flying the Secret Sky is presented in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen. There are unfortunately no supplemental bonus features, but for history buffs interested in more than just the formal, macro-picture provided in textbooks, this is a compelling documentary. To purchase the disc via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) C- (Disc)