Short Takes – October 2007

| October 1, 2007

After giving Ellen DeGeneres a go at hosting earlier this year (she did so-so), the Academy has put Jon Stewart back in the driving seat for Oscar Night ’08. The Comedy Central funnyman–who scored in ’06 with dry, impromptu zingers and priceless, Daily Show-style montages–will take the stage of the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on February 24th. Given the onslaught of political award bait this fall movie season, he should have plenty to riff on. Next up on my own personal Oscar host wish list: a certain lanky, redheaded, Jay Leno-replacing late night personality?
Thanks to the loose lips of a couple of cast members–one key, the other not so much–movie fans now know just a little bit more about next summer’s closely-guarded Indiana Jones sequel. The belated fourth entry in the blockbuster series will apparently be called, per overzealous MTV award show presenter Shia LeBeouf, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Leaves a bit to be desired, in a Phantom Menace kind of way, doesn’t it? Not three weeks later, 24-year-old extra Tyler Nelson blew the scoop on the film’s shrouded-in-secrecy storyline and major action set-pieces, spilling the beans to an Oklahoma newspaper and effectively putting his entire career in jeopardy. A furious Steven Spielberg has threatened to cut the young actor’s scenes from the movie. Look for the still-going-to-be-a-goddamn-smash-hit sequel in theaters everywhere on May 22nd, 2008.
Details are still sketchy, but reports have come in this month that George Miller, he of Mad Max and Happy Feet fame, will helm the big-screen, superhero jamboree Justice League of America. Based on the long-running DC series, the film would bring together comic book icons Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and The Flash to battle some massive (probably extraterrestrial) menace. It’s an ambitious project, to be sure, and one that has been inspiring rumors and speculation from different camps. Entertainment Weekly is claiming that it will be a live action affair, while online nerd Mecca Ain’t It Cool News is saying that Miller wants to do motion capture instead. Both sources report that current Bats Christian Bale and current Supes Brandon Routh are not being considered to reprise their roles in the movie. Who is being tapped? Possibly Jessica Biel, who would don the leotard and wield the golden lasso as Wonder Woman. Don’t expect this earth-shattering epic to arrive any time before the summer of 2010.
Oscar winner and first-rate narrator Morgan Freeman will play Nelson Mandela in The Human Factor, Warner Bros.’ just-announced adaptation of John Carlin’s nonfiction bestseller. Based on Mandela’s post-incarceration Presidency in South Africa, the film traces both the fall of apartheid and the country-uniting events leading up to the 1995 Rugby World Series. Matt Damon may co-star and Clint Eastwood, who guided Freeman to his 2004 Oscar win for Million Dollar Baby, may direct.
With Transformers an unqualified, multi-promotional, multi-generational smash hit all over the world, Michael Bay is back on top of the world. He’ll likely return to the director’s chair for 2009?s inevitable Transformers 2. What’s more, the critically reviled Summer Movie auteur continues unabated in his mission to remake and defang every important horror movie of the last three decades. Next on the, er, chopping block: Friday the 13th. Jonathon Liebesman, who made the bloody awful Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, is set to direct. Damian Shannon and Mark Swift, the writing team behind the quite enjoyable Freddy vs. Jason, will pen the script. Let’s hope it’s more Hills Have Eyes redux than Amityville re-do.
Two highly anticipated fall movies have claimed the top prizes at a pair of prestigious, international film fests. David Cronenberg‘s Eastern Promises–reviewed by yours truly on this very site, plug, plug–won top honors at Toronto several weeks ago, taking home the festival’s equivalent of Best Picture and Best Director. Shortly thereafter, voters at the Venice Film Festival gave the Golden Lion to Ang Lee‘s NC-17 rated WWII thriller, Lust, Caution. The former is doing modest business in theaters as we speak. The latter is set to open in big cities this week.
Martin Scorsese, ever the passionate rock-and-roll fan, has directed documentaries about Bob Dylan and The Band. Now, the newly minted Oscar winner is taking on a Beatle: Scorsese’s next doc pet project will focus on the life and work of George Harrison, and will feature (somewhat surprisingly) actual Fab Four tunes. It could be three years before the film hits theaters; until then, Scorsese and classic rock nuts will have to tide themselves over with Shine a Light, the director’s career-spanning Rolling Stones doc, due in ’08.
For all you Troma hounds, some interesting news: Lloyd Kaufman, director of such essential classics of cinema as The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High and Tromeo and Juliet, was just elected acting Chairman of the Independent Film and Television Alliance (IFTA). Finally, someone with a little class to lead the indie movie scene forward into the 21st century.
And in a shocking bit of candor, 1408 star John Cusack recently admitted that he has appeared in literally ten good films. The sardonic movie star declined to list them all, but here they are, by my own estimation: High Fidelity, Being John Malkovich, Grosse Pointe Blank, Bullets Over Broadway, Shadows and Fog, The Grifters, Say Anything, Eight Men Out, Better Off Dead, and Stand By Me. The rest is, yeah, basically booty cheddar.
The 2007 Emmys came and went, with very few genuine surprises and even fewer commendable recipients. On the plus side, David Chase‘s beloved mob epic The Sopranos picked up statuettes for Drama Series, Directing, and Writing, though its oft-honored cast went home empty-handed. The modestly amusing 30 Rock won the Comedy Series honors; I’d take the Tina FeyAlec Baldwin program over most of the other nominees, but this one really should have gone to TV’s best sitcom, The Office, which lost in every category except for writing. James Spader and Sally Field won for Drama, Ricky Gervais and America Ferrera for Comedy, and Broken Trail took home honors for Best Mini-Series.
They won the top Emmys, but what else do The Sopranos and 30 Rock have in common? As of this fall, a shared talent pool. Carmela Soprano herself, Edie Falco, will appear in at least three episodes of the sitcom’s sophomore season. Who she’ll play remains unclear, but kudos to NBC for bringing a little HBO grit to their Must-See Thursdays.
Doug Liman, Bourne Identity director and notorious flake, is said to be developing–are you ready for this?–a brand new Knight Rider series. Based on the 1980s David Hasselhoff vehicle (no pun intended), this modern update would bring KITT, the talking, crime-fighting car, into the 21st century as soon as fall of ’08. No word yet on who’s starring, but wouldn’t it be awesome if it was just Hasselhoff and that same old Pontiac Trans Am?
And in disheartening news, over-hyped nihilist and filth merchant Eli Roth will write an episode of the upcoming Heroes: Origins. Debuting in the spring, the spin-off series will focus on a new batch of fledgling superheroes who viewers can (Bad Idea Alert!) vote onto the regular series. NBC is courting various other directors and writers (including Superman Returns scribe Michael Dougherty), but if Roth is indicative of their standards, don’t expect much out of this primetime cash-in.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall–and no, that’s not a fat joke. Britney Spears had what may be the worst month of her personal and professional life, capped off this week by the court’s decision to afford sole custody of her two sons to ex-hubby Kevin Federline. In addition, the one-time pop megastar faces felony hit-and-run charges, drug-use accusations from her acting bodyguard, and threats of being dropped by her understandably miffed label. In September, Spears performed the opening number at the MTV Video Music Awards; her dazed stage presence, sloppy dance moves and less-than-flattering physique inspired (rather unfair) ridicule from fellow artists and mean-spirited entertainment journalists. Even the good news was really pretty bad news: NBC has been considering her as the co-star of a new Matthew Perry sitcom. Tempting as it is exploit her misfortune for easy laughs, one can only hope that things will get better for the former pop princess before they get any worse.
Many said it would never happen, but Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones are getting back on stage together to perform as the one and only Led Zeppelin. Unlike other recent reunions, though, this one promises to be a one-night-only kind of thing. The Zepp–with God knows who on sticks–will headline the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute concert at The O2 in London on November 26th. Those with the money and capabilities to get there, start looking into tickets now, cause those suckers are going to go fast.
The smoke has cleared, the dust has settled, and the people have spoken: Kanye West‘s Graduation beat 50 Cent‘s Curtis in the hyped-up sales showdown of September 11th. West sold an estimated 957,000 copies of his third LP in the first week of its release, whereas 50 moved only 691,000 copies. (Just for the record, country sensation Kenny Chesney came in a distant but respectable third with 387,000 units sold.) So does this mean that 50 Cent is retiring, as he promised to do if Kanye toppled him in Week #1? Alas, no, for the hip hop superstar backed out of the competition last minute when it became evident that he wasn’t going to come out on top. A utopian, 50-less music scene will just have to wait, I guess.
After years of speculation and false starts, live tracks and leaked demos–not to mention a boring Thom Yorke solo effort–alt-indie heavyweights Radiohead are finally releasing their seventh LP. When, you may ask? Try a few days from now! Rather than drum up months of buzz for their long-awaited follow-up to Hail to the Thief, Yorke and Co. kept details about the record under wraps, working diligently in seclusion on it and eschewing the usual single-driven publicity machine. On October 10th, fans can purchase In Rainbows directly off of Radiohead’s website. And here’s the most amazing part: you can pay whatever you want for it! The band is basically offering the album for free, with a donation of any size accepted as “payment” for its download. Diehards with a desire for a physical copy, liner notes and extensive goodies can order the official “diskbox” from the website–though the price then goes from 35 cents (or whatever) to about $80.00. The CD will also be released to standard consumer markets some time next spring, with a traditional CD price tag. All very cool news and a sign that the music industry, she may be a’changing…
We’ve heard The Beatles snake their way through any number of bootleg mash-ups (Grey Album, anyone?), but on December 4th, we’ll hear the first legal Beatles sample on an official, major-label release. The album is 8 Diagrams, the long overdue comeback record from the Wu-Tang Clan. The song is called “Gently Weeps,” and it will feature the Red Hot Chili PeppersJohn Frusciante on guitar. And the sample is from–you guessed it–“While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” that gorgeous, haunting George Harrison-penned tune from The White Album. Will RZA‘s historic coup clear the way for more legal Beatles sampling? Or will Fab Four mash-ups remain an underground game for up-and-coming DJs? Only time will tell, but I’m calling this now: Scorsese’s Harrison doc will close with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” over the end credits. Mark my words.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees have been announced, and they’re as eclectic as ever. The artists competing for a place are: Madonna, the Beastie Boys, the Dave Clark Five, Leonard Cohen, Afrika Bambaataa, John Mellencamp, the Ventures, Donna Summer and Chic. Were I a betting man, I’d say that Madge, the Queen of Disco, and the Artist Formerly Known as Cougar will join three Jewish boys from Queens as four out of the five inductees. As for the fifth: Leonard Cohen’s definitely your man.
And, finally, hot off the release of their stellar new album, Icky Thump, The White Stripes have sadly canceled all dates of their Fall U.S. and European tours. The rhyme and reason behind this treason? Drummer Meg White is allegedly suffering from “acute anxiety.” (Could that really be her in the online sex tape?) Regardless, let’s hope this isn’t early signs of a break-up–I prefer my Jack tempered with Meg, not mixed with some Detroit power-pop dude and two-thirds of The Greenhornes. You dig?

About the Author:

Jon Bastian Jon is a playwright and screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles, where he has been currently appearing in Flash Theater LA when not working for Cesar Millan to keep his dogs rolling in kibble.
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