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Short Takes – August 2007

by Andrew Dowd

This past Monday, we lost two legends of world cinema: Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni. The revered auteurs died within hours of each other, in their homes—Bergman was 89, Antonioni 94. Both men were acclaimed fixtures of European art house cinema in the 60s and 70s, and both continued to direct—for the screen, for television, and for the stage—in the autumn years of their lives. They will be missed.

Despite the fact that it’s little more than an extended episode of a once-great, now-mediocre show, The Simpsons Movie is officially a smash hit. The 18-years-in-the-making feature pulled in a whopping $74 million over the weekend, well outpacing studio estimates to become the third biggest opening for an animated film ever (behind those pesky Shrek sequels, natch). This suggests that the numerous publicity stunts pulled by Fox this summer to promote the movie—including naming Vermont the official home of Springfield and transforming several 7-11s into fully-functional Kwik-E-Marts—paid off in a big way. The Summer of a Thousand Blockbusters marches on…

What the fuck is Cloverfield? That was the question on a lot of folks’ minds over the July 4th weekend, when a mysterious teaser trailer for an unidentified J. J. Abrams project appeared before Transformers. The brilliant two-minute spot depicts a Manhattan, twenty-something party disrupted by cataclysmic explosions on the New York skyline. The teaser ends with the head of the Statue of Liberty careening into frame and what is presumably the date of release, 01/18/08. So what’s the scoop? Paramount is keeping details about the top-secret project under lock-and-keep, but here’s what we know: Abrams is producing, Matt Reeves (The Yards, Felicity) is directing, the cast is made up of mostly unknowns, and the entire film is being shot on commercial-grade digital video. The plot apparently concerns some sort of giant monster invasion, though the perspective never shifts from that of the stunned partygoers, who continue to film the ensuing carnage—think The Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla. Film Monthly will keep you updated as more information rolls in about this bizarre, home-movie/event-movie hybrid.

It’s made over $250 million in the U.S. alone, yet the theatrical release of the fifth Harry Potter film, The Order of the Phoenix, has been overshadowed by the enormous success of the seventh Harry Potter novel, The Deathly Hallows. The final entry in J.K. Rowling’s absurdly popular series sold a jaw-dropping 8.3 million copies in the States on its first day of release—it is officially the fastest selling book of all time. Phoenix, by contrast, is shaping up to be the least successful of the film series, though it’s still an enormous hit in a summer of enormous hits. Some have speculated that releasing the two products within days of each other actually may have hindered the box office success of the movie. What fan, after all, is going to go watch a filmed version of the fifth book when they have the last book in their grubby mitts? Anyway, expect two more hit movies and (mark my words, muggles) another hit novel some time down the road.

Attention all fans of high fashion, bad puns and beautiful, middle-aged women: a Sex and the City movie is finally on the way! Series creator Michael Patrick King will write and direct the big-screen adaptation, and all four of the show’s leading ladies will reprise their roles, including Kim Cattrall, who once held out on the project for salary reasons. Shooting begins in the fall, with an expected Spring ‘08 release. No word yet on plot details or additional casting, but the question of the day remains: will Sarah Jessica Parker finally stop holding out on us, follow the lead of her co-stars, and do a nude sex scene? Please?

Bergman and Antonioni won’t be alone when they reach that big art house Cineplex in the sky; a number of other world cinema icons shuffled off the mortal coil this past month. Yi Yi director Edward Yang succumbed to colon cancer on July 2nd after a seven-year struggle with the disease; he was 59. German actor Ulrich Mühe, promising new star of the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others, died of stomach cancer on July 22nd; he was 54. And French thesp Michel Serrault, of La Cage Aux Follies fame, passed away in his home on July 29th; he was 79 and also a victim of cancer.

All those untimely demises getting you down? Have a hearty laugh (or a righteous sneer) at recent announcements from Hollywood. Perhaps the most annoying: David Evans (Radio Flyer, The Sandlot) will reboot the Ace Ventura series as a family-friendly franchise! Big surprise, Jim Carrey’s not attached—they’re going the Son of the Mask route, and focusing on Ace’s pre-teen, crime-solving offspring. This one could actually be worse than Dumb and Dumberer!

More confusing than annoying are recent details surrounding the upcoming Wolverine film. The X-Men spin-off—which will focus on the origins and solo adventures of Hugh Jackman’s adamantium-clawed mutant—is being directed by neither Bryan Singer nor Brett Ratner, but rather… Gavin Hood? The Tsotsi director got the job after Twentieth Century Fox bigwigs caught an early cut of his political thriller Rendition, opening this fall stateside. Nevertheless, a bizarre choice.

From primetime sitcom star to daytime game show host: oh how the mighty have fallen! After months of speculation and several declined offers—including one to Rosie O’Donnell—it’s been announced that erstwhile funnyman Drew Carey will take over for Bob Barker as the new host of the Price Is Right. Fall 2007 is the beginning of the rest of Carey’s life.

In other TV replacement news, those unfortunate Jimmy Fallon rumors have turned out to be true: the former SNL cast-member will become the new host of NBC’s Late Night when Conan O’Brien graduates to The Tonight Show in 2009. Finally, Fallon’s annoying habit of losing his composure and cracking up every second he’s on camera will come in handy: there’s nothing B and C-list celebrities love more than ass-kissing talk show hosts that laugh at their lame jokes.

The Emmy nominations are in and, as per usual, they’re a mixed bag. Voters honored the swan song season of The Sopranos—which, if nothing else, deserved a nod for its daring, brazenly experimental finish—with a whopping 15 nominations. Beyond the unsurprising, requisite nominations for Grey’s Anatomy, House, Boston Legal, Ugly Betty, and (ugh!) Two and Half Men, the Academy managed to slip some pleasant surprises onto the ballot, like first-time nominations for Rainn Wilson, Kevin Dillon, and, especially, Jenna Fischer. Best of luck to them, those diamonds in the rough!

Guess who voters left off the ballot? How about disgraced Grey’s Anatomy costar Isaiah Washington, whom ABC gave the axe to back in June. Despite a plethora of very irate and very public rants, though, Washington has somehow managed to land a new TV role. He’ll guest star on NBC’s Bionic Woman, a post-modern update of the 1970s Lindsay Wagner vehicle. Let’s hope the new Isaiah Washington is better, stronger, faster, and able to keep his damn mouth shut.

Counter-culturists, cover your ears: Joni Mitchell is the latest 60s musical icon to be co-opted by Starbucks. The Canadian folk legend will release her 21st album, Shine, in conjunction with the coffee chain—but isn’t this the sort of cross-promotional, corporate money-grubbing that Mitchell was railing against in Rolling Stone five years ago? Is this yet another “contractual obligation”? Does she “hate music” so much that she wants to desecrate her legacy and piss off her loyal fans? Overreactions aside, a depressing development, especially considering we just lost Paul McCartney to Starbucks in March. Who’s next, Dylan?

Don’t tell The Dude, but The Eagles are recording a new album. The Long Road To Eden will be the California rock band’s first studio LP in 28 years. According to Don Henley, it’s dropping on October 30th. Depressing side-note: a new live DVD from the band will be exclusively available at Walmart. Starbucks and Walmart: the future leaders of the American music industry! I need a drink.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more entertainment news, at the top of the month, every month.

Most information is derived from IMDB's daily news, the Chicago dailies (Tribune and Sun Times), Entertainment Weekly,, various sources as listed, and by just paying attention.

Andrew Dowd is a writer and filmmaker living in Chicago.

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