Friday, January 26, 2007

Casting Call

Opening today is the movie Smokin' Aces starring Jeremy Piven as a strung out Las Vegas performer-turned-snitch who has all manner of mob hit men after him. It features an all-star cast including Andy Garcia, Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Alicia Keys and Wayne Newton. However, it looks pretty stupid and I have no intention of seeing it. In fact, here's a sample of what critics are saying: " exercise in excess gone over the top. It's so punch-drunk with antisocial behavior you don't know whether to laugh or write to the MPAA.", " awkward pelvic thrust of a movie that wishes it knew more cool moves than it actually does." and "...a movie that may not only be dumb in itself, but also the cause of dumbness in others." The only reason I am mentioning it here is Piven. I can't really tell how big of a role he has in this movie, but it is nice to see him getting out from behind the best friend type casting. He grew up with John Cusack and the two of them have appeared in 10 movies together including Gross Pointe Blank and Serendipity. Other than for playing Cusack's sidekick, Piven is also known for his part in the HBO series Entourage. Others might recognize him as evil Dean Pritchard from Old School. He also lent his voice talents to the movie Cars as well as three episodes of the animated super hero show Justice League as "The Elongated Man." Showing more of his comedic talents, Piven made brief appearance in the movie Rush Hour 2 as a clothing store clerk, seen below (1:04).

What first got me interested in Piven, however, was a feature on one of the HD channels that chronicled his trip to India. It was fascinating to see his approach to the country and the people. It was anything but touristy. I especially liked the part where he arrived in "Jew Town," a smallish Jewish community in the heart of India dating back several decades. Also interesting was his three day trip up a river just to see a small play being performed.

In a related matter, when my memoirs are adapted for the big screen, Jeremy Piven will be cast as my friend Matt Hansen on account of the fact they kind of look alike. Also, Princess Diaries star Anne Hathaway will play my sister Jenifer while Jim Caviezel (Frequency, Passion of the Christ) will be John Stockton from that time I got my picture taken with him when I was nine. The rest I'm leaving up to you, the readers. Who would play you in my movie? Feel free to comment below where it says "comments."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Image is Nothing. Humor is Everything.

I've found that I tend to have more respect for an actor when he makes a guest appearance on a TV show and totally makes fun of himself. The Simpsons have had numerous examples of this over the years from English Prime Minister Tony Blair to skate boarding legend Tony Hawk (I admit neither of them are actors, so I'll give Mel Gibson, Mark Hamill and Sideshow Luke Perry as further examples). Another show that was able to convince actors to be good sports was Arrested Development. Besides Carl Weathers and the parade of actors, including Richard Belzer and John Larroquette, that came to the charity dinner to save the the Bluthes, the show also featured hilarious cameos from Andy Richter, Thomas Jane, Harry Hamlin and Hollywood Icon Ron Howard—all playing themselves (and other characters as was the case with Richter, who played himself and his four identical quintuplet brothers). However, my favorite appearance on the show was Judge Reinhold playing a TV show judge complete with William Hung & His Hung Jury. Below is the clip (4:23).

Another good example of someone willing to make fun of himself is Topher Grace (of That 70's Show) in Ocean's 12. Grace had previously appeared as himself in Ocean's 11 along with a few other celebrities who were learning to play poker from Brad Pitt's character. Grace followed that up with his cameo in the sequel which can be seen below (0:59).

Incidentally, "that Dennis Quaid movie" that he "totally phoned in" was In Good Company which earned Grace positive reviews. Newsweek went as far as to suggest he might "inherit American cinema's Everyman throne passed down from Jimmy Stewart to Jack Lemmon to Tom Hanks." But that's a topic for another post.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Happy Birthday, James Earl Jones

Entertainment News would like to wish a happy 76th birthday to the great James Earl Jones. Though rarely taking the lead role, Jones has had small parts in several great movies. His very first film was the hilarious cold war satire Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb in which he played Lt. Lothar Zogg, one of the crew of the bomber piloted by Slim Pickens. Jones also played Admiral James Greer in Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan trilogy: The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games and Clear & Present Danger (in a related note, Entertainment News does not recognize Sum of All Fears as part of the Jack Ryan trilogy because of the involvement of Ben Affleck). Jones shows up at the end of Sneakers as Bernard Abbott of the NSA to bargain with Robert Redford. He also shows up at the end of The Sandlot as Mr. Mertle, the owner of the dog on the other side of the fence. In a role that showed he could do comedy as well, Jones played the part of John Dolby in the Dana Carvey movie Clean Slate. It's funny because he plays the district attorney who is in a wheelchair and a neck brace but still manages to wear a tie through the brace. In another comedy Jones played King Jaffe Joffer, Eddie Murphy's father in Coming to America. Of course two of his most famous roles came from his voice only. He was King Mufasa in Disney's The Lion King and Darth Vader in four of the six Star Wars movies, although he almost wasn't. George Lucas originally wanted Orson Welles to be voice of Darth Vader.

It hasn't all been small parts for James Earl Jones. He was Kevin Costner's costar in Field of Dreams and he starred opposite Richard Harris in the 1995 adaptation of Cry, The Beloved Country. His biggest role, however, came in The Great White Hope, a 1970 movie based on the life of early twentieth century boxer Jack Johnson, who was the subject the Ken Burns documentary Unforgivable Blackness. It was a role for which Jones had previously won a Tony for the Broadway version.

James Earl Jones does mostly voice work these days, which is one of my dream jobs (the other is NFL punter). However, I have a voice for newspaper to go along with my face for radio (see my post on beautiful people). Later this year the voice of James Earl Jones can be heard in 2004: A Light Knight's Odyssey, an animated science fiction film also featuring the voice talents of Casey Kasem, Samuel L. Jackson (or Samuel F. Jackson as I like to call him, in honor of his favorite word), Christian Slater and John Travolta.

Also celebrating birthdays today are Zooey Deschanel (27), Kid Rock (36), Jim Carrey (45), Muhammad Ali (65), Maury Povich (68), former Yankee bench coach Don Zimmer (76), Vidal Sassoon (79), Betty White (85), and Al Capone (108).

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Beautiful People in Soft Lighting

Fox TV announced recently that The OC would not be picked up for a fifth season. Entertainment News bids a fond farewell the show even though I have never seen a single episode. To me The OC has always transcended television. It represents what the entertainment industry should be all about—maybe not in terms of writing, character development or quality television production in general, but in terms of casting. I can't speak for the acting abilities of the cast (although Mischa Barton was excellent in The Sixth Sense as Kyra Collins, the girl who was poisoned by her mother), but I can say this: The cast of The OC is beautiful. You see, normal-looking people like me don't want to turn on the TV and see other normal-looking people. The world is full of normal-looking people. I want to see beautiful people on TV, although apparently not enough to watch The OC. Maybe that's why it's getting the ax.

With The OC's departure from the airwaves, it has become necessary to crown a new beauty queen. We here at Entertainment News have taken on the responsibility of choosing the show with not only the most beautiful cast, but the show that best represents beautiful people everywhere. It was difficult and I'm sure many people will disagree, but I'm afraid the decision is final. So here is the countdown of the 10 nominees given in ascending order of the number of votes received from our panel of judges:

(Others receiving votes: The Ghost Whisperer, ER, Desperate Housewives, America's Next Top Model, Fear Factor, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Battlestar Galactica and ABC Family Channel's Beautiful People and Wildfire)

10. Bones: Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz are both considered beautiful, but with only two main characters, the show was a long shot from the beginning.

9. What About Brian: I really know nothing about this show other than somebody out there is probably watching because they think Brian or his friends are hot.

8. CSI: Miami: David Caruso amazes me. Not since William Shatner have we seen such an unattractive actor trying to get by on looks alone. Don't ask me why the ladies love him. It's a good thing he has a strong (and by strong I mean beautiful) supporting cast.

7. Without a Trace: I have to agree with Entertainment Weekly's assessment that adding Roselyn Sanchez to the cast did little more than increase the amount of great hair on the show, but at least there is now male-female balance. Office romance has never seemed so dangerous.

6. Lost: Sure, they look like beach bums, but they're beautiful beach bums. Do not underestimate the talents of the lighting crew and makeup artists. It's their job to make sure the cast looks beautiful.

5. Friday Night Lights: Since my post inviting people to watch Friday Night Lights, there were a few episodes where things got a little soap opera-ish, but then they evened out a little bit. The teen angst is still top notch, something I'm sure OC fans can appreciate.

4. Smallville: This is the longest running of the nominees, something that has only been made possible by adding more and more beautiful people to the cast over the years in order to combat the bad plot twists and bizarre story lines. Maybe adding more beautiful people would have saved The OC.

3. Grey's Anatomy: As someone once said of this show, "It's like ER, only sexier." What more needs to be said?

2. One Tree Hill: This show is the epitome of everything the old WB came to stand for: beautiful teens with problems bigger than yours. Somehow it survived the WB/UPN merger, but is still all about hot teen angst.

1. Las Vegas: While the show's creator may not be beautiful, he has done well to capture the superficiality that is Las Vegas. I don't watch most shows on this list, and Las Vegas is no exception (although I did see part of the episode where Jean-Claude Van Damme guest appeared as himself and died on the show), but with The OC's departure, it is comforting to know that there is a show carrying on the tradition of providing an outlet where normal-looking people like me can go to see what we should aspire to look like.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Stomp That Inner City

There is new must-see movie that opens January 12 called Stomp the Yard. In it DJ, a troubled youth from inner-city Los Angeles goes to the historically black Truth University in Atlanta, GA. When adapting to his new environment proves difficult, DJ finds solace in joining a struggling fraternity where he begins implementing his street-style dance moves in an attempt to help the step team win the coveted National Step Show Championship. Below is the trailer.

Be warned, this movie is not for the uninitiated. No, I don't mean the scene of violence, some sexual material and language that give the movie its PG-13 rating. Nor am I referring to the "mad skillz" on display in the dance sequences. What I'm saying is that before you see this, the latest inner-city-themed, coming-of-age, mismatched-love, dance-as-a-way-of-life movie, you must pay your dues and see the films (listed below) that paved the yard that is being stomped.

Step Up (2006)
Tagline: Every second chance begins with a first step.
Starring: Your basic male and female eye candy
Plot: The only thing that stands between Tyler, a rebel from the wrong side of the tracks, and an unfulfilled life are his dreams of one day making it. The only thing standing in the way Nora, a privileged ballet dancer attending the ultra-elite Maryland School of the Arts, and of her brilliant future is finding a great dance partner for her senior showcase. As sparks fly between them, both on and off stage, Tyler realizes he has just one performance to prove that he can step up to a life far larger than he ever imagined.
Comments: What is it with railroad tracks separating the high class from the riffraff? It's a good thing some people are brave enough to cross those tracks or we wouldn't have movies like this.

Take the Lead (2006)
Tagline: Never Follow.
Starring: Antonio Banderas
Plot: A former professional dancer (Banderas) volunteers to teach dance in the New York public school system. While his background first clashes with his students' tastes, together they create a completely new style of dance. Based on the story of ballroom dancer Pierre Dulane.
Comments: Did you see Mad Hot Ballroom, the documentary this movie is based on? The kids were like 12. Somehow that wasn't dramatic enough so for the fictional version they made them all troubled inner-city youths. Antonio Banderas should stick to directing Melanie Griffith movies.

Honey (2003)
Tagline: Her dream. Her terms.
Starring: Jessica Alba, Mekhi Phifer
Plot: A sexy, tough music video choreographer shakes up her life after her mentor gives her an ultimatum: sleep with him or be blacklisted within their industry. Honey comes alive on the dance club floor, where her training collides with her passion and her smooth moves get her noticed.
Comments: This is a pivotal role for Alba because she's essentially saying to herself "I can't act, but I'm hot. By dancing maybe people won't notice the bad acting, but they will notice that I'm hot." Maybe more dancing would have made The Fantastic Four a better movie.

Drumline (2002)
Tagline: Half time is game time.
Starring: Nick Cannon, Orlando Jones
Plot: The controlled mayhem of the football games makes way for the blaring sound of trumpets and the heart-thumping rhythm of drums. Into this rigorous, ritualistic world comes a kid from a different culture. Devon Miles, a young, gifted hip-hop drummer from Harlem, wins a full music scholarship to a Southern university with the hopes of gaining a spot as a drummer on the school's renowned marching band's drumline. One problem: He marches to the beat of his own drum.
Comments: While not technically a dance movie, all the elements are here: a fish out of water trying to prove himself, the pressure of competition, misguided youth and mismatched lovers that must overcome the odds. Orlando Jones made the jump from 7-Up commercials to this.

Save the Last Dance (2001)
Tagline: The only person you need to be is yourself.
Starring: Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas
Plot: Sara, a 17-year-old high-school student, sets her sights on being a professional ballerina, but she has to put her plans on hold when her mother is killed in a car accident and she is forced to move to her father's bleak Chicago neighborhood. Intimidated by inner-city life, she turns to the clubs for refuge, where she meets Derek, a young black man who shares her love for dancing. As their mutual respect evolves, they soon discover that peer pressure is a more formidable obstacle to romance than differences in race or class.
Comments: The only thing that would have made this movie better is a back story about an inner-city basketball league run by the gangs and how Derek must hit the winning shot to avoid a troubled future.
Optional Related Viewing: Save the Last Dance 2 (2006). This straight-to-video sequel (with an entirely different cast) follows Sara to Julliard where she tangles with a rival and hilarity no doubt ensues.

Bring It On (2000)
Tagline: May the best moves win.
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Jesse Bradford, Gabrielle Union
Plot: A champion high school cheerleading squad discovers its previous captain stole all their best routines from an inner-city school and must scramble to compete at this year's championships.
Comments: "Cheerleaders are dancers who have gone retarded," says the dance instructor played by Ian Roberts (who also played the literal doctor on Arrested Development). What I find interesting, is the titular line "Bring it on" is never actually uttered in this movie. It's always the truer, more inner-city version "Bring it."
Optional Related Viewing: Bring It on Again (2004) and Bring It On: All or Nothing (2006). The second of these straight-to-video sequels stars Hayden Panettiere. Without this role under her belt, her portrayal as a cheerleader in Heroes might not be as convincing.

Dirty Dancing (1987)
Tagline: Have the time of your life.
Starring: Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, Jerry Orbach
Plot: Spending the summer in a holiday camp with her family, Frances ("Baby") falls in love with the camp's dancing teacher.
Comments: Forbidden love and risqué dancing. How can a movie that sounds so bad be so boring?
Optional Related Viewing: Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004). This is essentially the same movie but set in a pre-revolution Havanna so that the race relations can make the film more relevant. And yes, Patrick Swayze does make an appearance.