Thursday, April 30, 2009


I get tons of promotional SWAG sent to my office @ 30 Rock. Comes with the REEL TALK gig. Kinda nice because it allows me to decorate my office in my favorite style - Geek Chic.

I also get some really useless crap. The picture at the top shows a dvd (I must get 15-20 dvds per week) of "The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series" that just arrived today. And yes, that's a mini-Tribble you see next to the dvd.

As a guy who has a talking Yoda doll, a missile-firing Iron Man action figure, a Jack Bauer kicking down a door action figure and a mini-bust of Bug from The Micronauts taking up space in his cubicle, I'm not going to knock anyone wanting a toy Tribble.

I just don't want one. I mean, who the hell's going to know what it is anyway? It looks like some weird, homeless Troll. Maybe i'll take it home and let my dog Bernice play with it.

I give it 2 days before this Tribble's toast.

The summer movie season's always good for lots of SWAG. I'll keep you posted on other stuff I get.

Meantime, anyone want a Nacho Libre bobblehead??

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

We Don't Need Another 'Heroes' (season), Do We?

Season 3 of "Heroes" wrapped up last night. Don't worry, this is a spoiler-free post. Mainly because I have no idea what's going on in that show, because I haven't seen a single frame since I saw the Season 3 premiere @ Comic Con last summer. Which really says something about the decline of the show.

When an uber-geek like me isn't watching a show about people with extraordinary powers (airing on NBC, the network that signs my checks, BTW), a show that owes a HUGE debt to one of my favorite comic series, The Uncanny X-Men, then something's wrong.

Zach Quinto, who plays the main baddie on the show, Sylar, is dropping by the REEL TALK studios today to talk up "Star Trek." In case you've been locked up at ShadyBrook the past few weeks, he plays Spock in the reboot, which is FANTASTIC.

But Trek is a post for another day. Today is about "Heroes" and whether it should return next season. I'm looking forward to hearing what Zach thinks should happen with the show.

It will return, FYI. NBC is planning on bringing it back for 18-20 episodes, slightly fewer than this season. From what I hear, the show does great on DVD and overseas, so financially it's still a winner for the Peacock (yippee for us!).

But creatively, the show just has never been able to follow up the incredible promise it showed in its first season. Part of that is unavoidable. How do you follow up "Save the cheerleader, Save the world?"

It's the same problem "24" had in season 6, when they nuked LA in hour 4. How the hell do you build on that and not come up short? Serial dramas, especially those like "Heroes" that are based in the sci-fi/fantasy genres, with alternate realities, time travel, superpowers, tend to lose steam after awhile because you simply run out of ways to keep the audience interested.

The mythology gets too convoluted, characters get stale, plots get recycled....any of this sound familiar to you "Heroes" fans out there?

The creative team behind "Lost" recognized this problem, and took steps to fix their ailing show when it went off the rails with Season 2. What did they do? Well, besides burying Paolo and Nikki alive, they decided to end their show. They announced season 6 would be the end of it.

Ask anyone who watches "Lost" and they will tell you that ever since an end-date was set, the show has been firing on all cylinders. It's as if the writers, seeing the finish line, have been freed to do anything & everything to make the last few miles of this mystifying, occassionally maddening marathon of a show as fascinating as possible.

The argument has been made recently that high-concept shows like "Lost", "Heroes" and the unfairly short-lived "Life on Mars" would be better served to run as limited run series. Perhaps a single season, or 2 or 3 seasons at most.

Not only would it give the writers a chance to map out a clear journey for the storyline and its characters, but it would also improve the chances of drawing top- caliber actors to projects, because they wouldn't have to worry about committing long-term to TV work, which, due to the long seasons, tend to be much more grueling than film work (I know, poor little actors, having to spend all day in luxury trailers).

Would "Heroes" be better served by announcing that next season would be its last? I think so. Then we could FINALLY see the show's creative staff stop holding back and let these characters realize their true potential. As it is, I think the show's ultimate legacy is that of disappointment. "Heroes" is like the cant-miss college football prospect taken #1 overall in the NFL Draft, who, while not a complete Ryan Leaf-like bust, falls far short of a Hall of Fame career. A journeyman QB, who once he retires, leaves no lasting accomplishments.

Considering how good "Heroes" was at the beginning, that would be a shame. Unfortunately, unless the PTBs make some dramatic changes, that's exactly where it's headed: The Hall of OK TV.

To Torture or Not To Torture: The 24 Dilemma

Almost since it launched seven seasons ago, "24" has come under fire from critics who say it's a right-wing wish fulfillment fantasy masquerading as a TV series. As someone who has seen every single episode of the show (at least twice), I disagree.

I think the show has shown over the years of showing the consequences - political and personal - of choosing the greater good over individual rights. This season alone that topic has been front and center as Jack Bauer's methods have been questioned by everyone from Congressmen to his temporary fieldmates at the FBI.

Does Jack get away with murder? Of course he does, ultimately. Jack Bauer is one of the most compelling characters in the history of television, and without him, "24" wouldn't work.

Unfortunately, there are some people out there who do tend to blur reality with the DVR program guide. For those poor misguided folks, my buddy and former co-worker Jay DeDapper has a few words. Check out his diatribe about "24's" oft-used torture methods and why in the real world, Jack Bauer would have been downsized for poor on-the-job performance.

24 Sucks and Torture Doesn't Work from Jay DeDapper on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

STV Review: Alien Raiders

One of the main perks of my gig as REEL TALK showrunner is that I get sent lots of DVDs. TONS. I'm not kidding. So many regular & Blu-ray discs come across my desk/cubicle @ 30 Rock, that every few weeks I have huge 'everything must go!' giveaways for everyone at WNBC (our show is produced by WNBC for NBC Uni Syndication).

I don't give all of them away. I pass on some DVDs to certain people in the building who help me whenever I need assistance to make things happen, whether for the show or for one of our many interview guests. Some may call this a bribe but I look at it as rewarding ingenuity.

Still others I hold on to - mainly direct-to-DVD and movies making their Blu-ray debut -- so I can watch them and write reviews for the REEL TALK website. Alison & Jeffrey have to watch so many movies that they literally don't have enough time in the day to add films not getting theatrical releases to their must-see pile.

That's where I come in.

I love watching Action, Horror and Sci-Fi movies, any and all kinds. And those genres are well-represented in the STV category (STV standing for Straight-to-Video). And with more and more of these films featuring well-known stars (Sam L. Jackson, Eva Mendes, Gerard Butler and Ewan McGregor are just some of the familiar names toplining STVs I've been sent recently), Ive decided it's time to give some of the films a closer look and see if they live down to the turgid reputation films that skip the cinema have, or if there's an occasional diamond in the rough out there the studios missed ("Slumdog Millionaire" was thisclose to going STV, after all).

Yep, just what the Web needs: More movie reviews!

Our first STV is "Alien Raiders." Aside from being a hybrid of all three of my favorite film genres, it also stars one of my favorite TV actors, Carlos Bernard (AKA Tony Almeida from "24").

Bernard is the leader of a militia-style group tracking alien life forms who have arrived on our planet. These alien beings plant themselves inside a host human body ('Alien' style) and then at some point, take it over and turn that host body into a mutated, grotesque mess. The King & Queen are their target, because if you kill the parent aliens, they can't produce more disgusting little critters.

The 'Alien Raiders' track the aliens to a small town Arizona supermarket. At closing time, Bernard's team moves in and stages a holdup to seal off the market and contain the aliens. One member of the team is a spotter, someone who has the ability to spot an infected human. If the spotter IDs you as being infected, another member of the team puts a bullet in your brain. As they explain in the movie, you're already dead, anyway.

(One apparently becomes a spotter by being a junkie. the chemicals in your system prevent an alien from completely infecting you, but with enough alien stuff inside you to help you detect them. Oh, and the only way to stay alive is to keep using.)

As luck (and cinematic plot devices) would have it, this market is where the town sheriff's stepdaughter works, so soon the local police surround the building and now we have an Alien Search & Destroy mission disguised as a supermarket heist, combined with a hostage crisis.

Soon, complications arise and the raiders are forced to improvise to figure out which of the hostages is infected. Director Ben Rock uses the supermarket setting for some effective cat-and-mouse sequences.

Having one main set piece probably saved him a ton of production costs, but he should have figured out a way to get more lights. I know some of the murky photography was by design, to disguise the barebones monster makeup and to emphasize the scarier moments, but some scenes are so dark you can't make out what the hell's going on.

The script is bare bones and contains the usual types of characters who populate these kinds of movies. As the grim-faced, tortured leader, Bernard brings his full bag of Almeida glares and anguished looks to the film. He even utters one of his "24" character's most popular catchphrases at one point. Rockmond Dunbar (from "Prison Break") displays his usual angry guy gruffness as the commando team's most tightly-wound member.

And can someone please explain to me why Matthew St. Patrick ALWAYS plays a cop? First on "All My Children," then on "Six Feet Under" and "Reunion," and now here, as the ex-big city cop now hickville sheriff. Would it kill him to play a bad guy??

The hostages are, for the most part, forgettable. You have the young victims, the cowardly manager, the practical older guy and the annoying loser you hope and pray gets killed.

The standard plot holes exist in the story. How does a group of ex-Jet Propulsion Laboratories workers suddenly transform into a commando unit spouting NAVY SEAL lingo, with top-shelf weaponry and equipment? Why are they the only ones who know about these alien invaders?

How "Alien Raiders" unfolds, however, is somewhat entertaining, and rather merciless. The ending seemed unnecessary in some ways, but there is a nice twist that leaves open the possibility for more sequels.

Something else the movie has going for it is its conciseness. There should be a law that no STV pic is longer than 100 minutes. AR clocks in at 85 min., which is perfect. You want science fiction with character development? Go buy "Blade Runner" or check out "Moon" in June. For a nice afternoon diversion, "Alien Raiders" does the trick.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tribeca '09 - LOVE THE BEAST a Must-See

Last night I saw a film that reminded me why film festivals are so great.

"Love the Beast," actor Eric Bana's directorial debut, simply blew me away. The film is part love letter to his beloved Ford Falcon GT Coupe, part tribute to loyalty, family and friendship, and a little bit of a psyche profile. It's relaxed and refreshingly random in how it jumps from his younger days to the present day, where he's an actor thisclose to superstardom.

Bana mixes in incredible home movie footage from his formative days as a gearhead Aussie teenager. We actually see him and his buddies (they are all still friends today, BTW) working on the car, the first one he ever owned. As he says during an early part of the film (Bana serves as narrator), the car - and the garage at his parents' house where they worked on it - was like the campfire his buddies gathered around.

You know when you get together with old friends you haven't seen in years, either for dinner or for a few beers? The parade of memories and stories and ball-busting jokes that inevitably spill out? Those moments become rarer as we get older, due to distance and adult responsibilities. Sometimes though, friends drift apart because the things they had in common as kids change, until one day you all realize you've taken completely different paths into adulthood.

I imagine that happens alot with people who became famous athletes/musicians/actors. For Bana, the car provided a chance to have one more 'night out with the boys.' Except this one lasted a bit longer. They rebuilt the car - AGAIN - to race it in The Targa Tasmania Rally, one of the most grueling road races in the world.

The footage of Bana in the race is riveting, but the race isn't what this is about. It's about his friends, and holding on to something that has been a part of his life for 25 years, about tradition.

On another note, seeing Bana as a youth in those home movies not only helped me understand his passion for cars at an early age, but it made me wish my parents would have had the foresight to get a video camera and tape some of the day-to-day of my younger days.

Another highlight: Bana's conversation with fellow car nut Jay Leno. Listening to these two talk about their wheels with such ... affection .... gives true insight into the mind of a 'car guy.'

Now I'm not a car guy. I live in NYC. I don't even own a car anymore. Even when I lived in Miami, a car was just a means to an end, an appliance that took me to work, to the beach, to the movies. It never meant more than that to me.

Watching "Love the Beast" helped me understand why to some people, four wheels and fuel-injected engines mean so very much.

The film debuts Tuesday @ Tribeca. We have Bana coming in for an in-studio interview about it that will air next week on REEL TALK. I'll post a link to it here afterward.

Talk about a busy summer. Not only is Bana making his directorial debut with this doc, he's also co-starring in "Star Trek", Judd Apatow's "Funny People" and "The Time Traveler's Wife." WHEW!

Monday, April 20, 2009

'The Hangover': Perfect Cure for Blockbuster Blues

Psst. Wanna know the main contender for sleeper hit of Summer 2009?

"The Hangover."

Raunchy, vulgar, and utterly unafraid to sacrifice political correctness in the name of a good laugh, this is the kind of comedy Hollywood's tried to make over and over again since "Wedding Crashers", only this time they got it right.

The movie doesn't even open until June 5th, but if the laughs I heard at the screening I attended Monday were any indication, this is this year's "Superbad." And just like that film was centered around that time-honored, and Hollywood-immortalized tradition -- the end of the school year party -- this movie is based around another oft-used plot device: The Vegas bachelor party.

You know what? This is the best bachelor party movie EVER. Even better than "Very Bad Things."

It's so good it even made me like Bradley Cooper. And I usually HATE Bradley Cooper.

The guy who everyone's going to leave the theater talking about though, is Zach Galifianakis. He plays Alan, a guy who takes socially awkward to new heights. He steals every scene. Every single one. This movie will do for him what "Knocked Up" did for Seth Rogen and "Superbad" did for Jonah Hill.

Watch for "The Hangover" in theaters June 5th. And check your car's trunk for limp-wristed Asian dudes with a man purse.

'STAR TREK' Takes Bold Leap Into New Film Frontier

We're just under two weeks from the start of the summer movie season, and I can already tell you one sure-fire blockbuster:

"Star Trek."

I saw the film Monday night along with a small group of journalists in Midtown Manhattan, and while I can't do a detailed review right now (because the suits at Paramount would have several farm animals if I did), I can say that J.J. Abrams has done masterful work reinvigorating Gene Roddenberry's iconic franchise.

The casting of the major characters, especially Chris Pine as young, hotheaded James T. Kirk, and Zach Quinto as Spock, is dead-on. The only one who I wasn't sure of was Karl Urban as Bones McCoy, and even he won me over by the end. And Simon Pegg as Mr. Scott...well, he enlivens the picture as only Pegg can.

Eric Bana is ferocious as Nero, the Romulan driven mad by revenge and looking to make the entire Federation pay.

No plot spoilers here, just know that certain staples of Abrams storytelling will seem familiar to "Alias" and "Lost" fans in due time.

More Along with writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the team behind "Transformers" and the upcoming sequel), Abrams has crafted a film that not only tips the hat many times to TOS fans (The Original Series) but also welcomes non-Trekkies with open arms into an action-packed, and often very funny thrill ride. It also sets the stage for a series of fresh adventures with the classic characters who first made Trek a worldwide legend.

It's not "Wrath of Khan" good -- after all, who could ever top two titans of scenery chewing like Shatner & Montalban? -- but "Star Trek" is exactly the kind of kick in the shorts sci-fi's warhorse property needed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Broadway Show For The Ages

Booze, babes and tunes - Is that something you might be interested in?

If you've been searching for a great idea to gather all your friends but have been struggling to get out of the 'dinner & a movie' rut all get-together gangs endure, head to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on 47th St. in Midtown (Manhattan for those out-of-towners reading this).

That's where you will find the rowdiest, headbangingest time on Broadway: "Rock of Ages."

A simultaneous sendup of and homage to 80's heavy metal, the show features a soundtrack that would make K-Tel proud. Everyone from Pat Benatar to Whitesnake to Journey get their turn to blow out the Marshall Amps ... er overhead speakers.

There's even an American Idol presence. Constantine Maroulis from Season 4 is the star. Here's the story: It's 1987 LA and a mousy, wanna-be rocker named Drew (Constantine) falls for a farmgirl named Sheri fresh off the midwest bus. The famous Sunset Strip bar they work at, The Bourbon Room, is about to be bulldozed by greedy developers looking to turn glam metal's birthplace into a strip mall. Faster than you can say Dee Snider, the Motley Crew at the club say, 'We're Not Gonna Take It' and galvanize to save their precious place.

Along the way, you hear some truly inspired (and downright hilarious) interpretations of some of the most memorable metal songs of the era.

Wait, that's still not enough to convince you to check out the show? Would it help to point out that they sell alcohol during the show, and waiters come down the aisles to take your order?

[You can have your can of Coors Light brought right to your seat. Classy!]

So break out that Van Halen "Diver Down tour" t-shirt, your ratty denim jacket and go check out "Rock of Ages."

After all, when will you ever get a chance to flick your Bic at a Broadway show again?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Garner In Need of Career Counseling

Why isn't Jennifer Garner a bigger star?

After blowing up with "Alias", she turned her Emmy-nominated turn as Sydney Bristow into what seemed to be a sure-fire feature career. She's not only gorgeous and athletic, she's likeable. You want to cheer Jenny on, whether it's as the grieving daughter in "Daredevil" or in the saccharine sweet "13 Going on 30." You want to her get the guy. You even want her to divorce the guy, when the guy's a creep like Jason Bateman in "Juno."

Why isn't Jennifer Garner a bigger star?

At first glance you would think it's because she's been largely out of the scene the past few years starting a family with hubby Ben Affleck. Nothing wrong with that if that were the case, but it's not. 2008 was the first calendar year without a Jenny Garner project since her "Alias" breakout. In 2007, she co-starred in "The Kingdom" and "Juno." The latter was obviously a sensation but "The Kingdom" was an underrated thriller that didn't find the audience it deserved, mostly because anything to do with the war on terror became box-office poison.

No, family life isn't why she's not the star she should be. It's because she's being wasted in crap like "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," a putrid RomCom opening May 1st. I caught an early screening for 'editorial consideration,' which is industry speak for screenings for show producers like myself to decide who they want to try and book from the film. I had a feeling from the trailer that Matthew McConaughey would be doing his usual 'fratboy ladies man w/a drawl' schtick, and I was right. His career is bleeding out too, but it's from a self-inflicted wound, so no advice for him.

But Jenny ...ahh, Jenny Jenny ('Who Can I turn to?' Sorry, couldn't help myself). You need to fire your manager/agent/palm reader/barista...whoever brought you this script. Because there's no way a smart girl like you read the script for this steaming pile of dog dung and said, 'this is a perfect comeback vehicle. Sign me up!'

A twist on "A Christmas Carol" that's set during the winter but NOT Christmas? Set around a wedding weekend at the stereotypical lavish estate with every stock character cliche from Hollywood's romantic comedy playbook?? Seriously, didn't the fact that it co-starred McConaughey, the King of brainless chick flicks the past few years, trigger any warning bells?

I at least hope you cashed a fat check for this.

I get the whole 'you do one for them, and one for you' business strategy in Hollywood. Its worked for lots of people, like George Clooney. But if you're going to pick a nice fluffy better be a good one. All you need to know about "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" is that my wife - a McConaughey fan, FYI - wanted to walk out 30 minutes in. Walk out. OF A FREE MOVIE!

Why isn't Jennifer Garner a bigger star?

Beats me, but here's what I would tell her if she asked me for career advice over iced caramel macchiatos (she strikes me as a fan of that type of drink):

1) Pick better scripts. Let me repeat myself: PICK BETTER SCRIPTS! I know, easier said than done. But its certainly not impossible to do. Just ask Christian Bale. Or Angelina Jolie. Even Rachel McAdams.

2) When in doubt, pass on anything Matthew McConaughey's attached to.

3) Leave the romantic comedy genre behind. You've taken three swings ("13 Going on 30", "Catch & Release" & now "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past") and whiffed. Head back to the dugout, grab new lumber and look for a better pitch your next at-bat. Comedies are fine, especially when Ricky Gervais is writing/directing it. So "This Side of the Truth" (due out in Sept) sounds very promising. But if Ricky hands you a re-worked draft that finds you in some cheesy embrace with the movie's man-candy, burn it and stay in your trailer until they rewrite it.

4) Focus on dramas. Flex those thesp muscles, baby! Look how well "Juno" did. I'm encouraged by one of your upcoming projects, "Be With You." A romantic drama is right in your wheelhouse.

5) ACTION! You kicked your hubby's ass in "Daredevil" and God knows, you were unbelievable in the climax of "The Kingdom." Find a script that shows off your athleticism and your sensitive side. There has to be some good action movie scripts out there for strong women. Get your team to dig 'em out, use your "Alias" experience to fine-tune it, and make it work, girl! We need more female action stars, and since Angelina has 5 kids and you only have 2, you're in perfect position.

There you have it. Free advice, from someone who wants you to achieve the stardom you very much deserve.

Why isn't Jennifer Garner a bigger star?

Who really knows, but I know she should be.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The 24 Twist

**IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THIS WEEK'S EPISODE OF 24, STOP READING NOW. (No, seriously. Stop reading now)**

Anyone else out there in Jack Bauer-land who feels as betrayed as I do by Monday's ep of "24"? I don't mean by Tony Almeida, who pulled a heel turn reminiscent of the glory days of the NWO by smothering Agent Larry Moss at the end of an otherwise fantastic hour. I mean by the "24" writers.

Last night's absurd, out-of-left-field twist pretty much canceled out many of this season's best moments.

Much of this resurgent season has been about the redemption of Tony, only the second greatest character in "24" history behind Jack. There was that great moment early on when Tony, in FBI custody nearly pushed Jack to the breaking point only to whisper to him the code that allowed him to discover he was an inside man. And when he warned Jack not to ignore his own rules about 'collateral damage' to save a Port Authority cop, only to have Bauer's back in a 2-on-9 firefight.

And last night, he saved half the east coast from Jonas Hodges' missile brigade all by himself. BY HIMSELF. With the FBI guys on the outside looking in, Tony took on the Starkwood mercs to save the day. Why would he do that if he was a Starkwood mole, or a plant for the 'higher ups' Hodges referred to in the White House? I can understand deep cover, but he had plenty of chances to not put himself in harm's way without drawing suspicion.

And I don't wanna hear about suspending disbelief. I'm the world's biggest 24 apologist, but where do they go from here? And even better question, why did they choose to take the story in this direction?

With Jack incapacitated by the bio-toxin, Tony stepped up to be The Man in the field. Instead of rolling with that and finally - FINALLY - giving much of the 24 universe what it's been hoping would happen for years: A Jack & Tony team-up. The role reversal that put Jack in the unfamiliar spot of tech support while Tony took point in the field has been a huge success the past few weeks, humanizing the once-indestructible Jack Bauer while elevating the Soul Patch from sidekick to partner.

Instead, the writers took the lazy way out, sacrificing story coherence for pure shock value. I can't wait for the obligatory exposition scene in hour 23 where Tony is cornered by Jack and tries to make sense of his actions.

He should save his breath and just give us one of the Almeida patented open-mouthed stares of anguish. Because there is no way they can make all this fit into anything resembling consistent character actions.

Tony's road to redemption has reached a dead end. There is no way for him to come back from this. It's one thing to kill a merc in Emerson's crew for info about the planned White House break-in. He gets the 'in the line of duty' pass for that.

That's why, at the start of the season, when we first thought he was a bad guy, he didn't crash the passenger jet. It was the first indicator that all was not what it appeared to be with Tony. Because crashing a plane full of people can't be forgiven, no matter what kind of Op you're running.

Know what else can't be forgiven? Smothering an FBI agent - a genuine good guy - in a mouthful of his own blood.

That's it. Tony's gone to the dark side, and he's not coming back.

Frankly, that stinks. A great character wasted. And a fabulous comeback year for my favorite show has been derailed. I'll still be watching, hoping they get back on track. But to be honest, I think Jack getting a happy ending has a better chance of occurring.

Tribeca 2009

awkward interviews

Watch Kevin Costner Interviews exclusively from Reeltalk.

Here's exhibit A on why sometimes it's sometimes better not to meet your heroes. I've been covering the Tribeca Film Festival junket for three consecutive years, as part of the festival coverage we do on REEL TALK & also WNBC (our show is owned by WNBC and syndicated by NBC Uni Syndication), since the Peacock is a media sponsor.

That means I've had the 'pleasure' of sitting down with co-founders Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal each year. Alot of my friends think that's extremely cool, getting a chance to sit down with Travis Bickle, Jimmy Conway, young Vito Corleone, Neil McAuley for goodness sake!

Cool it may be; good interview it is not. As great an actor as he is, 'Bob' (as his friends call him; I am NOT a friend but I do it anyway) is equally as bad when a mic is clipped on his shirt and questions are tossed his way.

He's not rude. Very polite and he tries to answer what you ask him, but ... it just never turns out well. Hit the clip above to see this year's edition of Avila's Awkward interview with De Niro - which actually is probably the best one I've ever done with him.

And at least he did confirm that there is no truth to the rumor that he'll reprise his Neil McAuley character from "HEAT" (my favorite De Niro role, BTW) in a video game spinoff of the film. That stinks.

A McG Musical 'Awakening'?

When I first read this article about "Terminator Salvation" director McG circling a movie adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical "Spring Awakening," I immediately cringed.

As a BIG fan of the show, I'd rather not have my very fond memories of that great musical ruined by an out-of-his-league director (that would be YOU I'm referring to, Chris Columbus, and your castrated take on RENT). However, McG may actually be the perfect guy to adapt a musical about masturbating teenagers in 19th century Germany.

[I know what you're thinking. Another musical about masturbating teenagers in 19th century Germany?!]

McG's first studio pic, "Charlie's Angels", was basically a long-form music video. Hyper-kinetic editing, loud, catchy music, ridiculously gorgeous people filling the screen...that kind of style may be what's needed to successfully translate "Spring Awakening" from the theatre, to theaters.

Remember, just because Hugh Jackman says musicals are back, doesn't really mean that's the case. Yeah, "Dreamgirls" and "Hairspray" were big hits (and very entertaining) but "Rent" was considered a can't-miss adaptation - until it arrived as a flat, soulless shell of its Broadway ancestor.

In other words, you need more than just great songs to make a great movie musical.

Sometimes you need to take a sharp left turn from the road of safe travels to make a movie musical work. Think "Moulin Rouge." The angry, desperate voice at the heart of "Spring Awakening" could use a bit of the frat-boy flash McG is known for. No studio is attached yet, so there's still time for this to all fall apart.

If it does happen, will he be able to somehow work in "Spring Awakening" co-creator Duncan Sheik's best-known song into the movie?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Legendary Band Gets Hall of Fame KISS-Off

“I feel uptight on a Saturday night
Nine o' clock, the radio's the only light”

With all due respect to Jeff Beck, Bobby Womack, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Wanda Jackson, DJ Fontana, Bill Black, Spooner Oldham, Run-D.M.C. & Metallica, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last weekend once again made a mockery of its mission to safeguard and celebrate music history.

Why? Because the Hall gave its annual brush-off to a band whose impact on music is unquestioned.


That’s right, those makeup wearing, platform boots wearing, 3-chord song writing pop metal gods who were the bane of parents’ existence in the 1970s, now best known for being shameless merchandise whores. They should have been welcomed into music Valhalla with open arms a decade ago, as soon as they became eligible for induction.

Too bad the 600 dimwits on the induction board keep giving them the brush off.

As a longstanding member of the KISS Army, I’ve had just about enough of this disrespect toward one of rock’s most influential bands. Wait, is that a chorus of Doubting Thomases I hear? Here are a few things you should know:

85. That’s the approximate number of albums the band has sold worldwide since its debut with its eponymously-titled debut album in 1973. Wait. Did I say 85? I meant 85 MILLION!

64. How many millions the 2003 KISS tour earned worldwide, 30 years after the band’s debut. How many bands who aren’t the Rolling Stones, the Who or reside on E Street can claim to have that kind of earning power?

24. the number of gold records the band has scored, the most of any American rock band (more than Aerosmith, Van Halen and ZZ Top, who are all in the HOF). The only groups with more are the Beatles and the Stones. FYI, KISS’s number is 28 if you include the four 1978 solo albums.

Even more than the album sales and tour grosses is the influence the band has had since it first Rock-n-Rolled All Night and Partied Every Day. KISS was a game-changing band, in a variety of ways.

Before Frampton Came Alive, “KISS Alive!” redefined the live album when it dropped in 1975. The band was already a hot live ticket back then. But it was only when they captured the power of their live act on vinyl that Kiss really became ‘the hottest band in the land.’

In fact, onstage is where KISS had few peers. The band’s outrageous stage shows, full of pyrotechnics, rising platforms, smoking guitars and Gene Simmons’ fire-breathing, blood spilling antics, set new standards for rock concerts. Even today, a KISS concert has to be seen, and heard, to be believed.

The group’s kabuki-style makeup (and the individual personas: The Demon, Starchild, Space Ace, The Cat) turned the band into a true-blue pop culture sensation that extended way past the Hit Parader & Circus crowd, and into mainstream America. You know all the cross-platform sports and entertainment stars you see on Access Hollywood and every magazine? That was KISS in the 1970s.

There were lunchboxes, toys, pinball games…anything you could slap a logo on.

They also crossed over into movies, with the 1978 TV-pic “Kiss Meets the Phantom in the Park.” Sure, the film stunk. But it was still a big ratings draw.

After the original foursome split, the band stayed together, regrouped, unmasked and continued to put out solid records throughout the 80s, and even into the 1990s (‘Revenge’ is an absolute scorcher of a record).

Along the way, an entire genre of rock – Welcome to the Big Hair Metal days of the 1980s! – blossomed thanks to KISS. Groups such as Bon Jovi, Poison, and Motley Crue all owe a debt to the guys who were NOT Knights in Satan’s Service (it was just KISS). Hell, the Crue should be paying royalties for the way they aped the makeup and stage antics.

Countless groups – from across the spectrum of music - have paid tribute to KISS as an inspiration, from Tupac to Garth Brooks. The 1994 tribute album “KISS MY A$$”..even featured Brooks, Stevie Wonder, Lenny Kravitz, Extreme and Anthrax doing KISS covers.

Let’s see…massively popular, long, enduring career, incredibly influential…does that sound like a Hall of Fame band? It does to me.

What, the voters don’t like that most KISS songs were about getting laid? AC-DC sang about ‘Big Balls’ and ZZ Top talked about legs and, um…pearl necklaces. I LOVE Van Halen, but those guys weren’t debating human rights issues on ‘Diver Down’ or ‘Fair Warning,’ either.

Those bands’ catalogs make Love Gun seem practically poetic.

Sex just so happens to be the dominant writing influence in rock music. Take a look at Madonna’s song list, folks. Only the beat’s different.

I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the band pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in rock history in 1996 when the original quartet reunited, makeup, smoking guitars and all, for the year’s highest-grossing tour.

It’s that bottom line success, actually, that is perhaps the main reason KISS hasn’t been voted into the hall yet. No band in music history has probably embraced mass commercialism as wholeheartedly as these guys.

Since the ’96 reunion, Gene Simmons – who never met a product he wouldn’t slap the KISS logo on – has approved condoms, cocktail tables, wine (KISS Cabernet!), even a KISS coffin. That was probably the death knell for the band’s Hall chances.

I’m the first guy to admit to being embarrassed to be a fan the night Simmons went on Conan O’Brien’s show to plug the coffin, bragging how it could be used as a beer cooler until it was time to be used as a, er…human cooler.

But rock music has been about selling out to the highest bidder for decades. Don’t believe me?

The Stones’ “Start Me Up” as a Microsoft Windows sales pitch; Seger’s “Like a Rock” used to sell Chevy Trucks; Mellencamp’s “This is my Country” to sell more trucks; The Who’s entire catalog for anyone who meets Townsend’s asking price. Madonna – really, do I even need to list an example?

By the mid-90s, the music biz had degenerated to the point that hack bands like Smash Mouth would write cheesy jingles like “All Star” and pitch it to Madison Avenue BEFORE it had even hit radio!

Another thing. Name one big time performer worth their $45 souvenir t-shirt – outside of Springsteen – who hasn’t had their tour sponsored in the last 15 years. Exactly.

My point is, integrity and the music industry have been mutually exclusive terms for … well, forever. So to punish a band that embraces commercialism – and really, broke new ground in showing other bands how to capitalize on their success – isn’t right. You can’t judge them by different standards than other groups.

You know what though? At the end of the day, it’s about the music, and KISS has delivered the goods for nearly 40 years.

Maybe one day, the RRHOF will figure it out.

I'll be a gambler, baby.. Lay down the bet
We get together, mama.. You'll sweat

No place for hidin' baby.. No place to run
You pull the trigger of my.. Love Gun!

DVD Menu: Fleischer's Superman

Watch Kevin Costner Interviews exclusively from Reeltalk.

The old Max Fleischer 'Superman' cartoons - actually theatrical shorts back in the 40s - have just been remastered and put out on DVD. While I wish Warner Bros. would have put 'em on Blu-ray, this is still a sweet set of 'toons that gives you an idea of amazing a job they did on the Man of Steel.

These 60-year-old episodes look better than any of those stilted DC cartoons (I'm talking to you, "Superfriends"!) we grew up on in the 70s & 80s. Hit the clip and see what I mean; the quality is sublime. You can read more about the collection HERE.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Twilight - Finally!

As the not-very-bigtime showrunner of a nationally syndicated movie show [REEL TALK], I'm almost embarrassed to admit this in a forum that will no doubt be seen by dozens and dozens of people worldwide.

I didn't get around to seeing Twilight until YESTERDAY. That's right. One of the biggest pop-cult phenoms of the past year fell completely off the Avila radar. It wasn't intentional, mind you. As the producer of the show, I have so many things on my plate that I'm simply not able to see every movie Jeffrey Lyons & Alison Bailes are reviewing on the show. I try to, because I want to be as informed as possible to decide where to slot movies in a particular week's show, what kind of clips to use (because you wouldn't believe how bad studios are at promoting their own films. They often send truly awful clips to media outlets, which makes it nearly impossible to put together a review/feature that makes sense).

When Twilight came out last October, Summit Entertainment only screened it once before opening, at 7:30pm. Now, this makes it inconvenient for critics. Ask most of them, they'll tell you a 'take it or leave it' scenario usually indicates the film isn't very good. This is true.

Sometimes, and this is becoming the case more and more these days, the studios know they have a critic-proof film on their hands so they don't need to hold many screenings. Do one of them so you don't get labeled as a 'so bad they didn't screen it advance' movie, but just one. This saves lots of $$. And let's face it. All those people who read Stephenie Meyer's books weren't going to be dissuaded from seeing the movie by anything critics said. It hurts me to say that, because my livelihood depends on people caring what movie critics think.

But there are certain franchises and characters that defy any sort of critical effect. Star Wars, Harry Potter, Tyler Perry ... and Twilight.

So my point before I went off on my tangent was, I didn't skip it on purpose. I couldn't make that one-shot screening, and then I just never made it to the theater to see it because frankly, vampires don't really float my boat. This fascination with bloodsuckers completely escapes me. I don't watch True Blood, I have Let the Right One In on my 'To Watch' pile, and I have never read any of the Twilight books.

But this weekend I decided to finally pop in the dvd that's been at the bottom of that aforementioned 'To Watch' stack, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. After a slow start, I got into it. By the end, I was genuinely interested in seeing where the story goes with the 2nd film.

However, this is far from a masterpiece. And if anyone from Summit Ent. is reading this, please, PLEASE, reinvest some of the ridiculous piles of $$ you made on the first film to improve the special effects for #2. Because they were laughably bad in Twilight. Every time a vampire showed off his talents it looked about as impressive as the slo-mo FX from "The Six Million Dollar Man." The sequence where Edward takes Bella to the top of the mountain appeared to have been done on a college student's iBook. You wanna be a big-dog franchise in Hollywood? Gotta pony up the $$ to look the part. That won't cut it a second time.

Also, can someone please get Kristen Stewart to smile at least once? I know she's not thrilled to be part of this media spectacle but for the sake of Pete's love, you don't have to look miserable in EVERY SINGLE FRAME OF THE MOVIE. She's taking teen angst to new levels in this and Adventureland. Her agent needs to find her a romantic comedy in the worst way.

But those two major problems aside, count me as one who is looking forward to the sequel. And I don't think I'll wait six months after opening day to see it.

Science Fiction Making Real Comeback

As I sit here watching the futuristic film "Sleep Dealer" on a clear, cold NYC evening (it comes out next week in NY/LA - we'll review it on REEL TALK next weekend), It dawned on me that we're starting to see the return of the thinking man's Sci-Fi.

By that, I don't mean movies with silly premises and genre cliches ("The Invasion") or films with good ideas and lousy execution ("Jumper"). I'm talking about pictures that go to the heart of what science fiction is all about: Examining issues impacting the real world through the prism of speculative scenarios.

"Sleep Dealer" for example, is a story set in a near-future world basically run by corporations, where water is a precious commodity held over the heads of the less fortunate. It also involves people's memories as a valuable asset bought and sold like drugs. I'm halfway through it (I paused the screener to write this) and it's fascinating/disturbing at the same time.

It reminds me of the kind of science fiction films made in the 70s and early 80s, like "Soylent Green" and "Outland." Those films questioned the direction of modern society and theorized where we were headed, was not a very nice place. Depressing, sure. But it made you think.

That all changed with "Star Wars." No, I'm not going to bash George Lucas for changing the direction of the genre (and movies in general). I'm a GINORMOUS fan of the Force. But as much as I love the SW universe, I usually find myself drawn to less swashbuckling type of science fiction fare, such as "Blade Runner."

Over the years, those type of movies, real morality tales wrapped in lavish production designs and set in dystopian futures, have sort of disappeared from cineplexes. Science fiction certainly hasn't. But besides the Terminator and Matrix series, what other Sci-Fi films have really made an impact in the past 25 years?

Not many.

Part of the blame probably goes to Hollywood's increasing focus on the bottom line. Tough to take a chance on a genre film that will most likely come with a hefty price tag (due to effects, sets, etc) if it doesn't have the requisite elements to make it a blockbuster. And I don't remember any Spinner Cars on Toys R Us shelves when "Blade Runner" came out, or any Sean Connery action figures from "Outland."

But also, I think the most recent generation of filmmakers, having grown up and immensely influenced by "Star Wars", viewed that as the template for the Sci-Fi they wanted to create. Obviously there were exceptions, like the two I mentioned above, and also "Minority Report," a very underrated film IMHO. But by and large, filmmakers didn't want to make you think; they wanted to wow you, entertain you.

Perhaps that's changing.

Besides "Sleep Dealer" there is also a movie called "Moon" due out this June that I guarantee will have diehard Sci-Fi fans drooling over their 'Starlog' magazines. I caught an early screening a few weeks ago.

It stars Sam Rockwell and is directed by Duncan Jones. The film follows a mining company employee Sam (Rockwell) stationed on the Moon. As his three-year assignment comes to an end, his grasp on reality is beginning to slip, exacerbated by the extreme loneliness of the job. He begins to doubt his true purpose there and the paranoia only gets worse. Besides dastardly corporate behavior and a healthy skepticism about our dependence on technology, the movie examines how our tech-obsessed society is isolating us, even as humanity continues to overpopulate the earth.

With a masterful performance by Rockwell as its lynchpin and a doozy of a plot twist to boot, "Moon" is as compelling and thought-provoking a science fiction film as I've seen in years.

The director Jones, who is David Bowie's son FYI, does a great job capturing the clausterphobic atmosphere, the remoteness Sam is forced to endure. It's practically a one-man play, because for most of the film Sam's only company is a robot named GERTY (voiced in perfectly creepy fashion by Kevin Spacey).

Even more impressive is that the film is a true indie production - the budget was a reportedly miniscule $4 million. That's a pittance for almost any kind of film, much less science fiction.

Do yourself a favor and check the film out when it hits theaters in June. Same with "Sleep Dealer" next weekend. If you're a fan of intelligent science fiction that doesn't have one laser blaster or manhunting robot in sight, then you need to support these movies. And pray for other filmmakers with vision to jump into the genre.

Otherwise, prepare yourself for a lifetime of Nic Cage nonsense like "Next" or "Knowing."

Ugh. Talk about a frightening future!