The Best and Worst of Anthony Bourdain


It’s amazing how may people despise Anthony Bourdain. Whatever it may be–his giant ego, smug demeanor, and food snobbery–he seems to be one of the most polarizing television personalities working today. Foodies believe his culinary chops are overrated to say the least. Reality TV fans still can’t believe he helped vote off the promising young chef Dale on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and it’s safe to say Rachel Ray supporters (and there apparently are quite a few) fail to find any humor in Tony’s relentless ragging of the overly exuberant quick-meal vamp. Say what you will about the Anthony Bourdain persona, when it comes to travel shows go his series “No Reservations” is at the top of its game.

 “No Reservations” remains one of the only reasons to tune into the Travel Channel. For travel enthusiasts and globe trekkers alike, Bourdain has not only the coolest job around but also provides viewers with a different take on some of the world’s most familiar and unfamiliar destinations. Through his fascination with world history, varying cultural characteristics, and above all the culinary fabric of the world, Bourdain provides a fairly eye opening window into all corners around the globe. With the series well into its fifth season Bourdain’s had his share of successes and failures. With Tony’s raging ego aside and from a pure armchair explorer point of view, the following showcases some of Tony’s best and worst moments across the globe.

Best Destinations

1) Paris, France-It seems fitting that Bourdain chose to jumpstart “No Reservations” with a close and compassionate look at France, arguably the culinary Mecca of the world. Having years of classical French cooking training behind him Bourdain is perhaps a bit biased when it comes to the Parisian offerings presented in this episode. Still Bourdain argues that there has been a shroud of political and social negativity over France in recent years, which has made us forget just how wonderful France can be. By giving us a glimpse into the art of perfecting something as simple and pure as a baguette or embracing the hole in the wall neighborhood restaurants and cafes that give tourists a glimpse into real local cuisine, this episode is the perfect preface for the rest of the series. Bourdain’s message in a nutshell: when traveling one must put all preconceived notions aside and enjoy the many diverse cultures this world has to offer.

2) Vietnam-Bourdain calls Vietnam one of his favorite destinations. As a country with years of foreign influence in its culture and cuisine Vietnam still has a strong inner identity just waiting to be explored. Bourdain, along with a local friend and guide, tastes his way around the capital of Hanoi along with the picturesque Ha Long Bay. From the perfect bowl of Phó, a mysterious dish of porcupine to a shot of a locally made strong rice whiskey infused with fermented insects and animal carcasses, Vietnam provides viewers with all the gross out moments that audiences love while also showing the cultural importance of traditional cooking ingredients and techniques.

3) The Pacific Northwest-Bourdain has done a number of episodes on U.S. soil but none were as eye opening and unexpected as his tour through Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. Bourdain believes that the Pacific Northwest is an area concentrated with creative culinary artists who, with a bountiful selection of fresh food and resources at their disposal, are able to work their magic among fellow masters. He dines on a rare Puget Sound seafood delicacy, enjoys the tasty but insanely wrong donuts at Portland’s wild Voodoo Donuts, and finishes the episode with a look into the Batali family’s acclaimed Italian salami and sausage store. Pair this episode with Tony’s adventures in Vancouver, Canada and you get a fascinating look at one of North America’s treasured regions.

4) Korea-Here’s one of many episodes devoted to one of the underrated, yet to be discovered regions in the world. Coaxed to Seoul by one of Bourdain’s production assistants, Nori, a Korean native, Tony and crew show a side of South Korea that most people don’t realize exists. From the bustling outdoor markets serving up all kinds of curious treats to a farm in the country that specializes in the historic Korean staple condiment, Kim Chee, Bourdain finds a new favorite destination.

5) Peru-Perhaps it’s the lure of Machu Picchu, quite possibly one of the most beautiful sights in the world or maybe it’s the mystery surrounding Peru’s ancient past. Whatever it is that draws Bourdain to this small Latin American country the payoff is worth it. From the snowcapped mountains, the steamy jungles and the bustling cities. Peru seems to have it all. The examination of traditional ceviché still remains one of “No Reservations” most mouth watering onscreen moments.

Worst Episodes:

1) Romania-It’s a shame that the Romanian episode didn’t succeed in showing the true side of this ignored Eastern European country. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union and the country’s unforgiving dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu Romania has been on the rise and is slowly becoming a tourist hotspot. Transylvania, the dominating Carpathian Mountains, the Iron Curtain time capsule capital of Bucharest, Romania should have made for an interesting show. Instead Bourdain, along with a heavily intoxicated Russian travel guide (also featured in the past Russia and Uzbekistan episodes) visit some of the more cliché and tourist hotspots of the country like Dracula’s Disneyesque castle attraction. Bourdain himself claims the episode went horribly wrong.

2) Las Vegas-It could be argued that Bourdain’s pseudo Gonzo tour through Las Vegas was supposed to be a tongue and cheek affair. Sent by some food magazines to cover some of Vegas’ world renowned restaurants, Bourdain and companion spend the majority of the episode showing how truly tacky the city of lights really is. While some cannot stomach watching Bourdain swallow tripe, testicles or other nasty bits it could be said that Tony scarfing down $.99 deep fried Twinkies and Oreos is an equally, if not more sordid spectacle.



3) Namibia
-This episode is famous for Bourdain’s ultimate gross-out television moment. After already dining on an omelet cooked in dirt and ash, the local tribesmen hunt and kill a wild warthog and eventually prepare Bourdain a tasty helping of grilled un-cleaned warthog anus. Even Tony can’t finish the serving. Nasties aside, this episode lacked eye-opening sights and was only aired once on the U.S. airwaves.

4) Uruguay– One of the most recent episodes to air is also one of the least compelling to watch. This edition introduces Tony’s quiet brother to the show as they head to Uruguay to retrace a distant family history. Sure the Latin American country is given a proper run through but unlike past successful episodes in Argentina, Colombia and Brazil, this small supposedly overlooked country remains just that for a reason. Oh and the brothers Bourdain come away empty handed in regards to retracing their family heritage.

5) Into the Fire NYC-This was a special episode devoted entirely to seeing if Tony still has what it takes to work the line at his own New York restaurant Les Halles. Put in front of the stove for the dreaded weekday double shift this episode only adds fuel to the fire poked by foodies who question Bourdain’s credentials. In the end we realize that the life of a TV travel host has taken the high-octane, in the zone cooking chops out of Tony’s blood. 

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David Gordon Green’s Curious Evolution

Before the recent release of Pineapple Express few people knew the name David Gordon Green. The director of the recent Seth Rogen buddy-stoner-action-comedy has been a hopeful indie director for the past decade or so ever since his coming of age film George Washington blew critics away back in 2000. Since then Green gained notoriety and was able to secure his promising filmmaker credentials for Washington’s follow-ups. All the Real Girls featured the wonderful Zooey Deschanel and Patricia Clarkson in a sexual coming of age story of naïve love, the intense murder drama Undertow featured a surprisingly well-rounded performance from Dermot Mulroney and last year’s haunting but powerful Snow Angels showed Kate Beckinsdale’s hidden, or should we say, underused acting chops.

It seems like a big jump to go from low-budget indie dramas set in rural America (Green was raised in the deep south) to a high octane comedy about a wicked strain of marijuana but Green, with the help of scribes Rogan and producer Judd Apatow, otherwise known as the current team funny, managed to deliver. Now with a breakout summer blockbuster behind him rumors are Green is set to go down remake road with an upcoming revision of Dario Argento’s Italian horror masterpiece Suspiria with Natalie Portman in talks to star.
To be fair, internet rumors are never as accurate or secure as they are sound. According to imdb.com a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 stylized horror classic has been in the works for the past three years with little else known but that. In the wake of the Hollywood butchering of other genre classics like Michael Bay’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Rob Zombies Halloween, studio execs see horror remakes as an easy payday.
Makes sense, right? Give the film a small but efficient budget, cast some up and coming darlings to scream their heads off, use some gritty cinematography and stock up on the fake blood. This easy enough formula works for the slasher films of past (an upcoming Friday the 13th is already slated for a Friday the 13th, 2009 release) but a European gem like Suspiria is an entirely different kind of undertaking.
For starters the film is 100% European. From the eerie but almost beautiful sets (a one of a kind Bavarian ballet school that makes The Shining’s Overlook Hotel look passé), brilliant score from Italian rock band Goblin, and poorly dubbed voice over track, every piece of the film has European pulse. Sure for some it’s a corny time capsule of 70s horror films but for others it’s a slick and quite frankly a frightening masterpiece.
Purists believe a film classic like this should never be touched. Others are in the mindset that if it’s going to fall victim to remake torture than who better than a well respected filmmaker like Green.
While Green may not seem like the obvious choice to don a horror remake, most said the same about his helming of Pineapple Express, which despite some flaws was a very funny movie. To be fair the filmmaker is still a rising figure and while his past films could be classified in the real-life, family turmoil drama category (if one such sub-genre exists) he’s done his share of suspense, most notably with Undertow and Snow Angels. It’s Green’s inexperience that is also the most intriguing aspect of this production rumor.
In an interview with MTV last March, Green commented that although he agrees he’s not everyone’s obvious choice to direct a film like Suspiria, he’s been a fan of the film and Argento for quite some time and has already written a script. Green follows this up by discussing the allure of the project:
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“It’s an opportunity to take all artistic excellence and be inspired by what was a low budget Italian 70’s gore movie,” he said. “Where the art world meets the violent and supernatural. I would love to get every geek that loves torture porn and every old lady in line to see ‘Phantom of the Opera’ to come and have this insane experience.”
 
The original Suspiria, like so many genre flicks of the 70s, was hardly a perfect movie. For starters most of Dario Argento’s films of the time had plot holes or plots that made little if any sense. The use of various foreign actors whose dialogue was eventually dubbed in post-production was also one of its biggest distractions (although some might tell you it’s part of the Euro-filmmaking charm). While the set design and lighting has now become Suspiria’s most unique quality, it too had its flaws due to budget limitations. What this all means is that the remake could succeed if Green modulates the issues at hand to a more modern tone while also filming with a conscious respect for the original.
 
The creepy soundtrack by the Italian progressive rock band Goblin is another of Suspiria’s biggest draws as it plays an equally important role in the film as the actors and production design. Its combination of eerie keyboard riffs and wild tribal drumming combined with the band’s stirring screams and mumbles make it one of the finest, albeit chilling scores of all time. Will a new original score be developed? Would Green seek out Goblin for a 21st century version of the music?
 
The other curious side to this news is the potential casting of Natalie Portman in the lead as the American ballet student in a foreign land, Suzy Bannion. Portman is an actress who has taken some chances on project choices over the years. Getting her start in a overly stylized assassin action flick (The Professional) by French master Luc Besson and later signing on for V for Vendetta shows Portman’s willingness to try different genres and also makes this casting choice yet another intriguing part of projects growth. The original Suzy Bannion, also played by an American actress (Jessica Harper), starred alongside an almost entirely international cast of unknowns. This same formula of using unfamiliar actors could also work in the remakes advantage.
 
It’s very cool to watch a young, up-and-coming filmmaker like David Gordon Green evolve before our eyes. It took him a bit to get into the Hollywood spotlight (and for good reason since he first had to establish his indie credentials) but now that he’s arrived I know many are curious about what he’ll do next.
 
The Green helmed Suspiria remake could still be nothing more than a talked up piece of internet gossip (to be fair Portman’s publicist has not confirmed anything yet and Green is only talking about the potential of him directing). Still it’s exciting nevertheless and only time we’ll tell whether for once a genre remake such as this could be executed with love and care.

Travel Channel In Need of Programming Change

(Taken from an article written for Starpulse.com)

The Travel Channel is one of Cable’s niche networks. Like its companions The Food Network, The History Channel, or even something like Court TV, Travel is aimed at a specific demographic–in this case those interested in exploring the globe. Like travel literature or periodicals like Outdoor Magazine, The Travel Channel is just another fix for those in the mood for some armchair traveling. Since its inception in 1987 it has produced a handful of stellar programs and introduced the world to televised poker (hard to say if this was a net positive), still twenty years later the network seems to be lacking in quality.

To be fair, like most cable networks The Travel Channel has to tackle the obstacle of providing programming for nearly 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Half the time the network falls on its own glut of original documentaries with titles such as, “Steak Paradise,” “Extreme Water parks,” “UFOs over Illinois,” “21 Sexiest Beaches,” “All You Can Eat Paradise,” and, well, you get the picture. The remaining time is spent airing and re-airing its staple series, the majority of which are overly produced fluff. There’s Samantha Brown, the overly exuberant host of such tame travel shows like “Samantha Brown’s Passport to Great Weekends,” “Passport to Europe” and “Samantha Brown’s Disney Favorites”, who is to the Travel Channel what the fluffy Sandra Lee is to The Food Network’s show, “Semi-Homemade Cooking.” Both show the lighter and easier side of their trade and both have about as much emotional charisma as cardboard.

 “Cash and Treasures” attempts to show viewers where to find booty in their backyards, however, the chances of said viewers actually leaving the couch and picking up the shovel are slim.

This year The Travel Channel introduced “America The Wright Way,” a short-lived series (currently in hiatus) following British TV traveling guru Ian Wright around the U.S. Wright, a veteran of the Mecca of all travel programs, BBC’s “Globe Trekker,” has a wining personality when taken in small doses. Here the Travel Channel execs seemed to have turned this well respected traveler into a clichéd caricature of the English.

“Most Haunted” is just one of many Travel Channel programs still clinging to the notion that viewers still want to watch so-called “officials” hunt ghosts and other paranormal activity. Spooky reality TV, which begs the question “are you a believer,” may have some fooled (after all the show is currently in its tenth season) but in reality is nothing more than sensationalist television about eerie buildings filmed in night vision.

Finally there is that “Bizarre Foods” guy, Andrew Zimmern, quite possibly the worst television personality out there. Zimmern somehow managed to get lucky in terms of ratings because people apparently can’t get enough watching another man eat foods unfamiliar to cautious Americans. His show came on the heel of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” (who I will spend the remainder of this column discussing) and serves as a more extreme extension of seeking out the less desirable food groups that the majority of the planet eats daily. The problem with Zimmern isn’t so much the food (considering the Western world is a bit spoiled when it comes to what we consume) but rather his methods of delivery. Rather than simply describe the dishes like a normal person Zimmern insists on adding his own ridiculous commentary no hesitating to reiterate what bizarre bit he’s about to dine on. During a recent excursion to Beijing while chowing down on a deer’s nether regions Zimmern joyfully exclaims, “the penis is extremely chewy, very chewy,” most likely a television sound bite first.

While The Travel Channel seems to have struck out more in recent years there have been some successes. Global adventurer Jeff Corwin is the go-to man for all things Alaska and American West related and continues to provide informative windows into the unwavering natural beauty of the United States.

For those curious about the way things work, ex-“Cheers” cast member John Ratzenberger hosts “Made in America,” a quick 30-minute show chronicling how various everyday things are produced in this country. Ratzenberger’s is truly a niche program but fascinating nonetheless. 

 Arguably The Travel Channel’s best move in recent years was wooing Anthony Bourdain away from the Food Network in 2005 and giving him “No Reservations,” the networks one truly brilliant series.

The allure of Bourdain has always been his knack for the English language. Sure he’s a chef and food enthusiast first and foremost, but deep down he’s also a writer and to some extent a want-to-be poet of the culinary world. “No Reservations” combines his witty and unique way of looking at global cultural and culinary wonders with a determination to travel on and off the beaten path.

He’s covered places as remote and misunderstood as Uzbekistan, to more lively and well-known destinations, such as New York or Paris, always showing that despite borders and distances there is a global appreciation of food in its many varieties. While some consider Bourdain overly cocky or completely overrated with devout foodies labeling him a sell-out, his show is highly unique, always informative and eye opening, and currently the only reason to watch the Travel Channel. With the new season currently underway Bourdain has already taken viewers to the mysterious Southeast Asian country of Laos, a misunderstood Saudi Arabia and Colombia, and most recently to Tokyo, a culinary capital of the world, according to Bourdain.

The Travel Channel is in desperate need for a complete overhaul and a new lineup of programs. The world is a big place and there are so many opportunities to provide audiences with a window into what’s out there. Until the network unleashes its next hit we’ll have Bourdain and the many reruns of “No Reservations” to fall back on.

           

            

Spike Lee’s Best and Worst


(Story originally written for Starpulse.com)

It’s difficult to rank the films of Spike Lee in order of best to worst because, quite frankly, the auteur hasn’t really made a horrible film. With nearly 20 feature films under his belt and more to come (his upcoming WWII film looks promising) Lee has of course put out his share of minor works, but even the projects that failed still had enough of the director’s signature characteristics-fascinating characters, intriguing dialogue, and race relation undertones-and ultimately are merely cinematic experiments gone wrong. Consider this a list of best and minor works of one of America’s finest filmmakers.

THE BEST FILMS

Do The Right Thing1) Do The Right Thing

It may seem obvious to start top the list with arguably Lee’s most critically acclaimed and polarizing films, but it’s without a doubt his sole masterpiece. It still remains one of the most fascinating and honest looks at race relations in America ever to hit celluloid, while also gives us a convincing glimpse into the life of one of the many New York City neighborhoods. As the sweltering hot summer day carries on, tensions brew with the colorful residents of Bed-Stuy. From Lee’s Mookie to Radio Raheem, Da Mayor, Buggin Out, Sal and of course scene stealing Sweet Dick Willie, all of the film’s players witness the turn of events as we do, with eyes wide open. While some argue that this film fails to say anything new about racism in America, it could be said that it succeeds by making people think about this controversial topic. In the end we’re left questioning if anyone did the right thing. To quote Mister Señor love Daddy, “And that’s the double truth, Ruth.”

When The Levees Broke2) When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

The trick of Lee’s 2006 four-part HBO documentary about Hurricane Katrina is that the film is not about the storm that tore through the Gulf coast but rather the city of New Orleans. Much of the film is spent examining the engineering flaws and many conspiracies surrounding the breach of the levees, not to mention the government’s disregard for lower classes, with Lee never once pointing any fingers. The rest of the time we get a healthy dose of the history and culture of what many believe is America’s most unique city. While certain wards of “The Big Easy” remain in shambles Lee argues that the spirit of New Orleans has endured.

Clockers3) Clockers

One of Lee’s often-overlooked films from 1995 is also one of his best. Adapted from Richard Price’s novel of the same name, “Clockers” is Lee’s take on the drug trade told from the point of view of not only the cops enforcing the streets but also the pawns or clockers pushing the goods. The film opens with a vivid montage of real-life crime scene photographs depicting the shear brutality that a bullet inflicts on the human body. Later while surveying a fictional crime scene the film’s main detectives (played wonderfully by Harvey Keitel and John Turturro) and the citizen onlookers appear eerily unfazed by the dead body, as if numb from the street violence that is now a routine in their lives. This is the tragic message conveyed by Lee in Clockers – the destructive nature of the open-air drug market is here to stay.

Malcolm X4) Malcolm X

This is Lee’s sole epic film and rightfully so. Working from Alex Haley’s biography of Malcolm X, Lee set out to tell this controversial figure’s whole story. From his early years as a young hoodlum to his rise as one of America’s most important political leaders, Denzel Washington (whose Oscar loss to Al Pacino in 1993 for Scent of a Woman remains one of the Academy’s biggest blunders in its history) devours the role as X. While some argue that the film is a bit long its scope was needed to capture who this man was.

25th Hour5) 25th Hour

Besides having one of the best closing ten minutes of any film, “25th Hour” is an intense character study of an ex-drug dealer living it up on the eve of a seven-year prison term. In typical Lee fashion it’s also much more. Lee has always had a love for New York City and almost all of his films share this love with the audience. “25th Hour” was Lee’s first post 9/11 film and without a doubt his first honest look at modern day NYC. Many draw comparisons of this film to “Do The Right Thing,” specifically a certain race rant but if anything Lee uses this film as an extension of the ideas presented in Thing.

Honorable Mention
Another of Lee’s smaller HBO documentaries is the must see 4 Little Girls, which uncovers the past surrounding the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.


THE MINOR FILMS

1) Girl 6

Hands down Spike Lee’s most forgotten, throwaway films. “Girl 6” is about an actress turned phone sex operator and the crazy odyssey she goes on. Sure, a character like this would be ripe for exploration, but Lee does it in the most cliché manner. Rather than presenting a complicated person who is stuck in a unique career we got a raunchy comedy that begs to be taken seriously but is ultimately forgettable.

2) She Hate Me

Upon its release critics around the country labeled this one of the worst movies of 2004. While this misunderstood film is hardly Lee’s best, it’s also one of his most ambitious. Its biggest fault is it tries to do too much. At its core it’s about corporate corruption in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals and the importance of whistleblowers. It’s also a bit of a screwball comedy about impregnating lesbians. Lee did comedy better early on with She’s Gotta Have It.

3) Mo’ Better Blues

Lee grew up in a family of musicians. His father Bill Lee, a jazz bass player and composer, would eventually score a number of Spike’s first films. “Mo’ Better Blues” is his ode to jazz and growing up around music. Unfortunately, the only memorable part of this film is its beautiful score by modern jazz sax master Branford Marsalis. Denzel Washington delivers in “Malcolm X,” “He Got Game,” and most recently The Inside Man. The same can’t be said here.

4) Summer of Sam

Like “25th Hour,” this is a film about New York City. It’s set back in the infamous summer of 1977 amidst the “son of Sam” murders. Of course there are more layers to the story than just catching a murderer. Despite standout performances by Adrian Brody and John Leguizamo this film follows too closely in the footsteps of “Do The Right Thing” in regards to its small Italian neighborhood ablaze with fear and prejudice.

5) Jungle Fever

It’s a shame that the only notable part of this film is Samuel L. Jackson’s side story as Gator Purify, a larger than life crack head living in the wake of his successful younger brother played by Wesley Snipes. While the film tackles issues of acceptance and interracial relationships, Jackson steals the show. Too bad his onscreen time is limited.

Fall Movie Preview


The Dark Knight fever is beginning to die down. Arguably the most anticipated and biggest film of 2008 has made its splash and now the question is, what’s next? Is there another upcoming film this year that will be as well regarded as The Dark Knight? Will Heath Ledger get those posthumous awards everyone is buzzing about? While financially the newest Batman flick will undoubtedly be the victor of ‘08 there are some intriguing films left for this year, especially before Christmas when the slew of Oscar bait films are unloaded. Here are ten fall films to look forward to.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Release Date August 15: Woody Allen found his new muse back in 2005 when he cast Scarlett Johansson in the sly, out of left fieldMatch Point. Since then she appeared in the less than desirable Scoop and nowBarcelona, which takes Allen and company to the Iberian Peninsula. Teaming up with recently applauded Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz (both native Spaniards), and the wonderful character actor Patricia Clarkson, this has potential to be one of the better comedies this year.
Hamlet 2 – Release Date August 29: Sure the title is just begging to be scoffed at but the one thing going for this comedy about a high school drama production of a sequel to a Shakespeare classic is the great British actor/funnyman Steve Coogan. This little indie supposedly features raunchy political incorrectness galore but also appears to stretch its message to the free speech debate. If anything just seeing what the writers came up with for a Hamlet sequel is enough to warrant a viewing.
Burn After Reading – Release Date September 12: How do you follow up an Oscar sweeping action drama about a psychotic killer and a money chase gone wrong? Why with a screwball comedy of course. The Coen Brothers have walked down this path before with the brilliant O Brother, Where Art Thou?The Big Lebowski, and even the admirable Intolerable Cruelty. This time the brothers team up yet again with George Clooney and Frances McDormand but also with the intriguing likes of John Malkovich, character actor J.K. Simmons, Tilda Swinton, and Brad Pitt. Little is known about the plot, which involves a computer disk with crucial CIA intelligence falling into the hands of nitwits but who cares, it’s the Coens. Nuff said.
ImageMiracle at St. Anna – Release Date September 26: There has been a lot of hoo-hah in the news lately regarding Spike Lee and World War II. The outspoken, controversial filmmaker had a lot of negative things to say about Clint Eastwood’s two Iwo Jima films not including an African American point of view. Now Lee has a chance to tell his side of the war. Anna is set in Mussolini’s Italy during 1944, a part of The War seldom chronicled on screen and from the trailers it appears to be about an all-black unit trapped behind enemy lines. With a staff including Derek Luke, John Leguizamo, the return of Lee regular John Turturro, and the up and coming Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this could be a fresh side to the overworked WWII genre.
Blindness – Release Date October 3: For those who have read José Saramogo’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about a blindness epidemic sweeping an unnamed country you’ll know it is one bleak story to film. Saramago uses this hypothetical apocalyptic setup as a vehicle for discussing how we as people treat and view each other. The film adaptation was directed by the great Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles whose film City of God and The Constant Gardener were two of the finest of decade and has a promising cast including the always strong Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover and Gael García Bernal in a tasty villainous role. Whereas 2006sChildren of Men asked what would happen if we as people could no longer procreate, Blindness ponders how we would survive without the sense of sight, something we often take for granted.
Religulous – Limited Release Date October 3: This film was originally planned for a release last Easter. Then it was pushed back till the summer. Now it appears to be a fall release. While the scheduling crisis is a bit concerning, this satirical look at all major religions from political humorist Bill Maher, one of the few outspoken “rationalists” who isn’t afraid to make a splash, could be one of the bigger documentaries this year. With Borat director Larry Charles at the helm, this has the potential to be as big as The Passion of Christ, this time around with jokes. Whatever happens it’ll be interesting to see the reaction from the organized religion giants comedian Bill Maher takes on.
RocknRolla – Release Date October 31: After his pair of clever genre rejuvenating British Gangster films–Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch–it seemed that director Guy Ritchie might be the next Tarantino. Then he made a bomb with Swept Away followed by another bomb with Revolver. Only time will tell whether or not RocknRolla will be this slick filmmaker’s return to form. The one thing in its favor is the film’s cast, which includes new leading man Gerard Butler of 300 not to mention the great Tom Wilkinson (who appears to be in every movie these days), Jeremy Piven, Ludacris (who continues to prove he can act) and The Wire’s Idris Elba. Even if it bombs we can expect lots of guns, loud Brit pop music and fascinating British dialects that are foreign to American ears.
Changeling – Release Date October 31: Clint Eastwood directs Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich. Not a whole lot else is needed after that. Still this period piece/thriller about a kidnapping was a favorite at this year’s Cannes fest and will no doubt be just what Angelina Jolie needs to take the spotlight off her personal life and back onto her acting chops.
The Quantum of Solace – Release Date November 7: The title of the new Daniel Craig 007 flick is a bit curious but after the success of Casino Royale, which dealt with Bond’s beginning one can only expect Solace to be for the 007 revival what The Dark Knight is for the new Batman series. At least one can hope. Little is known about the plot (which is just fine) but the lead villain is the wonderful French actor Mathieu Amalric who wowed audiences with last year’s restrained performance as a paralyzed writer in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Release Date December 25: The idea of David Fincher directing a fantasy film based on a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of a man who ages in reverse is not only puzzling but also terribly exciting. The trailer is already floating around the internet and the cast is ripe with talent. Fincher is a filmmaker who continues to surprise us with his maturation and from the looks of this film this should be yet another great to add to his canon.
HONORABLE MENTIONS
Choke (September 26), Zack and Miri Make a Porno (October 31), Australia (November 14th), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Road (November 26), Milk (December 5), Doubt (December 12)