August 25, 2006 Idlewild, the new movie from hip-hop duo OutKast, opens today. NPR's Bob Mondello gives us the scoop. OutKast's new movie Idlewild gets off to such a sharp start -- swooping camera, black and white photos leaping to life, notes jumping off a music stand to dance in a juke joint -- that you barely notice for a while that the hip-hop stars it's all centered on are the least of it. They're not bad, they're just not actors, and for most of the movie, they're so protected by writer/director Bryan Barber that it doesn't really matter. During musical numbers, he knows they'll be right at home, and during non-musical moments, he surrounds them with old Hollywood pros like Terrence Howard, Ben Vereen, and Cicely Tyson who could probably make a scene work even if they were acting opposite cardboard cutouts. OutKast's "Andre 3000" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton are not cardboard cutouts, of course. Benjamin's reticent composer/pianist is serviceably soulful (largely in voiceovers), and Patton's comic stage-star lives up to his character's name of Rooster (largely by strutting cock-o'-the-walk-style). The plot they're wrapped up in is as much a remix of 1930s gangster-movie conventions as the score is a remix of OutKast songs. The atmosphere is heady, the plot idiotic, and the movie a bit of a mess. But it's a lively, ambitious one, and likely to prove a crowd-pleaser.
August 25, 2006 You won't mistake Idlewild for Busby Berkeley's portrayal of Hollywood's golden age. But then, that was equally true of Martin Scorcese's New York New York and Francis Ford Coppolla's Cotton Club.
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August 18, 2006 The Illusionist -- Edward Norton plays a turn-of-the-last-century magician who’s willing to bring down the entire Hungarian Empire as long as it means he’ll get the girl. Considering that the girl is Jessica Biel, who could blame him? Meanwhile, Paul Giamatti is furrowed of brow and delectably wry as the magic-loving inspector who’s hot on nearly everyone’s heels. Director Neil Burger gets the period details right in his first costume epic and has a field day with showing how magic was managed back then (on one occasion, the folks who, for purposes of the script, are guessing wrong about how a trick is being done, are actually demonstrating how it WAS managed in 1900). In short, the illusions are smart, as is the script. The cinematography is gorgeous, as is Biel. Now it’s up to the marketing department to pull a rabbit out of its hat and make a period drama stand out among the summer blockbusters.
August 18, 2006 Hollywood does not regard summer as a time for costume epics, unless the costumes are made of spandex. Historical movies tend to be released in the fall. But The Illusionist, a romantic drama set in the early 1900s, is bucking that tradition.
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August 11, 2006 In our last post of the day Film critic Bob Mondello discovers Mel Brooks works in any language, and that good acting can be found in summer movies. Come back Monday when David Folkenflik takes the reigns. Si, si... I know. You're sick of hearing about Buenos Aires' Buster Keaton Fest, and except for the Russian print of Nuestra Hospitalidad (Our Hospitality), for which they gave the projectionist a microphone and had her read the original title cards translated into Spanish, it has mostly been uneventful.
August 11, 2006 The movie Half Nelson, starring Ryan Gosling as a crack-addicted schoolteacher, turned heads at the Sundance Film Festival. It seems like a film that could jump-start the careers of everyone involved.
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August 4, 2006 Sadly, no Will Ferrell from the estimable Bob Mondello, who is in Fair Winds, Argentina. (Did I mention the Ron Burgundy bobble-head doll on my desk?) However, he does offers us his take on a silent movie star (Buster Keaton); a movie star who has almost never been kept silent (Robin Williams); and movies five years after a tragedy that made us all speechless (September 11)...
August 4, 2006 In the new movie The Night Listener, Robin Williams plays a radio personality who starts to believe he's being scammed. The drama revolves around a radio show that is based on a memoir; the film itself is based on Armistead Maupin's novel -- which in turn was based on a real event.
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July 28, 2006 Little Miss Sunshine: Family Values have rarely been so easy to endorse in a comedy that's definitely not for the kiddies. Audiences at Sundance ate this one up, and if the general public has any sense, it'll do the same. It's an ensemble comedy, featuring a porn-loving, blue-talking Gramps (Alan Arkin) who snorts heroin in the basement and is coaching 7-year-old Olive for the Little Miss Sunshine Beauty Pageant. Olive's 16-year-old brother Dwayne hates the world and loves Nietzsche, and to prove it, he hasn't spoken to anyone in 9 months. Comparatively normal, sensitive Mom (Toni Collette) has her hands full with a husband (Greg Kinnear) who's a relentless self-improvement guru, and a gay brother (Steve Carrell) who knows more about Proust than just about anyone, but who's just tried to kill himself because the world's second biggest authority on Proust just stole his boyfriend. Circumstances conspire to force them all into their aging VW bus to get Olive to the Pageant, but the clutch is about to go and the door's falling off and well... hijinks ensue. Great fun, muddled only slightly by a last half-hour that's sunnier than it needs to be. But then, the film's called Little Miss Sunshine, no?
July 26, 2006 In the new film Little Miss Sunshine, Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, and Greg Kinnear form the nucleus of a hilariously dysfunctional family. NPR's Bob Mondello says family values have rarely been so easy to endorse in a comedy -- but it's definitely not for the kiddies.
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July 21, 2006 All Things Considered critic Bob Mondello is in Buenos Aires, where he says the big opening this week is Los Pirates Del Caribe, Dos . But he's keeping his eye on the U.S. box office too, and he shares his thoughts on a couple of movies that open across the country today.
July 21, 2006 In the movie Clerks 2, director Kevin Smith returns to the world of underpaid, overly sarcastic service workers, 12 years after his debut about a convenience store. Dante and Randall, the title characters in Clerks, operated under the tagline "Just because they serve you ... doesn't mean they like you." In the sequel, the working-slacker ethos is still worth a laugh -- and still a good way to frame humor guaranteed to offend.
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July 7, 2006 I'm sending this from Argentina, where the big films appear to be Cars and El Retourno de Superman. Happily I caught a couple of films before I left.
July 7, 2006 Director Richard Linklater's adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel A Scanner Darkly stars Keanu Reeves. It was produced by filming live actors, and rendering the images in a painting-like animation process. Bob Mondello reviews.
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June 30, 2006 If need a break from the picnics and parades and pyrotechnics, and want to cool down in front of the silver screen, NPRs Bob Mondello has some tips for you. Big movie week… something for boys, for girls and even for conspiracy-minded adults.
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