Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Classic Album Review, The Fugees, "The Score"

Usually the phrases "alternative hip-hop" and "best selling album of all time" aren't used in the same sentence. But seldom does an album come along such as The Fugees second album, "The Score", which grants the use of both. Released in 1996, the album sold over 18 million copies, making it one of the best selling hip-hop albums of all time.

Comprised of Wyclef, Lauren Hill and Pras, The Fugees only released one album before "The Score", the underground hit "Blunted on Reality." Using that as a jumping off point, the group put together an epic album that is considered by critics and fans to be one of the best and most creative albums of all time.

The unique and inventive album dropped at a time when gangsta rap was at its peak, with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg working on the west coast, and artists such as the Notorious BIG and Jay-Z hustling on the east coast. The timing couldn’t have been better for The Fugees. They were able to tap a huge group of hip-hop fans who were less interested in thug life and hoping for some more socially conscious, intelligent hip hop.

Just take “Fu-Gee-La”, which was produced by Salaam Remi, contains a sample of "If Loving You Is Wrong, I Don't Want To Be Right" by Ramsey Lewis, and is one of the most unique tracks on the album. Pras spits one of the best verses on the album, as he raps: “From Hawaii to Hawthorne, I run marathons/like Buju Banton, I'm a true champion/ike Farakkhan reads his Daily Qu'ran it's a phenomenon/lyrics fast like Ramadan.”

Two of the best tracks on the album are covers ("No Woman, No Cry”, and “Killing Me Softly with His Song”), but The Fugees put their stamp on them and really make each their own. That is something that is extremely difficult to do, especially when the songs are so well known and loved like “No Woman, No Cry”. Lauren Hill shows that she is one of the most talented vocalists of her generation as she takes hold on each the tracks.


“Ready or Not” is my personal favorite track from the album. The song contains a sample of "Boadicea" by Enya, and its chorus is based on "Ready or Not Here I Come (Can't Hide from Love)" by The Delfonics.

The confidence and ferocity on this track are unmatched, as Wyclef raps: “Gun blast, think fast, I think I'm hit/My girl pinched my hips to see if I still exist/I think not, I'll send a letter to my friends/A born again hooligan only to be king again”

The release marked a resurgence for alternative hip-hop and the fact that The Fugees were to soon break up, releasing only two albums total, makes “The Score” even more emphatic. If they had stayed together could they have made an album even better than "The Score"? We'll never know. Either way it ranks as one of the most distinctive hip-hop albums of its era. It’s most definitely a classic.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Office Recap, "Happy Hour"

"I'm date Mike..Nice to meet me."

The Office opens with Michael doing push ups as Dwight is counting. He manages to do 25, and asks if anyone can beat it. When no one responds, he says if they can, they would leave work early. Everyone tries, but it’s Stanley, with everyone cheering him on, who does it.

Oscar comes into work early so he can see Matt, the gay warehouse worker. He half asks him on a date, but Matt doesn’t realize. Oscar goes to talk to Darryl about organizing a Happy Hour for everyone, so he can go out to the same place with Matt.

Andy tries to get Jim to come, but he has the baby at home. As he says to the camera, the baby gets him out of everything. But when he mentions it to Pam, she gets super excited and they go out.

Andy and Erin attempt to hide their relationship from the office so they can “avoid the drama”. They try being mean to each other, but it isn’t much of a secret anyway.

Pam invited her friend Julie out to Happy Hour because she thinks her and Michael will hit it off. Pam says to the camera that “Julie laughs at everything”, and Michael is acting like his usually self, and the two are hitting it off.

Dwight and Angela are talking, but Isabel, Pam’s bridesmaid shows up, and they start flirting.

When Jim asks if Michael likes her, he realizes he’s on a date. He runs out to the car, takes off his tie and puts on a backwards Kangol cap like Samuel L. Jackson, and goes back in. “Michael Scott is on a date, this changes everything.”

Oscar is sad Matt hasn’t shown up yet. Ryan and Kelly are playing Dance Dance Revolution, when Andy and Erin come over. But they decide not to play together, so it appears they aren’t together.

Dwight is flirting more, and Angela is following the two as they walk and talk. Dwight starts to realize he likes Isabel more than Angela. He tells her to forget about their past contract to have a baby together.

Michael embarrasses himself trying to tie a cherry in his mouth, and almost gets thrown out of the bar after dancing on the pool table. The date is going terribly.

Erin and Andy, while trying to be secret, are just being more obvious, while Creed is killing it on DDR.
Michael confronts the manager, and asks for an apology for trying to throw him out. As they talk, they actually begin to flirt and hit it off. Julie decides to leave.

Oscar and Darryl start to talk, Oscar is still upset Matt didn’t show. But just then, he does, and him and Oscar play the basketball game, which he is terrible at.

Andy decides to announce to the bar that him and Erin are dating. “Too much drama”, they deadpan.

The episode ends with everyone leaving the bar. Michael is pumped about his new date, and Dwight and Isabel leave together, so Angela confronts them with the old contract. It makes things awkward, but Isabel shoves her away and they share a nice passionate Schrute kiss.

"The Office" is a rerun next week. Sad face.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Movie News: Wes Craven is Officially Directing "Scream 4" Starting This May

What’s your favorite scary movie? If than answer is “Scream,” then get excited, because Wes Craven is officially back to direct the fourth installment of the series.

According to Hero Complex: "Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox are set to reprise their roles in the series, which last hit screens in 2000. Kevin Williamson, who wrote the franchise's first two films, is back for the fourth installment and told MTV last fall that he's already working on 'Scream 5' and 'Scream 6.'

As for '4,' the action takes place in the Sidney's hometown of Woodsboro. New castmembers will also be introduced.

The 'Scream' movies combined slasher terror themes with self-aware humor for a string of hits dating back to 1996. So far, the movies have grossed an astounding $293 million, domestically, and have featured a slew of famous faces, including Drew Barrymore, Patrick Dempsey and Heather Graham.

Even though it seems as if there is a new sequel or reboot happening in Hollywood every day, this is one that has a chance to turn out great. When “Scream” came out it was hugely popular and revitalized ‘scary’ movies. I thought “Scream 2” was a great sequel and with all the films like “Saw” and “Hostel” grossing things up, it will be nice to see a good ‘ol horror movie in theaters.

'Scream 4' will be produced the Dimension Pictures, a division of the Weinstein Company. Shooting begins in May.

Movie News: Leonardo DiCaprio Up For Vigilante Thriller "Prisoners"

Leonardo DiCaprio is apparently keen on starring in "Prisoners" for Alcon Entertainment and Warner Bros. Pictures.

According to Deadline Hollywood: Guzikowski's Black List script centers on a small-town carpenter whose young daughter and best friend are kidnapped. After the cops fail to find them, the man turns vigilante and starts an investigation of his own.

Directors like Antoine Fuqua and Bryan Singer, and actors like Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Mark Wahlberg have all been circling or attached at one point in the past few years. All have since dropped out for various reasons.

“Prisoners” has a “Mystic River”-meets-“Taken” storyline, and DiCaprio wants to play the small-town carpenter role. Said Kosove: “In the 12 years we’ve run this company, this is the most interesting, morally complex thriller we’ve ever gotten, and we can’t wait to make the movie.”

DiCaprio aside, this script sounds as if it has potential to be a great film. This project may not happen for a while, but be sure to keep an eye on it when it does.

Television News: Fox Circles Will Arnett Pilot

Actor Will Arnett is reuniting with his former "Arrested Development” producers Mitch Hurwitz and Jim Vallely on a pilot for a new U.S. comedy series.

According to Variety: The trio has been working on a pilot for an untitled comedy that would cast Arnett as a "rich Beverly Hills jackass who falls in love with a charitable tree-hugging woman who can't stand his lifestyle."

Lionsgate Television is expected to order the pilot, which was written by Hurwitz, Arnett and Vallely. The team previously collaborated on the celebrated, but short lived sit-com "Arrested Development."

If it gets picked up and goes to a series, the show would be another homecoming for Arnett, Hurwitz and Vallely at Fox, where "Arrested Development" earned critical acclaim (but small audiencess) over the course of three seasons.

More recently, Arnett provided the voice for "Ennis Hofftard" on Fox's animated comedy "Sit Down, Shut Up," which also came from Hurwitz and Tantamount. Show was short-lived, but Fox continues to air repeats on Saturday nights at midnight (behind "The Wanda Sykes Show").

Arnett's recent TV credits include guest stints on "Parks and Recreation"--opposite his real-life wife, Amy Poehler--and "30 Rock," where he recurs as Devon Banks. Vallely and Hurwitz are also writing the long-awaited "Arrested Development" movie, in which Arnett would revive his role as Gob Bluth.

“Arrested Development” is one of the smartest and funniest shows of I have ever seen, so anything coming from the creators of that show will catch my eye. Arnett is also hilarious and his style should fit perfectly with the character and story of this show.

Look for the show later this fall.

Movie News: Steven Spielberg On Why "Tintin" is in Motion Capture

While the release of "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of The Unicorn" is over a year away, director Steven Spielberg is already speaking out about the motion-capture technology that allowed him to digitally recreate the look of the original "Tintin" comics by Hergé on the silver screen.

Steven Spielberg gave some details on the film in an interview with The Los Angeles Times and said that the reason he and Peter Jackson went motion-capture with their adaptation was due to his respect for the material and "wanting to get as close to that art as I could."

Said Speieberg: "Hergé wrote about fictional people in a real world, not in a fantasy universe. It was the real universe he was working with, and he used National Geographic to research his adventure stories. It just seemed that live action would be too stylized for an audience to relate to. You'd have to have costumes that are a little outrageous when you see actors wearing them. The costumes seem to fit better when the medium chosen is a digital one."

Because much of the film's production was shot with the same techniques used with the Pandora scenes in James Cameron's "Avatar," Spielberg had the luxury of seeing what the end product would look as he was filming it.

Said Spielberg: "When Captain Haddock runs across the volume, the cameras capture all the information of his physical and emotional moves. So as Andy Serkis runs across the stage, there's Captain Haddock on the monitor, in full anime, running along the streets of Belgium. Not only are the actors represented in real time, they enter into a three-dimensional world."

Actor Nick Frost has described the motion-capture process as being "like rehearsing a play," and Spielberg has found the process very liberating.

Spielberg added: “It made me more like a painter than ever before. I got a chance to do so many jobs that I don't often do as a director. You get to paint with this device that puts you into a virtual world, and allows you to make your shots and block all the actors with a small hand-held device only three times as large as an Xbox game controller.”

I can’t wait for the release of this film. Anytime two filmmakers like Spielberg and Peter Jackson get together, you know things will be epic. Also, hearing how enthusiastic Spielberg is also makes this project feel even more promising.

"The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of The Unicorn"--the first film in a trilogy by Spielberg and Jackson--will star Jamie Bell in the title role, along with Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis and Nick Frost. It will be released in the U.S. on December 23, 2011--two months after its release around the world.

Movie News: Its "Win Win" For Tom McCarthy

Tom McCarthy ("The Visitor," "The Station Agent") is set to direct "Win Win" for Fox Searchlight Pictures.

According to Vulture: “McCarthy's new film is a drama about a suburban New Jersey family and the teen runaway who changes their lives and turns around the sagging fortunes of a high school wrestling team. Paul Giamatti (“Sideways”) and Amy Ryan (“The Wire”) are set to star.

For those who don’t quite know him, the versatile McCarthy is that rare working actor, director and screenwriter who seemingly does everything well: He was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar for his work on Pixar's “Up,” which also was nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Picture. It won Best Animated Feature.

McCarthy also directed the independent films “The Station Agent” and “The Visitor,” the latter of which got Richard Jenkins a Best Actor Oscar nomination last year. McCarthy also starred in the final season of HBO's “The Wire,” playing an overambitious Sun reporter who wins the Pulitzer by fabricating quotes and even entire subjects for his stories.

McCarthy has shown over the years how versatile he can be as an actor, and he has also proved himself as a worthy director. Jenkins was always a great character actor, but never did he receive more praise than when he teamed with McCarthy for “The Visitor.”

I am also a big fan of Amy Ryan, who has done well for herself on television (“The Office,” “The Wire”) and the movies (“Gone Baby Gone”), garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 2007.

Production will begin later this year.

Movie News: Stephen Merchant Gets A "Hall Pass"

Stephen Merchant and J.B. Smoove have joined the cast of the Farrelly brothers comedy "Hall Pass" at New Line.

According to Reuters: The New Line project, headlined by Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis and Jenna Fischer, revolves around two couples with both wives giving their husbands permission to engage in extramarital encounters. When the wives begin exercising the same privilege for themselves, things get complicated.

Merchant and Smoove will play friends of Rick (Wilson) and Fred (Sudeikis) who accompany them as they cut loose and attempt to cash their tickets.

Bobby and Peter Farrelly are directing the script they co-wrote with Pete Jones and Kevin Barnett.

Merchant is currently in theaters with the Fox family comedy "Tooth Fairy." Smoove, who played Larry David's houseguest in the last two seasons of "Curb," recently wrapped a role in the feature comedy "Date Night," which Fox releases in April.

Merchant is a coming genius due to his involvement in “The Office” and Smoove showed on “Curb Your Enthusiasm” the past two years that he is absolutely hilarious. The Farrelly Brothers new film might be one of their best films yet. The cast was already great, and by adding two comic veterans like Merchant and Smoove can do no wrong.

The movie is shooting now Atlanta.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Classic Album Review: The Roots, "Illadelph Halflife"

The latest entry in my weekly column at Refined Hype. This week: The Roots, and their classic second album, "Illadelph Halflife".

Typically most hip-hop groups don’t have a drummer. But The Roots are no typical rap group. The casual, or less informed hip-hop fan may think of The Roots as Jimmy Fallon’s house band. But while they they're technically right, The Roots have accomplished far more than being the most eclectic band on late night television.

Over the years The Roots have been one of the most creative and original groups in hip-hop. Led by rapper Black Thought and drummer ?uestlove, the group has carved their own niche in the industry. Since their debut album “Organix”, they have perfected the use of live instruments and found the perfect way to rap about socially relevant issues.

Their second album, “Illadelph Halflife” may be their most inventive and arguably their best. It's a masterful piece of work throughout, especially because it is fundamentally original; there is absolutely no large reliance on samples here. “Illadelph” is pure music at its best. The introduction to the album states that: ''when rap music began, most people thought it was a fad.” Using that as inspiration, the group moves forward from there and with each track, shows why that statement might be a bit off.

The Roots are such an interesting group and one reason is due to the various musical genres and influences they tackle on each track. “Illadelph Halflife” is littered with Miles Davis sounding jazz riffs and soulful melodies that resemble classic R&B.

On "No Alibi", ?uestlove makes his presence known with some fantastic drum beats, while Malik B dishes out one of the best verses on the entire album. He is able to describe the state of urban America when he raps: “Until I fulfill the term of my prophecy/my attitude is scarred by this inner-city urban/Iller dolo stress on my brain just like a turban/Who get grazed by the bullet?/Triggers,who's quick to pull it?

"Respond/React" is my personal favorite track from this album. The laid-back production, and jazzy instrumentation mixed with bugged-out rhymes combines to make a socially relevant, foot-tapping track.

The lyrics are intelligent and novelistic, with Black Thought rapping: “Hey yo, I'm just a lyricist, a chemist of the hemp/The beat pimp, the ill Philly resident/That's far from hesitant, corrupt like a President/Never benevolent but poetically prevalent.”

"UNIverse at War" is a great track, and it features a cameo from another socially conscious artist, Common. The beat follows the theme of the album, and is a laid back, instrument heavy production that showcases the MC’s.

The track works on so many different levels, from its philosophical lyrics to the slew of thoughtful, yet witty lines from Black Thought and Common Sense. Common finishes off the track as he paints a vivid picture and raps: “For peace we skate, crackers we roll or player hate/Call each other cuz cause of how we relate/I see way too many Cadillacs with dope man plates/Through the wind and blow-ups, is how we communicate/Harmonizing through beeper and reefer/The city got my peoples in a sleeper, talk is getting cheaper.”

In addition to Common there are a lot of guest spots on the album, including Raphael Saadiq (“What They Do"), Q-Tip (“The Universal Side”), David Murray ("Dave Vs. Us"), and D'Angelo (The Hypnotic), among others. Usually I think numerous guest spots can mess with the flow of an album, but each is used perfectly on their respective track.

For example, on the last track, “The Adventures in Wonderland”, the involvement of spoken word artist Ursula Rucker makes the track one of the albums most original and inventive. The track is a brutal rap poem performed by Rucker over a truly spooky beat.

The track details a woman's plight up from the ghettos to the top of a fool's-paradise prostitute's glory, only to crash down into poverty and the loss of respect from her family. She illustrates the raw, gritty truth of this “wonderland” when she says: “The picture grew clearer; I made the move to rear her/In a life wanting for nothing/So I got into this drug thing/Not doing, but dealing.”

The organic combination of thunderous live drums, instruments and rapper Black Thought's smooth rhyme patterns shows that the group has no equal in the industry. The Roots have an extensive body of work, but “Illadelph Halflife” is a distinct classic, the best example of their spontaneous and distinct sound.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Office Recap, "New Leads"

‘The Office’ begins with Michael calling Jim into his office and showing him a picture of a man who he thinks is Johnny Depp. “I heard he was looking for a condo in Scranton, Pennsylvania” Jim replies. Michael puts on his best Jack Sparrow impression, and throws out his ideas for the fourth pirate’s film, while Jim messes with him regarding his ‘Sparrow’ voice.

Conference meeting, there are new sales leads that Sabre bought from a company that are on their way to Scranton. The sales staff is anxious to get their hands on them because they are primo good leads. Andy and Phyllis are itching to get out of the meeting so they can work on sales.

Sabre takes care of their salesman, evidenced by the fact that over the past few weeks the sales team has been receiving some swag, like jackets and bags, which is making Michael and the rest of the staff jealous.

It’s clear that Dwight and the other salesman want their hands on the leads very badly. At the same time, the accounting department, among others is getting aggravated with the treatment the sales staff is getting.

Darryl has settled into his new office, but he doesn’t treat Andy with the respect he’s been used to recently, as he refuses to give him a pencil. They proceed to wrestle it out.

Michael’s sandwich gets messed up, and Darryl tells him it was the entire sales department and it’s a conspiracy. He convinces him he needs to get back on top. He agrees “and that’s what she said.”

The leads arrive and Michael uses it as a reason to lash out at the salesman for their behavior, and holds them back.

Corporate tells him that he needs to give them out because they spent a lot of money on them. “Our policy is to support the sales staff.”

Michael announces that he is giving out the leads, but he gives them to the rest of the office rather than the sales staff. Jim tries to sway Michael into giving him some leads, so he gives him “clues” that will lead him to the leads. Michael hid them all around the industrial park. Let the games begin.

Angela tries to blackmail Phyllis to get her leads by making her do some clerical work. Jim tries to decipher some clues while talking to Pam, who is home with the baby.

Andy goes to Erin, they have some playful banter, and he tries to get the location of the leads from her. They play the hot and cold game, as Erin leads him to her keyboard, where a few were hidden.

Dwight realizes the leads are in and he is far behind the game. He gets going immediately. He forcibly gets Kevin to reveal where they are. The trash he says. Dwight heads to the dumpster to find the leads. He jumps in headfirst literally. But its empty, the trash was taken to the local dump.

Guess where we’re headed now? Trash central. Michael tries to force everyone to go to the dump so no one gets in trouble with corporate. He goes along with Dwight, who volunteers for the mission.

Michael and Dwight attempt to look for them, but there’s a lot of trash. Jim has an awkward moment with Oscar and Kelly, who tell him bluntly how the salesmen have acted.

The salesmen have a meeting about what to do. They decide to give some commission to the rest of the office to ease the tension. But they can’t decide how much, 1 percent or 2. They decide on 2, and offer it to the other employees. They butter everyone up with treats and coffee and they accidentally think it was the deal. They don’t realize they were even going to get commission.

At the dump Michael and Dwight argue about money and how their personalities have changed. Eventually they start throwing trash at each other as they argue. Still no luck on the leads, but both Michael and Dwight are tired and dirty. They are also losing hope on if they will ever find the leads.

They return from the dump with no leads, but some old furniture for himself tied to the top of his car.

The episode ends with Andy and Erin at the dump where she finds him a new coat, and they share a kiss for the first time.

“Happy Hour” is the next episode and will air on March 25, 2010. Michael gets kicked out of the bar when he whips out all the stops to impress a friend of Jim and Pam’s. Meanwhile, Andy and Erin do their best to keep their relationships under wraps. Dwight rethinks his prenatal plan with Angela.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Four More Join "The Smurfs" Cast

Jonathan Winters, George Lopez, Katy Perry and Alan Cumming have all joined the cast of "The Smurfs" film for Sony Pictures.

According to Variety: The foursome is in various stages of talks to lend their voices to Sony's live-action/animated "Smurfs" movie.

The 84-year-old Winters, who voiced multiple characters on the long-running Hanna-Barbera cartoon version of "Smurfs," will play Papa Smurf. Pop singer Perry is in talks to portray Smurfette, Alan Cumming is taking on Gutsy Smurf and George Lopez is onboard as Grouchy Smurf.

Neil Patrick Harris has already signed on as the project's live-action character.

Raja Gosnell is directing the Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation hybrid pic from a screenplay by David N. Weiss & J. David Stem and Jay Sherick & David Ronn. Jordan Kerner is producing.

The Smurfs were created in 1958 by Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford, better known as Peyo, and have spawned a number of print and small screen incarnations worldwide.

I’m usually wary of animated/live action films because they tend to turn out like “Garfield” and not “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” but I’m hoping that “The Smurfs” will be an exception.

It was one of my favorite cartoons as a kid, and the having Neil Patrick Harris as the lead is an excellent way to start. The voice talent so far looks good as well. I think it’s very cool that Winters is on after voicing on the original series, and both Cumming and Lopez should be funny in their respective roles. I also like the choice of Kay Perry, who could ad some ‘spunk’ to Smurfette.

“The Smurfs” will be released in 2011.

New Line Rebooting "Police Academy"

New Line is rebooting the "Police Academy" franchise.

According to the Hollywood Reporter: New Line is looking for recruits for a relaunched "Police Academy" movie. Original producer Paul Maslansky is back for the new iteration, which has no writer or director attached.

The original seven-film comedy series set up the premise that due to a policy change, the police department must accept all willing recruits, effectively abolishing various standards.

The films followed a group of misfit recruits including a likeable rogue, a busty blond, a small mousy woman with a loud angry voice, a gentle giant, a gun-nut and a one-man sound effects machine. Normally set up to fail by an ambitious captain, the group always ends up saving the day for their boss--the kind yet clueless Commandant Lassard.

The first film, released in 1984, starred Steve Guttenberg as Mahoney, a repeat offender who is forced to enter the academy and emerges as the group's leader. Other notable characters included Moses Hightower (Bubba Smith), gun-crazy Tackleberry (David Graf), mousy Hooks (Marion Ramsey) and sound effects-spewing Larvell Jones (Michael Winslow).

The first was R-rated and took in $81.2 million at the domestic box-office and $146 million worldwide in 1984--making it easily one of the year's biggest hits. All told, the franchise took in about $240 million worldwide and inspired a pair of TV series.

It's hoped that this reboot will not only revitalize the brand but will mix a bunch of new talent with seasoned comedy veterans.

Said Maslansky: "It's going to be very worthwhile to the people who remember it and to those who saw it on TV. It's going to be a new class. We hope to discover new talent and season it with great comedians. It'll be anything but another movie with a numeral next to it. And we'll most probably retain the wonderful musical theme."

As of yet there has been no word on what tone the comedy will take--the raunchier, edgier comedy of the early films or the kid-friendly slapstick of the later ones. Either way, it’s another remake for Hollywood, let’s just hope they also don’t screw this up.

I hope they bring Steve Guttenberg back, along with that guy who does “the voices” (parodied heavily and hilariously on “Family Guy”).

Bruno Heller Finishes "Rome" Film Script

Bruno Heller ("The Mentalist") has finished his script for the film sequel to HBO's acclaimed historical epic series "Rome."

According to EW: Fans of HBO’s critically beloved (but short-lived) series "Rome" may not have seen the last of Vorenus and Pullo. Multiple sources have confirmed that a big-screen sequel to the sword-and-sandals series is well underway.

"Rome" creator/executive Bruno Heller has finished a script for Morning Light Productions, which financed the development and will produce the film.

Series stars Kevin McKidd (Lucius Vorenus) and Ray Stevenson (Titus Pullo) will likely sign onto the movie, which picks up in Germany four years after the series ended. The show's final episode which primarily dealt with the death of Mark Antony and Cleopatra and the rise of Octavian to become Emperor Augustus.

The next step for Morning Light is to find a director and a studio, since HBO Films won’t be involved.

The film likely follows the fate of the show's two leads Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson), despite the former seemingly mortally wounded in the finale.

Heller previously indicated in his long-term plan for the series that had it continued the next storyline would've dealt with Rome's response to the rise of a messiah in Palestine.

“Rome” was one of the most critically acclaimed series HBO has ever had, and I think a film adaptation will be successful. Fans of the show are obsessive, and if both Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson are back, the movie could be great.

Look for casting news on this project very soon.

Rachel Nichols Is "Conan" Love Interest

Rachel Nichols ("G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," "Alias") will play the love interest Tamara in director Marcus Nispel's "Conan" at Lionsgate.

According to Latino Review: Rachel Nichols, the hottie who played Scarlett in "G.I. JOE" and the red-headed Orion woman Cadet Gaila in "Star Trek" looks like she got the Tamara gig in Marcus Nispel’s "Conan."

Nichols edged out other contenders like "Cloverfield"’s Jessica Lucas and the "L Word"’s Sarah Shahi.

The character is a novitiate at a Greek-influenced monastery and serves as the Queen’s servant, bodyguard and best friend. When Tamara is separated from the Queen, the martial arts-trained young protector finds herself teaming with Conan (Jason Momoa) to track down the evil Khalar Singh (Stephen Lang) before he kills the Queen and becomes immortal.

Mickey Rourke, Bob Sapp and Leo Howard also star in the film, which is to begin shooting shortly.

The cast of this film is shaping up nicely, and it may turn out to be something better than your run-of-the-mill '80s remake. Anyone who watched “Alias” knows Nichols has the potential to be a pretty good actress and action star. Rourke has been riding the comeback wave since “The Wrestler” and Lang was an ultra badass in “Avatar."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Classic Album Review: OutKast, "Stankonia"

Check out the newest edition of my weekly column on Refined Hype, dishing out classic album reviews. This week: Outkast's "Stankonia".

According to the album's opening lyrics, "Stankonia" is the name of a fictional land at "the center of the earth, seven light years below sea level", which is "the place from which all 'funky thangs' come.”

It’s a bit of an unconventional way to start things, but OutKast was never the conventional group. Although many may say “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” is the group’s best album (Grammy win for Album of the Year), I think “Stankonia”, released in 2000, is their seminal work.

The structure of the album is unique in itself with the way the lyrical content is divided between verses from Big Boi and André 3000. The two describe themselves as "a player and a poet", and this is reflected within the lyrics themselves. Big Boi tends to deal with mostly typical hip-hop topics like gunplay, girls, and pimps on tracks such as "Snappin & Trappin" and "We Luv Deez Hoez". On the other hand André 3000 spits about other elements of "stanking", using some interesting metaphors about bombs, elephants, and ski slopes.

I’m always impressed when artists show that they have an appreciation for past music, and OutKast goes above and beyond on this album, which is one reason why its so great. “Stankonia” has a widely diverse batch of musical influences, including many musical genres to create a fully unique-sounding album.

From the heavy metal-style electric guitar riff on "Gasoline Dreams" to slick funk on "So Fresh, So Clean" to the samba style on “Humble Mumble”, the group leaves no stone unturned. The album also incorporates influences from gospel, on "Toilet Tisha” and some heavy drum and bass on "B.O.B.".

This stylistic diversity blends perfectly with the production, which uses trippy synthesizers, spacey sound effects, techno percussion, and 70s-funk, but in a more contemporary context. Even the album’s cover is influenced by something; it’s homage to Sly & the Family Stone's “There's a Riot Goin' On”.

“Ms. Jackson”, without a doubt the most popular track on the album, it won the boys from Atlanta a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. The titular "Ms. Jackson" is the real-life mother of Erykah Badu, André 3000's ex-girlfriend and the mother of his son. The song discusses the problems that break-ups, separation, and divorce can have on a couple, and the animosity that a woman's mother can have for her daughter's former boyfriend or husband.

The lyrics are simple and illustrative and show some raw personal feelings, like when Andre raps: “Ten times out of nine, now if I'm blind fine/The quickest muzzle throw it on my mouth and I'll decline/King meets queen, then the puppy love thing, together dream.”

“B.O.B.” may be the most recognizable and memorable tracks on the album due to its social relevance and fast moving, jungle influenced beat. Simply enough, inspiration for the song came when André 3000 was in a newsroom and overheard a news report about "bombs over Baghdad".

There are a slew of great lines in this track, especially in Andre’s first verse, which he spits out quick and fierce. He raps: Stack of question with no answers/Cure for cancer, cure for AIDS/Make me wanna stay on tour for days/Get back home, things are wrong.” This track is even more relevant now considering we still have troops in Iraq.

"So Fresh, So Clean" is one of the best hip-hop tracks of all time, and my personal favorite from “Stankonia”. The laid, back, synth heavy beat blends perfectly with Big Boi and Andre 3000’s contrasting delivery and flow. The final chorus sums things up perfectly, as they state, “And we are...the coolest motherfuckers on the planet/
In my mind...the sky is falling ain't no need to panic.”

At 24 tracks, the album is an epic piece of material. It’s broken up by some brief, humorous interludes, which personally I don’t like, but work well on “Stankonia”. Due to the differing styles and sound of many of the tracks, the interludes serve as a good transition from one genre to the next.

“Stankonia” is a classic hip-hop album, and shows off the raw skill and artistic ambition of OutKast. Had the duo not made “Stankonia” and fully developed their interesting sense of music, I don’t think they ever would have made “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Office Recap 3/11, "St. Patrick's Day"

On ‘The Office’, Jim returns from paternity leave, and the office is decorated for St. Patty’s Day. Everyone is excited.

It’s Meredith’s favorite holiday (she loves to drink) and Kevin and Oscar dress up for the occasion as well. Michael shows his love for the holiday and says, “It’s the closest the Irish will ever come to Christmas.”

With Jim away, Dwight has turned their desks into a workstation called “mega desk” which Jim foils. But Dwight is determined to get it back; using “strategy” and making Jim feel like he’s missing out on his baby.

Kathy Bates is back as Sabre head Jo Bennet and she says it’s her last day in Scranton. Michael has found his way on her good side, which he is excited about.

Andy tells the camera that he and Erin are preparing for their first date later that night. Andy wants it to be perfect, only problem? Erin is sick, so Jo sends her home. Andy is worried, but he figures out a plan.

Later, Jo has a ‘town hall’ style meeting asking for suggestions, and when Darryl offers a great one about shipping printers, she offers him his own office upstairs. This shocks Michael to the delight of Darryl.

As the day wears on, Jo gets annoyed with Michael after he takes her offer to “come visit in Florida” too literally. He tries to get back on her good side, offering to take her for lunch, which for the time being doesn’t work.

Andy decides to fake sick, and in hopes of preventing an outbreak, she sends him home. Andy decides to see Erin, sick or not.

When the clock hits five and it’s time to go home, Jo convinces Michael he didn’t do much work today so maybe he should stay a bit late. In turn everyone stays late. This is to the dismay of Todd Packer, Michael’s salesman buddy, who is already at the bar celebrating the holiday.

Andy surprises Erin, who is in her “jimmies” and they have their date anyway. But Erin has a foster brother she lives with, and his presence makes things very awkward. As does the ‘touchy feely’ nature of the two foster siblings.

Dwight tries to get out of work early, but Jim foils his plan, and in turn he himself gets out early. Darryl’s warehouse buddies come to his office to “break him out”, but he likes it upstairs, so he stays for now.

Michael finally decides he can’t take it anymore, and asks Jo to let everyone go. After a short conversation Michael gets himself back on Jo’s good side and gets everyone out to the bar finally to celebrate.

As Andy leaves Erin’s he chickens out of kissing her due to her foster brother, but he gets very excited when Erin leaves him with a nice kiss on the cheek.

The episode ends with everyone out at the bar celebrating. Meredith, Michael and everyone are dancing having a great time, finally clocking out of Dunder Mifflin at around 9 o’clock.

The next episode, “New Leads”, will air on March 18, 2010. When the sales staff let’s Sabre’s new “sales is king” policy get to their heads, Michael hides their new, prized leads.

"Tron Legacy" Movie Trailer Review

There are a lot of things that can be said about the first “Tron Legacy” trailer, and one of those things is that it is awesome.

Introduced in theaters Friday at screenings of "Alice in Wonderland," the clip sets up Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) on his quest as he races across town to the arcade where his father disappeared 20 years earlier after announcing that he was “going to change everything--science, medicine, religion.”

The trailer has a very “Dark Knight” feel especially in the shots of Hedlund on the motorcycle as he drives to the arcade. Even if you haven’t seen the original “Tron,” it doesn’t matter. If you like science fiction and awesome effects, you’re in the right place. All you need to know is that Sam Flynn is looking for his missing father.

Olivia Wilde and Michael Sheen have quick cameos, and Wilde looks stunning in the computerized world. The music, the shots, everything works in this trailer and it makes “Tron” look as if it will be one of the more entertaining films of 2010.

And seriously, Jeff Bridges looks badass as his computer counterpart and I think Hedlund is ready to breakout. I always liked him since “Four Brothers” and I think he is the perfect fir for Sam Flynn and could become a big star if it’s successful.

“Tron Legacy” will be released December 17, 2010. Check out the trailer.

Robert De Niro Up For A "Midnight Run" Sequel

Universal Pictures is looking into developing a sequel to 1988 action-comedy road movie "Midnight Run."

According to The Hollywood Reporter: Universal and Robert De Niro are getting ready for another run. The studio is developing a sequel to "Midnight Run," the 1988 action comedy that starred De Niro as a bounty hunter.

In the profanity-laced original, Robert De Niro starred as a bounty hunter on a cross-country journey attempting to bring back his latest catch, an embezzler (Charles Grodin).

Timothy Dowling ("Role Models") will pen the script for the follow-up which will team De Niro's character with a young comedic foil. De Niro and Jane Rosenthal will produce.

Though not a major hit, the film was critically well-received and has scored a strong following in the two subsequent decades since it's release.

“Midnight Run” is a hilarious film and if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching. Although De Niro may have lost a step or two over the years, I think this could end up being a great sequel.

Nick Nolte in Negotiations for 'Luck'

Nick Nolte is in negotiations to play a thoroughbred trainer in HBO's upcoming series "Luck."

According to Variety: The two-time Oscar nominee is in final negotiations to join Dennis Farina, Dustin Hoffman and John Ortiz in the network's horseracing pilot.

Series takes place in the world of horse racing and gambling, which is familiar turf for creator David Milch, who owns several horses. The story follows a diverse group of characters surrounding the racetrack. It centers on an intelligent, intuitive tough man (Hoffman) who always has been involved with gambling.

Nolte's last prominent TV role was 34 years ago in the ABC miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man." Nolte would portray the trainer of a horse.

Michael Mann, who is directing the pilot, will also exec produce along with Milch and former HBO programming topper Carolyn Strauss. Henry Bronchtein ("The Sopranos") is co-exec producer.

Say what you will about Nick Nolte, when he’s on (“Affliction,” “48 Hours”), he’s really on. I think this HBO show is a nice fit for him, and the cast is really turning out to be an all-star one. The fact that it's from David Milch and Michael Mann just adds to the excitement.

Shooting is scheduled to begin in a few weeks, and HBO is aiming to get the drama on the air by early 2011.

ABC Family Picks Up "The Blind Side"

ABC Family is on a theatrical buying spree, picking up network rights to the Sandra Bullock feature "The Blind Side.”

According to Variety: Just a night after Sandra Bullock took home the Academy Award for best actress for "The Blind Side," ABC Family is announcing that it has secured the network TV rights to the movie.

"The Blind Side" pickup also follows on the heels of another high-profile acquisition for ABC Family, the box office hit "Alice in Wonderland."

"The Blind Side" tells the story of Michael Oher, a young athlete taken in by the Tuohy family of Memphis. He would go on to a stellar high school career and now is in the NFL.

The film has grossed a little more than $250 million at the domestic box office--as most theatricals fetch around 10% of gross, that means a pricetag of around $25 million for the cabler.

The deal continues a relationship between ABC Family and Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution, which sold the title to the channel. ABC Family also has the rights to the first six "Harry Potter" features, with "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" set to air in late 2011.

This is a great idea for ABC Family because the film is a perfect fit for the network. I thought the film was pretty good (although I think the Best Picture nom was a bit of a stretch) and that the book was fantastic.

Like "Alice in Wonderland," ABC Family will debut "The Blind Side" in 2012.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Classic Album: Mos Def, “Black On Both Sides"

Brooklyn is the birthplace of two of my personal favorite rappers, Talib Kweli and Mos Def. They each have their own unique style and flow, and both are intelligent, clever and talented MC’s.

In the late 90’s, Mos Def's partnership with Kweli as the hip-hop group Black Star produced an album that is definitely a classic, but to me it’s his solo effort “Black On Both Sides” that fully displays his brilliance. Released in 1999, “Black On Both Sides” was the solo debut of Mos Def, and with 17 tracks, was an epic piece of hip-hop.

The size and scale of the album give it a novelistic feel, with each track acting as a chapter. But unlike most albums with that many tracks, there are no lame skits or interludes at all. It’s 71 minutes and 21 seconds of raw hip-hop.

The album is a tightrope walk of diverse hip-hop styles and features an emphasis on live instrumentation and socially conscious lyrics. Mos Def’s poetic style and his old-school vibe of confidence blend perfectly and show that he is the rare artist that can be called a humble MC.

There are so many great tracks on this album, including "Umi Says", "Climb" and, of course, the album's breakout hit "Ms. Fat Booty", that it’s almost impossible to decide which is the best.

“Mathematics” is bar none the best-produced track on the album. Mixed by DJ Premier it features a slew of great samples that make up the song’s bridge, including Snoop Dogg's "For All My Niggaz & Bitches" and dialogue from the film “Ghostbusters”. It’s truly a unique track; it contains lyrics about various social issues and asks the listener to add them up and come to conclusions about them.

One thing that he has been able to do through his career, and especially on this track is blend socially significant lyrics with clever and witty lines. As he raps on “Mathematics”, “Yo it's 6 Million Ways to Die/From the seven deadly thrills/Eight-year olds gettin found with 9 mill's/It's 10 P.M., where your seeds at? What's the deal.”

"Love", is easily the most personal track on the album, as Mos Def spits his philosophies on the rawest of human emotion and what it can bring people to do. Listening to the track you can hear the honesty as he raps, “My folks said they was in love when they had me/I take they love they made me wit to make rhymes and beats/(Can you feel?) The raw deal, it's all wheel-driven/Contemplate the essence of beats, rhymes and living.”

“Brooklyn" is a tribute to the borough where Mos Def grew up, and is my personal favorite track on the album. The track is filled with nostalgic and illustrative lyrics and Mos Def is so skilled on the track he makes things seem effortless.

What makes the track so original and so great is that on each of the three verses he uses a different beat and style, mirroring the unique nature of Brooklyn itself in the process.

Throughout the track he name drops some of the most distinct neighborhoods as he raps, “The cats out in Starret City gettin busy/To the Hook, to the East, to the Stuy/Bushwick and Canarsie, Farragut, Fullgreen, and Marcy/My Flatbush posse, generals of armies.”

On “Rock N Roll” Mos Def shows that he isn’t just a hip-hop fan, he’s a music fan. He proves his music IQ is above and beyond most other rappers as he name-drops such legendary musicians as John Coltane, Elvis Pressley, Jimi Hendrix and John Lee Hooker.

He also proves that “Rock N Roll” is no run-of-the-mill track when the beat suddenly changes and a ‘punk rock’ sound drops in and he takes on the screaming punk voice and raps: “Get your punk ass up!/Elvis Presley ain’t got no soul/Jimi Hendrix is rock and roll/You may dig on the Rolling Stones/But everything they did they stole.” in retrospect, the track serves as foreshadowing for his next album, the rock-oriented "The New Danger".

Since his professional debut as Black Star, Mos Def has shown he is one of the most intelligent and culturally relevant rappers in the industry.

"Black on Both Sides" is a complex and deeply personal project, and it is Mos Def’s crowing achievement. Although it may not come to mind right away when listing the best hip-hop albums of all time, it is undoubtedly a classic.

The Office Recap 3/4, "The Delivery

"The Delivery" begins with Jim and Pam both scoring some sales based on the fact that they are having a baby. Dwight is jealous and tries his hand at it, but he doesn’t quite nail it, instead opting for a ‘goat disease’ instead of a baby.

Michael tries his hardest to be involved with the birth in any way, even offering to drive. Kevin helps by cooking for himself and Pam a lot during the pregnant times because “they both get hungry at the same time.” Pam and Jim want to wait till midnight to leave for the hospital, because the insurance will only pay for two nights. The recession has hit Dunder Mifflin as well.

As Pam’s contractions start to speed up, everyone starts to huddle around. Jim gets worried about this, but Pam remarks, “No, the distractions are good,” which made Michael’s face light up in joy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy. “Conference Room! Five Seconds!”

But the distractions don’t help too much, the baby still is getting closer. In one of the funniest culture references in a while Phyllis offers to “put on lipstick like Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club”, but Michael rebuffs.

Earlier after Dwight said he wanted to have a baby for “business purposes”, him and Angela meet and discuss their plans and start to draw a contract. Dwight wants to name his child Morpheus, Honus, or Wharf. Of course. But Angela says no ‘Star Trek’ names.

Michael and everyone else in “The Office” keep attempting to distract Pam from her contractions. Jim starts to get agitated that Pam won’t go to the hospital, and gets a bit ‘flustered’. Outside Pam reveals accidentally to Jim that they are having a little girl, and also reveals that her water broke. Jim starts to get really worried. But it’s only 4:35 P.M. and Pam still refuses to leave.

But then the contractions start to get shorter. Dwight drives along in his car with Michael behind him driving Jim and Pam. Dwight leads the caravan along the way to the hospital to provide ‘protection’.

When Pam realizes that she doesn’t have her iPod she freaks, but Dwight agrees to go get it at home for her while they drive on. When they arrive, Michael parks in Ambulance parking because of their “emergency” and they baby is on its way.

Michael enters with a ton of balloons and we can hear Pam going through labor. Smarty, the cameras stay out. Michael walks in unprepared and walks out with a face of pure shock.

Everyone in “The Office” starts to arrive at the hospital to greet Pam and the new baby. But when the baby doesn’t come so quickly, Phyllis, Oscar and a few other decide to file out. When Michael hears the first cry of the baby he lights up a cigar in the hospital. When an orderly tells him to put it out he says, “you can’t smoke anywhere anymore”

Then little Cecilia Marie Halpert arrives, along with Pam’s mother, which makes an awkward moment when Michael hugs her. Michael holds the baby for the first time and he can’t get enough of it.

We see Dwight searching for the iPod, but when he can’t find it he tears up the house and ends up finding mold. Dwight decides to take a bath, read a book, get a good night sleep in Jim and Pam’s bed, and then eradicate the mold. It’s the Dwight Shrute way.

Michael uses the baby’s arrival as an excuse to play matchmaker around the office, claiming he brought Jim and Pam together. Andy uses this as an excuse to finally ask Erin out after a fairly long courtship.

Jim and Pam are tending to the crying baby in the hospital and have an awkward conversation about breast-feeding. The nurse takes the baby away for a little bit, leaving Jim and Pam wondering what to do. There’s a shortage of rooms in the hospital so Jim and Pam and the baby get some roommates: another couple and their newborn.

Michael tries to set up Kevin and Erin, but Erin reveals that she likes Andy instead. Michael convinces her to have lunch with him anyway, which Andy gets very jealous of while hiding behind a plant and spying on them.

Angela and Dwight agree to meet and sign their baby contract, while Pam and Jim struggle with lactation, sleep and being new parents. Michael reveals to Kevin that he ‘set-up’ the lunch, and he gets fairly upset about it. Andy gets caught hiding behind another plant, hitting himself in the head in the process.

Pam’s friend Isabella shows up to visit the baby, and Pam and Jim show her off. But they realize they are holding the wrong baby, it’s the roommate’s baby instead of their own. Oops!! Pam just breast fed the WRONG baby. Jim and Pam switch the babies before the other mother wakes up.

With Pam and Jim still at the hospital, Isabella goes to their house to find Dwight and his cousin totally destroying the kitchen in hopes of eradicating the mold. Dwight and Isabella messed around at the wedding, so they have a flirtatious moment, and he says he will call her. She likes it.

Andy asks Erin to fax a message, which in turn is an invitation to ask her out. Finally, when that doesn’t work, he just asks her. Erin is overjoyed. Michael is even more excited as he shoots off an invisible cupid’s arrow as the two make plans.

The episode ends with a hilarious moment with Michael talking to the camera smoking the cigar from earlier. Before he can get any words out he starts to cough, and thinks he’s going to throw up.

The next episode of “The Office” will be “St. Patrick’s Day” and will air March 11, 2010. Michael thinks that he’s impressed Jo Bennett, only to realize someone else in the office has caught her eye. Meanwhile, Dwight makes trouble on Jim’s first day back from paternity leave. Andy and Erin go on an interesting first date.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Replaces James McAvoy In Comedy

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is replacing James McAvoy as one of the two leads in the upcoming cancer-themed comedy at Summit Entertainment and Mandate Pictures.

According to MTV News: Last August, James McAvoy signed on to star in the formerly titled "I'm With Cancer," a comedy co-starring Seth Rogen about a 25-year-old battling cancer. MTV News has exclusively learned that McAvoy has dropped out of the film after shooting began and that he has been replaced with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

It's said British thespian McAvoy left the production "due to unrelated circumstances beyond his control," E! Online adding from a source that the cause is a family emergency.

McAvoy's role as the cancer-stricken twentysomething had been touted as the actor's first high-profile role following the success of 2008's "Wanted." The film is based on the true experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, who successfully waged his own battle with cancer in his 20s.

The other lead role is played by Seth Rogen, who said in a statement that "it's incredibly unfortunate that circumstances outside of everyone's control have taken James away from the project, but, with James's blessing, we were able to have Joseph step in to take on the role of Adam. We all look forward to working with James in the future."

Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston and Philip Baker Hall also star in the film, which began production last month. Jonathan Levine directs from a script by Reiser.

James McAoy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt happen to be two of my favorite young actors, so I’m glad to see that Levitt has picked up another good role. It’s unfortunate that McAvoy had to leave the project, but sometimes, personal things are more important to take care of. Either way, this film should be no worse for the wear, with Levitt on a semi-hot streak after last year's “(500) Days of Summer.”

Filming starts up again next week in Vancouver.

Justin Timberlake Is A "Bad Teacher"

Justin Timberlake has scored the lead male role in the comedy "Bad Teacher" at Sony Pictures.

According to Variety: Justin Timberlake will star opposite his former real-life love, Cameron Diaz, in Columbia Pictures romantic comedy "Bad Teacher."

Cameron Diaz plays a foul-mouthed, conniving middle school teacher whose sugar daddy cuts her off so she romantically pursues a substitute teacher (Timberlake) who is the heir to a watch fortune.

The teacher, however, is already in a relationship with a colleague (Lucy Punch) and soon the claws are out. Jason Segel, John Michael Higgins, Molly Shannon and Eric Stonestreet also star.

Timberlake and Diaz dated for years but broke it off in 2007. Timberlake beat out the likes of John Krasinski, Joel McHale, Timothy Olyphant, Guy Pearce, Adam Scott and Cheyenne Jackson for the role.

Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky penned the script, Jimmy Miller is producing and Jake Kasdan is directing.

This project has all the elements to be a hilarious film. Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky are two of the funniest writers on television with the work they do on “The Office,” and along with the new Ghostbusters film, they clearly are making their move to features.

Jake Kasdan has proved he is a solid comedy director, having helmed a bunch of episodes of “Freaks and Geeks” back in the day and also more recently with “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”

Also, the supporting cast is fantastic. Jason Segel, John Michael Higgins, Molly Shannon and Eric Stonestreet are all very funny. Anyone who watched “Modern Family” knows how funny Stonestreet can be, and I don’t think anything needs to be said about how great Segel is.

I also don’t think there will be any problems between Timberlake and Diaz like Vincent Chase and Mandy Moore had on season 2 of “Entourage.” Timberlake is a classy dude, and Diaz is a big star that wouldn’t let any past issues get in the way.

Timberlake also will star in "The Open Road," due out this summer, about the estranged son of a baseball legend on a road trip with his dad. The film features Oscar nominee Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart") and Ted Danson. He will also appear in David Fincher's "The Social Network," about the start-up of Facebook, on October 15.

Shooting kicks off later this month in Los Angeles.

Chris Weitz Talks Fourth "American Pie"

Out doing press for the "New Moon" DVD/Blu-ray release later this month, director Chris Weitz tells Movieweb that the upcoming fourth "American Pie" feature will go by the title "American Reunion."

According to Movieweb: Weitz, who has served as a producer and creative voice on the previous three installments, said he wants to get the entire original cast back together, including John Cho, as well as maybe have the epic "Pie" gag be in 3D.

Said Weitz: "I know that Universal wants to do it. We want to be involved in it. Because of the affection we hold for the story and the characters. We want to get as many former cast members back as possible."

Weitz specifically said he wanted Cho: "It would be great if we could get him back."

Weitz also joked that the film could go the 3D route, but for the most part, it "would be about the nostalgia element. For the time that it came out, for how people felt when they first saw it and now to experience it again with all the pathos and humor that implies."

I always have been a huge fan of the “American Pie” films (although I’ve never seen any of the DVD spinoffs), so I really hope this film happens. With so many remakes and reboots going on these days, why not another “Pie” film? The whole crew hasn’t been together since “American Pie 2,” and I know it would be good to get them back on screen together. Maybe even the Sherminator as well.

"American Reunion" is aiming for a 2011 release date.

"Avatar" Villain Up For New "Conan the Barbarian"?

"Avatar" villain Stephen Lang has been offered a similar gig as Khalar Singh, the main antagonist in the upcoming reboot/relaunch of the "Conan the Barbarian" franchise for Millenium Films.

According to Dark Horizons: The character is described as a "warlord and formidable warrior" who has won many campaigns. He has been building an empire in an effort to find the Queen of Acheron, a being whose blood he can use to control a demon army to protect his weak son and his legacy from a master sorcerer.

Singh also is responsible for the slaughter of a Cimmerian village of which Conan himself is the only survivor. Singh is nearing completion of his quest when a now adult-Conan seeks vengeance against the despot.

Nothing is final. Right now Millenium is negotiating with Lang's reps, so the possibility still remains that the deal can fall apart. But any fans of “Conan” should hope it doesn’t.

Lang was totally badass in “Avatar” and showed that he has the intensity and perfect look to play a villain. I hope this deal sticks because it would be a huge step in the right direction for the “Conan” reboot.

Woody Allen Hires Marion Cotillard For Lead Role

French actress Marion Cotillard ("La Vie en Rose," "Nine," "Public Enemies") has scored the leading female role in Woody Allen's next feature for Mediapro.

According to Deadline Hollywood: Woody Allen has set Marion Colillard to play the "Muse" and star opposite Owen Wilson in the untitled film he's shooting this summer in Paris. As usual with Allen, plot details are being kept under wraps.

First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy also has been mentioned as having a possible cameo, but nothing's set as of yet. Allen's picture is being financed under his three-picture deal with Spain’s Mediapro.

Allen recently wrapped “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” in London and scheduled for release in September. Cotillard most recently starred in “Nine.”

It seems as if Allen is making a habit of teaming up with European Oscar winners. He directed Penelope Cruz to an Oscar for her role in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” and now will work with Cotillard, who won the Best Actress award for “La Vie en Rose.”

Dustin Hoffman Joins Michael Mann and David Milch's "Luck"

Dustin Hoffman has signed on to headline the Michael Mann ("Heat," "The Insider") and David Milch- ("Deadwood") produced horse racing drama pilot "Luck" for HBO.

According to The Hollywood Reporter: Dustin Hoffman is headed to television in his first major TV series gig.

The project is described as a provocative look at the worlds of horseracing and gambling told through a diverse group of characters surrounding a racetrack. It centers on an intelligent, intuitive tough man (Hoffman) who always has been involved with gambling, from bookmaking and money laundering to casino operations.

Recently released from prison after four years, he teams with Gus Economou (Dennis Farina), his longtime chauffeur and muscle, to craft a complex plan involving the track. They recruit Turo Escalante (John Ortiz), a successful trainer with a sordid reputation.

Landing Hoffman is a major coup for HBO as the "Tootsie" actor has not done TV in more than 40 years, since his breakthrough role in the 1967 feature "The Graduate." He won an Emmy in 1986 for CBS' adaptation of the 1984 Broadway production of "Death of Salesman," in which he played the lead.

Hoffman is such a great actor, anything he does will catch my eye, and this series sounds perfect for him. It also sounds perfect for HBO. Although I don’t think any series will match the quality of “The Sopranos,” I like that HBO is trying. Between this series and the upcoming “Boardwalk Empire,” things are looking solid for the network.

Milch wrote the pilot, which Mann is directing. Both are executive producing with Carolyn Strauss and "The Sopranos" alum Henry Bronchtein.

Filming kicks off this spring in Los Angeles.

Dustin Lance Black Does J. Edgar Hoover Biopic

Oscar-winning scribe Dustin Lance Black ("Milk") is set to pen "Hoover," a biopic on the life of J. Edgar Hoover for Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment.

According to Pajiba: The story will follow the career of Hoover from his founding of the F.B.I. in 1935, where he remained as director until his death in 1972.

It's expected to be a warts-and-all look at the man from his successful efforts in the gangland wars of the '30s, his paranoid concern about "subversives," his links with the Mafia and Freemasons, rumors of him being a deeply repressed gay man, and the often dirty and illegal methods he sanctioned to bring down people and organizations he considered threats.

Billy Crudup recently portrayed Hoover in the movie “Public Enemies", which focused, in part, on Hoover’s efforts to bring down John Dillinger.

Hoover is one of the most controversial and interesting figures in American history, so it would be fascinating to see a dramatic film of his life. Considering that Black already has shown he can write an Academy Award-winning biopic with “Milk,” he seems very up to the task of Hoover’s story.

Black is currently in post-production on the Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris drama "What’s Wrong with Virginia," which he wrote and directed.

No director is yet attached.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Classic Album: Jay-Z, “Reasonable Doubt"

Classic albums come in many different styles, but one way in which they appear very often is in the form of a debut. Every artist, director, actor, writer, producer, starts somewhere, and if they are lucky enough, their debut is the benchmark that they are judged against the rest of their career.

Jay-Z’s ferocious, gritty debut, “Reasonable Doubt”, is one such album. Released in June of 1996, “Reasonable Doubt” is one of best hip-hop albums of all time and is considered by many to be Jay-Z’s crowing achievement.

These days, Jay-Z is one of the most successful rappers in the industry and also a powerful businessman, but back when “Reasonable Doubt” dropped, he was just another street hustler.

Thankfully for Hova, he was good at hustling, and even better at rapping about it. It’s clear from his earliest rhymes why Jay-Z is now at the top of the hip-hop industry. He is cocky bordering on arrogant, but at the same time playful and witty. He exudes an effortless, unaffected cool throughout every track.

And although he's rapping about rising to the top instead of being there, his material obsessions are already clear: To him, hustling is about living the high life and getting everything you can, not violence or tortured glamour or some cheap thrills.

This point of view is exhibited perfectly on the track, “Can’t Knock the Hustle”, which features Mary J. Blige. Through clever lyrics that reference past mafia figures and crime films, Jay-Z touches on the less glamorous side of street life, like violence and drug dealing. The track opens with a line from “Scarface”, and he epitomizes the style of Mafioso rap when he rhymes: “I got the Godfather flow, the don Juan Demarco.”

"Dead Presidents II” slows the tempo of the album down with a mellow beat that meshes perfectly with Jay-Z's simplistic delivery style. Its realistic and clever lyrics about the drug-dealing underworld have made it a hip-hop classic and the title has become a popular slang for money, especially on the street. Hova raps one of his best lines on the track when he spits: “Can't stop I, from drinkin Mai-Tai's, with Ta Ta/Down in Nevada, ha ha, Poppa, word life/I dabbled in crazy weight without rap, I was crazy straight.”

"Feelin' It," is also an extremely memorable track, with the producer Ski bringing on some raw piano style that gives it a late night jazz vibe. One line in the track evokes Hova’s early interest in the finer things in life when he raps: "If y'all ain't talkin' about large money, what's the point?"

My personal favorite track is "Brooklyn's Finest", which features fellow Brooklyn native, Notorious B.I.G. While I might be a bit biased because I’m from the borough the track is about, it’s undeniable that it’s one of the best ever.

When the gunshots fire off at the opening of the track, you know some gritty, violent lyrics are on the way. While Jay-Z has some great lines, the best parts of the track come from Biggie himself. He makes his presence felt on the track when he raps: “Who shot ya? Mob ties like Sinatra/Peruvians tried to do me in, I ain't paid them yet/Tryin to push 700's, they ain't made them yet/Rolex and bracelets is frostbit.”

It’s ironic that this album is often compared to “Illmatic” by Nas, considering the feud that occurred between the two for so many years, but it’s definitely warranted.

The comparisons are endless: Jay- Z and Nas were both hungry young MC’s with substantial underground buzz when they dropped their debut albums. Each album became an instant classic, detailing the rapper’s experiences on the streets with disarming honesty, and energetic rhymes.

Although “Reasonable Doubt” shares some characteristics with “Illmatic”, it stands up completely on its own as a classic. It’s Jigga Man’s seminal work, and even though his “Blueprint” album is just as heralded, “Reasonable Doubt” is what made Jay-Z who he is today.