You can't go home again. It's a maxim whose institution in our culture has spanned from Thomas Wolfe's eponymous novel to that first season episode of Battlestar Galactica, but is it a tried and true phrase to live by or a tired cliché rung up by the real estate industry? In the realm of television, many a star has attempted to revitalize past glory on the old stomping grounds, return to the network that launched his or her career in the first place. James Gandolfini, for instance, is returning to HBO (the old home of his historical series The Sopranos) with a new drama pilot titled Criminal Justice.
The Hollywood Reporter reveals that Gandolfini will headline the project, an adaptation of a BBC series that aired in 2008. The story follows the trial of a Pakistani-American murder suspect (Rizwan Ahmed) from inception to conclusion, with Gandolfini playing his second-rate defense attorney Jack Stone. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List, Gangs of New York, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) will direct and co-write the pilot with The Wire writer Richard Price.
Although it's not unheard of for a star to find success with a second series on the network responsible for his or her renown, there are definitely motivations to branch out to other venues. Generally speaking, television actors looking for work following a hit series opt to showcase their versatility, rather than promote the idea that they can't do anything we haven't seen from them so far. Famously, the stars of Seinfeld have endured difficulty illustrating what they can do beyond the confines of what NBC's hit sitcom displayed. Both Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus sought post-Seinfeld work on NBC, to little success: Richards' detective series The Michael Richards Show only ran for eight episodes in the year 2000, while Louis-Dreyfus' sitcom Watching Ellie only made it to 16 before ratings-provoked cancellation. It should be noted that Louis-Dreyfus has found much greater success on other networks; her CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine lasted five seasons, in addition to earning the actress an Emmy — a victory that her new HBO comedy Veep might well match.
Coming off of another NBC powerhouse, Friends, actor Matthew Perry has sought work on the network twice since putting Chandler Bing to rest. In 2006, he starred in the Aaron Sorkin drama Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which earned critical acclaim but only ran for one season. His new sitcom Go On premiered on the network this season, and has been a contributing factor in NBC's number one ratings status.
A greater certainty in star-network reunions existed in the past — at least on CBS. Responsible for hits like The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and The Bob Newhart Show, CBS granted these series' featured actors Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Denver, and Bob Newhart followup shows The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Gilligan's Island, and Newhart — each of which were monumental success stories.
But with today's "less forgiving" television audiences, always looking for reasons to reject an actor's efforts to explore the new, the adherence to a network is riskier. The pattern suggested above is that when you see a star return to his or her network, you want to see that star doing the thing that instituted the fame. On The Michael Richards Show and Studio 60, the actors in question were too far gone from their Seinfeld and Friends characters. But Go On and the sitcoms of CBS yore reproduced the things we loved about Perry, Moore, Denver, and Newhart. The same can be said for Tony Danza, whose success on ABC's Taxi was transmitted to the network's later sitcom Who's the Boss?. If we're tuning into the same place to watch the same people, we want to see the same thing.
So how will Gandolfini fare on Criminal Justice? Is a jailhouse lawyer close enough to a mafioso to keep audiences engaged in the actor, or will people miss Tony Soprano an opt away from the new series? If viewers are willing to accept Gandolfini as anything other than Tony in the first place, the actor might have a hit on his hands. More than any pattern of which we might take note is the issue of quality. If Criminal Justice is well-written and accessible, then it could well be a hit. With the creative team of Zaillian and Price, and an actor like Gandolfini, quality is indeed promised. Now if only they could find a less generic title...
[Photo Credit: HBO]
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Jim Carrey and Jake Gyllenhaal will show their pinstripes for New Line’s adaptation of Damn Yankees.
Both actors are attached to star in a contemporary transfer of the classic musical with Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel on script duty. The musical is being produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the duo behind New Line's Hairspray.
Damn Yankees centers on Joe Boyd, a happily married man who makes a deal with the devil to help save his favorite ball team.
In exchange for his soul, he's transformed into slugger Joe Hardy. He can break the deal but as fate and the devil would have it, the deadline falls during the World Series.
Carrey would play the devil, and Gyllenhaal would play Boyd.
Five years ago, reports Variety, another proposed version of Damn Yankees struck out at Miramax.
Lola, engaged by the devil to tempt Joe, won’t be cast until the script is turned in. Meetings with directors will also wait.
The original was directed by George Abbott and choreographed by Bob Fosse, with music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, and book by Abbott and Douglass Wallop.
Damn Yankees was also turned into a 1958 Warner Bros. film that was directed by Abbott and Stanley Donen, with Ray Walston and Gwen Verdon re-creating their stage performances. Tab Hunter played the slugger.
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A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.