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14 items from 2007


Juno

14 December 2007 2:54 PM, PST | The Scorecard Review | See recent Scorecard Review news »

Plot: Juno (Ellen Page) is an offbeat teenager who has an unplanned pregnancy. She makes the difficult decision to look for adoptive parents and finds Mark (Jason Bateman) and Vanessa (Jennifer Garner). Who’s it for: If you want a feel-good, off-beat film, this is for you. Ellen Page’s performance reminded me of Jason Schwartzman’s debut in “Rushmore.” Expectations: There was definite buzz that “Juno” would be this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine.” High expectations are rarely good, but it helped that I had never seen a preview before watching the film, so the best parts weren’t repeats for me. Scorecard Actors: Ellen Page as Juno: Wow. Page is a force on the screen. She finds the ability to act much older than she is while not coming »

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TV News Briefs: Arrested Development, Trek, Moonlight, Big Bang, Law & Order, John from Cincinnati, Father Knows Best, and Schedule Changes

6 December 2007 3:38 PM, PST | TVSeriesFinale.com | See recent TVSeriesFinale news »

Arrested Development -- Jason Bateman continues to be asked about the possibility of a Bluth family reunion. He told ReelzChannel that the prospect is still "on the table." Michael Cera said that, though he'd be willing to be a part of an Arrested Development movie, he wasn't aware of any progress or specific plans.

Star Trek -- Rumors have been circulating that George Takei will be making a cameo as an elder Captain Sulu in J.J. Abram's upcoming Trek movie. Nice as that may have been, it's been confirmed that this rumor is false.

In related Star Trek movie news, Leonard Nimoy is scheduled to film his Mr. Spock scenes nest week. A trailer for the upcoming film is expected to start running in theaters with Abrams' Cloverfield movie beginning January 18, 2008.

Moonlight and The Big Bang Theory -- Speaking at the Ubs Global Media & Communications Conference, CBS President Les »

- TVSeriesFinale.com

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Pitt no longer in 'Play'

22 November 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Brad Pitt has pulled out of Universal's political thriller State of Play because of script concerns.

The move comes after a couple of weeks of meetings between Pitt and director Kevin Macdonald in an attempt to iron out the concerns. The script cannot be worked on due to the writers strike.

Universal is on the fast track to replace the star. Sources said the studio is looking at Johnny Depp, whose own movie Shantaram just got postponed at Warner Bros., as well as Russell Crowe.

Pitt was set to star with Edward Norton, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Jason Bateman and Robin Wright Penn in the Matthew Michael Carnahan-scripted adaptation of the British miniseries. He was playing a political consultant-turned-journalist who heads a newspaper's murder investigation involving a fast-rising politician (Norton).

Sources said the studio is mulling its legal options and might sue the actor.

Universal confirmed Pitt's departure in a statement: "Brad Pitt has left the Universal Pictures production of 'State of Play.' We remain committed to this project and to the filmmakers, cast members, crew and others who are also involved in making the movie." »

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Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

16 November 2007 3:22 PM, PST | The Scorecard Review | See recent Scorecard Review news »

Plot: “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” is a magic toy story where everything comes to life. Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) runs the place, but when he decides to depart, he hires an accountant (Jason Bateman) and attempts to leave the store in the reluctant hands of the store manager, Molly (Natalie Portman). Who’s it for: If you [...] Related posts:The Savages Plot: Wendy (Laura Linney) and Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are...The Darjeeling Limited Plot: Three American brothers, who haven’t seen each other in...Year of the Dog Plot: Peggy (Molly Shannon) is a friendly co-worker, aunt and... Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin. »

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Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

15 November 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

This review was written for the theatrical release of "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium."

One of the central characters in "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" longs to achieve the "sparkle" that shows she's inspired and expressing her highest potential. The film, presumably, aims for that same glow. But for all its playful touches and neat-o nostalgia for nondigital entertainment, the whimsy feels forced.

In the director's chair for the first time, Zach Helm juggles some of the same themes he brought to his script for "Stranger Than Fiction" -- the process of storytelling, fear of death and the need to live life to the fullest. As in that movie, there's less here than meets the eye, but without the former's Charlie Kaufman Lite layers of metafiction, the emptiness is often glaringly evident. Helm's slender tale doesn't quite know what to do with its four characters; what might have been pleasing simplicity instead feels thinly conceived. As family-friendly fare starring Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman, the fantasy drama should conjure up decent, if not magical, boxoffice.

Divided into storybook chapters, the film begins at "the beginning of the end" for Mr. Magorium, who, at age 243, is preparing to depart this earthly plane because -- well, enough is enough, and he's out of shoes. For the past 113 years he has run the titular establishment, a sort of enchanted indie FAO Schwarz. Hoffman plays the toy impresario in teased 'do and unruly eyebrows and with a wispy, silly voice. The performance isn't a flat-out miscalculation like Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka, but as oddities go, it's more distracting than compelling.

Magorium plans to bequeath his shop, a storefront/house sandwiched between skyscrapers, to its manager, Molly Mahoney (a convincingly tentative Portman). At 23, she's a onetime musical prodigy who feels stuck, unable to complete the concerto she's been trying to compose. She has a fondness for Emporium regular Eric (Zach Mills), a sweetly geeky 9-year-old who has a knack for invention and troublemaking friends. He tries out his nascent social skills on Henry Weston (Jason Bateman), the accountant Magorium has hired to put his finances in order. Being an accountant, Henry is necessarily an impassive skeptic who can't accept that magic exists. He will, of course, be convinced.

For her part, Molly can't accept that her beloved boss is leaving. Neither can the store, whose red walls begin turning gray -- decor body language for a sulk. The books and stuffed animals start acting out, too, until full-fledged magic mayhem forces Magorium to close shop temporarily.

Within the Crayola-hued profusion created by production designer Therese DePrez and costumer designer Christopher Hargadon, there are lovely fillips, and visual effects designer Kevin Tod Haug brings high-spirited contributions to the low-fi fantasy. There's not a PlayStation 3 in sight but plenty of such delightful diversions as a squeak-toy gavel, a nervous Slinky, a room full of bouncing balls and a particularly expressive sock monkey.

Until the final sequence, though, the phantasmagoria is mildly charming rather than wondrous. That wouldn't be a problem if the characters had more substance. Chanting a pop-psych carpe diem mantra, the film can't find its own pulse. Helping to set a pace is the lush score by Alexandre Desplat and Aaron Zigman, but its ooh-ahh insistence isn't enough to truly entrance.

MR. MAGORIUM'S WONDER EMPORIUM

Fox

Mandate Pictures and Walden Media presenta FilmColony production in association with Gang of Two

Credits:

Screenwriter-director: Zach Helm

Producers: Richard N. Gladstein, Jim Garavente

Executive producers: Joe Drake, Nathan Kahane

Director of photography: Roman Osin

Production designer: Therese DePrez

Music: Alexandre Desplat, Aaron Zigman

Co-producer: Barbara A. Hall

Costume designer: Christopher Hargadon

Visual effects designer: Kevin Tod Haug

Editors: Sabrina Plisco, Steven Weisberg

Cast:

Mr. Edward Magorium, Avid Shoe-Wearer: Dustin Hoffman

Molly Mahoney, the Composer: Natalie Portman

Henry Weston, the Mutant: Jason Bateman

Eric Applebaum, the Hat Collector: Zach Mills

Bellini, the Bookbuilder: Ted Ludzik

Mrs. Goodman, Who Wants the Store: Kiele Sanchez

Running time -- 94 minutes

MPAA rating: G

»

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Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

15 November 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

One of the central characters in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium longs to achieve the "sparkle" that shows she's inspired and expressing her highest potential. The film, presumably, aims for that same glow. But for all its playful touches and neat-o nostalgia for nondigital entertainment, the whimsy feels forced.

In the director's chair for the first time, Zach Helm juggles some of the same themes he brought to his script for Stranger Than Fiction -- the process of storytelling, fear of death and the need to live life to the fullest. As in that movie, there's less here than meets the eye, but without the former's Charlie Kaufman Lite layers of metafiction, the emptiness is often glaringly evident. Helm's slender tale doesn't quite know what to do with its four characters; what might have been pleasing simplicity instead feels thinly conceived. As family-friendly fare starring Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman, the fantasy drama should conjure up decent, if not magical, boxoffice.

Divided into storybook chapters, the film begins at "the beginning of the end" for Mr. Magorium, who, at age 243, is preparing to depart this earthly plane because -- well, enough is enough, and he's out of shoes. For the past 113 years he has run the titular establishment, a sort of enchanted indie FAO Schwarz. Hoffman plays the toy impresario in teased 'do and unruly eyebrows and with a wispy, silly voice. The performance isn't a flat-out miscalculation like Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka, but as oddities go, it's more distracting than compelling.

Magorium plans to bequeath his shop, a storefront/house sandwiched between skyscrapers, to its manager, Molly Mahoney (a convincingly tentative Portman). At 23, she's a onetime musical prodigy who feels stuck, unable to complete the concerto she's been trying to compose. She has a fondness for Emporium regular Eric (Zach Mills), a sweetly geeky 9-year-old who has a knack for invention and troublemaking friends. He tries out his nascent social skills on Henry Weston (Jason Bateman), the accountant Magorium has hired to put his finances in order. Being an accountant, Henry is necessarily an impassive skeptic who can't accept that magic exists. He will, of course, be convinced.

For her part, Molly can't accept that her beloved boss is leaving. Neither can the store, whose red walls begin turning gray -- decor body language for a sulk. The books and stuffed animals start acting out, too, until full-fledged magic mayhem forces Magorium to close shop temporarily.

Within the Crayola-hued profusion created by production designer Therese DePrez and costumer designer Christopher Hargadon, there are lovely fillips, and visual effects designer Kevin Tod Haug brings high-spirited contributions to the low-fi fantasy. There's not a PlayStation 3 in sight but plenty of such delightful diversions as a squeak-toy gavel, a nervous Slinky, a room full of bouncing balls and a particularly expressive sock monkey.

Until the final sequence, though, the phantasmagoria is mildly charming rather than wondrous. That wouldn't be a problem if the characters had more substance. Chanting a pop-psych carpe diem mantra, the film can't find its own pulse. Helping to set a pace is the lush score by Alexandre Desplat and Aaron Zigman, but its ooh-ahh insistence isn't enough to truly entrance.

MR. MAGORIUM'S WONDER EMPORIUM

Fox

Mandate Pictures and Walden Media presenta FilmColony production in association with Gang of Two

Credits:

Screenwriter-director: Zach Helm

Producers: Richard N. Gladstein, Jim Garavente

Executive producers: Joe Drake, Nathan Kahane

Director of photography: Roman Osin

Production designer: Therese DePrez

Music: Alexandre Desplat, Aaron Zigman

Co-producer: Barbara A. Hall

Costume designer: Christopher Hargadon

Visual effects designer: Kevin Tod Haug

Editors: Sabrina Plisco, Steven Weisberg

Cast:

Mr. Edward Magorium, Avid Shoe-Wearer: Dustin Hoffman

Molly Mahoney, the Composer: Natalie Portman

Henry Weston, the Mutant: Jason Bateman

Eric Applebaum, the Hat Collector: Zach Mills

Bellini, the Bookbuilder: Ted Ludzik

Mrs. Goodman, Who Wants the Store: Kiele Sanchez

Running time -- 94 minutes

MPAA rating: G

»

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Where Are They Now? Green Room Chatter for October 2, 2007

2 October 2007 11:07 AM, PDT | TVSeriesFinale.com | See recent TVSeriesFinale news »

Their shows may be finished but your favorite stars are still keeping busy on new projects.

Kyle Gallner (Veronica Mars) and Virginia Madsen (Smith) have been booked for the Gold Circle-Lionsgate horror movie The Haunting in Connecticut. Filming is underway in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with Peter Cornwell directing.

On NBC's Bionic Woman, Jordan Bridges (Conviction) will play a teacher's assistant at a prestigious university who also works for the CIA and is a potential love interest for bionic chick Jamie Sommers (Michelle Ryan).

Garret Dillahunt (Deadwood, The Book of Daniel, John from Cincinnati) has come on board Fox's midseason drama Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, as a mysterious character named Cromartie. The series will pick up where the second Terminator movie left off.

The Sopranos' Paul Schultze will play an FBI agent on an upcoming episode of NBC's Journeyman.

Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) has been signed to join Brad Pitt »

- TVSeriesFinale.com

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Mirren, McAdams & Wright Penn getting ready to 'Play'

26 September 2007 | ioncinema | See recent ioncinema news »

- Now that the men have been cast (Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Jason Bateman), Variety reports that the Universal Pictures project is now setting their casting bars high aiming to bring excellent thesps like Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren and Robin Wright Penn on board.  Directed by Kevin Macdonald who is no stranger these days to political controversy, this is written by Matthew Carnahan, the Americanized adaptation of the acclaimed British miniseries is about two friends, one a member of Parliament and the other a journalist (Pitt). Norton will play a congressman whose speedy political rise is threatened by an investigation into the death of his mistress. Pitt plays a politico-turned-journalist whose relationship with the solon is compromised when he oversees his newspaper's investigation into the murder and develops a relationship with the pol's estranged wife.McAdams will play the youngest reporter at Washington Globe, who gets caught up in a murder conspiracy. »

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'Play' date: McAdams, Mirren, Wright Penn

26 September 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren and Robin Wright Penn are in negotiations to join Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Jason Bateman in "State of Play", Working Title and Universal's adaptation of the BBC miniseries. Kevin Macdonald is directing.

The story follows a congressman (Norton) and his former campaign manager-turned journalist (Pitt) who find themselves on opposite sides after the politician's research assistant and mistress turns up dead.

McAdams will play the youngest reporter at Washington Globe, who gets caught up in a murder conspiracy. Mirren is the newspaper's tough editor, and Wright Penn is the congressman's ex-wife.

Matthew Michael Carnahan and Tony Gilroy worked on the script.

Working Title's Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan are producing along with Andrew Hauptman. Paul Abbott is exec producing.

McAdams is shooting "The Time Traveler's Wife" for New Line, in which she stars opposite Eric Bana. She recently wrapped Neil Burger's "The Return" opposite Tim Robbins and Michael Pena. She is repped by UTA, Magnolia Entertainment and attorney Howard Fishman. »

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The Kingdom

12 September 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

The Kingdom, about a terrorist attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, would seem to be another addition to the list of this fall's politically-charged movies. But unlike the upcoming Rendition or In the Valley of Elah, Peter Berg's movie is no more than an action movie with an exotic backdrop. That would be fine, if only the movie were more exciting. It succeeds neither as a pointed political commentary nor as a taut thriller. With Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, and Jennifer Garner heading the cast, the movie should generate some healthy opening-weekend business. But its long-term prospects seem iffy.

The title sequence does a nifty job of sketching the history of America's involvement in Saudi Arabia during the last century, from the discovery of oil to the emergence of Osama bin Laden. The film itself opens with a gripping set-piece -- a baseball game held in the American compound (populated mainly by oil company workers and their families) that is disrupted by a deadly terrorist assault. The FBI is charged with investigating the killing of Americans on foreign soil, but Washington honchos, including a craven Attorney General (Danny Huston), refuse to authorize any official American action. So a strong-willed FBI agent, Ronald Fleury (Foxx), assembles his own small team and heads off to the Middle East to investigate. While the Saudis are initially wary of these American interlopers, the leading Saudi officer eventually decides to cooperate with Fleury's team. They mine the crime scene for clues and interview witnesses, with the hope of tracking down the mastermind behind the attacks.

The relationship of the two lead investigators is the strongest element in the film. Screenwriter Matthew Michael Carnahan seems to have taken some inspiration from In the Heat of the Night. The dynamic between the two detectives is exactly the same as in that Oscar-winning 1967 film. Fleury is the fish out of water in an alien world, and after some tense initial encounters, he and the local sheriff join forces to solve the crime. Foxx demonstrates his usual charisma, though the best performance comes from Ashraf Barhom (who previously appeared in Paradise Now) as the humane Arab colonel.

Unfortunately, the other actors have less opportunity to shine. Jason Bateman (as the least experienced team member) and Jeremy Piven (as a slick American diplomat who might be a cousin of Entourage's Ari Gold) do have a few funny moments. Garner has little to do, and Cooper barely registers at all. The biggest waste of the film is casting this superb Oscar-winning actor in a role that any B-level TV personality could have played just as smoothly. The fault is not with the actors; their roles are completely devoid of sharp character details. All we learn about Fleury is that he's a devoted father, which is established in a treacly early scene in which he visits his son's school.

The shallow script might have been salvaged by more dynamic direction. But Berg (Friday Night Lights) films much of the action in close-ups with a jerky moving camera. The film cries out for long shots that would clarify the logistics. Berg simply thrusts us into the middle of the chaos, which might have been his intention, but the result is a vertigo-inducing ride that leaves a lot of the action unintelligible.

The excessive use of close-ups undermines the strong work of cinematographer Mauro Fiore and production designer Tom Duffield. The film ends by suggesting that lust for revenge can warp righteous American patriots as well as Islamic fundamentalists. Still, this earnestly even-handed message is a bit of a cheat. Given the heinous actions of the terrorists, audiences are primed to cheer when they finally get blown to smithereens. We might cheer more loudly if The Kingdom were a more effective piece of rabble-rousing.THE KINGDOM

Universal Pictures

Relativity Media, A Forward Pass/Stuber-Parent Production

Credits:

Director: Peter Berg

Screenwriter: Matthew Michael Carnahan

Producers: Michael Mann, Scott Stuber

Executive producers: Mary Parent, Steven Saeta, Sarah Aubrey, John Cameron, Ryan Kavanaugh

Director of photography: Mauro Fiore

Production designer: Tom Duffield

Music: Danny Elfman

Costume designer: Susan Matheson

Editors: Kevin Stitt, Colby Parker Jr.

Cast:

Ronald Fleury: Jamie Foxx

Grant Sykes: Chris Cooper

Janet Mayes: Jennifer Garner

Adam Leavitt: Jason Bateman

Col. Faris Al Ghazi: Ashraf Barhom

Damon Schmidt: Jeremy Piven

James Grace: Richard Jenkins

Gideon Young: Danny Huston

Sgt. Haytham: Ali Suliman

Aaron Jackson: Tim McGraw

Francis Manner: Kyle Chandler

Elaine Flowers: Frances Fisher

Maricella Canavesio: Anna Deavere Smith

Prince Ahmed Bin Khaled: Omar Berdouni

General Al Abdulmalik: Mahmoud Said

Abu Hamza: Hezi Saddik

Running time -- 110 minutes

MPAA rating: R

»

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Juno

10 September 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

This review was written for the festival screening of "Juno".Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- "Juno" defies expectations at every turn, giving the slip to anything saccharine or trite or didactic, looking to its characters for insight and complexity, reveling in dialogue that is artificial yet witty and articulate and, most crucially, taking a presumably stale storyline and making it into a buoyant comedy. The film, the second directed by Jason Reitman and first written by professional stripper-turned-writer Diablo Cody, detonates wisecracks every step of the way, yet never completely disguises the fact that this is a comedy from a couple of moralists determined to portray the great human values in love and friendship.

The Fox Searchlight picture, slated for a December release, looks like a feel-good movie for audiences and studio alike. The titular performance by 20-year-old Ellen Page is a breakout sensation that can only further boost the film's chances this holiday season.

Actually, all performances are sharp, which shows what can happen when actors get to play characters and deliver lines that bristle with originality. Cody certainly knows how to write scenes that move off center as she creates a world of teens, high school and suburban families that looks typical yet is anything but.

Juno MacGuff (Page) is a supersmart, cool 16-year-old (named after Zeus' wife), whose single experimentation with sex with her best male friend, Paulie (a touching Michael Cera), results in pregnancy. After visiting an abortion clinic "to procure a hasty abortion," she thinks better of the idea and falls back on Plan B.

She decides to have the baby and place it with a family through private adoption. She finds the perfect couple in the local Penny Saver, right next to exotic pet adoptions. These are Vanessa (Jennifer Grant) and Mark (Jason Bateman). All this legwork comes before reporting her situation and solution, at the urging of best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), to her parents.

That scene is a perfect example of how Cody defies expectations. Juno's gruff yet kind dad (J.K. Simmons) takes the news with equanimity, even saying of the father-to-be, "I didn't think he had it in him." Stepmom Bren Allison Janney) had rather hoped the bad news with be that Juno was into drugs or expelled but goes to work to support her step daughter with a program of prenatal vitamins.

The thing about Juno is that she is much older than her years and must see to everyone, especially her baby's new parents. She develops a rapport with Mark through music -- he turns out to be a composer of commercial jingles -- and horror flicks. "You have the best taste in slasher movies!" she enthuses.

But all is not right in the couple's relationship. This makes her despair, not only for her baby but for herself in the future. Do all relationships -- her mother essentially abandoned her -- fizzle and die? She takes another look at Paulie, the boy she left behind who has come to love her.

The dialogue, especially coming from the teens, has a hip eloquence, coining phrases and juxtaposing arresting though sometimes corny images that startle the ear. Juno's fetus is described as a "sea monkey." She doesn't just need to piss but to "pee like Seabiscuit." She declares everyone at school sees her teen pregnancy as "a cautionary whale."

This may sound rather coy, but Cody's dialogue has a definite rhythm and Reitman directs his actors to deliver the words in the rapid-fire precision of a '30s screwball comedy. Indeed all scenes develop a rhythm and inner logic that bring the movie to often startling revelations and insights.

Page never succumbs to the cuteness such a sassy character might encourage. There is a straightforward honesty and rigorous intellectual curiosity about Juno MacGuff. She may use a cell phone shaped like a hamburger and argue the merits of various popular musical movements, but she is a vulnerable teen underneath all that maturity.

Thirlby and Cera are refreshing in their roles as kids with smarts. When Juno tells Paulie he can be cool without really trying, he admits, in one of the movie's best lines, that he actually tries very hard.

The Canadian production presents a slightly idealized, maybe a bit stylized suburbia, in which this odd yet endearing triumph of comic smartness can take place.

JUNO

Fox Searchlight

Mandate Pictures/Mr. Mudd

Credits:

Director: Jason Reitman

Writer: Diablo Cody

Producers: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Russell Smith, Mason Novick

Executive producers: Joe Drake, Nathan Kahane, Daniel Dubiecki

Director of photography: Eric Steelberg

Production designer: Steven Saklad

Costume designer: Monique Prudhomme

Music: Mateo Messina

Songs by: Kimya Dawson

Editor: Dana Glauberman

Cast:

Juno: Ellen Page

Paulie: Michael Cera

Mark: Jason Bateman

Vanessa: Jennifer Garner

Leah: Olivia Thirlby

Dad: J.K. Simmons

Bren: Allison Janney

Running time -- 95 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13 »

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Juno

10 September 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

This review was written for the festival screening of "Juno".Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- "Juno" defies expectations at every turn, giving the slip to anything saccharine or trite or didactic, looking to its characters for insight and complexity, reveling in dialogue that is artificial yet witty and articulate and, most crucially, taking a presumably stale storyline and making it into a buoyant comedy. The film, the second directed by Jason Reitman and first written by professional stripper-turned-writer Diablo Cody, detonates wisecracks every step of the way, yet never completely disguises the fact that this is a comedy from a couple of moralists determined to portray the great human values in love and friendship.

The Fox Searchlight picture, slated for a December release, looks like a feel-good movie for audiences and studio alike. The titular performance by 20-year-old Ellen Page is a breakout sensation that can only further boost the film's chances this holiday season.

Actually, all performances are sharp, which shows what can happen when actors get to play characters and deliver lines that bristle with originality. Cody certainly knows how to write scenes that move off center as she creates a world of teens, high school and suburban families that looks typical yet is anything but.

Juno MacGuff (Page) is a supersmart, cool 16-year-old (named after Zeus' wife), whose single experimentation with sex with her best male friend, Paulie (a touching Michael Cera), results in pregnancy. After visiting an abortion clinic "to procure a hasty abortion," she thinks better of the idea and falls back on Plan B.

She decides to have the baby and place it with a family through private adoption. She finds the perfect couple in the local Penny Saver, right next to exotic pet adoptions. These are Vanessa (Jennifer Grant) and Mark (Jason Bateman). All this legwork comes before reporting her situation and solution, at the urging of best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), to her parents.

That scene is a perfect example of how Cody defies expectations. Juno's gruff yet kind dad (J.K. Simmons) takes the news with equanimity, even saying of the father-to-be, "I didn't think he had it in him." Stepmom Bren Allison Janney) had rather hoped the bad news with be that Juno was into drugs or expelled but goes to work to support her step daughter with a program of prenatal vitamins.

The thing about Juno is that she is much older than her years and must see to everyone, especially her baby's new parents. She develops a rapport with Mark through music -- he turns out to be a composer of commercial jingles -- and horror flicks. "You have the best taste in slasher movies!" she enthuses.

But all is not right in the couple's relationship. This makes her despair, not only for her baby but for herself in the future. Do all relationships -- her mother essentially abandoned her -- fizzle and die? She takes another look at Paulie, the boy she left behind who has come to love her.

The dialogue, especially coming from the teens, has a hip eloquence, coining phrases and juxtaposing arresting though sometimes corny images that startle the ear. Juno's fetus is described as a "sea monkey." She doesn't just need to piss but to "pee like Seabiscuit." She declares everyone at school sees her teen pregnancy as "a cautionary whale."

This may sound rather coy, but Cody's dialogue has a definite rhythm and Reitman directs his actors to deliver the words in the rapid-fire precision of a '30s screwball comedy. Indeed all scenes develop a rhythm and inner logic that bring the movie to often startling revelations and insights.

Page never succumbs to the cuteness such a sassy character might encourage. There is a straightforward honesty and rigorous intellectual curiosity about Juno MacGuff. She may use a cell phone shaped like a hamburger and argue the merits of various popular musical movements, but she is a vulnerable teen underneath all that maturity.

Thirlby and Cera are refreshing in their roles as kids with smarts. When Juno tells Paulie he can be cool without really trying, he admits, in one of the movie's best lines, that he actually tries very hard.

The Canadian production presents a slightly idealized, maybe a bit stylized suburbia, in which this odd yet endearing triumph of comic smartness can take place.

JUNO

Fox Searchlight

Mandate Pictures/Mr. Mudd

Credits:

Director: Jason Reitman

Writer: Diablo Cody

Producers: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Russell Smith, Mason Novick

Executive producers: Joe Drake, Nathan Kahane, Daniel Dubiecki

Director of photography: Eric Steelberg

Production designer: Steven Saklad

Costume designer: Monique Prudhomme

Music: Mateo Messina

Songs by: Kimya Dawson

Editor: Dana Glauberman

Cast:

Juno: Ellen Page

Paulie: Michael Cera

Mark: Jason Bateman

Vanessa: Jennifer Garner

Leah: Olivia Thirlby

Dad: J.K. Simmons

Bren: Allison Janney

Running time -- 95 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13 »

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Fox Walden puts four on calendar

17 May 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

20th Century Fox has set the release dates for the first movies made under the new Fox Walden banner, which is a joint venture between Fox and Walden Media.

First out of the gate will be The Dark Is Rising, which will be released for the Columbus Day weekend of Oct. 5. The movie, which centers on a young man who learns that he is the last of a group of mythical warriors, stars Ian McShane, Frances Conroy, Christopher Eccleston, Gregory Smith and Jonathan Jackson and is directed by David L. Cunningham. The film is wrapping shooting in Romania.

Walden and Mandate Pictures' co-production Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium is scheduled for Nov. 16. Zach Helm wrote the script and is making his directorial debut on the picture, which stars Dustin Hoffman, Natalie Portman and Jason Bateman.

Nim's Island, which goes into production in the summer, has staked out a release date of April 25. Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin star in the movie, about a magical place ruled by a young girl's imagination, which is being directed by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett. »

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The Ex

11 May 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

This review was written for the theatrical release of "The Ex". Originally slated to arrive in January -- when it was called "Fast Track" -- and then again in March before finally hitting theaters May 11, "The Ex" might have a new title and a firm release date, but it has the same old problem.

For a comedy, it's not really funny.

Considering a cast including Zach Braff, Amanda Peet, Charles Grodin, Mia Farrow and, especially, Jason Bateman in a terrific character turn, and a workable ad company setting, all the necessary ingredients were in place for something much more amusing.

But every time director Jesse Peretz ("The Chateau") and scripters David Guion and Michael Handelman actually threaten to achieve some sort of comic traction, the energy goes slack again, adhering to the law of diminishing returns with each subsequent setup.

Speaking of returns, it's a good bet this Weinstein Co. presentation will swiftly turn into an ex-theatrical proposition, finding itself on the fast track to DVD.

Braff is in amiable underdog mode as Tom Reilly, a new dad who loses his job as a chef the same day his lawyer wife, Sofia (Peet), has given birth to their son.

With Sofia out of bread-winning commission for a while, Tom swallows his pride and moves the family to Ohio, where his father-in-law (Grodin) has an entry-level job lined up for him at his advertising agency.

Adding to Tom's discomfort is the fact that he'll be working directly under Chip Sanders (Bateman), a sanctimonious jerk in a wheelchair who uses his handicap as an excuse for bad behavior. He also makes it quite clear that he wouldn't mind picking up romantically with Sofia where they left off back in high school.

The inevitable showdown takes place but barely limps past the finish line.

There's a promising "Flirting With Disaster"-meets-"Office Space" vibe to "The Ex", which likely was Peretz's intent, but without any kind of discernible pace or buildup, it can't help but sit in one place.

Most of the cast feels similarly underused with the exception of Bateman, who wheels off with what laughs there are to be had. He manages to push the good-taste envelope as the resident nemesis but not at the expense of his character's physical limitations, so it's never about poking fun at a guy in a wheelchair.

The Farrelly brothers would have been impressed.

THE EX

MGM

The Weinstein Co. and 2929 Prods.

Credits:

Director: Jesse Peretz

Screenwriters: David Guion, Michael Handelman

Producers: Anthony Bregman, Anne Carey, Ted Hope

Executive producers: Todd Wagner, Mark Cuban, Marc Butan, Ray Angelic

Director of photography: Tom Richmond

Production designer: John Paino

Music: Ed Shearmur

Co-producer: Couper Samuelson

Costume designer: John Dunn

Editor: Tricia Cooke

Cast:

Tom Reilly: Zach Braff

Sofia Kowalski: Amanda Peet

Chip Sanders: Jason Bateman, Bob Kowalski: Charles Grodin

Amelia Kowalski: Mia Farrow

Wesley: Lucian Maisel

Don Wollebin: Donal Logue

Carol Lane: Amy Poehler

Running time -- 89 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13 »

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