<p>French pop star Johnny Hallyday gives a sad, fierce performance in the sensational crime thriller 'Vengeance' from director Johnnie To</p>

French pop star Johnny Hallyday gives a sad, fierce performance in the sensational crime thriller 'Vengeance' from director Johnnie To

Credit: IFC Midnight

Review: Johnnie To's 'Vengeance' racks up a stylish body count

Pop icon Johnny Hallyday sets down the mic and picks up a gun

Johnnie To has never really gotten the same kind of hype or critical acclaim as some of his other Hong Kong counterparts, but he has developed into one of the most reliable directors of unapologetic action cinema in the world today.  He is a stylist, but he never forgets about the audience and the simple act of storytelling.  He knows that bravura set pieces are important, but he makes sure that each one pushes the story forward.  His work is lean with the occasional operatic flourish.  He is, in many ways, the model of the b-movie filmmaker in the 21st century.

And his latest, "Vengeance," is a humdinger.

There's a hit on a family in the film's opening moments, leaving the mother alive but severely injured, while her husband and children are all murdered.  Her father, a French chef with a very successful restaurant, flies to Hong Kong to visit her, crushed by what's happened.  He wants revenge, and quickly establishes himself as a man of means, a man with violence in his own past, a man who is ready to do anything to hurt the ones who hurt him.

There are so many revenge movies in the world that it's really difficult to imagine any new spin on things.  What matters at this point is that you play your particular riff well, and Johnnie To, working from a script by Ka-Fai Wai, has a couple of things on his side with this film.  First, there's his lead actor, French pop star legend Johnny Hallyday.  He's not a household name in America, but he's got a lot of international weight, and for an American audience, just imagine if Elvis Presley were still alive today and decided to star in "Taken."  That's pretty much what "Vengeance" is.

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David Tennant is Peter Vincent

First Look: David Tennant as Peter Vincent in new images from 'Fright Night'

Peter Vincent, Vampire Hunter is now a strangely familiar Vegas magician

New images from the currently filming remake of 1985's "Fright Night" depicts David Tennant in a publicity banner for his character Peter Vincent, a Chris Angel type Las Vegas Magician. The goatee'd magic man is almost unrecognizable from Tennant's hugely popular portrayal of the title character of the long running BBC television show "Dr. Who."


Peter Vincent was originally a washed up old actor who hosted a late night horror movie show called "Fright Night." Roddy McDowall played him as a sad and fearful shell of a man who finally redeems himself while helping the main character, Charley Brewster, vanquish a real life vampire (Chris Sarandon) who has moved in next door and begun killing his friends and assorted prostitutes.


The much younger Tennant playing a character with a completely different background to McDowall's Peter Vincent signals that the this remake will not be entirely faithful to the original script by Tom Holland, who also directed. The new version is penned by "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" writer and show runner Marti Noxon. The new film is being directed by Craig Gillespe (Lars and the Real Girl.) Tennant's too-serious gaze may be an indication as to the revamped film's sense of humor.

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<p>Hugh Hefner's status as a cultural icon is confirmed by the new  documentary, 'Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel,' but little new  is added to his story</p>

Hugh Hefner's status as a cultural icon is confirmed by the new documentary, 'Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel,' but little new is added to his story

Credit: Phase 4 Films

Review: 'Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel' review

Does this documentary illuminate the publishing giant in some new way?

There is little doubt that the personal and professional life of Hugh Hefner contains more than enough material for a great biopic or a great documentary.

He is, after all, one of the great success stories in the history of publishing, and he played a key role in a permanent shift in sexual mores in America.  He was a largely unrecognized force in the American Civil Rights movement, and his personal romantic life is so turbulent that it seems almost like a Greek tragic counterpoint to his tremendous success.  Like it's so perfect it couldn't be written that way.

So do I think you could make a great movie about Hugh Hefner?  Absolutely.

Is this that movie?  Absolutely not.

I quite liked Brigitte Berman's Oscar-winning documentary about Artie Shaw, the clarinet-playing jazz musician.  I thought it was atmospheric and evocative and really painted a picture of a time and place.  Her latest film, "Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel" is a well-meaning whiff, about as deep as an average episode of "The E! True Hollywood Story."  It lays out several of the more significant landmarks for Hefner, but there not one moment in the whole film where I get any sense of Hefner as a person. 

As a symbol?  Sure.  As an icon?  Yes.  But Hefner has always maintained a distance from the public by design, wearing his Halloween mask so long that it's become his face.  Or in his case, his pajamas.  I admire Hefner the way I admire Neo at the end of "The Matrix."  He managed to bend reality to pure will and remake the world the way he wanted it.

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<p>Richard de Klerk prepares to do a bad bad thing in the dark SF drama 'Repeaters,' part of this year's Toronto International Film&nbsp;Festival</p>

Richard de Klerk prepares to do a bad bad thing in the dark SF drama 'Repeaters,' part of this year's Toronto International Film Festival

Credit: Rampart Films/Raven West Films

TIFF Exclusive: Trailer premiere for dark sci-fi drama 'Repeaters'

When 'Groundhog Day' goes really, really wrong

As I gear up for Toronto, I'm really second-guessing the choices I've made about what to see, and I am keeping my ears open for any buzz about movies playing, and I'm watching trailers trying to see what really jumps out at me.  I'm also seeing as many films as I can before going up there, so I can have reviews ready for things like "Fubar II," "Let Me In," "Stone," and "Easy A," freeing me up to see even more films at the actual festival.

Since this is the first year I'll have a press badge for Toronto, I plan to use it constantly, and I've already scoped out wifi spots around the theater where all the press screenings will be, hoping to find a spot I can sneak away to quickly between films.

I'll have a full preview piece of the festival and what I'm seeing later this week, but for now, I'm pleased to bring you the debut of one of the Toronto trailers, for a film called "Repeaters".

I have a feeling you'll hear "it's a really dark 'Groundhog Day'" used a lot when describing this film.  I love that you can go to one festival and see things like this and "Black Swan" and "127 Hours" and "The Illusionist" and "Super," that range of stuff.  Keeps every day interesting.

Here's part of the official synopsis, edited to preserve some mystery:

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<p>Violante Placido and George Clooney provide the heat in the terse, tense thriller 'The American,' opening in theaters everywhere tomorrow</p>

Violante Placido and George Clooney provide the heat in the terse, tense thriller 'The American,' opening in theaters everywhere tomorrow

Credit: Focus Features

Review: George Clooney plays it cold in stark and striking 'The American'

Music video legend Anton Corbijn makes a tough, bittersweet thriller

I love movies about men who are haunted.

Doesn't really matter which part of the process, either.  A film about a guy going through whatever it is that will haunt him?  The moment of his ruin played out as drama?  Sure.  I'm in.  Or a movie about a guy just after the trauma, trying to live through it, struggling.  I'm in.  Or a movie about a guy who's been haunted so long he's become a ghost himself.  All of that seems like fertile dramatic ground to me.

"The American" is about a man who has obviously done many terrible things before the film begins.  But he's left that behind.  He's got a girl.  He's got a private place.  Away from it all.  And before the film's opening title comes up, all of that will be stripped away from him, and he'll be on the road, on his way to someplace he can hide, someplace he can go to ground and wait to figure out who's trying to kill him.  Rowan Joffe's screenplay, adapted from a book by Martin Booth, is economical, just sentimental enough to be affecting, and smart.

It's smart because it knows that the answer of who is trying to kill him doesn't matter.  What matters is that the man, the American, most often known as Mr. Butterfly, or Jack Sometimes Edward, is tired.  He's got amazing skills.  He's able to take care of things with ruthless efficiency.  He's not a showboat fighter.  Don't expect to see George Clooney doing kung-fu or jumping around or anything.  He gets in close and he gets it done.  People get hurt.  He's cut from the sort of cloth that Travis McGee or Jack Reacher are cut.  Knights in the wrong age, ready and willing to get things done.

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George Clooney as The American

The American in his workshop

Credit: Focus Features

Watch: George Clooney takes aim as 'The American'

Director Anton Corbijn thrills with 4 clips from the film

Whew! August is over, and as much as I love movies like "Piranha 3D" it's nice to start getting served slightly more mature fare. Meaty movies with good actors and sometimes, if we're lucky, real plots! Yes, Fall is here, and the cooler weather brings us better movies, hopefully starting with "The American" on September 1st.

Everything about "The American" has been looking good. From the retro Hitchcock-y movie poster to the perfectly scored trailer. Clooney plays a few different types, but it's clear that for this one we get "serious" Clooney. The one who spends most of the movie with a set jaw and squinty eyes only to make his movie-star smile sparkle more when it appears.

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<p>Hugh Jackman, seen here in last year's 'X-Men Origins:&nbsp;Wolverine,' is on the hunt for a director for 'Wolverine 2'</p>

Hugh Jackman, seen here in last year's 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine,' is on the hunt for a director for 'Wolverine 2'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Will Darren Aronofsky end up directing 'Wolverine 2'?

The rumor mill has Fox close to making choice about second film in spinoff franchise

No.  Probably not.

But let's look at why this conversation is even possible.

How do you get from "the maker of 'Pi' and 'Requiem For A Dream'" to "the director of 'Wolverine 2'"?

Well, for one thing, if you're the maker of "Pi" and "Requiem For A Dream" and "The Fountain" and "The Wrestler" and "Black Swan," you are not the guy who is paying the light bills at 20th Century Fox.  If you're the guy who made "Wolverine 2" for a respectable price and kept the studio's movie star happy, then you might be the guy paying the light bills.  And that changes things.

Darren Aronofsky's had an amazing career, and whether you like or dislike his work, what he was created is distinct and alive and fascinating, worth studying and revisiting.  I haven't seen his new film yet, but it's the first new movie I'll see once I land in Toronto next week.  His work is that significant.

It's also been resolutely uncommercial up till now.  I don't really study box-office, but I assume he made some money for someone on "Pi" and "Requiem," and that he's demonstrated a sense of how to do certain things on a budget, how to stretch a dollar, and I know "The Fountain" was an expensive experiment, but I hope in the end, enough people see that movie to push it into the black for the studio.  "The Wrestler" seemed to make Fox Searchlight pretty happy, happy enough to make another movie with him.  And that certainly puts him inside the Fox family.  But has he ever been a guy who made a "Titanic" for anyone, or even a "District 9"?  Not really.  He's never had his commercial break-out moment.

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<p>I think this guy just read the script for 'Fury Road' and realized just how many bones George Miller plans to break during production next year.</p>

I think this guy just read the script for 'Fury Road' and realized just how many bones George Miller plans to break during production next year.

Credit: Warner Home Video

Wait a minute... how many stunts are in the new 'Mad Max' film?

Either someone was misquoted or George Miller is deliciously insane

I think it's fair to suggest that I am unreasonably excited about getting a new "Mad Max" film from George Miller.  And, to be blunt, I don't really care if it's a sequel, a prequel, a reboot, or a kabuki musical version as long as it's got tons and tons of car stunts staged by Miller, the single best road action director of all time.

No... don't argue.  You can list me other good car chase films, and I'm sure I'm a fan of many of the films you'll list, but for my money, no one has eve shot car action (or action in general) the way George Miller did in the first two films in the "Mad Max" series.  Working with cinematographers David Eggby on the first film and Dean Semler on the second film, Miller created a style of shooting car action that is still unequaled, though oft-imitated.  Placing his camera low to the ground and right in the center of the action, Miller made the act of driving seem like an existential expression of self, and not just a mode of transport.

In particular, I would say "The Road Warrior" is the single most kinetic car stunt movie of all time.  Things happen in that movie that no stunt team should have walked away from, and every single time I've seen it with an audience, the temperature in the room goes up over the course of the film.  People engage with it completely, and they react to the big stunts like they can actually feel the impact themselves.

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<p>Just because 'Fantastic Four Reborn' won't look like this doesn't automatically mean it will be better... does it?</p>

Just because 'Fantastic Four Reborn' won't look like this doesn't automatically mean it will be better... does it?

Credit: 20th Century Fox

What's Fox doing with their new Fantastic Four? Willis as CGI Thing?

And more importantly, what should we hope for?

The first thing you have to ask yourself is whether you care about a Fantastic Four movie at all.  Do you like the characters?  Do you like the films that already exist?  Do you want to see another version of the material?  In a world where "The Incredibles" exists, do we need anyone to keep trying to make a Fantastic Four movie in live-action?

20th Century Fox certainly isn't going to give up on the idea of the franchise, but they are going to reboot.  Right now, "Fantastic Four Reborn" is the game plan.  And although there's been nothing like a formal announcement, there's plenty of speculation and rumor out there right now, gaining enough critical mass through re-reporting that it has to be addressed.

Comic Book Movie is a very, very young site, and the rumors they're running right now are just rumors.  Unproven.  Until we see real progress on the film, take whatever you're hearing as part of the "wish list" phase of movie rumors, when fansites run rumors that are more about what they want than what they know.

Case in point:  casting for any new "Fantastic Four" movie is still quite a way off.  There are steps happening between now and then that will be news, milestones that will indicate we're getting close to real news about the film.  Hiring a director would be one of those milestones, and they haven't done that yet.  There are rumors about names like Joe Carnahan, David Yates, and James McTeigue supposedly in the running, and I'd be shocked if the list didn't contain those names, frankly.  That's exactly the sort of filmmaker Fox would hire for these films.  Yates is going to be hugely in-demand after the last two "Potter" films are released, and Carnahan and McTeigue are both guys who make exactly the sort of movie that Fox likes.  I'm willing to bet there are a whoooooole lotta lists being written full of filmmaker's names.

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<p>One of my favorite pictures of John Belushi, taken for a People magazine  cover story, captured him at a quiet moment in turbulent days, right  around the time 'Noble Rot' was tearing him apart.</p>

One of my favorite pictures of John Belushi, taken for a People magazine cover story, captured him at a quiet moment in turbulent days, right around the time 'Noble Rot' was tearing him apart.

Credit: People

Saturday Night At The Movies: Why 'Noble Rot' died on the vine

A look at a John Belushi movie that nearly was

Last week, we talked about John Belushi's career in terms of the broad strokes, and I mentioned that there was one project in particular that I thought summed up the troubles faced by the actor during his damnably brief career in Hollywood, and this week, we'll take a look at the script for that project, and what its failure in the development process said about this business.

Don Novello is probably best known to audiences as the character he created and played in the '70s, Father Guido Sarducci.  Best described as an uber-hip Catholic priest, Sarducci was a regular on "Weekend Update" and even released books and a stand-up comedy album called "Breakfast In Heaven" at one point.

Novello was also a writer, though, and his most notorious screenplay is called "Noble Rot," a film that was supposed to star John Belushi as the lead.  It was actually rebuilt from a Jay Sandrich script called "Sweet Deception," and Novello reworked it almost completely.  Belushi was a co-writer on the film, and he saw it as a chance to define his own onscreen persona.  He was frustrated by offers to do films like Paramount's proposed "National Lampoon's The Joy Of Sex," where they wanted to put Belushi in a diaper for his sketch.  He was dismayed at the idea of having to play variations on Bluto for his whole career, id-addled rage babies who just acted out.  It's the same fear that Chris Farley always described as "Fatty Falls Down syndrome."  I'd only ever read about "Noble Rot" until recently, so when the script landed on my desk, i was excited to finally get a look at the way Belushi saw himself, versus the way he was seen by executives.

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