Monthly Archives

July 2009

Guess the Fake Foreign Movie Titles

Earlier this week, I reviewed Stieg Larsson’s novel, The Girl Who Played with Fire, the sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was originally titled Men Who Hate Women in Swedish.

This got me thinking about foreign translations of titles, some of which are literal while others are completely off the wall. So I decided to make up fake foreign titles of real movies which came out within the last couple of years and challenge you to guess their English titles. To make things a little more fun, I’ve included one real foreign title of an American film—see if you can spot it.

  1. He Hates You! Why Don’t You Get That?
  2. Robot Cars: They Get Back Up and Kill You!
  3. Male Senior Citizens Not Welcome Here
  4. Two Broke Friends Shoot Sexy Time Movie
  5. Girl Who Buys Everything Tells All
  6. Cheating, Stealing, Lying Spies
  7. One Night by Lions
  8. People Who Openly Loathe You and Shoot You
  9. Watch and Tell Me What Happens
  10. Assassins Who Read Fabric
  11. Stop Thinking about That Bitch Sarah!


When I read the first book in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (see my review here), I finished it in a two-and-a-half-day marathon. I beat my own record when I swallowed Fire in 34 hours minus 6.5 hours for sleep.

The books’ heroine, Lisbeth Salander, might appreciate these details since she’s some kind of mathematical savant who enjoys working with numbers. But that’s only one of her talents. She’s also a genius computer hacker, boxer, and master of disguise, a skill which, in this latest adventure, helps her elude a massive police manhunt after she becomes the prime suspect in a triple murder. The only person who believes in her innocence is Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist from Tattoo whom she helped crack a case. He comes to her aid this time by hunting down clues which might lead to the real killer(s).

As the investigation progresses, details from Salander’s past slowly come to light, specifically about incidents she calls “All the Evil.” I was already captivated by her in the first book though she was maddeningly opaque at times, behaving in ways I couldn’t understand. After much of her attitude and unique code of ethics are explained in this book, I’m more deeply drawn to her, though pity is not amongst the emotions I feel since Salander would never want that from anyone.

As with Tattoo, you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck here. This book is a thriller, police procedural, exposé on sex trafficking, and psychological study. The exploration of Salander’s psyche makes Fire an even more compelling book than Tattoo, The Empire Strikes Back to Tattoo’s Star Wars in more ways than one. Unlike Star Wars, though, the bad guys in Larsson’s books tend to be one-note evil (even Vader was cool to Luke in the end). I’m talking super nasty, the most depraved bastards you could possibly imagine with no recognizable human traits. Then again, that makes it much more fun and satisfying when they have to face Salander’s wrath. This girl doesn’t just play with it; she’s on fire.

Nerd verdict: Raging hot Fire

Want a copy of this book plus some dragon tattoos? Enter my giveaway here.




via Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Trailer

The clip below of Terry Gilliam’s movie shows Heath Ledger as Tony, who’s part of a troupe of performers trying to save Dr. Parnassus’s daughter from the Devil. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) had promised his daughter to the Big D in exchange for immortality and now wants to renege. As you well know, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped in to play different versions of Tony after Ledger’s death (all four actors are in the above picture).

If the clip whets your appetite and you can’t wait until the movie’s release in October, you can read a copy of the script by Gilliam and Charles McKeown, dated May 2007. I’ll e-mail it to five subscribers randomly selected from all entries with a correct answer to the following:

Q: Besides I’m Not There, name another movie in which more than 2 actors played the same character.

I’ll take entries until Tuesday, July 28, noon PT. Put your nerd cap on!


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Review: David Mazzucchelli's ASTERIOS POLYP

This review was written by contributing writer Thuy Dinh, an editor of the webzine Da Mau and my resident expert on graphic novels. —PCN


As children, my cousin Allan and I would spy on Mrs. Seven, the mean lady who lived next door to our grandparents. She would pray to God then curse at children and beggars. We drew comic strips about Mrs. Seven, putting her in situations that literally exposed her hypocrisy, like having the wind blow away all her clothes on her way to church, leaving her naked, or her long wig snatched and eaten whole by another neighbor’s giant German shepherd.

Because I had so much fun drawing these strips with my cousin, I never thought they touched on anything serious. Later, when I grew older, I felt traditional comics—with their static panels of images and silent dialogue encapsulated in bubbles—were poor relatives of multi-sensory moving images in films.

And yet, I was completely blown away by Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli’s latest “comic book,” a pull-out-all-the-stops package that’s funny, poignant and deep, with panels of thoughtfully shaded images that form a visual novel, a paper movie, and finally, an existential meditation on things that matter to us: religion, art, science, love and memory. In other words, Asterios Polyp manages to embody Up; Synecdoche, New York; and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button without losing its fluid eloquence or sly sense of humor.

At the beginning of the book, Asterios Polyp’s apartment is struck by lightning and, like ancient Troy, goes up in flame. His beloved wife, Hana Sonnenschein (whose Japanese-German name means Flower Sunshine), is nowhere to be found. The book, with flashbacks interspersed with the present, shows Asterios’s progress from hell and back. He is both Ulysses and Orpheus, someone who has to find his way home.

For a work presumably focused on images, Mazzucchelli has a lot of fun with words. Asterios is of Greek descent. His fancy name suggests a polarized nature: star and anal wart (“asterios” means “star, “polyp” can mean a rectal cyst). His dead identical twin, Ignazio, narrates the book and constantly reminds us that our hero is physically and metaphysically divided. Asterios, an arrogant and famous architect, creates buildings that are only models on paper because they have never been built (thus, he’s not unlike a comic book artist, whose world is rendered in two-dimensional images).

ap & hana

via Comic Book Resources

Mazzucchelli’s graphic novel is also a cosmic quest for beauty. The book is full of contrasting visual shapes, text fonts and color tones, with each form/palette tailored to the personality and philosophical outlook of each character. Asterios is often drawn in linear, geometric form, awash in cool blues. His wife Hana, on the other hand, is often depicted in softer, rounder lines and in warmer coral or pinkish tones.

Another character, Ursula Major (a pun on the constellation Ursa Major), who is like Ceres in Homer’s epic, is often rendered in bright yellow or deep purple squiggles as she represents a mystical earth mother type. This traditional cartoon technique of employing form and color to denote character was most recently seen in the movie Up, where the rounder, more exuberant form of the boy Russell is contrasted with the blocky, rigid lines that make up the old man Carl.

In essence, a story told by Asterios to Ursula Major serves as the main theme of the book: A wooden Shinto temple in Ise, Japan, originally erected in the 7th century, has since been ritually torn down every twenty years and rebuilt, and yet the Japanese would tell tourists the temple is 2000 years old. The riddle suggests that human existence, like a building that’s constantly being destroyed and recreated, must yield to larger forces in the universe.

Asterios, in his lofty reach toward the stars (toward perfection and permanence), doesn’t realize that stars, though lasting thousands of years, can also self-destruct. His search for the meaning of life, like his search for Hana, resonates via the myth of Orpheus—presumably, Asterios must go forward and never look back. The controversial ending of the book makes one wonder if Asterios has indeed gone forward.

Similarly, David Mazzucchelli’s ambitious effort, while shredding the comics/cosmic barriers, is a look back toward the traditional purpose of comics, the ability to wield simple lines and forms to capture—or destroy—everyday reality.


Breaking News About James Cameron's AVATAR

James Cameron showed 25 minutes of Avatar at Comic-Con today and the reactions range from “jaw-dropping,” “gasp-worthy,” “indescribable” to “historic.” Since the lucky people who got to see it are having a hard time putting their feelings into words, I’m glad we’ll get a chance to see it for ourselves…NEXT MONTH!

That’s right, we won’t have to wait until Dec. 18 to get a glimpse of this movie. tweeted this about 10 minutes ago: “Avatar Day is Aug. 21 – See 15 minutes of footage in IMAX 3D for free! More details to come!” I’ll keep you updated.

Meanwhile, check out these stills from the movie. Who’s gonna be in line next month like me?




Review: JULIE & JULIA–The Movie

Photo by Jonathan Wenk

Columbia Pictures/Jonathan Wenk

Even though I’d eaten a perfectly good dinner right before the screening of Julie & Julia (opening August 7), I went home after the movie and ate some more. Talk about a gut reaction.

The film—based on Julia Child’s book, My Life in France, and Julie Powell’s memoir, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen—is a delectable treat starring the unstoppable Meryl Streep as the famous chef and the adorable Amy Adams as the contemporary woman who attempts to make every recipe in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One in a year.

The narrative moves back and forth between Child’s experiences as she learns to cook at Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu and Powell’s progress in her self-imposed project. Parallels are drawn between the women as it becomes clear they’re both trying to forge an identity for themselves, to do something meaningful in the world and perhaps even change it with their cooking. It’s no spoiler to say both succeeded in becoming  published authors with a movie based on their books but the fun comes from watching how they got there.

Columbia Pictures/Jonathan Wenk

Columbia Pictures/Jonathan Wenk

When Streep first appears on screen, looking like a giant (Child was 6’2″; apple boxes must have been used because Streep’s feet are rarely seen) and speaking in that voice, there was a round of hearty laughter in the audience. You will laugh, too; there’s no point resisting. But as the movie unfolds and Streep’s magic takes over, you’ll get used to the voice because the actress has fully embodied the chef and that’s just how Child talked.

In lesser hands, the performance could’ve easily devolved into caricature but Streep somehow makes every big gesture believable and endearingly quirky. Her gift of complete transformation into every role is remarkable and she will undoubtedly receive Best Actress nominations from all the major outfits come award season.

Adams does her usual sparkly work as Powell, making her an accessible Everywoman who’s a little sweeter than the author comes across in her book, where her language is saltier. Meanwhile, I don’t get the appeal of Chris Messina, who is as bland playing Powell’s husband, Eric, as he was in Made of Honor and Vicky Christina Barcelona.

Columbia Pictures/Jonathan Wenk

Columbia Pictures/Jonathan Wenk

As Child’s husband, Paul, Stanley Tucci fares better, generating sweet, sensual chemistry with Streep. This is especially noteworthy considering the last time they appeared together onscreen, he played a gay underling cowering from Streep’s nightmare boss in The Devil Wears Prada. Jane Lynch is so winning as Child’s sister, Dorothy, I wish she had more screen time. And Mary Kay Place pulls off several moments of hilarity as Powell’s mom though she’s only heard on the phone and never seen.

Director/screenwriter Nora Ephron did an impressive job keeping the pace zippy, the dialogue tart, seasoning each scene perfectly and never letting it overcook. Alexandre Desplat (The Queen, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) turns in another memorable score, and cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt (Charlie Wilson’s War, Angels in America) made me want to book a trip to Paris immediately with the way he captured the City of Light, as golden as the perfect dishes Julie & Julia pull out of their ovens.

Nerd verdict: Julie & Julia is a delicious feast


Teaser Trailer for Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND!

ain wonderland

Oh man, this is WILD. Check out the teaser trailer below and tell me what you think. Johnny Depp seems even loopier as the Mad Hatter than as Captain Jack and I love it when he brings the wackiness.

If this doesn’t at least get visual FX Oscar nominations in 2011 (since it isn’t coming out until March 5, 2010), I’ll eat my feet.



Exclusive First Look at Robert Crais's FIRST RULE

Photo © Pop Culture Nerd

Last week, author Robert Crais unveiled excerpts from his hotly anticipated novel, The First Rule, at the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego, California. The pub date is vaguely scheduled for January or February 2010. (UPDATE: At Crais’s site, it now says January 12, 2010.) But wait! Stop banging your head against your desk, please! Crais let me tape his reading to share with those who couldn’t attend.

Since this is a Joe Pike novel, I’ll be Pike-like and keep the setup brief. Somebody murdered a friend and former colleague of Pike’s. HUGE mistake. With Elvis Cole’s help, Pike goes hunting, ready to unleash some serious hurt on the perpetrators. Yay!

Crais read three different passages, one in each video. Afterwards, check out the teaser Q & A I did with him about The First Rule. (UPDATE: Win an ARC and read my longer interview here.)

Watch, read, then let me know your thoughts!

PCN: My mother taught me the first rule is to always wear clean underwear in case I get in an accident. What does the first rule in your title refer to?

Robert Crais: The meaning is in the eye of the beholder, so take your pick: The East European organized crime gang sets operate under eighteen written rules called the Vorovskoy Zakon—which means the thieves’ code—the first rule of which says they’re not supposed to have a family. But the title, The First Rule, might also be interpreted from Joe Pike’s point of view, which suggests his first rule is that you take care of the people you love, and everything that implies. And if that’s the case, then the first rule for the rest of us is pretty simple: Don’t piss off Joe Pike.

PCN: In the excerpt, you mentioned how Pike’s walls are empty. Why isn’t Elvis on there?

RC: Elvis is in Joe’s heart.

PCN: What’s on your walls?

RC: I have more people in my life than Joe has. My walls are filled with pictures of my family, my friends, cool things that have happened along the way. Art. A couple of human heads. The usual.

PCN: You seem to take pop culture cues for your author photos. For The Two Minute Rule, it was the Brokeback look, and you’ve got an Agent Smith, Matrix thing going on with the last two books. What do you have in mind for the next one? Lederhosen a la Brüno?

RC: I was going for the lederhosen look until Brüno swiped it. Fashion is such a bitch, I’ve decided to pass on clothes. We’re going with a nude shot.

Look who's nerdy---me & Crais

Look who's nerdy--me & Crais, WITH clothes

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jg in persia

Entertainment Weekly just published this first official photo of Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, due next year. Is it just me or is this picture hilarious? That weave! The leather! He looks like he should be on the cover of a cheesy historical romance novel or the star of some bondage film.

What do you think?



Photo by Chuck Zlotnick

(500) Days of Summer is a fresh comedy that defies categorization. It’s not a rom-com exactly because it doesn’t fit into that formula of boy and girl hating each other until they realize they don’t. The titular Summer (Zooey Deschanel) and greeting-card writer Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) get along right away. He falls in love with her at first sight upon meeting at work (she’s his boss’s assistant). She likes him a lot, too, but as a friend with benefits since she doesn’t believe in commitment at her age, something she tells Tom upfront.

The movie zigzags in non-linear fashion through the different stages of their relationship, showing how something can be cute and funny on day 40 but annoying on day 400. It’s a clear-eyed anatomy of a courtship, not quite a love story but not without romantic notions about soulmates and fate. And no matter what day it’s on, the relationship is engaging because of the chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel.

We’ve seen Deschanel do the quirky thing before but her aloofness is perfect for Summer. She also gets to show off her lovely singing voice a little. And who knew the little kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun would grow up to be such a handsome, charismatic leading man? I’ve seen his impressive work in The Lookout and Brick but he was still playing awkward, on-the-cusp-of-adulthood characters then. Here, he’s full-grown and full-blown movie star.

One of the things I like most about Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber’s mold-breaking script is how every character is funny but in a distinctive way. Tom’s friends, McKenzie (Geoffrey Arend) and Paul (Matthew Gray Gubler), his boss Vance (Clark Gregg) and his sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz) all have moments of hilarity while staying in sync with who they are. This is different from a movie like Juno, which bugged me with all the characters, from parents to teens, speaking in the same hip dialogue.

jgl & zd chuck zlotnick

Photo by Chuck Zlotnick

Credit must also be given to first-time feature director Marc Webb for adroitly bringing this script to screen without destroying its originality. Cinematographer Eric Steelberg reminds me that L.A. can be romantic when viewed through a certain perspective. The soundtrack, which includes tunes from the Smiths and Regina Spektor, will make you feel cool whether you’re falling in love for the first time or not.

Nerd verdict: Memorable Days of Summer


FUNNY PEOPLE Is Only Funny In That It Isn't

A source of mine recently attended a screening of Funny People and sent me the following appraisal. Since I don’t intend to see this movie, I’m posting my source’s assessment but with this caveat: While he said it looked and sounded finished, with titles and music in place, there’s still a possibility this is NOT the final version to be released July 31.


I am not a fan of Adam Sandler or Seth Rogen, but I am a Judd Apatow fan. The trailer for this film actually made me laugh out loud enough to check out a screening. Now I want my time back.

It starts out all right. We see George Simmons (Adam Sandler) being recognized and amiably posing with a number of fans while on his way to see his doctor. He mugs, he cajoles, he’s the hilarious nice guy and uber-comedian. He’s like Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, Robin Williams, Ricky Gervais and, well, Adam Sandler all rolled into one. Then we see him getting the bad news that he has an incurable disease.

a sandler and srDevastated and devoid of any true friends he can talk to, he seeks out the group hug he knows he can only get from a live audience. So he heads back to his roots in stand-up comedy for that feeling of adoration and comfort. Enter Ira Wright (Seth Rogen).

Ira is a down-on-his-luck, unfunny comedian dreaming of a better life and trying desperately to come up with better material. George, remembering what life was like before he made it big, decides to give Ira a shot at the big time by hiring him to write a few jokes for an upcoming MySpace gig. Thus, George gets to do something good and just might make a much needed friend in the process.

The story gets mired in multiple plotlines that do nothing to move it forward. It’s like one big improv, but someone forgot to set the ground rules to give it shape and direction. Could it be Apatow was overwhelmed by his cast?

lm & asAnd it’s a great cast. Not only do Apatow regulars Jonah Hill, Leslie Mann and Jason Schwartzman appear, so do James Taylor, Ray Romano, Norm MacDonald and Sarah Silverman, just to name a few. Eminem also shows up to do a rant that might now be familiar to those who saw him straddled by Brüno at the MTV Movie Awards. It has nothing to do with the film’s storyline and is just one of many moments where the movie loses focus.

I think the problem is there’s too much talent and not enough plot to go around. I shuddered while viewing the end credits, seeing names of all the people who must’ve been cut out of this movie. Don’t know if they’re going to be reinserted but I’m feeling it might be better to wait for the DVD, which must have a goldmine of extended scenes and outtakes.


Agent Duped, but Not Victimized by Brüno

Some of the press surrounding Brüno (#1 at the box office this weekend with est. $30.4 mil) has questioned the authenticity of the reactions of those shown getting punk’d by Sacha Baron Cohen. After the smash hit Borat, how can anyone not recognize the actor and his stunts, right?

Well, Lloyd Robinson didn’t and here, he explains why. Robinson, agent/founder of Suite A Management, is the agent in the movie solicited by Brüno to make him a star. I spoke with Robinson and found that, unlike some other unwitting participants, he bears no ill will towards Cohen, even deeming him “brilliant.”

Robinson was approached as a result of his shopping around a celebrity interview show to German television. The concept of the show, which he’d developed with a writer client, was celebrities being interviewed in a hot tub in the back of a limousine traveling to different places. Robinson felt it would sell in the European market since “they have a fixation on all things celebrity.” I’ll let him take it from here.

Lloyd Robinson: I contacted a German producer, George Hohbach…I told them we needed an interviewer, kind of an over-the-top personality, like Cojo [fashion critic Steven Cojocaru]. They’d have to be fluent in German and English.

About a month later, I got a call from German TV, saying, “We got a guy. He fancies himself a celebrity who wants to become a star in Hollywood. We’re going to underwrite [his endeavor] since we’re distributing his show. We’ve got a production company [in L.A.] called Cold Stream Productions.” The way I understood it, the guy was doing a promo/teaser because he was a celebrity in Vienna.

So I got a call…The producer and director said, “We’re gonna shoot this thing and think it’d be interesting if one of the scenes is an interview with an agent.” I said, “Fine, bring him in.”

[Brüno] showed up…in this silver lamé outfit with a red spangled jock strap and kinda burst into my office. I’m pitching him [the celebrity interview show] Tub Talk, “You might be perfect for this!” I came to the conclusion he was over the top. “I don’t think you’d back off enough to let the star shine, but maybe someday…you can be a star.” He said, “No! I want to be a star now!” I said, “No, you can’t be a star now. Get out of my office.”

Four or five weeks later, I got another call from Todd [Schulman, the producer, though he’d introduced himself as Todd Lewis]. “[Brüno] is coming back into town. He’s prepared some sides to show you he can act.” I said, “Well, okay.”

So they made an appointment and showed up in the office. [Brüno] was very humbled and complimentary, nice. He was going to show me a sample of his acting ability. It was the worst thing I’ve seen in my life and I’ve been in the biz forty years. [I said] “You need some acting lessons, someone to coach you on how to do this. If I’m still looking and you’re still looking, we can talk another time.”

A month or two later, Larry [Charles, the movie’s director] called me again. This time, they’ve completed the teaser and scheduled a focus group. [I said] “Why a focus group?”

“Because we want to take him directly to producers and studios and we’re being paid to do this.”

I said, “But no one’s paying me.”

“What if we paid you $500?”

So I drive out into the Valley…There’s an NBC exec there…and they walk in the focus group. I take one look and say, “This is not gonna work” because people were all in their 40s, they’re not gonna get this guy’s humor. If you have a focus group of [people aged] 16-24, it might work.

**Mild Spoilers**

They start the thing and two minutes later, [the NBC exec]’s out the door! Brüno said, “Please stay! Have some champagne!”

…I stayed. They were paying me. But I said, “Todd, what are you doing? The scene with him waving his schlong all over the place—that’s gotta go. You’ve got to tell him to mind his manners and watch his words.”

…About a month or so later, I get another call: “He’s back in town.”

[I said] “What do you want now? What? He’s singing a song in a recording studio? He sings?!”

“Will you come? We’ll pay you  $500.”

“Throw in lunch at the Formosa Café and we’ve got a deal.”

I drove to the recording studio down on Santa Monica Boulevard…He’s singing a duet with Elton John! And it wasn’t half bad! Every time I’ve seen him, he’s been bad.

**End Spoilers**

[Brüno] comes out and says, “What do you think?”

“I think you might be on to something!…But this isn’t going to work for Tub Talk.” So we parted and Todd thanked me again for coming out… [Then Todd  said] “By the way, would you sign a release?” I didn’t care what the hell they were going to do with the teaser. I know what I said, I hadn’t done anything offensive and [Brüno] hadn’t done anything to me that was offensive.

About four weeks ago [Ed. note: This conversation took place July 8], I was driving on Sunset Boulevard. I came up Doheny, I looked up and there’s this building-scape. It’s Brüno! [I said to my wife] “That’s the guy that’s been in my office! He’s in a movie!”

My wife said, “Really?”

“Yes, I know that face! I know that outfit!”

I never saw Borat; it wouldn’t have been worth my time. I never saw [Da] Ali G [Show] on HBO. I found all that out later.

PCN: Did you ever feel betrayed once it all came out?

LR: No, that was really interesting. I look at things more analytically so I thought, “This guy is brilliant.” He’s a socio-political satirist. If you’ve got a sacred topic, he’ll throw dung at it.

I came to it for a reason. I was pitching…my client’s project, Tub Talk. [I needed] a German-English host, someone who could get starlets to hop in the tub…someone who can have fun with them. In a lot of ways, the guy fit the bill.

PCN: Would you hire him for Tub Talk now?

LR: Sure.

PCN: As Brüno or Cohen?

LR: Somewhere in between Borat and Brüno…somewhere between that would be an interesting innocence.

PCN: Have you seen the movie?

LR: I have not. I had two opportunities to see it but wanted to sit back and maintain my innocence until more of my friends call me…

A well-known reality-show producer saw the movie at a press screening and called me. “Lloyd, what would you think about doing a reality show about an older, eccentric agent with weird clients?”…I’m meeting with him next week. So, interesting things come from weird things. That’s what keeps me young and excited and involved in the business.