You might think of Tom and Dick Smothers as cute old guys; a quaint, genial and humorously argumentative duo that played folk songs flavored with comedy on variety TV shows and as the stars of their own show in the ’60s. And they were that, but there’s a history to the Smothers Brothers that is easy to miss with forty years removed between their popular heyday and today.

On the face of it, the Smothers Brothers’ comedy seems incredibly tame by today’s standards. But the duo flirted with controversy for years, as they used their show to highlight emerging counterculture elements (with performances from the Who, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez) and laced their routines with satirical jabs at politics and mainstream culture of the time.

Now that sly counterculture aspect of the Smothers Brothers might be remembered once more as producing partners George Clooney and Grant Heslov have optioned the book Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story Of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to create a feature biopic about the brothers. Read More »

Ben Affleck bailed on acting in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby in order to direct his third film, a picture called Argo. (Good choice!) The film is from a Chris Terrio script that follows a true-life story about a CIA effort to pull diplomats out of Tehran in 1979. The hook: they use a plan that has them posing as a Hollywood studio crew making a sci-fi film called Argo. (Much more background detail is here.)

The first piece of casting (other than Ben Affleck, who is taking a role) is now out: Alan Arkin will play Lester Siegel, the OSS agent turned film producer who is key to the plan. The role is described as “equal parts bookie and rabbi,” in which case Alan Arkin is perfect. But then, when is he not close to perfect? George Clooney and Grant Heslov are producing the film, and if that conjures up images of the tone of Men Who Stare At Goats — another partially true military/political tale — then you’re probably thinking along the right track. Only, let’s hope, better. [Variety]

After the break, World War Z and the G.I. Joe sequel get new cast additions. Read More »

After the unexpected success of The Town, Ben Affleck found himself in the unique position of being an extremely hot director. Since then, he’s been circling or offered several different directorial projects including American Bullshit, Replay and Tales From The Gangster Squad but had yet to settle on his follow-up. That’s now changed. As was rumored back in February, Affleck’s next directorial effort will be Argo, a spy film based on the true story of how the CIA rescued American citizens from Tehran, Iran by pretending to make a sci-fi movie. He’ll both direct and reportedly star in the film, produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov from a script by Chris Terrio. Because he’s committing to this, Affleck won’t be able to star in Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby. Read more after the break. Read More »

In December 2009 the Washington Post published an article called The $700 Billion Man, about Neel Kashkari (on the left, above) a Treasury Department official who was appointed as the federal bailout chief by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, only to retreat from Washington DC to the isolation of a small northern California town seven months later.

Now the article has been optioned, and George Clooney and Grant Heslov are producing a film based on it, with George Clooney eying it as a directorial project. Read More »

Suddenly, there’s a chance that Ben Affleck might follow George Clooney into the world of the ‘too weird to be true’ political thriller. Mr. Affleck has been looking at options for his third directorial project, following The Town and Gone Baby Gone, but none have been locked down yet. Now it looks like he might work with producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov (The Men Who Stare at Goats) to adapt a Wired article called “How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans from Tehran.” Read More »

You might see a lot of George Clooney this year. (In 2010 he was in only The American.) He’s set to appear in a small role in Gravity, is directing and will appear in The Ides of March, and has already shot Alexander Payne’s film The Descendants. He’s also producing an Enron film and might end the year gearing up for Steven Soderbergh’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

And now he’s attached to The Monster of Florence, an adaptation of the non-fiction best-seller of the same name, written by two men who picked up the stone-cold trail of a serial killer and solved the case. Read More »

As we’ve talked about The Ides of March, which George Clooney will soon direct based on the play Farragut North by Beau Williamson, the lingering question has been: who will distribute? Now the film has a studio backer, as Sony has bought North American distribution rights to the film. Read More »

There’s a whole bunch of news for George Clooney‘s fourth film as director. The Ides of March is a much more imposing title for the film formerly called Farragut North, which is based on a play with the same title. Along with the title change is news of new funding for the movie, as well as a confirmation of one actor’s appearance and word that George Clooney will be in the film as well. Read More »


Part of the story angle behind Grant Heslov‘s directorial effort The Men Who Stare at Goats is that the film is based on a true story. Usually I ignore that sort of background when first approaching a movie — I want a film to work on its own merits, rather than as an adaptation or recounting of history — but after the fact it’s always fun to look at the real material that inspired a story. In this case, there is a Channel 4 documentary called The Crazy Rulers of the World, the first episode of which is actually called The Men Who Stare at Goats, which leads to the book of the same name that, in turn, inspired the film. Watch (some of) the original documentary after the break. Read More »

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While journalist and documentarian Jon Ronson is currently undergoing a metamorphosis into a screenwriter, the first film to bear his name is not from one of his own scripts but has been fictionalized, and rather heavily so, from his non-fiction book The Men Who Stare at Goats by Newcastle scribe Peter Straughan. What Ronson set down on paper as a darkly comic and increasingly scary investigation into the American military’s more fanciful, or eventually insane, experimentation and research has become an oddball comedy with a tinge of the surreal. Many of Ronson’s ideas run between the lines of Straughan’s invented plot, though I don’t think I personally could have found the film to feel any more different to Ronson’s book or in-parallel TV documentary.

It’s a win-win, though, as far as the book is concerned because those who love the film (and as you’ll find out after the break, that’s an awful lot of people) are bound to find the extra information every bit as engrossing and possibly even more surprising, while those who find some of the film’s seemingly contradictory attitudes towards the paranormal and supernatural or it’s unexpectedly upbeat tone to be off putting will find the book more satisfyingly shaded. I do think, though, that adding sweetness for palatability seems like a curious misstep when you already know your recipe appeals to those with a taste for the bitter.

I’m a very big fan of Ronson’s writing and TV work, so I took great pleasure in interviewing him about Goats. We spoke for over an hour in total but almost immediately, I think, he sensed my disappointment in the film. Neither his enthusiasm or candor were curbed by this and, anyway, as Ronson told me I’m definitely in the minority and the film has been going down superemely well so far.

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