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US singer Katy Perry arrives at the Palais des Festivals to attend the 15th Annual NRJ Music Awards in Cannes, southeastern France. (AFP)
Holiday hilarity in ‘Madea’ Affleck, Ejiofor in talks to star in ‘Triple Nine’

The trailers for “A Madea Christmas” promise the sight of the tough-talking, no-nonsense protagonist working as a shopping mall Mrs Santa and shooting down the dreams of bratty kids. That never happens in the movie, alas, but the sight of Madea in a fake North Pole makes me want to share my own Christmas wish:
I want Madea to have her own “Duck Soup.” Fans of the Marx Brothers fondly remember that 1933 comedy as the group’s finest and funniest, and one of the reasons it’s so great is because it’s the most unfiltered vehicle for Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Zeppo. There’s no ingnue, no love story, no non-comedic musical numbers, just 68 minutes of pure, anarchic brilliance.

Madea is no Groucho Marx, granted, but if writer-director Tyler Perry would just let this ribald, outrageous sassy grandma loose for 90 minutes, he’d have a comedy triumph on his hands. Instead, with “A Madea Christmas,” we get sporadic (but hearty) hilarity from Madea’s interactions with those around her, zippy moments that are weighed down by yet another sappy and melodramatic Perry screenplay.
Madea (Perry) takes a job in an Atlanta department store to earn extra Christmas cash, but her not-having-it attitude with customers quickly gets her fired. Friend and coworker Eileen (Anna Maria Horsford) recruits Madea to join her on a holiday trip to Alabama for a surprise visit to Eileen’s daughter Lacey (Tika Sumpter), since Lacey told pushy, meddling Eileen she’d be too busy to come home for Christmas.

Waiting for them in Alabama is a big bag of plot: Lacey has secretly married agri-scientist Conner (Eric Lively) but is too worried about Eileen’s fragile health to tell her that she married a white man. The small town where Lacey works as a teacher can’t afford to put on the annual Christmas Jubilee, until Lacey’s ex-boyfriend Oliver (JR Lemon) offers a sponsorship possibility that’s got more than one string attached. And Lacey’s got a sensitive, intelligent student (Noah Urrea) who’s being bullied by classmates and pushed around by his mean redneck daddy (Chad Michael Murray).
Perry doesn’t seem any more interested in the story than his audience is, since all the problems get clumsily tied up in the last five minutes in ways that defy all logic. (Solution to bullying? Punch them in the face. Solution to evil corporations? Promise something on their behalf on a TV microphone, and they’ll be honor-bound to comply.)

But you can’t have “A Madea Christmas” without Madea, and she’s the reason to see the film. Perry seemed to be holding his nose and trudging through the disappointing “Madea’s Witness Protection,” but this time Madea has her groove back, and she’s a riot. Wisely, Perry has brought in Larry the Cable Guy — who’s basically the white male version of Madea — as a comic foil, and the two of them volley entertainingly, as does Kathy Najimy as Conner’s good-ol’-gal mom. The three of them are clearly improvising like mad, and visibly having a great time doing so.
Perry seemingly fears losing the core audience of church ladies who originally put him on the map, but he’s not serving them well by throwing them these warmed-over homilies. (There’s a subplot about the town being forced to take all references to Jesus out of the Christmas play, but the script winds up ignoring this bump in the road rather than resolving it.)
If he had just given us Madea unleashed on shoppers, Madea substitute-teaching and then Madea shticking it up with Najimy and Mr. The Cable Guy, his fans would give a much heartier “Amen” to “A Madea Christmas.”

John Hillcoat’s “Triple Nine” is lining up an all-star cast of this year’s awards contenders, with Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael B. Jordan in talks to star alongside Christoph Waltz and Cate Blanchett, multiple individuals familiar with the project have told TheWrap.
Affleck is nearing a deal to replace Charlie Hunnam as the lead in the Megan Ellison-financed crime drama, which is being produced by Anonymous Content.
Story follows a group of thieves who plan to kill a young LAPD officer to divert the police away from a daring heist they’re perpetrating across town. The title “Triple Nine” refers to police code indicating that an officer needs immediate assistance.
Affleck will play the targeted officer, while Ejiofor is engaging with an offer to play a career criminal who masterminds the heist. Jordan is in talks to play a street-wise cop in Ejiofor’s gang who partners with Affleck and plans to set him up.

Anonymous Content’s Keith Redmon, Brad Dorros and Steve Golin are producing the movie, which Ellison is financing through her Panorama Media banner. Hillcoat (“The Road”) is directing from a script by Matt Cook, and Anonymous Content’s Paul Green will executive produce.
The long-gestating project, which Hillcoat’s “Lawless” star Shia LaBeouf was once attached to, is expected to start production next year, and several other major stars are circling juicy supporting roles.
TheWrap first reported that Waltz and Blanchett were in talks to co-star in “Triple Nine” back in July. Blanchett’s participation depends on scheduling, which could prove tricky with an ensemble cast that is in such high-demand. Interest in the project is a testament to Cook’s script and Hillcoat’s reputation for coaxing strong performances out of his actors.
It has been an exciting week for Ejiofor, who received Golden Globe and SAG nominations for his devastating performance in “12 Years a Slave,” as well as a Golden Globe nomination for his work in the miniseries “Dancing on the Edge.” He’s represented by CAA, Markham, Froggatt and Irwin and attorney Robert S. Wallerstein.

Affleck is in the awards conversation thanks to his supporting performance as Christian Bale’s younger brother in “Out of the Furnace.” He also starred in David Lowery’s critically acclaimed drama “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” and recently wrapped Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” Affleck, who received an Oscar nomination for “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” is represented by WME. Jordan was overlooked by Golden Globes voters for his harrowing performance in “Fruitvale Station,” which has received rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. He next stars in the romantic comedy “That Awkward Moment,” and is set to play Apollo Creed’s grandson opposite Sylvester Stallone in Ryan Coogler’s “Creed.” Jordan, who is also the frontrunner to play the Human Torch in Fox’s “Fantastic Four” reboot, is represented by WME, the Schiff Company and attorney Gregory Slewett. (RTRS)

By Alonso Duralde

By: Alonso Duralde

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