So we're off to the big skies of Montana for a couple of weeks, but not before getting the buzz rolling for this year's Maui Film Festival, returning to Wailea and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center June 13 to 17.
Elizabeth Banks - she of the crazy hair in the current blockbuster "The Hunger Games" - will receive this year's Navigator Award, festival director Barry Rivers announced Tuesday.
Following the award presentation, Banks' new film "People Like Us" will screen outdoors under the stars in the festival's field of dreams, the Celestial Cinema.
Ruven Afanador photo
"Elizabeth Banks embodies the talent, intelligence and charisma that are the touchstones of what the Maui Film Festival looks for in the film artists we honor," said Rivers in a statement.
Banks is the first honoree to be named this year. More announcements of luminaries are slated for the weeks leading up to opening night. Along with its signature Wailea screenings, parties and events - a uniquely Maui mix of Hollywood glitz with sand between its toes - also look for more of a party atmosphere accompanying the screenings at the MACC this year.
Honoring Banks, who's also one of the stars of the upcoming "What to Expect When You're Expecting," continues the Maui Film Festival's trend in recent years of recognizing young artists whose careers are still on the rise and interconnected.
Olivia Wilde, last year's MFF Shining Star recipient, is one of her co-stars of the DreamWorks opening-night comedy/drama, "People Like Us." Banks co-starred with another former festival honoree, Zooey Deschanel, in "Our Idiot Brother" in her already long and varied filmography.
Her roles range from playing futuristic ditz Effie Trinket in "The Hunger Games" (featuring another Maui Film Fest award winner, Woody Harrelson) to First Lady Laura Bush opposite James Brolin in Oliver Stone's "W."
While Maui Film Festival has been staying hip, young and current with its honorees in recent years, it hasn't been at the expense of the heart, soul and provocative themes that have been one of its trademarks since Barry and Stella Rivers launched the summer film fest in 2000.
Check www.mauifilmfestival.com to see today's announcements about other films on the schedule -including the big-wave surf action of "The Amaysim Immersion Tour"; "Samsara," a 20-year-in-the-making follow-up to the groundbreaking "Baraka"; and "Liberal Arts" featuring the many talents of Josh Radnor and fellow past MFF honoree Zac Efron. And keep checking this space in coming weeks for what else is new at the festival.
To my pleasant surprise, there's also more heart and soul - well, clever writing and cool acting at least - than I was expecting in this week's mega box-office hit, "The Avengers."
As opposed to movies based on Marvel Comics superheros that we've come to expect this time of year when movie audience brains are on summer vacation, this is the one about all the Marvel Comics superheroes. Iron Man and Thor, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk are all here, with Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner thrown in for good measure.
Yes, it does sound like a screenplay created by the marketing department rather than actual writers, but director Joss Whedon takes the writing credit and, amazingly enough, turns the script into the film's secret weapon.
It's not until the last reel that we get down to the mayhem-over-Manhattan chaos. Up to that point, the cast - led by Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Johansson, the always distracting Gwyneth Paltrow and a movie-stealing Mark Ruffalo - are having more fun delving into the human flaws of their characters rather than strutting their superpowers.
Superheroes are, after all, lonely by nature. They may have capabilities that can save the world, but these talents aren't very useful for making friends, or even just getting close to mere mortals. In the case of the Hulk, there's serious baggage. And as for Iron Man Tony Stark, super-diva is more to the point.
Between the insecurities, the fragile egos and their freaky ways of overcompensating, when you put all these folks in the same room, or same spaceship, you've got the makings not only of super action, but of super psychodrama.
Character defects were the wild card Downey brought to the action-hero formula when he made his unlikely - but in hindsight, so perfect - debut in the genre.
What makes "The Avengers" not only smarter than the usual special-effects epic, but also funnier and more entertaining - is that his co-stars under Whedon's direction match him scene for scene.
It's not as though "The Avengers" is going to add more Oscar nominations to the ample supply its cast members already have but it's still a way classier act than you might expect from a movie that could have taken its $200 million opening-weekend grosses to the bank and called it a day.
Speaking of movie grosses, in response to all the "Three Stooges" experts out there, I need to make a correction to a recent column. Apparently the correct spelling for what I was trying to say is "nyuck, nyuck, nyuck." I'll leave it to the experts to say what that means, exactly.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.