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Screen Grabs - New Beginnings

New year, new beginnings for Sacha Baron Cohen, Madonna, and Daniel Radcliffe. Plus: Late-night TV returns despite the writers' strike, and Amy Poehler and Tina Fey add another pregnancy comedy to the increasingly popular genre.

New Beginnings

As any nail-biter, sugar fiend, or smoker knows, New Year's resolutions are a dangerous business. Perhaps it's best to make silly ones, which was the approach a bunch of professionally silly people took this year—Will Ferrell, for example, declared that he's planning on getting at least 13 hours of sleep a night, regardless of family, job, or life commitments.

But resolutions or not, plenty of folks had genuine plans to turn over a new leaf in 2008. In an interview, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen announced the deaths of his iconic characters Ali G and Borat, while on screen he was galavanting about in tight tights as the barber Pirelli in Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd. Apparently, Steven Spielberg has still other new ideas for Baron Cohen, liking him for the part of Yippie ringleader Abbie Hoffman in a film adaptation of the infamous Chicago Seven conspiracy trial written by Charlie Wilson's War scribe Aaron Sorkin. The Chicago Seven story will also provide the basis for another radical cinematic departure, Chicago 10, set to hit screens next month; directed by Brett Morgen (The Kid Stays in the Picture), it's an animated documentary history of the events leading up to the trial, and will feature Hank Azaria as the voice of Hoffman.

Also trying something new in the new year is Madonna, who makes her directorial debut with the 45-minute "romantic musical dramedy" Filth and Wisdom, starring Gogol Bordello frontman Eugene Hutz (who previously appeared in Liev Shrieber's Everything Is Illuminated), which will be shown out of competition at next month's Berlin Film Festival. Meanwhile, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe will make a bold career shift of his own (well, another one—he did already bare all onstage in Equus) by moving from the hallowed halls of Hogwarts to the mean streets of Mogadishu in the biopic Journey, about the late Somalian war photojournalist Dan Eldon (a figure much admired by the Material Girl, incidentally). And finally, the venerable Soho art gallery Deitch Projects will get a new identity when it's made over as a ramshackle video store as part of the unique marketing campaign for Michel Gondry's latest comic fantasy, Be Kind Rewind (video trailers here), out later this month.

Alas, though some things change with the resetting of the calendar, some things inevitably stay the same. Such is the case with the writers' strike, which heads into its third month with no end in sight. The late-night talk shows do return tonight, though that fresh start brings its own problems, with some speculating that the WGA's deal with David Letterman, which gives him access to writers on an interim basis, has created a rift. Meanwhile, Jay Leno will return sans writers, opening the door for a shift in late-night power dynamics, and guaranteeing a gaggle of WGA picketers outside the door of NBC Studios for the foreseeable future. Perhaps the Tonight Show could do a skit about Jay crossing the picket line? Wait, but who'd write it if his writers are the picketers? This is getting confusing...

Anyway, speaking of things changing but staying the same, new beginnings themselves were a dominant theme at the movies in 2007, the year of the pregnancy comedy, so why should 2008 be any different? Watch out for the dynamic duo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in the upcoming surrogate pregnancy comedy Baby Mama—their due date is April 28.

Happy New Year to you and your brood!

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