Thursday, February 28, 2008

Anne of the Thousand Dismays (The Other Boleyn Girl)

The Other Boleyn Girl [R]
Grade: D

Allow me to introduce the First Bowen Law of the Costume Drama: the quality of a costume drama is in inverse proportion to the amount of screen time devoted to people riding horses.

Is that true? Nearly as certain as your cell phone dropping on Isaac Newton’s head after it leaves your hand. If you happen to be up the tree. Although I’m researching a possible Jane Austen exception. It works something like a wormhole.

There are two possible reasons for this natural phenomenon: when your story is destined to bore, you need the thunder of hooves, matched by an overeager horn section, to convince the audience of its urgency. It’s also possibly a symptom of a director's charmless mind, a constitutional inability to envision anything beyond stock visual ideas.

Needless to say people waste unusual amounts of screen time in The Other Boleyn Girl spurring on their steeds, galloping from place to place as if they need to keep an appointment to under-act. We have horses riding out on a hunt. Horses riding in from a hunt. Horses approaching a village. Horses departing the village. Horses galloping to a castle. Horses galloping off a beach. Horses galloping to the castle again. The phrase “Yes, Majesty” is only rivaled in number by “Hi ho, Silver.”

The Other Boleyn Girl, based on the Philipa Gregory novel of intrigue in King Henry VIII’s court, suffers from the uniquely British self-deception that the royal family is interesting. People remember Henry primarily for the unpleasant endings to his six marriages (divorced, killed, died, divorced, killed, survived). With the mentality of an oversexed lead guitarist, he ended centuries of his people’s religious tradition so that he could marry his favorite groupie, Anne Boleyn. He also kept her sister, Mary, as a lover, and (maybe, in real life) fathered a bastard child with her.

The story picks up as Henry’s first wife, Catharine of Aragon, fails to produce a male heir, leaving her future in doubt. The Duke of Norfolk, uttering the type of ridiculously ominous words found only in movies (“These are dark times for the King.”), uses his nieces to seduce Henry and advance family power. The king at first takes to the gentle wife Mary, inviting her to court with plans to seduce her. When eventual pregnancy sticks her in bed, the king dumps her for her scheming sister, Anne. The younger sister won’t submit to the king’s advances unless he divorces his wife and makes her queen. You know the rest.

The story’s feminist viewpoint, with women being used as breeding pawns in male power games, gets lost in the uniformly detestable characters and the soapy storyline. Nor does the film expose the ritual absurdities that Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette found in the French court. The final death scene sees director Justin Chadwick guilty of attempted grand tragedy, when the events feel more like just desserts. I dare you to watch it and not think “Off with her head!” While imagining yourself ripping into a turkey leg.

Aside from the horse obsession, the film looks puny for its desired scale. The set design resembles your county’s Renaissance festival, more like "The Safety Dance" than Pride and Prejudice or Elizabeth. Do English directors take classes in filming the Maypole? Or shooting monarchs through iron grating? I guess it’s the style of ye olden times.

The acting is never quite bad, but if you wonder why Cate Blanchett got an Oscar nomination for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, here’s your answer. The whole “I have a hurricane in me, sir” might be overacted bluster, but at least it fills the crown. The Boleyn performances seem studied and small – good news for the soft-spoken Johannson, bad news for Portman, who never rises to her character’s historical weight. She seems more like a high school sweetheart than someone for whom to risk a kingdom.

And it counts! (Semi-Pro)

Semi-Pro [R]
Grade: B

Will Ferrell is the ultimate comedy star for our cut-and-paste times.

His films feature uproarious set-pieces surrounded by colorless blah. When you catch sidesplitting doses of Talladega Nights, you forget how numbing the rest of the film is. If you wanted to make a high-quality Will Ferrell movie, you could snip a little of this and a little of that and smudge them together. Suddenly you’re swimming in a mash-up of great comedy – the mindless bit going forth to multiply.

Nor would you need to fuss about the continuity of storytelling. Every Will Ferrell movie is blueprint-blue identical. Underachieving man-child, often an athlete, seeks to make good and gain respect. Match Plot A with Plot B, iron in a transition, and you have a successful comedy salad. Just add dressing.

Semi-Pro, the seventies-era comic Caesar set among the colorful spinning balls of disco floors and the American Basketball Association, makes for one of Ferrell’s better models. It’s not just great in bits, but vaguely decent in its overall flow. It has one great set-piece that’s a take-off of the famous Joe Pesci “You think I’m funny” scene in Goodfellas. There’s also a gem of an on-court slugfest that’s timed for a commercial break to keep from hurting viewership. There is also the splash-dash patter of the home-team broadcasters – one a lush, one a dork – who get off a string of great lines, including a shiner about Henry Ford. If that’s not your taste, you can always watch Ferrell wrestle a bear.

Semi-Pro basks in the carefree and randy reputation of the red-white-and-blue ball league. Jackie Moon is a one-hit disco wonder and night-club ladies man who sticks his money into a hometown basketball team, the Flint Tropics. He serves as power forward, coach, and promotional guru, a guy more interested in outfitting his players in seahorse costumes for the halftime show than working out the Xs and Os. When the ABA owners decide to merge into the NBA, Moon hopes against financial sanity to get in, but his team must finish fourth place to make the cut. The pick-up of a hated goon played by Woody Harrelson could save the day. The result is a mixture of Ferrell-ized Slap Shot and The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh. It’s a movie that holds on to win by one bucket after grabbing the opening tip.

Growing up, my hometown college basketball team had a group of fans who dressed like Vikings and charged down the steps as the other team shot free throws. The hometown minor league baseball team was known as an innovator in “family entertainment,” kids chasing down the mascot on the base paths and such. There’s a tremendous amount of oddball creativity and lovably mock-able civic pride invested in these outfits. It’s a fertile field for comedy, and Semi-Pro approaches it with a sharp shooter’s stroke.

The Devil and Ms. Cody

I've been on both sides of the Diablo Cody Divide. In the Minnesota Star-Tribune, Anti-D vague acquaintance Big Bob Wilonsky of the Dallas Observer has this to say about her detractors.

"She deserves what she has coming to her," Wilonsky said. "This is not accidental and it's not undeserved. Anyone who says otherwise is just a would-be screenwriter with a movie script sitting in their desk that nobody has any interest in."

As someone whose desk is bare of film scripts, I faithfully contend that maybe it's not a problem of jealousy. Maybe some people just notice that she's a talented but not fully developed screenwriter whose film shows promise but not fulfillment. Maybe people realize that it's not the best indie comedy in recent memory, and that it's not even the best indie comedy set in high school (with Rushmore and Election clearly ahead of it). Maybe people notice that in a year with many well-made heavy-hitters, it's hard for some to get too pumped up about a creative but only mildly entertaining high school pregnancy story with an easy ending. Maybe some just find an Oscar ceremony that honored Juno's script but failed to acknowledge the existence of Zodiac to be the butt of some cruel cosmic joke.

I've been on both sides of the Juno backlash. When people were raving about it early on, I was tempering the enthusiasm. When others began to deride the picture, I've said my feelings about it are more positive than negative and that I was pleased by its success against the big boys. Most of the vitriol I've had for Juno has not been directed at the film itself, but for those critics who wanted to use it to practice sociology without a license. Unlike others who instantly declared Juno today's model teen-ager, I've always regarded Juno to be a mid-nineties teenager set in the clothing and language of today's kids. That's the commercially viable but generationally inaccurate way to make a movie about your high school experience.

I don't wish Ms. Busey ill, and I hope she fulfills her promise, with more snappy, original lines and less "All babies want to born-ed." I do fear that with the too-easy Oscar win, she will be encouraged to mistake her bad habits for personal quirks. She has won the right to inspire an entire generation of film scripts that will seem hopelessly dated in 25 years. We have a decade to figure out if that will be her fate.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Anti-D's Oscar telecast ideas

This Patrick Goldstein LA Times article is making the rounds. It has some radical suggestions for how to spruce up the Oscars telecast after the downturn in viewership this year. I think his main observation, that it's time to ditch the Carol Burnett variety show approach, is pretty undeniable.

He suggests that the Oscar telecast needs shortening. That certainly would ease the burden on viewers. However, does a two-hour telecast make as much revenue as a three-hour-and-then-some telecast that's still going to be among the highest rated programs of the year? Obviously I don't know the dollar figures involved, but I'm skeptical that such a shortening would be in the Academy financial interest.

Goldstein suggests doing away with the performances of the Original Song category. That's another hard call. This year, obviously, the category sucked, because of the mindless inclusion of three songs from Enchanted. But last year, the Original Song category provided an excuse to have Beyonce perform three songs, which would have to be seen as an asset. This year might have been better if Eddie Vedder had been nominated, if an energetic Hairspray number had been performed, etc. but the rules don't permit their nomination. That's the first place that the problems lie, in the nominations.

However, I would agree that they should jettison the presentation of a number of the minor awards during the main broadcast, and I like Goldstein's suggestion of a separate ceremony and telecast on a movie-focused cable channel. As an olive branch for the banishment, they could take the extra time available on the show to give the viewers insight into how the nominees do their magic. Then they can run a brief recap of those awards on the main telecast, and hopefully everyone is happy.

Goldstein suggests that the Oscars learn from sports telecasts. While I wouldn't want to see everything adopted from, say, Fox's overly testoeroned NFL coverage, I do have some ideas that might gel with that. I would like to see famous film people cut segments that break down, analyze, explain, and promote the nominees. Some ideas:

1) Cut a segment in which each one the Best Actor nominees takes the performance of a Best Actress nominee and explains what he loves about the performance, and vice versa.
2) Have Martin Scorsese, American director emeritus and a guy who can project his enthusiasm for movies, tape a segment talking about what he loves in each of the Best Picture contenders. Kevin Smith might do some of this, too, perhaps in a different category.
3) Let Roger Ebert, health permitting, talk about what he loves about Juno or obviously whatever film next year.
4) Get Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow to do a humorous he-said-she-said segment about one of the categories or all the categories, or whatever they want to do with the nominees.
5) Have each Best Director nominee film a short documentary on one of the acting nominees. Have Julian Schnabel film a day in the life of George Clooney or P.T. Anderson spends a night on the town with Javier Bardem.

This would bring greater focus to the actual product that the Academy wants to promote, and helps to explain why these films and performances are groundbreaking and deserve the audience's enthusiasm. I think people would eat it up. At least they would eat it up more than they eat up the Best Makeup category.

There Will Be Arrogance

London Times critic James Christopher goes off on No Country for Old Men beating out There Will Be Blood for Best Picture.

"Did the American Academy get it right? I don’t think so, and it needs to be discussed. I’m gutted that a picture as immaculately assembled as There Will Be Blood has failed against a cartoon American parable, and a psycho wig played by Javier Bardem."

Christopher describes There Will Be Blood as a Biblical-minded story about the conflict of religion and greed in American society. He calls No Country a parable about the indifference of violence in the American West. He concludes:

"But I simply don’t know what the last half hour of this Oscar-winner means. It’s a bloke’s film in the crudest sense of the word. The desert landscapes are framed like paintings, and the plot hardly breaks sweat. But for the life of me I could not picklock a meaning from the last chaotic, whimsical, in truth, desperately-looking-for-an-ending, reel. It creaks with significance, but I left the cinema not entirely convinced that the glittering plaudits it has won are entirely deserved."

At least that explanation has the value of honesty. It's not often that critics have the courage in public to admit that they do not know what a film means. But perhaps next time Christopher should try thinking about a film even after he has left the cinema. He has apparently done less than enough to inform himself, given the amount of discussion the ending has generated. I've found the very public, very plentiful debates over the ending to be the most exciting element of the movie. The film's site itself has had a section dedicated to expressing different views on the ending. I'm sorry the film didn't tie things up in a bow for you, Mr. Christopher, but some of us find the process of trying to grasp a difficult answer more profitable than tidy explanations and overly determined bowling pin finales.

It should be said that There Will Be Blood was in my Top 10 Films of the Year, so clearly I admire it. But it was closer to 10 than to one, which reflects a certain coolness to the film on my part.

Part of my coolness comes from the feeling that, as once was said of the English author Henry James and his labyrinthine sentences, Anderson doesn't bite off more than he can chew so much as chew more than he has bitten off. The story feels less than the film, and it seems flat at times, straining for the importance to which it believes its ambition entitles it. I'm also uncertain that the film correctly diagnoses the issues with American capitalism. TWBB suggests that American capitalist values naturally attract personalities that are antithetical to traditional American moral/religious values (and have subsequently murdered those values). I prefer the subtler view of Michael Clayton, another film that Christopher dismisses, that American capitalist values prey on the weakness and isolation of American personalities belonging to people who probably know better in their hearts. It's not just that your boss is a jerk. It's that his underlings (and probably the boss himself) are wedded to the flimsy but flexible moral backbone needed to survive.

My other issue is more visceral. There Will Be Blood's advocates are the most vociferous group of film fans in recent years, and I find their pronouncements of their beloved film's singular all-important historical tremendousness grating. It reminds me of the people who watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy and acted like they had just ridden home in a golden chariot from Heaven. Not only are those who don't agree idiots. Their favored films are cartoon parables with meaningless endings. It's all rather annoying.

Will Ferrell

A fake interview with Will Ferrell. Do all his films have the same basic thing going on? Yeah. But I suspect that fifteen years from now, people will study his take on modern masculinity, such as that is not an oxymoron.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ford's Oscar night

A fun story about Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart not being able to locate their limo driver on Oscar Night. A small crowd of fans besieged them, and soon they were being given a ride home in a cop car for their public safety reasons. Fortunately, Indy didn't pull his gun. There were cops around.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Swinton and Bowie

By the way, is Tilda Swinton auditioning for the David Bowie biopic?

Congratulations, The Dark Knight

Why do I say that? Because if it's any good, it just won the first of five slots for Best Picture next year. Why do I say that? Because ratings are in for the Oscar telecast and they are way down. Meaning that next year, the Academy will probably be scrambling to get a quality box office hit into the field.

Whether fair or not, this Oscar field got branded the bleak, bloody, violent one with films that nobody saw. I think an equally big issue is the lack of established stars in the major categories. Look at the complete lack of star power in the Best Actress category. One star of yesteryear, one riser, an unknown (stateside) French actress, an accomplished actress but non-star, and Cate Blanchett, whose hard to describe from a public perspective. It would have been good to have, say, Julia Roberts running in the supporting category for Charlie Wilson's War. And even if I don't personally care for American Gangster, a BP nod and one for Denzel Washington would have brought some audience to the ceremony. The fact that there isn't a Best Picture nominee that I hate was a bad sign from the start.

The five best Oscar moments

1) The return speech of Marketa Irglova - When Irglova got accidentally cut off from making a speech in Best Original Song for the Once track "Falling Slowly," host Jon Stewart and staffers called her back out on stage following a commercial break to say her words. Irglova is an extremely talented musician and may well go far, but she's unlikely ever to be back on an Oscar stage. This was her one sure shot at this, and cheers to Stewart and anyone else who made sure she fully had the opportunity. And she made the most of it with an eloquent speech, made all the more impressive by the fact that she comes across as very, very shy.

2) Cormac McCarthy's fist pump - In a room full of famous, powerful storytellers, here's this 74-year-old man who may be the most significant artist there. He's also a man known for his reclusiveness and at least publicly, his shy manner. And what does he do when the Best Picture is announced for the adaptation of his novel, No Country for Old Men? He stands up and pumps his fist in the air, like he's cheering on his dorm hall's intramural football team. Isn't the pointyheaded intellectual suppose to say that awards don't matter and all the participants have a valuable story to tell? Broke that stereotype. Made up for the Coens' adrenalitis.

3) Tilda Swinton's speech - She said she had promised the statue to her agent, who it resembles in face and backside. She went on to poke fun at George Clooney, complimenting him for wearing his Batman uniform around the set and hanging out upside-down at lunch. "You rock, man." I'm fond of saying that if you want to judge the skills of an actress, try to imagine her playing a lawyer. That such a punkish free spirit can button down and play such a menacing attorney is the sign of a terrific actress.

4) Cameron Diaz and "cinematography" - We here at Anti-D are not so picky about the requirements for an Oscar presenter. But being able to pronounce the category that you are presenting seems a rather sensible one. Cameron Diaz may have set off a world record for simultaneously told blonde jokes by twice stumbling over the word "cinematography." Don't worry, Cameron. Everyone assumed that There's Something About Mary was something of an autobiography.

5) The Oscar salute to binoculars and periscopes - This was part of a comedy bit in which Jon Stewart revealed some of the bottom-of-the-barrel filler material that might have had to run, had the writers strike not been settled. In this case, a montage of often famous movie actors pressing binoculars and periscopes up to their eyeballs. The gag went over the audiences head, but sorry, I totally cracked up. I may be the only person, but that was really funny.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscar live blog

7 p.m. CST: Well let's start. Will it be the Coen's night. Probably. But we're about to find out.

7:02: Two miuntes in and we have the first euphemism for teen pregnancy - "unexpected motherhood."

7:04: Does anyone else think that Regis Philbin tests even George Clooney's cool?

7:15: Did Regis just declare that Helen Mirren's dress came from a whorehouse? I must be mistaken, right? Please say it was warehouse. Please.

7:16: It can't be long now until Morgan Freeman's one tuxedo arrives, can it?
By the way, we've already heard the first reference to Juno as "the little film that could." There might be a drinking game in there somewhere.

7:18: Regis interviews an 83-year-old red carpet watcher who's been coming for decades, apparently fishing for stories about watching Cary Grant walk the red carpet in 1951. When was her first time? 1986. "Paul Newman won the Oscar that year," she declares. Regis quickly hustles to the next interview.

7:24: First controversy: Ellen Page just said something about having drinks. Well, she is Canadian, after all. I picture a Molson.

7:28: First egregious shot of Jack Nicholson, being interviewed by Regis Philbin from the stage, as he also points out "Xaiver" Bardem. Gotta love Notre Dame.

7:34 "Welcome to the makeup sex." Fasten your seat belts. This is going to be a bumpy night.

7:35: "All I can say is, thank God for teen pregnancy." Good line.

7:39: Stewart, aside from a few references that will keep people shaking their heads, has been pretty funny. "Oscar is 80 this year, which makes him the automatic front runner for the Republican nomination."

7:41: Gaydolf Titler, wtf?
Ellen Page is 21 by the way. All's good with the alky.

7:42: Costume design - Atonement. Bank it.

7:44: Nope. Elizabeth. Never underestimate an opulent 16th century costume drama in that category.

7:55: Best animated feature goes to Brad Bird and Ratatouille. I dislike the movie. But then again if I mildly like an animated movie it's a breakthrough. And my, does Anne Hathaway look lovely.

7:57: Go Norbit, go Norbit, go Norbit ....
No, it's La Vie En Rose for makeup.

8:00 The first Enchanted song production number. The Devil Went Down to Hollywood. Actually it's called Happy Working Song. Are there really three of these? Poor Amy Adams.

8:07: The Golden Compass wins one for atheism. Visual effects.

8:15: There Will Be Blood (edit: My Bad, Sweeney Todd) wins for art direction. Did John Stewart just compare Cate Blanchett to a pit bull? Best Supporting Actor or Actress is up.

8:16: Someone needs to do something bizarre. It's about time.

Best Supporting Actor goes to ..... Javier Bardem. Deserving choice. He thanks Coens for putting the worst haircut ever on his head. Looks like it's going to be a No Country night.

8:29 Owen Wilson to present something. Shorts. The Mozart of Pickpockets wins. The first giant who cares from the home audience erupts.

8:37: Best Supporting Actress, in which Tilda Swinton's fate might tell us something about Best Picture, although no one will be able to know exactly what. Best chance for an upset.

Tilda Swinton. Awesome. Great choice. Gives the sauciests speech so far. Jokes about George Clooney's Batman uniform, hanging upside down at lunch. "You rock, man."

8:50: The Adapted Screenplay goes to the Coens for No Country for Old Men. Cormac McCarthy gets a bit of honor. One of the brothers seemed not to know if he wanted to save some thank yous for later or not. In the end, he just said thank you.

8:56: The second Disney song. Some faux reggae crap. I guess they're saving the giant spinning teacups for the last one. Now is that win a consolation for Michael Clayton, or a sign of things to come? Stay tuned.

8:59: Let me be the first to think this just-a-thought: With a weak Best Actress field, did the insistence of running Cate Blanchett in the Supporting field for I'm Not There backfire? It was clearly a lead role. I mean, who exactly is the person playing Bob Dylan supporting in a Bob Dylan biopic?

9:03: The Jonah Hill-Seth Rogen banter about Halle Berry and Judi Dench is priceless. The Bourne Ultimatum wins. Wins What? Editing, I think. Sound Editing? Sound Editing. Sound Editing!

9:12 Best Actress goes to ..... Marion Cotillard. Who looks stunning and gives a very excitable speech, barely able to think, endearingly babbling about in a foreign language. She doesn't know that much English vocabulary, but she does know the meaning of the word "rocked" in the slang sense. Apparently, that's the chosen word for the evening.

We're three-fourths through the foreign sweep.

9:27: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova just finished up their performance of "Falling Slowly" from Once. It was great, obviously, but that would have been your safest bet in the Oscar pool.
Glen even brought along the guitar with the holes in it. He must sleep with that thing.

9:31: Sorry, Roderick Jaynes. They decided to give it to a real guy. but you do photograph remarkably well for someone who does not exist.

9:48: The final. Enchanted. song. And it's actually halfway presentable in a sappy, crappy, poppy way.

9:52: Best Original Song goes to where it should go .... Falling Slowly. Evil is vanquished. Poor Marketa. Time runs out on here before she can speak. Great gown, though.

10:05: Sweet of John Stewart to call Irglova back to the mike to say her peace. He must know this is her shot.
Cameron Diaz stumbles over the word "cinematography." Blonde jokes commence worldwide. Oscar goes to Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood. Roger Deakins likely split his vote.

10:11: And Original Score goes to Atonement. The score that ruined its movie. The two best, There Will Be Blood and Jesse James, were not nominated. I would have preferred Michael Clayton.

10:29: Diablo Cody wins for her Juno script. That was a particularly reserved speech for an ex-stripper. You'd think someone named Diablo Cody would be a little more unconventional.

10:36: Daniel Day-Lewis with a classy speech that does not include the word "milkshake" but does include a reference to his son H.W. Plainview. The question is whether he knows the film has ended. Now that's living the part.

10:44: The Coens win Best Director. I've gotta think that means they're looking good. And we're about to find out.

10:49: Best Picture goes to ......

No Country for Old Men!

Marfa, Texas, rejoices. The Coens get another piece of hardware to put on their mantle! Cormac McCarthy gets a moment on screen! Wow.

Oscar, a foreign affair

I'll be live blogging tonight, but here's a thought .... will the acting Oscars go entirely to non-Americans this year? Day-Lewis (or Mortensen), Christie (or Page, Cotillard, Blanchett), Blanchett (or Swinton, Ronan), Bardem (or Wilkinson). Right now, we look the tentative Amy Ryan favorite away.

Ellen Page, for the record, is Canadian.

Question 21

Am I the only person who realizes that There Will Be Blood isn't that violent of a movie?

To read the press, you'd think there was a killing every minute. There's two.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Oscar predictions

Best Picture:
Should Win: No Country for Old Men
Will win: No Country for Old Men

The Coen Brothers neo-Western Noir finally will bring them the prize. It’s the best film in the group from a pair of filmmakers whose time has come. If it doesn’t win, the upsetter will be Michael Clayton.

Best Actor:
Should win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Will win: Daniel Day-Lewis

It’s a classic battle of method actor versus Hollywood leading man. But not even Clooney thinks he’s going to come out the victor. Go with the guilds and believe it’s Day-Lewis.

Best Actress:
Will Win: Julie Christie

As a rule, the golden oldie favorite never wins. But the rookie-nominee foreign star (Marion Cotillard) wins even less. Ellen Page wouldn’t shock me, but she's more likely to get the "big future ahead" treatment. Although honestly, I haven’t seen enough of these performances to give my own opinion. I will give my opinion that I would like to see a younger actress get it. No one claims Christie gives an indelible performance, and no one looks at this as her period of time.

Best Supporting Actress:
Should win: Tilda Swinton
Will win: Tilda Swinton

Cate Blanchett? Best? Yes. Actress? Yes. Supporting? No. Amy Ryan may be the favorite, but something tells me no. Saoirse Ronan will be seen as just a kid, and it may be a lead performance, anyway. Never mind it's one of the great child performances ever. My guess is that the choice of the eminently respected veteran Swinton will be seen as a way to honor Michael Clayton as it loses in other categories. Supporting category as consolation prize. But a very deserving one.

Best Supporting Actor:
Should win: Javier Bardem
Will win: Casey Affleck

Again the supporting bugaboo strikes. Casey Affleck gives my favorite performance, but it’s clearly a lead. Hal Holbrook is fantastic in Into the Wild. But Bardem creates one of the most memorable villains in ages with Anton Chigurh. Strong category, as always.

Best Director:
Will win: The Coen Brothers
Should win: The Coen Brothers

Even if No Country for Old Men loses Best Picture, this will be the consolation prize.

Best Cinematography:
Should win: Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Will win: Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood

If there were justice in the world, this would be an easy call. But I think Deakins’ two nominations will split the vote. No Country is the ostensible favorite. If it were the better of the two or even, it wouldn't be a problem. But Jesse James is the best of the year. Elswit, who justifiably could have had his own double with Michael Clayton, should slide into the cracks.

Best Original Screenplay:
Should win: Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Will win: Diablo Cody, Juno

With Juno, Cody creates a new blog-minded style that will inspire an entire generation of screenplays that will seem dated in 25 years. There’s better writing in that jailhouse ramble by Tom Wilkinson than there is in all of Juno.

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Should win: James Vanderbilt, Zodiac (not nominated)
Will win: The Coen Brothers

Probably deservingly so. Cormac McCarthy is not an easy writer to read, much less transfer to the screen.

Burn the tapes! (Be Kind Rewind)

Be Kind Rewind
Grade: D

One day, technology might finally take us to a place where Michel Gondry can simply push a button and project his imagination onto a blank screen, equally amazing us and annoying us with its hyper flights of fancy.

It will be so much easier for him. No need to lunk around bulky cameras, adjust the lighting, yell at the intern to hit Starbucks or create a reasonable story. Just plug in your mind, and it instantly flies over matter.

If such a machine ever comes to exist, it’s likely that Gondry would have already made a movie about it. In fact, if he has read this review, then he’s probably typing as we speak. From Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to The Science of Sleep, the realm of imagination has become his lone subject matter. With each passing picture, he seems to be waving a little further goodbye to all that reality.

The next step looks like Be Kind Rewind. If the plot, characters, and actions of this new comedy fail to make much sense, then it’s only because your square mind can’t comprehend the utter richness of his octagonal thinking. Right?

Imagination would seem to be an alien force in an unglamorous place like Passaic, New Jersey, which is up there in American conceptions of drabness with places like Peoria, Illinois or Muncie, Indiana. But Passaic is where Danny Glover and Mos Def tend to a father-son video store. The place probably doesn’t have anything you would actually want to see, but it will rent you what you don't want to see for a dollar. The two men are often visited and harassed by their likable but spacey neighbor Jerry (Jack Black). If by “neighbor,” you mean the slacker living in a trailer on an abandoned lot next to the nearby power station.

Now, if you were a stock filmmaker wanting to destroy a store’s worth of VCR tapes as a plot device, you might think up a fire, or a robbery, or something like that. Not Gondry, au contraire. During an unwise joust with the power station, Jerry gets electrocuted and becomes a walking human magnet. And magnets and video tape do not mix.

So to keep customers coming in the doors, the two young men re-film the movies themselves, using homemade video. They then sticking them on the shelves. Why they don’t just claim insurance and order new ones, only Gondry knows. And why any of their customers decide that they like the shoddy product, only Gondry knows that, too. One thing’s for sure – he ain’t telling.

Watching Black and Def re-doing Ghostbusters with backpacks, vacuum tubes, and Christmas tree tinsel makes for hearty fun. As do the re-creations of Driving Miss Daisy and 2001. So do a lot of the other fevered homemade films, which are a little like watching Max Fischer’s plays in Rushmore. The problem is that the imaginative horseplay is all that holds the attention of Gondry. The rest of the film is left too much to your imagination and not enough to his.

I admire Gondry’s celebration of the idea that imagination, and not technique, is the first principle of filmmaking. At the same time, it’s not a new idea for film to explore, and other filmmakers have made the point while maintaining a coherent storyline. Until he returns to that formula, he will remain just a loose thought in my head.

More on Oscar and box office

Here are the domestic box office figures for the last three years of Best Picture nominees, according to Box Office Mojo. As you will see, this year's crop has already outperformed the other two at the box office. And There Will Be Blood and Juno are still in their primary runs. Juno is still in the top 10.

Brokeback Mountain $83.0 million
Capote $28.8 million
Munich $47.4 million
Crash $54.6 million
Good Night, and Good Luck $31.6 million
Total $245.3 million

The Departed $132.4 million
Little Miss Sunshine $59.9 million
Letters from Iwo Jima $13.8 million
The Queen $56.4 million
Babel $34.3 million
Total $296.8 million

Juno $127.4 million
No Country for Old Men $62.4 million
Atonement $48.5 million
Michael Clayton $48.1 million
There Will Be Blood $33.1 million
Total $319.4 million

The other years earlier in this decade did outperform this year. That's partly but not entirely due to the Lord of the Rings series. But this is far from a group of box office busts.

Twenty questions for Oscar

1. Will Daniel Day Lewis manage to fit the words "I drink your milkshake" into his acceptance speech?

2. Will George Clooney (or Tom Wilkinson) work in the line, "I am Shiva, the god of death," into theirs? Or will Wilkinson babble that the Oscar "answers the multiple choice of me?"

3. Will "Roderick Jaynes," the non-existant film editor of "No Country for Old Men," give the longest acceptance speech in Oscar history?

4. Will Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's rendition of "Falling Slowly" be the best musical performance that the show has ever seen?

5) How many Americans will come to consider God a quaint, ancient notion after having to sit through three overly cute musical numbers from Enchanted? How many will shoot a hole in their television to escape the menace of atheism?

6) Will teenage nominees Ellen Page and/or Saoirse Ronan have Mom or Dad drive her up to the red carpet? Or will she have said parent drop her off at the corner and walk the rest of the way?

7) Will Johnny Depp show up to the ceremony with Sweeney Todd's striped hair?

8) Will the Academy rightfully award a prize to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford so that I can renew my faith in God after sitting through all those Enchanted production numbers?

9) Does Marion Cotillard speak English?

10) Does anyone remember that Tom Wilkinson is English? Does Tom Wilkinson remember he's English?

11) Will Sean Penn manage to make it through a ceremony without insulting somebody? OK, OK. Will Sean Penn manage to make it through a ceremony without insulting more than four people?

12) Will Miley Cyrus need to sound out some of the big words on the teleprompter when she presents an award?

13) Does Salma Hayek do any sort of paying work other than presenting Academy Awards anymore?

14) What is Patrick "Pizza Boy" Dempsey doing touching an Oscar, much less presenting one?

15) Will Cate Blanchett come dressed as a man?

16) Will there be a special moment in which James Earl Jones, in full resonant voice, tries to explain the ending of No Country for Old Men?

17) Will Morgan Freeman wear that same tuxedo that he always wears? (Answer: Yes.)

18) Will Anne Hathaway make K. Bowen's tongue wag, no matter what she's wearing? (Answer: very likely.)

19) Can we get through a special television event without having that Frank Caliendo impersonation guy getting shoved down our throat?

20) Most importantly, at what time will it end?

Oscar and box office

One idea that seems out there that is, to me, flat out wrong is that nobody has seen any of the films nominated for Best Picture. While it's true most are not making Pirates money, most of them have performed reasonably well for adult fare, particularly when compared to budget. These films domestically are making back two to three times their cost, at least, which is hard to do with a $200 million summer monster.

Juno is a hit by any standard, up to $127 million on a budget of $6.5 million. Phenomenal performance. No Country for Old Men is over a very healthy $60 million. Michael Clayton is hovering near $50 million, as is, quietly, Atonement. There Will Be Blood, the latest release, is somewhere in the $20s, probably the only one not in the respectable range. And these are only the domestic numbers. Hollywood-Elsewhere poster JD uses the worldwide numbers to further illustrate the point.

The point is that while these are not summer blockbusters, the idea that these are films are box office underperformers that no one has seen is basically bunk.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The First Bowen Law of the Costume Drama

The quality of a costume drama is in inverse proportion to the amount of screen time devoted to watching people ride horses.

Michael Clayton

"In voting for "Michael Clayton," Hollywood would in essence be voting for itself, voting for thoughtful, adult studio films crafted in the heart of the system. I can't think of any other movie-making constituency that needs more help right now. "

Here is LA Times critic Kenneth Turan making the case for Michael Clayton. For some reason, I've been wanting to see this movie again. For this year, it's the film that keeps rising in my view. If it pulls out a win on Sunday night, although unlikely it's still a decent possibility, you won't hear a word of protest from this blog. This is a film that sticks with you because it's saying something that is essentially true, and that everybody knows to be true, and yet no one will say - that our capacity for traditional moral decisionmaking is being eroded in the face of the demands of corporate carnivorism. Those dismissing it as just another John Grisham legal thriller are getting lost in the iconography. This is a film with its finger sorely on the pulse.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jewison's take

I thought I would link to In the Heat of the Night director Norman Jewison's breakdown of the Best Picture candidates on Hollywood-Elsewhere, just because I think it's exactly right.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Roderick Jaynes, the man who wasn't there

One of the most interesting Oscar night questions for Sunday (and let's face it, we're all supposed to be writing Oscar-related blog posts at this time of year) is, what happens if Roderick Jaynes wins the award for Best Editing for No Country for Old Men? I ask this question for a pretty basic reason. Roderick Jaynes does not exist. "Roderick Jaynes" is the alias that the Coen Brothers use for their editing endeavors. Here, they describe Jaynes to the AP as a crochety Englishman in his 80s. Jaynes is The Man Who Wasn't There. How often does a man edit a film whose title describes him perfectly? Especially when he isn't actually a man.

A few years back, Stephen Soderbergh's alias for cinematography also was nominated, without many people being aware that it was an nom de camera. But he did not win.

This could make for the most memorable speech come Oscar night.

By the way, what is ....

a statuette, as opposed to a statue? And is it really appropriate to call an Oscar a statuette?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Alain Robbe-Grillet, Rest in Peace

Passing away in the last couple of days was Alain Robbe-Grillet. The title of his novella Into the Labyrinth was appropriate. He can be hard to read. He was always more a theorist than a writer. He actually plays better, to my mind, through the prism of Alain Resnais in films like Last Year at Marienbad, which he wrote.

Marfa, Texas, Superstar

Marfa, Texas, is one of the great movie sets that goes on after the lights and cameras leave. This year, two films shot there .... No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood .... are up for best picture. I don't think I've ever been there, which is a shame. Located in the West Texas desert near the Big Bend, it's a known po-mo artist colony. You can actually get a New York Times there. And this is their big moment in the spotlight.

Rare political doodles: Election formula

This is my formula for figuring out who will be the party presidential nominees and the new president in any given presidential election year. To get an accurate prediction, tell me these things ....

Republican nominee: who's the oldest guy.
Democratic nominee: who has the most wheels-off wife.
Winner: who owns a ranch.

That's all you need to know.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Meryl Streep keeping it up

My theory about Meryl Streep is that her acting talent isn't matched by her ability to pick a script. It's as though she's the Hillary Clinton of the acting world, all wonky and programmed and overly topical. She's a politician in an artist's profession. Her political mindedness is one reason she's in so few films that haven't had legs historically. Thus we come to her upcoming movie, which delves into a campus shooting. Some things never change.

Definitely, Maybe

Definitely, Maybe
Grade: C

You know me.

I like arty films.

When I feel really enthusiastic about a genre film, it’s usually for some arty reason.

So why is it that when it comes to romantic comedies, I want the most orthodox, contrived, flaky storyline that I can find? Because the only thing worse than a contrived romantic comedy is an uncontrived one. Or one, like Definitely, Maybe, that’s convinced it’s uncontrived.

Among film critics, this opinion probably makes me an outcast. Or at least the only Ralph Bellamy at a Cary Grant convention. But look at some of the plots of the great romantic comedies. Paleontologist and heiress chase leopard across Connecticut. Ex-cop husband and heiress wife solve murder cases. Editor and reporter, ex-spouses, try to stop execution. Princess and journalist cruise round town.

It’s a genre in which witty silliness has proven to last. So when in last week’s Fool’s Gold, Kate Hudson crack Matthew McConaughey over the head with a cane, I think of a different Kate snapping Grant’s golf club over her knee. Fool’s Gold isn’t Lubitsch by any stretch, but it’s at least a pale imitation of the same honored tradition.

So the realistic take of Definitely, Maybe is, to me, a disappointment. Oh sure, if you like your romantic comedies to be intelligent, well-written, well-acted, a little original, with a dose of wisdom, just go. Fine with me. This is your thing. But I wish some modern auteur would write a great, classical screwball comedy.

It’s very difficult to do what Definitely, Maybe tries to do, tell a love story spanning 15 years and three girlfriends in the life of New York advertising executive (and former political hotshot) on the brink of divorce (Ryan Reynolds). We watch him ping-pong from college sweetheart (Elizabeth Banks) to free-spirited journalist (Rachel Weisz) to artsy redhead (Isla Fisher). The film invites us to guess which one he marries. After a while, this descends into a marathon of “who cares?” Better that they have some outlandish leopard chase in which to sublimate their romantic energies.

There’s a fourth female crucial to the film’s plot - Abigail Breslin’s 10-year-old daughter. A fouled-up school presentation on the birds and bees leads her to ask to hear the story of mom meeting pop. Through flashbacks, her father tells her the “complicated” story. This is the most interesting relationship in the film, and certainly the one with the most wit and insight. But the structure keeps it hidden for much of the time.

My misgivings do not mean that I do not recognize the good work of others. You’ll read many sentences that start “I’ve always liked Ryan Reynolds.” Count me in. Rachel Weisz is a bright spot. And how are we going to decide between Breslin and Dakota Fanning as America’s sweetheart? I suggest a duel.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

We've Got a Jumper

Jumper [PG-13]
Grade: D

Jumper takes the leap into theaters on Valentine’s Day. And that’s the only love it’s likely to get.

The would-be superhero series launch gives off all the signals of a lousy Valentine’s date – a high price ($100 million, reportedly), boring stories, and less action than you had hoped for. There’s a bottle in its hand, a mumble in its mouth, and an eye looking for the nearest expansion bridge. We’ve got a jumper, indeed.

It’s not a bad idea. Young man (Hayden Christiansen) discovers he has the ability to teleport instantly to any place in the world. Suddenly, he’s jumping straight from his room out onto the head of the Sphinx or into the Grand Canyon. He uses the power to travel, break into banks, and live the high life.

Of course, the laws of the comic book universe dictate that every super power is met by an equal and opposite price to pay. There’s a secret war going on between these “jumpers” and a secret group out to stop them. Under the tutelage of another jumper (Jamie Bell) he confronts a villain trying to cut short his worldwide tour (Samuel L. Jackson).

Jumper might follow some universal laws, but its pacing is bad enough to need a scientific theory for explanation. It's so loaded with backstory that things that should happen at 20 minutes instead happen at the 50 minute mark. Yet, still the movie wraps up in an hour and a half. That squeezebox effect partly stems from an underwritten script that took three writers to complete. That must have been some of the easiest money ever earned. The storyline has a laziness that only a union boss could love.

The film never finds a rhythm. This is partly due to the performance of Christiansen, whose speech has the laggard speed of John Wayne without the haggard twang. Meanwhile, director Doug Liman appears to have attended classes recently at the Ridley Scott School of Unnecessary Reaction Shots. His redeeming oddball sense of humor goes missing, possibly a casualty of rumored “troubles” on the production.

What dooms Jumper, though, is that it is a superhero story without superheroics. Superhero stories are partly myths of civic responsibility, tales of outcasts and loners who ultimately use their unique gifts to save the community. Part of the stories’ tension comes from the competing interests of individualism and society. That ain’t happening here. Our jumper has no real calling beyond his own whims. At one point, he watches people stranded in a flood on television. He picks up an umbrella. And jumps to a London bar to pick up a babe.

The best news about Jumper: It won’t stick around long enough for us to miss it when it’s gone.

Indy trailer

The teaser trailer for the new Indiana Jones film is up. If there's any anticipated release that I'm less excited about this year, I don't know what it is. Every single still I've seen, I've hated. But who knows?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

state of the rom-com

Noah Forrest at Movie City News is pontificating on the state of the romantic comedy, a popular topic these days. It's an interesting read, but I'm not sure I totally agree. I'll write more about it later.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rom Com: trash vs. truth

Is it wrong to prefer contrived romantic comedies to the more high-minded, literate, "true-to-life" ones? Is it wrong to prefer watching Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn chasing a leopard through Connecticut, to prefer the romantic friction of fantastic situations to those of more mature reflection? Even if they don't make screwballs nearly as well anymore?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

50 Best Movie Lines

This list of 50 best movie quotes from The Scotsman has three from Forrest Gump, which immediately makes suspect its credibility. But it might be some fun, nonetheless.

Roy Scheider, Rest in Peace

If you were going to name the dividing line between being a household name and a star, you might call it “The Roy Scheider Line.” He was definitely the former but not the latter. His roles in The French Connection, Jaws, and All That Jazz certainly earned him an exemplary reputation. But, aside from Jaws, people my age will always think of Blue Thunder. I’m not sure why. And I haven't thought about 2010 in years. Maybe that was for the best.

Here's hoping in the afterlife, he finds a bigger boat.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Paris HIlton: One just made for bloggers

Sometimes as a blogger you wake up to find milk and honey just flowing into your keyboard. This is one of those mornings.

Fantasy Moguls is reporting that the Paris Hilton cinematic cash grab The Hottie and the Nottie ain't going to be exactly that. It made $76 per screen last night in its first night of limited release. That's $76. In some parts of the country, you might be able to get a mechanic to crack open the hood of your fashionable Jaguar for that. In some parts of the country that probably do not include Hilton's hometown. Frankly, I wonder if about the same number of onlookers watched Paris walked down the carpet at the premiere here a week or two ago as watched the actual movie this weekend.

I have to say I'm a little surprised. True, Hilton has never had a screen success. And certainly she's not an actress. But neither was Elvis, and his films made huge amounts of cash. I sort of expected the lure of celebrity to get this up to at least respectable box office. Not that it would deserve it. But morbid curiosity should account for more than seven people and a student or senior per screen.

Which raises the question .... who exactly are the Paris Hilton fans? Whatever else, they appear to be broke.

It's in Belgium (In Bruges)

In Bruges [R]
Grade: B

It’s in Belgium.

What’s in Belgium?

Bruges. A medieval fairyland of a Belgian city. With carriages and cathedrals. And one midget. From America. The midget. Or as he prefers, dwarf. Not the carriages or cathedrals. They’re from Belgium. Where Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are. They don’t know why. Why what? Why they’re in Bruges …..

It’s in Belgium.

The two men, British hit men by trade, have been mysteriously sent there to recuperate after their last killing, an affair that turned messy. Displaying an interest in life beyond his unscrupulous profession, Gleeson’s Ken takes to sightseeing through Bruges’ fairy tale beauty. More prone to fistfights, lager and narcotics, Farrell’s Ray shows less affection for swans and old stone buildings. He has more interest in the pretty production assistant on a movie set in town. The one with the midget. We mean “dwarf.” He prefers that to midget.

An offbeat black comedy, part buddy movie and part Odd Couple with better weaponry, In Bruges comes cocked with twists and surprises. Director Martin McDonagh’s debut movie twists and turns like the city’s cobblestone streets. At times it resembles the slew of 1990s underworld comedies. Then just when you think you’ve caught the zinging rhythm, it switches to notes of tenderness and humanity. This is the underworld movie in which even the psychotic crime boss (Ralph Fiennes) has at least a Grinch-sized heart.

Two months in, and this already seems to be a resurrection of a year for Farrell. Playing an Irishman whose teddy bear eyes instantly invoke forgiveness, he no longer has to put on the airs of an American, or the airs of American casting agents. This is his return to the realm of the British gangster film, which helped his birth as an actor, and it’s refreshing to see him as a figure capable of violence, humor and sympathy.

Yet it’s Gleeson who makes a stronger impression. He's a man whose evil deeds have not pushed him too far to ignore the possibility of good in others. It’s his heart that comes into conflict with his mind and his conflicting sense of honor. If Farrell is the beating pulse, Gleeson is the bear-sized heart at the center.

In Bruges has a few too many moments of convenient plotting, of unaccountably irrational decision-making, and an ending that comes a little unhinged. Still, it’s a such an accomplished juggling act between styles and ideas that we can forgive it, and enjoy its fairy tale nature.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Golden Goldie (Fool's Gold)

Fool’s Gold
Grade: C

After watching Fool’s Gold, there’s only one question to ask Kate Hudson: does this sort of thing run in your family?

Fool’s Gold very much resembles those goofy action-adventure-romantic comedy plots that made her mother, Goldie Hawn, a genre unto herself. The type of film where she and Chevy Chase would bumble around a murder plot. Match wits with an albino assassin. Fall into a testy romance. And somehow save the life of the Pope. Although presumably in the eyes of the ladies, Matthew McConaughey looks like a bit of an upgrade in the sidekick department.

In truth, the plot of Fool’s Gold resembles any number of 1980s movies – Romancing the Stone comes to mind. Both films feature a hunt for a lost treasure through a tropical environment, with a bickering couple thrown together by circumstance. It was a time when screen couples were too busy dodging bullets to bicker about who failed to show up for drinks on time. Not that Fool’s Gold is a stirring example, but I for one kinda welcome this return. Bloody childhood nostalgia.

The movie starts on the deck of a sinking ship – a bold choice, given February film expectations. Ben Finnegin, a professional slacker/treasure hunter, has scraped from the Caribbean floor a shard of a Spanish royal treasure that went down centuries ago. Of course, the hunt’s financier, a thuggish hip hop producer who owns the nearby island, isn’t happy about the sunken vessel. Soon, Finn finds himself tied to the wrong side of an anchor on the wrong side of sea level.

He escapes, but not in time for his divorce hearing, which means the terms might make drowning seem like a good idea. Having sacrificed her academic career to hunt treasure, his fed-up wife Tess has ended up serving drinks on a yacht to a wealthy business magnate (Donald Sutherland) to make ends meet. She’s not too happy about it. Ready to return to academia, she at first meets news of his discovery by introducing his temple to a cane. But she’s eventually tempted to join him on the promise of one last adventure. Or maybe of sex. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Director Andy Tennant, whose last effort was Will Smith’s huge hit Hitch, continues to present a dilemma for the discerning filmgoer. On the one hand, he takes some care to develop both sides of the battle of the sexes (to the lukewarm extent he develops anyone), a rare balance in rom-com these days. The adventure story, however confected, gives them a way to work out their attraction, one preferable to quibbling about unreturned phone calls.

Best of all, their attraction is based in carnal chemistry. In today’s film world, romantic comedies often feature a young professional woman halting a busy career to choose her favorite doormat. It’s refreshing to see a boyfriend who can’t be reformed, with a girlfriend who loves him despite it, or perhaps because of it.

On the other hand, Tennant treats filmmaking as the unfortunate but necessary work product of getting some sun on the company dollar. My guess is that his infallible professional judgment wouldn’t see many comic possibilities in a romantic triangle in Nome. While this is definitely a funnier script and more interesting romantic pairing than Hitch, the movie sinks into an unbelievable action finale that goes way overboard. By the way, don’t mention that last word to Kate’s mom or step-father.

McConaughey can’t help but being himself – shirt off, barefoot, unshaven, looking perpetually six minutes past the last margarita. But Hudson really is pretty good at this. She may be on the rom-com merry-go-round with the Mandy Moores and Drew Barrymores of the world, but she projects a more intelligent screen presence than the average ingenue. When she says something erudite, you suspect there’s a chance she actually understands it. She’s still young, and you sense there’s enough there to break out of her genre purgatory, if she chooses. But for now, she’s still stuck in the family business.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Jesse James out on DVD

Out this week on DVD is the best film of 2007, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. So if you're sitting at home sadly choosing among reality TV programs tonight, head down to the ol' Blockbuster (yes, it's still there) and pick this thing up. Although it won't be as awe-inspiring off of the big screen. Trust me.

DMN Oscar discussion

Over at The Screening Room on the Dallas Morning News site, the movie staff is discussing Oscar contenders, starting with the Supporting Actor and Actress categories. Usually, listening to film critics have a discussion about film - and particularly having to read it - is about as appealing to me as listening to copy editors talk shop about copy editing. But this might be of more interest and entertainment value. Might.

But reading some of their posts, I'm convinced that's one discussion desperately in need of a woman. Sorry, but that's something I can't provide.

All About Eve - Plano

I believe they're showing All About Eve tonight at the Angelika in Plano. So I suppose that's something to do.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Heath Ledger - accidental overdose

Heath Ledger dies of an accidental overdose, according to published reports. I'm guessing exactly what that means will never quite be resolved. The spectrum of the phrase seems pretty broad to me, as I suspect that there are not that many intentional overdoses. Six medications were found in his system, including OxyContin, Valium, Xanax, and other things.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Don't worry Eva; our favorite bad TV to movies transitions

Teen Wolf – Michael J. Fox had two films come out in 1985. One was Back to the Future. One was Teen Wolf. Both were box office hits. One still looks good in retrospect. Surprisingly that’s not the one about a high school student having a surprisingly over-hairy puberty. I’m sure this movie started with a screenwriter saying, “When I started growing hair, I thought I was becoming an animal.”

Blind Date – Bruce Willis was riding some very short term television success with Moonlighting when he went on this date-from-Hell number with Kim Basinger. How his movie career survived it, I don’t know. He’s become a valuable, durable leading man with an eye for interesting projects, both good and miscalculated. But Blind Date is one of his few that’s truly awful.

One Fine Day – George Clooney might be every critic’s favorite movie-star movie star, but you look back at this one and see that nothing is destined to happen. He broke a cardinal rule - never star in a movie named after a sixties pop song. This romantic comedy with Michelle Pfeiffer was his pigeonhole film, the type in which a casting director would stick a TV sex symbol to make an extra buck. It was only later, when he followed his own mind, that Clooney would realize he was interesting.

Jade – David Caruso made the jump from NYPD Blue to a movie career, by most thinking prematurely. If you haven’t seen this film, then we have something in common – I haven’t either. But any film that could basically finish off Linda Fiorentino’s career so shortly after The Last Seduction must be a frustrating turkey. Was it really directed by William Friedkin?

Picture Perfect –Early Jennifer Aniston movies followed a familiar pattern. You would hear about it a few weeks before release. She would appear on every last TV show, whose hosts would dutifully and dubitably describe how this would be the one to make her a star on the big screen. You would think “Yeah, right.” The film would be released. It would leave theaters two weeks later for lack of interest. The only bit I remember about Picture Perfect was her advertising exec deciding to do a mustard campaign with the message “second place ain’t bad” and thinking she had stumbled upon a fit of advertising genius. Can you use a real ad exec trying to sell that one? Things went downhill from there.

Stage and Cinema year in review

In the meantime, you can look at my extended 2007 in Review list over on Stage and Cinema, one of my outlets. It has a reaction to every film that I saw last year. While there, read some of the other lists from John and Harvey.


I watched the other Tony Scott's, the director Tony Scott's, Man on Fire last night. I'll be writing some on him and his brother in the next few days. Otherwise, I'm off to the Angelika Theater to watch "The Big Game" on the silver screen. I did it last year, and I highly recommend it, if possible in your area. I can't imagine the cheaters losing tonight. With two teams that I despise playing, I wish this NFL championship were being decided by circular firing squad. The team with the last person standing loses.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Scott: the debilitation of the rom-com

This will be a Tony Scott weekend on the blog. We'll start with the film critic Tony Scott, aka A.O. Scott, of The New York Times, who wonders about the state of the romantic comedy. His take is something that I wrote about in a review of a film he mentions from last year about this time, Because I Said So. That the rom-com age of Myrna Loy and Katherine Hepburn seeking or operating in a marriage with a witty beau has transformed into an age of the Jessica Albas and Mandy Moores of the world choosing their favorite doormats. He's right, the genre has devolved into conformity, after being originated by some of Hollywood's best writers of the Golden Age. That's why whatever gripes I have with Knocked Up, it at least shows Apatow's promise for reaching a higher level.

Hannah Montana

The Hannah Montana concert movie made $8.6 million at the box office Friday on 600-some screens. That's with having the kids in school Friday afternoon. Once they push through every Lori and Amy and Kylie and Madison, this thing is heading to $30 million, I would guess. And just wait until the kids figure out they can go to a re-run the next day.

And hahaha! Cloverfield drops off another 60 percent at the box office. Sinking like a stone. Even if I thought the film was a complete failure, I'm still surprised. I didn't expect teen-agers to realize it, too.

Friday, February 1, 2008

One very Dead Body

Over Her Dead Body [PG-13]
Grade: F

Dear Eva,

Today, when you wake, I want you to go to the window. Feel the morning’s bristle of sunshine. Take in the breeze – is that the smell of the ocean? – wafting sensuously ever in. You’re a household name. Your husband’s a star. Take it all in. Remember this moment.

In 15 years, look back rightly at these days as the best of your life. Keep in mind that big screen success was never really that important, or that destined. Many television stars like you, Ms. Longoria, have failed to make the transition. You can always follow Heather Locklear on the seven-year sitcom treadmill with your head held high. There’s no shame in it. We are kind people. We forgive. And we expect you to eat. I don’t think this surprises you, and there’s no shame in saying.

But I do try to say this kindly, with the sweetest poison. When “Desperate Housewives” suffers its final affair, the silver screen doesn’t await you. It’s true, Over Her Dead Body is not the worst we’ve seen of a television star stumbling onto the wide screen. This is no Teen Wolf. Yet it also lacks that weird, guilty spark that makes you watch Teen Wolf on cable at midnight. It’s simply a film as dead as the body its title describes. When you momentarily appear to disappear, the theater sees it as a mutual gift – for the audience, the film, and especially your own sake.

Of course, this isn’t all your doing. You didn’t write the script. Nor make your dearly departed fiancĂ©e a one-note shrew, an obnoxious ghost butting in on her living fiance’s dating life. You didn’t write the dialogue or blandly compose the shots. Nor did you perform a pratfall so unskillful that we’re lucky the camera caught it, if only as a cautionary example for posterity. (That would be Lake Bell, the psychic love interest you haunt out of spite). Indeed you participate passively in your own demise.

(Nor do I suspect you cast Paul Rudd, the movie’s lone saving grace.)

Could you play a role at more than one speed, with more depth than just “nagging shrew” or “helpful female lead?” You’ve yet to show me. I felt sorry for you as the young FBI woman in The Sentinel. The one with Kiefer Sutherland foiling a treacherous assassination plot by fiendish Canadians. By the time, they made you say “Copy that” into a walkie-talkie, I must admit to just wanting to hug your pain away. In Over Her Dead Body, with its emphatic dedication to the brainless, I’m sorry, but I never even got to a sympathetic hug stage.

I could be wrong about this. For every Bruce Willis, there’s a Blind Date. And a Die Hard could be right around the burning building. I hope that it’s true. I wish nobody less than success. But if it doesn’t come, I hope you don’t take it too hard. Enjoy this time.