Sunday, February 24, 2008

This year's memorable Oscar moment goes to ... Gary Busey?

This year's Oscars finally got one of those notorious moments that only comes around every couple of years, like the streaker running behind David Niven, Rob Lowe getting hit on by Snow White, and Jack Palance dropping to the stage to do 20 one-hand push-ups.

Unfortunately for Gil Cates, it happened on E! during the red-carpet festivities and not the ceremony itself. I'm referring, of course, to D-list actor Gary Busey violating the unspoken rules of the Hollywood caste system by daring to mix with A-listers Jennifer Garner and Laura Linney during their chat with Ryan Seacrest. With nary an invite, Busey proceeded to insert himself into the proceedings and kiss both actresses. (See it, here.) If Ben Affleck hadn't been too busy f-cking Jimmy Kimmel, he might have been on Jen's arm to ward off Busey!

I didn't fill out a balloting card for this year's Oscars, opting instead to call out my guess for who would win each category just before the envelope opening. I called it for both Tilda Swinton and Marion Cotillard. At that point, I was feeling so confident that Anton Chigurh could have flipped a coin for my life and I'd have called it correctly.

So, while I'm at it, let me get all Nina Garcia and call it for Best Dressed: Cotillard for modeling that lovely John Paul Gaultier creation, which looked like a mermaid's tail, but with white-rose blossoms instead of scales. Runner up: Anne Hathaway.

Worst dressed: Daniel Day Lewis's longtime partner, Rebecca Miller, takes the dubious honor for that massive hexagonal broach that looked it belonged to the wardrobe department for the Sci-Fi Channel production of "Dune."

In all, not a bad awards ceremony. Jon Stewart's emcee'ing wasn't one for the ages, but he didn't come off as too smarmy or obnoxious. His one moment of class: Inviting Marketa Irglova -- deserving winner of Best Original Song with partner Glen Hansard -- back on to the stage after the overzealous baton-waver started up the orchestra prematurely.

Friday, February 22, 2008

No gold men for "Country"?

In a season that has been all about the triumph of the underdog -- Obama in the primaries and caucuses; The Giants at the Super Bowl; Herbie Hancock at the Grammys -- will the Oscar frontrunner, "No Country for Old Men," be spectacularly usurped?

No one expects no gold men for "Country." The movie is as much a presumed winner as Obama at this stage, though, as in the Democratic nominee race, you wouldn't want to call the race just yet. This year's awards could mirror the out-of-nowhere wins of "Shakespeare in Love" or "Crash." There's recent talk in Hollywood about how voters are tired of "No Country for Old Men" winning everything for months. But momentum is a notoriously nebulous thing to quantify since George Gallup isn't cold-calling Academy members and the ballots are secret to everyone except Entertainment Weekly.

Going against "No Country": that Rorschach-test ending and liberal gouges of gory violence that may not play well with older Academy voters. It's safe to assume, however, that Javier Bardem will saunter to the podium to collect a Best Supporting Actor award, if only to have a charming acceptance speech help exorcise all our nightmares about the prospect of Anton Chigurh being somewhere on the loose out there. (If I had a Catch-22 choice between being pursed by either The Terminator or Chigurh -- and I'd hope it wouldn't come down to a coin-toss -- I'd say the futuristic cyborg is the less-scary option.)

Here's what "No Country" has going for it. It's filmmaking that lingers on the corneas and in dark cranial corners long after one emerges from the cinema. This thriller about the senseless nature of evil that will resonate with anyone who turns on the nightly news only to see yellow police cordon tape outside a quiet suburban home or a body bag on a bloodied street corner. And it boasts an unforgettable soundtrack. (That's a joke.)

Ultimately, none of the other big pictures seems to have quite the right ingredients to overtake "No Country for Old Men."
  • "Juno" is comedic – those don't tend to do too well at the Kodak theater – and such a big box-office hit that it's no longer an underdog. The film's only shot at something other than a screenplay award for Diablo Cody will be if voters are tired of the sturm und drang of the other Best Picture nominees. (Here's one prediction I'm confident about– Cody will have the most entertaining acceptance speech of the night: "Mom, dad, I hope this finally makes you proud of me after all that stripper stuff.")
  • "Michael Clayton" has won less votes than Dennis Kucinich all awards season (but watch out for a possible win for Tilda Swinton).
  • "There Will be Blood" will fare well among the younger voters but, even though PT Anderson's film doesn't have a hailstorm of frogs from the sky, it's still weird enough to put some voters off their milkshakes. For starters, Jonny Greenwood's score – which wouldn't have sounded out of place during parts of "2001: A Space Odyssey" – wasn't even nominated due to arcane reasons.
  • "Atonement" just doesn't have any lingering buzz, does it? I've criticized the adaptation of McEwan's great novel and many critics concur. Still, it won a BAFTA (though that's a little like George Bush winning the vote in Texas) and The Golden Globe. Its self-conciously epic and old-fashioned sensibilities could sway some voters. But the absence of a nod for its director or Keira Knightley or James McAvoy doesn't do it any favors.
Still, I think we're going to see a surprise or two on Sunday night, especially since no one seems to agree on whether Swinton, Blanchett, or Ryan will win Best Supporting Actress. And will "Persepolis" spoil Ratatouille's post-Oscar dinner at Mortons?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

It's the end of the world as moviegoers know it....

Variety reports that newly tentpole-starved studios engaged in a bidding war for a script titled "2012" by Roland Emmerich. (Sony won the bid for the 2009 summer release.)

To date, Emmerich has zapped the Empire State building in "Independence Day," trashed New York with a giant Gila Monster in "Godzilla," and borrowed the "Perfect Storm" wave to flood an ice-aged Manhattan in "The Day after Tomorrow." (There's more chance of Mayor Bloomberg granting keys to the city to Curt Schilling than the German-born director, though Emmerich could score a nifty gig consulting for FEMA.)

Yep, destruction is this director's specialty -- he makes Michael Bay look like a peacenik -- and he's upping the disaster quotient in "2012." I guess that wiping out whole cities just isn't all that novel in a post-Katrina era, so Emmerich has come up with a story about the very end of the world during the film's titular year.

By the time that movie is produced, audiences may be fatigued: "2012" is the latest in a brace of apocalyptic movies coming soon to a cinema (or is that shelter?) near you. More on that trend in a story I recently wrote, here.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lohan's losing streak

Lindsay Lohan needs to fire her agent (the one responsible for "I know Who Killed My Career"), sideline her mom (though night-clubbing Dina already seems preoccupied with turning younger sister, Ali, into a star), and her manager (the one who set up this week's nude shoot for New York magazine).

It's a massive coup for New York magazine. But the biggest loser in all this isn't Playboy, Maxim, or Vanity Fair (for the latter, NY mag's scoop must hurt worse than the premature cancellation of the VF Oscar shindig.) It's Lindsay herself.

Not sure what she hopes to gain by baring all (a few Chiffon scarves are "tastefully" used in a few shots, but they're just the Empress's new clothes). It's shot by photographer Bert Stern as a homage to the shots he did of Marilyn Monroe, and therefore ostensibly more artful than anything in the Hugh Hefner portfolio. But what kind of statement is Lindsay hoping to make with all this? That she's all growed up now? Anyone who has passed through a supermarket check out over the past year knows that her Disney days are long gone. Is this a way to deflect conversation about her rehab days? Mission accomplished -- for about a day or two. Ultimately, it just fuels the "girl gone wild" reputation when she should be focusing her efforts on reminding people how talented she is. Is it a bid for some sort of cred? A lot of guys will enjoy this pictorial at night, but they won't respect you in the morning, m'dear.

Is she hoping to compare herself to Monroe, of whom she claims to be a big fan? Monroe was an icon. Lohan isn't, at least not yet, though she's a far more versatile actress than the blonde bombshell.

Another interview excerpt: “Here is a woman who is giving herself to the public,” Lohan said, about the Monroe photos, when we spoke the next day by phone. “She’s saying, ‘Look, you’ve taken a lot from me, so why don’t I give it to you myself.’ She’s taking control back.”

I'm not so sure about that, Lindsay. As a movie star, you give yourself to the public as a career -- and you've given a lot, including all the travails of your private life. Isn't it time you kept something for yourself? That's taking control back.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Advertising

There was a time when I'd get really miffed to arrive at a cinema too late to catch the previews. Trailers of attractions "coming soon to a theater near you" were an essential hors d'oeuvre to whet the appetite before the main course.

Not any more. Nowadays, I still arrive at a theater in time for the preshow, but that's only because I hate ending up in the front row where you have to crane your neck to look up the cliff-face of a screen, and then spend the entire movie wondering why Peter Dinklage looms larger than Shaq at that angle. It's inexplicable that multiplexes don't allow customers to pre-book assigned seating. But I digress....

Over the years I've come to loathe trailers, which are mostly a précis of each upcoming movie with all the top action sequences and best one-liners. Last summer, for example, movie ads showed us Bruce Willis crashing a car into an airborne helicopter as well as Jason Bourne monkeying from one balconey into an adjacent porch window. It's amazing that the trailers refrained from showing the assassination of Jesse James.

So I've now decided to try an experiment: during previews I'll close my eyes and listen to my iPod. That way, I hope to be able to see "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" as well as blockbusters such as "Quantum of Solace" without having seen anything more than the movie poster. I'm keen to experience an entire feature where I watch it unspooling with no idea what will happen next. Of course, such a self-imposed blackout may be all but impossible in a media-saturated world, so wish me luck. So far I've managed to avoid the first Indy Jones preview, but if you're keen to see it, go ahead.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Monday, February 04, 2008

Tom Petty's group weren't the only Heartbreakers in the house...

It was humbling. Perhaps humiliating. Definitely heartbreaking for the New England Patriots, a team once assumed to reside on Mount Olympus rather than Foxboro stadium.

Sunday's 17-14 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII did more than just dash New England's dream of becoming only the second team to complete a season undefeated -- it has unmoored the very equilibrium of the sports universe.

Coach Tom Coughlin's wild carders, who started the season with two losses totaling up to 80 points, pulled off a win that ranks alongside that of the New York Jets defeat of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, Truman’s 1948 electoral victory over Dewey, Gary Kasparov’s checkmate against the Deep Blue computer, and Odysseus’s triumph over the Cyclops Polyphemus.

It’s the sort of win that’ll give John McCain vivid nightmares of Ron Paul snatching away the GOP nomination.

Quarterback Eli Manning, the MVP who displayed the sort of cool that could reverse a core meltdown at a nuclear reactor, said afterward, "There's something about this team. The way we win games, and performed in the playoffs in the stretch. We had total confidence in ourselves. The players believed in each other."

New England believed, too. Such was the adulation of the media -- who touted predictions of a Patriots win by 14 points -- that it's a wonder that anyone bothered to print victory caps and T-shirts for the Giants.

Bill Belichick will spend the next dazed six months of the off-season trying to unpick the defeat at University of Phoenix Stadium and wonder where it all went wrong. Ultimately, it came down to this: If a good offense is a good defense, then the Giants battled the turf war with Spartan ferocity. The fabled triumvirate attack of Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker was never fully unsheathed as men in white swarmed...

.... oh, sorry, for a minute I got carried away there. You probably thought you'd wandered into SportsCenter rather than a blog about entertainment. But this was definitely an occasion where the game itself upstaged both the half-time show and all the ads. Janet Jackson could have made out with Madonna and Britney during a full-on burlesque routine and it wouldn't have supplanted the next morning's watercooler talk about the game. And, with the sole exception of the Clydesdale Budweiser ad that took its inspiration from "Rocky," "Seabiscuit," and "Babe," the commercials were utterly unmemorable. Ok, the Victoria's Secret ad was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were pretty good, though, even if Petty isn't a dynamic gymnastic of a frontman like last year's Super Bowl guest, Prince. The grizzled Floridian sounded tremendous during four of his greatest hits, climaxing with the satisfying guitar growl of "Running Down a Dream." The star of the group was guitarist Mike Campbell who, despite an unfortunate hairstyle seemingly modeled on that of Latrell Sprewell, wowed the crowd with his dextrous digits. The critics' response so far has been laudatory, too.

I'm a casual fan of Petty and own several of his albums, so I'm looking forward to seeing him in concert in June for the first time – my wife, a big fan, cannot wait after watching last night's halftime gig. In the meantime, we'll enjoy the outstanding Peter Bogdanovich documentary that makes one fully appreciate Petty's artistic integrity amid a trove of live clips from past to present.

Zooey Deschanel sings!

Zooey Deschanel, hitherto the quirky character actor with a nice sideline in sardonic quippery, has long tantalized audiences with her vocal talents in movies such as"Elf," "Winter Passing," and "The Assassination of Jesse James." But the pianist and ukelele player has finally cut a whole album with M. Ward under the moniker of "She & Him." I've listened to a promo of the album, titled "Volume I," and it's terrific. Here's a delightful cut from the record, out mid March. And there's more at Zooey's MySpace page.