Frenzy On Blog Archive for February, 2011

Live-Blogging the Oscars

Hello and welcome to my first ever live-blog of the Oscars.  Some people don’t like the idea of a live-blog, but I always found it to be an interesting way to engage readers who would like to hear an expert’s opinion on the Oscar results as they are happening (note: I am not an expert).  Also I just want to have, for posterity’s sake, an account of my emotional turmoil as I watch the Academy – in its short-sighted wisdom – hand the award for Best Picture to the worst of the ten nominees (that would be The King’s Speech) over the one true masterpiece (that would be The Social Network).  Luckily, for me, I don’t really put much weight in the Academy’s decisions anymore.

I’ve watched the Oscars every year since before I had memories and almost always with my mom.  Besides a couple of years here and there, we always watch the show together – including the inane E! channel red-carpet coverage (some guy actually just said, “She looks like a statuesque!”).  Tonight, I’ll be watching the pre-show and the actual show with her, my dad and my brother while flipping back and forth to the Knicks-Heat game and eating fish tacos.  It’ll be hilarious to hear my family’s reaction to these awards since I don’t think they’ve seen a single one of the nominees.  I’ll be sure to share.

6PM – Ryan Seacrest is almost as tan as George Hamilton.  And we’re getting a montage of all the wild red carpet moments from this year.  Except, all of these moments are exactly the same and all of the interviews are the equivalent of what an athlete says as soon as they get off the court/field.  “I’m just so excited to be here!”

6:02PM – Jennifer Lawrence got there pretty early, huh?  “Tell us about your red dress!”  Really?  Isn’t Seacrest a radio host?  Can’t he come up with a more interesting question than that?

6:04PM – “The fact that she’s not wearing jewelery to the Oscars and still looks great says so much about her.” – Kelly Osbourne.  Really glad she’s here.

6:06PM – A two minute discussion about Natalie Portman’s baby bump and various possible baby names.  Your 2011 Oscars, ladies and gentlemen!

6:07PM – Kelly Osbourne: “It’s amazing how she’s getting bigger every show.”  My mom: “Yeah, that’s what happens when you’re pregnant, you keep getting bigger!”

6:09PM – Josh Hutcherson was pretty charming in his interview.  I like that kid.  Bridge to Terabithia is one of the great under-rated movies of the last few years.

6:13PM – Ryan Seacrest is asking about Melissa Leo’s dress before getting to the “more serious stuff.”  What is the more serious stuff?  I guarantee you that there is nothing important that he can ask her.

6:21PM – I’ve decided to slow down a bit.  If I tried to keep up with all of the dumb things everyone says, I’d be burned out by the time the show started.  Plus, it’ll get really boring to hear me say different variations on, “Wow, this is idiotic.”

6:23PM – I have to say, I’m not really excited for the James Franco/Anne Hathaway duo as hosts.  I think they’re okay as actors, but I don’t find anything about them – when they’re not in character – that is particularly entertaining.

6:24PM – Hailee Steinfeld…without a doubt the most mature and articulate person that has been interviewed.  She should be in the Best Actress race.  Seacrest just asked her, “Were you always this grown up?”  Wow.  Just wow.

6:29PM – Love Mila Kunis and think she was robbed of a nomination for Black Swan, but I’ve heard the story of Aronofsky giving her the part on iChat about eight million times.  I’m so happy this award season is coming to an end so that I can not be annoyed by people I like anymore.

6:37PM – Michelle Williams looks great as always.  If someone were going to beat Portman, I wouldn’t mind it being Williams, who was fantastic in Blue Valentine.  Also, is it just me or does Limitless actually look like a fun movie?  I kinda want to see it.

6:54PM – Geoffrey Rush is such a fantastic actor, but he could have played his King’s Speech character in his sleep.  Oh yeah, he’s also got no hair tonight.

7PM – Jeremy Renner just got interviewed and reminded me that he should have won Best Actor for The Hurt Locker.  Man, he was just electric in that movie.

7:09PM – I still think Justin Timberlake should have gotten a nomination for The Social Network.  Seacrest actually asked him a good question about Napster and how he feels about it.  Good job, Seacrest.

7:11PM – “I gotta say, he looks pretty hot.”  This is why Giuliana Rancic gets paid the big bucks.

7:15PM – Jennifer Lawrence got there at 6PM and she’s still on the red carpet.  How long is this carpet?  And what is she doing out there for over an hour?  Is there stuff to do?  Anything to drink?  I’m confused.

7:18PM – Helena Bonham Carter will always be Marla Singer in my eyes.  And I will always love her because of it.

7:23PM – I gotta say, I don’t understand what credentials are required to judge who is well-dressed or not well-dressed.  I mean, I don’t think Kelly Osbourne is a particularly good dresser and she gets to comment on other people’s clothes on national television?  Can’t they get fashion designers or fashion critics or, you know, people that actually have some idea of what modern day fashion is supposed to be?

7:24PM – Kelly Osbourne just said that Helen Mirren’s body is “bangin’.”  Agreed.

7:31PM – “Everything’s stressful.  Everyone is really stressed out.” – Adam Shankman on what’s happening backstage at the Oscars right now.  Good thing we got the inside info.

7:37PM – Seacrest just told Bale that he became “Dicky.”  Hehe.

7:38PM – “I’m just vamping, I’m just filling airtime.”  Hey, Seacrest, it’s not vamping if you tell people you’re vamping.

7:42PM – I don’t know quite how to say this, but…what the fuck is Donald Trump doing at the Oscars?

7:52PM – Kelly Osbourne thinks Javier Bardem is gonna win.  This is why they pay her the big bucks.

7:56PM – Natalie Portman and her baby bump!  OMG, she’s preggers!!!

7:57PM – Yeah, I don’t think I can pull off the gossip angle.\

7:59PM – Thank goodness, the E! show is over, so now we can get to the actual awards…wait, what?  There’s another half hour?  Ugh, time to switch over to the other pre-show.  I’m sure this one will be hard-hitting journalism.

8:01PM – Tim Gunn just said Jennifer Hudson is “superbly svelte.”  And a million girls just vomited up their dinners.

8:04PM – Good thing they’re interviewing James Franco right now.  I don’t think we’re going to see enough of him tonight.

8:05PM – Tim Gunn asked Justin Timberlake “What was the craziest question you were asked?”  I was really hoping he would say, “It was ‘What was the craziest question you were asked?’”

8:14PM – Gwyneth Paltrow wants to sing a duet with Jay-Z.  I might actually want to hear her sing if that happened.

8:37PM – So far this is delightfully unfunny.  Glad to see a Back to the Future reference.  Very timely.  I’ve got a bad feeling about this show.  At least Hathaway seems committed.  Franco is doing his usual bored shtick.

8:40PM – James Franco’s grandma gets a huge ovation.  Your 2011 Oscars, ladies and gentlemen!

8:41PM – Please, lord, let them hire a comedian next year.  This is so uncomfortable.

8:44PM – Tom Hanks presenting the Oscars for cinematography and art direction?  Interesting, thought he would be given more “important” awards.  Why the hell are we talking about Gone with the Wind and Titanic?  Can we please just get to it.  Art direction should go to Inception.  If it goes to The King’s Speech, then prepare for a sweep and prepare for me to start hitting myself in the head…Alice in Wonderland wins it.  Okay, that tells us nothing about the rest of the awards.  To me, Alice in Wonderland looks like every other Tim Burton movie, but whatever.

8:47PM – Cinematography.  Holy shit, this needs to be Libatique for Black Swan or Cronenweth for The Social Network…Wally Pfister for Inception.  Can’t complain too much about that.  These first two awards show us that The King’s Speech might not necessarily have the support that a lot of folks thought.

8:57PM – Great to see Kirk Douglas, but wow, that was uncomfortable.  I’m hoping for Jacki Weaver to win this, but she has less of a shot than anybody else.  Wow, Melissa Leo is so over the top, I can’t believe she’s the front-runner.  Wouldn’t mind seeing Steinfeld win.  Oh man, Kirk, please just give the award.  PLEASE KIRK, GIVE THE AWARD ALREADY!  Please, somebody get him off the stage.  At this point, I’m just happy that SOMEONE is getting the award.  She’s a very talented actress, but she’s winning for the wrong movie.

9:03PM – It should be obvious to everyone that Timberlake and Kunis would have been much better Oscar hosts than Franco and Hathaway.  Franco and Hathaway are like two kids that are playing dress-up in their parents’ closet.

9:06PM – I’d be shocked if Toy Story 3 doesn’t get the animated feature Oscar.  By the way, I totally called The Lost Thing for animated short.  And it’s Toy Story 3.  Good movie.

9:13PM – My mom and brother just spent a few seconds discussing how big Javier Bardem’s head looks.  Adapted screenplay has to go to Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network, unless the backlash is crazy.  Yesssss, The Social Network – 1, The King’s Speech – 0!  Probably won’t be able to say that for long.

9:18PM – Adapted screenplay is probably gonna be The King’s Speech‘s first award.  I’d probably give it to Inception, which is pretty brilliant.  I would say The Kids are All Right, except for the ending which didn’t work for me…and it’s The King’s Speech. Okay, well, there are no indications so far about what the big awards are gonna be.

9:25PM – I guess I shouldn’t get so down on Hathaway and Franco since they’re not generating their only material on this show.  This singing number that Hathaway is doing is just not funny and it’s the fault of the writers and producers for allowing this on the air.  Hathaway and Franco are actors and are only as good as the material given to them.  Oh, look, it’s James Franco in drag, that’s hilarious.  Because, you know, men in women’s clothing is the height of comedy.  Jeez, I just want this to be over.

9:27PM – Brand and Mirren presenting the award for Best Foreign Film…it goes to Susanne Bier’s In a Better World.  I haven’t seen it yet, but Bier is a genius, and I can’t wait to check this one out.

9:30PM – Reese Witherspoon is presenting Best Supporting Actor.  I’m sure this going to Bale, for his scenery chewing work in The Fighter.  But I really wish it would go to John Hawkes, who was so incredible in Winter’s Bone.  That would be the greatest upset ever.  Renner was pretty awesome in The Town too.  Wasn’t that impressed with Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right, though.  If Rush gets it, then it might finally be a sign of this enormous The King’s Speech support we’ve been hearing so much about.  And it goes to…Bale, obviously.  He’s a great actor, but this was not his greatest performance.

9:33PM – Bale’s speech is definitely my favorite so far.  Hilarious, gracious, poignant.  Good stuff.

9:35PM – By the way, Knicks are beating the Heat 52-51 at halftime!

9:39PM – Seems like Hathaway’s been doing a lot of these segments on her own.  Where’s Franco?

9:40PM – Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman presenting the music award.  Why do they always feel the need to do a whole big clip package that helps us understand that music is important in movies?  I think it’s gotta be The Social Network, which had such an amazing score that I think it’s one of the best albums of the year.  And it would give the little goth kid inside of me such a kick to see Trent Reznor accepting an Academy Award.  Hans Zimmer’s score for Inception was pretty indelible too, but please let Reznor get this…YES!  The dude behind Nine Inch Nails just got an Oscar!

9:45PM – In case you were counting, that’s The Social Network – 2, The King’s Speech – 1.  Take that, England!

9:47PM – McConaughey and Johansson presenting the sound awards.  I’m thankful they didn’t do a whole package to explain that sound mixing is about the levels of volume and that sound editing is about sound effects.  Sound mixing award goes to Inception, its second award of the night.  Can’t complain about that.  It’s one of the few movies I saw this year where the sound mixing really impressed me in a noticeable way.

9:49PM – I imagine that Inception will probably get a well-deserved third Oscar for sound editing.  But let’s see, maybe True Grit or Tron will take it.  And it’s Inception.

9:54PM – Marisa Tomei handed out the Science and Technical awards.  I really wish they would just incorporate these into the big show.  Don’t these people deserve to speak just as much as the actors and directors?  And then James Franco makes a “nerd” joke about the winners…hilarious, James Franco.  Glad to see you’re putting those eight PhDs to good use.

9:57PM – Achievement in makeup, given out by Cate Blanchett.  I’m hoping that it’ll be anybody except for The Wolfman.  I’m sick of seeing Rick Baker win awards for wolves…and, so of course, it goes to Rick Baker for The Wolfman.  My brother, upon seeing Rick Baker, says, “And there is the wolfman.”  I feel like he’s won ten awards for doing make-up on werewolf movies.

9:58PM – By the way, Academy Award Winning movie…The Wolfman.

9:59PM – Costume Design.  I like the costumes in I Am Love, but I assume this will go to The King’s Speech since there is so much support for this movie in the Academy.  Oh, hey, what do you know?  It goes to Alice in Wonderland.

10PM – By the way, two-time Academy Award winning film Alice in Wonderland.

10:01PM – Next year’s Oscars, how about we get Kirk Douglas to host?

10:03PM – I guess we’re doing the Best Song Oscar.  Just another excuse to remind me that “My Heart Will Go On” exists.

10:04PM – Oh hey, it’s Randy Newman.  I haven’t seen him on the Oscars in like, a year.  Dude has been on so many Oscar telecasts, it’s insane.

10:05PM – Mandy Moore and the dude from Chuck are singing a song that will never be on my iPod.  Apparently it was in Tangled.

10:07PM – I guess we’re not actually giving the award yet.

10:12PM – James Franco, man, I really am not feeling him as a host.  Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal are out to present the award for short films.  It goes to Strangers No More.  I know nothing about it except that it has kids in it.  My brother predicted this would win because, “It’s got kids.”

10:15PM – Live-action short.  My brother and I predicted Nawewe.  My mom predicts Wish 143 because it’s got cancer.  And it goes to God of Love.  I need to see these movies.  All of us are admiring this guy’s fro.

10:17PM – And we’re auto-tuning some movies now.  Yeah, we needed this.

10:20PM – Oprah Winfrey is out to present the award for Best Documentary.  It’s gotta be Exit Through the Gift Shop.  I gotta see Banksy come up there in his mask.  Is he there?  And the Academy takes a political stance and goes for Inside Job.  Safe choice.  Lame.

10:27PM – Billy Crystal’s here!  Please take over for the rest of the night.  Save us!

10:30PM – Sorry Bob Hope, but the Knicks are up by 1 with a minute left.  Taking a break from the Oscars for a bit, hope nothing good happens (I’m sure it won’t).

10:35PM – Knicks still up one.  Apparently Inception won Best Visual Effects and The Social Network won Best Editing.  Hey, what happened to all that support for The King’s Speech?

10:44PM – The Knicks won!  Hell yeah!  And Gwyneth Paltrow is singing, I love everyone right now!

10:45PM – Best Song goes to Randy Newman for Toy Story 3.  Can’t complain about this.  Not gonna remember this song tomorrow.

10:56PM – Celine Dion is singing and I don’t know why.  Oh, I see, it’s for the dead people.  Tony Curtis, damn he was good.  Sally Menke, oh she was so good.  Leslie Nielsen, surely he can’t be gone!  Claude Chabrol was amazing.  Pete Postlethwaite will be missed.  George Hickenlooper was always very kind to me, he’ll be missed.  Lynn Redgrave, totally forgot she passed…so great in Gods and Monsters.  Dede Allen, I’ve been reading about her lately, she did the editing for Bonnie and Clyde.  The director, Arthur Penn, is also gone.  Must be sad for Warren Beatty to see.  Jill Clayburgh was always so wonderful.  Irvin Kershner, director of Empire Strikes Back.  Dennis Hopper, I was lucky enough to interview him for a SAG screening once and he was the kindest man.  Lena Horne, how beautiful was she?  She gets the last image.  Halle Berry talks a bit about the wonderful Lena Horne.

10:57PM – The Lena Horne quote, “It’s not the load that breaks you, it’s the way you carry it.”  My whole family was silent for a few seconds before my brother says, “I think it’s about taking a number 2.”  Thanks bro, glad you’re here.

11:01PM – Hilary Swank comes out to present the award for Best Director.  Nevermind, she came out to present the presenter, Kathryn Bigelow.  Thanks, really glad Hilary Swank is here.

11:02PM – Please David Fincher HAS to win this or I will light myself on fire.  Okay, not really, but it would be a travesty if he didn’t….HOLY SHIT, what a bunch of fucking bullshit.  Absolutely disgusting.  Congrats to Tom Hooper and all that, but this is a robbery.  This will be looked at as a joke in years to come and it’s not Tom Hooper’s fault.

11:06PM – Okay, I’ve calmed down some, but it’s ridiculous that David Fincher is still without an Oscar for a film that was clearly more difficult to pull off.

11:07PM – Really, this is the time to talk about the Lifetime Achievement awards?  And seriously, how is this  not a part of the actual awards?  Haven’t they earned that right?

11:10PM – The real shame of the Best Director award going to Tom Hooper is that now this opens the possibility for David Fincher winning a future Best Director award that he doesn’t deserve.  The Academy has a bad history of giving people awards for the wrong movies and years later than they should have.

11:16PM – The Dude is here to present the award for Best Actress.  Please be Natalie Portman because I really can’t take another stupid decision by the Academy.  You gave Best Director to Tom Hooper, please give Best Actress to the most deserving winner and not Annette Bening.  Wow, Nicole Kidman was really good in Rabbit Hole, I was very impressed by that.  Really, anybody except Annette Bening would be an okay choice.  But Portman’s was far and away the most incredible performance I saw this year.  Okay, here we go, and the winner is…Natalie Portman!  Yes!  Good choice!

11:18PM – Wow, I think Portman had the longest acceptance speech of the night.  They weren’t playing her off.

11:24PM – Sandra Bullock is out to present the award for Best Actor.  They’re gonna give it to Firth, obviously and The King’s Speech is clearly gonna win the big prize.  But, as I’ve said many times, this should be going to Jesse Eisenberg, without a doubt.  I like Bullock calling Bridges “Dude.”  Man, I love that speech from the Eisenberg clip, so brilliant in the way it’s written, performed and DIRECTED, but okay I gotta let that one slide.  The Franco clip is probably my favorite part of 127 Hours and I wish more of the movie had that gravity.  Okay, here we go, here comes Colin Firth…yep, yep, YAWN.

11:29PM – Really, Academy?  Tom Hooper over David Fincher?  It’s been less than half an hour and it already feels like a terrible decision.  Man, this is gonna sting for a while.  But hey, Kubrick never won Best Director either, so the Academy is just continuing its grand tradition of not understanding movies.

11:32PM – Did anyone count how many outfits Anne Hathaway has worn tonight?  Must be upwards of 10.

11:33PM – Senor Spielberg is here to say that the losers are better than the winners, like Raging Bull and The Graduate.  Colin Firth has his long speech from The King’s Speech uncut as the rest of the nominees are shown.  “This is not fair, how come he gets to talk this whole time?” – My mom.  I agree, this seems like the Academy is showing its hand a little too much.  How nuts would it be if anything other than The King’s Speech wins?  I guarantee you that nobody had Hooper winning Best Director and something else winning Best Picture.  But we all know that’s not gonna happen.  And the winner is…yeah, you already know the answer.

This was a terrible show in every possible way.  The hosts were bland, the writing was awful, the winners – aside from a few – were safe and short-sighted.  More than anything, I was bored the whole way through.  Next year, let’s get a real comedian to host this thing and give the awards to worthy winners.  Goodnight everyone.

FINCHER 4-EVER!

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So I Saw No String Attached…

Ivan Reitman was once one of the three biggest directors on the planet.  Natalie Portman is on her way to her first Academy Award.  Ashton Kutcher…well, he entered the word “Punked” into the lexicon.  You team up the three of them for an R-rated romantic comedy about two people who enter into a “fuck buddy” agreement and it sounds like a recipe for success, right?

Okay, maybe it doesn’t at all, considering that Ivan Reitman hasn’t been “Ivan Reitman” since the 80s, Natalie Portman has often slummed in movies that aren’t worthy of her talents, and Ashton Kutcher is…well, Ashton Kutcher.  Still, for some reason, I decided that I would walk into the movie theater a month after its release and check out No Strings Attached.

This is actually a fascinating movie to dissect because it does so many things right while simultaneously doing just as many things wrong.  Every time it takes a step forward or does something interesting, it will take a step backwards into convention.  For example, the film gets off to an inauspicious start by blatantly aping When Harry Met Sally and showing our two main characters as they meet several times over the years before finally settling into a “friendship” that revolves mostly around sex.  However, the way in which they fall in bed together is kind of clever and out of the ordinary.

Another example: Kutcher’s friends in the film are stock characters that are given one note to play and they play that one note loudly.  Ludacris plays the “urban” friend and that’s his role from beginning to end, while Jake Johnson plays the token “loud” friend who is brash and “wacky” and has two gay dads, so that explains…absolutely nothing about his character.  However, on the flip side, we get the interesting perspectives of Portman’s friends who are all doctors like she is.  Her friends, played by Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling, seem more fully developed and interesting than the two leads of the film.  I desperately wanted the film to turn into a Grey’s Anatomy kind of show, but based around Gerwig and Kaling.  Alas.

One more example: Portman is given a typical asshole guy as her “other option.”  He has no depth whatsoever and says a couple of rude comments to Kutcher about how Kutcher is just a boytoy while he will be the one that Portman marries.  On the flip side, Kutcher is given Lake Bell as his “other option” and she is such a delight that I actually wanted him to wind up with her.  She is supportive and engaging and cares about him.  Which is more than can be said for Portman’s character…

Which leads me to my biggest problem with the film: I don’t want the two leads to end up together.  Despite the fact that the film desperately wants me to be engaged in their romance, I was consistently put off by the fact that Portman’s character is cold, moody, and anti-relationship for no good reason.  She’s stressed, she doesn’t have time, blah blah blah.  The conceit of her character is that she is against being in a relationship, forever and for always, but why the hell is this so?  We are never given a concrete reason why she wouldn’t want to be with a guy who she consistently calls wonderful in every aspect of his being.  What is holding her back from entering into this relationship besides the constraints of the premise?  The only reason this movie isn’t 30 minutes long is because the script demands that there should be obstacles in the way.  Except, the movie never comes up with a convincing obstacle outside of Portman’s reluctance to be in this relationship for no goddamned reason whatsoever.  I was sitting there, thinking, “Shit, I really hope Kutcher ends up with Lake Bell since she actually seems to care for him.”

The other massive problem with the film is that it has too many characters and too many subplots.  Jake Johnson is dating Greta Gerwig in the background and it doesn’t mean anything to us because we don’t know their relationship at all.  Also, Kevin Kline plays Kutcher’s lothario father who is sleeping with Kutcher’s ex.  Snooze.  We also have Cary Elwes inexplicably showing up once in a while as a doctor that Portman hits on and it goes…nowhere.  Or Olivia Thirlby as Portman’s little sister who is getting married and shows us that…marriage is possible?  Or how about Portman’s mother who is sleeping with a man named Bones…nowhere.  The wonderful Abby Elliott shows up as a waitress for a few scenes…wasted.

All of these characters, all of these subplots, what are they adding to this world that has been created?  What are we, the audience, gaining from their inclusion?  The answer is, now and for always, nothing.  It’s like the film doesn’t trust its central premise and the charisma of its two leads enough to actually run with them.  I mean, we have a premise that is potentially interesting and ripe for a good romantic comedy: friends who have sex.  But instead of focusing on how that works, what the slow emotional boil of that kind of relationship is really like, we are instead given a short montage of scenes of them having sex and a few big set-pieces and then a lot of bullshit that really doesn’t have anything to do with the premise.  Instead, the film fans out to multiple characters and different subplots (did I mention that Kutcher is an aspiring writer for a Gleeish TV show?) that paper over the initial conceit.  What that does is make me less invested in the relationship I should be invested in and more invested on when the hell the movie is going to be over.

What really kills me are that some of the supporting characters are funny and some of the inter-personal complexities of love in this modern era are spot-on and strike a chord.  But, it always reverts back to these conventional moments and you can really feel the McKeeish way the script was structured.  You can time your watch to it: “Oh, time for the inciting incident!”  “We’re about 65 minutes in, time for the big fight!”

Look, this is mediocre cinema anyway you slice it, so nobody comes out of the film covered in muck and nobody walks out smelling like a daisy either.  Portman gets to have a filthy mouth (and keep her bra on during sex, something that always pulls me out of every goddamned sex scene) and Kutcher gets to be starry-eyed and show his ass, but neither are really getting anything out of this movie except a paycheck.  Reitman, the man who brought us Stripes and Ghostbuster, has now directed his best film since Dave…which isn’t really saying much when you look at the film he’s directed since then (we’re talking Father’s Day, 6 Days 7 Nights, Evolution, My Super Ex-Girlfriend) and has also clearly checked out as a filmmaker worth paying attention to.

This is the kind of picture that will horrify no one and will please very few.  It’s an airplane movie, and a shrug-inducing one at that.  Oddly, I’m really looking forward to Will Gluck’s Friends with Benefits, to see how Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis do with similar subject matter.

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Bad Teacher red-band trailer looks pretty good…

I gotta say, this looks like it could be a pretty funny flick.  Jake Kasdan has been hit or miss in the past, but I’ll always love him for his underrated debut Zero Effect.  I think Timberlake is bound to become a big movie star and after The Social Network, he looks more comfortable in this picture than he has in the past.  The dude’s got charisma.  I love the idea of Cameron Diaz as a terrible teacher and the title of the film is almost a direct allusion to Bad Santa, which this film seems hell-bent on aping…but that’s not a bad thing by any stretch.  Jason Segel is in this too and he’s always a welcome presence.  The big surprise in this trailer?  Phyllis from The Office killing it.  I’d love it if she became the big break-out star…and if I could remember her name.

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Redoing the 2001 Oscars

Okay, here’s the second installment in my daily series leading up to the Oscar telecast in which I look at the nominees from recent Oscar years and re-vote on the big six categories with my committee of one.  The rule that I gave myself is that I would accept the original nominees and try to find a deserving winner among them, rather than just-redoing the whole Oscars from scratch.  2001 – covering the year 2000 at the movies – was a fairly weak Oscar year in my opinion, but let’s check it out.

Best Picture

The nominees were: Gladiator (which won), Chocolat, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, Traffic

Shoulda Been Nominated: Requiem for a Dream, High Fidelity, Wonder Boys, The Virgin Suicides, Almost Famous, Dancer in the Dark, Amores Perros, Quills

I would gladly trade out all of the films that were nominated if I could because even the best of them isn’t as good as the ones I listed above that should have been nominated.  Alas, I think I’ll have to pick Traffic because it’s just flat-out better in every possible way than Gladiator and the other nominated films.  The acting, the cinematography, the writing, and the editing are top-notch and while the ending is a little pat, it’s an exciting and informative look at the drug problem that has run rampant.  I think the touch of making the daughter of the drug czar an addict is a little too on-the-nose, but the parts with Benicio Del Toro in Mexico are so stunningly good that I’m willing to overlook some of the weaker aspects of the film.  It’s certainly easier to overlook the missteps in Traffic than it is for me to gloss over Russell Crowe’s perpetual yelling and screaming as he fights tigers in Gladiator.  Ultimately, it’s a decision based on emotional investment combined with an original take on interesting subject matter.  I hadn’t seen a film quite like Traffic before and I’d seen versions of Gladiator quite a few times.

Best Director

The nominees were: Steven Soderbergh for Traffic (he won), Ridley Scott for Gladiator, Steven Soderbergh for Erin Brockovich, Stephen Daldry for Billy Elliott, and Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

Shoulda Been Nominated: Darren Aronofsky for Requiem for a Dream.  It’s a crime that the Academy could find room for him on their list, considering his visionary work on a film that lingers in one’s mind not just for days, weeks or months, but forever.

I think the Academy made the right move here in giving Soderbergh the Oscar for Traffic.  A lot of pundits at the time thought it would be possible for Soderbergh to win because he was competing against himself and there were a lot of whispers that it would be Scott or Lee.  But the Academy wisely chose the film that was bold and original.  Soderbergh pulled double-duty too, as he was the cinematographer on the film as well and he did a fantastic job, giving each section of the film a different color scheme.  The Academy idiotically ignored his DP work, but they made up for it by realizing he succeeded and pulled off a much more difficult task in the making of Traffic than his competitors.

Best Actor

The nominees were: Russell Crowe for Gladiator (he won), Javier Bardem for Before Night Falls, Tom Hanks for Cast Away, Ed Harris for Pollock, Geoffrey Rush for Quills

Shoulda Been Nominated: Michael Douglas for Wonder Boys.  It’s really a shame that Wonder Boys got no love from the Academy considering it’s really such a wonderful film and one of my favorite movies about writing.  Douglas makes that film work and from the instant he appears on screen, we believe him as a character.  He’s complicated and Douglas wisely underplays many of his scenes, rendering possibly ugly demons somewhat endearing.  Grady Tripp is one of the best film characters of the decade and Michael Douglas is a big part of the reason why.

Honestly, I would give this Oscar to any of the nominees other than Russell Crowe.  Crowe was excellent the year before in The Insider and is quite good the following year in A Beautiful Mind, but his performance in Gladiator doesn’t seem all that strong to me outside of his muscles.  He grunts, he growls, he fights real well with a sword, but I never really felt like his longing for his dead wife was anything more than a plot device.  It’s a film that isn’t about heart or head, but about testosterone and I can’t reconcile giving an Oscar to someone for starring in a film of that nature.  If I had to pick one of the other nominees, it’s gotta be Bardem for his soul-tugging and eye-opening performance as Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Julian Schnabel’s brilliant Before Night Falls.  Bardem’s Arenas contains multitudes and we see him as not some martyr, but as a flesh and blood human being who sees the world in such a different and arresting way.  Bardem is subtle yet passionate, quiet yet fiery, able to convey the fact that he has words swirling about his head in a frenzy.  In other words, it’s the opposite of Crowe in Gladiator.

Best Actress

The nominees were: Julia Roberts for Erin Brockovich (she won), Juliette Binoche for Chocolat, Joan Allen for The Contender, Ellen Burstyn for Requiem for a Dream, and Laura Linney for You Can Count on Me

Shoulda Been Nominated: Bjork for Dancer in the Dark.  Lars von Trier’s film is haunting and beautiful in its ugliness.  The reason there is any beauty at all in this squalid film is because of the presence and the voice of Bjork, who is such a shining beacon in this dingy and depressing film that it elevates the material.  The film of Lars von Trier need to have female leads who can bring some hope to the hopelessness and Bjork does it better than any of the others.

Honestly, this was a pretty solid year for the Academy in this category.  All five of these performances are worthy of being nominated.  I can’t get too down on the Academy for giving Julia Roberts her first Oscar for a performance that was pretty damn good.  However, it just wasn’t nearly as good as Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream, who does such a stunning downward spiral in this film that it’s always disconcerting to watch the beginning of the film again, reminding yourself that at one point in the film she’s almost normal.  The film does a miraculous job of showing how drugs influence and tear us down, but it’s in Ellen Burstyn’s arc that we see just how insidious it can be.  At the beginning of the movie, she’s just a regular blue-collar Jewish Brooklyn mom dealing with the stress of having a drug addict for a son who steals her television.  By the end of the film, she’s that crazy person everyone avoids sitting next to on the subway.  The amazing part of Burstyn’s performance is that she’s able to connect that beginning and end.  We see her journey to hell and we believe it every step of the way.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees were: Benicio Del Toro for Traffic (he won), Willem Dafoe for Shadow of the Vampire, Joaquin Phoenix for Gladiator, Jeff Bridges for The Contender, Albert Finney for Erin Brockovich

Shoulda Been Nominated: Jack Black for High Fidelity.  That’s not a joke.  I know that Black’s routine has gotten a little bit stale, but I think this (and School of Rock) were the best use of his talents because it gives him limits.  He does what a supporting character should do…provide support.  In this particular instance, the support comes in the form of his comedic sensibility.  He plays the ultimate elitist music snob and he’s just a joy to behold every time he’s on screen.

I think all of these performances are pretty damn good and as much as I want to overrule the Academy at every step, the definitely picked the right winner.  Del Toro conveys so much with those expressive eyes of his and it’s especially evident in Traffic.  But the other thing that’s arresting about Del Toro’s peformance in this film is the way he moves about.  We can always tell him apart from the criminals and other bad guys because of the way he walks, almost like John Wayne…a purposeful yet almost sloppy gait.  Del Toro is almost always worthy of our attention, but he has yet to be more magnetic than he was in Traffic.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees were: Marcia Gay Harden for Pollock (she won), Kate Hudson for Almost Famous, Frances McDormand for Almost Famous, Julie Walters for Billy Elliott, Judi Dench for Chocolat

Shoulda Been Nominated: Kate Winslet in Quills.  She was so excellent as the innocent chambermaid to the infamous – and imprisoned – Marquis De Sade, sneaking his manuscripts out to be published and enjoyed by his many readers.  This is a character that very easily could have been forgettable, but Winslet is such a strong actress that she becomes not only interesting but integral.

I honestly don’t remember much of the movie Pollock, but I do remember that I liked it.  However, I really can’t picture Marcia Gay Harden in it.  She’s a fantastic actress, but I have to think my lack of memory can’t bode well for her performance.  As terrible as Kate Hudson has been in almost every movie since Almost Famous, she clearly gave the most indelible and iconic performance of the bunch and deserved the Oscar.  Even if you only saw all of these movies once, you’d remember Kate Hudson as Penny Lane years later, even as you were forgetting all the others.  The scene where she learns that she’s been sold to Humble Pie for fifty bucks and a case of beer is heartbreaking in the way she plays it.  She smiles through the tears that she can’t help and then says, wiping the tears away gracefully, “What kind of beer?”  Future viewings have had me changing my mind, back and forth, about whether I like Penny Lane as a person.  The first few times, I was in love with her.  The next few times, I detested the way she uses William Miller for her own self-interest.  But recently, I’m just realizing that she’s a lost and lonely kid, trying so hard to be a grown-up.

What do you guys think?

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2000 Oscar Flubs

Unfortunately I don’t have time to write down 2,000 different Oscar flubs, so I’ll just focus on the year 2000.

I figured with 11 days until the Academy Awards, I would take a look at the past 11 years worth of Oscars over those 11 days.  I wanted to take a look at the past winners and see if we find those winners to be acceptable now that we’ve had some time to live with the decisions.  It’s funny, for example, how I thought at the time that American Beauty was a worthy winner in 2000.  Now, I don’t feel the same way.  So let’s take a look at the big categories and see what we’d do differently:

Best Picture

The nominees were: American Beauty, The Cider House Rules, The Green Mile, The Insider, and The Sixth Sense

Shoulda Been Nominated: Fight Club, Eyes Wide Shut, The Straight Story, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Magnolia, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, All About My Mother, Election, The Matrix, Mumford, and a whole host of other great films came out.  1999 was the strongest year for film in twenty years and yet these were the five nominees the Academy chose?

Based on the the rules of this game – which are arbitrary and made up – I have to choose a deserving winner among the actual nominees.  Under that rule, I think the winner has to be Michael Mann’s The Insider.  I think it has the best Russell Crowe performance ever – understated, complicated, fatigued – and the best Al Pacino performance of the decade, one where he doesn’t go over the top.  There are classic scenes (“Mike?  Miiiike?  Try Mr. Wallace.”), wonderful supporting turns by Christopher Plummer, Gina Gershon, and Bruce McGill, and a brilliant script by Eric Roth and Michael Mann that is a bit reminiscent of All The President’s Men.  It’s a film about journalism at a specific time in its history and it’s the defining film about television journalism, in the years before the internet took over.  It holds up remarkably well, much better than American Beauty which now seems trite, heavy-handed, and way too on-the-nose in its allusions.  American Beauty is still a fine film, but it’s not the classic we thought it was at the time.  The Insider, on the other hand, is ever better than we thought.

But neither of them are as good as Fight Club, Magnolia or Eyes Wide Shut.

Best Director

The nominees were: Sam Mendes for American Beauty, Spike Jonze for Being John Malkovich, Lasse Hallstrom for The Cider House Rules, Michael Mann for The Insider, and M. Night Shyamalan for The Sixth Sense.

Shoulda Been Nominated: Fincher, Kubrick, Lynch, Minghella, P.T. Anderson, Almodovar, David O. Russell,  etc. etc.

Mendes won the Oscar and for all the reasons I mentioned above, I think ever aspect of American Beauty was overrated at the time.  I think Mendes did a fine job handling the tone in that film, but his work isn’t as innovative as Jonze’s in Being John Malkovich.  Jonze also had to tame a particular and odd tone with his film and he hit it out of the park, finding the delicate balance between comedy and longing.  I think it’s a no-brainer that this should have been Jonze’s award.

Best Actor

The nominees were: Kevin Spacey for American Beauty (and he won), Russell Crowe for The Insider, Richard Farnsworth for The Straight Story, Sean Penn for Sweet and Lowdown, Denzel Washington for The Hurricane.

Shoulda Been Nominated: Matt Damon gave a brilliant performance in The Talented Mr. Ripley that was overlooked by everybody because of Jude Law’s flashier performance in the same movie.  Damon plays the difficult part in that film and he kills it.  No pun intended.

All of these are really strong performances, but for me this goes to Richard Farnsworth.  I think Farnsworth’s performance in The Straight Story is one of the top 20 performances I’ve ever seen.  His Alvin Straight is quiet, humble, wise, stubborn, and kind.  He’s a man with a lot of demons and we see them all, even the ones he doesn’t speak about.  We are invested in his story, in his quest, to find his brother because we believe in him and we believe in his moral compass – even if it’s different than our own.  He’s a man that has earned the right to do as he wishes and we see the respect he is given by those around him, but we don’t just have to take the movie’s word for it that he’s a man worthy of our respect – he earns it.  We respect this man.  Farnsworth is the reason for it and he’s the reason why this movie is one of the very few that makes me cry every single time I watch it.

Best Actress

The nominees were: Hilary Swank for Boys Don’t Cry (she won), Annette Bening for American Beauty, Janet McTeer for Tumbleweeds, Julianne Moore for The End of the Affair, Meryl Streep for Music of the Heart

Shoulda Been Nominated: It’s a real shame that Reese Witherspoon didn’t get any love from the Academy for her head-turning work in Election.  She imbued Tracy Flick with heart, soul, guile, heartlessness, and soullessness.  Wow.

Not the strongest crop of Best Actress nominees.  Even still, the Academy definitely got this one right.  Swank deservedly got the award for her stunning and heart-wrenching portrayal of Brandon Teena.  Just a fantastic performance that later made her one of the more overrated actresses of the last ten years.  Still, this one was perfect.

Best Supporting Actor

The nominees were: Michael Caine for The Cider House Rules (he won), Michael Clarke Duncan for The Green Mile, Jude Law for The Talented Mr. Ripley, Tom Cruise for Magnolia, Haley Joel Osment for The Sixth Sense

Shoulda Been Nominated: Sydney Pollack in Eyes Wide Shut, for the pool room scene alone.  The dude was commanding while giving an almost twenty minute monologue.  Pollack goes through about ten different shades of anger and doubt in that scene and we feel every single one.

Michael Caine is fine in The Cider House Rules because he’s Michael friggin’ Caine and he does a flawless New England accent, so he gets points for degree of difficulty.  But I think Tom Cruise was so charismatic and tortured and wonderful as Frank T.J. Mackey that he definitely deserved the award.  Just like Pollack deserved to be nominated for commanding the screen for twenty straight minutes, Cruise does that feat (for less time) at multiple points throughout Magnolia.  He’s filthy, sexist, and mean and yet when he cries at his father’s bed at the end of the movie, he redeems himself.  Cruise makes it work.

Best Supporting Actress

The nominees were: Angelina Jolie for Girl, Interrupted (she won), Toni Collette for The Sixth Sense, Catherine Keener for Being John Malkovich, Samantha Morton for Sweet and Lowdown, and Chloe Sevigny for Boys Don’t Cry

Shoulda Been Nominated: Keener got a nom for Being John Malkovich but not Cameron Diaz?  Diaz has the more dramatically difficult part and she really kills it.  I mean, she’s an animal-loving, frizzy-haired, secret lesbian who owns a menagerie of pets and we believe every second of her journey.  I would have not only nominated her, but given her the award.

Of the nominees, it’s hard to find one that I disagree vehemently with.  I don’t know that I would give Jolie the award, though.  I’m a Jolie fan, I think she’s a really strong actresses, but this wasn’t my favorite of her performances.  For me, it’s a toss-up between Samantha Morton and Chloe Sevigny.  Morton’s face tells a thousand tales in Woody Allen’s underrated Sweet and Lowdown – and it has to, considering she plays a mute.  And yet, Sevigny is playing vulnerable, fragile, yet strong enough to be independent.  It’s tough, but I think I’d give it to Morton.

What about you guys?  What would you do?

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SNL Recap – Russell Brand and Chris Brown

I first became aware of Russell Brand, like a lot of Americans, thanks to his appearance in the wonderful Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  Since then, I’ve come to appreciate his presence – whether it’s in movies, on talk shows, or hosting events like the VMAs.  I just find his manner to be refreshing.  He’s thoughtful, erudite, and unbelievably crass.  But his vulgarity doesn’t come from a mean-spirited place.  Rather, there’s an innocence to him that makes him appealing even when he acts like a buffoon.  The movie Get Him to the Greek works so well because although Aldous Snow does some despicable things throughout the course of the movie, we sense that deep down he’s a sweet person.  And that’s all thanks to Brand because he brings that to the table.  He is lewd, but in the most lovable way, and it’s not something that can be learned.  It’s just something he was born with, a natural charisma that attracts people to him.  Although he hasn’t had a chance to really prove it, I think he might have a wonderful range that will extend far beyond comedy.  But for now, let’s see how he does on SNL.

As for Chris Brown…um, not too psyched about that part.

Let’s go to the videotape (or DVR)!  (Please let Stefon make an appearance…)

Cold Open – Jason Sudeikis playing Bill O’Reilly and Fred Armisen doing his bland Obama.  It’s a parody of the Super Bowl interview that O’Reilly did with Obama.  This whole sketch is built around the premise that O’Reilly is a pompous, egotistical blowhard.  Um, thanks for that info SNL, would have never guessed.  It’s definitely a skit that takes the easy and safe approach to the material.  The truth of the matter is that SNL has always been (and probably always will be) a left-leaning program that has done a pretty good job at taking shots at both the Dems and the GOP.  But, in this skit, the really interesting take would be to show Obama as the opportunist in this.  The real problem is that he sat down with O’Reilly to begin with, therefore legitimatizing this moron.  But what is Obama’s motivation in doing so?  And before the Super Bowl?  I think that’s the core idea that would have been funnier to explore than simply showing O’Reilly being condescending to a sitting President.  Anyway, it’s a middling skit that is mildly amusing.  5/10

Monologue – Brand is clean-shaven, looks different…almost respectable.  Did he wash his hair??  Jeez, I guess fame is getting to him.  Anyway, Brand mentions that he’s more famous in England than he is in the states.  Although, I’m not sure that’s really true anymore.  I mean, who doesn’t know Brand in the USA?  “In England, tight pants means you’re famous.”  Brand is really good at pointing out the differences between England and the US, but he’s never been as incisive as someone like Eddie Izzard when it comes to that topic.  He’s pretty much just blathering on.  It doesn’t feel like anybody actually wrote this monologue, but someone just said, ‘Hey Russell, just go up there and gab about whatever comes to mind for five minutes.’  He’s stumping for Colin Firth to win the Oscar, which makes me a little sad.  But at least he supports Portman for Best Actress.  He says Portman prepared for a few months, but he prepared for his sex-addicted, drug-addicted role in Get Him to the Greek for twenty years.  This monologue is all over the place.  This is why I prefer Brand in the movies or in his book than his stand-up.  He’s funny and all, but he’s way better when he’s given some limits because he can stretch the boundaries while staying on point rather than just being “long-winded” as Bill O’Reilly taught me.  Of course this monologue wouldn’t be complete without a Katy Perry reference.  It’s rare that stand-ups do well in the SNL monologues because they insist on doing their act.  Zach Galifiankis was the only one who did his routine during the monologue in recent years and knocked it out of the park.  I’ve written so much about this because I’m utterly bored by Brand’s monologue.  3/10

Gublin and Green, Attorney at Law - This was really not funny.  It’s a one-joke commercial about the Spider-man musical and how many injuries have occurred during the previews.  It’s really no different than countless fake ambulance-chasing ads they’ve done over the years, except with a few references to the Spider-man musical.  Again, this is an instance of SNL choosing the easy joke without going any deeper.  This show is off to a pretty terrible start.  3/10

Ultimate Vacation Giveaway – Kristen Wiig is playing an overly excited Travel Channel correspondent who is about to give away a vacation to a white trash dude played by Russell Brand.  She’s super stoked about giving it away and Brand is not excited at all, just sipping his beer.  Uh-oh, this is dying.  Brand’s accent is pretty good, but I’m almost embarrassed for Wiig right now.  She’s giving so much of herself to this part and this skit is going nowhere.  Where are the jokes here?  I like Wiig and Brand so much, but Brand is given nothing to do and Wiig is just overplaying this and hoping for laughs.  They show past winners going crazy.  Taran Killam pees his pants, that’s kinda funny.  I can’t believe that they have Russell Brand as the host and this is one of the skits they picked.  This made it out of dress?  Really, really bad.  1/10

Don’ You Go Rounin’ Roun to Re Ro – Finally something funny!  This is actually pretty brilliant on a few different levels.  This is a parody of hard-nosed British blue-collar crime dramas.  Hader and Armisen have accents so thick that you can’t understand a thing they say.  Hader is so great, saying each of his unintelligible lines with such conviction that it’s easy to believe he’s saying something even though it’s all gibberish.  Russell Brand shows up and he is the only one doing caricature in this skit, probably because he’s making fun of his own accent to a certain extent.  Nasim Predrad is great in this too, as Hader’s girlfriend.  But it’s also a pretty great commentary on how critics in the states go nuts for these kinds of films.  Really solid clip.  In lieu of a digital short?  My guess is yes.  8/10

Next Episode (March 5th) – THE STROKES!!!  They are my favorite band and one of the most important musical acts of my generation.  Their new album is coming out March 22nd and their new single is already out and it’s called Under Cover of Darkness and if you like the Strokes, you’ll like this song.  I absolutely cannot wait to see them on March 5th, I’m already counting down the days.  Oh yeah, Miley Cyrus is hosting…whatever.

Royal Taster – Taran Killam is playing the king’s taster.  The king is played by Russell Brand.  The king assures the taster that he’s safe within these walls, despite the fact that he’s had death threats.  The chef then comes in to be berated by the king, who had just killed the chef’s whole family for making the beef too tough.  Also, the chef is next in line to be king if the king dies.  Needless to say, the taster is worried.  Hader is the chef.  Everybody is ridiculously over the top in the skit, trying to be as loud as possible to cover up for the fact that the writing is pretty weak.  I think the premise of the sketch is ripe for lots of possibilities, but the writers have gone a more simple route.  The only funny part is Hader getting close to Brand’s face and poking at him with his nose, causing Brand to nearly lose it.  And the ending, which is fairly close to brilliant.  Wow.  That ending really saves that skit and makes it something subversive and worthwhile.  6.5/10

Chris Brown – As with last week’s performer (Linkin Park), this is just not my thing.  To me, Chris Brown is like the homeless man’s Usher.  He can dance well, which makes his performances easy to watch, but the music is the worst kind of pop.  It’s derivative and boring.  It sounds like he hired Ke$ha’s producer.  But I gotta give him props for his dancing.  3/10

Weekend Update – Starts off with a strong joke about Hosni Mubarak taking over for Regis.  Seth Meyers makes a great point about pictures of yourself with the camera in the picture.  A nice joke about Christina Aguilera’s Super Bowl performance.  Fred Armisen comes on as Mubarak.  “30 years in power and all I have to show for it is 70 billion dollars of the Egyptian people’s money.”  “Basically, I was trying the old Jedi mind trick.”  I like Armisen’s take on Mubarak.  Now that he’s stepped down and Patterson is no longer governor, I’m sad that Armisen’s takes on these guys will no longer be necessary.  He really comes from the Dana Carvey school of impressions, which means that he doesn’t get the voices note-perfect or anything, he just finds one trait that he can hang on to and bases it on that, building an entirely original and new character out of it.  Solid joke about the AOL/Huffpost merger, although that whole saga has been over-reported.  Bottom line about that merger: I DON’T CARE.  A joke about a woman who returned her dog because it clashed with her curtains doesn’t go over too well, but I thought was pretty funny.  Wow, I actually thought Jay Pharoah WAS Lil’ Wayne for a second.  Taran Killam – who is getting a lot of airtime – comes out with him as Eminem to perform a  really inappropriate Valentine’s Day song.  Pharoah gets everything right about Lil’ Wayne, except for the rapping part.  It’s hard to rap exactly like someone else, but Pharoah misses the mark slightly there.  Then again, he’s so good ordinarily that I’m probably holding him to a higher standard.  Killam is a little closer to the mark with Eminem, but still doesn’t quite get there.  Still, it’s a funny idea and a sign of the changing musical landscape.  Meyers: “There’s no nice thing you can say to a woman that ends in ‘knife.’”  Nice joke about Lady Gaga: “I think the most surprising part of this story is that she has sex in a bed.  Oh my lord, Stefon is coming on!  WOO HOO!!!  He deserves his own section.  The score for update is 7/10

Stefon – YES YES YES.  Best character on SNL right now.  He needs his own movie, I would totally watch it.  I can’t even keep up with all these classic Stefon-isms.  Let’s see if Hader loses it this time.  “New York’s hottest club is BOOOOOOOOOF.”  “Pugs, geezers, do-wop groups, a wise old turtle that looks like Quincy Jones.”  “Giz-blow the coked up Gremlin!”  Oh man, I’m dying here, he did the Gizmo song!  “Fuji Howser, M.D.” made Hader lose it a bit.  “Jewpids?”  “Jewish cupids.”  Oh man, Hader is losing it again as he always does.  He never breaks character ever, but Stefon gets him every single time.  “Human suitcase?”  “It’s when a midget on roller skates wears all your clothes and you pull him through an airport.”  HAHAHA, holy shit, that’s great and offensive and amazing.  I understand they need to space out the appearances of Stefon, but I would love to see him every week.  He just slays me.  This saved the show from being the absolute worst of the year.  10/10

Livin’ Single – Vanessa Bayer plays a host on the Oxygen network.  Taran Killam – shit, where’s Paul Brittain tonight? – is playing her co-host, DJ Terry.  It’s a show about being single and all the girls on the show are talking about how they love it, but they really don’t.  Vanessa Bayer really reminds me a lot of Larraine Newman.  The DJ is in love with the host, but she’s not into him.  Russell Brand comes on as Damian, a suave British man and the host is instantly smitten with him.  I imagine the DJ is not going to like this.  Brand feeds her chocolate and she sucks on his finger.  Killam’s stone face is pretty funny.  “Is it sinful if I put your hand on my pectoral?”  “Give us a beat, Terry.”  “No, I don’t want to give him a beat.”  They proceed to start dry-humping.  This is a skit that really shouldn’t work, but Brand and Bayer and Killam are all pretty committed to their characters, which makes it easier to enjoy.  Brand gets the butter…I wonder if that’s in reference to Maria Schneider’s recent passing.  Either way, completely passable skit that I won’t remember tomorrow.  5.5/10

A Spot of Tea – Wow, a Samberg apperance.  Where has he been all night?  Samberg, Brand, and Hader are playing three old proper British women hosting a talk show.  It’s really hard to listen to them because their voices are all so shrill and high, but I suppose that’s the point.  An earthquake hits and their seismograph shows the results.  This is really bizarre and I don’t really think there are any jokes.  I’m hoping that something happens at the end to turn it on its head.  Every time they try to pour the tea, there’s  an earthquake…uh oh, please tell me this is going somewhere unexpected because otherwise this is a waste of everyone.  The show’s sponsor, a cabinet of glass, obviously gets ruined in yet another earthquake.  This is like a skit on a Nickelodeon show or something.  Wow, this was truly terrible.  Oh hey, Paul Brittain finally shows up with cheese fondue for half a second.  1.5/10

Chris Brown Again – This time he’s singing a ballad, which means no dancing, which means cringe-inducing lyrics about being horny and treacly music.  Ugh, this is really terrible.  It’s almost like a parody of the cheesy sex songs that R. Kelly sings.  He’s gonna do you all night, he’s gonna give it to you.  Jeez.  I don’t want to get too much into his personal life, but I wonder exactly what he’s gonna give to you all night.  1/10

Founding Fathers – A top-secret time machine that enables George Washington to appear.  Boehner and Pelosi both plead their cases to see what he would think.  Brand, as Washington, punches out Sudeikis.  Washington is freaking out, takes out his musket and boxes with Boehner, then karate chops Sudeikis.  Pelosi then stabs him in the back and kills him.  I’m surprised they didn’t have Boehner cry as he was getting punched.  Speaking of punches…there was no punchline in this skit.  3/10

Final Grades:

Russell Brand – Really disappointed by his showing tonight.  He was full of energy and all, but I can only fault the writing so much (and it was truly atrocious tonight, a common occurrence when there’s a two or three-week vacation coming) and he just seemed lost.  I just don’t think he was a good fit for this stage and this show.  I think he’s versatile and talented and charismatic, but he was not a strong SNL host.  Like I always say, you never really know who’s going to come through and who isn’t.  4/10

Chris Brown – Blah, blah, blah, boring.  2/10

The rest of the cast – The only thing that stood out to me was the use of Taran Killam and Bill Hader, both of whom were in practically every skit.  Meanwhile, Samberg, Abby Elliott, Fred Armisen and Paul Brittain were all seldom used – if at all.  Hader was probably the MVP tonight, saving some of the skits he was in and was the star of the two best parts of the show – Stefon and the British crime parody.  But Killam is a close second, proving that he’ll be a useful cast member.

The writing – This is really where most of the blame lies.  After working for three straight weeks, it makes sense that they’ve run out of some of their best material by week three, but this was really bottom of the barrel stuff.  They stepped it up for Stefon’s laundry list of oddities, but other than that, it was like they were on auto-pilot.  Either they had strong premises and couldn’t find the jokes or they had jokes that they couldn’t work into decent conceits.  Either way, this was a terrible night for the writers.  2.5/10

Okay, SNL will be on a break for a couple of weeks, so I’ll come up with some other junk to talk about for the next few Sundays.  But don’t forget to check back here on March 6th so we can discuss the Miley Cyrus episode that airs the night before with the sure-to-be-legendary STROKES performance.

Oh, and I give myself an 8/10 today.  I was on my game.

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It’s not what I wanted it to be…

Last night I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about Blue Valentine.  She wasn’t a fan of the film because she wanted it to be more than it was.  She was disappointed by the fact that the storyline isn’t particularly original or mining new material.  Basically, she wanted to experience something new in the pantheon of dramas about the dissolution of a relationship.

I both agreed and disagreed.  Part of me wishes that it wasn’t just a film about a typical, uneducated, blue-collar couple that are – from the get-go – not destined to be in a happy relationship.  What I’ve longed to see for years and years – and which fiction, film, theater, etc. have never been able to pull off – is a realistic portrait of how a happy relationship comes apart.  In stories of this nature depicted in fiction, like Blue Valentine or Revolutionary Road or Carnal Knowledge, it’s pretty clear that because of the characters involved and their different personality traits that these couplings are not going to last.  I think it’s fairly easy to take disparate characters and jam them together just because they’re attractive or because one of them is pregnant and then show the ramifications later on.  I suppose this is the reality for a lot of people that wind up with partners they don’t stay with, but I think a large portion of relationships die for more complex reasons than that.  And those deaths aren’t usually the result of one big thing or several big things, but rather a slow disintegration of passion and love.  Blue Valentine, as much as I really enjoyed it, does the typical move: it shows us the beginning and the end.  But as anyone who has ever been in a relationship, the real meat is in the middle.

However, that’s not what Blue Valentine purports to be about.  It sets out to do something specific and does it, so does that mean I should critique it for what I wanted it to be and wasn’t?  However, that’s a slippery slope as a film critic because then I could just apply that same logic to a film like Transformers and say that it’s a good film because it does exactly what it sets out to do.

So I think ultimately, we have to take into account what we want a film to be.  A film like Blue Valentine hits us hardest when we find ourselves relating to the characters.  The scene in the Future Room is a masterpiece because practically everyone I know can relate to one or both of those characters in that scene at one point in their life.  But, as a whole, I find it hard to relate to either character because they make decisions that I wouldn’t make and do a lot of stupid things, which is excused by the fact that they’re not particularly well-educated.  For once, I would like to see a film about well-educated people who make the right decisions in their lives and it still doesn’t work out.

So, who’s gonna be the filmmaker to volunteer for that job?

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SNL Recap – Dana Carvey and Linkin Park

I’ve always been a big fan of Dana Carvey and I’m really excited to have him return to Saturday Night Live.  Because of his lackluster movie career, I think he’s often forgotten and overlooked in the pantheon of great SNL cast members.  Lorne Michaels was a huge fan from the beginning (Carvey famously got Michaels to laugh during his original audition, something that NEVER happens) and everybody thought Carvey was going to go on to be a huge movie star.  With middling (but, I think, enjoyable) films like Opportunity Knocks and Clean Slate, things got off to a rocky start and his film career stalled, unable to show his versatility in a vehicle that was designed around him playing one character.  That’s why he made a movie like Master of Disguise, which everyone kills him for.  It’s a kids’ movie that enable him to play multiple characters, a showcase for his talent.  But the movie was awful and that was it for Dana Carvey.  Let’s hope tonight gets him back on track.  I’m expecting a retrospective of all his best characters.  Hopefully we’ll get a Wayne’s World skit, a Church Lady skit, and maybe even a Hans and Franz skit.  I wonder how all of those sketches will play in this day and age.  My DVR didn’t record it, so I’m watching on Hulu, hopefully everything is in order and I don’t miss anything.

As for Linkin Park…um, not a fan.  Although this video of theirs, directed by the great Mark Romanek, is pretty amazing:

Okay, let’s get on with the recap:

Cold Open – WAYNE’S WORLD! You know, it’s funny, watching this skit reminds me that the Wayne’s World skits are really lame in comparison to the great Wayne’s World movies.  Still, it’s nice to see these characters again, even if all they’re doing is saying “Winter’s Bone” over and over again.  Strangely we didn’t get one “schwing” despite the fact that Carvey said it about eighty times during one of the promos.  Compared to some of the Wayne’s World skits in the past, this one is not up to snuff.  This is really all about the nostalgia factor, which I have to admit kicked in strongly for me.  And why is Mike Myers wearing a Blackhawks jersey instead of the standard black t-shirt that Wayne always wears?  Ultimately I can’t give it any more than a 6/10.

Monologue – Carvey makes a few salient points about the nature of SNL, about how everybody that watches it picks out one cast and then labels them the best.  Carvey, of course, labels his cast as the best.  Wiig, Samberg, and Hader all come out on stage to question this point until eventually the great Jon Lovitz comes out to agree with him.  They sing a song about being the best cast ever.  Truthfully, it’s a little bit like watching two dads come back to their old college and hang out at the frat house.  It’s not embarrassing exactly, but it’s a little upsetting to watch Carvey try so hard when he used to be the most effortlessly hilarious cast member.  He truly was one of the best, but he’s having too much of a good time with this monologue instead of just selling the jokes.  It’s great to see Lovitz, of course, but this entire monologue is just an excuse for the two of them to say old catchphrases; “Acting!” “Chopping broccoli,” etc.  I’m getting a bad feeling about this show…3/10

Church Lady – This one gets off to a good start, the writing seems stronger.  I love Nasim Pedrad, Abby Elliott and Vanessa Bayer as the Kardashian sisters, they really nail it.  (Side-note: I was really stoked when I saw Abby Elliott outside of a restaurant downtown on Wednesday night, but couldn’t work up the nerve to say anything.)  “I’m Khloe and I’m third.”  I understand that Carvey really wants to bask in the glory of his first “Isn’t that special?” in a decade, but the pause he takes feels a bit like grandstanding to me.  Bobby Moynihan comes out as Snooki, which the crowd always loves, but it’s probably my least favorite recurring “character.”  Moynihan is super talented, but his Snooki is lame, getting by on the “hilarity” of a fat guy in a dress.  “Oooh, a Guido!  You’re hot, make out with me!”  Carvey makes it work, though.  The Church Lady definitely ages better than Wayne’s World.   Really, Justin Bieber?  This dude is everywhere.  He’s at the Knicks games, on Jon Stewart, now SNL.  I have Bieber fever, I think, and it’s going to kill me.  Church Lady is getting turned on by Bieber, that’s an interesting twist.  Wow, this skit is nine minutes long, that’s ridiculous.  People complain about skits on SNL going on too long, but lately they’ve mostly been under five minutes.  Wayne’s World was six minutes, this one was nine, the monologue was six, that’s like a third of the show’s actual running time spent on three pieces.  Crazy.  But the Church Lady skit was the best so far, a welcome return.  7.5/10

The Roommate - Again with the Bieber!  This filmed short is brilliant.  It’s a minute long parody of the Minka Kelly/Leighton Meester movie, except with Samberg (as Sir Ben Kingsley, haha) as Bieber’s roommate.  I really enjoyed this one quite a bit.  Samberg often does this nerdy, nasally weirdo, but he does it so well.  9/10

Linkin Park – This is so awful.  I know there are people that really enjoy this kind of music, but I can’t make it past a minute of this rap/rock/emo/whiny boringness.  Ugh.  1/10

Teen Crisis Hotline – Celebrities helping teens.  I love Hader’s Alan Alda, it’s one of the most pitch-perfect impression I have ever heard.  You can see how good it is when you compare it to Dana Carvey’s Mickey Rooney, which is not really an impression so much as a caricature.  But that’s what Carvey always did well.  People think he was a great impressionist, but his real talent was in picking out one aspect of a person and then building a “character” out of this real-life person (i.e. George Bush, Ross Perot, etc.).  Armisen does Ice-T, which is okay, but more dependent on the make-up and clothing than the voice.  Abby Elliott’s Anna Faris is pretty great, though, spot-on.  “Drunk dad, ooooh, bummer!”  Jay Pharoah, the modern day Eddie Murphy, doing Eddie Murphy!  Brilliant, just brilliant.  Guess this will give Eddie Murphy another excuse to disown his SNL years and never return.

Weekend Update – This is all out of order because of Hulu, which is annoying.  I wish they’d let me just watch Weekend Update straight through instead of breaking it up into clips and ruining the flow.  Oh well.  Paul Brittain as James Franco, hopefully this will be good.  I think Brittain has secretly been one of the strongest newcomers I’ve seen since Andy Samberg and I’m glad he’s getting more airtime.  “I like having jobs!”  Brittain’s got the smiling down pretty well, but it’s not a particularly distinctive impression, and this segment seems designed just to make the joke that James Franco does a lot of things and it gets old quickly.  Thankfully it’s only two minutes.  Kristin Wiig as Angela Dixon, former disco queen turned weather expert.  I’m guessing she’ll break out into song during a forecast…yep, there it is.  Against all odds, I’m really enjoying this character and these songs.  I think Wiig is at her strongest when she does larger than life personalities, but that are grounded in something like a song, which gives the character a focus.  Sometimes she can fall into the trap of just being over the top, but here it makes sense and it works.  And Meyer always make all these characters work with his exasperation, he’s a great straight man.  Winners/Losers: Egypt was a strong segment.  “You cannot punch the handsome off Anderson Cooper.”  Tunisia is the Soundgarden to Egypt’s Nirvana, love the early 90s grunge references.  “Egyptians are great at preserving things.”  The Empire State Building run-up is “great if you love running marathons but always wished someone’s ass was in your face.”  Overall, a pretty good update, no complaints.  Still no Stefon sightings…sigh.  8/10

Linkin Park Again – I’m not even going to pretend that I watched this.  I saw it was in black and white, though, for no discernible reason.  Skip.  N/A

Deidra Wurtz – Abby Elliott finally gets her own skit and it’s a pretty funny premise.  She gives bad news to people even though she’s something akin to a Midwestern valley girl.  She really fully embodies every character she plays and she’s very versatile.  How long until she’s the star of a romantic comedy?  This isn’t the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s got a strong conceit and it’s executed as well as it could be and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.  I won’t be re-watching it anytime soon, but I wouldn’t mind if I saw this character again in the future.  Where’s Dana Carvey?  And, less importantly, where’s Kenan Thompson?  6.5/10

Sports Bar – Hey, it’s Taran Killam, haven’t seen him in a few weeks.  Armisen and Carvey are the leads of a British New Wave band playing at a small sports bar during the Super Bowl, annoying all of the customers who just want to watch the game.  I love Hader and Brittain in the background and Carvey and Armisen are totally committed to this.  Finally, they’re letting Carvey create something new instead of just doing retreads.  This is a really funny premise and I think Carvey and Armisen are just absolutely killing it.  I really like the ending, with Killam admitting that he liked the song.  And I have to admit, I liked the song too.  I wish the skit went somewhere a bit more interesting, but it was still pretty good.  8/10

Pageant Preview – Starts with a very unfunny minute of Kenan and Dana Carvey doing southern accents.  And it doesn’t get that much better from there.  They’re hosts of a kids’ beauty pageant and they describe the contestants as they come out and it’s just awful.  Samberg comes out as a kid dressed as a cowboy, which is mildly funny and helps save the skit somewhat.  But really, there’s no joke here and it’s just uncomfortable to watch.  How did this make it out of dress?  2/10

Final Grades:

Dana Carvey – Really hit and miss and I’m not sure how much of the misses are his fault and how much was the writing’s fault.  And I don’t know how much he contributed to the writing of his own skits.  Church Lady worked, Wayne’s World didn’t, but the best parts of the evening – The Roommate and Weekend Update – were without him.  He had a bit too much enthusiasm in the beginning, but seemed to settle down as the night went on.  Overall, not the dynamic return we were all hoping for, but decent enough.  6.5/10

Linkin Park – Made it through one minute of their ten minutes of stage time.  I don’t really think it’s appropriate to grade them since I find their music abhorrent (although, seriously, check out that Romanek video above, it’s awesome).  So, I’ll go with N/A

The rest of the cast – I think the MVP award goes to Abby Elliott this week.  Her Khloe Kardashian was stellar, her Anna Faris was unbelievably good, and her new character Deidra Wurtz really worked.  It was good to see Paul Brittain, but I thought his James Franco was kinda weak.  Wiig had a good week, her disco weatherwoman was a nice addition to Update.  It was good to see old castmembers like Lovitz and Mike Myers, but wish they would have stuck around and done a few more skits.  Bieber was in more skits than the two of them.  Samberg was excellent as he always is, same with Nasim Pedrad and I wish Jay Pharoah was given more to do than just his amazing impressions.  I was happy that Kenan was absent from most of the skits, though.  7.5/10

The writing – Not the best night for the writers tonight.  I think The Roommate, Update and the Sports Bar skits all had strong premises but a lot of the others ones didn’t go far enough.  The Pageant was awful and the Monologue should have been stronger and I really wish they did something better with Wayne and Garth.  5/10

I’ll give myself a 5/10 for watching on Hulu, which is not my favorite method of watching SNL.  Plus, I’m fairly hungover, so I’m not sure I was on top of my game.  Next week, we’ve got the hilarious Russell Brand and Chris Brown, so I’ll see you all then!

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Quote Unquotesee all »

 “Teaching how to make a film is like trying to teach someone how to fuck. You can’t. You have to fuck to learn how to fuck. It’s just how it is. The filmmaker has to protect the adventurous side of their self. I’m an explorer, I’m an inventor. Doc Brown is the character I relate to the most and he’s a madman. He’s a madman alone, locked up with his ideas but he does whatever he wants. He makes what he makes because he wants to make it. Yes, the DeLorean has to work in order for him to be a madman with a purpose—the DeLorean should work—but the point is I think everyone should try and find their own DeLorean. When Zemeckis was trying to get Back To The Future made, which he was for seven years, he was trying to get a film made where basically a teenager gets in a time machine, goes back to 1954 and almost —-s his mother. That pitch is extremely subversive and twisted in a way. My point is, he had a fascinating idea that no one had done before, but was clearly special to him and he stuck to it and made it what it was. When you do that you can create culture, but I think a lot of movies are just echoing culture and there’s a difference.”
~ A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night Filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour

Six rules for filmmaking from Mike Nichols
1. The careful application of terror is an important form of communication.
2. Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for.
3. There’s absolutely no substitute for genuine lack of preparation.
4. If you think there’s good in everybody, you haven’t met everybody.
5. Friends may come and go but enemies will certainly become studio heads.
6. No one ever lost anything by asking for more money.
~ Via Larry Karaszewski and Howard A. Rodman On Facebook