Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscar Postpartum

"Could you double-check the envelope?"
- Martin Scorsese 02/25/07

Last night Martin Scorsese won Best Director for THE DEPARTED and today the word in all the papers, TV coverage, and online wrap-ups is "finally". Minutes later backstage he looked like he was in a state of shock when it was announced that THE DEPARTED won for Best Picture as well. I am truly happy to be wrong about that one. I had predicted BABEL and was even going to change the name of this blog to film babel for a day if it won (glad I don't have to do that). Out of the 24 categories I got 13 right. More than half but still a failing grade. Let's look over my predictions highlighting the ones I got wrong :

1.BEST PICTURE : BABEL WRONG! THE DEPARTED
2. BEST DIRECTOR : Martin Scorsese THE DEPARTED
3.BEST ACTOR : Forest Whitaker (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND)
4. BEST ACTRESS : Helen Mirren (THE QUEEN)
5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR : Alan Arkin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE)
6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS : Jennifer Hudson (DREAMGIRLS)
7. ART DIRECTION – THE PRESTIGE WRONG! – PAN’S LABYRINTH
8. CINEMATOGRAPHY – CHILDREN OF MEN WRONG! – PAN’S LABYRINTH
9. COSTUME DESIGN – DREAMGIRLS – WRONG! – MARIE ANTOINETTE
10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT – REHEARSING A DREAM WRONG! –THE BLOOD OF YINGZHOU DISTRICT
12. FILM EDITING – BABEL WRONG! – THE DEPARTED
13. MAKEUP – PAN’S LABYRINTH
14. VISUAL EFFECTS – SUPERMAN RETURNS WRONG! – PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN : DEAD MAN’S CHEST
15. ORIGINAL SCORE – BABEL
16. ORIGINAL SONG – “Listen” (DREAMGIRLS) – WRONG! – Melissa Etheridge for "I Need To Wake Up" THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH
17. ANIMATED SHORT – THE LITTLE MATCHGIRL WRONG! - THE DANISH POET
18. LIVE ACTION SHORT – WEST BANK STORY
19. SOUND EDITING – LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
20. SOUND MIXING – DREAMGIRLS
21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – THE DEPARTED
23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM – CARS WRONG! – HAPPY FEET
24. FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – PAN’S LABYRINTH – WRONG! – THE LIVES OF OTHERS

I was very surprised I was right about Alan Arkin winning. Also the other attendees of the Oscar party I wathced the Awards at all gasped when Melissa Etheridge won for best song - in your face DREAM GIRLS!

More later...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hey Kids, Filmbabble's Funtime Oscar Picks 2007!

This is the first time Film Babble Blog has made Academy Award predictions so I'm a bit nervous about it. I mean I haven't seen all of the nominated movies and I'm going in with a certain percentage of guts, wild guessing, and a bit of internet research (but not too much 'cause that takes the fun out of it, doncha think?) so we'll see how it plays out. It ought to be fun though so here goes -

1. BEST PICTURE : BABEL - My personal choice would be THE DEPARTED but the buzz seems to be going for this 'everybody suffers' epic. Does seem pretty likely to win after last year's 1 word suffer epic CRASH won.

2. BEST DIRECTOR : Martin Scorsese (THE DEPARTED) - It does seem like it's Marty's year but then I've thought that before. Many times before. Anyway this is very much a personal and maybe not realistic choice but I'm still going to go with him because it would be such sweet justice if it occured. If it doesn't I hope whoever wins will look his way and give Scorcese a 'sorry nod' before going on with their speech.


3. BEST ACTOR : Forest Whitaker (THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) - I haven't seen it but have liked the trailers and most critics are pulling for him. My guess is the Academy members will too. Again this is very much a personal choice - I've liked Whitaker since seeing him in bit parts in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and PLATOON. His work as Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood's BIRD is criminally underrated and solid performances in PANIC ROOM, GHOST DOG, SMOKE, and THE CRYING GAME all deserve more notice than they originally got. For surviving BATTLESHIP EARTH alone he should get some kind of special award - just sayin'.

4. BEST ACTRESS : Helen Mirren (THE QUEEN) - This seems like a shoe-in. Mirren was excellent in the royal role so I'll be very surprised if she doesn't bag this one.

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR : Alan Arkin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) - This is a gut choice. Many are predicting Eddie Murphy will take this for DREAMGIRLS but something makes me think otherwise. I mean every Awards has a few such surprises and this would definitely qualify as one. This may be my most unrealistic pick - while writing this I'm thinking Murphy's still gonna get it.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS : Jennifer Hudson (DREAMGIRLS) - Another I regettably haven't seen but the word on the internet streets seems to be that she's going home with the gold.

And the rest :

7. ART DIRECTION – THE PRESTIGE
8. CINEMATOGRAPHY – CHILDREN OF MEN
9. COSTUME DESIGN – DREAMGIRLS
10. DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
11. DOCUMENTARY SHORT – REHEARSING A DREAM
12. FILM EDITING – BABEL
13. MAKEUP – PAN’S LABYRINTH
14. VISUAL EFFECTS – SUPERMAN RETURNS
15. ORIGINAL SCORE – BABEL
16. ORIGINAL SONG – “Listen” (DREAMGIRLS)
17. ANIMATED SHORT – THE LITTLE MATCHGIRL
18. LIVE ACTION SHORT – WEST BANK STORY
19. SOUND EDITING – LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA
20. SOUND MIXING – DREAMGIRLS
21. ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
22. ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – THE DEPARTED
23. ANIMATED FEATURE FILM – CARS
24. FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – PAN’S LABYRINTH

Whew! Okay, enough with Oscar for now. I'll post after the show Sunday and we'll see how many I got wrong.

Now here's some New Release DVD reviews:

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA
(Dir. David Frankel, 2006)

"Perhaps the next Hollywood 'genius' will be the man who can design the whole movie to look like a high-powered ad." –
Noted New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael (1919-2001)

In the 40-something years since Kael made that comment there have been many many movies that have looked like whole-sale high-powered ads but while watching
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA I thought of that quote quite a few times. Based on the best selling novel by Lauren Weisberger, TDWP has slick glossy direction by David Frankel (Sex and the City, Entourage), a world class wardrobe (Oscar nominated costume design, mind you) and an earnest Anne Hathaway as an aspiring journalist who gets schooled in professionalism when she suffers a stint as fashion magazine mogul Miranda Priestly’s (Meryl Streep) assistant.

Streep’s Oscar nominated performance is as acidic as it is measured and Stanley Tucci comes on acutely as a cynical clothes horse Yoda. Actually there are a number of Yodas in this movie – Hathaway gets lectured by nearly every character – Tucci, her live-in boyfriend Adrian Grenier, rival assistant Emily Blunt, and her hip friends - Tracie Thomas and Rich Sommer. This should have stayed more in a fluffy fashion world spoof mode than to pretend at all to be a statement making cautionary tale. An obvious take would be ‘it’s all style and no substance’ but it’s more apt to conclude that it’s style lusting after substance. High-powered ad nauseum. As Streep’s Miranda would say “that’s all”.

THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON
(Dir. David Leaf & John Scheinfeld, 2006) As both hardcore and casual Beatles fans know in the eyes of the media and popular public perception there are 2 John Lennons. The 1st is quite bluntly – the rock and roll Jesus. A saint who spread nothing but words of love and peace through radical protests like bed-ins and generational anthems like “Give Peace A Chance”. A genius icon who inspired millions and whose songs are among the greatest classics ever written. And then there’s the 2nd Lennon - who quite bluntly was an asshole pop star. A huckster who put on a man-for-all-causes front while cheating on his wife, doing smack, and even harassing waitresses. The actual human being was a wicked mixture of some of those exaggerated extremes - not perfect obviously but not as fatally flawed as some perspectives claim. Well which Lennon do you think this doc gives us? Of course Lennon #1 full force who here faces off with the Nixon administration as the Vietnam War rages.

Lennon and wife Yoko Ono were undoubtedly under government scrutiny after relocating from Britain to New York in the early 70’s with deportation threatened. Talking heads Gore Vidal, Walter Cronkite, G. Gordy Liddy, Mario Cuomo, and even Geraldo Riveria tell some tasty tales about the politics, protest stunts and “power to the the people” posturing of Lennon’s self described radical period. It’s just that with the exception of a few new insights this ground has been well covered before especially by VH1 who co-produced this film. As a teaching tool perhaps – that is if one really feels that kids today have to know who Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, or John Sinclair are – this film may have value but as Ono approved-docs go you’re better off with IMAGINE : JOHN LENNON
(Dir. Andrew Solt, 1988).

MAN OF THE YEAR
(Dir. Barry Levinson, 2006) – Can’t say I wasn’t warned. By the time the red Netflix envelope containing this film’s DVD came to my mailbox I was well aware that the critics tore it a new one when it was released last fall with most complaining that it had been marketed drastically wrong. Indeed they were right - all the original trailers and TV ads made this movie look like a broad comedy along the lines of ‘what if a Daily Show type cable TV host (Robin Williams in full-throttle rapid random riffing mode) was elected president? – Wouldn’t wackiness ensue?' Well, yes for a bit wackiness ensues (about 8-10 min.) but then we are forced to stomach a parallel plot in which programmer Laura Linney discovers a glitch in the electronic ballot system that got the comical candidate into the White House. So it’s supposedly half political satire and half topical thriller. Too bad neither half works. Too bad this is such a wasted opportunity with a good cast but a lousy script (written by Levinson). Just too bad.

With his jokes about “weapons of mass distraction” (yep, that’s the level of wit here), breast implants, cellphones, and making Bruce Springsteen Secretary of State, Williams is just doing his same old shtick and it’s so sad to see Christopher Walken and Lewis Black (cast as his manager and chief writer) having little to do but sit around laughing at everything he says. In fact there are many shots of scores of people laughing at Williams’s tired antics throughout
MAN OF THE YEAR. I bet there are more people in the movie laughing in the movie than there were laughing at the movie in it’s brief run in theaters and certainly more than will ever laugh at home in the years to come. This whole thing is just misguided on every level.

More later...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Subterranean Homesick Redux Blues

"If you want to laugh at a movie, may I recommend A DAY AT THE RACES starring the Marx Brothers, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN starring Frankenstein, THE THIN MAN - William Powell and Myrna Loy, ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, BORN YESTERDAY - Broderick Crawford and Judy Holliday, Billy Wilder's cross dressing classic SOME LIKE IT HOT and of course we can't leave out Ben Stiller in ZOOLANDER. I hear they're making a sequel."
- Bob Dylan on his Theme Time Radio Hour - Laughter Edition (broadcast : 2/7/07)

Nice to have some comedy movie recommendations from Bob, isn't it? On the occasion of a release of a new Special Edition DVD of D.A. Pennebaker's ground breaking documentary of Dylan's UK solo tour in 1965 - DON'T LOOK BACK I thought it was a good time to pay tribute to it's immortal opening scene with a piece I call -

SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK REDUX BLUES

Here are 5 homages/parodies/rip-offs of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” short film (some call the first music video ever, but I’m not going there) with it’s card dropping, back alley in the broad-daylight basking, indifferent i.e. ‘cool’ posing put-offing, and funny word playing is a major pop-point of reference as evidenced here:

1. BOB ROBERTS (Dir. Tim Robbins, 1992)

In many ways Right-wing folk-singing Senatorial candidate Bob Roberts's career obviously apes Bob's (for example albums titled "The Freewheelin' Bob Roberts" and "The Times Are Changin' Back") so it's no surprise that the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" scene is satirized. Re-casting it as a glitzy pro-80's corporate greed spectacle complete with Robert Palmer dancing girls and business men carrying bags of money is pure genius though. It's the kind of song you could imagine Gordon Gekko rocking out to.

2. WEIRD AL YANKOVIC – “Bob” (Music Video-2003 ) At first glance this is like any old parody of black & white Ginsberg-era Dylan but when you realize that every card contains a palindrome it’s quite a clever treat. Some are quite funny – “Lisa Bonet ate no basil", "a dog a panic in a pagoda", "do nine men interpret? nine men I nod" and "oozy rat in a sanitary zoo". Click on the the highlighted title and enjoy before YouTube removes it.

3. INXS – “Need You Tonight/Mediate” (Music video - 1987) In the “Mediate” bit of this double song video Michael Hutchence and fellow band members take turns tossing off stacks of cards with the mostly one-word lines to the song with the backdrop of some industrial lot on an overcast day. The ‘60’s revival of the 80’s was in full swing - witness the peace symbol t-shirt worn by Kirk Pengilly when he comes in to give a saxophone solo at the end.

4. CURIOUSITY KILLED THE CAT – “Misfit” (Music video - 1986) : Couldn’t find this on YouTube but pop-art God Andy Warhol himself fills Bob’s shoes and lends his particular brand of indifference to the card-dropping shtick. This time though in the popiest-artsiest sense the cards are blank! Maybe it’s pay-back for the time Warhol gave Dylan one of his paintings and Bob traded it for a couch. Ooops!

5. LOVE ACTUALLY (Dir. Richard Curtis, 2003) - Yep, even a rom com got in on the act. Mark (Andrew Lincoln) declares his hidden feelings for Juliet (Keira Knightley) by holding up and of course dropping cards that line-by-line (with some pictures) form a love letter. Okay, so - it’s not that subterranean…

More later...

Monday, February 12, 2007

NORBIT #1 - Okay People, Everybody Stay Calm...

I mentioned to a co-worker over the weekend that I read an article about how NORBIT (#1 in the USA right now) may hurt Eddie Murphy’s chance at an best supporting Oscar for DREAMGIRLS. She said “it’s bigger than that. NORBIT is hurting America.”


I went with some friends yesterday to my favorite home town theater to see :

PAN’S LABYRINTH (Dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2006) At the end of this film (don’t worry – no spoilers) I heard someone in the audience say “WTF?” – that’s right they said the initials as the kids today are known to do – and yeah I could see where they’re coming from. This dark grotesque gothic tale is exhausting and weirded me out to the edge of my seat many times. Seen through the eyes of a young girl - Ofeila (Ivana Baquero) in Fascist Spain in 1944 we witness the violent cruel realities mostly via an evil Captain Vidal’s (Sergi L√≥pez) that she and her sick pregnant mother (Ariadna Gil) suffer daily after relocating in a remote hideout in the wooded hillside under Vidal’s rule. Ofeila slowly discovers and gets drawn into a netherworld with a faun, a few fairies and one large disgusting toad. In this world she may be a Princess and may be able to find the key to open the portal to…oh jeez – this is a bit much with the over-simplified plot description! So I admired this movie more than I actually enjoyed it. While it’s freaky and fantastical to at times exhilarating extremes it could have done with a little more fun.

Now some DVD reviews :

JESUS CAMP (Dir. Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady, 2006)

“There’s a new church like this every 2 days in America. It’s got enough growth to essentially sway every election. If the evengelists vote they determine the election. It’s a fabulous life!” - Pastor Ted Haggard

The trailers with shots of churches full of children speaking in tongues with tears in their eyes may imply an in-your-face liberal expose a-brewing, but the Best Documentary Oscar nominated JESUS CAMP simply showcases several participants and their stories with an absorbing lack of slant. No voice-over narration is provided but there are bits featuring Christian Air American talk show host Mike Papantonio criticizing the movement and confronting Pentecostal children's pastor Becky Fischer on-air that serve as book-ends. Also giving the film a time period frame are radio sound-bites of the stepping down of Sandra Day O'Connor and subsequent appointment of Samuel Alito.

The bulk of the film however follows a few kids (Levi, Rachael, and Victoria) on their pilgrimage to Devil’s Lake, North Dakota for Christ camp fun! Believing they are part of “the key generation” (as Levy stresses in one of his sermons) they learn to bash science, engage in a weird
coffee cup breaking ritual, fondle tiny fetus dolls while swearing to end abortion and pray for (not to – as Becky claims) a card-board cut-out of George W. Bush. The soundtrack is a bit spooky and judgmental sounding at times (though Ewing and Grady say that’s exactly what they didn’t want it to be in the commentary) but there’s a strong and sincere attempt here to put a face on a culture that may be more statistically scary than anything else.

SUPERMAN II – THE RICHARD DONNER CUT (2006 – From footage filmed 1977-1980) The basic back-story – Donner was to make SUPERMAN : THE MOVIE and SUPERMAN 2 concurrently. He filmed material for both films then the producers (Alexander & son Ilya Salkind) replaced him with Richard Lester (A HARD DAY’S NIGHT) who took Donner’s material and interjected broad slapstick humor and a smattering of narrative contrivances that fanboys have griped about for years. Still though the released Lester-only credited movie was pretty solid, did good business and is a favorite of many. Some questions lingered though - like – why did Marlon Brando not return? Was it really just because of his wanting more money? How did Superman get his powers back? What’s the deal with the memory erasing kiss Superman gives to Lois Lane? Can he really do that? Yep, silly geeky questions – but hey I was 11 when I first saw the movie.

All those questions are answered and more in SUPERMAN 2 – THE RICHARD DONNER CUT though it really doesn’t work as a real movie on it’s own. It’s more like a glorified DVD bonus extra. The seams show like crazy – Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder screen tests fill in the gaps that look like 70’s TV soap opera and boy do they clash next to the big action sequences, CGI cleansing, with rampant inconsistencies riddled throughout. Still it’s an immensely watchable curio with the restored Brando footage taking the cake. The scene where Jor El (Brando) appears and places his hand on his son’s (Reeve) shoulder granting all and then passes on is one of the most powerful moments in the entire SUPERMAN canon. So glad I finally got to see it.

More later...