Friday, September 30, 2011

Four-time Oscar nominees Most Likely to be Five Timers

Here's my list and rankings in order from most likely to least likely
The Actors:
1. Ed Harris (nominated: Apollo 13, Truman Show, Pollock, Hours) He does so many character parts and still is prolific and is gaining a great reputation in Hollywood after having directed more of his own stuff. He still hasn't won and he's historically been able to score noms for very small and minor stuff. He also chooses roles wisely.

2. Ben Kingsley (nominated Gandhi, Bugsy, Sexy Beast, House of Sand and Fog) He's too brilliant, too prolific, and is getting too many juicy parts not to have something happen soon. He doesn't overdo it but he's had a leading rule in at least one film a year.

3. Geoffrey Rush (Shine, Shakespeare in Love, Quills, King's Speech)-There's a big danger of him being overshadowed by other Brits like Collin Firth, Clive Owen, Jude Law or whoever the next big one is but I think he's fairly hot again after being in the King's Speech so in the next year or two he might get #5 (and I say that with no clue what he's doing next)

4. Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father, Gangs of New York, There Will be Blood)-He's clearly capable of brilliance that makes everyone's jaw drop. The argument against is he's so sporadic and he can turn in a brilliant performance and just have it be in a highly competitive year or whatever. He's not making as many proverbial plate appearances

5. Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy, Coming Home, Runaway Train, Ali)-He is a little bit over the hill, but I'd say he's one of the 2 or 3 most capable actors over the last decade for someone of his age range. He's in a lot of films and while a lot of them are Blockbusters (i.e. Transformers, National Treasure) I don't see him selling out to the levels of Robert De Niro (unless you consider his comedic acting a virtue). Also, unlike De Niro or Pacino, he doesn't have to fight a former image of himself and run into the wrap that he's doing a caricature of his former self. As a character actor, he gets better as he's less tethered than those two, and on top of that he acts pretty regularly and even in mediocre movies (Enemy of the State, Transformers) he steals scenes.

6. Anthony Hopkins (Silence of the Lambs, Remains of the Day, Nixon, Amistad)-I see it as unlikely. Even though he's been prolific and chooses varied roles, he hasn't got any buzz for anything he's done since nomination 4. I suppose it's not his fault that Bobby, Hearts in Atlantis, Proof, or All the King's Men didn't pan out well.

7. Robin Williams-I think he's already done dark performances and comic performances and inspirationally uplifting performances and there's not a whole lot he can do. There's not the same novelty to Robin Williams bringing out his (still incredible by any standard) rapid-fire multiple-voice comic persona that got him his first nod for Good Morning Vietnam.

8. Warren Beatty (Bonnie and Clyde, Heaven can Wait, Reds, Bugsy)-Already had his Oscar and lifetime achievement award and as Bullworth showed, he's more likely to get it in the directing or writing category these days.

Of the Actresses:
1. Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, End of the Affair, Hours, Far From Heaven)-Way overdue for a nom on top of being overdue for an Oscar. Great actress who is regularly doing quality work and usually one of the 3 or 4 people anyone producing a film with potential Oscar buzz will go to first.

2. Helen Mirren (Madness of King George, Gosford Park, The Queen, The Last Station)-She's highly popular and is still getting prime roles and she's not as old as people think she is (she's just 66). Her being positioned up this high on my list, however, signifies my lack of confidence for anyone on this list other than Moore.

3. Annette Bening (Bugsy, American Beauty, Being Julia, The Kids Are All Right)-She's still due for an Oscar but I don't they'll nominate her unless there's a good chance she'll win. I also don't think it's likely that her next project will get her a nomination. It might might be a couple years before she's on the radar again.

4. Frances McDormand (Mississippi Burning, Fargo, Almost Famous, North Country)-She's still doing really good work and working with lots of inventive directors. She's older but hasn't been held back in any way by aging as some actresses are (i.e. Michelle Pfieffer, Meg Ryan).

5. Emma Thompson (Howard's End, Shadowlands, Remains of the Day, Sense and Sensibility)-Thompson was much bigger in the 90's than she is now but she still does quality level work, although it is now in films that are less visible (see "Brideshead Revisited). If the Academy is all of a sudden willing to go back to women like Redgrave and Close who haven't been considered for an Oscar in years, then there's no reason that if Thompson does something really impressive, it will go unnoticed

6. Holly Hunter (Broadcast News, Piano, The Firm, Thirteen)-She's been nominated far more recently than Thompson and is a favorite of the Coen brothers (who have lately been producing more Oscar nominees) but she works pretty infrequntly and is drawn to indepedent below-the-radar films. It was a wonder many people caught on to her fourth nomination in "Thirteen" at all.

7. Dianne Keaton (Marvin's Room, Annie Hall, Reds, Something's Gotta Give)-She already got her nod for showing that old people can be attractive, sexy, and appealling in movies. She can't play that card again.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Season Premiere Catch-Up: Random Thoughts on Glee's "Purple Piano Project"

Some random thoughts on Glee after waching the season opener:
-I did not expect Schuster or anyone in the New Directions to confront Santana's dual alleigance because it's already the white elephant in the room. In other words, it was already implausible that Santana would still be in the Glee club after sabatoging them at regionals the first season. Sue's 3-year long vendetta against the Glee club isn't really plausible either, so at this point, it probably would have been better to run with it rather than call attention to it.

-I thought the only real good part of the episode was the change to Quinn. Very interesting and intriguing things going on with her, although who knew such wierdos existed at that school. Weren't Tina and Mercedes the absolute biggest outliars in the school season 1? And if the "skanks" existed in the Glee Universe that early, they were the same kinds of people Tina and Mercedes (and Zicsees) would have befriended. Plus they looked like Zizes and Mercedes.

-Sam (Chord Overstreet) really balanced out the cast as the most normal kid. I hope that's not the last we see of him.

-I think the main problem is the reset button is going on too much, which is somewhat similar to complaints I've heard before. There's only so many times the resolve of the Glee club and Will's patience against Sue can be put to the test and have the drama hold up.

-Blaine transferring is really troubling to me. Does he even have parents? No person, gay or straight, would or should ever succeed in convincing their parents to let them go through the trouble of transferring schools just so they could be wth their significant other, given how volatile high school romances are. Or ESPECIALLY NOT to be in a different glee club, there are 7 periods a day of actual school, that parents would also base that decision on.

-As for the girl who wasn't good enough to sing, isn't there an entire music department with a choir class at the school to accomodate her? Just like any other school? I also don't think it's as morally interesting of a case as Mr. Schuster makes it out to be: If you have auditions and you're not cutting people, than what's the point of the auditions? That's what they call sign-ups and that means anyone can join. To have a program where anyone who meets a certain bar is admitted is already a pretty generous policy, anyways.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Premiere Week: Sunny's first two episodes

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's opening two episodes both highlighted different ways the show can succeed.

The opening episode took a familiar plot (the "Pretty Woman" prototype) and gave it the Sunny treatment.
In the Sunny version, Frank wants to propose to his whore and the guys think she'd bring down the standards of the gang (not particularly easy to do, mind you). In classic Sunny style, there's no real charitable purpose other than the image problem.

Rather than try to make the whore into a lady, Dennis gets distracted by Mac's weight and Dee decides midway through that perhaps the life of a whore has its upsides.

I've praised the show in the past for being written so well that each scene could stand alone as a textbook great scene. One of the B-plots, involving Charlie trying an elaborate scheme to get Frank a better woman, didn't get enough time to get off the ground, but we got one knockout scene out of it that made my whole night. Similarly, the other B-plot (or maybe we'll call it a C-plot) had little to offer other than that one hysterical scene at the doctor's office. While the show does great comedy set pieces, the fact that both B-plots were essentially excuses to lead into one awesome scene shortcutted any sense of narrative.

As for the second episode, the Jersey Shore narrative had all the makings of a winner. Unlike the first episode, this one had a sense of hope to it. The first episode was about depraved characters seeking to bring someone into their depraved world (under the pretense of improving her) while this episode began with two characters attempting to recapture their childhood nostalgia. In both real life and on TV, attempting to go back to some earlier time in your life is usually a bittersweet experience that hits some somber tones when it's more bitter than sweet.

The twist here is that while some characters do indeed have a magical time in Jersey Shore, it turns out to be the other three guys. Charlie bumps into the waitress and she's actually nice to him for once. He has the night of his life with her. Wery wisely, the reset button is pressed on that subplot. Sunny's strength is that the characters are too far entrenched into their own purgatory for happy endings to occur. Mac and Frank have a great time with a rum ham and a ship of guidos. I can't imagine any other series on TV being able to work a rum ham so well into an episode: the ram ham is the comedic version of a Hitchcockian McGuffin.

Dennis and Dee make some new friends only to find out that they're pretty decrepit and this evening soon morphs into what seems to be the most terrifying night of their lives. There's a slight problem here: Because Dennis and Dee usually associate with people at the bottom of the barrel, this experience doesn't seem too atypical. Fortunately, the night of terror is glossed over in montage and intercut with the great night the other
guys are having.

For such an optimistic outing (consider this the Sunny equivalent of the "Disneyworld" or "Hawaii" episode on most family sitcoms), I was pleased to see it wasn't an episode that ended with a crowning moment of misery for all characters involved. Three of the five characters had the time of their lives, the twist being that it wasn't the characters who you expected.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Catching up on premiere week: The boss situation on "The Office"

Check out my latest article on Helen Hayes

The Office
My main problem with the new season (as gleamed from the first episode) is that James Spader's new boss isn't too different than D'Angelo Vickers or Michael Scott: Uniquely weird and unorthodox. In the first season and a half, Michael Scott being the boss of the branch was an "informed ability" (thanks TV tropes!): The viewer was told that he was worthy of being a boss but there was little evidence of him being a good leader. In fact, the story arcs of many episodes (Diversity Day or
The Fire
) were reliant on a 3rd act that culminated in Michael Scott screwing everything else.

Spader's character, Robert California, is being played this way. His skills are being talked up heavily: He apparently talked the CEO of the company into an early retirement and he talked himself up in his own interview. At the same time, he only seems good in a so-offbeat-it-just-might-work kind of way. His idea of making a list of who's a winner or a loser is something that I would give 90/10 odds on failing horrifically if a boss tried it in the real world. I theorize it's that 10% room for doubt that has historically made the Michael Scott era work: The Office relies heavily on realism and while we thought the shenanigans of Michael Scott were most likely unrealistic, they were very plausible schemes that didn't require that much suspension of disbelief.

Getting back to the problem at hand, my beef with this season is that James Spader is seeming to play out the same way. Why remind the audience that Steve Carrell is gone by putting in someone even remotely comparable to him? Also, if the show's main asset is realism, I think it's kind of stretching it that the employees of Dunder-Mifflin-Sabre have suffered three of the weirdest bosses ever.

The Office had a great tonal change for the better when authority figures like Charles (Idis Ebra) and Jan (before she became a bit nutty in the 4th season) were there to contrast Michael Scott's antics. I understand that if you have a straight-laced boss and no crazy Michael-Scott-like element, you don't have anything remotely resembling what the show was in the first seven seasons.

However, I'd like to suggest that Michael Scott rubbed off on some of the characters: Oscar's a little less uptight, Pam's let loose a little more and has more confidence, Jim embraced wildness and fun (stemming from the "Murder" episode), and Ryan went from being a straight-laced business student to being supremely lazy and having an inflated ego. The new show could've work with a relatively straight-laced boss and the Dunder-Mifflin crew (in the form of Andy or Jim) wanting to preserve the don't-let-work-get-in-the-way-of-goofiness attitude that Michael Scott pioneered in the face of that nemesis.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Looking back on 2010-2011's TV failures and one success

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Last Fall, I eagerly jumped into the new TV offerings and proudly backed a number of losers: No Ordinary Family, Running Wilde, (*# My Dad Says, and Outsourced. All four shows appeared problematic from the outset to most critics and I valiantly defended them based on either potential or the fact that they were already pretty good.

Some of these shows I slowly watched decline in quality and took too long to admit to myself that they were lost causes. No Ordinary Family initially had some flaws (TGIF-levels of family mushiness) and some strengths (great sidekicks, cool special effects) and strengths but the weaknesses got more annoying as it became more apparent that the writers were incapable of fixing it.

Outsourced faltered in the last couple of episodes but was a good run. I still think the critics, the audience, and other assorted pop culture pundits didn't give it a chance. #$)* My Dad Says never had a lot to offer and I never expected much from it beyond some pleasant one-liners, so I was never disappointed.

Running Wilde, on the other hand, was somewhere in the middle. I never found it unenjoyable to watch but if you put a gun to my head, I might be forced to admit against it's detractors that it ran into a bit of a holding pattern with its characters. Defending the show was made a harder task by the fact that even Mitch Hurwitz wasn't even on my side: He later admitted that the network stifled his vision.

I still never have found any middle ground, however, with the TV show "Mister Sunshine." This show has not generated an ounce of enthusiasm in pop culture from anyone: The critics and blogosphere basically shrugged it off as mediocre and, unlike some shows, no one has even suggested in response that it's worthy of some kind of "brilliant but cancelled" status.

The show stars Matthew Perry as a caustic GM of a sports arena in San Diego with Allison Janey as his zany boss (and she achieved a pretty unique tone of zaniness, I might add). Perry's mild brand of droll pessimism is countered by the annoyingly optimistic James Lesure. He also has a friend-with-benefit-turned-ex played by Andreas Anders, and another cloud cuckoo lander in the form of his boss' estranged son played by Nate Torrence.

Looking at potential reasons why this show didn't take off, one explanation might be that two other recent series-"Better off Ted" and "Archer"-took workplace craziness to further extremes and with more effectiveness.

I'd argue that while "Mr. Sunshine" isn't' the sharpest satire of the bunch, it has some very strong characters. A number of the side characters-the creepy yet sexy assistant played by Portia Doubleday, Torrence, Janey-were all big scene stealers and they were usually stealing scenes from someone you liked watching.

It's true that the characters all seem borrowed from other places:
Perry's character wasn't that far off from Studio 60, Janey's characters are usually nutty, and both Liesure and Andreas Anders were playing those same kinds of characters on other shows as well.

Still, this was a show that was one of the ones I most looked forward to watching week after week.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Belated Bridesmaids review

Hey blog readers, I'll be recapping some of my favorite films I watched this summer in the next few days. Pick them up on DVD

Bridesmaids
Credits (w/the added convenience of omitting people who you've never heard of*):
Produced by Judd Apatow and a couple other people
Directed by someone who isn't Judd Apatow but probably was mentored by him (Paul something)
Written by Kristen Wiig and someone else
Starring Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Bryne, Ellie Kemper, some Irish dude, Jon Hamm, Jill Clayburgh

*Plus the added convenience for me of not having to open up a new window on IMDB

The age old question "Can women be as funny as men?" might have possibly been put to rest with Tina Fey conquering every dominion of mandom in recent years (Saturday Night Live, movies, TV, memoirs, etc.). Bridesmaid, however, takes the question to a new extreme: "Can women be funny when transplanted into the raunchy sex-obsessed stylings of a Judd Apatow movie?"

The curiosity of whether Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph could pull it off was what drove me to the film, but I was not expecting such a poignant and satisfying film.

Wiig, who overlapped with Fey for half a season on SNL, is the 2nd successor of Tina Fey (Amy Poehler being Fey 2.0) as the emerging funnywoman who we'll learn overtime is unstoppable. Just as Poehler showed that she can create a lasting comic character with pathos in Parks and Recreation, I think "Bridesmaids" was Wiig's moment of arrival on that echelon. If I may slip in the fanciest word I know here, Wiig brings pathos to the role: She draws you into an emotional investment.

The key thing is that she can get dirty and gritty. It's never believable that someone as chipper and cheery as Meg Ryan or Drew Barrymore would ever have lows en route to love that a romantic comedy requires. "Bridesmaids" is primarily a story about a woman hitting rock bottom and finding her way out of it making the personal stories that much richer.

People are quick to label Melissa McCarthy the break-out star but I actually thought Rose Bryne's prissy rich girl added the most to the plot. She's the perfectly sensible and nice girl who girls love to hate for no reason at all other than petty jealousy. I personally felt more of an emotional investment in Kristen Wiig and Rose Bryne working out their class differences than the buddy comedy or the romantic subplots.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Palm Beach Story

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The Palm Beach Story is one of the first classic films I saw that I wasn't so crazy about. I decided to give the film another chance today:



The gist of the film:

The film stars Claudette Colbert as Geraldine and Joel McCrea as husband Tom. Tom is struggling financially as an inventor. Thinking outside of the box, Geraldine decides that since she's a poor housewife anyways, the best way she can help her husband is to divorce him, date wealthy men, and get them to invest in his dream project. Like most of the audience, he thinks this is ridiculous, but she still runs away from him without any money. Being a good looking woman in despair, she seems to make her way. First, the members of the "ale and quail" club agree to sponsor her train ride out of a sense of camaraderie and charity.

"Ale and quail," as you can guess, means they're a group of guys who enjoy getting drunk and firing guns and aren't self-controlled enough to wait until they reach their destination. Segue to the funniest scene in the movie (although, it's somewhat of a weakness that it comes in the middle and has little to do with the actual plot).

Scared to death, Geraldine escapes to another part of the train where a man (Rudy Vallee) lets her sleep in the upper birth which sets up the second act. It turns out that he's super-wealthy, the perfect gentleman and highly single. In the meantime, the husband is given funding by a character known as the weenie king (he is one of the highlights of the movie) to track her down, and they all get embroiled in a love triangle further complicated by the arrival of the millionaire's aggressively single sister (Mary Astor).

Let's get the feminist commentary out of the way:
In any universe other than a screwball comedy from Hollywood's Golden Age, Geraldine would either be a dishonest whore who robs rich men of their money for her boyfriend, or simply a dissatisfied wife leaving her husband. Instead, the entire plot rests upon us accepting the premise that this woman is too naive to understand her plan fully. Nearly every advance Geraldine makes is through the efforts of some man who found her attractive.

While this all seems awful on paper, it's through Claudette Colbert's convincing portrayal of an independent and determined woman that this isn't as bad as it sounds.
She comes across as Mary Tyler Moore trapped in an era where woman had no rights. It certainly makes for intersting gender commentary.

Suffice it to say, there's a lot to discuss here. This film would give a women's studies major enough material for a semester's worth of term papers.

My take:
I still wouldn't consider this a great, classic film, although the whole look into gender politics was kind of interesting. The film is a bit short and some of the best scenes feel rushed or misplaced. It starts picking up as a great comedy of errors with misplaced identities in the third act but we don't see much of that at all. The moments where things are really firing on all cyllinders take up about 15 minutes of the film. Without saying how it ends, the ending is also kind of lazy and dissatisfying.

Friday, September 09, 2011

My ideal 3 Musketeers Cast

I've been doing some writing on the 3 Musketeers. I've just indulged myself in the book and have been watching several versions of the film as of recently. I'd like to start by discussing my ideal cast:

D'Artagnan: Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights, X-Men Origins: Wolverine)
Reasoning: I don't want too big a name for the part. Chris O'Donnell kind of derailed the 1993 version by being too much the center of attention. He played the Cajun action hero Gambit and showed off his ability to do action in that version

Athos: Benicio del Toro
Reasoning: Del Toro's Hispanic heritage is sort of close to French and he doesn't have too heavy of an accent. Del Toro has a chiseled, scarred face and Athos is the oldest, most battle weary of the Musketeers.

Porthos: Sacha Baron Cohen
Reasoning: I wouldn't call myself a huge Cohen fan, but I think he would definitely sell the movie pretty well by sheer "I wonder how he'd do the part" interest. Porthos is like the Zach Galifanakas of the group, but casting most comic actors would risk dumbing down the material too much and Cohen showed he could do a period piece in "Sweeney Todd" and "Hugo".

Aramis: Ewan MaGregor
Reasoning: Like most other adaptations of the 3 Musketeers getting a bankable All-French cast seems impossible, so there's always the awkwardness of having multi-ethnic casts with few of them being French. Ewan MaGregor's an actor I like a lot, he's bankable, and he has done action before. He also seems to have good on-screen comedy with whoever he's with and that would be important for the Musketeers. Most importantly, he will contrast Del Toro and Cohen well. Lastly, he's a Brit who can actually do accents pretty well (see "I Love You, Phillip Morris") which isn't the case with most Brits (see Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Ian McKellen)

Richelieu: Jesper Christensen
Reasoning: Waltz is a great choice except that he's played the baddie in 5 or 6 films in a row and audiences would read him as such a cliche choice. With a sense of practicality that I probably wouldn't afford big-name stars for every part, I'll go a little cheaper here and select Christensen. Christensen was in the James Bond films and is believed to soon be playing a bigger role. He's also European

Rochefort: Gabriel Garcia Bernal
Because he is such a grand actor, I might elect to expand Rochefort's part. I like this actor a lot, and think he can be kinetic, dynamic, action-oriented and probably can deliver some cutting retorts with style.

Treville: Michael Gambon
Reasoning: Not all three Musketeers adaptations have elected to use a Treville, but I definitely want one. There's no need for too big of a name and Gambon is in that character actor range. Treville is a mentor figure and not a guy in the battlefield, so he should be kind of old

Duke of Buckingham: Timothy Spall (Harry Potter, Damned United, Sweeney Todd)
Reasoning: I'm basically picking a random British working actor here. Pretty much anyone would do. Just someone who sounds British, is moderately handome and who wouldn't cost a lot. Being in Harry Potter and Sweeney Todd also means he can do period pieces convincingly. Literally, you can pick anyone here. This film went the opposite way bny having the most reecognizable actor in the whole cast in this past.

King: Vincent Cassell (Black Swan, Ocean's 12)
I was juggling between having him as Rochefort or the King. I like Cassell here for a reason that's not entirely obvious: He has kind of an oddly shaped head so I don't think he looks particularly good-lucking in a matinee idol sort of way. The Kings in that time period were the result of in-breeding and suffered genetic deformities
so he shouldn't be the best looking guy in the cast.

Queen: Juliet Binoche
I wanted someone soft-spoken and elegant. She would probably be one of the more expensive parts but perhaps the queen should have presence. It might be best to have the 2 French members of the cast be king and queen.

De Winter: Scarlett Johannsen
She can be really wicked and dark, in my opinion. She's a great actress who's star has faded just a little bit in the past 3 years, in my opinion. The only drawback is like MaGregor she's a biy fair-skinned (but so was Dunaway) and she's also a little young. But she's 8 years older than when I first saw her on screen in Lost in Translation. She's also very sexy.

Constance: Abby Cornish
She definitely succeeded in playing a period character in Elizabeth and the Golden Age. In the film that I saw her in, she had a certain shyness to her and a subtlety. I envision Constance as being submissive like that.