Tag Archives: Mickey Rourke

Frank Sinatra Has A Cold

Forty-five years ago, Gay Talese redefined essay writing.

I came across this yesterday – hadn’t seen it in years – when I was writing about Harlan Ellison. Ellison plays a small role in the story, a then lesser-known writer who just happened to be sharing a poolroom with Frank Sinatra when Frank was in one of those moods. It’s a scene in a film-length story about Talese trying to get access to Sinatra for an article assignment from Esquire. Sinatra declined to be interviewed. So Talese wrote around him.

I don’t know if it lives up to its reputation as one of the greatest article ever written, but it is damned good, with a pulse and cadence that combines humor, pathos and even a bit of suspense here and there.

Read the article here.

On a much smaller level I had to do the same thing once, when assigned to cover The Hives on their first tour. Although a band member did pick up the phone, they were so disinterested in participating, every question was answered with two or three words. No comebacks. No tangents. No plugs for new material. In fact the only time there was any exchange was when I asked them about their fictitious Svengali, who they purported wrote all their material and choreographed their every move. But even after that two sentence retort, there was nothing. So I tossed it and wrote around them, angling the piece as if I were a paparazzi eavesdropping on “a day in the life”.

Another favorite, although there was probably no interview scheduled, was Joe Queenan’s toxic Mickey Rourke For A Day. Now I’m as big a Rourke fan as you’ll find – never abandoning him even through the really bad days – but I could appreciate the observance of a train wreck from Queenan’s perspective.

Talese is correct – our media culture today is a machine that gobbles up rumor and gossip and innuendo and regurgitates it as news and fact, only retracting and apologizing when they need to. Society is fascinated with observances of the rich and famous, especially when they falter. That appetite has always been there, but the line between fact and fiction is now murky. Most blur the line purposefully, because they are sensationalists.

Gay Talese did it artfully, because he has talent.

===

And R.I.P. Jeff Conaway, dead at 60 from pneumonia and bacterial infections after being comatose for over two weeks.  He played Kenickie in Grease but was more famous as the struggling actor and part-time cabbie Bobby Wheeler in Taxi. He left the show after three years – in fairness, they had run out of things to do with his character – and never really landed anything else of significance. That void led to depression and substance abuse, as it does for many who lose the limelight.

I abhor reality shows, and the lowest in the slime pit are celebrity rehab shows; they are sad and parasitical events that prey on desperate subjects for the entertainment of worthless people. Conaway had been a regular face on shows like these. I prefer to remember him from the glory days, when I was watching the man’s craft, not his public evisceration.

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…and now, The Oscars

Finally, the big daddy of the back-patting events is upon us.

Tonight’s Oscar hosts are James Franco and Anne Hathaway, as the industry makes an obvious ploy to skew younger. That sentiment probably won’t carry over into the actual voting, where veteran actors who might have been bypassed earlier in their careers get rewarded at the expense of a newcomer who has his whole career ahead of him. Really…Al Pacino won for Scent Of A Woman? Paul Newman won for The Color Of Money?

And sometimes this screws over a more deserving veteran actor. Yes, I’m talking to you, Henry Fonda! No way Burt Lancaster shouldn’t have won in 1981 for his amazing performance in Atlantic City!)

But I digress. The Oscar host thing has always been a conundrum. Bob Hope owned the role for years, as did Johnny CarsonBilly Crystal did it well and got to keep the job for a while, seemingly alternating every couple of years with Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg. But lately it’s been as volatile and unpredictable as a Charlie Sheen alibi; the only repeat host in the last ten years was Jon Stewart in 2006 and 2008 (Steve Martin hosted in 2003 but co-hosted in 2010). Stewart was excellent, but has the grind of his Daily Show schedule. But Wolverine Hugh Jackman was incredibly game and entertaining and got raves for his stint, yet wasn’t asked to repeat?

Perhaps tonight will be fine; Franco is a likeable guy, and Hathaway proved she is as fearless as she is talented when she joined Jackman onstage a few years ago. But for the self-proclaimed “Hollywood’s Biggest Night“, one would expect a real game-changer at the helm. And as afraid of him as they obviously are, I think any awards show not hiring Ricky Gervais is settling.

Here is the list of nominees.

I’m pretty much sticking with the picks I made right after the nominations came out, although The King’s Speech has picked up incredible momentum since then, along with Geoffrey Rush. But I have a feeling that the Darren Aronofsky magic touch will again become the Darren Aronofsky curse; Mickey Rourke lost to more established Hollywood veteran Sean Penn, and Annette Bening has never won for Best Actress despite four nominations. (No truth to the rumor that Natalie Portman got pregnant to sway the sympathy vote.) I also wouldn’t bet my life on Supporting Actress, as this is a category where teenagers can and do win, especially when they are playing more of a lead role.

My predictions for tonight’s winners:

Best Picture: The Social Network
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Annette Bening, The Kids Are Alright
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, Inception
Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister, Inception
Best Score: Trent Reznor, The Social Network

While you await tonight’s ceremony here are some treats to pass the time:

Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter act out the Best Picture nominees

Ricky Gervais wrote an opening script for Franco and Hathaway

You can bet on anything – even the In Memorium montage.

Racetrack odds on tonight’s favorites to Win…Place and Show mean nothing!

***

Tomorrow: The winners, the losers, the analysis.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Smiles of the Week

Barry Levinson’s great film Diner remains one of my favorite movies, ever. Wonderful cast – Daniel Stern, Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Paul Reiser, Kevin Bacon and many more – and although the coming of age story predates my own, I can identify with the feeling of juggling hope and hopelessness one encounters when transitioning into a more responsible life. Music geeks will identify with Shrieve; his obsessive knowledge of the tiniest fragment of information on a record, his frustration when his wife can’t follow his complicated system and misfiles his albums after playing them.

Bacon plays an irreverent, drunken guy who just doesn’t take anything seriously; he’s in it for the laughs. When something great happens, he often declares that it’s the “smile of the week“.

I’ll take a slight liberty with his phrase for my TGIF theme this week and list ten things that brought a smile to my face during a week when I really needed it. So enjoy these Ten Smiles Of The Week

(01) Australian comic genius Jim Jefferies

(02) Gov’t Mule playing Neil Young‘s Rockin’ In The Free World

(03) What Tina Fey really said during the Mark Twain Award ceremony.

(04) Rich Vos killing at the Jim Florentine Roast

(05) The Futon Critic‘s list of remaining TV episodes.

Great album!

(06) Brendan Benson and The Posies playing “September Gurls

(07) Newly revised NFL logos (don’t miss page 2 as well)

(08) How to make millions…by farming!

(09) Titus Welliver, who makes any show better just by being in it.

(10) Daniel Stern and Ellen Barkin in that scene from Diner.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Oscar Predictions

Picking the Oscar winners…not whom I want to win, but whom I think will win, along with the reasoning for my selection. Enjoy the show Sunday night, and I’ll have the results and the feedback on Monday.

And don’t forget to tune into the 25th Annual Independent Spirit Awards tonight at 11pm Eastern Time on IFC; – certainly a looser, more fun-filled event with many quotable moments from actors who have been hitting the sauce under a beach tent all day (yes,  I mean you, Mickey Rourke! ) Eddie Izzard should prove to be a great host (although Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin should also make the Oscars worth watching!)

So let me get these out of the way with a weekend to spare; here are my Internet dollars placed down on ten important categories

01. Performance by an actor in a leading role

  • Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart” (Fox Searchlight) Hollywood loves to reward those who have done a good body of work but not gotten the glory; there’s also no lead male performance in this group that will become iconic.
  • George Clooney in “Up in the Air” (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios)
  • Colin Firth in “A Single Man” (The Weinstein Company)
  • Morgan Freeman in “Invictus” (Warner Bros.)
  • Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker” (Summit Entertainment)

 

02. Performance by an actor in a supporting role

  • Matt Damon in “Invictus” (Warner Bros.)
  • Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger” (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
  • Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station” (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones” (DreamWorks in association with Film4, Distributed by Paramount)
  • Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds” (The Weinstein Company) Any other year Tucci would win this – or even Christian McKay, who got snubbed here – but Waltz is the latest to seize a Tarantino character and ride it like an express train.

 

03. Performance by an actress in a leading role

  • Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side” (Warner Bros.) Bullock in a squeaker getting the Sally Field treatment, although I wouldn’t be shocked if Streep’s note-perfect Child or Sidibe’s raw debut won, either. But the coin goes here.
  • Helen Mirren in “The Last Station” (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Carey Mulligan in “An Education” (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (Lionsgate)
  • Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia” (Sony Pictures Releasing)

 

04. Performance by an actress in a supporting role

  • Penélope Cruz in “Nine” (The Weinstein Company)
  • Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air” (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios)
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart” (Fox Searchlight)
  • Anna Kendrick in “Up in the Air” (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios)
  • Mo’Nique in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (Lionsgate) This performance is just so powerful it has to win; people actually hated her leaving the theatre. Remember Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched?

 

05. Adapted screenplay

  • “District 9” (Sony Pictures Releasing) Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
  • “An Education” (Sony Pictures Classics) Screenplay by Nick Hornby
  • “In the Loop” (IFC Films) Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
  • “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (Lionsgate) Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher
  • Up in the Air” (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios) Consolation prize; when your three main actors are nominated the writing must have been good, yes? Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

 

06. Original screenplay

  • “The Hurt Locker” (Summit Entertainment) Written by Mark Boal
  • Inglourious Basterds” (The Weinstein Company) Written by Quentin Tarantino

    Another “we can’t give you Best Picture” consolation prize; the man does write great dialogue and his movies are never boring.

  • “The Messenger” (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman
  • “A Serious Man” (Focus Features) Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
  • “Up” (Walt Disney) Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter
    Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy

 

07. Best animated feature film of the year

  • “Coraline” (Focus Features) Henry Selick
  • “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (20th Century Fox) Wes Anderson
    “The Princess and the Frog” (Walt Disney) John Musker and Ron Clements
  • “The Secret of Kells” (GKIDS) Tomm Moore
  • Up” (Walt Disney) Pete Docter

    The opening sequence to this film nailed the win.

 

08. Best documentary feature

  • “Burma VJ” (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
    A Magic Hour Films Production
    Anders Østergaard and Lise Lense-Møller
  • “The Cove” (Roadside Attractions)
    An Oceanic Preservation Society Production
    Nominees to be determined
  • Food, Inc.” (Magnolia Pictures)
    A Robert Kenner Films Production
    Robert Kenner and Elise Pearlstein

    As always with documentaries, a hunch bet. What no Anvil?

  • “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”
    A Kovno Communications Production
    Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith
  • “Which Way Home”
    A Mr. Mudd Production
    Rebecca Cammisa

 

09. Achievement in directing

  • “Avatar” (20th Century Fox) James Cameron
  • The Hurt Locker” (Summit Entertainment) Kathryn Bigelow

    I think when your work is based in the real world you get more credit, and I think people are still remembering how brash Cameron was after Titanic…

  • “Inglourious Basterds” (The Weinstein Company) Quentin Tarantino
  • “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (Lionsgate) Lee Daniels
  • “Up in the Air” (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios) Jason Reitman

 

10. Best motion picture of the year

  • Avatar” (20th Century Fox) A Lightstorm Entertainment Production James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers

    …but I don’t think Hollywood can overlook a film that outgrosses Titanic. It’s not the best movie of the year – it’s a pretty cliché story – but it was a global juggernaut.

  • “The Blind Side” (Warner Bros.)
    An Alcon Entertainment Production
    Nominees to be determined
  • “District 9” (Sony Pictures Releasing)
    A Block/Hanson Production
    Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers
  • “An Education” (Sony Pictures Classics)
    A Finola Dwyer/Wildgaze Films Production
    Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
  • The Hurt Locker” (Summit Entertainment)
    A Voltage Pictures Production
    Nominees to be determined
  • “Inglourious Basterds” (The Weinstein Company)
    A Weinstein Company/Universal Pictures/A Band Apart/Zehnte Babelsberg Production
    Lawrence Bender, Producer
  • “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (Lionsgate)
    A Lee Daniels Entertainment/Smokewood Entertainment Production
    Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers
  • “A Serious Man” (Focus Features)
    A Working Title Films Production
    Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers
  • “Up” (Walt Disney)
    A Pixar Production
    Jonas Rivera, Producer
  • “Up in the Air” (Paramount in association with Cold Spring Pictures and DW Studios)
    A Montecito Picture Company Production
    Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producers

Check in Monday for my recap of Award Weekend.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Wishes for 2010 Comebacks

 

Happy New Year! Many of us look upon January 1st as a fresh start, a chance to wipe the slate clean and start a new plan. For others, it’s an opportunity and a challenge to make a mark in life, to have a sense of purpose and accomplish a goal. And for pop culture freaks, it’s a chance to wonder what the year ahead has in store, as every year brings us some wonderful surprises, whether a great album or a new TV show. Who will occupy our thoughts in 2010? Certainly there will be some new breakout artists, but as always, some blasts from the past will knock us for a loop as well. 

All too often we take our cultural heroes for granted, expecting them to continually churn out yet another book or album or screenplay at the same pinnacle of quality. If they hibernate or quit, we pine that they walked away too early. Yet if they start to slip, we pounce upon them for overstaying their welcome and selling out. But our culture seems preoccupied with success and redemption, so we seem to be especially cognizant of those who recapture some past glory, especially if the road since then was paved with difficulty. 

I used to be among the camp that wanted to leave well enough alone – don’t tarnish a reputation with a comeback, but walk off on top and disappear into legend. With very few exceptions, no one does that voluntarily; it’s usually an untimely death that cements a legend. James Dean might have made as many horrible film choices as Robert DeNiro had he lived into his sixties. Had Elvis died while in the service, he’d still be larger than life, only not literally. But instead we usually witness a fall from grace – Willie Mays playing center for the Mets, Dick Clark still counting down New Year’s Eve. 

But after seeing Mott The Hoople reform in 2009, after watching Jim McCarty and Johnny Badanjek rocking like they were teenagers again, after having Dana Gould and Steven Wright release hilarious new albums years after I thought they were done with it all, I’ve jumped ship. Life is short – give me all I can handle. Not everyone will succeed, but I can swallow the moments of ineptitude for a calculated risk that there will be moments of pure magic that otherwise never would have happened. 

So with that caveat in mind, here are ten reunions, revivals and/or comebacks I’d like to see this year…a few of which might actually happen! 

Risk and Reward

The Faces – A test run happened late this year where Ian McLagan, Ronnie Wood and Kenney Jones finally gave up on Rod Stewart‘s false promises and played a gig without him. If only they would have done this while Ronnie Lane was still alive, but throw in Glen Matlock on bass and someone like Sulo of The Diamond Dogs on vocals and this could be magic. 

Arrested Development – Maybe line-for-line the funniest television comedy ever, and it’s a crime that something that great couldn’t find a strong audience let alone a network exec with a spine who would have kept it on the air for the sake of art. (Yeah, right) Rumors about a movie continue to swirl – please get it done before it’s too late! 

RockpileBilly Bremner is playing music in Europe, Nick Lowe is still great but sedate, and…well, where the hell is Dave Edmunds, anyway? Technically they only made one album although all those Lowe and Edmunds records were really Rockpile albums in disguise. Seconds of Pleasure turns thirty this year – how about a sequel? 

Eric RobertsMickey Rourke was right – if someone would just give Eric Roberts a chance, I think he’d knock the ball out of the park. After all these years tolerating his sister’s horrible movies, I think Hollywood owes me a film where Roberts has a great role to sink his teeth into. Tarantino, you listening? 

The Kinks – Come on, guys, even The Zombies have managed to get back together. Dave is recovering but back out on the stage, and Ray’s work over the past couple of years has been among his best. There’s an entire generation who hasn’t seen the band live on stage. Please guys…one for the road

Mel Brooks – I know he’s having great success reviving old hits on Broadway, and I know he’s in his eighties. But he’s still one of the quickest, sharpest wits around and perhaps five years after losing the great Anne Bancroft he will dig deep for one more devastating comedy film. 

The J. Geils Band – Peter Wolf still has the chops, and lord knows we need a band that doesn’t take itself so seriously. A kickass band with a guy who knew what being a front man was all about, their party atmosphere the antithesis to indie shoegazing. 

David Simon – The man gave us two of the finest television shows in history – Homicide and The Wire. Both scripted dramas were far more real than any of that reality TV crap that we drown in today. Save us, David. 

Tonio K. – I think I wish this every year. Not sure if he’s flying well under my radar or just involved in other projects (like assembling a blues compilation) but it’s been over a decade since Gadfly Records released his reissues and almost twenty since an album of new material. America needs all the cynics it can get.

Robert KleinGeorge Carlin might have been the one to make the most of the opportunity, but it was Robert Klein who helped put HBO on the map with his comedy specials. Whip-smart and multi-talented, I can’t believe that the events of the past several years haven’t inspired him to create a new hour of material. We need you, sir. 

"You start something this time, we all get a half-life, go figure it out on your own..."

Cover Me

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Emmy (See if I got this straight…)

Doogie nailed it.

Doogie nailed it.

Here’s the list of nominees and winners. I was a miserable 6 of 18 on my predictions, but there were a few upsets. So, attention DVR People – my comments below include spoilers! Now I’ll wait a minute while those people leave the room and seat-fillers take their place…  

Gone? Okay…cue my theme music!

Let’s hear it for the boy! Doogie was great – killing it with an opening number that was acerbic and funny (and props to him for immediately crediting the writers – Scott Wittman and Mark Shaiman from Hairspray) and keeping things moving pretty briskly. Made some great quips and dished out some kudos where and when appropriate without being fawning. Great running gag (with Jon Cryer, among others) after not winning for Supporting Actor, which several critics apparently took seriously. The retort to Academy President John Schaffner in the audience after the latter gave him an Emmy pin (“Yeah, that helps.”) was hilarious. Only the extended “best seat in the house” gag got tired. But really, how can you possibly dislike the guy? He must have a Q rating off the charts. (And if you thought that bit where he breathlessly rattled off the list of networks was great, watch this !)

And speaking of the Harlem Globetrotters – the only time that tired gag was really funny – it was good to see the Washington Generals of the Apple ads get his night. While Justin Long had to sit complacently next to Drew Barrymore, his partner in those hilarious commercials, John Hodgman,  got to zing one-liners from the booth. Between serious voice-overs (“This is her first win and her second nomination“) he peppered the audio with absurdly funny comments (“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart is celebrating its 76th year on the air. It began on Comedy Central Radio as Stewart-Brand Chicken-Fat All-Star Baked Beans Half Hour. This is their 900th Emmy, and frankly, that’s too much“). Likewise, Harris often introduced nominees by “obscure” credits from their resumes.

The tables have turned.

The tables have turned.

Splitting the show into segments. Very good idea, albeit risky. Of course, they always have to start out strong to keep the audience from flipping, so Comedy was the appropriate leadoff hitter. Exhausting that category so soon risked weakening the overall show but they pulled it off. Better yet, getting to fast-forward through the Reality segment kept the projectiles off my screen and the vomit off my floor. After last year’s program, where TV almost killed its own Golden Goose by kissing the ass of the most unreal programming on television, can you blame me for avoiding that train wreck of a category? (And please explain how American Idol was included within the “Reality” part of the program, but then the director won in the “Variety” category?)

Three cheers also for the set. The theatre is amazing, and the versatile set was configured to expose the composition of the evening like peeling the skin off the skeleton. The band out of the pit, the production booth in view upstage, the host actually able to host from a designated location. Aside from one obvious technical glitch – which Ricky Gervais turned into gold, of course – the show ran very smoothly.

The mood of the show was also interesting. Fairly egoless – our host was a big part of that. Almost everyone got through their lines and cues without issue, and for the most part the presenters and recipients avoided the usual politicking (Washington and Hollywood) that the Oscars seem to bring in droves. There weren’t enough performance clips for my taste – sometimes none at all – and the gimmick about asking some of the non-performer nominees mostly fell flat because some took it seriously while others didn’t (the clip of the night was from Conan O’Brien’s show, where he predicts “YouTube, Twitter and Facebook will merge to form one super time-wasting Web site called YouTwitFace.”)

And thanks to the network for not picking up that ridiculous gimmick that Fox dropped on us recently where the lower third of the screen is filled with scrolling tweets. Die in Hell for that one, television. Isn’t it enough that you pander to wannabe celebretards by cramming as many of these unreal crapfests onto the air in place of creative and scripted programs? Now you have to let couch potatoes try to tweet their way onto the screen so they can – I dunno – tweet their friends that their tweet was broadcast? (That’s like a snake eating its tail, right?) Then you’ll complain that no one could follow the plot of your show.

Neil Patrick Harris Dr Horrible

Best surprise – an appearance by Dr. Horrible, which was perhaps not as funny for people who have not seen the hilarious webisodes starring Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day.  Of course, the irony that the program was created on the Internet during the writer’s strike and aired without any network or commercial involvement was probably also too subtle as well. But why fret about those who can’t appreciate it, knowing the zeitgeist of 2009 somehow justifies Leighton Meester and Brooke Lively walking on the same stage as Glenn Close and Bob Newhart? (And folks,  Nathan Fillion rules.)

I always get a little verklempt during the In Memoriam segment anyway, but really – bringing Sarah McLachlan out to drive a nail through my heart? Was that necessary? If you’ve been to a memorial service in the past decade you know that song is as requisite as Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” at a wedding reception…and I experienced both within twenty-four hours this weekend. (She did nail the performance, though).  Maybe a good career move for her, since the last few times I’ve seen her on television she’s been asking me to save abused pets. But between those ads and that song, she’s unquestionably the reigning Debbie Downer.

Eat, already!

Eat, already!

Kristin Chenoweth squeaked and squirted so much during her crying jag that the high-pitched whine probably killed one of Mickey Rourke’s dogs. I was surprised by her win, but she is talented (Wicked on Broadway? Girl, please!) and now can hopefully afford to buy a sandwich. She was the first person that said “this is really heavy” when holding the Emmy Award that I believed. Really – the girl makes Olive Oyl look fat. Great bit pimping for jobs on Mad Men and 24 now that her show is cancelled.

Ricky Gervais. Pure freakin’ gold. I don’t know if he could keep up that pace for the entire program, but I’d sure like to watch him try. As solid as Neil Patrick Harris was – and he was very good – Gervais has the fastest mind I’ve seen since Robin Williams in his prime. Combine that with a self-deprecating attitude and a bold disregard for convention (I’m willing to go there, and don’t care what you think about it) and you get both humor and unpredictability. He is, as the Brits say, brilliant.

"We fixed the glitch"

"Fixing the glitch"

Comedy WTF Award: Toni Collette. Really? Really?? I’ll bet more people lost betting on Tina Fey than the ones betting on these guys or them or (sniff!) them. I remember hearing about The United States of Tara being scheduled but that’s the last time I heard it mentioned. Tina Fey might be getting so many accolades that there’s a backlash, but she was funnier than ever this year. But she nailed the guest appearance as Sarah Palin and won that Emmy as expected, plus having 30 Rock win was probably more satisfying, since it works because it’s an ensemble piece. (Well, more satisfying to me, anyway.)

Loved Brian’s Emmy vote. “Suit up!”

Perhaps it was because they front loaded the comedy, but after all those overt verbose kudos to Lorne Michaels,I figured he either was quietly diagnosed with inoperable cancer or owns a scrapbook with incriminating photos of everyone he’s ever worked with. (Probably it’s just that he’s a nice guy).

There were some repeat winners I can’t argue with – Jon Stewart, Alec Baldwin – they deserve the accolades. Happy to see Michael J. Fox snag a Guest Actor win for Rescue Me; it reminded me of some shows and people who got overlooked entirely.

Really Mad Men

Really Mad Men

Drama kudos: Bryan Cranston. I figured that Jon Hamm would walk off with it as Mad Men gets a lot of Emmy love, but Cranston is unbelievable in his role and well deserving. Can’t knock the win by Michael Emerson, either – here’s a guy who was so good that a guest spot on Lost was transformed into the central character on the show. But I wish the voters showed the love to Aaron Paul, Cranston’s co-lead on Breaking Bad, who had a (ahem) breakout year.

And speaking of breakouts…WTF was up with that “breakout moment of the year” polling? Those were the three most transcendent moments on television this year? Really? Did they limit the voting to people under the age of twelve? Not only was the gimmick itself distracting and juvenile, but the impact was…well, what’s the opposite of buzzworthy?

Some good presenter moments, too. Jimmy Fallon’s dance injury bit was great. Justin Timberlake after Sarah Silverman’s moustache shot (“That’s what hormones will do“). Ken Howard (The White Shadow!!) hoping his speech “doesn’t get interrupted by a Congressman or a rapper”, then cracking an opportune SAG joke. Amy Poehler and Julia Louis-Dreyfus smilingly confirming the end of broadcast television as a vital medium. Jessica Lange -a cougar even at 60-  saying parts (ahem)  “don’t come around that often for me anymore“. The always randy Dana Delaney  topping that with “I like a man who delivers week after week!” Bryan Cranston saying he’s thankful that Glenn Close is actually a woman. Tina Fey taking a well-deserved shot at NBC by thanking them for keeping 30 Rock on the air “even though its much more expensive than a talk show“.

Who would have thought that after their Super Bowl duet, Justin Timberlake would be so much more popular than Janet Jackson’s breast? I’m still not a fan of his music, but the guy is funny as hell and despite incredible fame seems to be pretty humble about it. If only more famous people took themselves less seriously.

Oh, wait. Then we wouldn’t have Award Shows. Never mind.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Twisted Tales

And we would have gotten away with it too, if you had never seen a Scooby Doo episode before.

"And we would have gotten away with it too, if only you had never seen a Scooby Doo episode before."

One of the biggest problems with film and television is predictability; after watching thousands of hours of sitcoms, dramas and movies I can often see the next plot point coming along like it has beepers and a blinking light. It’s not so much that the plot is redundant – although it often is – but that the brevity of the material (especially commercial television) doesn’t allow for proper story arc and character development.

So often what happens is either the director/writer cheats, or the information is presented in such an obvious manner that you’re almost being told “hey, this is a clue!”. Of course people have the attention span of a gnat these days, so maybe I’m overworking the issue. But here are two key rules you can usually count on:

  1. If an odd fact is introduced – like a character being left-handed or a man just quit smoking – pay attention. It’s probably a critical piece of information and not just padded dialogue.
  2. If within the first five or ten minutes a character looks to have opportunity and motive, that character probably didn’t do it.

Few writers/directors would be crass enough to have the killer or key plot fact come sailing in out of left field at the eleventh hour, that’s just not fair. But a well-played twist requires what I’d call  sleight-of-mind…laying everything out there but being clever enough to not point at it with a floodlight.

An example of a well-presented twist is The Sixth Sense. (SPOILER ALERT…) At the end of the movie, when it was revealed that a key character was dead, I immediately recalled a scene where he was at dinner with his wife, had a conversation and even touched hands. But when I replayed the scene, I noticed that they in fact did not touch – their hands passed within a second of each other – and there was no eye contact. And then there was the revelation about the use of the color red. Then finally, the most obvious clue of all – “I see dead people“. Well played, M. Night Shyamalanit was all right there in front of me and I missed it. Too bad you have been unable to hit the mark since then.

So for this Friday’s exercise, ten recommended movies that I think did the job well. Some will be very familiar, a couple are stone cold classics, but I’ve avoided the real obvious ones like Psycho, Vertigo, Fight Club and The Shawshank Redemption. These aren’t my ten favorite movies, but I’d watch any one of them again in a heartbeat, and if you haven’t seen them I suggest you immediately add the omissions to your shopping list or Netflix queue.

In alphabetical order:

no idiots

Angel Heart:  Probably a little more obvious than most (Robert DeNiro’s character’s name) and a little overwhelming with visual pizazz, but the end(ing) justifies the means. One of Mickey Rourke‘s better performances.

A Beautiful Mind:  Having two dynamic actors like Russell Crowe and the great Ed Harris was huge; they could not have sold this premise with pedestrian performances.

Donnie Darko:  So was it a horror flick, a religious allegory, a knock on conservatism, a time travel epic, a fable or a study of hallucinatory madness? Yes.

The GameDavid Fincher is more famous for the brilliant Fight Club but this tense and clever story keeps you wondering what and who you can believe. Michael Douglas, Sean Penn and a large supporting cast do the script justice.

House of GamesDavid Mamet, a master of words and misdirection, at his peak. Joe Mantegna and Lindsay Crouse deep in the world of con men and grifters where not everything is what it seems to be.

MementoChristopher Nolan directed and wrote the screenplay based on his brother’s short story, and Guy Pearce provides a brazen and brilliant performance alongside Joe Pantoliano. Told backwards, like Nolan’s prior film Following.

Once Upon A Time In America:  Maybe my favorite gangster movie of all time, and considering how perfect a movie Goodfellas is, that’s saying something. Sergio Leone directs a star-studded cast but you have to pay close attention.

Primal Fear:  I’m normally not a Richard Gere fan but he’s great in this one as his arrogance is his downfall. This film launched Edward Norton’s career (an Oscar nod in his first real role) and made me fall in love with Laura Linney.

Session 9:  One of the truly atmospheric horror movies of recent times, far from the gorefests that are passed along as horror movies today. This is creepy and unnerving, and even David Caruso is good in it. Director Brad Anderson now works on Fringe.

The Spanish PrisonerMamet again. Everytime you think you know what’s going on, you really don’t. It’s like watching a magician show you the trick but then repeatedly doing it again. The final scene makes me wonder if Mamet didn’t intend the entire movie as a con, but I change my opinion every viewing.

fingers crossed

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