Tag Archives: Quentin Tarantino

Awards Weekend! First, The Indies…

The Film Independent Spirit Awards will be broadcast this evening. Hosted by Joel McHale, the event is known for being a loose and casual affair; the last two events were held inside a tent on the Santa Monica beach (2009) and in a downtown LA parking lot (2010). Libations flow, no one plays a winner off the stage, and some memorable speeches come tumbling out of the mouths of the presenters and nominees. And as the last awards show prior to tomorrow’s Academy Awards presentations, many will ponder about the momentum that some of these films and actors have built up.

Of course, the Oscar tabulations are already signed, sealed and delivered. But what’s Tinseltown without a little drama?

More and more films blend the line between “indie” and “studio”, a separation that is more about funding than location. Luminaries like Quentin Tarantino and The Coen Brothers have their heart and mind firmly in the independent mode when it comes to the type of material that they choose, but their successes have moved them into a financial category that dwarfs their former associates. I’d rather focus on the fact that films like Black Swan and The Wrestler are finally being appreciated by a wider group of people (Oscars, Globes) rather than pinch pennies and mince words. Despite some thundering clunkers, 2010 had its share of good films.

Here is a list of the nominees. You can watch the broadcast at 10pm ET/PT and guess along with me, but since the ceremony took place earlier today, the list of winners is no doubt all over the web. Don’t Google! Walk away from your computer and enjoy the suspense. If you must sit at your keyboard, avoid the news sites and watch and chat live with IFC host Matt Singer.

I’ll be back later with a review of the show and my comments.

Well, that was pretty boring.

Host Joel McHale did what he could, opening with a sense of irreverence, a wink at some of the nominated films, and a gaggle of cunnilingus jokes, but no one else picked up the ball for the rest of the evening. The filmed bit combining the “reading of the rules” and “the magic of 3D” was amusing, but the only other attempt at humor was presenting In Memorium 2011 a year early. Celebrating the industry deaths that would occur over the next twelve months had great potential, but a technical glitch ruined the pace and sucked the life of it. Still, it’s good to prepare oneself for the loss of Mad Men star Jon Hamm from excessive consumption of clove cigarettes and fake alcohol.

Presenters joked all night about the cold (the tent was on the beach) but people were visibly bundling up, and the slick surface caused many to slip (and one winner to fall not once but twice). And the noise level increased exponentially, no doubt from attendees hitting the bar to pound down more Jameson’s in a show of support for one of the evening’s sponsors.

Another oddity was the announcement of two awards that had been presented prior to the telecast – one for cinematography and the other for screenplay. Really? You couldn’t squeeze two more awards into a two and a half hour program? Overall, no huge surprises. But no memorable speeches and no water cooler moments.

Well, unless you want to count Paul Rudd’s threesome with Rosario Dawson and Eva Mendes

Here is a list of the winners:

Best Feature: “Black Swan”
Best Director: Darren Aronofsky, “Black Swan”
Best Screenplay: Stuart Blumberg, Lisa Cholodenko, “The Kids Are All Right”
Best First Feature: “Get Low”
Best First Screenplay: Lena Dunham, “Tiny Furniture”
John Cassavetes Award: “Daddy Longlegs”
Best Female Lead: Natalie Portman, “Black Swan”
Best Male Lead: James Franco, “127 Hours”
Best Supporting Female: Dale Dickey, “Winter’s Bone”
Best Supporting Male: John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone”
Best Cinematography: Matthew Libatique, “Black Swan”
Best Documentary: “Exit Through the Gift Shop”
Best Foreign Film: “The King’s Speech”

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R.I.P. Peter Yates

Peter Yates helmed three of the most iconic films of my life.

The first, Bullitt, simultaneously instilled Steve McQueen as the epitome of cool and provided what remains one of the best car chases ever filmed. Of course, the film boasted an incredible plot, a first-rate cast (Robert Vaughn, Simon Oakland, Don Gordon, Normal Fell) and even featured a young Robert Duvall as a cabbie. Yates used McQueen’s quiet and internal performance as a guide, and the silences in the film are as critical as the action; it continues to reveal nuances in later viewings. I can still watch the film beginning to end and thoroughly enjoy it even though I’ve seen it more than a dozen times.

The second, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, was a brilliant crime film set in Boston starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle and featuring an excellent ensemble cast including Alex Rocco, Richard Jordan and Steven Keats. (Keats’ character was a gun runner named Jackie Brown; Quentin Tarantino would later pay tribute to this film by using that name.) Mitchum was excellent as the aging and desperate small timer trying to survive, it’s easily one of the best performances of his career. I still believe this underrated film is still one of the best crime thrillers ever made.

Years later, a small coming-of-age film set in Indiana would catch me off-guard. Breaking Away captured struggles that many have transitioning from adolescence to adulthood – the social caste system, the depth of infatuation and romance, the testing of friendships, the loss of innocence and acceptance of responsibility and consequence. Centered on four townies living in Bloomington whose lives are overwhelmed by the presence of Indiana University, the film uses the “Little 500” bike race as the catalyst to mirror the transition in everyone’s lives. Yates was blessed with a supporting a cast of pros (Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley as Dennis Christopher’s parents) and soon-to-be-more-famous actors (Daniel Stern, Dennis Quaid, Jackie Earle Haley). An absolute feel-good movie.

Yates made other films I enjoyed – Suspect, Eyewitness, The Dresser among them – but these three are all time classics.

Yates, a four-time Oscar nominee, was 82.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten for Dennis Hopper

This pretty much sums it up.

Actor, painter, director, producer, humanitarian, counterculture icon, thorn in the side of the predictable…we lost a great one this week when cancer claimed the life of Dennis Hopper. Like Keith Richards, most felt he wouldn’t make it out of the 60s alive, let alone the 70s, but both proved resourceful and resilient and capable of creating great work… albeit not quite as frequently. We were blessed to share this mortal coil with him for so long. 

Still, Hopper had a long and varied career in television and films, and a definitive best-of is impossibly subjective. But since he was such a character in real life, here are ten Dennis Hopper characters I will always remember: 


01) Billy in Easy Rider. The movie that started it all, or at least launched Hopper and Peter Fonda into the heart of the counterculture film movement that would change the face of Hollywood. “What the hell is wrong with freedom? That’s what it’s all about!” 

02) Lyle From Dallas in Red Rock West. It’s really Nicolas Cage’s picture, and one could argue that J.T. Walsh stole the picture (as he often did as  one of the best character actors of all time) in the role Hopper was initially cast in. But Hopper lights up the second half and raises the ante in this great John Dahl film. 

03) The Photojournalist in Apocalypse Now. In a world of madness, both real and scripted, Hopper’s acid casualty character might have been as insane as anyone else…or perhaps totally lucid but incapable of expressing himself. 


04) Clifford Worley in True Romance. A highly enjoyable Quentin Tarantino scripted movie that already spiked the oddball meter by casting Gary Oldman and Val Kilmer, among others. But the scene between Christopher Walken and Hopper is worth the price of admission. 

05) Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. An over-the-top performance that would normally have been too scenery-chewing, but how can you be over the top in a David Lynch film? Oh, a few f-bombs, as well. 

06) Billy Clanton in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Sharing the screen with heavyweights Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in John Sturges‘ classic western. A small role, but Hopper shone as the kid gunfighter way out of his league. 

07) Jordan Benedict III in Giant. One of two pictures he made with James Dean; Giant had him playing against type as the mild-mannered son of macho Rock Hudson (who knew?) alongside Dean and Sal Mineo. An underrated soapy western from George Stevens featuring a tremendous cast. 

08) Victor Drazen on 24. Sure, it was a bit of a hammy accent, but how cool was it to have Hopper show up as the criminal mastermind to close out the first season? 

09) Shooter in Hoosiers. Yes, it was a part written to tug the heartstrings, and many actors would have cheesed it up beyond belief. But maybe seeing a man who had battled so many personal demons in real life made it more powerful. “Now boys…don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry!” 

10) Feck in The River’s Edge. Things don’t get much stranger than when Crispin Glover is onscreen, but add Dennis Hopper and  an inflatable girlfriend, and there you are. (“Look, I’m not psycho. I know she’s a doll. Right, Elly?”) The movie that might have ruined Keanu Reeves forever

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Award Weekend Redux

The Hurt Locker. And James Cameron was shoved into it.

Lame. Tame. And almost predictable

That’s the story of Award Weekend, where despite the stellar comedic talents of Eddie Izzard, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, jokes fell flatter than a pancake. Or in other words, as tired as that analogy. No, this isn’t sour grapes because I only went 6-for-10 on my predictions (more on that later) but it’s a little sad when the biggest event of the film year isn’t…well, big

First, the 82nd Annual Academy Awards 

I watched the show with my daughter; she Tweeted while I scribbled notes on the back of a nominee ballot. From her laughter, it seemed like the jokes on Twitter were funnier than the ones on the telecast. 

At the end of the show I used the power of my mind to read James Cameron‘s thoughts… “I wonder how drunk I can get for two billion dollars?” (Which at least will clear his mind of his prior thought – “Why did I dump Kathryn Bigelow to hook up with Skeletor?“) 

I start to wonder whether the Oscar crew does know who’s going to win when I see them do things like have Barbara Streisand present the Best Director Award; how ironic that she didn’t win for Yentl, yet gets to be part of the breakthrough moment. (How uncomfortable a comment would she have dared utter if Bigelow lost? And if Lee Daniels had won…would Spike Lee be pissed that he was snubbed for that sweet presenter slot?) When Streisand tried to milk the moment by stating “the time has come“, poor Daniels looked like Stephen Boyd during the climactic scene from The Oscar.

Oops...

Mo’Nique gave an awesome performance and deservedly took home the award (why are people still shocked that stand-up comics can be great dramatic actors?) and I appreciate that she wore a blue dress and flower in her hair to match Hattie McDaniel. But when the speeches started flowing about following in Hattie’s footsteps and how after so many years it was time, I so wanted to slip her a note to remind her that Halle Berry already cashed that chip several years ago

How ironic that Chris Pine had to introduce a groundbreaking science fiction film, when Star Trek wasn’t even nominated after the category was expanded to ten movies? 

After watching the music from Crazy Heart win so many awards, I realize just how much better it would if Steven Bruton was still around. 

Did Robert Downey Jr. actually pronounce the word specificity? Proof positive that his rehab problems are behind him. Finally a moment of humor as he and Tina Fey exchanged writer/actor barbs, but he won by calling writers “sickly little mole people” (a line, of course,  that has Tina Fey’s hand print all over it). 

Nice John Hughes tribute until Judd Nelson creeped me out visually with his almost-Downey look. Molly Ringwald would have scared me worse, but she was brought out previously, and slower. 

Not to kick a dog when it’s down, but how does a move that is about eighty percent animated win for Best Cinematography? Just sayin’. 

Ever want to run to see a movie two seconds into the trailer? Must, must, must go see Logorama ASAP. And how funny was Nicolas Schmerkin‘s acceptance speech thanking his “three thousand unofficial sponsors” and saying “no logos were harmed in the making of this film”? Then closes with a knockout punch: “It took, like, six years to make this sixteen minutes, so I hope to come back here with a long feature film, in about…thirty-six years.”  So a Frenchman with a thick accent not only has better comic timing than our hosts – but better writers, too? 

And why was Kanye West dressed up like a fat drunk woman in a bad Snuggie when he interrupted poor Roger Ross Wilson‘s acceptance speech for Best Documentary Short? (Yes, I know it wasn’t Kanye, but to mention the real name of that boorish cow would only extend her Warholian fifteen minutes. I’m hoping that the Japanese fishermen from The Cove watched the exchange, mistook her for a dolphin, and fileted the bitch backstage.) 

Better hosts would have jumped on that horribly rude moment and ridden it like a pony for the rest of the night. Billy Crystal would, and I know that Ricky Gervais would have had a field day. Are you telling me no one in that stable of writers could come up with a smack-down? Maybe they should have been tweeting for help

Ben Stiller needs to be involved in every awards show. And while James Cameron seemed to be grimacing like Stiller somehow didn’t have the Na’Vi language down perfectly, he should at least have appreciated Stiller’s close: “After I announce the winner I will stand as far away as possible so I don’t demean their moment of triumph“. (Seriously – how could Avatar not be nominated for Best Makeup? Hollywood really hates someone.) 

Star Trek won more Oscars than Avatar last night. Ouch

Was it me, or did the ceremony at the Governor’s Ball featuring Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman look like waaaay more fun that the main ceremony? The jokes were funnier and the tributes more sincere. 

Robin Williams, check. Testicle joke, check

Rude moment number two – The Costume Bitch starting off her acceptance speech by saying “I already have two of these” and then somehow getting more derogatory from there. Last. Nomination. Ever. 

My first thought upon seeing Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart come out to introduce the tribute to horror films: “Bite each other and die“. No montage is ever going to be perfect, but there were many startling omissions and a few (Edward Scissorhands??) that were head-shakingly out of place. Not to mention that the promo for Happy Town that aired during the commercial break looked scarier than anything in that clip reel. 

Sound Editing – any time we get to see more of The Dark Knight is OK by me. Tell me again how that movie did not even get nominated for Best Picture

In Memorium: I love James Taylor, but this is a tribute that deserves silence or a best a subtle orchestral score. Especially when you sing lyrics like “some are dead and some are living” as the montage of clips slides by. (What does James know that we don’t?) 

Late in the show I’m wondering whether Alec Baldwin is offstage yelling at his daughter’s voicemail, because it sure seemed like Steve Martin was soloing for almost an hour. 

Unfortunately for the producers, one of the highlights of the evening was shown during the commercial break. 

I finally aligned with the world of Twitter when I let out an audible “WTF?” when Dancing With No Stars came out to misinterpret the Best Score nominees. According to daughter Eli, that was the white-hot Tweet of the moment. (For the record, the biggest score in Oscar history was Adrien Brody bending Halle Berry over for a deep dive smooch at the 2003 ceremony.) 

More proof the writers don’t know a good joke, nor did audience: When El Secreto de sus Ojos won for Best Foreign Film, the producer opened with this gem: “”I want to thank the Academy for not considering Na’Vi a foreign language“. Dead silence. Come on, people! 

I get it, Sean Penn. You’re a rebel. Yawn

Best Actor and Best Actress gimmick: hate, hate, hate the one-on-one tributes to the nominees. Besides the fact that the show is already dreadfully long and the back story for each nominee has been rehashed a thousand times, what does the fact that this actor is a humanitarian or this actress is a good mother have to do with their performance? Or are you finally admitting, Hollywood, that it is about politics and favoritism rather than the best performance of the year? At least it produced a couple of good lines, thanks to Stanley Tucci and Tim Robbins (“It is Ted, isn’t it?“). 

No big shock on the four major acting awards. Jeff Bridges (has it really been almost forty years since his nomination for The Last Picture Show?) proved once again that The Dude abides. Sandra Bullock disappointed me by not getting all Sally Field on us and Christoph Waltz finally made an acceptance speech I could understand (his prior speeches sounded more like ideas for future Quentin Tarantino movies). 

I was surprised that Hollywood was able to ignore a movie that has already grossed two and a half billion dollars (and still selling) in favor of a movie that struggled to get financing, distribution and promotion and tackled a controversial subject. But I couldn’t be happier for director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal

Spirits? Many were served.

The less said about Friday’s 25th Annual Independent Spirit Awards, the better. Maybe it was the decision to move the event from a beach tent to…well, a tent in a parking lot. Maybe the booze started flowing earlier. But when Eddie Izzard bombs so badly that he has to start improvising with props and free-stlying in the audience to wake up the seated corpses, that’s a sad day for what used to be the most lively and raucous awards of them all. 

Then again, Izzard refused to let his “God is Dead” joke die, insisting on reviving it every time he came back on stage if for nothing else than to punish the audience. There were very few funny moments, but thankfully Will Arnett and Ed Helms saved the day when presenting the John Cassavetes Award, as did Ben Stiller’s speech and the clip reel of Roger Ebert viciously panning movies. (I was thrilled to see that Ebert was present for the event, as was the crowd that gave him an extended standing ovation.) 

Sorry, but Laura Dern being one of the original fourteen people present when the Independent Spirit Awards was founded makes me feel really old. If it was Bruce Dern, maybe I’d feel better. 

As for the winners, it was a big night for Precious. I’m sorry…I meant to say Precious Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire©®™ 

(Someone should tell the producers that every movie is based on something, which is why we have Original and Adapted screenplay nominations, but I guess that wasn’t good enough for the author. Or would that have screwed up the tie-in to Oprah’s Book Club?) 

Lynn Shelton wins for Humpday. Yes


And I was thrilled that Anvil won for Best Documentary, and anyone who has seen that movie – a real, live Spinal Tap – had to be moved when stunned band member Steve “Lips” Kudlow came back onstage and hugged the filmmaker, thanking him for changing his life. I still cannot believe that Anvil was not even nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar. 

And now it starts all over again! 

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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 More Anniversaries

 

It’s not that I wanted to repeat last week’s model of ten famous birthdays that fall on the same day, but damned if February 26th wasn’t a key date for a lot of entertainers and artists who made an impact upon me. Just more credence for the MDC Theory (Memorial Day Conceptions) I proposed last Friday. (I determined that my birth was the result of a St. Patrick’s Day party that got a little crazy.) 

And it’s not all birthdays either – February 26th is also the day we lost a couple of favorites, including one of the best and most influential comedians of all time. So here are ten anniversaries, in chronological order; celebrate their contributions today. 

Seven birthdays...

Tex Avery, 1908 – One of the top animators, voice actors and cartoon directors of all time. He could be a legend just for creating Daffy Duck but in fact was involved in hundreds of cartoons and characters for Walter Lantz studios and the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series, whose ribald humor I appreciate more as an adult than I did as a child. 

Jackie Gleason, 1916 – Maybe we just take some people for granted, especially when they make it look effortless. Gleason was a television pioneer; his eponymous variety show and The Honeymooners are seminal influences in the medium (the Honeymooners concept even spawning a more long-running animated version in The Flinstones). But his turns in The Hustler and Requiem For A Heavyweight show that he was no slouch as a dramatic actor either. 

Video: The Great One 

Fats Domino, 1928 – The congenial, portly piano player continues to inspire blues players and rockers alike with his trademark style. “Blueberry Hill”, “Ain’t That A Shame”, “I’m Walkin” – the list is endless. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me until the 80’s to realize that Fats was why Chubby Checker chose his stage name. We almost lost the legend in Hurricane Katrina but he’s 82 today. 

Godfrey Cambridge, 1933 – Cambridge was a very intelligent man; he earned a full scholarship to medical school but dropped out to pursue an entertainment career.  He was a staple on talk shows in the 60’s and 70’s with a smooth and smart style like fellow comic Bill Cosby (but talked about black and white issues with a more sarcastic edge). He died early; sadly his albums are out of print and he is known to many only for his acting in films such as Watermelon Man and Cotton Comes To Harlem

Johnny Cash, 1932 – Nothing much need be said about The Man In Black that you don’t already know, his recorded legacy is essential listening. But you might not have seen that the last album in the American series has just been released entitled Ain’t No Grave

Listen to sample clips from Ain’t No Grave 

Chuck Wepner, 1939 – The Bayonne Bleeder. Watching Muhammad Ali fight in his prime was like watching Mike Tyson; odds were the challenger wasn’t going to last long. Wepner was given no chance by the pundits but took everything Ali threw at him for fifteen rounds, even flattening the champ in the ninth round. This fight inspired Sylvester Stallone to create Rocky

Mitch Ryder, 1945 – I’ve certainly written plenty about my fondness for Mitch Ryder, and although the link shows you just how prolific he continues to be, it’s not the same as hearing the music. The newest album (misnamed on the AMG entry) is Detroit Ain’t Dead Yet, his first American release since 1983, and an autobiography is scheduled for release this Summer. 

...and three fond farewells.

We remember those lost on this day, including… 

Buddy Miles, 2008 – Most famous for his work with Jimi Hendrix in Band of Gypsys and his hit “Them Changes”, Miles was also a player with Wilson Pickett, a member of The Electric Flag, and leader of his own group The Buddy Miles Express, featuring a hot-shot guitarist named Jim McCarty

Video: Buddy Miles 

Lawrence Tierney, 2002 – Quintessential tough guy for whom it was no act; his real-life boozing and brawling cost him an A-list career. Quentin Tarantino, for all his quirks, has a knack for putting an actor past his prime in a plum role and Tierney will forever be remembered for his turn in Reservoir Dogs as the curmudgeonly caper mastermind Joe Cabot

Bill Hicks, 1994 – I’ve expounded upon Bill Hicks at great length; he’s one of the most important comics in the history of the art form. Although his death at 33 meant an abrupt end to his career, he left us an incredible body of work and continues to inspire comedians to hold a mirror up to society and tell the truth

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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..."

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