Tag Archives: Sean Penn

Blast From The Past: I Am Sam

Beatle Weekend, Part One.

Also known as How To Sell A Beatles Tribute Album With A Movie Tie-In. The premise of the relationship between this collection of Beatles covers (more specifically, Lennon-McCartney covers) and the Sean Penn film is Penn’s character’s affinity for Beatles music.

Fine by me. I imagine the reason that not too many of the artists strayed from the formula had more to do with “keeping it real” for the imagination of the Sam character (mentally challenged) than the participant’s unwillingness to experiment with established classics. Regardless, great songs are great songs, and several of the almost spot-on performances (Aimee Mann and Michael Penn on “Two Of Us” and Sheryl Crow’s “Mother Nature’s Son“) are enjoyable versions that could have been bonus tracks on those respective artists’ albums.

Video: “Two of Us“, “Blackbird“, “I’m Looking Through You

Some veer slightly off the path, like The Vines with “I’m Only Sleeping” (great finish), Stereophonics‘ soulful “Don’t Let Me Down” and Howie Day’s desperate reading of “Help“. I would have preferred that The Black Crowes tackle something raucous like “Birthday“, as their restrained performance of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” is missing a spark. The original “Across The Universe” succeeded largely because of the vocal; Rufus Wainwright’s interpretation grows tired very quickly. Paul Westerberg disappoints with a dull “Nowhere Man” but Ben Harper surprised me with his solid take on “Strawberry Fields Forever“.

Oddest moments: Not hearing “The Weight” immediately after “Golden Slumbers” (Ben Folds, natty) and Eddie Vedder making “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” sound like a suicide note. Then again, most things Vedder sings could fit that description.

(This 2002 review originally ran in Yeah Yeah Yeah, Issue #21.)

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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 From Arthur Penn

Arthur Penn died earlier this week. Although he wasn’t a prolific film director, his batting average was incredible, and his films were an accurate reflection of the mores and zeitgeist of their times. His most famous epic, Bonnie and Clyde, was not only a cultural phenomenon in the 70s, but the critical and popular success of its tone and style opened the doors for other landmark films that would revolutionize the film industry.

Penn got his start in television, directing live dramas for shows like Playhouse 90, and was also a very successful Broadway director, winning Tony Awards three times in a four-year span. His work included dynamic shows like Clifford Odetts’ Golden Boy and the original productions of Wait Until Dark and The Miracle Worker.

But although he received three Academy Award nominations for Best Director, he never took home the statuette for his film work. No matter – his impact was huge. Despite a short filmography, he worked with all of the greatest actors of his time – Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty – and was adept at extracting eclectic performances from them. Ironically, he hated method acting, although he worked often with some of its biggest practicioners.

Arthur was often mistakenly identified as the father of the successful Penn brothers – actors Sean and Christopher and musician Michael; their father Leo was also in the industry but no relation.

So in tribute to Arthur , I give you Ten From Arthur Penn. These are his ten best films – also his first ten films – and I suggest those you haven’t seen go on your “must see” list. And if the independent film era of the 60s and 70s  interests you, I highly suggest you grab a copy of the fascinating documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

01. The Left Handed Gun (1958) – Newman as Billy The Kid, an underrated Western with some great performances.

02. The Miracle Worker (1962) – Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in the award-winning smash

03. Mickey One (1965) – An underknown classic with Beatty as a nightclub comic fleeing the mob. Sadly not on DVD yet.

04. The Chase (1966) – An amazing cast in an oddball combination of a Southern melodrama and an action film, scripted by Horton Foote and Lillian Hellman.Trainwreck great.

05. Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – One of the best films ever made, period.

06. Alice’s Restaurant (1969) – Arlo Guthrie’s song took up an album side and Penn made it into a counterculture classic.

07. Little Big Man (1970) – The oddest history lesson ever and a great anti-Western; Forrest Gump stole the concept.

08. Night Moves (1975) – One of the dozens of reasons that Gene Hackman might just be the best of his generation.

09. The Missouri Breaks (1976) – At this point directors let Brando do what he wanted just to get him in the film; he was rarely odder than this one.

10. Four Friends (1981) – Craig Wasson leads a lesser known cast in one of the better films made about growing up in the turbulent 60s. Written by Steve Tesich, who gave us another coming-of-age classic in Breaking Away.

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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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The Times of Harvey Milk

TimesOfHarveyMilk

There was a time where if you missed something the first time around, that was it. Then later, with more channels, the possibility a re-broadcast was likely. Finally, with videotape and later DVD rentals and sales – and the ability to burn and share a televised broadcast – pretty much anything is available legally. (I know that everything is available illegally, but that’s not how we roll here.)

But sometimes titles get discontinued and fall out of circulation. Owners of used copies float out some absurd prices (I know, I know…supply and demand, yada yada) and for the most part the films are hard to find. One such illogical title is The Times of Harvey Milk. Not only is the subject matter fresh because of the recent movie, featuring an award-winning turn by Sean Penn, but the original documentary film won the Academy Award.

I watched the movie again this weekend and was deeply moved, as I was the previous time I saw the film. Milk was far from perfect, and the film does not set him up to be a flawless savior. What does come through is his humanity and concern – while he would have been justified focusing all his energies as a gay activist, he chose to fight for anyone who didn’t have a voice in the system. He was a savvy politician – he knew how to make alignments and get attention – and he was also tireless in his efforts. As my daughter said after we watched it together, “we sure could use someone like that today.”

I am fortunate to have a wondeful library system in my city with a deep list of documentary titles, so while I would prefer to have purchased this and add it my collection, I was able to borrow a copy and enjoy it. Not all of you will be as fortunate.

Thank God for Hulu.

Go ahead and watch. Unlike the premise of the Hulu commercials, the aliens really aren’t going to make soup out of your brains. (The major networks are already doing that with reality television). You probably won’t get all the good bonus features, but the film itself is well worth your ninety minutes.

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Things I Learned From Award Shows, Part Two

More snarky observations from the weekend, as the Hollywood Elite shook the Santa Monica sand out of their shoes (well, those with any Indie cred, anyway!) and headed to Red Carpet Land for the Big Show…

The 81st Annual Academy Awards

I'd like to fawn a friend...

I'd like to fawn a friend...

  • Sorry, Eric Roberts. For one night, at least, Hugh Jackman Is The Man.
  • Nice to have five former Oscar winners help present each acting award. But was that an introduction or a coronation? Did it really take fifteen minutes to fawn over Best Supporting Actress nominees? It looked like they were inducting a new member into The Skull And Bones Society.
  • Millions of dollars to reconfigure the theatre, douse it in brilliant lights and wire it to the heavens with cameras, screens and special effects. And the first time they try to use it, some stagehand forgets to open the curtain. (It’s a union job, smart money says he was probably in an oil drum in the Pacific by midnight)
  • Why did people think that Hugh Jackman – a singing, dancing Broadway veteran – couldn’t sing and dance? Great ten cent sets for the Best Picture tributes, but none funnier than the tribute to The Reader.
  • Anne Hathaway Is The Man.
  • Ben Stiller was only the second best faux Joaquin of the weekend, but still funny.
  • More actor fawning from prior Oscar winners. It’s a good thing that after the huge salary, the legions of fans, the constant media attention and the stroll down the Red Carpet through a crowd of sycophants, these poor people were able to get great seats and have their egos stroked by having lavish compliments spread over them with a trowel.
  • Is there a stupider question in the universe than “Who are you wearing?”
  • Judd Apatow Is The Man. (Or maybe Seth Rogen? No, no…James Franco!)
  • Having the two-time Oscar winning cinematographer tell his collegue to “suck it”.
  • Christopher Walken disappointingly did not do his Christopher Walken impression.
  • No Jack Nicholson. What, was there a Laker game?
  • Queen Latifah has a great voice, and “I’ll Be Seeing You” is a classic song. But when paying tribute to deceased Academy members, silence is golden.
  • Slumdog Avalanche.
  • Robert DeNiro on Penn: “How did Sean Penn get all those jobs playing straight guys” and he “gently reasons with the paparazzi”. Funnier than most of Bob’s last dozen comedies.
  • Good night for Oscar Dads. Heath Ledger’s father gave a heartfelt and passionate speech, and Kate Winslet’s Dad’s whistle was the highlight of her speech.
  • Has Jerry Lewis ever been that humble? Or succinct?
  • Speaking of Kate, I do admire her always solid work, but if I don’t see her at a podium again for a while that will be just fine. (At least she toned down the breathless “I am so shocked” routine). I suppose I have to blame Ricky Gervais for this. Will she be “playing a mental” next time out?
  • I am Woool-verrrr-iiiiiiine!”
  • Tina Fey and Steve Martin: Master class on comic timing.
  • Philip Petit. I bet that humility and a cool magic trick will be remembered more fondly than leaping over the backs of chairs.
  • Bill Maher (following an emotional moment in the show): “Great. Everyone’s crying and now I have to go on!”
  • Sean Penn’s speech.
  • A. R. Rahman running offstage after each win, much to the surprise of the presenters and usherette.
  • In a world where we have so many movie trailers, how did the tribute omit Don LaFontaine?
  • The Jimmy Kimmel promo was brilliant. It’s possible to like Tom Cruise when he’s not being Scientologish.
  • Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

Full list of winners here.

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Who Will Win And Why They Will

The Golden Globes are odd…everyone makes a big deal about them even though it’s a tiny organization of voters generating all the heat, Oscar-buzz and advertising dollars. There are under 100 members, many aren’t even full time writers, and they once gave an award to Pia Zadora the week after her rich husband coincidentally had a segment of the voting board come over for a week long party. They’re suck-ups, cat-fighters, gossip-mongers and probably would trade their credentials for dinner and a ride home from their favorite star. Not that I wouldn’t accept the invite if asked.

So again, I’m not listing my favorites but trying to guess who the HFPA selected and why (the full list of nominees including my predictions are in yesterday’s post). Most of my selections weren’t even nominated, but I’ll save that “overlooked” column until after the Oscars.

 

"Why... so...serious?"

"Why... so...serious?"

Best Motion Picture – Drama
First category should tip you off that paparazzi…err, I mean foreign jornalists tend to fawn over their favorite stars regardless of the projects. I doubt you’ll see Milk excluded from the Oscars in place of two Kate Winslet features. But I think Slumdog will lose by a Button.

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
Normally I would think The Woodman would sway the crowd, but this year I will go out on a limb and predict the HFPA goes Abba crazy.

continue to see how wrong I was here

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