10:32: "Why is it okay when Jamie Oliver does it but not when Michelle Obama does it?" "Because Jamie Olver's not a SOCIALIST!!"
Ar ar ar.
I'm right: Martin's funnier by himself. His intro of Bullock takes me back to my Knob-Creek-fogged viewing of his solo Oscar hosting.
I think Bullock might have borrowed her lipstick from Jesse James first wife.
Avatar. "It's not cinematography. It's animation!" But the cinematographer has a Central European-sounding name.
Richardson was robbed.
Oh Jesus. If there's one thing about the Oscars that didn't need "improving" it's the dead people montage. Just get the list as complete as possible and put the montage together. Don't "enhance" it by having James Taylor come out and coma-tize The Beatles.
They dissed Farrah Fawcett. She was in Logan's Run AND Saturn Three, so the "she was a television person" argument doesn't wash.
Commercials. What's this bullshit with Cindy Crawford doing furniture for Penney's? I thought she had an EXCLUSIVE with RAYMOUR AND FLANIGAN!!!!
No time for Bacall or Corman, but time for this crap dance abomination. I try not to get overly agitated by the unbelievable awfulness of a given awards show...but as Orson Welles once said, "This is a lot of shit, you know that..."
"Which dancer represents the bomb?"
"Can we fast forward this?"
"No, it's going on live, in real time."
"Can we propel ourselves into the future, then?"
Apparently this horrible dance troupe thinks Up is Wall-E.
As promised, live-blogging of the Oscar telecast is beginning from an undisclosed Brooklyn location. Barbara Walters is unspooling some sort of "greatest hits" reel...or was...now she's showing baby pictures of Sandra Bullock...ooh, look at that Blind Side clip of Sandra talking smack to a crack dealer...she ain't a patch on Eastwood in Gran Torino..."I can't believe she's married to that jackass," Mario says when Jesse James comes on. Maybe I should tell him about James' prior wife...
I think I've mentioned at least once on this blog that it was very unlikely that I'd ever do Oscar predictions, or any other such sort of thing, again, unless I got paid for it. This determination had at least a little to do with the fact that, in my clear-eyed estimation, I kind of stink at Oscar predictions. Despite my protestations on this front, my pals at MSN commissioned an Oscar-predictions piece from me anyway, with the main focus being nominees rather than winners. Given my track record, I tried to fill it with as much entertainment value as possible, but in terms of crystal gazing it may not turn out to be a total write-off after all. For instance, Katherine Bigelow's win at the DGA Awards for The Hurt Locker sets the stage for precisely the Best Director/Best Picture split I envision at the Academy bash. I may be onto something in other categories, too. Or I may be on something. The piece is here, and you can comment at MSN or directly below.
Farber: "Good coarse romantic-adventure nonsense, exploiting the expressive dead-pans of Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, a young man and a young woman who would probably enjoy doing in real life what they have to do here for RKO. Vincent Price is superb in his one right role—that of a ham actor thrown suddenly into a situation calling for high melodramatic courage. Russell's petulant, toneless rendition of 'Five Little Miles from San Berdoo' is high art of a sort."
That pretty much nails it, although it says something interesting about what one might call Farber's critical ecumenism that he could deem this both "nonsense" and a "best film" of the year. It is a thoroughly enjoyable picture, and its enjoyable qualities stem in no small part from its being something of a mess—more nonsensical than your average bit of studio nonsense. Blame then-RKO-head Howard Hughes, whose obsession with his discovery Russell compelled him to micro-manage the production, firing original director Farrow and bringing in RIchard Fleischer to preside over a grueling series of re-shoots, during which the principle actors took the liberty of revising their own dialogue.
The plot setup is pure convoluted hokum, involving a Luciano-esque Italian mobster (Raymond Burr) rotting in exile who contrives to re-enter the U.S. by assuming the identity of drifting gambler Milner (Mitchum), who, it's assumed, will take his multi-thousand-dollar bribe and loll around the strange Mexican resort that's their rendezvous point for a year or more. "It's not the place, it's the people," resort owner Jose Morro (a thoroughly robotic Phillip Van Zandt) boasts to Milner after the possible sucker rolls in (Mitchum looks, of course, like they just peeled him out of bed, only moreso than usual). And for the next 40 minutes or so, HKOW is what Quentin Tarantino would call "a great hangout movie." Not much goes on. The sleepily sensuous Russell tries to pin down boyfriend Price, magnificently self-obsessed until the wife Russell's character didn't know he had shows up. Milner tries to figure out where his contact's at, and shows a little Rick Blaine nobility by using his card-sharp chops to benefit a young couple about to fall into ruin at the hands of a predatory gambler played by Jim Backus. After Tim Holt turns up, the plot somehow feels obliged to kick into gear. And then Russell stops by Mitchum's cabin wearing one of those numbers that makes you go "What the?" followed by (if you're me) "homina homina homina..."
And then the picture gets really weird; were I feeling highfalutin I would say it bifurcates. Actually, that's almost entirely accurate. After Mitchum's character is taken hostage by the bad guys, the picture hones in on Price's character, a hack and a ham and a moral coward who, handed a gun by Russell, sees an opportunity to do something real for once. "You go back to Hollywood...while I go on to real-life triumphs...or a glorious death!" he sincerely charges his puling wife and spineless lawyer (or agent, or whatever—it's hard to actually tell).
And off he goes, quoting Shakespeare all the way. Upon being wounded, he notes, "Tis not so deep as a well, nor wide as a church door," the almost-last-lines of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. Even a throwaway line like "I must rid all the sea of pirates" turns out to be from Antony and Cleopatra. The film reaches a near-sublime note of silliness when it throws in what amounts to a silent-movie gag involving a leaky boat commandeered by Price. And all the while, Mitchum's Milner, when he's shown at all, is completely ineffectual, a temporary plaything that Burr's sadistic gangster is eager to be rid of...
It seems a bit unfair, then, that Mitchum's character gets to pull off the film's ultimate bit of derring-do, but them's the rules, I guess. HKOW's often-bizarre variations on convention could only be carried so far.
By the way—two things. Among its other pleasures the movie also features a relatively rare in-the-flesh appearance from voice-over legend Paul Frees; it's always a kick to match that voice to a face. Also, our Mr. Farber was all of five months the senior of "young man" Mitchum at the time he wrote the above-cited piece!
UPDATE: My friend Mr. Joseph Failla has some particularly apposite notes to add:
"Even though Robert Mitchum received top billing, I always considered HIS KIND OF WOMAN, first and foremost, one of Vincent Price's most notable films. He dominates the proceedings so well, you forget the crime thriller you began to watch and become totally caught up with the Price character's newly found heroics. In fact, I'd rate his work here practically on a par with my favorite Price performance as a critically maligned Shakespearian actor in THEATRE OF BLOOD. I've often rejected the notion that Price was a ham; he's done much to prove otherwise. The problem was, he may have been at his best when he was portraying one.
If I remember correctly, very little of the film Farrow shot remains. I believe the opening scene with Burr is his; it seems to be played somewhat straighter than any of the other sequences he appears in. But once the comedy relief begins, we're probably firmly within Fleischer's re-shoots. The bulk of the film even looks different from the opening footage, making clearer how extensive the revisions were. I suppose it shouldn't be any surprise that another troubled Hughes production, MACAO, which also featured Mitchum and Jane Russell, switched directors too. Officially begun by Von Sternberg, it was completed by Nicholas Ray without credit. That alone makes viewing a must.
But I admit, I enjoy the lengths to which HKOW is willing to take its B movie theatrics. While other films would be satisfied with just roughing Mitchum up, this one continues to up the ante, especially during the extended climax on the villain's boat. Heightening the suspense by any means necessary (including that silent movie gag), the movie shows us Mitchum sweating and suffering much longer than we're used to seeing, as he's set upon almost endlessly by murderous thugs and a sinister doctor with a deadly hypodermic needle.
Oh, if you really want a good look at Paul Frees (in color yet), check out JET PILOT again. He's the Russian officer who goes for a very rough ride when he activates his ejector seat from an aircraft while still on the ground."
"Check out Jet Pilot again." Always good advice, sez I.
So, the Oscar nominations were announced some time last week, and I didn't have much to say about them, because I can't be arsed, for reasons that I think can be inferred from what I wrote here. That said, I have to say I'm a bit surprised at how predictable some of the main nominees are, particularly from the vantage point of, say, six months ago. I honestly figured that Happy-Go-Lucky's Sally Hawkins had pretty much nudged Frozen River's Melissa Leo out of Best Actress consideration, indie/arthouse division. And I thought that the Oscar buzz for Richard Jenkins in The Visitor had pretty much faded. I'm glad to see Jenkins get the nod, not so much because I'm crazy about the film itself; just think it's super cool when great character actors get the nod.
The overall consensus—from, I must emphasize, people who get paid to make their analyses—is that the nominations represent a net gain for "excellence." Any cinephile worth his salt knows that that's a crock, that "excellence" in these cases is usually just a synonym for "quality," and that quality is in these cases always putative, and a few more steps and, voila, we're back to what the New Wave firebrands used to call "le cinema du papa" and what I, at Premiere, used to denigrate as "the distinguished film."
How lazy have most Oscar cud-chewers been about this? So lazy that the best perspective on the major categories I've seen comes from a political blog, Lawyers, Guns and Money, whose Scott Lemieux (who's stopped by these parts to comment from time to time, and has very graciously linked from there to here on occasion) takes apart usually astute Times-man David Carr's bromides on "rewarding excellence" with just good plain common sense, asking, "does anybody want to make the case that The Reader is one of the best film of the year?" and other pertinent questions.
I generally refrain from weighing in, whenever possible, on all things Oscar, given that, on a certain level—to put it ala Stephen Malkmus—I don't care, I don't care, I really don't care. I mean, I care when I have to, which generally involves remuneration, but as I'm footing the bill on this bit of internet real estate, no. Thank you. Also, the beat seems to receive substantial attention from many others, including the President of the He-Man-F.W. Murnau-Haters Club, Mr. Tom O'Neil, who this morning spread the glad tidings that Dreamgirls director Bill Condon and his producing partner Laurence Mark would be taking the reins of the long largely-moribund Oscars ceremony for 2009.
I approve for many reasons, not all of them journalistically pure. For one, Condon's a friend of a few of my friends, and at least one of my dearest. For another, the few times I've met him, he struck me as one of the most gracious, engaging, erudite fellows in the American film world or any other. I dig his movies—Gods and Monsters, which could have been a train wreck in less sensitive hands, is as graceful and moving as movies come; Kinsey has real balls, real wit, and real empathy; and Dreamgirls is one of the more ambitious screen musicals of any era—and for my money it hits more than it misses.
But truth to tell, the main reason I revere Bill (if I may call him Bill) is because he's one of the geniuses behind one of the greatest moments in tout le cinema: the party scene in 1981's Strange Behavior, directed by Michael Loughlin. Bill co-wrote the script, associate-produced, and co-starred, and yes, he cherishes the scene as much as I do. (Unless he was just humoring me when I brought it up.) Scored to Lou Christie's immortal "Lightning Strikes," it begins as a standard montage of kids dancing and busting each others chops, and gradually transmogrifies, for no "good" reason at all, into a fully choreographed number. I can't believe it hasn't made it onto YouTube yet, so here are some screen caps from the bit's climax:
If Bill can pull off a single Oscar segment a third as audacious as this one, it'll make the show.
Jeff Wells is reporting on some "scuttlebutt" that Steven Soderbergh's controversial (yet terrific!) Che "may—I say 'may'—be in a favoring position to win the Palme D'Or."
Way to hedge your bets there, my friend. Jeff goes on to surmise that Jury president Sean Penn's "lefty political views" are motivating his push for the movie. Maybe so. Although I must point out that >Che itself is not in any particular way a lefty film. I imagine Penn would have preferred a more overt piece of agitprop to the measured, almost Rossellini-esque vision Soderbergh's put forth. In any case, for a Cannes jury led by Sean Penn to give a Palme d'Or to a movie named Che is just too obvious. Me, I'm sticking with the prediction I made to pals on the first night of the festival—that Ari Folman's animated inquiry into Israeli guilt, Waltz With Bashir, would take the Palme. Not only does it fulfill Penn's obnoxious requirement of being conscious of the world we're living in today, but it examines a phenomenon that most Israel-boosters in the U.S. would baldly deny even conceivably exists. Also, the mere act of a French film festival honoring an Israeli film would be big symbolic/semiotic news to those who pay attention to such things. How could Penn resist? Unless he's so anti-Israel he can't even countenance Folman's vision, which is entirely possible, I guess. But still. That's my prediction, and I'm sticking to it.
"But Glenn," you say,"you're blogging as if Sean Penn is the only member of the Cannes jury. He's just the president of it. Don't you think he's going to be obliged to listen to his fellow jurors?"
In a word, no. You think Natalie Portman's actually going to stand up to Sean Penn? You think Alfonso Cauron and Sergio Castellitto don't have better things to do with their lives than bicker with a steamrolling Yankee asshole? (Castellitto, many of you will be happy to learn, was just cast in a new film by...wait for it...Jacques Rivette, to co-star Jane Birkin.) You think Apitchatpong Weerasethakul is anything but just happy to be there? No. The only jury member I can see giving Penn any significant resistance is feisty Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi, who delivered the lone rejoinder to the president's asinine relevance rules at the opening press conference. And she's likely to be pretty partial to Waltz, for reasons easily inferable.
We'll see in a few hours. For myself, I'm about to get on a plane, bound for home, sweet home. Anybody interested in a friendly wager...?