Monday, February 28, 2005

And the Envelope, Please...My Post-Oscars Dish

Wow, it is distinctly weird to finish watching the Oscars and realize there's still 3+ hours left to bedtime...spoken like a true East-to-West Coast transplant, I know.

So - no Picture/Director split after all. Poor Marty. In my heart I think I knew "Million $ Baby" would sweep, but was hoping that sentiment/sympathy would win the day. (Alas, that stubbornness, plus a last-minute impulse switch to Virginia Madsen for Best Supporting Actress, lost me this year's Oscars pool.) As for the rest - no surprises, not a one. The Academy is awfully disappointing that way. The last time I remember being genuinely surprised was when Ian McKellan *didn't* win Best Supporting Actor for "Fellowship of the Ring." Oh well, there's some comfort in predictability - and Jamie Foxx delivered a nice acceptance speech, even if the upshot of it seemed to be "Whup your kids and/or grandkids good - they'll thank you for it some day."

I haven't decided what I think of the show's changed format - it did seem to move along a bit quicker than usual, but I don't like the way it basically created three distinct tiers of awards: the Important awards (presented the traditional way), the Somewhat-Less-Important awards (where all the nominees gathered on stage), and the Nobody-Gives-a-Crap awards (where the award was handed to the winner in the audience). I mean, I suppose that's the harsh reality of these things, but then why give out the third-class awards publicly at all?

Chris Rock was adequate as host - intermittently quite funny - but hardly the loose cannon some were hoping/fearing he'd be, unless you count his hilarious riff on Bush and "Fahrenheit 911"...which to me was just telling it like it is. The bit with the people at the Magic Johnson Theater - a total ripoff of Leno's Jaywalking, incidentally - was a pretty trenchant reminder of the wide variance of moviegoer demographics, especially across race. But I think the funniest part was Rock's little interchange with Sean Penn - who, bless his soul for sticking up for Jude Law and the working actor, but he really has no sense of humor about some things...this of course being the same guy who wrote an angry letter in Rolling Stone re: "Team America," basically telling Trey Parker & Matt Stone to f**k themselves. Sean, honey, no one's disrespecting you, but maybe you'd better work on not letting your hair resemble Lyle Lovett's if you want people to take you as seriously as you'd like.

No dance numbers this year, thank the lord, though we couldn't escape the songs. (They should really eliminate the Original Song category altogether.) A little too much Beyoncé, but she was pretty good (her duet with Josh Groban was much less cringe-inducing than I was expecting), and looked stunning - except in the one number where she had more black eyeliner than a club full of Goths and Johnny Depp in "Pirates of the Caribbean" combined. Fashion-wise generally, I saw lots of simple elegance and nothing hideous on the level of Lara Flynn Boyle/Bjork hideous, though the night had the usual round of questionable fashion choices - like Laura Linney's fairly ugly getup, Samuel Jackson's tracksuit-meets-Star Trek funeral, and Hilary Swank's love-it-or-hate-it dark blue gown. (I didn't hate it, but I did find myself wanting to take half the material from the front and move it to the back.) And what's with the craze for cleavage-holding breastpins?

Classy-as-always solo by Yo Yo Ma made a nice accompaniment to a particularly big-star-studded Dead People Montage. But why no tribute to Arthur Miller? Or did I miss it?

Final random comment, courtesy of someone at the Oscars-watching party I was at: With his lunatic 'fro, Adam Duritz really does look like Sideshow Bob from "The Simpsons."

And that's it from the Best Coast...night, all. Tune in same time next year!

Friday, February 25, 2005

The O.C. Report

So having seen for myself firsthand just how damn much it can rain here in the Southland, I enjoyed tonight's episode - especially the opening scene.

The whole rainy-melancholy-romantic motif reminded me of a poem I had to read in high school French class, which my best girl friend and I used to make fun of as the stupidest poem in the world, at least as translated (poorly) by us:

It cries in my heart,
Like it rains on the town,
What is this languor
That pierces my heart?

etc. Granted, it's by Verlaine, one of the great French Romantic poets, and obviously sounds better in French, but my friend and I found it lackadaisical and very lame. Anyway, lame or no, it fits the mood of this week's "O.C." even better than Boyz II Men - even though the episode ended happily for Seth-Summer fans. I'm happy, too, but...poor Zach, my heart bled for him. If Summer doesn't want him, can I have him?

Liked the Seth/Spiderman/Peter Parker motif, though they overdid it a little - especially at the end! Still, it was sweet. But did they really have to follow it up with Marissa comforting Ryan? I have to admit that in my heart I do want those two to get back together, too - but notwithstanding the previews, I don't think it's going to happen quite so soon. Even if Alex is proving to be the show's most disposable romantic asset...

Speaking of Marissa and Alex, our spoiled princess is obviously not going to take well to the realities of her lover-girl's lifestyle. Bohemians still have to pay the rent - there's a whole opera to that effect. Come on, Mariss, taking out the trash is good for the soul...

So Sandy's ex-flame exits his life as suddenly as she re-entered it. Never did figure out exactly what she doing there to begin with (having missed a couple of key episodes). I've settled on the theory that she tried to assassinate the President. I'm in sympathy.

Gone, too, evidently, is Lindsey, and I for one am not going to miss her mournful mug. Fiery hair aside, she was such a wet blanket she made Ryan - Ryan! - look positively upbeat and chipper.

Loved the scene with Julie and Kirsten raiding Caleb's cigars and Scotch (or whatever it was they were drinking) and dishing on their lives. I like it when those two call détente and booze it up. Makes Julie more human and Kirsten less perfect.

Previews for week after next don't look particularly promising. Having let Sandy flirt with infidelity, are the writers now letting Kirsten have her turn? To get back at him? Can't they think of something more interesting? To quote Julie Cooper (which I never thought I'd do), Sandy and Kirsten are the moral center of the "O.C." universe. So stop trying to trick us into thinking that their marriage will crumble, because we all know that's not going to happen.

Line of the week:
"Dude, I'm a child of southern California. I can't go out in this, I'll melt."
-Seth, to Ryan, on cell phones, separated by a twenty-foot yard

Thursday, February 24, 2005

My Oscars Predictions

Yep, it's that time of year again. This year's race is harder than usual to handicap, but for what they're worth, here are my predictions.

Best Picture
NOMINEES: "The Aviator," "Million Dollar Baby," "Sideways," "Ray," "Finding Neverland"
WINNER: "Million Dollar Baby" - though it's running a very tight race with the more technically dazzling "Aviator," MDB has more heart, which I think the Academy voters will recognize and reward accordingly.

Best Director
NOMINEES: Martin Scorsese ("The Aviator"), Clint Eastwood ("Million Dollar Baby"), Alexander Payne ("Sideways"), Taylor Hackford ("Ray"), Mike Leigh ("Vera Drake")
WINNER: Another close call between Marty and Clint, but I'm still betting on a Pic/Director split, with the previously winless Scorsese taking Director by a hair.

Best Actor
NOMINEES: Jamie Foxx, "Ray"; Clint Eastwood, "Million $ Baby"; Leonardo di Caprio, "The Aviator"; Johnny Depp, "Finding Neverland"; Don Cheadle, "Hotel Rwanda"
WINNER: Foxx, or I'll eat my hat. Not that I have any hats.

Best Actress
NOMINEES: Hilary Swank, "Million Dollar Baby"; Annette Bening, "Being Julia"; Imelda Staunton, "Vera Drake"; Kate Winslet, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"; Catalina Sandeno-Moreno, "Maria Full of Grace"
WINNER: This is the hardest one to call - ask me again at post time. Conventional wisdom appears to be tilting towards a second win for Swank, but I'm not ruling anyone out except Sandeno-Moreno. (Not holding my breath for Winslet, either. As among the other three, though, it's open season.)

Best Supporting Actor
NOMINEES: Morgan Freeman, "Million Dollar Baby"; Clive Owen, "Closer"; Jamie Foxx, "Collateral"; Thomas Haden Church, "Sideways"; Alan Alda, "The Aviator"
WINNER: Freeman. It's time.

Best Supporting Actress
NOMINEES: Cate Blanchett, "The Aviator"; Virginia Madsen, "Sideways"; Laura Linney, "Kinsey"; Natalie Portman, "Closer"; Sophie Okonedo, "Hotel Rwanda"
WINNER: Either Blanchett or Madsen. I'm going with Cate, though I may change my mind.

Best Original Screenplay
NOMINEES: "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"; "The Aviator"; "The Incredibles"; "Hotel Rwanda"; "Vera Drake"
WINNER: Dude, I dunno. All I can say is I *wish* "Eternal Sunshine" would win...

Best Adapted Screenplay
NOMINEES: "Sideways"; "Million Dollar Baby"; "Finding Neverland"; "Before Sunset"; "The Motorcycle Diaries"
WINNER: "Sideways" - I'd bet good money on this one.


Random TV-related observation: "Lost" is a damn good show, and I'm lovin' the fact that it has two major Korean characters...but why is the non-English-speaking half of the couple the one who speaks Korean with an American accent?

Monday, February 21, 2005

"Million Dollar Baby" Packs a Punch


directed by Clint Eastwood
starring Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank, Morgan Freeman

(Note: possible spoilers—though nothing specific.)


Until today, I don’t know if I ever understood what “catharsis” really meant. I think I do now.

“Million Dollar Baby” may not be a tragedy in the classical sense. No doubt Aristotle would have looked down his nose at both its protagonists and its plot. All the same, when I walked out of the theater today, the thought pulsing through my head was: this must be what the ancient Greeks felt, or should have felt, after a real humdinger by Aeschylus or Sophocles. I felt like I’d been knocked out (sorry, pun unavoidable) and hung out to dry. Yet I also felt oddly cleansed. Purged. And elevated—not manipulated.

The intensity of my reaction took me completely by surprise. I went into “Million Dollar Baby” expecting to be distinctly underwhelmed. I knew far too much about the plot: in fact, I knew everything, including the “twist” that critics had been darkly hinting at and pundits huffily outing. I don’t care for boxing, and I frankly prefer gloss to grit in my movies. I wasn’t particularly impressed by Eastwood as a director: I’d seen “Unforgiven,” “Mystic River,” and “Bridges of Madison County,” all of which I thought were solid but overrated. “Baby,” thought I, would surely be no exception. At best, I acknowledged I might be depressed by what I knew was going to be a real downer of an ending.

But as I watched, something about this movie burrowed into my heart and then quietly detonated. I’m still trying to define what exactly that “something” is. A kind of emotional honesty, combined with restraint—a potential tearjerker told so sparely that its climax has twice the impact that a more sentimental approach would have produced. Like Frankie, the Irish boxing trainer he plays, Eastwood brings a terse professional and personal style that’s cross-hatched with utter delicacy—and genuine tenderness. It’s exactly right for a film that focuses on the bond between loner Frankie, estranged from his only daughter, and Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank), the ambitious but untrained female boxer he reluctantly agrees to take on as a pupil. In other hands, the surrogate father-daughter relationship between crusty coot and scrappy student might easily have degenerated into cliché. Here, the bond develops gradually, with few soft words and even fewer hugs. Hence Frankie’s paternal love, as it emerges, feels unforced and hard-earned.

“MDB” has its flaws, of course, but they’re mainly flaws of execution rather than conception. Maggie’s trailer-trash family, for one: every time they appear, they register less as characters than as caricatures. And the film uses too much voice-over—though you can’t really go wrong with voice-over by Morgan Freeman, who narrates the story from a third-person perspective. (That said, half the time I felt like I was watching a sequel to “The Shawshank Redemption”, which is not a bad thing, except that “MDB” is a better film.) Freeman plays Scrap, former boxer and Frankie’s lifelong friend, with his usual grace and humanity. He also gets the best line (and punch) in the movie.

But this is Eastwood and Swank’s movie to win or lose, and they win every round. Swank holds her end up well, and brings a bracing physicality and conviction to her character that few, if any, other actresses could have pulled off. It’s Eastwood’s performance, however, that really anchors the Frankie-Maggie relationship and the film as a whole. Initially shielded in its impassive, oak-like ruggedness, his face creases into more and deeper lines than one would imagine possible, as he reveals a man ultimately confronted with the darkest decision of his life. That Eastwood manages to convey this quandary, and his love, so painfully and at the same time so naturally is the hallmark of a film that manages to transcend the deep pain and deeper grief it evokes—a pain and grief in which, to cop a phrase from Frankie’s beloved Yeats, a terrible beauty is born. “Million Dollar Baby,” without a doubt, is Eastwood’s most personal film. It is also, without a doubt, his best.

RATING: *** 1/2

No "Bride" without "Pride"


directed by Gurinder Chadha
starring Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Naveen Andrews, Anupam Kher, others, including a random appearance by Ashanti

If you’re one of those poor unfortunate souls who simply don’t grasp the logic behind having dramatic characters periodically burst into song or dance, then “Bride and Prejudice” is not for you. Bollywood aficionados and Janeites are also cautioned: the musical numbers here are sporadic and of varying quality, and while there’s plenty of social comedy, the lead romantic couple are no Lizzy and Darcy. The impossibly beautiful Aish Rai, taking on her first crossover role as independent-minded Lalita Bakshi, demonstrates a range of about three facial expressions—all of which appear to be directly borrowed from Alicia Silverstone in “Clueless.” Martin Henderson, for his part, projects vacuity rather than arrogance as the uneasily smitten hotel-heir Will Darcy, whose cardinal sin proves to be not pride but, well, cluelessness.

Nonetheless, what Chadha brings to this uneven mix is the same infectious energy and sharp eye for cultural melange that characterized last year’s “Bend it Like Beckham.” Sure, some of the East-meets-West jokes border on parody rather than satire, and Lalita can sound a bit like someone pontificating in an after-school special on diversity when she’s railing at Darcy’s ugly Americanism. But the relocation of Austen’s world to modern-day Amritsar, India (with a brief stopover in London and my own sweet L.A.) is surprisingly smooth, and the tracking of P&P’s plot frequently very clever. Nitin Ganatra is a hoot as the Mr. Collins stand-in, Mr. Kholi, an insufferable expat and wannabe Hollywood player who’s returned to the motherland to find a nice “traditional” Indian wife. So is Nadira Babbar as the archetypal marriage-obsessed mother, even if her tactless transparency stretches the most willing suspension of disbelief.

For the rest, it’s best to surrender yourself to the delightfully mad, higgledy-piggledy universe of Chadha’s multicultural masala, which includes everything from a gospel choir on a beach to random shots of the Disney concert hall in Los Angeles to “Gilmore Girls” sweetie Alexis Bledel popping up as Darcy’s little sister. What keeps this mess going is the mischievous joy of making it, which permeates the entire movie. If you’re looking for high art, go elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a good time and an affectionate tribute to two totally different (but equally beloved) cultural institutions, look no further. Check your critical convictions at the door, and you’re guaranteed to leave with your spirits lightened and a goofy grin on your face.

RATING: ** 1/2

Friday, February 18, 2005

No, I Have Not Abandoned "The O.C."

I did, however, miss this week's episode - so someone please fill me in on the latest plot developments.

I must admit I haven't been impressed by the last few eps. The "who cares?" factor is looming larger and larger every week. And now even my last bastion of faith - Sandy - has inexplicably (and unconvincingly) lapsed.

I think I'm going to have to switch my TV allegiance over to Tuesday nights on the WB. "Gilmore Girls," which I've never watched regularly before, is a far superior show - can't even compare the two. "One Tree Hill," like "The O.C.," has definitely gone south in its second season - but it still comes out ahead on the "who cares" question.

I realize I've been AWOL on this blog recently - apologies to my faithful readers, esp. those seeking a diversion from billing hours! I'm seeing a couple of movies this weekend, so new reviews should be coming soon.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

A Very Brief Word on Iraq

The vote in Iraq marked a truly historic day - an occasion worth celebrating and an occasion for hope.

It is *not* "validation" or "vindication" of the war.

It could, however, be redemption. Or the beginning of redemption.

Let us hope so - for the sake of all the people who have died in the name of a free and democratic Iraq.