Saturday, July 29, 2006

Schadenfreude Epidemic Hits Hollywood!!!!

Temperatures are up around the country. The Middle East is being torn apart (moreso than usual). Juventus is being demoted from Serie A. Things are tough all over.

Thankfully, if we can't get pleasures of a more legitimate sort, those of us following the entertainment industry are in the middle of a glorious new age of schadenfreude, enjoying a fruitful myriad of celebrity misfortunes.

Shyamalan's New Movie Tanks: It's hard to imagine a filmmaker frittering away a deeper reservoir of good faith without committing an actual crime. However, in eight years, M. Night Shyamalan has gone from being ruler of the cinematic world on "The Sixth Sense" to being a director whose failure is being generally celebrated. It's one thing to make three straight movies as truly awful and artless as "Signs" ("Swing Away!!!!"), "The Village" ("We've diverted air traffic!!!!") and "Lady in the Water" (NARF!!!!!!), but to become more wrapped up in your own ego with each passing movie? That's impressive. Shyamalan invited all of this ire by inviting journalist Michael Bamberger into his life to write a book about how Disney betrayed him, he found a new home at Warner Bros. and his genius was vindicated. Of course, his genius on this new movie was apparently in casting himself as a messianic author whose misunderstood works would eventually change the world. That's a very particular mixture of insecurity and egotism. The Greeks would probably call it hubris. Realistically, an opening week of $18 million isn't awful for a movie starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti, but get ready for a 60+ % drop in its second weekend. "Lady," as we say, is dead in the "Water."

Lohan's Red Letter Day: Frankly, the media has taken a lot of pleasure in Lindsay Lohan's various catastrophes for several years. I haven't really been interested. Sure, she isn't 21, but if she wants to be out partying and drinking all night and she can still turn in fine work in films like "Herbie: Fully Loaded" and "Just My Luck," well, I'm sure her career is going exactly where she wants it to be going. But if you sign on for an indie movie with respected professionals like Jane Fonda and Felicity Huffman and you can't be bothered to learn a thing or two about work ethic, well, that's a bit of a problem. Hence, the insane pleasure coming the letter written to Lohan by James G. Robinson, CEO of Morgan Creek, which is producing the actress' new film "Georgia Rule." The letter, which takes Lohan to task for unprofessional behavior, is up on and it's just plain fun.

Mel Gibson's Just Plain Nuts. DUH. Drunk driving is never anything to take pleasure in. It's bad, bad, bad. It's even worse when the drunk driver in question, Mr. Mel Gibson, is a role model for many and an admitted recovering alcoholic who seems to have fallen off the wagon. That's just sad. But when the drunk driver in question greets his arrest with an alleged mixture of Anti-Semitism and sexual harassment? Sigh. Maybe Mel Gibson shouldn't have spent so much time before the release of "The Passion of the Christ" insisting on his love for the Jewish people and his complete and total lack of Anti-Semitism. Gibson has put out a statement saying, among other things, "I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable." But there's a limit to the number of times you can say that you've said things you do not believe to be true (or made accusations in movies that you don't believe to be true) before people might suspect that deep in your heart of hearts, you kind of believe them to be true. In Vino Veritas is a phrase being thrown around a lot today. TMZ did much of the story-breaking on this one, but I prefer Nikki Finke's coverage, personally. We all hope you get help, Mr. Gibson. For many things.

Any other examples of celebrity schadenfreude out there making you feel just a bit better about your own hum-drum life?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

MovieWatch: "The Film Is Not Yet Rated"

"This Film Is Not Yet Rated"
Director: Kirby Dick
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 73
In a Nutshell: In grad school, I TAed for a Censorship class and one of our guest lecturers was Joan Graves, head of the MPAA's ratings board. I still remember my amazement at how this woman could rationalize the way her panel of entirely anonymous "parents" without any kind of accountability system managed to possess such a stranglehold on the movie business. I know enough about the history of film censorship and the growth of the MPAA that I wasn't spectacularly shocked by much of the analysis in Kirby Dick's documentary about the ratings board. Yes, the ratings are harsher for sex than for violence. Yes, the ratings are harsher for gay sex than straight sex. Yes, the distinctions between an R and an NC-17 can be nearly laughable. Yes, studios have a great advantage with the ratings board than independents. What's appealing is that the filmmakers featured in the doc -- recognizable figures like John Waters, Kevin Smith and Matt Stone (of "South Park") -- don't talk down to the viewers. This isn't an introduction-to-the-MPAA kind of movie. It's about the nuts and bolts, about the acceptable four-letter words and those that are off limits. The canned stuff is interesting, but sometimes incomplete -- I wouldn't have minded more historical discussion, perhaps charting more and less lenient ratings boards. Where the documentary stands out, though, is when Kirby goes muckraking and attempts to identify the individual raters, formerly anonymous. No fair revealing how many he's able to track down by name and picture, but his quest -- with the help of a pair of lesbian private eyes -- is notable. It would have been nice if Dick had wanted to offer solutions, but he makes a great case that there's a problem.

A full review will be up on Zap2it by Sept. 1.

MovieWatch: "Zoom"

Director: Peter Hewitt
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 38
Does anybody know what the record for most inspirational training montages is for a single film? One of my colleagues at the screening for "Zoom" claims that there were eight or nine, as over-the-hill superhero Tim Allen trains a squad of kiddie heroes with bizarre gifts -- they're telekinetic, extra-strong, capable of invisibility and able to engorge parts of their bodies at random. Best of all, the montages are set to hit songs that are five or six years old, as if the Sony clearances department was too lazy to take a stab at anything resembling a contemporary Billboard hit. How '90s retro is "Zoom"? The film's original songs are from Smash Mouth. Set almost entirely in a contained training facility, "Zoom" should have been really really inexpensive, but I suspect it wasn't. It just looks cut rate. It's all too bad, because Tim Allen is playing a variation on his "Galaxy Quest" character, which is something he does darned well and he has capable assistance from the likes of Rip Torn and -- heaven help us -- Chevy Chase, who takes an awful lot of abuse here for somebody who isn't even visible in the trailers. As for the young characters, I thought "O.C." veteran Michael Cassidy was bland-but-solid and little lisping Ryan Newman is impossibly cute as the superhero known as Princess. I particularly liked Kate Mara -- best known in my family as the semi-celebrity we saw while eating a lovely dinner at Campanile -- who, after appealing small parts in "Brokeback Mountain" and on "24," is probably ready for a breakout role one of these days. This movie -- likely to draw negative comparisons to last summer's "Sky High" -- probably won't be it.

Expect a full review on Zap2it somewhere around Aug. 11.

UPDATE -- 08/04/06: So "Sky High" just arrived via Netflix. I'd missed it last summer when it was in theaters, which was a mistake. Everything that "Zoom" tried to do and fell short at, "Sky High" delivered on with flying colors -- it's a pointed, satirical, colorful, smart, well-cast, well-performed superhero movie about what it's like to grow up different. The second "Sky High" came out, they should have pulled the plug on "Zoom," regardless of where they were in production. In retrospect, I have no idea where that "38" Fien Print Rating came from. It's probably closer to a 25. If that. "Sky High," on the other hand, would get a solid 75 and maybe higher. It deserved to be a bigger hit.

Monday, July 24, 2006

MovieWatch: "Accepted"

Director: Steve Pink
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 60
In a Nutshell: Take a little "Back to School" and add a dash of "How I Got Into College," "Animal House," "Revenge of the Nerds," "Risky Business," "Old School," and "PCU" and you have a concoction that would more than somewhat resemble "Accepted," a warm-hearted up-with-outcasts college comedy that engenders much good will either despite or because of its sloppy look and derivative plot. In addition to those other films I mentioned, "Accepted" also reminded me a lot of "Office Space," in that it's a loosely made film with more cult value than cinematic. Steve Pink, co-writer of "High Fidelity," doesn't seem to have much idea of where to put the camera and the screenplay doesn't care much for logic, but in this story of rejects who form their own fake college, it's the stars who stand out. Justin Long proves he can carry a movie (not necessarily that he can carry "movies," but that he can carry this one) and there are hilarious supporting turns from Jonah Hill and from Maria Thayer, who I've had a crush on since her days as Tammi Littlenut on "Strangers With Candy." Trying to gauge Universal's faith in this movie is difficult. On one hand, the studio held oodles of free screenings during Comic-Con this past weekend and lured thousands of people to a free BBQ and beerfest one evening. On the other hand, within a month of its release, Universal's press site has exactly two images for the movie and captions for both pictures have an incorrect April 21 open date. Obviously, the theory is that if the movie's going to open, it's going to do so via word-of-mouth and not traditional channels. I'm not convinced that it'll work theatrically, but I'll bet "Accepted" eventually finds a big audience on DVD. I'm not sure it's a good movie, but I'm sure it has a goofy charm.

Check Zap2it sometime around Aug. 11 for my full review.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Comic-Con Coverage

I'm down in San Diego now, doing the job of three or four Internet journalists ("Multiplicity" still stinks, but I'm really understanding the desire to clone myself). And I'm tired.

Almost didn't make it down here at all. At 6:45 yesterday morning, driving in the carpool lane on the 405 Freeway, the front, right tire on my car exploded. Thankfully, since it wasn't peak driving time, I navigated across four lanes and made it to the breakdown lane. Torn to shreds, my tire was. Lovely. I called AAA for the third time in just over a week (Good Times!) but the normal freeway repair crew arrived first and pulled off the different tire pieces and changed my tire.

And that's the story of why I'm driving around San Diego on a donut.

The End.

My first day of San Diego Comic-Con coverage is now up on Zap2it. Check out my Comic-Con News and Notes blog there.

Today's action includes lots and lots of "Snakes on a Plane," plus "The Reaping," "The Wicker Man" and "Children of Men."

Today's action hopefully doesn't include any drama involving my automobile.

Knock on Wood.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Today I Am A Blogger

First off, greetings to any new readers brought here by the story in today's "Studio 60" buzz story from the Los Angeles Times.

The story, written by Maria Elena Fernandez discusses the building and evolving word-of-mouth about the Aaron Sorkin NBC drama, suggesting that initial word on the script was all positive. Fernandez continues...

"Bloggers jumped into the fray: 'Every second of 'Studio 60' sounds like Sorkin and looks like Schlamme and thus it's all familiar and reassuring and intelligent and nowhere near as smart-seeming as it was back when 'The West Wing' premiered,' wrote Dan Fienberg of Los Angeles on his blog,"

That's me! To some degree, at least.

Part of me feels a bit like yelling, "Um... I have a day job, too." It's my day job (Hi, Zap2it!) that at least somewhat contextualizes the fact that I was watching the "Studio 60" pilot (which I largely liked -- or at least appreciated -- it should be noted) long before its release. There are plenty of random bloggers on the Net (industry types) who have gotten their hands on the pilot in other ways and written opinions. Regardless, what I do seems relevant to my opinion, at least if you ask me.

Another part of me is minorly perplexed because the Times and Zap2it are corporate siblings, under the Tribune thumb (Hi, Tribune! I Loves You!). For one Tribune employee to be quoting another Tribune employee without noting that she's quoting within the same corporate family seems a tiny bit problematic. But again, that's only if you ask me.

The biggest part of me, though, is just grateful that my quote didn't make me sound like an utter moron. It's a complete sentence and it successfully encapsulates my feelings about the show, which are neither rapturously positive nor particularly negative. Later in my posting on "Studio 60," I do list my desire to watch the show again as "Strong."

In any case, I fear that I may just have had an "I'm Taye Diggs" Moment.

[For more on I'm Taye Diggs moment, check out the Zap2it Press Tour Blog.]

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Worth Your 23 Minutes: "The Amazing Screw-On Head"

If you have the time, recommend you check out the animated SciFi pilot "The Amazing Screw-On Head," a dementedly fun offering that combines the aesthetic sensibilities of creator/artist Mike Mignola ("Hellboy") with writer-producer Bryan Fuller ("Dead Like Me"). The humor is dead-pan and ironic and laugh-out-loud funny and gets a big assist from the vocal contributions of Paul Giamatti -- as the titular Screw-On Head, top Civil War Era spy for Abraham Lincoln -- and Mignola vet David Hyde Pierce -- as Emperor Zombie, former man-servant to Screw-On. Throw in a butler named Mr. Groin, an evil monkey henchman and the strange pet Mr. Dog and you have a cartoon series for adults that's more artistically challenging than anything else on air and every bit as hilarious as a good episode of "The Simpsons," "Family Guy" or "South Park."

Seriously, this is good stuff and SciFi would be smart to push the pilot through to series.

You can download the entire pilot here. It'll air on SciFi in a couple weeks, but it's probably better to begin the buzz here and now and hope that it builds.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Mid-Week Box Office Weirdness: 'Prada' Tops 'Superman'

On Thursday, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" made $12.36 million, moving its overall domestic gross to a mind-boggling $196 million for its first week in release. "Pirates 2" is going to be around $250 million after its first 10 days, which is pretty impressive for a movie that isn't really all that good.

That's interesting, but it's not noteworthy.

What *is* noteworthy is the fact that on Thursday, after getting close throughout the week, "The Devil Wears Prada" finally moved up to second place, moving head of "Superman Returns" for the day, by the slim margin of $2.46 million to $2.45 million. That's not much. In fact, there may be weird intricacies of Thursday box office that make an event like this more likely -- Are Thursday audiences particularly female or something? -- and "Superman Returns" may somehow manage to finish ahead of "Prada" for the weekend. But seriously, as the summer began, how many people would have found it particularly likely that after just two weeks in release, "Prada" would be making more money than "Superman"?

Overall, of course, "Superman Returns" has made more than twice the take for "Prada." The Man of Steel has made $152 million, while the Women of Silk and Cotton have made $73. Then again, "Superman Returns" cost $250-ish million to make. "Prada" cost $35 million. Which studio's executives are doing Happy Summer Box Office Dances right now?

"Prada" spent the entire week within a couple hundred-thousand bucks of "Superman," which was already pretty good given that the Fox comedy is in 2,882 theaters and the Warner Bros. superhero movie is in 4,065.

Or maybe this just seems like an amusing occurrence to me.

In Recognition of Christopher McDonald...

I was looking over this story from the Hollywood Reporter Online and I got to wondering 2 things:

1) Why is the Hollywood Reporter Online reporting July 14 on casting for a direct-to-video sequel that was announced in a widely distributed press release on July 7 for a movie that began production in early June?

2) Is Christopher McDonald the King of Unconnected Underperforming Sequels?

The story in question is about the fifth "American Pie" movie, subtitled "American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile," the follow-up to last December's "American Pie Presents: Band Camp," a direct-to-DVD sequel that sold an obscene number of copies upon its release. The announcement that McDonald will appear in "The Naked Mile" comes just weeks after the "news" um "broke" that McDonald will be replacing Burt Reynolds as Boss Hogg in "The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning," a direct-to-DVD prequel to last summer's semi-hit.


The question isn't just the number of sequels McDonald has done, but the number of sequels and remakes and prequels and tangential projects he's done without being involved in the originals. Check the record: McDonald was in "Grease 2," but not the far superior original. He was in "Wild Orchid II: Two Shades of Blue," but not the far sexier original. He was in "Best of the Best 3: No Turning Back," but not in either of the first two "Best of the Best" films. He did "Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams," but not the original. Best of all, when they needed a low-rent Robert DeNiro for a series of "Midnight Run" telefilms, McDonald was willing to help out.

Heck, this is a man who wasn't on the series "Eight Is Enough," but who managed to make it into two different "Eight" telefilms as Jed, the husband of Dianne Kay's Nancy character.

There are, of course, exceptions to the Christopher McDonald Rule, like any other. He was in "Grumpy Old Men," but when the men got "Grumpier," he was nowhere to be found. He was in "The Skulls," but when the movie's sequels were made (did you know there were the straight-to-video sequels "The Femurs" and "The Patellas"?) he was gone. Worst of all, he was in "Breakin'," but not in "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo."

Incidentally, I like Chris McDonald as an actor. The guy was great in "Quiz Show" and "Requiem for a Dream" and on "North Shore."

Can anybody else compete with McDonald for his Sequel King crown?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

TCA Press Tour Briefing: Jibba Jabba With Mr. T and The Gutt

My Modest Pitch to FOX for next season: It's an hour-long dramedy with Steve Guttenberg and Mr. T as mismatched partners in the Chicago police department. Mr. T is a no-nonsense street guy with muscle and Guttenberg is a nebbishy detail-oriented gumshoe (think Monk, only more Jewish). The only key is that the show shouldn't have a script, at least not any more than a Mike Leigh movie. Tell the actors each week's case and tell them whodunnit and them let them improv for 44 minutes a week. Heck, it should be a live show.

I'm just sayin' that The Gutt and Mr. T are my two favorite people on earth, at least until the next great Press Tour lunatic shows up.

My affinity for Guttenberg, of course, goes back to our little conversation at least July's Press Tour. It can be read here.

I got to chat with The Gutt again last night and that conversation -- or at least its highlights -- is up on our Zap2it Press Tour blog. Check it out.

Almost as good as The Gutt, though, was the once-and-future Clubber Lang (or B.A. Baracus, on hand at a morning TCA panel to promote his fittingly titled new TV Land self-help reality show "Pity the Fool."

Some highlights:

Why, Exactly, Does Mr. T Still Pity the Fool: That is a good question and a legitimate question. And I'm the man to answer it. You pity the fool because you don't want to beat up a fool. You know, pity is between sorry and mercy. See, if you pity him, you know, you won't have to beat him up. So that's why I say fools, you gotta give another chance because they don't know no better. That's why I pity them.

Who Does He Consider Today's Biggest Fools: I got a list coming. I don't want to do it right now. You know me -- but see, it's not a bigger fool. Either you're a fool or you're not. You know me. There's no big or small. If you get on my fool list, that's it, you know. I mean, you can recover, you know. Because we like -- we have -- you know how you have AA for alcoholics, so we come out with some kind of thing to get fools out of their situation.

What Does the "T" Stand For These Days: I'll tell you. T stands for being nice. T stands for manners. T stands for being polite, you know. It's -- you know, T can stand for anything. T stand for working hard. T stand for loving thy neighbor. You know, T stand for feeding the hungry, you know. T stand for just working, working, working, being happy on the set, you know, lifting everybody's spirits. T stands for just a nice guy.

On Why We Should Pity Lesser Gurus Like Dr. Phil: I said, "Let me explain to you. My show ain't no Dr. Phil where people sit around crying, 'What's wrong with me, Dr. Phil? What's wrong with me, Dr. Phil?'" You are a fool. That's what's wrong with you. You know what I mean?

On Whether He Minds Constantly Hearing About the 'A-Team:' I still carry "The A-Team." That made me what I am. Definitely. I still like busting down doors and beating up crooks. I still like doing that. You know, that's like my role, me wearing a suit, you know. See, Mr. T is my alter ego. You know, when I'm in the neighborhood, I'm just a humble, quiet, librarian type of guy, you know. All superheroes, you know, like Clark Kent, Superman, Batman, Bruce Wayne, you know, so why not Mr. T? You know. So I never thought about shaking the image or nothing like this. It's made me.

Anymore good angles for my Guttenberg/Mr. T series before I pitch it?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

TCA Press Tour Briefing: Recharged Batteries and an Inappropriate Towel

How's Press Tour going so far? Hard to say. It's certainly been a long day. First my car wouldn't start, but I'm not a AAA member. Fortunately, they don't care when you join so long as you give them money, so I became a AAA member and just as quickly asked them to direct me to roadside assistance. Dead battery the guy says. He charges it and sends me on my way. I get to Pasadena and turn off my car and just for fun check to see if it's OK. Nope. Dead. Another call to AAA. Another lengthy wait. The battery's dead. Not rechargeable dead, but dead-dead. Long story short, I missed the late morning sessions. I missed the early afternoon sessions. But I have an expensive new battery in my car.

And I made it to Press Tour in time for HBO and, thus, the HBO goodie bag, always a highlight.

This is gonna be a post on the Zap2it press tour blog, but we're having posting problems, so it'll have to migrate:

There's a blue towel in the HBO goodie bag. That, in and of itself, isn't particularly interesting, nor is the quality of the towel, which goes down as better than the towel FOX gave us for "Quintuplets" two years ago, but not as good as the bright red one TNT gave us at some point.

The issue is, why a towel? Yes, the towel says "Entourage" on it and may relate back to the fact that "Entourage" is a summery show, like the televisual equivalent of a trip to the beach on a sunny warm day.

It seems like somebody at HBO might have looked at the rest of the network's TCA slate and decided that maybe the gift might be misconstrued. After all, in addition to "Entourage," HBO's presentations include Spike Lee's Hurricane Katrina doc "When the Levees Broke" and the self-explanatory miniseries "Tsunami, the Aftermath." That's two different water-themed disaster epics, two situations in which a towel might be useful, but probably eventually superfluous -- band-aid for a bullet-hole sort of stuff.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

MovieWatch: "Little Miss Sunshine"

"Little Miss Sunshine"
Directors: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 58
In a Nutshell: Enough people are already buying into the hype of this Sundance favorite, but you'll forgive me if I found it a bit too simplistically ironic and predictably dysfunctional. It's not that I wasn't frequently amused by this chronicle of one family's journey from New Mexico to a youth beauty pageant in California in a yellow VW van. I was. But I kept thinking over and over again that the movie neither knew nor cared where it was going and that it used a few superficial ideas to masquerade for genuine intelligence. You'd say that several crucial pieces of behavior, details that set the plot in motion and push it forward every step of the way are out of character, but there are no characters here, only dour assemblages of quirk, compilations of tics and neuroses that seem semi-viable only because the cast is so remarkable. Given the admiration in the industry for Steve Carell at this moment, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he found himself getting some awards attention, notice that he probably deserves. There's also a remarkable manic depth to the work by little Abigail Breslin, who mostly avoids Dakota Fanning Syndrome of being more freaky than cute and believable. Heck, Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear and Alan Arkin are all pretty good, as is Paul Dano. With all those great actors, the movie almost seems to be trying to test viewer patience with shouting matches, broken car horns and the seemingly endless beauty pageant scene. Yes, we all feel the same contempt for scary stage parents and even scarier aspiring juvenile queens. Yawn. The gal behind me, the possessor of one of the most over-enthusiastic laughs I've ever heard, seemed to love the movie.

I think this one's coming out somewhere around July 28, so maybe I'll have a full review up on Zap2it by then.

MovieWatch: "Clerks II"

"Clerks II"
Director: Kevin Smith
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 60
In a Nutshell: In the original "Clerks," video store register monkey Randall (Jeff Anderson) pondered whether it was ironic that he hated people, but loved gatherings. I'm beginning to wonder if it's ironic that I love Kevin Smith, but feel ambivalent to Kevin Smith's movies. In his vaunted Q&As at college campuses and conventions, Smith is smart, hilariously combative and he delivers an assortment of stories that range from spontaneous to oft-told. As a flawless storyteller in real-life, Smith's narrative instincts are less successful on the big screen, as his films have often delivered big ideas ("Dogma") or big laughs ("Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back" worked for me), but not necessarily big narratives. With "Clerks II," Smith seems so nervous about fan reaction -- specifically claims that there's no reason to do a sequel to a wonderfully self-contained comic gem -- that he's constantly justifying the movie, even within the movie. It's still the story of Randall and Dante, who are older and none-the-wise, but Smith frequently has his characters over-articulate the themes of being in your 30s and looks for deeper meaning. For all of the lewd and rude humor -- "Clerks II" finds laughs in everything from "The Transformers" to The Jackson 5 to all variety of unprintable sexual deviance -- Smith needs to constantly inject sentiment, which he often does in ways that crush the story's momentum. I was alternating between laughing at the dialogue and situations and cringing at the mechanical plot ("Clerks II" made its points, but almost skipped the plot entirely). Among fans, there will be a tendency to overrate "Clerks II" because its finest moments are just as hilarious as anything in Smith's body of work. I can accept that, though, and still acknowledge that it doesn't quite work as a movie.

A full review will be up on Zap2it by Friday, July 21.

Kevin Smith Wanted a Gayer 'Superman'

This is sortta a follow-up to one of my earliest blog postings back in February.

It was actually written for (SHAMELESS PLUG) the new "Press Junkie" blog that we'll soon be running over at Zap2it. It won't go live for a while (we're currently pre-populating it so that early visitors won't find only one or two posts), so I thought I'd post it here, just for a start:

"Clerks II" helmer and noted comic book enthusiast (and scribe) Kevin Smith was disappointed by "Superman Returns," but not necessarily for the reasons one might guess.

Back in February at San Francisco's WonderCon, Smith had a little good-natured fun at the expense of "Superman Returns" helmer Bryan Singer. After praising Singer's ability to weave a gay tolerance message into his two "X-Men" films, Smith said of "Superman," "I'm just gonna go into that movie looking for gay content. I won't be paying attention to plot. I'm just looking for long furtive glances between men. F*** Lois and Clark. I'm looking at Clark and Jimmy."

Now, promoting his "Clerks" sequel, Smith has to admit that his hopes were unfounded.

"No. It's not gay," Smith says. "I made a gayer movie than Bryan Singer. Like "Clerks 2" to me is a very gay movie, gayest movie ever made by a straight man, right down to the musical sequence. It wasn't very gay at all. I was kind of disappointed in its lack of gayness."

Of course, as a huge fan of the franchise -- and author of one of the earliest "Superman" drafts -- Smith went to "Superman Returns" looking for more than just gay content. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be quick with any praise. Asked how he felt about the movie overall, he pauses.

"You know. How does one put this? I'm just happy there was any Superman movie."

The assembled reporters are still waiting for him to say anything more positive.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Emmy Reactions [Beyond Merely Barfing]

I'm going to go to sleep in a few minutes, since I'm off to New York City bright and obscenely early tomorrow morning to catch junkets for "Lady in the Water" and "Scoop," but I'd feel bad if the Emmy nominations were announced and I didn't take a few minutes to rant about the nominees.

Much was made in recent weeks about the changes made to the Emmy voting procedure and how those changes would force the Academy to finally recognize shows and actors of genuine quality. Some folks took to calling the changes the Lauren Graham Rule, as if getting the "Gilmore Girls" star a nomination would be as simple as getting a slightly less out-of-touch cadre of voters to look at select finalists. Apparently, some tweaking to the formula is still necessary. Not only did Lauren Graham fail to get a nomination, but the other results of the new rules were just as blurry. If this year's assortment of Emmy nominees wasn't worse than in previous years, it was certainly every bit as bad.

But here's the thing I want to acknowledge: Maybe I just don't watch the good shows on TV. That's what the TV Academy wants to suggest.

A long string of thoughts about the things I did and didn't like about the nominations:

1) What's New Is Old and What's Old Is Gone: As my Zap2it colleague Rick (and several other people) noted, the biggest confession on the Emmy voters' part is that everything they did last year was moronic. How else can you explain the number of winners from last year who weren't worthy this year. Yeah, "Lost" wasn't as good as it was last season, but did is cease to be one of TV's best dramas so quickly? Yeah, "Desperate Housewives" was so bad that I quit watching this season, but if anybody thinks that Felicity Huffman has ceased to be one of the five best actresses in a comedy series currently on television, they're insane. Did the TV voters think that Felicity got uppity after her Oscar nomination and attempt to knock her down a peg? And after two consecutive seasons as the Emmy choice for best actor in a drama series, how did James Spader fall so quickly? Count in the number of awards that "Everybody Loves Raymond" stole last year and the only winners from last year in "major" categories to be renominated this year are Blythe Danner, William Shatner (seriously, folks?) and Tony Shalhoub. Weird.

2) "House" Arrest: Television's best actor may be Ian McShane. But if it isn't Ian McShane (and "Deadwood" wasn't eligible this year), it's Hugh Laurie (James Gandolfini is close behind and similarly without a nomination this year). Week in and week out, Laurie humanizes the most prickly character on television, pulling off wordy medical dialogue and creating a character we love on television even if we'd hate him in real life. He's brilliant. Instead of Laurie, the Emmy voters nominated Martin Sheen for best actor in a drama series, despite the fact that Sheen was rarely, if ever, the lead actor on "The West Wing" this year, making his nomination an utter joke. While I talking about "House," Omar Epps had a two-episode arc that was as good as any turned in by a supporting actor this season, certainly more original and powerful than anything Michael Imperioli did on "The Sopranos" and putting to shame Shatner's effective "Boston Legal" mugging. But to no avail.

3) Worst Thing For Falco Since 'Rock Me Amadeus': What Edie Falco did in the season's first three or four episodes of "The Sopranos" toured over any other performance by a lead actress I saw this year. I don't care which of the other nominees would have had to get booted for her to be on the list, but this is ridiculous. Here's the concern: Television is at a place where the best actors are suddenly starting to realize that they get better material here than in film. When the TV Academy fails to recognize the very very very best performers in the medium, it makes the entire medium look bad, suggesting that TV may be a place for quality people, but that TV people don't recognize quality. And speaking of...

4) Have You Heard the Joke About Outstanding Lead Actress In a Comedy Series: Jane Kaczmarek is always worthy of attention. While "The Comeback" was a seriously flawed show, I admired what Lisa Kudrow did in it. No arguments there. But I wouldn't hesitate for a second to magically erase Debra Messing (again?!?!?), Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (in a show I find unwatchable) and Stockard Channing (bellowing for 22 minutes at a time) and replace them with Lauren Graham, Mary Louise Parker for "Weeds" (but a well-deserved nod for Elizabeth Perkins) and probably Huffman.

5) What Being A Guest Star REALLY Means: Here's how you know the Emmy voters are using PCP: Kyle Chandler gets a nomination for looking concerned in two episodes of "Grey's Anatomy", blowing up and never getting mentioned again. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the season's lynchpin, with Denny Douquette serving as a pivotal character in multiple episodes that shaped the entire arc of the season. Was he in too many episodes, perhaps? Dunno. In addition to traditional "ER" disease-of-the-week nominees like James Woods, there's also the surprising and welcome inclusion of Henry Ian Cusick of "Lost," whose Desmond was a good addition to every episode in which he appeared.

6) Other Comedy Musings: Where did Zach Braff's nomination go? Why will John C. McGinley NEVER get nominated? Can anybody really tell me that Sean Hayes was better this season than Neil Patrick Harris? Where is Jason Lee for "Earl"? And what happened to all of that support for "Everybody Hates Chris"? Not that he necessarily deserved it, but how was Eric McCormack the only "Will & Grace" cast member not worthy of a farewell nomination? Kevin James instead of Jason Bateman? Really? Did anybody else expect Doris Roberts to get nominated this year even though "Raymond" was gone? "Entourage" has been so mediocre this season that smart Emmy voters should have recognized the superlative second season with a series nomination in hopes that things might improve... And on the positive side, glade to see nods for Jamie Pressly, Will Arnett and, just for old times' sake, "Arrested Development." Also pleased with the slew of nominations for Stephen Colbert and "The Colbert Report."

7) Other Drama Musings: Chandra Wilson and Jean Smart are particularly deserving. But where are the nominations for the ladies of "Big Love"? Where's Donald Sutherland for "Commander in Chief" (he was the only guy who ever looked like he was having fun on that hyper-serious show)? Kristen Bell? Terry O'Quinn? Anybody from "Rome"? If those "Will & Grace" folks are going to get illegitimate nostalgia nominations why not "Alias" stars Jennifer Garner and Victor Garber? And what of the "Grey's Anatomy" leading men including P-Demps, TR Knight and Isaiah Washington? And only one nod of any kind for "Prison Break"? Talk about not believing the hype. And while I don't watch it, I'm told that "The Shield" was as good this year as ever, so where are The Thing and Forrest Whitaker at?

OK. I've run out of energy here.

Chime in with your own thoughts while I sleep...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

MovieWatch: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"
Director: Gore Verbinski
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 65
In a Nutshell: Viewers who loved the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" because it was an epic thrill-ride full of stunts and effects won't leave the sequel disappointed. Viewers who thought the first movie was self-indulgent, over-long, but saved by Johnny Depp's out-of-left-field performance may not be so enthusiastic. "Dead Man's Chest" proves that the only lesson Verbinski and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio learned from the success of the first movie is that bigger is better. Thus, everything that was wrong with the first movie is magnified. It's still impossible to give a hang about Orlando Bloom's character and difficult to care about Keira Knightley's. There are still far too many pauses between the action scenes, pauses that allow the sequel's running time to bloat to an unjustified 150 minutes. In fact, the amount of filler is at a record level here, because "Dead Man's Chest" is always just the middle part of a trilogy, a bridge between the first movie and next summer's conclusion. Thus, you can sense the writers in a room trying to figure out amiable ways to kill time. Fortunately, there's plenty to watch on screen while Elliott and Rossio spin their wheels. The effects in "Dead Man's Chest" are utterly spectacular, always diverting enough to distract from their inherent superfluousness. Bill Nighy's tentacle-faced Davey Jones is an amazing creation, so impressive that I was never sure where the actor ended and the make-up or CGI began. As for Depp, he's entertaining and occasionally hilarious, but the shocking originality of his performance is gone. So much effort was put into analyzing Jack Sparrow when the first movie came out that the character, while still a winner, is no longer capable of surprise. Certain moments or choices that were so absurd the first time around can now be reduced to "Oh, that's just Jack Sparrow being Jack Sparrow."

My full "Pirates" review will be up on Zap2it on Monday, July 3.

Oh and if you wonder why blog entries have been a bit scarce lately, it's because I've been cheating on this blog with our Zap2it Los Angeles Film Festival semi-blog. It's up here, if you care to catch up.