Friday, January 25, 2008

Best and Worst Best Actor Oscar Winners

Another winter, another best/worth Oscar survey courtesy of Edward Copeland on Film, the always admirable blog that brought you the best and worst best picture winners two years ago and the best and worst best actress winners last year.

This year's survey? True to form, we're on to best actor! I look forward to the period 15 years from now when we can finally tear into the best and worst sound editing Oscar winners.

On the surface, this is probably the easiest of the surveys to date. Roberto Benigni's win for "Life Is Beautiful" is an embarrassment from which the Academy will never fully recover. His isn't just the worst performance ever given a best actor Oscar, it's the worst acting performance of any size for any gender ever given an Oscar.

As for the best best actor, even though he won't get my first-place vote, I can't see any circumstance under which Robert DeNiro doesn't win for "Raging Bull." It's more Method than Method. It's METHOd with capitals M-E-T-H-and-O.

Let's just say that I had an easier time with the Worst than the best. That's the sort of guy I am.

If you have opinions of your own, send 'em on to Eddie (contest rules and requirements available here).

Follow through after the bump for my Best 5 and Worst 5.

Click through...

Worst Best Actor Preamble: One of the things I have to take into account here is who these undeserving winners beat. These aren't just the Worst Best Actor winners because their performances were awful. They're the worst because in winning, they kept other superior performances from winning.

My Picks:

5) Jimmy Stewart for "The Philadelphia Story." Yes. I know. This won't be a popular vote. I love Jimmy Stewart. I love "The Philadelphia Story." Heck, I love Jimmy Stewart *in* "The Philadelphia Story." I just don't get the prism through which this likeable and charming performance is Oscar-worthy (I also voted for Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday" last year for the exact same reason). Stewart didn't get Oscar nominations for "How the West Was Won," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "Rear Window" or "Vertigo," but of the five nominations he *did* get, this is the least interesting of his performances and I think this being his Oscar win is almost a disservice to his career legacy. I should also add that Stewart's win here probably came at the expense of the best performance of Henry Fonda's career in "Grapes of Wrath," which led to Fonda taking the 1982 best actor win away from both Burt Lancaster and Warren Beatty. With Oscar, it's a vicious circle. Or a slippery slope.

4) Yul Brynner for "The King and I." In the 1950s and 1960s, movies were getting insecure about their place in the entertainment landscape and the Academy fell into a weird rut attempting to prove its prestige by reaffirming praise on a bunch of Tony-winning performances brought to the big screen with only minor alterations. I quite like Paul Scofield's "A Man for All Seasons" performance. Ditto with Jose Ferrer's "Cyrano" turn. But Brynner and Rex Harrison (for "My Fair Lady") are examples of performances that weren't reformatted very well for the big screen. Brynner barks to the back row of the theater for two hours, which becomes mighty boring, though he and Deborah Kerr do dance very nicely together. Probably the best performance he beat that year was Kirk Douglas for "Lust for Life," though James Dean's work in "Giant" has some fans.

3) Art Carney for "Harry and Tonto." This is what I was talking about when I said that sometimes the worst winners aren't the worst because they're bad (Carney is very touching), but because of who they beat. In this case, Carney took best actor from Jack Nicholson in "Chinatown," Al Pacino in "The Godfather II" and possibly the best performance of Dustin Hoffman's career in "Lenny."

2) Al Pacino for "Scent of a Woman." Much of the blame here probably has to go to director Martin Brest. We all know that Pacino is capable of being understated and magnificent just as surely as he's capable of being bug-eyed and shouty and I think his Col. Frank Slade could have gone either way except that Brest must have kept encouraging him to go bigger... Bigger... BIGGER! This movie is like a greatest hits montage of Pacino's least subtle acting decisions -- the compulsive sneering, the inexplicable line-barking, the eyes that are meant to be both crazy and inexpressive. The win encouraged all of Pacino's worst tendencies -- has he given more than two or three good performances since? -- and rewarded one of our very best actors at his very worst. Plus, it wasn't like Pacino beat a weak field that year. Robert Downey Jr. for "Chaplin," Stephen Rea for "The Crying Game," Denzel for "Malcolm X" and Clint Eastwood for "Unforgiven" all were robbed.

1) Roberto Benigni for "Life Is Beautiful." Something very weird happened to award voters in the winter of 1998. It's one thing that they became entranced by a mediocre Italian comedian and his grossly superficial and sappy Holocaust comedy, but they also became really amused by what said Italian comedian would do if they kept giving him awards. It was like a psychotic babysitter thinking it was cool to give a six-year-old coffee and Pixie Stix knowing that the kid would be the parents' responsibility later. And, best/worst of all, Benigni willingly played monkey to Hollywood's elite, finding new ways of humiliating himself with each new ceremony, much to the ongoing terror of Helen Hunt, who had to keep presenting him with trophies. Meanwhile, Edward Norton ("American History X"), Nick Nolte ("Affliction") and Ian McKellen ("Gods and Monsters") had to keep watching this pea-brained Pagliacci urinate all over what should have been a competitive race just because his mere presence doubtlessly made Jack Nicholson giggle. I'd bet dollars to donuts that none of the people who voted for Benigni bothered to watch his "Pinocchio," but they all should have been strapped to a chair for the full experience -- dubbed and undubbed.

And now on to my much less passionate listing of...

The Best Best Actor Winners.

5) James Cagney for "Yankee Doodle Dandy." He sings! He dances! He emotes! He plays a real person! Seriously, how could Oscar voters not swoon? If you could bottle Cagney's energy in this film, you could power a small Midwestern town for a year.

4) Gregory Peck for "To Kill a Mockingbird." No offense to Harper Lee, but the reason why kids have spent 45 years wishing Atticus Finch was their father and why criminal defendants (particularly unjustly accused ones) have spent 45 years wishing Atticus Finch was their lawyer has everything to do with Gregory Peck. Perhaps no actor in history has ever played dignity and righteousness as well as Peck, with his rumbling voice and gentle-yet-fiery eyes. This is one of those performances that you can't imagine being improved upon. Or at least I can't. If not for Peck, my own high school turn as Atticus Finch would probably be the definitive interpretation of the role. My Southern accent was very convincing.

3) Robert DeNiro in "Raging Bull." Just cuz I'm not putting it at No. 1 doesn't mean I don't respect the snot out of this showy piece of acting, much moreso than I respect the overall movie it's in, actually.

2) Marlon Brando for "On the Waterfront." This is a performance that's a bit over-celebrated, to the extent that you can only see the iconic scenes and you often lose the quieter, less famous moments that make the movie. To some degree, Brando at that moment was like Wilt Chamberlain when he averaged 50 points-per-game for a season or Babe Ruth when he was hitting more home runs than most teams. He was simply playing a different game. Look at what Brando was doing and compare him to his Oscar competition that year, people like Bing Crosby for "The Country Girl" and James Mason for "A Star Is Born." It's like a whole other game.

1) Daniel Day-Lewis for "My Left Foot." This is a showy, Oscar-ready role and, pardon my French, Day-Lewis acts the shit out of it.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Belated Oscar Nomination Reax

[The first half of this reaction piece was written Tuesday morning. I put it aside after lunch because I thought that writing about Heath Ledger was, frankly, more important. Apologies...

Then I was swamped with conference calls yesterday.

Really, I might as well not be posting this at all, except that I put a few minute's work into it and I might as well feed the blog.]

It used to be that I'd never miss an Oscar nomination announcement. I only attended once in person, but I've generally woken up, even at 5 a.m. since I moved to the West Coast, to get a first glimpse at all the nominees.

This year, even though insomnia had be up and mostly awake at 4 a.m., I didn't wander into my living room and turn on the TV. When I actually rolled out of bed at 7, I showered and downed an energy drink before booting up my computer and checking the nominations.

My reactions in general can be summed up with a resounding, "Eh." And a shrug. Thanks to the strike and the cancellation of the Golden Globes, this award season has been a wee bit muted, but that doesn't mean that the candidates haven't been shuffled and reshuffled and dealt and re-dealt so many different ways that it's almost inconceivable for anything to be a true surprise.

Tommy Lee Jones sneaking in and grabbing a best actor nomination? No surprise. For "In the Valley of Elah"? Well, that's a surprise, but it's Tommy Lee Jones.

Cate Blanchett picking up that bizarro second nomination for "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"? Well, that's a surprise, but it's Cate Blanchett.

I'll do my full "Should Win/Will Win" break-down in February in the days leading up to the Oscars.

But follow through after the bump for some basic reactions...

Click through...

The first thing that needs to be said is that to variable degrees, I liked all of the Best Picture nominees. Or I certainly didn't dislike any of them. That's a rare occurrence. I'm accustomed to being able to root against a "Crash" or "Little Miss Sunshine," albeit with only variable success. Not so much, this year. Whenever I get around to writing my Top 10 list -- still catching up on a few more essentials -- "No Country For Old Men" is a lock to be No. 1 and "Atonement" is almost certain to be in the Top 5, no matter how much that infuriates certain of my colleagues. "Juno" may crack the bottom of the Top 10 and, as its lack of review here suggests, I'm still unable to fully process "There Will Be Blood." But I know that as much as it felt like getting beaten over a head with a mallet, I appreciated a lot of it. And even the chilliness I got off of "Michael Clayton" wasn't enough to cause me active disapprobation. It's just a taste thing.

That's why I have to go to best actor and best actress to find things to root against. Devoted readers and people who have been stuck sitting next to me at any recent point know my feelings for Johnny Depp's "Sweeney Todd" performance. It isn't that I dislike Depp or will begrudge him the Oscar that he will one day win. I'd just have preferred that at least a half-dozen actors grab nominations instead of Depp for what is essentially a one-expression, one-note (literally) performance defined more by hair and make-up than acting.

Oh and on the Tommy Lee Jones issue... Yes, it's a darned odd nomination. Folks didn't see "In the Valley of Elah," much less like it. But here's something I hadn't paid much attention to: While Jones is considered one of those "Everything he does is Oscar-worthy" actors, he hasn't been nominated since winning for "The Fugitive," which was a looooong time ago now. His performance is actually the opposite of Depp's. It looked one-note and taciturn, but it really isn't.

Anyway, I'm railing against Depp and I'm going WAY against the tide on Marion Cotillard, whose slouching and twitching and lip-synching (would that Depp had also lip-synched) moved me less than it moved some other people.

Time to steal from some weekly magazine and whip out my Cheers, Jeers and Confused Shrugs from the nominations...

CHEERS -- Viggo Mortensen's nomination, his first. While "Eastern Promise" remains hamstrung by its final act, Mortensen's performance is the year's best by an actor. Yes, better than Daniel Day-Lewis' magnificent hamminess in "There Will Be Blood."

JEERS -- We all knew that Julian Schnabel was breaking into the best director field for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," a movie that had me rolling both of my good eyes in my sockets for the better part of an hour of increasingly mind-numbing pretentiousness. Sorry. But everybody figured "Juno" would be this year's "Film that directed itself." Instead, Joe Wright got left out for the often gloriously epic orchestration of "Atonement," a technical marvel of scale and depth. And Jason Reitman was nominated for keeping Diablo Cody's script moving. That's just weird.

CONFUSED SHRUG -- I haven't seen "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," but even in the trailer, Cate Blanchett does a lot of shouting to the back row. If the Academy was going for showy and obvious, I'd have greatly preferred a nomination for Amy Adams. If "Enchanted" had made $150 million at the box office, she'd have been nominated. Guarantee. It just wasn't a big hit and so there was no momentum for her to ride.

CHEERS -- I love a supporting actress field that contains both Ruby Dee and Saorise Ronan. That's diversity. Actually, that's a bit of a joke. Beyond Dee, the nomination field is about as lily-white as we've come to expect from the Academy. But in terms of age? You've got Ronan and Ellen Page on one end Dee and Hal Holbrook on the other. So that's *something*.

JEERS -- You know how I said that Amy Adams would have gotten a nomination except that the movie didn't make enough money? Well how the heck did "Enchanted" get three song nominations? I remember the one with the vermin cleaning house, but that's it. Heck, I'd have rather seen one Eddie Vedder's mopey "Into the Wild" songs make it. Just one.

CONFUSED SHRUG -- Love it or hate it, Jonny Greenwood's score for "There Will Be Blood" was more closely tied to the overall make-up of the movie than any other combination of score and film all year. The Academy's decision to deem it ineligible at the last minute is just another predictable embarrassment from a group that just can't stay out of its own way some years.

CHEERS -- He may split the votes with himself leaving the Oscar for the blurry artiness of "Diving Bell," but Roger Deakins' pair of nominations for "No Country for Old Men" and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" couldn't be more deserved. And while I'm at it, good for "Roderick Jayes" picking up an editing nomination and giving the Coens nods for directing, producing, writing and editing the year's best movie. Also, on an unrelated note, I'm glad to see Sarah Polley pick up an adapted screenplay nomination for "Away From Her." She's crazy-talented.

JEERS -- If there was a place for "Norbit" to get one nomination, there had to be a place for "Zodiac" to get a nomination. Anywhere. Adapted screenplay? Cinematography? Score? Supporting actor? Heck, production design or costuming?

CONFUSED SHRUG -- Did the nominating voters watch more than five minutes of "Surf's Up"? Because for five minutes, it was funny an innovative. It became intolerable really soon after that. Surely with $200 million in the bank, "Alvin and the Chipmunks" deserved a little recognition. That's a joke. Mostly.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Heath Ledger, 1979-2008

Like everybody else in the entertainment journalism racket, I spent much of this afternoon trying to think of Heath Ledger anecdotes, trying to be one of those obnoxious people -- Tom O'Neil, I'm looking at you -- who attempt to fabricate a cause for a 28-year-old man's death out of a five minute interview I did at some junket, an interview that was probably #137 out of #673 for the day on his schedule.

It turns out that I couldn't do it.

I only interviewed Ledger once, back in the summer of 2005 as part of a small roundtable for Terry Gilliam's miscalculated "The Brothers Grimm." Paired with Matt Damon for the interview, Ledger was nearly silent. Damon was the polished showman, the Journalist's Actor, always handy with a quote and a smart rejoinder. Ledger was more of a grunter, giving quick and terse answers. When some actors do that, you think they're rude, that they're better than the dog-and-pony-show process. With Ledger, the only impression we got was that he didn't like talking about himself or about his craft because he just wasn't sure what to say. It was three months before the "Brokeback Mountain" buzz had really begun and somebody asked him about the movie and he was genuinely unsure how it was going to play. He was confident that the work had been worthwhile, but not willing to play premature pundit and start raving. He was only an actor, not a self-publicist.

It's too early to know for sure what took Ledger's life, though the media was sure quick to jump to "SUICIDE!!!!" speculation. That's just what we do, I guess. And I guess I can't blame the utterly asinine and unqualified arm chair shrinks who went on CNN and gave out-of-context Ledger quotes about how playing the Joker in "The Dark Knight" left him with difficulties sleeping. Tom O'Neil thought he seemed antsy?!?!? Print it. Geez.

Anyway, I'll let the vultures discuss things they aren't credentialed to discuss.

After the bump, I have a few quotes from my own reviews on Ledger's performances, some excellent, some misguided, never boring.

Click through...

To my mind, Heath Ledger was a character actor trapped in a leading man's body. He was like Alec Baldwin in that respect and may have eventually had a similar sort of career arc. Hollywood wanted him to put on armor and win the girl, like in "A Knight's Tale," or to take his place alongside Mel Gibson in "The Patriot." If you look at his studio star turns, though, the only time he was ever 100% comfortable was in "10 Things I Hate About You," a film and performance of effortless charm and dexterity that probably won't get mentioned enough in the days to come. But if he didn't seem like he wanted to be the A-lister toplining "The Four Feathers" or "The Order," he was always able to step into the background and be fourth of fifth billed, but far more interesting, in films like "Monster's Ball."

My first year on the Zap2it movie beat was 2005, a year that saw four very different Ledger performances.

Here's what I said at the time...

On "Lords of Dogtown" : "The film's most striking performances come from Rebecca DeMornay and Heath Ledger. DeMornay, stripped of makeup and actorly ego as Jay's loving, but somewhat daffy Beach Betty mom, is so sympathetic and stabilizing that the film suffers when she's off-screen for extended periods. The same is true of Ledger, who vanishes entirely into Skip's facial hair, teeth and surfer dude speech patterns, delivering the finest Val Kilmer performance the "Top Gun" star never gave."

On "The Brothers Grimm" : "As he did in "Lords of Dogtown" earlier this summer, Ledger finds a previously hidden vein of Val Kilmer, creating a character from wisps of facial hair, funny glasses, a silly accent and an assortment of wild gestures borrowed, it seems, from the film's director. He's very funny, but in taking the comic path, he cheapens the character's credulity, which should be the heart of the film."

On "Brokeback Mountain" : Ledger is truly the film's star, even thought Ennis is as introverted and socially awkward a man as you'll ever meet. Ennis can't really speak or relate to either men or women and as much as desire leads him to Jack, he's equally drawn by the fact that with this other man, he can occasionally smile and joke and let down his guard, step away from the pressure of trying to be the solitary and silent Marlboro man. That Ledger gives Ennis a voice that sounds like the drawling amalgamation of countless Western heroes is intentional. He's trying to be John Wayne on the surface, even if the outside world and his own inner needs clash with that image. In one role after another this year, Ledger has campaigned to avoid movie star status and just be respected as an actor, but this is the first time his promise is fulfilled.

On "Casanova" : For his part, Ledger is superficially charming and little more. This is exactly the kind of generic pretty boy part that he attempted to move away from after "A Knight's Tale." It's enough that he looks the part, because he delivers every line with the same bemused detachment.

The only film in which he was truly bad was "Casanova," which must have seemed like the most commercial of the projects. But Ledger was learning. From what we've seen, his Joker in "The Dark Knight" looked unbearably creepy and psychotic and he was finishing another film with Terry Gilliam which -- let's face it -- might not have been any good, but it probably wouldn't have been boring. We'll miss out on the evolution of an actor who wanted to grow. That's sad.

I'm not good at these tribute things, so I'll stop now...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

MovieWatch: "Cloverfield"

Director: Matt Reeves
Fien Print Rating (Out of 100): 64
In a Nutshell: The first thing that's got to be said is that as "hype-over-substance" movies, "Cloverfield" has a lot more going for itself than, say, "The Blair Witch Project" or "Snakes on a Plane," but it may be lower in its ambitions and aesthetic aims than, say, "Grindhouse."

It's an utter mystery why the "Cloverfield" formula -- cultivate fandom in the J.J. Abrams cult community and paper the world with your ads and trailers -- appears on its way to actually paying big dividends ($16.75 million opening day), while "Snakes on a Plane" effectively tanked. It may have something to do with the fact that "Snakes on a Plane" had one thing and only one things going for it: The best title ever.

"Cloverfield," in contrast, has a meaningless title, but it's done that one thing that films like "Independence Day" and "Armageddon" were able to do, but duds like the Emmerich "Godzilla" couldn't: It's found its money shot early and milked that sucker for all it was worth. So what that it stole the essence of its money shot from "Planet of the Apes," people respond to iconographic American institutions in peril. We cared before 9/11 and we probably care extra-much now. So that shot of the Statue of Liberty's head bouncing through the street and the poster image of the headless Statue? That's what's made money for "Cloverfield." The online obsessives will take credit, but people who can't even check their e-mail went to go see "Cloverfield" because of the Statue.

I wonder if either audience -- the online obsessives and the ones who just went for the carnage -- is going to be completely satisfied.

More after the bump...

Click through...

Before talking more about the movie, I have a couple letter perceptual bones to pick...

While there appears to be general and wide-spread confusion as to who Matt Reeves is, in addition to the tangential conviction that he *must* be a pseudonym for J.J. Abrams, I like to periodically mention that back in college, my very first press junket as a semi-journalist was "The Pallbearer," which simultaneously was supposed to be David Schwimmer's big break as a leading man, Gwyneth Paltrow's big break as a romantic leading lady and Michael Vartan's first turn as a prominent supporting player. That was actually two years before Reeves co-created "Felicity" with Abrams and, as a result, I was like the only person on earth who thought of "Felicity" as "The Matt Reeves Show," because I simply had a better idea of who he was. So Matt Reeves is a real person. He directed this movie. It isn't J.J. Abrams' "Cloverfield." J.J. Abrams is one man who gets an awful lot of credit for things he puts his name, but he can't be everywhere doing everything, can he? It's not like he's Jerry Bruckheimer.

Anywho... Next axe to grind.

The number of articles and reviews that I've skimmed referring the "Cloverfield" having a "cast of unknowns." Lizzy Caplan has been a regular on three or four network TV shows. T.J. Miller is currently (sortta) appearing on a network TV show. Odette Yustman is currently starring on a network TV show and Mike Vogel and Jessica Lucas and Mike Vogel have also appeared on multiple TV shows in prominent roles. I have to admit that I didn't remember who Michael Stahl-David was until I glanced at his IMDB bio, but then I went, "Oh yeah. He was Sean on 'The Black Donnellys." But nearly every member of the cast was *completely* known. Unproven? Absolutely. But to my mind, a movie critic who has never seen or heard of the cast members of "Cloverfield" is as bad as a major league beat writer who suddenly looks in left field, sees some new guy and calls him an "unknown," even if he'd been the team's top prospect for four years. Worse, actually, because TV isn't the minor leagues for movies. I'm just saying that audiences might not necessarily know all of the stars of "Cloverfield," but any movie critic who can't identify many of the fresh young faces just isn't doing their due diligence.

And... Next axe to grind. This one transitions into the review.

There are a lot of people ranting about how they would have preferred not to see the monster, that they were disappointed by the reveal. Granted that the monster looks mighty CG-y. But those people are in denial about what the movie actually is. It's a freakin' monster movie. Even "Alien," a movie that's mostly about "The Haunting"-style insinuation and spookiness, shows the freakin' alien. And a lot. And in close-ups. And in full light. There's a way these movies work -- you see a tail, you see a foot, you see the darned monster. While "Cloverfield" is intended as a heavy-handed 9/11 allegory, it's mostly about a giant critter terrorizing New York City. The desire to keep the monster permanently hidden is rooted in some critical desire for "Cloverfield" to be a better movie than it is, for "Cloverfield" to subvert, undermine and play tricks with the monster movie genre. The problem there? "Cloverfield" doesn't think it's better than it is.

After a little time spent establishing the characters -- cute 20-somethings with nebulous careers in Manhattan -- the movie just goes into monster-overdrive. The entire movie is shaky, hand-held jitters, but I think the compositional choices in "Cloverfield" are more thoughtful than in "Blair Witch" insofar as I only occasionally felt like I was confusing "motional sickness" with "actually being uncomfortable with the action on screen." It's still more "disturbing" than "scary" (dunno why everything's in "quotes") and much of that "disturbing" sensibility comes from the grammar-of-terror that we learned from 9/11, the billowing smoke pouring down the Manhattan streets, the teetering Big Apple buildings, the people staggering around covered in soot and ash. It doesn't over-exploit 9/11 and I may have wanted it to do more of that, to spend more time dealing with characters trying to fathom the unfathomable. The "things popping out of the dark" scares just kept reminding me of other, scarier movies like "The Descent" or "The Host."

As you would expect from a cast of "unknowns" (little joke there), the acting isn't exactly RSC-caliber, though several friends have called it awful, which I disagree with. Within the reach of what they were asked do to, I thought Caplan was very good (with her huge eyes, she's like a silent film waif) and Stahl-David was fine as well and I think any lapses by Yustman or Vogel or Lucas were based on what the director and dialogue asked them to do. Drew Goddard, who wrote the script, has written some amazingly clever episodes of "Buffy," "Angel" and "Lost," but he doesn't go for self-referential fun here and the occasional moments of pop culture glibness fall flat.

I understand that the movie is about a giant critter run amuck in Manhattan, so logic can't really be a point of issue, but some things were tough to swallow. The explanation for why the cameraman remains so carefully attuned to his cinematic project becomes more and more ridiculous as the stakes escalate and the idea that his friends and various military types keep tolerating his seemed weird. Also, even in the confines of the narrative, the rescue mission that the core characters undertake becomes less and less plausible every step of the way.

Even at 84 minutes, "Cloverfield" is padded and I wonder if a more "World War Z" tactic of cobbling together footage from a number of different groups of survivors might have made for a better movie. I'm curious how the residents of The Village or Spanish Harlem faced this event and we save countless characters filming either with cameras or cell phones and I think a more diverse assortment of found footage could have enhanced the storytelling and the momentum. Maybe with a bit of additional length, "Cloverfield" might have proved to be the clue-filed "Lost"-style film that a lot of Abrams-ites seem to have been hoping for. As it stands now, they're forced to read an awful lot into very little.

Oh and stick around for the closing credits. Not for the ending audio transmission, which didn't enthrall me at all. Michael Giacchino's "Roar!" overture, the only score in the movie, is like the greatest '70s Disaster Movie/ '60s Monster Movie pastiche ever.

That's all I've got for now, kids...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

'Idol' Season Begins in Philly

[My apologies, regular blog readers, for the absence of posts in the past couple weeks. Israel plus sickness plus having to feed Zap2it's Guide to American Idol have rendered me a bit swamped. I just wanted to share the tortured analogy with which I began my recap of the "American Idol" series premiere.]

On Jan. 15, the "Idol" Curtain descended over TV.

Follow me, dear readers, as I engage in a twisty analogy.

As World War II ended, the Allied forces -- England and the United States mostly -- greeted the Russians with decidedly mixed emotions.

On one hand, they were all, "Ummm... Thanks for holding ground at Leningrad, Stalin. That was mighty heroic and the loss of Russian life really went above and beyond."

On the other hand, there was a healthy sense of "Ummm... Not to sound ungrateful, but if there's any way you could avoid spreading Communism across all of Europe, we'd really appreciate that. But feel free to keep Poland."

That's the way I imagine other network heads are greeting the seventh season of "American Idol."

On one hand, they're all "Ummm... Thanks for keeping anybody at all watching network television in the midst of this strike. You're helping advertisers remember that network TV is still the best way to reach impressionable eyeballs."

On the other hand, there's a healthy sense of "Ummm... Not to sound ungrateful, but if you could avoid crushing everything in your path and leaving us all battling for fourth, we'd really appreciate that. But feel free to monopolize Fienberg's time."

In this scenario, Simon Cowell is probably Stalin, "American Idol" is the USSR and that's the best explanation I can give for why, after steadfastly refusing to recap audition episodes for the past five years, I found myself glued to the TV on Tuesday night to watch the best and worst of Philadelphia.

For the rest of my recap and my theory on why Angela Martin may already be an unbeatable force of nature, head over here...