You would never know it from the total news blackout and absence of hype, but the 84th Annual Academy Awards are this Sunday, February 26. Joining Ben and Joel for this edition of the podcast are returning guests Christian Toto (Big Hollywood) and Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly).
Among the questions we discuss:
• Can you care about movies and not care about the Oscars?
• Who and what got robbed?
• Which of the nine Best Picture nominees will win? Which one deserves to?
• What about the actors?
• What about the actresses?
• What about the animated films? (Related: Why didn't Pixar release a movie last year? No, Cars 2 doesn't count!)
• Which of these nominees will embarrass and befuddle us in 25 years?
• Which of these nominees embarrasses us right now?
• And much, much more! (Billy Crystal is mentioned only in passing.)
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Hooray for Hollywood," Nancy Sinatra
• "A Real Hero (featuring Electric Youth)," College (from the "Drive" Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
• "Seeding, And Horse Vs. Car," John Williams (from the "War Horse" Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, nominated for Best Original Score)
• "The Artist Ouverture," Ludovic Bource (from "The Artist" Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, nominated for Best Original Score)
• "George Smiley," Alberto Iglesias (from the "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, nominated for Best Original Score)
• "The Thief," Howard Shore (from the "Hugo" Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, nominated for Best Original Score)
• "The Adventure Continues," John Williams (from "The Adventures of Tintin" Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, nominated for Best Original Score)
Programming note: This episode of "The Ben and Joel Podcast" is Vol. 5, No. 2. We're hoping to go from a monthly schedule to more of a bi-weekly routine in the next month. Stay tuned!
Please visit and "like" the new Ben and Joel page on Facebook for updates about the podcast and our weekly syndicated column with ScrippsHoward News Service.
Three thoughts about "The Quick and the Dead":
* Sam Raimi's 1995 film is clearly a riff on the old Clint Eastwood "Man With No Name" spaghetti westerns with Sergio Leone -- encompassing everything from the credited name of Sharon Stone's character ("Lady") to the Ennio Morricone-light soundtrack. And I'm really fine with that: Hollywood westerns are basically American mythmaking, anyway, so revisiting and tweaking those myths to put (say) a woman at the center of the action is fine by me. No, it's not history. But it can be fun -- as this flick mostly is. Still, Clint Eastwood never cried in his westerns; I wish Sharon Stone hadn't cried in hers.
* Then again, Sharon Stone -- though she was a producer on the film -- may not have been quite up to the acting level of her compatriots in this film: Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, Leonardo Dicaprio, Gary Sinise, Keith David and a bunch of other character actors whose faces you'll certainly recognize. It's a powerhouse cast, and that unfortunately makes Stone's line readings a bit more noticeably thin.
* Then again, while it's a really entertaining film -- and I'm kind of shocked nobody turned it into a "Street Fighter" video game -- there are some real howlers in the script-writing department. TQATD's final line is this: "The law has come back to town." Delivered, I believe, without any awareness of irony. But it is, unfortunately, hilarious. But Raimi directed, and he knows a thing or two about hilarity in extreme situations, so maybe I should give the benefit of the doubt. It is, however, Sharon Stone, so maybe I shouldn't.
* BONUS THOUGHT: Her persona has long since overwhelmed our notions of Sharon Stone, but I sometimes forget: She really was an extraordinarily beautiful woman back in the day.
Three thoughts about Clint Eastwood's "Space Cowboys":
* I'm shocked that Eastood and Tommy Lee Jones could appear in the same movie without Hollywood imploding under the weight of all that laconic.
* The movie was pitched to the public as an action-comedy, but it's a Clint Eastwood action-comedy. This means, among other things, that the movie is somewhat gently paced: It doesn't hit you with the gag-every-five-seconds pace of today's films. It also means, of course, that somebody sympathetic dies at the end. But it's a fun film, so it's a good death. Oh, Clint Eastwood.
* I think I prefer out-and-out science fiction and fantasy to movies set in the real space program. My mind keeps picking out discrepancies between Hollywood-NASA and real-NASA. Too distracting for an old space nerd like me.
Still, an enjoyable flick. Three out of four stars.
Via Jon Favreau's Twitter Feed comes the most adorable, geek movie parody I have ever seen...
I guess I knew that Sergio Leone copied Akira Kurosawa, but still it's striking to see these movies back-to-back.And it's even more striking when you think about the career of Clint Eastwood: You mean to say that the foremost icon of late 20th century American manhood -- his squints, his three-day beard, his laconic style leavened with the occasional wisecrack, the jaw stroking and so much more that made Clint Clint -- got his entire shtick from a Japanese guy?
It's like finding out that Dodge muscle cars were based on Toyotas. Really AWESOME Toyotas that you never knew existed.
"King of the World" director James Cameron is holding a grudge over Glenn Beck making a joke about him when Beck had a show over on the unwatched CNN Headline News network three years ago. Beck said the man who foisted "Titanic" on the world — especially Celine Dion's awful "My Heart Will Go On" upon the culture — must be at least in the running for election to become the Anti-Christ.
It was a joke. Did I mention it was three years ago?
But, apparently, a mantle full of Oscars and a few billion dollars worth of box office receipts can't heal the wounds Beck inflicted — in jest. Cameron unleashed a profanity-laced tirade Tuesday against Beck, and even The Hollywood Reporter is too dense, biased, or lazy to correctly place the easily discerned reason for Beck's "offensive" quote. Hint: It has nothing to do with Cameron's 2007 documentary, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," which (1) no one has heard of, (2) didn't air until March of 2007, and (3) aired after Beck's comments of February 26, 2007.
We'll let the rest of the story be filled in by Beck's reaction to the flap on his show Wednesday night:
Why is James Cameron so certain he'd come out on top in a gunfight against a "global warming denier?" I think maybe he has been seen too many movies and thinks of himself as Gary Cooper.
...you'll likely enjoy this Academy Award winning movie trailer. It's the feel-good hit of the season!
(Hat tip: Steve Hayward)
How to explain? It's like Harold & Maude, only if both characters appeared to be 12 years old and Maude was actually a vampire. And if it had the icy surroundings and slowly building sense of dread as in The Shining. With Scott Farkus from A Christmas Story making an appearance as Harold's tormenter. Oh yeah, and it's all in Swedish -- with all the awkward touches of pubescent sexuality that might imply.
Does that describe it? It's the best I can do.
Cross-posted at Cup O' Joel.
Every nation has its own creation myth, something that illuminates our understanding of how a country sees itself, and the emergence of China as an economic superpower in the last couple of decades has prompted some cinematic consideration of how it came into being. Notable among these movies in recent years was Jet Li's Hero, which featured some wonderfully staged action scenes -- it was a Jet Li movie, after all -- but was also troubling to Western and democratic sensibilities with its seemingly pro-totalitarian bent.
Hero, though, was preceded a few years by 1998's The Emperor and the Assassin, and one hopes that this version of China's creation myth doesn't really show us how that country's citizens and artists think of themselves -- because it is super twisted.
Long story short: Li Xuejian plays Zheng Ying, the King of Qin who in 221 BC united all of China's disparate kingdoms under one empire. He's the Chinese George Washington, only if George Washington had a frothing bit of Macbeth in him, sprinkled with a twist of Hitler: Even at the outset he's clearly insane -- and as the movie progresses, it becomes clear he'll do anything to consolidate power: Murder his own family members, wipe out all the children of a city, and destroy entire families at a whim. But he manages a moment of clarity early on, describing China as he will one day rule it with kindness and wisdom.
His lover, Lady Zhao, is played by Gong Li, who is one of the most beautiful actresses ever to appear on screen anywhere in the world at any point in cinematic history. (I wanted, during the movie, to call her Lady Rowwwwr.) She is so moved by Ying's promise to benevolently rule a unified China that she has her face branded, part of a plot to create a pretext for Qin's invasion of a neighboring kingdom, Yan. But she changes her mind when she sees Ying's dark side, and plots with a reformed assassin to kill the king.
We know from history that Ying did become the first emperor of China, and thus we know what becomes of the plot. But still, something buzzes throughout the movie: This is China's creation myth! And it's full of double-crosses, palace intrigue and deaths to fill two or three Shakespeare plays! We're apparently supposed to take it as a given that the unification of China was a worthy thing -- and if you're a Chinese moviegoer watching this, that may well be a given. The rest of us, though, are left aghast at the horror of it all. Put it this way: I've never seen a movie with so many dead children on screen.
China's movie industry is not known, for obvious reasons, for its subversiveness. But there might be a hidden message in all of this. Lady Zhao is so moved by the king's promises of benevolence, food, safety and even good roads for all that she deforms her own visage to enable Ying's military adventurism ... only to find his bright vision similarly deformed by the awful task of acquiring power. A lesson learned: Never, ever trust the king.
Cross-posted at Cup O' Joel.
The popular image of Mike Tyson has long been that he's a dumb, savagely abusive brute who treats women -- in particular -- like crap. James Toback's documentary, Tyson, is supposed to correct the record a bit and it does: Now we know that Mike Tyson is somewhat self-aware that he's a savagely abusive brute who treats women like crap.
That's not what Toback is necessarily aiming for in this 2008 documentary. After all, we're treated to many, many images of Tyson staring pensively at the ocean while he tells his rags-to-riches story of a youngster who went from being the first coming of Omar Little -- robbing drug houses -- to the world's youngest heavyweight boxing champion to a convicted rapist to Holyfield ear-chewer and finally to a washed-up boxer and family man. We're also treated to private home video footage of him play-boxing with one of his young children. This is supposed to make us think that Tyson's not quite the brute we've perceived him as: Google up the phrase "Mike Tyson Toback complex" and you'll get 32,000 hits.
But where women are concerned, Mike Tyson is anything but complex. He professes openly that his goal is to dominate women, particularly sexually, and particularly if they're extraordinarily powerful. He calls Desiree Washington, the woman he was convicted of raping, a "wretched swine" -- betraying no Kobe-like awareness or contemplation of the possibility that (at the very least) the sexual advances he thought were welcome actually weren't. Every moment that Tyson talks about women makes you cringe -- though at least there's a laugh to be had when he describes performing "fellatio" on one young woman he met early in his career.
One, though, can be unsympathetic to Tyson and still recognize his story as a tragedy -- a tale of talent, riches and opportunity pissed away because of his own faults, and stolen from him by the always-corrupt game of boxing. But Tyson's contemptible characteristics loom too large in the story for you to feel sorry for him for long.
"Netflix Queue" features reviews of movies I just got around to watching -- no matter how out-of-date they might be. Cross-posted at the brand-new Cup O' Joel.
It's Academy Awards Weekend. Ben and Joel are joined once again by Christian Toto of What Would Toto Watch? and Matt Prigge of Philadelphia Weekly to talk about the 2009 nominees in the run up to Sunday's awards. (And if you are listening to this after the show, check out just how wrong -- or how right! -- we were.)
Among the questions we explore:
• Are 10 Best Picture nominations better than five?
• Or is expanding the nomination pool just a gimmick?
• Never mind what the Academy says: What movie really deserved the Best Picture Oscar?
• Is "Avatar" art -- or an embarrassment?
• What set "The Hurt Locker" apart from other recent war movies?
• Is it time for a gender-neutral “Best Actor” Oscar?
• Which movie released in 2009 should have been on the Best Picture list?
• Could there be a better Nazi zombie movie than "Dead Snow"?
Music heard in this podcast:
• "Hooray for Hollywood," Geoff Muldaur
• "I See You (Theme from 'Avatar')," some cheap knockoff cover, not the Leona Lewis version from the "Avatar" OST
• "Slaughter," Billy Preston (from the "Inglourious Basterds" OST)
• "Julia's Theme," Alexander Desplat (from the "Julie and Julia" OST)
• "Up With End Credits," Michael Giacchino (from the "Up" OST)
Sean Penn was on Larry King Live the other night talking about Haiti. And Penn certainly knows more about what's going on over there than me because he showed up to help after the earthquake hit. Penn warrants praise for lending his celebrity to the cause and physically helping the always poor and now horribly devastated people of Haiti. (There's video evidence on Fox News, of all places). We should all tip our hats to him for that.
But King, to his credit, challenged Penn on what appeared to the host to be a newfound appreciation for the United States military — which, predictably, proves to be Johnny-On-The-Spot when a natural disaster hits while the United Nations is still debating on whether to put on its shoes.
PENN: We work in strong collaboration with the 82nd Airborne, who have been extraordinary. To see the United States military with all its skill and discipline and most importantly the quality of human beings that there are doing this when it's a human aid effort is unparalleled.
KING: You were so praiseworthy of the military, and normally you're not a big fan of military.
PENN: That's not true. If anyone looks back at the things I've written, I've always been a supporter of the troops. I think that we have a responsibility to only deploy our troops constitutionally and responsibly.
In this case, there's no question. I think this is the most noble mission likely that the United States military has been involved in since World War II, but I support the military in right wars or unright wars.
The problem is the use of the military and the misuse of it at times. In this instance, this is the most efficient force in the country. And I would plead to our president that he keeps the United States military there for longer than I understand is currently planned.
Stop the presses! I agree with Sean Penn. Our forces should remain deployed there for longer than currently planned. (The people of Haiti would be better off today if we long ago invaded the country or won it as a prize in a war with France ... but let's put that aside.) As long as our troops can help, and our efforts there do not negatively affect our ability to respond to the war on terror, I'm all for it. But it's time to call bullshit — of which Penn's comments have tons.
As Tim Graham at NewsBusters notes, it was just last year that Penn won the Best Actor Oscar — and used his moment in the international spotlight to rip the kinds of people who join the military. And Penn was even less charitable toward those people in a 2006 HuffPost screed. So it's pretty rich for Penn to pretend he's "always been a supporter of the troops" in "right wars or unright wars." That's a joke.
Penn is among those liberals (especially among the Hollywood set) who only really love our men and women in uniform when they don't shoot anyone — when they act as an International Red Cross response team in fatigues. Of course, this is not the purpose of any nation's military. It would be nice if the "global community" that people like Penn so admire could dedicate itself to creating a rapid-response force with the "skill and discipline and most importantly the quality of human beings" found in the U.S. military. Alas, we are stuck with the incompetent, yet expensive, blue helmets of the United Nations — who occasionally rape the subjects of their humanitarian care.
I'm also intrigued by Penn's view that he's OK with military deployments when it's done "constitutionally." Funny. I don't remember a Congressional authorization for the U.S. military's deployment to Haiti. But I remember one for Iraq. Guess Penn's memory is sketchier than mine.
There's a by now old saw that liberals support military deployments when they are not in the national interest, but are all for them when they are for some sense of the "global interest." I recall Hollywood Hero Bill Clinton deploying troops to depose Slobodan Milosovic in the Balkans. Some conservatives growled, but nothing like the left did toward Bush. Personally, I supported it — but not enthusiastically, because I didn't see the vital U.S. interest in the endeavor. But it's a good thing that Milosovic is gone (dead, even). I'd like to hear Penn and his like-minded liberals say it's a good thing that Saddam is gone (dead, even) — without qualification. Still waiting.
Haiti is a military deployment that is justified for humanitarian reasons. No doubt. The "global community," and even Sean Penn, smiles upon our efforts. Which is nice. (Though, it should be noted, that Penn's good friend Hugo Chavez, calls America's humanitarian effort in Haiti a nefarious occupation. If Penn has weighed in publicly to correct his friend, I've missed it.) And it would be great to accept those well-wishes at face value.
But the left's historic hatred of the proper use of American military might on the global stage (Penn and his like-minded Hollywood friends opposed Reagan's stance in the Cold War, too) make Sean Penn's newfound appreciation for the troops — not to mention who sends them and how they are deployed — a little hard to stomach.
Tangina Barrons has joined Carol Anne in the light.
Or, rather, the actress who immortalized the character in three Poltergeist films has gone to her reward. Zelda Rubenstein was 76.
The diminutive Rubenstein did cartoon voice work before making her debut in the atrocious Chevy Chase-Billy Barty vehicle, Under the Rainbow. She went on to roles on television, including most memorably as the sheriff's radio dispatcher in Picket Fences.
But this will be how millions of fans will remember her:
(More Rubenstein clips here.)
At 47, Rubinstein -- a Pittsburgh native, Zaius will be happy to know -- abruptly decided to end her career as a medical technician. She told an interviewer:
“I had no idea what I would do next, but I knew it would involve advocacy for those people who were in danger of being disenfranchised,” she said. “I wanted a platform to be visible as a person who is different, as a representative of several varieties of differences. This is the most effective way for me to carry a message saying, ‘Yes you can.’ I took a look at these shoulders in the mirror and they’re pretty big. They can carry a lot of Sturm und Drang on them.”
Rest in peace, madame.
All Internet lists exist to prompt arguments, spark controversies, share a bit of knowledge, and generate lots of links. Ken Denmead -- a.k.a. GeekDad at Wired -- has contributed the best and the worst of the new decade with his "100 Quotes Every Geek Should Know," a document that at once delights and appalls. I mean, he includes Roy Batty's last three words in Blade Runner but not the immortal lines that precede them? Seriously? And he will rue the day he chose a couple of pedestrian lines from Real Genius.
I would note, too, that not all of Denmead's selections are from sci-fi or fantasy films. There are even a couple of song lyrics. Fine. But with such a broad criteria, where's Apocalypse Now? No, not the obvious one. Any self-respecting geek ought to know you can't land on one-quarter or three-eighths of Venus. That's dialectic physics!
The comments on the piece are lively and there are some excellent suggestions. (And it's really not such a bad list... I guess. De gustibus non est disputandum and all that.) One I would have liked to have seen from the endlessly quotable Army of Darkness: "It's a trap, get an axe!" I use that one all the time.
Well... what say you?
"Ain't nothin' gonna stop us!" Although it's mighty tempting to crow about this week's high-profile Democratic departures (including Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter), I hope John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP leadership have seen "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry"...
Those mobster-themed videos are good fun, Ben. But nothing that can compare to The Star Wars Holiday Special, where the unintentional comedy scale redlined ... then exploded. This was the first sign that trouble was ahead for Lucas' franchise, decades before his abominable prequels.
I LOVE the intro, as we learn which "stars" will be sullying their careers by being connected to this debacle. Oh, and the interminably long minutes that tick by with nothing but Wookie language and maudlin music to keep us interested.
This is awesome! Because as soon as I saw Star Wars, I was insatiably curious about what life was like for Wookies on whatever planet they live on. Apparently, it's just like our lives — if we lived in trees, spoke in wails and grunts, and had a cheesy soundtrack running in the background. Oh, and if we were a lot hairier.
A very touching scene with Han, "Lumpy" and Chewy's family.
Oh, and let's not forget the big finish, with a song by Carrie Fisher!
The Karate Kid remake, starring Jaden Smith (son of Will, who is directing, and Jada Pinkett), hits theaters next summer. The trailer, which premiered this week, is impressive. Jackie Chan plays the Miyagi character. At 55 years old, Chan is still the master. Why, even the snobs at /Film and the slobs at FilmDrunk think the trailer is decent. (Well... OK, not really. Those FilmDrunk guys are unbelievably cruel.)
There was a bit of grousing awhile back from fans of the original that this project was a kind of sacrilege, yet another in a ceaseless line of remakes and reboots from a creatively bankrupt Hollywood. And for awhile, it looked as though Columbia Pictures would rename the film "The Kung Fu Kid."
I liked the original with Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita and I've enjoyed watching it again with my son now that we're both training in the martial arts. And I'm not sure "Take your jacket off... put it on..." is quite as pithy or memorable as "Wax on, wax off." (What I really want to know is: Who is the Kreese character and will he say "Sweep the leg" in Chinese or English?)
But let's not get too carried away. The Karate Kid was very much a product of its era -- from the hairstyles to the ridiculous pop soundtrack. Some of it holds up, some of it looks hackneyed and lame. Based on the trailer, the remake looks promising.
Oh, mama. The Iron Man 2 trailer is out. Geek Tyrant, as always, has the scoop. We've got Tony Stark doing what Tony Stark does. We've got Whiplash -- I was a big fan of the comic, but I never realized Whiplash was quite so... foreign. We have a glimpse of Nick Fury. We have Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, for no discernible reason. We have Whiplash doing what Whiplash does. And we have... War Machine.
Oh, yeah. I couldn't wait for the first one. I really can't wait for the second.
Update: Joel says, "for once, I’ve got nothing snarky to say." But he does have video of Robert Downey Jr. doing something horrible.
You know what this looks like? A YouTube parody of somebody envisioning what a Ridley Scott production of Robin Hood might look like:
Oh. You say it's actually Ridley Scott's production of Robin Hood? Um, er....
Just a prediction: There's gonna be a scene in this movie where lots of people step forward and yell: "I am Robin Hood!" It just kind of smells like that kind of flick, no?
Hey, I'm a fan of the whole "edgy reboot" genre. James Bond. Batman. All were served well by going to dark places. But Robin Hood? C'mon, Ridley! Robin Hood is Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner's bad accent. It's Alan Rickman playing the villain. It's a Bryan Adams soundtrack! It's supposed to be fun, not humorless and angry.
I believe that Joel, for one, said he was looking forward to watching AMC's mini-series "The Prisoner." My colleague, Sam Karnick, over at The American Culture was not impressed. And a smart observer — a veritable scholar of the original series — notes in the comments just how awful this reboot was, and is well worth reading.
I also left a comment there, which contains spoilers so I won't repeat it here. But I'm curious about the reactions of other Monkeys and Monkey Readers.
Cool mash-up featuring the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" set to scenes from "The Empire Strikes Back." (Via Ace of Spades.)
Via Pam Meister at Big Hollywood comes word that the fetching Megan Fox is not all that happy that her first legitimate starring role in Jennifer's Body bombed at the box office. Who's to blame? The rubes in Middle America the girl raised in Tennessee has an enduring hate for. Fox bleats:
The actress tells The New York Times that her movie “Jennifer’s Body” tanked because “the movie is about a man-eating, cannibalistic lesbian cheerleader, and that pretty much eliminates middle America.”
Keep voluntarily eliminating "Middle America" from your audience, sweetie, and you'll find your audience will continue to dwindle. Them looks, as spectacular as they are, won't last forever. Meister is more to the point:
Oh my stars! [Jennifer's Body] has Oscar and Golden Globe written all over it, and Middle American schlubs who shop at Walmart and enjoy a night out at Applebee’s couldn’t appreciate the delicate nuances of a man-eating, cannibalistic lesbian cheerleader? Well, that’s the hoi polloi for you.
Yup. Someone please inform the bitter Ms. Fox that her box office appeal has everything to do with her looks (and quite a bit of luck) and nothing to do with what she might let spill from her pouty lips.
Jeffrey Jena at Big Hollywood explains what the 'V' controversy is -- and isn't -- all about:
As it happens, I’m acquainted with Scott Peters who developed and wrote the remake of “V” for ABC...
When I started reading some of the rumors and theories about Mr. Peters’ latest show and the behind-the-scenes politics, I laughed out loud. Let me try to shed some light on the “V” controversy.
The script was not written as a roman a clef or allegory for the Obama administration. The script was written by Mr. Peters during the Bush administration and started before Mr. Obama clinched the nomination. The author, Mr. Peters, is not some evil sleeper right-winger/Obama hater. Mr. Peters, besides being a talented writer and director is a gay man, legally married in California, and a liberal supporter of the President who worked for and donated money to the his campaign. If he’s a mole for some right-wing conspiracy he may be the most committed spy ever. Mr. Peters, who was born in Canada, recently became an American citizen; a process he tried to expedite so he could vote for Mr. Obama, a deadline he missed by two days.
I've made no secret of my love for classical music and my ever-present regret over failing to grow a beard like that of Johannes Brahms. Turns out, I've been eating the wrong breakfast cereal. (At least, I think that's what this commercial is about...)
Update: Bob Dylan's playlist, which XM Radio aired as an episode of his late, great Theme Time Radio Hour three years ago, is pretty good, too.