Friday, March 20, 2009

There's a riot goin' on (that nobody cares about).

Isn't this one of those situations where we should just let the herd thin itself out? Models like to be thin, after all.

The following comes from IMDB's gossip page:

New Rules In Place To Avoid Another America's Top Model Riot
20 March 2009 6:25 PM PDT

The producers of Tyra Banks' hit reality TV show America's Next Top Model have created a set of rules for wannabes — to avoid a repeat of the riot that broke out at a casting call last weekend.

Potential contestants were waiting to try out for producers in Manhattan, New York, when chaos broke out on the streets outside the Park Central New York hotel. Hundreds of people were caught up in the melee, leaving the street outside the hotel littered with shoes and clothing.

Two women and a man were arrested on charges of inciting to riot and disorderly conduct, and six people were injured. Police were forced to shut down the casting call.

To avoid a repeat when America's Next Top Model bosses stage another open call in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday, producers insist they won't see anyone who has been lining up overnight, or prior to 6 am, and only women competing for a part on the show can stand in line, unless they're under 18. Teenagers will be allowed to stand with one guardian.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Faster! Furiouser!

I just saw a TV ad for Fast & Furious, the fourth movie in the car-fetish franchise that includes the words "Fast" and "Furious" somewhere in each film's title. The lineage of this series gets confusing, so buckle up. (Driving clichés are so hard to resist.)

The Fast and the Furious was directed by Rob Cohen and was something of a surprise hit in the summer of 2001. It also turned Vin Diesel into an action star. Neither Cohen nor Diesel returned for 2 Fast 2 Furious, which was released in '03. Instead they made XXX (2002), which was also a huge hit, though neither one returned for its sequel, either—Diesel's character was declared dead at the beginning of XXX: State of the Union (2005), which starred Ice Cube as the series' new "extreme" hero.

Paul Walker, Diesel's Fast and the Furious costar, did return for 2 Fast 2 Furious, and was teamed up with Tyrese Gibson. It was the latter's second collaboration with director John Singleton, who debuted with 1991's gang drama Boyz N the Hood and at the age of 24 became the youngest recipient of a Best Director nomination in Oscar history, though films like 2 Fast 2 Furious and his 2000 remake of Shaft are more indicative of where his career has gone in this decade.

Without Diesel's star power, it seemed as if 2 Fast 2 Furious might fade quickly at the box office (I hope you appreciate how much effort it's taking to avoid phrases like "sputter out" and "crash and burn" here), but it earned $127 million in the summer of '03, only $17 million less than its predecessor. XXX: State of the Union, however, made only $26 million compared to the original's $142 million take.

In 2006 came The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, directed by Justin Lin and starring Lucas Black from Sling Blade but none of the stars from the first two films in the series—until Vin Diesel showed up at the end in a cameo. Tokyo Drift earned $62 million.

Three years later we have Fast & Furious, which was originally going to be released in June but is now set to open April 3, according to an ad I saw on TV. I wonder if Universal got a peek at the final cut and decided the movie would be better off going up against weaker competition in the spring than in the crowded summer season. Fast & Furious reunites Diesel and Walker and female costars Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster from the first film, but the director is Tokyo Drift's Lin.

I've heard Fast & Furious referred to as an "interquel," a goofy, made-up word I'm praying doesn't catch on with the public, which would mean that the film's narrative takes place between those of 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift. To make matters more confusing, Diesel has reportedly directed a 20-minute prequel (which itself was a goofy made-up word at one point, I suppose—but now it's the law!) to Fast & Furious starring himself, Rodriguez, and Sung Kang.

As put it last August, "The fourth movie is a sequel to the first installment, and though Diesel didn't elaborate, we assume this 20-minute prequel will tie-in some of the events from the second and third movies. Rodriguez appeared in the first movie, Sung Kang in the third, and Diesel in the first with a brief cameo in the third."

I told you it was confusing, and I read that Diesel may also be returning to the XXX franchise soon for "XXX: The Return of Xander Cage." I guess his character didn't die after all. Coincidentally, John Singleton's next film, according to IMDB, is "Luke Cage," based on the Marvel Comics character who inspired Nicolas Cage's stage name. It's set to star Tyrese Gibson as Cage (Luke, not Nicolas).

All this film-franchise zigzagging is making me drowsy, and I'd hate to fall asleep at the wheel. (See how hard it is to resist these clichés?) I'll leave you with a picture of Diesel that I found last summer around the time Babylon A.D. came out. The sci-fi action film bombed, thanks in part to its director, Matthieu Kassovitz, telling the press how bad it was before it hit theaters. In my opinion, Diesel should've cut his losses as an action star at that point and pitched himself to studios as the star of "Mr. Potato Head: The Movie." I'd buy a ticket.

Friday, March 6, 2009

They say the neon lights are insanely bright on Broadway if you're tripping on X.

On February 28 the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a billboard advertisement at the corner of Melrose and Broadway, about a half mile from where I live, had been pulled due to complaints from residents and the principal of Nettelhorst Elementary School. The offending ad, which faced the school from across the street, promoted Xanadu, the intentionally campy touring production of the 2007 Broadway hit that’s based on the unintentionally campy 1980 Olivia Newton-John movie.

The ad included a positive blurb from Vanity Fair magazine: “It’s like taking Ecstasy.” And what’s the first letter of Xanadu? No pressure, children, but having X-rated fun while doing X is way more fun than any musical could ever be!
Just ask your big brother's friend Drake. You remember Drake—he's the one who doesn't come around anymore, but the last time he did, all of your mom's jewelry suddenly vanished.

When I walked by Nettelhorst yesterday, I saw Xanadu’s replacement on the billboard: an ad for The Tale of Despereaux, with “Christmas” at the bottom of the ad. Supposedly this is the ad that was on the billboard prior to Xanadu’s, and Despereaux certainly seems more kid friendly than Xanadu, but note the last letter in the name of that movie’s title character. The subliminal advertising for Ecstasy continues!

(Despereaux is a French mouse, by the way. The makers of The Tale of Despereaux presumably hoped to cash in on the popularity of the French rat in 2007's Ratatouille, though Despereaux only made $50 million in theaters compared to Ratatouille's $206 million and an Oscar win for Best Animated Feature. “As usual with Pixar releases, critics heaped superlatives on [Ratatouille]," noted Dean Goodman in a Reuters article from July 1, 2007. "But it was no secret that Disney faced a marketing challenge with the movie: A rat in the kitchen raises hygiene concerns for some people.” I think as long as the vermin protagonist in Ratatouille doesn't try to cook anything in moviegoers' own kitchens, there's no reason to get hysterical.)

Broadway in Chicago, the local company that’s putting on Xanadu, said in a written statement that “We currently have an outside vendor who purchases our billboard space throughout the Chicagoland area, and the producers of the show requested that general area.” The “general area” is nicknamed Boystown because of its gay population, gay bars, gay clubs, etc., and gay men are the perfect audience for campy musicals about disco, roller skating, and cute boys roller skating to disco, right?

Maybe, but the fact that there’s a meth problem in Boystown makes the ad insensitive to that demographic as well, not just kids who might be staring out the window during math class and wondering, “How do you 'take ecstasy'? Is that like when I eat one of my grandma’s oatmeal raisin cookies and she says I’m ‘swallowing happiness’? Or is it like when I heard Uncle Gary telling Uncle Ted that he loves swallowing Uncle Ted's happiness?"

Thursday, March 5, 2009


"I think of it like that scene in [Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade], where he has to go across where there is no bridge, and he has to step out into nothingness—and there is a bridge you cannot see, below. It's an optical illusion. That's how I need writing to feel: finding the way by being willing to fall." —Miranda July, writer-director-actor-performance artist (Me and You and Everyone We Know), discussing the process of writing in a 2005 Hit It or Quit It interview

"Putting things off to the last second provides the necessary tension of waking up at 3 A.M. in sheer terror." —Les Charles, cocreator and executive producer of Cheers, discussing the discipline of writing in a 1987 New York Times article

"For television, you should always write as the cast is standing on the stage waiting." —Glen Charles, cocreator and executive producer of Cheers (and brother of Les), as quoted in the same article

"Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self." —Cyril Connolly

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


My parents gave me America: The Book for Christmas three years ago along with the 2006 day-calendar version, but I still haven’t made it through all the entries. Day calendars make me anxious, alright? I’m expected to fully digest an entire 4.5" x 4.5" square of paper every single day even if it only contains a few words and a large graphic? I got tired just writing that sentence. But almost all the entries I've read so far are smart and laugh-out-loud funny, just as you’d expect from the writers of The Daily Show.

The heading for March 23, 2006, is “Quoting the President,” and the subheading is “On the Economy.” Below a picture of FDR are these quotes:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” —Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933

“Oh, and starvation. We might all starve.” —Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933

Oscars wrap-up (What, too late?)

First off, Ben Stiller's take on Joaquin Phoenix's odd behavior outstayed its welcome when he presented the Best Cinematography award with Natalie Portman, partly because it was too much of an inside joke. I knew the reference, but I didn't see Phoenix's February appearance on Late Show With David Letterman until a few days ago, and a friend of mine had no idea what Stiller was doing and why people in the audience were laughing.

I hope Phoenix doesn't give up acting, because the YouTube clips of him on Late Show elicit many emotions: sympathy, embarrassment, annoyance with the audience, annoyance with Phoenix, sympathy for Letterman, sympathy for the audience. Back in 2000 when he was promoting Gladiator on The Tonight Show, Jay Leno supposedly ended the interview with "Thanks for coming, Joaquin. Next time bring your brain." I never saw that interview and can't find it on YouTube, but Letterman says something similar here. Joaquin marches to the beat of his own drum machine.

On to the main event—I've waited until now to talk about the Oscar ceremony that took place two weeks ago because I wanted to let it completely sink in before I did a full analysis. And if you believe that, I'd like to offer you an
authentic Oscar statue for only $10,000 cash. I found it in the trash outside Jack Nicholson's place in Malibu. I guess he felt he didn't really deserve that third one for 1997's As Good as It Gets.

Two of the comments under the post I wrote (and actually finished!) the day of the Oscars took the words right out of my mouth. First, this one from Halfhearted Dude:

The TV direction in the In Memoriam segment was criminal — I almost wish that the director will feature in it next year for messing up the best part of the show. Long angle shots of screens on which the writing was too small, and sometimes the image of the late subject. Unlike certain child actors, I couldn't see dead people. And then the camera zoomed in and out and left and right; I nearly got seasick. What pretentious rubbish.

I agree wholeheartedly, Halfhearted! I was especially invested in this year's "In Memoriam" segment because of the 2008 passing of Sydney Pollack, one of my heroes, but as soon as the segment started with Queen Latifah singing whatever she was singing, I had a bad feeling. Since Laurence Mark and Bill Condon had said they wanted this year's ceremony to feel more like a party, I got the impression that they decided the big downer moment would be Heath Ledger's family's acceptance speech if he won (yep, I shed a tear, as I expected), and that the "In Memoriam" segment would be the equivalent of when you're at a party and you get stuck talking to your friend who becomes morose whenever he's drunk and wants to discuss "what it all means." You make a beeline for the cooler, which is what the cameramen seemed to do during the "In Memoriam" segment. I'm sure the producers didn't mean to be disrespectful in their presentation of the segment, but it was executed about as poorly as it possibly could. Next year the names and images need to be visible to the viewers at home the entire time, not just to the audience inside the Kodak Theatre.

Next up is this comment from Jane:

I couldn't stick with the whole Oscar ceremony. I think for me what was missing were the film clips. I've always enjoyed the film clips playing while the nominees are called. The "tribute" from previous winners was a nice idea, but didn't hold the same impact for me.

Again, I agree. The Oscar ceremony is already the most self-congratulatory night of the year in Hollywood, so amplying that aspect with the tributes to the actor nominees made me squirm. "You're great!" "No, you're great!" Enough. I have no doubt it's difficult to pick out solid Oscar clips for the actor nominees each year—a good performance can't be encapsulated in 20 seconds—but for people like me who hadn't seen most of the performances that were nominated, I had no reason to think any of the nominees were better than any other. At least with the Oscar clips you can be "hooked" in those 20 seconds and see a glimpse of lightning in a bottle, even if the clip just shows the actor screaming or crying, which are the "old standby" displays of emotion in Oscar clips. (My roommate during my freshman year of college thought that good acting boiled down to how loud you can yell, or at least that's the impression he gave. Who needs subtlety? Just crank up the volume, and flip over a table while you're at it.)

I think a conspiracy was afoot—yes, afoot!—with the Oscar clips because Robert Downey Jr. was nominated for Tropic Thunder. After he was nominated I wrote my friend Jeremy and said, "Do you think his 'full retard' speech in that movie will be the clip?" If you haven't seen Tropic Thunder, I'll just say that the speech involves the Downey character's take on why certain actors win Oscars for playing mentally handicapped people and others don't. For instance, Dustin Hoffman played a character who was merely autistic in Rain Man, so he won Best Actor in 1989, but Sean Penn "went full retard" in I Am Sam, so he didn't win Best Actor in 2002.

The host of a party who can make fun of himself or take a joke at his own expense is a good host, but maybe the Academy isn't that kind of host. Or maybe Sean Penn is still sore about losing that Oscar for I Am Sam. Or maybe the fact that Downey was the only "black" actor nominated this year in both the lead and supporting categories made the Academy not want to show what he looks like in Tropic Thunder, in case Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson were nearby with a stack of fresh picket signs waiting to be hoisted. But the "full retard" speech, though it may be offensive to some moviegoers, does a good job of showing the mindset of Downey's five-time-Oscar-winning Method-actor character, who goes to extremes to capture the "truth" in his performances yet is still career-savvy enough to know what Academy members will vote for.

(I also think Downey's Oscar nomination was more of an acknowledgement that he's "back" than anything else. His performance in Tropic Thunder is funny at first, but it wears thin, and the movie is a disappointment overall. Meanwhile, the trailer for The Soloist, also starring Downey—though Jamie Foxx plays the black guy in this one—is on the Tropic Thunder DVD, and when I saw it I thought, "Oh yeah, wasn't this piece of Oscar bait supposed to come out in the fall?" Sure enough, it ends with the date "November 2008"; DreamWorks's decision to push the film's release back to April doesn't bode well for its quality.)

Did you notice what when Jennifer Aniston was presenting the animation awards with Jack Black, the camera cut to Angelina Jolie in the front row looking at Aniston? Reeeal classy, Mr. Director. It wouldn't be a party without icy tension between two gorgeous women who've both been with the same guy!

What else? I think Beyoncé was lip-synching during the big Baz Luhrmann-choreographed musical number. And I liked that Sean Penn acknowledged Mickey Rourke in his acceptance speech for Best Actor, because it reminded me that Rourke had a great cameo in The Pledge, which was directed by Penn and starred Jack Nicholson. I recommend it if you haven't seen it. I had low expectations when I first saw it because it came out in January of '01 but was originally supposed to be released in the fall of 2000 to qualify for awards season. Releasing a film in January is never a good sign, but The Pledge isn't an embarrassment by any means. It stuck with me long after I saw it, and though Rourke only has one scene, it was enough to remind me that he was still a good actor who had something left to prove.