Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Zac Efron Is Taking Over the World

I'm not lying- everywhere I turned this past week it seems that Zac Efron was there. After the mega-successes of Hairspray last month (it recently joined Grease, Chicago and Dreamgirls as the only musicals to ever gross more than $100 million) and the record-breaking High School Musical 2, the world is ready to proclaim Efron the King of the World. The first to jump on this bandwagon was Rolling Stone.

Now, I haven't read Rolling Stone in about a year because it was getting too liberal even for me (every issue had someone ranting about global warming and everything else was about how Bush sucked) and the only thing I was reading was the film review. But as soon as I saw this cover, I had to pick up a copy. I know it's kind of a rip-off of that infamous Justin Timberlake cover but....damn.

The next day, while I was looking for some trashy magazine to read on my break at work, I was astonished that Efron was on like 5 different covers, either with or without High School Musical star Vanessa Anne Hudgens. I picked up a copy of People (in which Efron and Hudgens appeared together) and started reading. Here are some things I learned while reading these articles about Zac:

1. Apparently, my source was wrong for the last time I wrote about Efron because Zac and Vanessa (or Zanessa, as the tweens call them) are starting to come forward about their relationship. They're in love for reals.

2. Zac might be starring in a remake of Footloose but there is no director yet. He also might do a feature film version of High School Musical 3, but he doesn't want to be tied down to the series. He also might do some comedy called Seventeen about a 36 year old who gets transformed into the body of a high schooler (boy, that doesn't sound familiar or overused).

3. Zac respects real actors like Al Pacino and Matt Damon, loves the Die Hard and Bourne films and wants to be an action star.

4. Zac has abs of steel.

Riveting I know. But there is a bigger question that Entertainment Weekly asked in it's knewest issue: Will Zac Efron follow in the footsteps of other teenage stars like Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio or will he flounder like Christian Slater or Luke Perry? I'm really not sure- to me, he doesn't have the raw talent that Channing Tatum displayed last year and really only has that one strained, I'm-in-pain-can't-you-tell look that he gives a lot- but he could surprise us. If nothing happens with his career post-High School Musical, at least we'll always have Link:

Reader Request: Rants on "Myra Breckinridge"


Before I even popped in Michael Sarne’s 1970 film Myra Breckinridge, I was totally expecting some kind of simplistic, crowd pleasing film chock full of delicious camp moments. After the first scene, in which Myron Breckinridge (played by film critic Rex Reed) undergoes a sex-change operation in a heavily stylized hospital room straight out of All That Jazz, I figured that the film might be a little artier than I expected. Twenty minutes in, after a scene in which Myron receives oral sex from his post-operation alter ego Myra (played fabulously by Raquel Welch), I had no idea what was going on and decided to just go with the flow.

The story of Myra Breckinridge is actually pretty straight forward: Myra returns from her sex-change operation to her Uncle Buck’s (John Huston) acting school and, claiming to be Myron’s widow, tries to claim her part of his interest in the school. He tries to delay her claim so he can speak to his lawyers by offering her a teaching position at the school. She develops a crush on one of the dim-witted students, which leads to a shocking scene in which she sodomizes him with a strap-on dildo (yes, you read that right). Myra feels guilty and eventually passes him onto horny super agent Leticia Van Allen (Mae West). By the end, as Uncle Buck desperately tries to fight Myra to keep her away from his money, she reveals to him that she is really Myron and shows them her penis.

Based on the controversial book by renowned author Gore Vidal, it would make sense for Myra Breckinridge to be a little on the artier side. Unfortunately, problems arise nearly every time it breaks from the story to try to make an artistic point. One example is the few times that both Myron and Myra appear in the same scene. I’m sure there is some metaphorical point to be made from this about how a part of Myron is still living with Myra or something to that effect, but Sarne doesn’t do a good job explaining or setting this up- it seems like he just appears out of nowhere. Another example is the aforementioned oral sex scene with Myron and Myra. During the middle of it, Myron has the fantasy/dream in which a hot blonde woman sexily offers him a wide selection of food from a long buffet table. I can’t even fathom what Sarne was attempting to do with scene, but what he created definitely doesn’t work.

Another problem with Myra Breckinridge is the Leticia Van Allen character. Although the role is tailor made for Mae West (making her "return" to the screen after a 37 year absence) and she is quite funny, Leticia doesn’t seem to fit into the structure of the film. The only times that she is even minorly important are when she appears at the acting school for about a minute and when she takes the male student off of Myra’s hands- and these moments are unnecessary as it is. My guess is that she was a minor character in the book, but had to be made larger to appease the diva West. And why the hell did she sing during that award show?

Although Myra Breckinridge has many problems, there are a couple of redeeming factors. One of them has to be Raquel Welch’s fabulous performance. What makes it so refreshing is that instead of the usual 70’s Method style, Welch uses the 40’s style of star charisma- an era she absolutely adores. She takes no prisoners and seems to be having the time of her life with this role (although the episode of Backstory that appears on this disc says otherwise).

One of the best scenes in the whole film has to be the previously mentioned scene where Myra puts on a strap-on and practically anally rapes the student she has the hots for. Even today, after seeing my fair share of shocking and strange sex scenes (even living through the Cronenberg version of Crash), the scene still stunned me for all of it’s graphicness without even showing anything. Throughout much of the film, Sarne slips in clips of old 20th Century Fox films for no other reason, it seems, than to highlight Myra’s love of the era. But, during this scene, the clips actually seem to serve a purpose as they provide a running commentary. There’s even one towards the end that is utterly brilliant: in the clip Oliver Hardy laments to Stan Laurel something to the effect of "It hurt me more than it hurt him." It fits so easily into the scene that it almost seems that it was written specifically for it.

In the end, Myra Breckinridge is full of faults, but thanks to a couple of brilliant parts, it is not unwatchable and actually a little bit of fun.

My Rating: ***

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Supporting Actress Smackdown: 1971

Once again I am participating in StinkyLulu's monthly Supporting Actress Smackdown and this go around we are doing 1971- a far cry (in terms of acting styles, that is) from my last Smackdown (1950). Overall, I'm not a huge fan of the 70's, and we all know this wasn't a kind decade to actresses, but this year offered some juicy parts and equally juicy performances. I thought I would be underwhelmed by the nominees, but, much to my surprise, I whole-heartedly enjoyed nearly every single one of them.



Who was my personal favorite? I'm going to have to cop out and declare a tie between two breathtaking performances in two totally different films:





(Ellen Burstyn in the sublime The Last Picture Show and Barbara Harris in the abysmal Who is Harry Kellerman, and Why is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?)


To see which performance I absolutely hated (which was a shame because I love the woman), what the other Smackdowners think about the nominees and the overall winner, check out the 1971 Supporting Actress Smackdown.

2006 Diva Cup Awards: Best Actor

And the nominees are...

Matt Damon, The Departed
A brilliant performance that, for some reason or another, was never given any respect. Damon is transfixing as this dirty cop posing as a good cop and finally proved to me that he is a fantastic actor.
Key Scene: Raiding Costello


Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed

With The Aviator, DiCaprio proved (to me anyways) that he could act. With The Departed, DiCaprio proves why he is one of the most respected actors in his age group. This is one hell of a knockout performance.

Key Scene: The final showdown on the roof


Aaron Eckhart, Thank You For Smoking

Being the lead of an impressive cast is never easy, but Eckhart does it flawlessly and easily shows us why everyone falls for this tobacco lobbyist's line.

Key Scene: Speaking at his son's career day

Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson

I wrote about this performance before, but let me just remind you how awed I was by this stunning, haunting and altogether brilliant performance...from the star of The Notebook no less.

Key Scene: Being found in the bathroom by Dre

Edward Norton, The Painted Veil

Norton keeps on surprising us with unusual projects and interesting characters. His performance here as the quiet and shy doctor who turns cold and bitter once he finds out about his wife's affair is startling and another brilliant performance for him.

Key Scene: Telling his wife he knows about her affair

If Only There Were Six: Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat: hilarious, but also insightful- a rarity nowadays

Rest of the Top 10: Gael Garcia Bernal, The Science of Sleep: effectively keeps the surrealism grounded in reality...Patrick Wilson, Little Children: another fine performance ignored by critics- when will they learn...James McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland: there really is no way he should have been campaigning for supporting because he is the whole show...Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland: an effective scene stealer and scarily mad

BRONZE
Aaron Eckhart, Thank You For Smoking
SILVER
Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson
GOLD
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed

Friday, August 24, 2007

2006 Diva Cup Awards: Best Supporting Actress

And the nominees are...


Lindsay Beamish, Shortbus
Beamish masterfully takes a one-note caricature joke (a dominatrix) and turns her into a real human being. Bravo to you.
Key Scene: Admitting her real name


Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine

She’s bright, cute as a button and hilarious, but above all, Breslin is a natural on-screen and should soon overtake Dakota Fanning as the most wanted child star in Hollywood.
Key Scene: “I eat ice cream”



Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

What more can I say? A powerful performance with passionate vocals and the dramatic chops to match. A very rare occurrence indeed.

Key Scene: “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”


Ashley Johnson, Fast Food Nation

Johnson lights up the screen in every frame she appears in with her youthful exuberance and passion for living- which only makes her realization at the end of the film all the more affecting.

Key Scene: Setting the cows free



Rinko Kikuchi, Babel

Kikuchi produces the only real full-fledged “character” to emerge from the lowest depth of humanity known as Babel and, consequently, makes us feel for her character using only gestures, uninhibited sign language and her eyes.

Key Scene: Baring her soul to the police officer

If Only There Were Six: Frances McDormand in Friends With Money: her diva antics made my day

Rest of the Top Ten: Carmen Maura, Volver: brilliantly shows both the wonderful and tough things about motherhood...Jill Clayburgh, Running With Scissors: her moments of brilliance made the film much better...Lola Dueñas, Volver: funny and touching in an unexpected way...Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal: matched Dame Judi every step of the way and, of course, "Here I am!"


BRONZE
Ashley Johnson, Fast Food Nation
SILVER
Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine
GOLD
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls

Saturday, August 18, 2007

2006 Diva Cup Awards: Best Supporting Actor

And the nominees are...

Steve Carell, Little Miss Sunshine
Carell hardly seems to be the first person you would cast as the gay, suicidal Uncle Frank, but he does an amazing job balancing the pathos with the comedy.
Key Scene: Running Into His Ex-Lover While Buying Porn
Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
When we are first introduced to him, we understand why Murphy was cast, but along the way he shows us things we've never seen before.
Key Scene: "Fake Your Way to the Top"

Jack Nicholson, The Departed

Nicholson, as always, delivers a deliciously maniacal performance that teeters on over-the-top but somehow manages to stay grounded in reality.

Key Scene: "Enjoy your clams, cocksucker"


Michael Sheen, The Queen

Sheen does an amazing job keeping up with Dame Helen and believably captures Tony Blair's transformation from not liking the Queen to respecting her.

Key Scene: Meeting the Queen


Mark Wahlberg, The Departed

Superior scene stealing in a true supporting role.

Key Scene: Morning Briefing With Alec Baldwin

If Only There Were Six: Channing Tatum, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

Rounding Out the Top 10: PJ DeBoy, Shortbus...Christopher Plummer, Inside Man...Stanley Tucci, The Devil Wears Prada...Jackie Earle Haley, Little Children

BRONZE
Jack Nicholson,
The Departed
SILVER
Steve Carell,
Little Miss Sunshine
GOLD
Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Zac and Nikki: Match Made in Heaven?


I was flipping through some trashy tabloid a few days ago and I came across this article that said that Hairspray co-stars Zac Efron and Nikki Blonsky were a couple. At first, I was a little surprised by this announcement because for years Hollywood has pounded into my head that skinny white boys like Efron only date skinny white chicks like Lindsay Lohan or Hillary Duff, but now I'm totally in love with this relationship. We all know my dream couple and this is basically them except a few years younger and Nikki Blonsky just sings like a black girl. Unfortunately, there might be some problems in the future because of their different religious faiths: Zac is Jewish (I had no idea) and Nikki is some kind of Christian (Catholic I think, but don't quote me). Maybe they can overcome these differences because they like to talk about serious things like the war in Iraq and global warming, which Zac never could with his ex Vanessa Anne Hudgens (I'm not making this last part up---it was in that article).

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Reader Request: Rants on “Pokémon: The First Movie”


When I first saw Pokémon: The First Movie in the movie theater when I was about ten years old, I’d never thought I would see the day when I would have to sit through it again. But here I am, a 19 year old college sophomore, watching this damn movie again. But c’est la vie.

The structure of Pokémon: The First Movie is basically just like any TV-to-film adaptation; it is nothing more than one extended episode. What sets it apart from the TV series is the dark and serious (for a kid-oriented cartoon, anyway) opening sequence. In it, we learn that a new Pokémon named Mewtwo has been genetically engineered from the DNA of Mew. While being studied by some scientists, Mewtwo ponders some deep thoughts (What am I? Am I real? What is life?- shit like that) before being persuaded to leave the scientists and become an equal with some random trainer. The trainer is basically a douchebag and tells Mewtwo that Pokémon can never be "equal" to humans. Mewtwo goes apeshit crazy and starts demolishing everything in his path and ventures on his own.

But don’t worry- it doesn’t stay this dark for too long. Before you know it, the film cuts to Ash, Misty and Brock eating lunch in the park. A different random trainer suddenly comes up to Ash and challenges him to a duel- which of course Ash wins. Now this is something about Ash and his Pokémon that has always bugged me: why is it that his shitty Squirtle and Bulbasaur can defeat such enormous and highly evolved Pokémon every single time? I know that technically Ash is a great trainer or something and that his love for them can overcome everything, blah blah blah, but it really makes no sense. How would Squirtle’s attack in which a little trickle of water comes out of his mouth cause more damage than some 500 pound Pokémon lunging on top of him?

Eventually, Ash and company get an invitation to meet and battle with one of the most powerful- and mysterious- trainers. He immediately accepts and they are off to catch a boat where this trainer lives. Following him is the best characters from the TV show: Jessie, James and Meowth from Team Rocket. They are such enormous divas (with perfect hair) who will stop at nothing to try to catch Ash’s Pikachu. When they get to the boat dock, the storm of the century breaks out and no boats can leave. A couple trainers (including Ash and company) decide to brave the storm and use their Pokémon to get across to the island.


Once on the island, they meet this mysterious trainer and guess who it turns out to be…Mewtwo, of course! What a plot twist I didn’t see coming. Immediately, these cocky trainers want to fight Mewtwo, but they are quickly defeated by his powerful psychic powers. Then they get this brilliant idea that since Mewtwo is a Pokémon, they can capture him. All of them throw their Pokéballs at him, but it doesn’t work. I don’t know what these dumbasses were thinking, because they had just seen Mewtwo annihilate that Gyrados. And even the stupidest person knows that you have to weaken a Pokémon before you can capture it (Duh!)

Next, Mewtwo brings out his own Pokémon to battle and his Blastoise, Charizard and Venusaur quickly defeat the other trainers’ weaker Blastoise, Charizard and Venusaur. In compensation for his victory, Mewtwo decides to claim these fallen Pokémon as his own. I thought this was completely fair (he did whip their asses) but then he decides that he needs to capture every trainers’ Pokémon with these inescapable black Pokéballs. Ash tries to save Pikachu, but in the end these Pokéballs are just too powerful.

But why does Mewtwo want all of these Pokémon? While all of this has been going on, Jessie, James and Meowth have wandered into Mewtwo’s lab and discovered that Mewtwo has a machine that can make exact replicas of any Pokémon placed in it. While these scenes are pretty funny (I love the send up of the TV show where as the Pokémon pass through the cloning machine we see their shadows on a screen and James cries out "Who’s that Pokémon?" while Jessie replies "It’s Pikachu!") they reveal a fatal flaw in the film’s story. Why would Mewtwo, who feels bitter and angry about being created from Mew, want to clone all of these other Pokémon and continue this bitterness among them? Not only is it selfish, it doesn’t fit in with the beginning at all.

Eventually, after he is done cloning them, Mewtwo returns the stolen Pokémon to their trainers and all is happy…for a couple of seconds. Mew, who had been popping up briefly beforehand, shows up and Mewtwo gets pissed and wants to prove that he is superior to the original. So they start battling and, before you know it, all of the other Pokémon (original versus clone) start fighting. This probably the best scene in the whole damn film for two reasons: First, there is this cute shot where both of the Psyducks bitch slap each other without much enthusiasm or energy. Second, there is this great line from one of the random trainers: "Pokémon aren’t meant to fight…like this." It’s perfect because it makes absolutely no sense. When are they meant to fight? For meaningless battles with random trainers who just pop up out of nowhere (like Ash’s battle in the beginning)? What makes that any different than the fight going on right now?

Just when things are looking as grim as they could possibly be, things get worse for Ash. He gets in the way of one of Mewtwo's attacks and goes down like Paris Hilton after a couple of drinks. Pikachu rushes after him, hoping he can save him, but it seems that it is too late. Mewtwo is touched by this gesture and immediately stops fighting, delivers a moving monologue that felt like something out of Crash about how people shouldn't discriminate and then finally bring Ash back to life. Then everything goes back to the way things were and everyone is farting rainbows and getting high on life.

While not as horrible as it could have been, something got lost in translation between the light, carefree and easy to handle TV show and this dark, heavy-handed and preachy. As much as I don't like the show, I'd take it any day over this film.

My Rating: **

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

2006 Diva Cup Awards: Best Original Screenplay

And the nominees are...

Pedro Almodóvar, Volver

The women in Volver always feel like a real family and, dead husbands aside, the constant warmth is a refreshing feeling. Too bad so many people won't see this because it's in a foreign language...it's a knockout.

Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine

Another real family, but this time, one of the most hilariously dysfunctional ever put on screen. Arndt does a fine job turning this cliché plot into something fresh and exciting.

Nicole Holofcener, Friends With Money

The relationships between the women and their men never feel artificial. We may have seen this a hundred times before, but Holofcener adds levity and wit to make it something fresh.


John Cameron Mitchell, Shortbus

It could have been a glorified porn film, but Mitchell uses sex in ways I've never seen before and creates warm, inviting characters for us to get involved in that goes way beyond porn. Bonus points for that beautiful monologue that The Mayor gives towards the beginning.

Peter Morgan, The Queen

Morgan gets inside the head of Queen Elizabeth and makes us understand why she does the things she does (all without sneaking too much sympathy in there).

Runners Up: Michel Gondry, The Science of Sleep...Russell Gerwitz, Inside Man...Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Half Nelson

BRONZE
Pedro Almodóvar, Volver
SILVER
John Cameron Mitchell, Shortbus
GOLD
Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine

2006 Diva Cup Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay

And the nominees are...

Bill Condon, Dreamgirls
It always fascinating to see an adaptation of a Broadway work and wonder what it must have looked like on the stage because the film doesn't look like it would fit on a stage. Condon does just that...and makes it look easy.


Todd Field, Tom Perrotta, Little Children

The film is highly literate, but not so stuffy and filled with superlative dialogue that it's hard to get involved in.

Patrick Marber, Notes on a Scandal

The most intelligent camp script I have ever seen in my life. Marber deserves more credit than he receives for making this film so over the top and, yet, grounded in reality.

William Monahan, The Departed

Every word of dialogue is true and beliveable and, even at 2 1/2 hours, I don't think any of the scenes could have been cut.


Ron Nyswaner, The Painted Veil

Nyswaner's updating of the Maugham novella manages to keep both the relationship issues on the same footing with the exotic location.

Runners Up: Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski, V For Vendetta...Jason Reitman, Thank You For Smoking...Christoper Nolan and Jonathon Nolan, The Prestige

BRONZE
Bill Condon, Dreamgirls
SILVER
Patrick Marber, Notes on a Scandal
GOLD
William Monahan, The Departed

Monday, August 6, 2007

2006 Diva Cup Awards: Best Diva

And the nominees are...

Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette in Marie Antoinette
In this environment of scrumptous food, fabulous gowns and to-die-for shoes, there's no doubt that Marie Antoinette would have been a major diva bitch and Kiki Dunst fits that mold perfectly.


Jennifer Hudson as Effie White in Dreamgirls

My girl Effie is a diva after my own heart (before she's even famous, she turns down a paying gig becuase she "don't do 'oohs' and 'aahs'.") and that MLK line will never get old.

Frances McDormand as Jane in Friends With Money

McDormand's Jane feels like a lot of the divas I personally know (my mother, my friend Christi's mother and grammy) when she grumbles about the awful service in that restaurant.

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada

She scares to shit out of everyone and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. I wanted to sign up for the "Miranda Priestly School of Bitchiness" the minute she first evily glared at Anne Hathaway's Andy.


Mark Wahlberg as Sgt. Dignam in The Departed

He steals scenes better than anyone I've ever seen and the way he is such an asshole to everyone (love that "Don't you know any fucking Shakespeare?" line to DiCaprio in the beginning) is a lesson for every diva in training.

Runners Up: Annette Bening brought her whole diva aura to Running With Scissors and made it a much better film than it should have...Fiona Shaw was so over-the-top in The Black Dahlia and, consequently, so hilarious, that she almost made Faye Dunaway's Joan Crawford seem subtle...Julianne Moore made a real diva entrance like the true pro that she is in Children of Men.

BRONZE
Mark Wahlberg
SILVER
Jennifer Hudson
GOLD
Meryl Streep

2006 Diva Cup Awards: Best Ensemble

And the nominees are...

The Departed
{Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg, Vera Farmiga, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin}

Little Miss Sunshine
{Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear, Steve Carell, Abigail Breslin, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin}

Shortbus
{Sook-Yin Lee, PJ DeBoy, Lindsay Beamish, Paul Dawson, Peter Stickles, Jay Brannan, Alan Mandell}

Thank You For Smoking
{Aaron Eckhart, David Koechner, Maria Bello, Rob Lowe, Cameron Bright, William H. Macy, Robert Duvall, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott}

Volver
{Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave}

Runners-Up: Friends With Money...Over the Hedge...Dreamgirls


BRONZE
Volver
SILVER
The Departed
GOLD
Little Miss Sunshine

Thursday, August 2, 2007

2006 Diva Cup Awards: Best Scene

And the nominees are...

Borat: Naked Fight
This shouldn't have been so funny, but I laughed really hard throughout this entire scene and nearly peed myself.


Dreamgirls: "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going"

I applauded. I shouted. I almost cried tears of joy. J. Hud sings the hell out of this song and, consequently, became an Oscar winner.


Little Miss Sunshine: The Dance

Even doing the raunchiest dance moves, Breslin is still so damn cute. How is this possible?


Notes on a Scandal: The Revelation

Blanchett with mascara running down from her eyes, a couple of bitch slaps, that "Virginia bloody Woolf" line and, of course, "HERE I AM!"- it's damn hard to top this soon-to-be classic camp moment.


United 93: Fighting Back

The movie was kind of slow until this edge-of-your-seat ending. It takes a lot of skill to make a scene this suspenseful when you know the ending already.

Runners Up: Marie Antoinette: Marie's Arrival at the Palace- I gasped out loud at the visual splendor of this moment; all the elements together like a rich, detailed painting...Jesus Camp: Heil Bush- So scary I nearly shat myself...Happy Feet: Mumble's Birth/First Tap Dance- I went "awww" about 53 times in this scene alone


BROZNE
United 93: Fighting Back
SILVER
Notes on a Scandal: The Revelation
GOLD
Dreamgirls: "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going"