Thursday, February 28, 2008

Age is just a number ...

There are many reasons for a lot of us, myself included, to feel old and even over the hill. Well, here's something to ease the pain of the advancing years and maybe even give out some hope. Because today is the 60th birthday of Bernadette Peters, one of the most beautiful and beguiling women ever to lighten the Broadway stage. And this, my friends, is what 60 can look like these days (click for a larger version) ...

If that doesn't make your day, not much will. Well, maybe chocolate and marshmallows. S'mores - s'mores for everything! Bernadette gets a double order.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is nothing sacred?

I have to be careful here because Sam Zell, the new owner of the Tribune Company, could some day be in a position to hire me as a journalist - that is, if journalism is still around in the long term. Nevertheless, Zell is also, for now at least the owner of the Chicago Cubs and its home turf, Wrigley Field. And it's his current stewardship of the latter than has in a lather.

Wrigley Field has been around forever and a day. It has been renovated time and time again; the legendary scoreboard, the bleachers, the ivy, the famous front marquee - even the upper decks are not original equipment. And neither, for that matter, is the name - in the beginning, when the ballpark was built to be the home not of the Cubs but of the Federal League's Chicago Whales, the place was called Weeghman Park after the co-owner and president of that team. When the Federal League folded in 1916, Weeghman bought the Cubs, then playing on the West Side of Chicago, and moved them to his existing ballpark. In 1918 William Wrigley, he of the chewing gum, bought controlling interest from Weeghman; at that point, Weeghman Park became Cubs Park, and didn't assume its current moniker until 1927.

But for how much longer will Wrigley Field be "Wrigley Field." Zell, the billionaire real-estate titan known for his blue jeans, his motorcycles and his blustery temperament, bought the sagging Tribune Co. last year to save the media empire from itself, in effect, and at the time he said he would put the Cubs and their ballpark up for sale, though not necessarily to the same bidders. Indeed, it seems his intent is eventually sell Wrigley to the state of Illinois for them to maintain. But before that happens, Zell has recently made it clear that he is seriously thinking about offering the naming rights for Wrigley Field for purchase by any major corporation looking to slap its brand on one of the most iconic places in American sport. Zell says he would do this to help pare down the debt currently being carried by Tribune - even though the $20 million or so he could expect annually from such a deal would be a mere drop in the bucket in terms of affecting the $13 billion worth of debt hanging around Tribune's - and Zell's - neck.

As you can imagine, news that Zell is even considering such a move has not gone over well with the Cubs faithful, or even those who are anything but. As you might also imagine, Zell has made it clear that he doesn't give a shit about that, in almost those exact words. And whether Zell could even pull off such a sale has to be questioned. The backlash against such a move could be greater than one might think if you take into account the passion of the Cubs fans. I'm not saying we would march to, say, Bank of America and burn down the headquarters if they ponied up money for this venture. But could there be a rash of people canceling their accounts? You betcha. Just see what the reaction has been to the renaming of another Chicago institution, Marshall Fields. Macy's, which stripped the famous State Street department store of its time-honored name a couple of years ago in favor of its own corporate label, is still struggling to win back the customers it offended by spitting into the face of Windy City tradition.

And there's another wrinkle that could futz with Zell's grand plans - no matter what you call Wrigley Field, it will always be Wrigley Field thanks to that large red neon marquee on the front of the ballpark. Under Chicago law, which has declared Wrigley a city landmark, it can't be touched, no matter what. And I'm thinking that the city council will be loathe to amend that agreement. Put that in your tailpipe and smoke it, Sam.

Food for thought from Emma Thompson ...

Some of my friends know that I'm in love with Emma Thompson, literally. She's at the top of my pantheon of Actresses That I Fancy. She's one of the few people that I have not interviewed personally in my line of work, though I did ask her a question at a via satellite press to-do that she really liked. That alone made me swoon privately, so I'm not sure how I would react to an actual one-on-one interview. I'm sure I would comport myself professionally - at least until the minute I got home, at which point I would jump up and down and carry on like a banshee.

But I digress.

The reasons I admire Ms. Thompson so much are ...

* Because she is supremely talented,

* Because she keeps her two Oscars in her loo (that's bathroom in British),

* Because she doesn't seem to take herself too seriously,

* Because she can do Shakespeare and Austen without effort, but also can probably tell the dirtiest jokes and drink you under the table should the occasion arise.

* Oh, and did I mention she's a total babe?

Now, thanks to my friend Beth, I have yet another reason to admire the fair Emma. It seems that recently she held a dinner party for a group of her chums, including a young actress named Hayley Atwell. Thompson and her fellow countrywoman are starring in a big-screen adaptation of Brideshead Revisited right now and obviously were breaking bread during a break from filming. But Emma wasn't happy that Hayley was just picking at her food. Upon inquiry, Thompson learned from Atwell that her nibbling wasn't a commentary on the cuisine, but was because she was under orders from Miramax, which is producing Brideshead, to lose weight.

By the way, this is Hayley Atwell ...

Yeah, she really needs to push away from the pasta bar. Not.

Needless to say, Emma was not amused by this news. Actually, she was rightly pissed - pissed enough to tell the fussbudgets at Miramax that if they insisted in making her co-star unnecessarily shed more pounds, they would be losing a lot more than that. They would be losing Emma Thompson as well. And that, as they say, was that - Atwell is now off the weight-loss hook. And Emma, of course, rocks hard even more than ever.

Guess those Oscars - and that feisty attitude - do come in handy from time to time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This is how the end begins ...

For three hours tonight, our nation will be vulnerable to all sorts of calamity and tumult, and it's only through sheer dumb luck that we won't be destroyed by terrorists, natural disasters or marauding latex monsters during that window of vulnerability. Because the impossible is happening ...

... all Starbucks across the country will be closing for three hours, starting at 5:30 pm local time. That's more than 7,000 stores that will be idle for a critical period in our history.

I know what you're thinking - why, Lord, o why is this happening? Well, it's a perfectly reasonable explanation. All of the employees are being retrained. You know, because, just like nurses and fireman, our Starbucks baristas have to keep up their important skills. Not everyone can make an espresso, after all.

Now, if you truly need a fancy caffeine fix while your local Starbucks is dark, don't fret too much. In what can only be interpreted as a friendly gesture, Dunkin' Donuts is offering their brand of gourmet coffee for only 99 cents per small cup at their franchises, and in Chicago at least free cups will be available for some DD customers. Or you could try something novel - like making your own coffee. Or, even better, avoiding it all together. If you can do that, then the terrorists won't win. And neither will the monsters.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Blah blah blah ...

Well, two things happen every year, guaranteed: The Academy Awards broadcast, and the inevitable backlash the following day about why the Academy Awards suck and should never, ever happen again. OK, I'm exaggerating, but not that much if you think about it. No matter what happens the previous evening in the Kodak Theater, it never seems to fail that the naysayers will emerge from from the shadows to complain and criticize, to analyze why no one watched the show, or why the Oscars have collapsed under their own weight and need to be overhauled from top to bottom - perhaps changed into some sort of reality hybrid. George Clooney and Daniel Day-Lewis wrestling in a steel cage, anyone? Or perhaps Julie Christie and Laura Linney in an eating contest to see who can consume the most squirrel eyeballs while reciting one of Lady Macbeth's monologues?

Yeah, it's true that the ratings for this year's Oscars telecast were the lowest on record - though if any other show had earned a 33 share in this diluted, 500-channel environment, the producers of said program would be doing cartwheels through their offices instead of studying razor blades in their offices while listening to Wagner on their iPods. And even if you allow that the writers strike put a damper on the usual Oscar hype machine, thus affecting the ratings more harshly than usual, the ratings dropoff is a concern. But whose fault is it? There are those who say that the Academy membership is to blame for turning to so-called "arthouse" fare ahead of what middle America has made the box-office hits of the year. But what if those commercial successes, to be blunt, suck? And, maybe just as importantly, is it time to start reconsidering the practice of withholding the best movies from most of the country? If No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood had gone into wide release earlier instead of keeping them only in major market for weeks at a time, could they have found a better footing across the country?

One thing I know is that nothing is wrong with the Oscar broadcast itself. Those who found the show last night simply weren't watching. There were funny moments, supplied by host Jon Stewart (who is actually getting a lot of favorable reviews by the hoi polloi today). He was a vast improvement over his first Academy Awards gig three years ago, perhaps freed up by the kerfuffle surrounding the end of the strike and rush to put together the Oscar broadcast. And there were moments of pure, raw sentiment in the speeches by the victors, ranging from the whimsical (Tilda Swinton's jokey shout-out to Michael Clayton co-star and Sexiest Man Ever™ George Clooney) to the sweet (Javier Bardem speaking to his mother in Spanish; Original Song co-winner Marketa Irglova getting a second chance to give her remarks) to the downright sappy (the sobfests of Marion Cotillard and Diablo Cody). If none of them were household names, I would hope that those who tuned in nevertheless were moved by the genuine, universal emotions displayed in front of them - emotions that transcend familiarity and even the movie business itself. And for once, the show didn't go on until midnight on the East Coast, clocking in at a brisk three hours, 20 minutes. Considering how so many people complain about how long the Oscar shows often go, that in itself is a victory. (Of course, many are calling the show dull in part because of its relatively short length. Can't win for trying, I guess.)

Of course, if the fans still clamor to see the stars that they know, they may get their wish next year. Already upcoming movies from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are among the very early favorites to be finalists for the 81st annual Academy Awards. Then again, some or all of them may blow. Either way, they will hold the Oscars again, and not until they get it right. In my opinion, they came pretty damn close last night, especially considering the circumstances. It's a thankless job, but somebody's got to do it.

Want to feel old?

How about this? Prince may need a hip replacement. After years of partying like it's 1999, the Purple One is now feeling like he's 99 years old. (He's only 49, by the way, which is weird enough for those of us who remember jamming our air guitars to "When Doves Cry".) Anyway, the word is that Mr. Nelson will be getting some new parts to avoid developing a permanent limp and dependence on a cane. However, he may be hesitating to go under the knife - not because of pride or fear, but because his religion (Jehovah's Witnesses) prohibits blood transfusions. Wait, can't he donate to himself? Isn't that allowed?

Don't know what this means for his ensemble of high heels, which is more than just an affectation for the short-in-stature Prince.

When Gary Busey attacks ...

Want to see what all the Gary Busey hubbub is all about? Witness it for yourself, and fear for Jennifer Garner and Laura Linney ...

Watch Busey end up on Craig Ferguson or Jimmy Kimmel before the week is out!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What's it all about, Alfie?

So what does all of this mean, really, this Academy Awards thing? What is it other than a slightly kitschy knick-knack that functions as the world's most famous conversation piece? Does it really chance people's lives?

In 1975 Ellen Burstyn won the best actress Oscar for her work in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, but she was unable to attend the ceremony because she was doing a play on Broadway. Two days later, Jack Lemmon (who had been the category's presenter on the big night) and Walter Matthau showed up at her dressing room door with her new Oscar, bright and shiny and in a liquor box. Later on that night, as the three of them dined, Burstyn asked Matthau about the golden man in the box: "What's really in that box, Walter? What does the Oscar mean?" And Matthau, who had won his Oscar nearly a decade earlier, answered matter-of-factly. "When you die, the newspapers will say, 'The Academy Award winning actress Ellen Burstyn died today.' "

And that's about it, really. Jack Lemmon got that treatment, and so did Walter Matthau. And so will Ellen Burstyn when her time comes. And so, now, will Tilda Swinton and Javier Bardem and Marion Cotillard and Diablo Cody and that cute duo from Once. Daniel Day-Lewis already was going to get it, and now really will get it. And the Coens - well, zap!. The Oscar is an instant invitation for everyone to know when you die. But that counts for something, right?

OK, that, and you get to raise your price for your next film. Maybe.

Oscars a go-go: The Main Event

OK, folks, here we go. Let's see if solving the writers' strike was worth it.

5:38: Jon Stewart is doing well with his monologue. He just entered the political realm. ("Normally, when you see a black man or a woman as president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty.")

And the actual awards ....

5:41: Jennifer Garner to present Costume Design (all categories will be capitalized to display the Gravitas of the Occasion).

And the winner is ... Elizabeth: The Golden Age! The pressure is officially off of Cate Blanchett!

5:44: In what likely will be a pattern throughout the evening, they just played a short film of Barbra Streisand remembering when she won her Oscar in 1969. I wonder if this is left over from the infamous clip show the Academy was planning in place of the actual ceremony in the catastrophic event that the strike was still going on.

5:47: The Clooney arrives to say something important ... he seems to be introducing some bit about the history of the Academy Awards. This is the 80th one of these they've done of these, after all. Any event ending with a 5 or a zero is a big deal when you get to be this old, you know.

5:51: Anne Hathaway and Steve Carell giving out Best Animated Feature. Wow, she's gorgeous, and he's damned funny. Too bad their movie probably won't be. (Get Smart? Really? Well, it could worse. It could have been My Mother the Car.)

And the winner is ... Ratatouille! Sacre bleu! Rodents everywhere rejoice! Brad Bird does a funny bit about his guidance counselor but wastes his precious 45-seconds of thank-you time in the process.

5:56: Katherine Heigl, very nervous as she presents Makeup.

And the winner is ... La Vie en Rose! Eddie Murphy and Norbit skunked. Guess they'll have to settle for all of those Razzies they "won" yesterday.

Boy, the speeches are really brief this year, but not brief enough. There goes the rude playing-off music! Grrr!

5:59: Stewart introduces Amy Adams singing the first of the five nominated Original Songs, "Happy Working Song" from Enchanted. It's no "It's Hard Out There 4 a Pimp." But where are the little cartoon animals?

6:02: Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones recall when they won their respective Oscars. She says she wasn't around when Michael won his Oscar in 1988 for Wall Street. He corrects her: "Well, honey, you had been born." Ha ha ha. Thanks for reminding us about that.

6:06: Dwayne "Don't Call Me The Rock Anymore" Johnson to present for Visual Effects, which makes total sense to me, since he is a total visual effect.

And the winner is ... The Golden Compass! Really? I've seen more realistic polar bears in Coca-Cola commercials. Still, anything that makes Catholic League president William Donohue foam at the mouth is fine with me.

6:10: The about-to-drop-the-baby Cate Blanchett with Art Direction. Now this is a "big deal" technical award, so pay attention!

And the winner is ... Sweeney Todd! Blood and guts and music and Helena Bonham Carter's breasts prevail!

6:13: The first acting award, Supporting Actor, is coming up - proceeded by another clip package to mark the 80th birthday. Or to fill time. Or to burn off crap they had done to replace the regular show. Waste not, want not, right?

6:15: Here's Jennifer Hudson, reading off of the TelePrompter. It's kind of like Miss America handing off her tiara, isn't it?

And the winner is ... in a major surprise, Javier Bardem!!

He dedicates his Oscar to his mother, speaking directly to her in Spanish. I don't know what he said, but he made her cry, so it had to have been good.

6:22: Stewart helpfully translates what Bardem said to his mom: "I believe he told her where the library is." Then he introduces one of the clips that would have been shown in case of strike - a cinematic salute to binoculars and periscopes. Lame, but then again, wasn't it suppose to be? No, wait, there's another one - a salute to bad dreams. Save us - save us from ourselves!!!

6:24: Keri Russell to introduce the nominated song from her Movie That No One Saw, August Rush. The song is called "Raise It Up." I bet it's supposed to be uplifting.

During this interlude, I have to say I'm disappointed in Jon Stewart. The show's almost an hour old and he has yet to change outfits once. By this time in their shows, Whoopi had had three costume changes, Ellen had had two, and Billy Crystal had had seven - count them, seven. Way to slack off, Stewart. You're a disgrace to your Oscar tux - all one of them.

6:28: Owen Wilson, making one of his first major appearances since his unfortunate business last year, comes out to present Live-Action Short Film.

And the winner is ... Le Mozart des Pickpockets. Anyone have that?

6:30: In a tradition that won't die, they bring out an animated critter to give out the award for Best Animated Short!

And the winner is ... Peter and the Wolf!

6:34: It's time for Supporting Actress! Here Alan Arkin with the news!

And the winner is ... Tilda Swinton!! I called it!

She compares the Oscar to her agent and says that she's giving it to him. Wait, she already gave the BAFTA to her agent. She's not going to have any awards for herself! Best speech of the night so far. She made George Clooney smile. Cute.

6:47: Josh Brolin and James McAvoy presenting Adapted Screenplay.

And the winner is ... Joel and Ethan Coen. The onslaught begins!

6:49: Sid Ganis, the president of the Academy, introduces a short film about the voting process involved with the awards. Clip show or no?

6:53: Mylie Cyrus emerges to pump up the ratings by introducing the next nominated Original Song, again from Enchanted - "That's How You'll Know".

7:01: Stewart introduces "Dame Judi Dench and Halle Berry" - who in actuality are Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill. Who then enter into an argument about who's Dame Judi and who's Halle Berry. Well, that's original.

Oh, they're giving out Sound Editing.

And the winner is ... The Bourne Ultimatum! May not bode well for Kevin O'Connell down the road.

7:05: Oh, Dame Judi and Halle are back to give out another one. This is for Sound Mixing. Will O'Connell's dreams come true, finally? The tension ...

And the winner is ... The Bourne Ultimatum. Well, how many people with 20 Oscar nominations do you know?

7:08: Wow, they're giving out Actress now? They really are zipping along here!

7:10: Forest Whitaker has the envelope. This may be the last true tension of the night in terms of knowing what will happen next.

And the winner is ... Marion Cotilliard! OK, I know a lot of people were calling this, but I'm surprised. This is only the second time that an actress has won this for a performance done in a foreign-language. (Or third, if you count Marlee Matlin.) What a great speech as well. Emotional - we like that in an Oscar speech.

7:18: Stewart and the cute girl who sang the August Rush song are caught playing tennis on the Nintendo Wii on the huge Jumbotron built for the ceremony. He's doing a good job hosting - he's not Johnny Carson, but then again, that would make him dead, right?

7:20: Colin Farrell, managing not to swear, introduces the Irish duo who starred and performed in the small movie Once to sing their nominated song. Yesterday they were performing this at the Spirit Awards in a tent on the beach in Santa Monica. Now they're doing it in front of close to a billion people. That's Hollywood for you. I hope they win.

7:22: Stand back - Jack Nicholson is on the stage. Sorry, George - he's still the coolest cat in the room. He's introducing a montage of all 79 previous Best Picture winners. More burnoff? By the way, Jack's in three of them.

7:27: And we're done with that clip reel. God, that was long. Maybe it would have been more entertaining if Jack Black and Mos Def had acted them out themselves.

7:28: Here's Renee Zellweger with Film Editing.

And the winner is .. The Bourne Ultimatum! So much for the Coens' quintella. No history there. And that's three for Bourne. Hey, the winner is a second-generation winner - that's cool.

7:31: Nicole Kidman, yet another pregnant babe, looking regal and, well, pregnant. She's giving out an honorary award to production designer Robert Boyle, who's still working at 98. He should get a freaking award just for that!

7:38: A few speech lapses from Boyle during his gracious speech, but then again, that happened to Katherine Heigl too. I hope I'm that with it when I'm 98. Hell, I hope I'm that with it when I'm 38. He made sure to thank Nicole Kidman. Let this be a lesson to you - always thank your presenter, and be sure to tip them generously.

7:42: Penelope Cruz with Foreign-Language Film. It's good to have someone with an accent give out this award. Next year they should get Billy Bob Thornton to do it.

And the winner is ... Austria for The Counterfeiters. It's about the Nazis, which of course made it a shoo-in.

7:45: Patrick Dempsey introduces the last nominated Song, from his own film, Enchanted. It's called "So Close." I'm so close to finally ordering dinner. Pizza or Chinese?

7:48: John Travolta dances (literally) onto the stage to give out Original Song. A good choice because, you know, he dances a lot.

And the winner is ... the cute Irish guys from Once! Happy day! They're stunned! A movie made for $100,000 wins a freaking Oscar! You've got to love it.

7:52: Spielberg's moment from winning for Schindler's List. Forgot how emotional that was for him at the time.

7:57: Class - Jon Stewart brings Marketa Irglova back out to finish her comments upon winning Original Song after she had been interrupted by the orchestra. And it was well worth it - she spoke from the heart about dreams. And Jon Stewart will never be back again for breaking the iron-clad rule - everyone must be played off while giving their speech if no one knows who they are.

7:59: Cameron Diaz, tongue-tied, presents Cinematography.

And the winner is ... There Will Be Blood! Yeah, that's a good award. That movie looked sick - in a good way.

8:01: Hilary Swank get the death reel. Do they draw straws for this one? How does the producer come to someone to ask them, "Say, can you present the montage of everyone who has kicked off in the last 12 months?" Obviously not heady duty. The last name on the lengthy clip? Heath Ledger.

8:08: Amy Adams, who already sang, now gets to present the Oscar for Original Music Score. I hope she's getting extra food money for all of this work.

And the winner is ... Atonement! Another good award - the score is one of the strong points to that movie. Though if There Will Be Blood hadn't been ruled ineligible, this would have been a far different result. Just saying.

8:11: Tom Hanks, Mr. Oscar, comes out, to introduce a via satellite thank you from the troops at Baghdad. Oh, wait, they're presenting the Oscar for Documentary Short Subject. More class. They did the whole thing, even the winner announcement.

Oh, the winner is ... Freeheld! A film about discrimination about same-sex couples, by the way.

8:15: Hanks will do Documentary Feature on his own. Let's see if Michael Moore will have another chance for shenanigans.

And the winner is ... Taxi to the Dark Side! Michael Moore stays seated. You can look up what that movie is about on your own; it's a doozy.

8:19: Elton John talks about winning his Oscar, but I'm more interested in what's going on with his hair during his mini-interview. You're a rock icon, an Academy Award winner and a knight, man - comb your hair!

8:22: OK, we're nearly at the three-hour mark and have only five awards left. Maybe my prediction on the time will be close to being right this year.

Harrison Ford comes out to the Indiana Jones theme (gee, who saw that coming?) to present Original Screenplay.

And the winner is ... Diablo Cody! Ye cats! And she's bawling. OK, say what you will about how she may have gotten here or that her script may be too clever for its own good, but that was damned nice to see.

8:29: Dame Helen MIrren comes out at the three-hour point to give Daniel Day-Lewis his second Oscar. Oh, wait, am I jumping the gun a bit? Come one, we all know what's about to happen here, right? I mean, this thing is a done deal.

And the winner is ... yeah, Daniel Day-Lewis, who kisses George Clooney on the cheek on his way up to the stage. He dedicates the award to his grandfather, father and three sons. But so far, the best speeches are from the ladies - Swinton, Cotillard, Irglova and Cody. And since the Coens aren't known for the scintillating deliveries, that's probably how it will stand.

8:40: Martin Scorsese himself to hand off the Director Oscar.

And the winner is ... or winners are ... Joel Coen and Ethan Coen! Boy, Ethan has a way with words, doesn't he? Joel is obviously the spokesman for the pair.

8:44: Denzel Washington gets the honor giving out Best Picture, which means he is now officially a member of the Legends Club.

And the winner is ... No Country for Old Men!! Joel and Ethan get three each! Good thing Scott Rudin co-produced with with the Coens so the speech will be a little longer than usual.

8:47: That's it, the show's over. Final time: three hours, 18 minutes, done before midnight on the East Coast. Which is almost, like, weird. What do we do with the rest of our night?

Oscars a go-go: Who let Gary Busey inside the tent?

Oh, dear ... it's tough to make me feel sorry for Seacrest, but to see him (and Laura Linney and Jennifer Garner, whom he's trying to interview) be constantly interrupted by the lunacy that is Oscar nominee, Promise Keeeper and head-trauma victim Gary Busey is a painful sight, indeed. Thank God Seth Rogan was there to kill Busey with his bare hands and save the day. (OK, Rogan didn't kill Busey. But that would caused a ratings bump, no? Or even better, if Garner had killed Busey. 'Cause she could, you know.)

Oscars a go-go: George Clooney makes us all feel like mud

Sen. Eugene McCarthy was a guest correspondent for Life magazine for the 1968 World Series, and as he stood in the clubhouse of the St. Louis Cardinals while the team's All-Star outfielder Lou Brock was disrobing nearby, he wrote that he felt like an inferior form of human next to the chiseled physique of Brock. Well, that's how I feel after seeing how George Clooney looks in a tuxedo.

Oscars a go-go: This is the fun part of the show ...

... to see a new nominee like Amy Ryan, looking so cute because she CAN'T. STOP. SMILING. At this point, she couldn't give a crap about winning - she's just glad to be there. And to be alive. Unlike, say, Fidel Castro.

Oh, and the Clooney has arrived. I can hear the girls shouting all the way here.

Oscars a go-go: Could someone explain to me ...

... exactly when the Academy Awards became the Super Bowl, at least when it comes to pre-game shows? I mean, E! has been broadcasting live from the Kodak Theater and Hollywood Boulevard since 9 p.m. local time. And they've barely talked about the movies that are nominated; much of the focus has been on fashion. You know, what the stars will be wearing, what jewels they'll be wearing with what they're wearing, what (if any) underwear they'll be wearing underneath what they're wearing. And on, and on, and on.

Still, it is fascinating, and not just because co-host Kim Kardashian (!) does in fact have a large caboose. It's fascinating in a train-wrecky kind of way. But a corner has been turned here. When the pre-show is longer than the show itself (which is pretty damn long as it is), then it may be time to re-evaluate the priorities.

Oh, relief - Ryan Seacrest is on for the actual red carpet show. Check, please!

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Peter O'Toole has been nominated for the Academy Award for best actor eight times, but has never won. But O'Toole, who at least has a honorary Oscar on his mantle, has nothing on Kevin O'Connell, who tomorrow will enter the Kodak Theater looking to capture the award that has slipped through his grasp during his long career as a sound mixer for the movies. With Transformers, O'Connell is on his 20th nomination without a win. And last I heard, there haven't been a lot of sound mixers who've gotten Oscars for bodies of work. So competitive races are pretty much all the chances that he has.

O'Connell has earned his Oscar invites for movies ranging from Spider-Man and The Rock to Armageddon and Dune. They've been loud (Pearl Harbor) and quiet (Terms of Endearment). With Transformers, he has been been nominated for seven out the past eight years. But all he has to show for it are 20 certificates on his wall for each of the nods he has received. Oh, and the fact that he is probably the most famous sound mixer in the world thanks to his futility. He's been interviewed on national televison several times about his Oscar track record - sometimes to the point where some of his colleagues probably take a bit of offense at the attention O'Connell gets.

Things came to a bit of a head at last year's Oscar ceremony after the sound mixing team from Dreamgirls won the Oscar over O'Connell and his cohorts at Apocalypto. Backstage, the Dreamgirls guys were asked about O'Connell's streak. One of them, Michael Minkler, replying with a combination of sarcasm and pique, said:

''I think Kevin should just like maybe just go away with 19 wins and just call it a record and that would be the end of it. We work really, really hard at what we do, all of us do in our craft. And if we, you know, stumble upon an award like this, you know, if somebody is willing to honor us with something like this, we are so grateful. And I just wonder what Kevin's trying to do out there by trying to get an award by using sympathy. And Kevin's an okay mixer but enough's enough about Kevin.... I just think that maybe he should just take up another line of work.''


Oh, did I mention that O'Connell's mother, the woman who encouraged him to go into the movie business, died in his arms at a local hospital hours after he lost? At that moment, an Oscar was the last thing on his mind, and so were Minkler's comments - he didn't learn about them until a couple of days later. They did cause an uproar, though, and only added to the media whirlwind surrounding O'Connell that Minkler was complaining about. (To be fair, Minkler says he wasn't aware of O'Connell's tragedy when he said what he said and soon after issued an apology, which O'Connell accepted, though it would be a stretch to call them buddies.) But it makes this year's awards all the more compelling. Not because it would be a rematch between O'Connell and Minkler, as the latter is not recognize this year, but just because of the cool story it would be if O'Connell finally got to take something home with him other than the Oscar program and a nice doggie bag from the Governors Ball. Besides, that would be the best way to end the hype around O'Connell once and for all. Have you heard anyone talking about the losing streaks of Susan Lucci or the Boston Red Sox lately?

So I'll be rooting for for Kevin O'Connell just as hard as for anybody else on Sunday night. Even though Transformers was a piece of crap. But it sounded great. And if O'Connell does make the 20th time the charm, he'll be dedicated his Oscar to someone, and it won't be Michael Minkler.

Here is a recent interview with O'Connell on his career and, yeah, that.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Oscar predictions: Milkshakes, hamburger phones and your mama!

Yeah, it's finally here - though by "finally here," I mean that this year the Academy Awards snuck up on us like a feral can silently stalking a wild chunk of abandoned Big Mac meat. Because the world has been stuffed with so much news and flotsam in the early weeks of the year - not to mention the writers' strike that threatened to scuttle the Oscars entirely - the usual buildup to Hollywood's Biggest Night™ has been, if not muted, definitely truncated to within an inch of its vacuous life. Then again, it's only the awards that matter, right? (Well, no. There also are the fashions and the parties. But since rain in the forecast might put a chilling damper on the glamour and half the parties in town have been canceled, we'll just have to rely on the actual dispersal of golden guys. Sorry.)

So, per usual, here are my predictions for who and what will win the major awards on Sunday night. There's the combination of locks and tight races, some of which have become competitive only in the past couple of weeks. And the tightest by far is the first one I'll cover. So let us read along, shall we?

Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
Ruby Dee, American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan, Atonement
Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton

Over the years, the supporting actress category has been by far the most problematic of the major awards in terms of guessing what the hell is going to happen. It's the place where the likes of Marisa Tomei, Anna Paquin and Juliette Binoche have come from nowhere to add the phrase "Oscar winner" to the front of their names. Even in years where the solid favorites end up winning - say, Jennifer Hudson from last year - their victories often aren't assured until the envelope is opened. And this year? Sheer chaos, that's all. The only one of the five nominees who has pretty much no chance to win is Ronan - even though she could justifiably be called the trigger of Atonement, the catalyst who sets all of the tragic events in motion, she's only 13, and rarely has a young performer overcome that "hurdle" to go all the way. All of the remaining candidates have things going for them. Blanchett is a perennial Academy favorite and has two nominations this year, and more often than not actors who get double nominated end up walking away with one of their two potential Oscars. Plus she had maybe the toughest job of the nominees here - playing a man, and a man based on Bob Dylan to boot. Amy Ryan, the early favorite, gives a powerhouse performance as the world's worst mother, and yet you care about her anyway. Swinton is quite good in Michael Clayton as a lawyer who goes far beyond the limits of her counsel in the service of her clients. And then there's 83-year-old Ruby Dee, a sentimental favorite with a career of almost 70 years behind her, and her first Oscar nomination facing her. She pulls the rare feat of stealing a scene from screen son Denzel Washington in Gangster, but her screen time clocks in at only five minutes. Not only would she be the oldest person ever to win an acting Oscar, but it would be for the shortest performance ever. (Though not by much - Beatrice Straight was on the screen for only a few seconds long when she won for supporting actress for Network in 1976.)

So who will win? I think it's going to Swinton, not only because of her importance to the framework of Clayton, but also because of it's clear the Academy loves this film (seven nominations, after all) and this may be the best chance to honor it with actual hardware. But it could really go any other way. Ryan probably deserves it most, and I wouldn't be surprised or dismayed to see her, Dee or Blanchett walk down the aisle and up the stairs. Though Blanchett may need a little help, as she is is very, very pregnant.

In short, this is the category I expect to cock up, so don't shoot me if I do. OK, maybe just a little.

Will Win: Tilda Swinton
Should Win: Amy Ryan
Upset Special: Ruby Dee

Supporting Actor
Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

From total uncertainty to absolutely none. This is the one total lock of the night - "chalk," as they say when it comes to the NCAA basketball tournament. From the moment Javier Bardem first emerged from the shadows in No Country for Old Man as Anton Chigurh, the unstoppable killer with the air gun and the pageboy haircut, this race was over. It's one of the those years when you feel bad for the other nominees, because any other year, they may have been strong favorites going in. Hoffman's flamboyant turn as a CIA operative in Charlie Wilson's War particularly resonated me with, a hilarious and probative performance that only deepened his range as a character actor. But Bardem has created one of the scariest villains of modern times, a figure of total malevolence. Chigurh stays with you long after the movie is over, and that's the most you can ask for from an actor. Bardem wins - lay bets on how long his speech will be for some suspense.

Will Win: Javier Bardem
Should Win: Javier Bardem
Upset Special: None

Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie, Away from Her
Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney, The Savages
Ellen Page, Juno

Here's another example of a longtime favorite whose certainty of winning has tightened considerably. Most everyone thought that this was Julie Christie's to lose. Sure, her film wasn't widely seen, but those who had seen the earnest Canadian-made drama couldn't say enough about Christie's performance as an elegant woman dealing with her Alzheimer's diagnosis and how the devastating news affects her life and that of her beloved husband. It had all the earmarks of an Academy win: a popular veteran actor delivering as a character laid low by illness, willing to get "ugly" for the sake of the art - even if that mean adding a few extra wrinkles to the still-beautiful 66-year-old, one of the few times in movie history that a person had to be aged upward to play someone younger than she actually is. And if Christie win, she will set Oscar history for the longest gap between wins for an actor. That would be 42 years, boys or girls - or, as I wrote in an earlier post, a longer time than three of Christie's fellow nominees has been alive. So, as strong as the other women are in this category, it was a done deal - darling Julie Christie was going to win ...

... And I think she still is going to win, but now it's far from a done deal. Momentum has been building behind Cotillard, the petite French actor who so embodied the lifeforce of her fellow countrywoman, Edith Piaf. (Another oddity of the makeup process: Cotillard was made to look about 65 to play the last days of Piaf's life - even though the ravaged chanteuse was only 47 when she passed on. (By the way, La Vie en Rose is nominated for makeup as well.) Cotillard has a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and now a Cesar (that's Oscar in French) to show for her awesome work, and there are those who think she can catch Christie for the final prize. But one problem with that theory is that the film itself isn't that awesome. In fact, it's a bit of nonlinear, sometimes tricky mess. Add to that the fact that very few foreign-language performances win Academy Awards, and Cotillard's chances take another hit.

I think that If anyone upsets Christie, it will be Ellen Page, the 20-year-old face of Juno. There's much love for this quirky comedy, and much of that love is focused on the charming Canuck in the title role. It's likely that Academy voters will look at Page and say, "Soon ... but not this soon." Besides, she hasn't waited as long as Julie Christie.

Will Win: Julie Christie
Should Win: Julie Christie
Upset Special: Ellen Page

George Clooney, Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Butcher of Fleet Street
Tommy Lee Jones, In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises

George Clooney is The Man. He's got the looks, the charm, the personality. He gives a damn about his fellow man, often to his own detriment. He has talent and an Oscar to prove as much. And as the title character in Michael Clayton, a flawed "janitor" (his character's own description) who's called upon to clean up the legal messes no one else can, Clooney for the first time truly melds his movie star image with crakerjack acting in the type of role that Redford or Newman or Ford would have tackled 20 years ago. His work in this legal drama - stoic but vulnerable, steady yet desperate - is a sight to see, true Academy Award material. It's too bad he has (almost) no hope of winning this category.

For that, Clooney can thank Daniel Day-Lewis, who had the gall to return from one his many sabbaticals from moviemaking to make There Will Be Blood. His Daniel Plainview is far different from Clooney's Michael Clayton - far fewer admirable qualities, showy and bombastic where Clayton is subtly forceful. But Day-Lewis has a trait that Clooney, through no fault of his own, may never have - the ability to completely melt into his characters. Five minutes into Blood, you forget you're watching an actor act, and that's one of the highest compliments you can give any actor. Yes, it's a scenery-chewing performance, but no one chews the scenery with less effort than Day-Lewis. And the first person to congratulate him likely will be George Clooney.

Will Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Should Win: Daniel Day-Lewis
Upset Special: George Clooney

Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jason Reitman, Juno
Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

The Coen Brothers can pretty much do no wrong in my eyes. I've liked or loved everyone of their movies - even the ones, like The Hudsucker Proxy, that few other did. And for me, No Country is their masterpiece - a searing meld of film noir and a modern Western with dashes of stark philosophy and subversive comedy. And thanks to its acclaim, Joel and Ethan have a chance to go to a place no other filmmaker has - as four-time Oscar winners for the same movie. Welles never did that, nor Allen, nor John Ford, nor Warren Beatty, nor Steven Spielberg. But the Coens wrote, produced, edited and directed this movie and are nominated for all of those jobs. And in fact, the one category that most likely will derail their quest for Academy Awards immortality is for film editing, where the brothers (under their editing non de plume Roderick Jaynes) face stiff competition from There Will Be Blood, the action thriller The Bourne Ultimatum and the artsy biopic The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Here, for directing, the competition is tough as well - good directors taking difficult material and making it work. If anything, I'd give this Oscar to artist-turned-director Julian Schnabel, who may have had the most difficult material of all. How many of you would like to try to make an entertaining and emotional film about a French writer who suffers a stroke and is left totally paralyzed, save for one eyelid - oh, and his perspective is most of the movie's point of view? Not exactly another historical epic or romantic comedy, eh. But this is one of the Coens' many Oscars they'll be getting Sunday night.

Will Win: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Should Win: Julian Schnabel
Upset Special: None

Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Every year, around September or so, many a film critic and fan will start bemoaning the fate of the upcoming Academy Awards: "Where are the Oscar-worthy films?" "What are they doing to nominate for best picture? Transformers?" And then the floodgates open and by January we're wondering how they're going to find enough room for all of the Oscar-worthy films that suddenly are in front of us. In this case, there was no room for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly or American Gangster or Sweeney Todd or even The Bourne Ultimatum. Though they could have made some room by ejecting the one film that doesn't belong here, Atonement, a solid romantic epic but lacking the emotional attachment that elevates some films over the rest.

Of the other four, they're all strong contenders. But No Country for Old Men ranks above the others. It's the most enriching cinematic experience of the five nominees. It enthralls you, it makes you think, it makes you wonder. Sure, it's terribly dark, extremely violent and has a problematic ending. (Or, actually, no ending at all.) But it's also impeccably crafted, like a fine microbrew. (Yeah, hokey line, but you get the point.) And this town loves the Coens and has been itching to heap the hardware onto them for some time now.

There's been talk about which of the other films could sneak up on No Country in the end, with emphasis on the even darker Blood, which has an even more problematic ending; and on industry favorite Michael Clayton, which successfully harkens back to the legal thrillers of the 1970s. But my darkhorse money is on this movie's entry for The Little Movie That Could, Juno. Usually comedy is poison when it comes to collecting Oscars, but this could be one of those years when having a sense of humor could work, as Juno is easily the only one of the five nominees that has anything close to a happy ending. It's a ray of sunshine (pun intended) in a cinematic sky filled with dark, foreboding clouds. What's more, it finds humor in a topic (teen pregnancy) that usually is seen in Afterschool Specials and Lifetime movies. And still, with all of the laughs and the clever lines, Juno still finds depth and perspective in its characters and its settings. Finally, it's the only best picture nominee that's combine critical and financial success, and that carries a loud of clout. The odds are great that this will be No Country's night, but if it ends up belonging to a smartass 16-year-old pregnant kid with a hamburger phone in one hand and an Oscar in another - well, that wouldn't suck, homeskillet.

Will Win: No Country for Old Men
Should Win: No Country for Old Men
Upset Special: Juno

Just for the heck of it, I thought I'd try my luck at some of the other categories - you know, for kids.

Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody, Juno

Adapted Screenplay: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men

Animated Feature: Ratatouille (though the stark but inventive Persepolis could surprise)

Cinematography: Robert Elswit, There Will Be Blood (I think No Country is slightly better, but Roger Deakins is nominate for both that and The Assassination of Jesse James, so vote-splitting could ensue.)

Documentary Feature: Michael Moore's Sicko is the easy pick, but I think the Oscar will go to Taxi to the Dark Side, Alex Gibney's look at the death of an innocent Afghan taxi driver at the hands of U.S. interrogators. When it comes to documentaries, the Iraq war and related topics are the new Holocaust.

Length of the show: 3 hours, 35 minutes.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Seriously, what's the dumber idea?

The U.S. government's $60 million plan to shoot down a wayward spy satellite, or the upcoming Smurfs movie?

I'm torn on that one ...

Fun with words!

Did you know how much fun can be had when you add just a few words to an already written news story? For example, see how this New York Times article about the resignation of Fidel Castro (who's dead, of course) can be enhanced:

MEXICO CITY — (The corpse of) Fidel Castro stepped down Tuesday morning as the president of Cuba after a long [period of being dead]. The announcement was made in a letter to the nation written by [Mr. Castro's corpse] and published early Tuesday morning on the Web site of Granma, the official publication of the Cuban Communist Party.

The resignation ends one of the longest tenures as one of the most all-powerful communist heads of state in the world.

In late July 2006, Mr. Castro, [whose corpse] is 81, (died and) handed over power temporarily to his brother, Raúl Castro, 76, and a few younger cabinet ministers, after an acute infection in his colon (killed him) forced him to undergo (the ruse of) emergency surgery. Despite numerous operations, he has [stayed dead] but has remained active in running government affairs from behind the scenes (as much as a dead man can).

Now, just days before the national assembly is to meet to select a new head of state, (the corpse of) Mr. Castro resigned permanently, and signaled his willingness to let a younger generation assume power. He said his [being dead] made it impossible to return as president.

“I will not aspire to neither will I accept — I repeat I will not aspire to neither will I accept — the position of President of the Council of State and Commander in chief,” [Castro's corpse] wrote in the letter.

He added: “It would betray my conscience to occupy a responsibility that requires mobility and the total commitment that I am not in the physical condition to offer (because I'm dead).”

See ... much more entertaining! Though, of course, this makes the eventual official death notice pretty much anticlimatic.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Holy cow, indeed ...

I didn't need any more to feel older than I should be. It was enough to realize that Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson will all be 50 years old this summer, or that there are "young people" who don't realize that Carrie Underwood didn't originate the performance of the power ballad "Alone" that was first immortalized by Heart in 1987, or that it's been 19 years between Indiana Jones movies. But then, this evening, this realization that imprinted on this Cub fan's soul like a hot branding iron ...

Ten years ago today, Harry Caray passed away.

Yeah, it's been a decade since that blustering old man with the saucer-sized glasses who was the voice and the soul of the Chicago Cubs sipped his last cold Bud and journeyed to the diamond in the sky. He died four days after he collapsed at a restaurant in Palm Springs, California, while celebrating Valentine's Day with his beloved wife Dutchie. For Chicagoans and Cub fans, it was a loss more crushing than any late-inning loss, or than the World Series drought that has become as much a part of the Cub legacy as the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field. Indeed, we never truly got over losing Harry, as evidenced by the fact that, 10 years on, the team still employs "guest conductors" to carry on Harry's tradition of singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch. His funeral was carried live on all of the local stations in Chicago, with no less than the archbishop of the city presiding. Cub stars such as Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa interrupted their spring training preparations to serve as honorary pallbearers. The team dedicated their season to Caray's memory - a season which ended with a surprise playoff berth and Sosa smashing 66 home runs in his epic (and now tainted) record duel with Mark McGwire. Would the Cubs have done as well without the weight of Harry's passing on their shoulders? Who knows. But it was a glorious summer, and a sad one as well.

Today there's a postmodern statue of Harry outside of Wrigley Field; one wonder what the man would have thought of the image. Fans still leave their empty (or full) cans of Budweiser at its base as an offering to the baseball gods. The restaurants that bear his name are still among the most popular in the Chicagoland area. And the Cubs, none of whom were on the team when Harry was the team's broadcast voice, gather again in the balmy climes of Arizona to prepare for another campaign, hoping that this will be the year that the squad and its fans finally end their wanderings in the desert that is World Series disappointment. But many of those fans would give anything - expect, maybe, that elusive world championship - to have Harry still with us, in the Wrigley broadcast booth, just to hear what he would do with the name Fukudome.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day, indeed!

What has gotten into the elder stateswomen of Hollywood lately when they appear on morning television? First Diane Keaton drops the F-bomb on Good Morning America ...

And now, this morning, fellow Oscar winner Jane Fonda did Diane one better on the Today show. During an interview regarding The Vagina Monologues, Fonda - a born-again Christian, for those who don't know - uttered the queen mother of George Carlin's seven deadly words, the word that dare not speak its name, the one thing you don't call any woman, no matter what. Let's just that it's too bad Jane didn't make her verbal misstep, say, next Tuesday ...

So what's next - Meryl Streep calling someone a "c***sucker" on The Early Show? I would say that that would get a rise out of someone ... if anyone actually watched The Early Show!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The best day of the year ...

Pitcher and catchers began to report to spring training today. And so it begins ... all over again. :)

Woof! (Which means "I'm going to Disneyland!" in dog)

Somewhere, someplace, Snoopy cries tears of joy. For the first time in the 132-year history of the über-popular Westminster Dog Show, a beagle is the king of the canines. His name is Uno, he's of the 15-inch variety (who knew there were two different types of beagles), and while he fought against the force of history (he was an "underdog" - get it?), the buzz in Madison Square Garden was that he was the pooch to beat this time around. And he was.

Of course, Uno's landmark victory sets the stage for more groundbreaking events as the year goes on. Now watch Barack Obama get elected president and, of course, the Cubs win the World Series. Let's just hope Uno didn't use, er, anything extra to get to the top - you know, like HGH or enhanced kibble. That would be a doggone shame.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Word tonight that Icy-Hot, the pain-relieving treatment that works via a combination of, wait for it, cold and heat, has been recalled. Seems that some of the current batch of the product are light on the icy and heavy on the hot - to the point that more than 200 people who've used it have reported suffering from various degrees of burns, from first to third. Here's hoping that some of those burns aren't affecting the more, er, tender parts of the human physique. I smell a lawsuit - along with the smell of burning flesh.

Can an awards show save a life?

Maybe that's a loaded, even stupid question. But if the look of shock on Amy Winehouse's face as she realized that she had won one of the premier awards of the Grammy broadcast, Record of the Year, is any indication of what may come in the future for this very talented, very troubled soul singer, perhaps it will be a wake-up call of sorts to her of what she is capable of - and of how much there is to live for. Of course, professional accolades pale in comparison to overall quality of life, not to mention the friends and family around us. But considering Winehouse's youth and the promise of what could truly be one of those special musical careers - well, one can hope. It's all up to her now.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Toxic ...

Britney Spears was released from a psychiatric ward today, the second time in a month that her bipolar self was unleashed upon the world earlier than expected. The expected paparazzi flood soon followed, along with a dire statement from Britney's parents, who bemoaned their daughter's early release and feared for her life:

"As parents of an adult child in the throes of a mental health crisis, we were extremely disappointed this morning to learn that over the recommendation of her treating psychiatrist, our daughter Britney was released from the hospital that could best care for her and keep her safe," the statement said.

"We are deeply concerned about our daughter's safety and vulnerability and we believe her life is presently at risk. There are conservatorship orders in place created to protect our daughter that are being blatantly disregarded. We ask only that the court's orders be enforced so that a tragedy may be averted."

As much as it pains me to agree with Jamie and Lynne, I think they may be right on this one. I think that unless someone, somewhere steps in quick to put this woman into involuntary treatment, we're going to be in for a breaking news alert of the most ominous kind, followed by a port-mortem news blitz that will make Heath Ledger and Anna Nicole Smith look like a cat-in-the-tree local interest story.

It's not hard to analyze how we got here. Britney has not been treated well, neither by herself or those around her. That includes her handlers, the paparazzi and, yes, her parents. Like many a child star before and after her, she shows signs of being used up, squeezed of all of the potential she had inside her. But when you add the growing proof that she does have serious mental issues, and we're talking about a walking time bomb. Without proper treatment - without people giving a true damn about her - she's mere months away from being a statistic. Blunt, but probably true.

Rolling Stone has published a cover story about Britney with the headline "Inside an American Tragedy." Obviously there will be those who say bunk to that, especially considering the things that are going on in this country right now, things that are far bigger than the travails of one pop star. But a tragedy of some sort is happening before our eyes. Let's hope it doesn't reach what seems to be its natural conclusion.

Creative, or too much time on one's hands?

Presenting for your viewing pleasure ... The Dark Knight trailer, reproduced with Legos!

Sign this guy up, Hollywood! (Or not)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Today I feel like an American ...

Twenty-five minutes ago, I cast my vote for President of the United States.

Voting, in my opinion, is one of those things that separate the humans from the animals. If you're a citizen and you don't take the time to put your choices about where your country, your state, your community should go on the record, then you're a bum and you don't deserve to hold the privileges that come with being a citizen. It's that simple. Too many people have bled and died, both in foreign wars and on domestic soil, for the right to vote.

So for the past 20 years, every election day, I've made it a point to take myself to the local polling place and do my thing. And more often than not, it's the first thing I do in the day - after getting out of bed, taking a shower and getting dressed, of course. It's always a good gauge for me to see how big turnout will be by the number of people who are in line when the polls open - or, indeed, if there is a line at all. This time, there was - I was third in a line of about seven at 7 a.m. here in Hollywood, and by the time I completed my ballot, there were more than a dozen voters in the space, of all ages and shapes and colors. Gratifying, to say the least. The passion for the electoral process really seems to be on its way up in recent years. One can always speculate why, even if those reasons are obvious. But they're coming to say their peace, and that's all that's important.

As I said, this is my 20th year as a voter in national and state elections. Sometimes my choices win, often they do not. And even in a nation when the right to vote and to have that vote counted seems to be under more scrutiny than it has since the 1960s, the fact that it's such an issue is, in itself, a positive. If you own a car or a TV or a computer, it behooves you to give a damn about the maintenance of that object, since it's your investment that's in them. Well, you own this country, so ... touché, as they say in Kentucky.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Free-fallin' …

Those who know me well know that football is not my favorite sport; that baseball is how I roll. But maybe that's why I appreciate what the New York Giants accomplished last night, because they did more than win the Super Bowl in what will go down as one of the great upsets in NFL history. They shut up pro football's version of the Evil Empire, the New England Patriots, who were heavily favored to complete the first 19-0 season in the history of the league.

Many people outside of the Boston Metro area - and, I don't know, maybe even a few who live there at this point - had grown pretty weary of the Patriot Express. And how could they not, when you think about it? Forgoing the ongoing Spygate controversy concerning whether Patriots coach Bill Belichick had cheated his way to football immortality, there was much about this team that royally pissed off a plethora of fans. The way they ran up the score against opponents; the way quarterback Tom Brady seemed to score at will off the field, if you know what I mean - even the gall of the Boston Globe to prepare a commemorative book entitled 19-0 (and to make it available for pre-order on weeks before the Super Bowl) - all of this piled up in the karmic column of the Pats. But there seemed to be little anyone could do about it. After all, this team was that good. Their ultimate victory, to achieve the first undefeated season since the Miami Dolphins went all the say 35 years ago, seemed all but assured. I mean, surely the Giants and Eli Manning couldn't stop the inevitable, right?


Let's not take away from the Giants' story. They started 0-2, with calls for coach Tom Coughlin's head and the final burial of Eli as a high-profile bust. But they crawled back up in classic sports fashion, eventually winning 11 road games in a row, including all four of their playoff games - playoff games in which they were always the underdog. And they won their final game of the season in epic fashion, with a desperately successful scoring drive late in the fourth quarter, complete with a Manning-to-David Tyree catch that will go down in lore (and that's no hyperbole). For at least a few weeks, Peyton Manning is now Eli's older brother instead of the other way around. But, really, this is much more about the Patriots biting the big one, and about Belichick getting his comeuppance. Let's now relish their crushing defeat, the burning of their wax wings as they flew too close to the sun. Or, to use baseball terminology, the Yankees are dead. And that book just became birdcage liner.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

I don't know what's more disturbing ...

... Martin Lawrence starring in a G-rated movie, or Adam Sandler starring in ... well, any movie!

When does The Dark Knight come out again?

And that, boys and girls, is why they play the game …

Super Bowl XLII, final score: Giants 17, Patriots 14.

Oh, well … nobody's perfect!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Super Bowl prediction ...

Giants 30, Patriots 28. History changed! The Evil Empire (NFL division) vanquished! Good prevails over bad!

There, I said it. So sue me for being a bloody Pollyana.

Also, Tom Petty will rock hard. Or at least as hard as Tom Petty can rock.

What is he thinking?

Oh, maybe, "Put me the f*** down, buttheads ... and watch the hands!"

Six more weeks of winter, guys!