Sunday, February 22, 2009

Zaki's Real Time Oscar Blog

Keep refreshing the screen for up-to-the-minute commentary...

(With apologies to Andy Wood, from whom I'm shamelessly cribbing this idea. Consider it flattery, Andy!)

5:31: Wolverine makes his entrance!

5:32: Big laugh for the Australia joke...almost as big a joke as Australia.

5:33: I'm guessing this song would be more amusing to me if I'd seen the majority of the nominees...

5:34: "How come comic movies never get nominated?" asks Wolverine, riding the Batpod. So true.

5:35: Frost/Nixon...the only nominee I've seen!

5:38: "I am Wolverine!"

5:39: Nice number, and apropos of nothing, that Hugh Jackman really is a good looking guy.

5:40: I'm seriously hoping that Rourke wins, just to hear what he has to say.

5:41: Wow, they didn't waste anytime with the montages, did they?

5:43: Best Supporting Actress up first...kind of an interesting way of announcing the nominees, with one past winner each introducing one of this year's contenders.

5:46: 16 minutes in, and already this thing is way too long.

5:47: It'd be nice to see Marisa Tomei take the win, if only to silence those who think she didn't deserve it for My Cousin Vinny.

5:48: Penelope Cruz. Oh well.

5:49: I really wish I could understand what she said there at the end.

5:52: Can never go wrong with Steve Martin.

5:53: Oh, and Tina Fey as well.

5:54: Ouch, nice dig at Scientology!

5:55: Does anyone doubt that it'll be Milk for screenplay?

5:56: Like I said.

5:57: Why has Steve Martin only hosted the one time??

5:58: I'm guessing it'll be Doubt for Best Adapted Screenplay.

6:00: Or, Slumdog. Duh.

6:01: Right the second time. Methinks this is the leading edge of a Slumdog tsunami.

6:03: It has to be Wall-E for "Best Animated."

6:07: Like I said.

6:13: Sorry, phone call. Missed the winner for "Best Animated Short."

6:15: Oh yeah, I almost forgot that Hugh Jackman was hosting.

6:16: James Bond and Carrie Bradshaw presenting for Art Direction...

6:17: It'd be nice to see The Dark Knight get some recognition, though I don't see it happening.

6:17: No dice.

6:20: I'm guessing it's Benjamin Button for "Costume Design" as well.

6:21: Or not. Geez, not doing so hot tonight.

6:23: Makeup will be...Button?

6:23: Uh huh. Though I gotta say, that one should have gone to Hellboy II.

6:25: Is it just me, or is Robert Pattinson deliberately trying to do that "smoldering" look?

6:27: Stepped out for a second. Another montage about...what now?

6:28: Ain't love grand?

6:32: Ben Stiller as Joaquin Phoenix, with plenty of awkward chuckles from the crowd.

6:33: Not sure that bit really landed. Hollywood-types are always gunshy about poking fun at themselves.

6:34: Wally Pfister should get it, but probably won't.

6:35: And Slumdog gets it. There's that tsunami I was talking about.

6:39: Jessica Biel hosted the thing, and she sounds bored just talking about the Sci-Tech Awards.

6:43: The Pineapple Express skit really isn't that funny.

6:44: Okay, a minute later and it got a little funnier.

6:45: Hey, it's fellow Columbia College Chicago grad Janusz Kaminski!

6:46: And he's the first DP to present an Oscar! Beat that!

6:48: "Best Supporting" is coming up...will Heath Ledger take it? Is the sky blue? (Or black, depending on the time of day when you're reading this post...)

6:51: Hugh Jackman makes with the funny before getting back to the fancy stepping.

6:53: I'm wondering how many fanboys' heads are simultaneously exploding after seeing Wolverine do the twinkle toes routine.

6:56: Full disclosure: I really don't like musicals, so this has been a pretty torturous couple of minutes.

6:57: Shocker: Amina thought he did good. Note the emphasis on "him."

7:01: And we're back for Best Supporting Actor.

7:02: It's sad to look at that montage of past winners and remember just how many legends have left us.

7:03: Alan Arkin inverts Phillip Seymour Hoffman's first and middle names...whoops!

7:05: Cuba Gooding in another memorable Oscar moment. Truthfully, in any other year, it should be Robert Downey winning it for Tropic Thunder.

7:07: Regardless of how The Dark Knight got stiffed in the other nods, it's still something to hear "The Joker" as an Oscar contender.

7:08: And it's Heath Ledger, naturally.

7:09: While one wonders if Ledger would have won if he was still with us, this award is nevertheless a momentous one, and unless I'm mistaken, I believe it's the first time an actor has won an Oscar for his work in the comic book/fantasy genre.

7:13: Bill Maher...this should be good.

7:14: Okay, not that good. A little too much self-congratulation on how "revolutionary" his doco was.

7:15: Man on Wire. No surprise, based on everything I'm hearing about it.

7:22: And we're back, with yet another montage...this time of action movies.

7:26: Visual Effects. This is gonna be Benjamin Button.

7:27: Again, no big shock here.

7:28: "Boom goes the dynamite." Funny ad lib by Will Smith.

7:29: The Dark Knight takes its second award of the night, this time for Sound Design.

7:31: And that's three for Slumdog, this time for Sound Mixing.

7:33: "I believe Hugh is napping." Very funny from Will Smith. He should really host sometime.

7:35: Slumdog takes the award for Film Editing. It's now a lock for Best Picture.

7:38: Just to pat myself on the back for a second, it's not easy trying to blog while changing a diaper. That's what's known as "mad skills" right there.

7:39: It's also kinda gross, and not something I recommend.

7:41: Now Jerry Lewis takes a humanitarian award, as presented by Eddie Murphy.

7:43: Watching the montage of Lewis' movie stuff, I gotta say, his work really hasn't stood the test of time well. Way too broad, way too over-the-top. Maybe that's heresy, I dunno.

7:44: That said, he deserves to be recognized for the good works he's done.

7:46: Classy speech. Now I feel like an ass for saying what I did two posts ago.

7:50: Michael Giacchino is conducted the orchestra...nice.

7:51: While the music medley plays...what are the big categories that are left? Actor, Director, and Picture, I think. Am I missing anything? With forty minutes left, this show is getting pretty draggy...

7:54: And chalk up another win for Slumdog, this time for Best Score.

7:55: Amina informs me that A.R. Rahman is a big deal when it comes to the Bollywood scene. I wouldn't know.

7:56: While we go through the list of song nominees, I'm gonna go ahead and call it for Slumdog. What the hell, seems like that kinda night.

8:00: Well, it was nominated for two songs out of the three, so the odds were pretty good anyway. Aaaand here's A.R. Rahman again.

8:05: Back, and down the home stretch!

8:09: Sorry, had to step away for a second to keep my two year old from mauling my three week old.

8:10: The montage of those who've passed on. Always moving.

8:12: Nice touch having Queen Latifah singing the accompaniment.

8:15: And capped off with Paul Newman, naturally. I almost forgot that Chuck Heston and Roy Scheider had passed away. What a year. Amina says Heston should have gotten more props, but I'm not surprised that he didn't.

8:18: Racing towards the end! Funny bit by Jackman about the president of the Academy not making a speech, having heard some of the painfully long schpiels from Oscars past by the late Jack Valenti.

8:19: Best Director. They might as well just hand Danny Boyle the award. No need for formalities.

8:21: Good for Boyle. He's a truly unique talent, and it's good to see that recognized.

8:22: Kate Winslet is pretty much a lock for Best Actress, so the only drama left is whether Sean Penn or Mickey Rourke take Best Actor. And it's a jump ball from where I sit.

8:26: Interesting cross-section of past Best Actress winners to present this year's award.

8:31: While I understand the symbolism in their intent, I have to say that this year's innovation of having one past winner introduce each nominee is a bit too involved and windy. I don't see it making the cut next year.

8:32: And it's Kate Winslet. I haven't seen her nominated performance, but it's nevertheless richly-deserved.

8:34: "I think we call can't believe we're in the category with Meryl Streep at all!" -- Nice.

8:36: Okay, Best Actor. We're into overtime now.

8:37: Another great cross-section of past Best Actor winners. Seriously though, let's cut to the chase this time.

8:39: Robert DeNiro brings down the house: "How for so many years did Sean Penn get so many jobs playing straight men?"

8:40: A classy intro of Richard Jenkins by a shaggy Adrien Brody.

8:42: Brad Pitt's award already went out in the Effects category.

8:43: And it's Sean Penn, winning his second Oscar! Bummer for Mickey Rourke, though I'm sure he'll have plenty of fresh new job offers to drown his sorrows in.

8:44: I can already tell this speech is gonna piss off my good friends Sean and Paul.

8:46: "A country that will elect an elegant man for president." -- Well, it is Sean Penn, after all.

8:47: The King of Hollywood, Steven Spielberg, comes out to put the cherry on the night with Best Picture. Though why would they pick the score from The Lost World to intro him?

8:49: We're seconds away from Slumdog's Best Picture win, and then we can all go home. (Or, in my case, stay home.)

8:52: And in a stunning upset, it's Slumdog Millionaire, walking away with quite the boatful of awards. I guess I need to watch it one of these days.

8:55: Wow, I think that's the most Indians that have ever been on the Oscar stage at one time. Now here's Hugh Jackman to wish us good night, aaaaand....

That's a wrap! Only twenty-five minutes behind schedule. I'm more amazed at how much mileage I was able to get out of a broadcast in which my level of interest was somewhere between slim and none. Maybe we'll do this again next year!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

About Last Night

What a different landscape late night television was a decade-and-a-half ago.

My experience with Johnny Carson is almost entirely in the past tense. He's someone who I know was great, even though I never got to witness that greatness firsthand. By the time I was old enough to be staying up late regularly, Carson's much-ballyhooed retirement was already a season removed, Jay Leno was firmly ensconced in his role as The Tonight Show's host, and David Letterman was just some guy who came on too late for me, though I guess he did something with "lists" that folks seemed to appreciate. And that was about it.

The first time I really became aware of what a warzone late night would become was in the fall of '93, with a disgruntled Letterman bolting his post-Tonight Show perch on NBC's Late Night to go head-to-head with Leno, and Fox throwing their own hat in the ring with the here-and-gone Chevy Chase Show. Oh, and I think Arsenio Hall still had his show around that time as well. Still, perhaps most puzzling of all those night moves came when NBC replaced Letterman with some guy whose name was vaguely familiar to me from the credits of Simpsons episode of that vintage: Conan O'Brien.

 I only learned later that his first name had a short "A" and was not, in fact, pronounced ConAN (as in "the Barbarian"). Reporter Paul Harris offers some recollections as the first person to break the news of O'Brien's hiring. Those who tuned in for that first show in September '93 out of a sense of morbid curiosity probably wondered who'd spiked the punch over at NBC. This was the guy who was supposed to fill Letterman's shoes? Those first few weeks were pretty rough, with noticeable, uncomfortable patches of silence as O'Brien would make his way through his monologues. Some of the comedy bits were amusing, some were bad, and many were just downright confusing.

After those first few weeks, I pretty much stopped paying attention, figuring Conan would be joining Chevy and Arsenio (and Pat Sajak, and Alan Thicke, and Joan Rivers, and...) on the Cavalcade of Cancelled Comedy Shows before too long. Of course, somewhere between then and now, Conan either a) got funny, b) the world finally figured out how funny he was, or c) a little bit of both. Whichever answer you prefer, the end result is the same: after sixteen years, Conan is ready for the big chair, and come June he displaces Jay Leno (still the undisputed ratings king of late night) to an earlier timeslot, and takes over as host of Tonight.

I didn't see Carson's last show, and Letterman was on too late for me when he left for CBS, but with last night's Late Night, the final O'Brien hosted installment, we have another one of those moments in pop culture, these cultural touchstone passing-of-the-torch type things. I wonder if Conan will have the same success now that he's switching things up a bit and moving to LA. I hope so, but I'm somewhat cautious. For me a big part of his show's appeal was how it seemed almost "hidden" at 12:30. While Leno's more big-tent Tonight Show far too often sees him playing to the cheap seats, Conan was a guy who seemed content to crack his friends up, and if everyone else got a chuckle, hey, that's good too.

The easy, unforced nature of his humor is, I think, where much of his appeal lies. From "In the Year 2000" to "Clutch Cargo" to one of the single funniest bits of all time, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog's legendary visit to the premiere of Star Wars: Episode II, Conan just did his thing, and it's a testament to how steadily he stuck to it that eventually the rest of us just had to catch up. Here's a countdown from last year of some of Late Night's most memorable segments, and here's last night's funny and, at times, moving final sign-off:

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Joe D'oh!

Oh boy.

I'm still holding out hope for the big screen G.I. Joe (now saddled with the unwieldy "Rise of Cobra" tag), I really am. It's just that it gets harder and harder with each new piece of information that creeps out. First it was the series of teaser posters that hit last week -- which aren't terrible, just to be fair -- but then we get these file cards that leaked online that are, charitably, not great, and finally there's the Superbowl teaser, showcasing the first footage we've seen from the film.

When it comes to G.I. Joe, at least for me, the Marvel Comics run from the 1980s by writer Larry Hama is the prototypical document for how to handle this property well, managing the hat-trick of weaving complex character drama with high flying action in a real world setting. Sadly the vibe I get from the movie is less this and more this.

I guess the best thing I can say is that it looks like about what you expect "from the director of The Mummy," in that it's reasonably well-executed, mostly disposable popcorn fare. And maybe that's enough. Or at least it'll have to be.