Month: February 2012

Oscar Mail Bag: Dear Oscar Winners, Whiners, Weiners & Wannabes

CriminalWhile it’s an honor just to be nominated, only a chosen few take home hardware on Oscar Sunday. Those poor A-listers who don’t win—or don’t even get nominated—have to settle for parting gifts. More specifically, gift bags worth tens-of-thousands-of dollars.

This year, stars checking into the Four Seasons Hotel found Traveler’s Choice luggage bags filled with gifts valued at $7,000. Nauseous yet? How about a KitchenAid mixer set with 22-karat-gold paint and Swarovski crystal? Yep, this is the ugly side of Oscar.

Uglier still, my own Oscar gift bag. Actually, it’s a mail bag…filled with letters I’ve written to former Oscar winners, whiners, weiners, and wannabes.

Dear Oscar Glutton,
You’re the greatest living actress. You’ve won two Best Actress awards and been nominated an astounding 17 times. Please don’t win tonight. I understand you haven’t won since Sophie’s Choice, but enough is enough! You’re enjoying a career re-birth, backed by a string of box-office hits, at an age where most actresses get scripts for Driving Miss Daisy sequels. But it’s not your time for number three. It’s time for you to do a Margaret Thatcher Streep-tease. Take off the silicone mask, ditch the wig, and lose the fake teeth [or give them to Johnny Depp…see letter 4 below]. Forget the fact that you’ve been winless since 1982′s Sophie’s Choice. Just watch The Help. And then tell me Viola Davis isn’t Meryl’s Choice for Best Actress.

Dear Recent Oscar Winner,
You won our hearts in The Man In the Moon. You made it impossible for us to vote against you in Election. You were criminally hilarious in Legally Blonde. And when you Walk[ed] the Line to Oscar gold seven years ago, I had greater expectations than Just Like [Hell], Four Christmases[Like] Water for [Chocolate] Elephants, How Do You Know,  and This Means [Bore]! Ms. Witherspoon, we’ve grown tired of your Reese’s Pieces of crap movies. Go find your inner Roseanne Cash. Toss Penelope into a burning ring of fire and get your shit together. Now somebody gag me Wither-spoon. Sorry, that was corny.

Dear Oscar Sore Loser,
You’re one of my all-time favorites and nobody wants your latest comeback to actually stay back more than I do. But your half-ass commitment to hosting the Oscars this year reaked of Tower Heist promotion. And storming out of the Kodak Theater after losing to Alan Arkin in 2007 didn’t win you many future Oscar voters. Especially when you had the lady-in-fat-suit Norbit opening the following week. Sure, you sort of returned to form in Tower Heist, but when I closed my eyes…you sounded an awful lot like a street thief imitating Donkey from Shrek. My Oscar tip for you: Rent Eddie Murphy Delirious, then hit the comedy clubs and reclaim your comedic genius. Rent Dreamgirls, then seek out an A-list director with a script that’s not written in crayon, Yes, that means pass on the next Dr. DooLittle for your career family script…and give us Eddie. If that doesn’t work, there’s always Buckwheat.

Dear 3-Time Oscar-Nominated Actor,
Want an Oscar? Prove that you can once again embody a character whose not hiding behind Keith Richards’ accent, Phyllis Diller’s make-up, or a Cher wig. The Pirate drag queen franchise is more played-out than Police Academy movies. Pirate Academy? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Johnny, take it down a notch. Trade in loud for quiet…3D for 2D. Remember your Oscar-worthy quiet performances? Did Gilbert Grape need grape lipstick? Did Donnie Brasco need eyeliner to go deep undercover? What chance do you have of Finding Oscar’s Neverland if you continue to mistake stretching for merely saying yes to Tim Burton. And for the love of Edward Scissorhands,  please stop raiding Helena Bonham-Carter’s wardrobe. [Note: For readers who don’t know she’s married to Tim Burton, that joke just bombed worse than Rum Diary].

Dear Leaving Las Vegas Oscar Winner,
When do you plan on Leaving Los Angeles? Just STOP making movies Mr. Cage.

Sincerely Yours,

Dear Mr Vernon

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Oscar Sunday: A Family Affair

553923_416617291729992_787666550_nHappy Oscar Eve!

When I was growing up, my family treated the Academy Awards like a national holiday. Not quite Christmas, but a touchdown ahead of Super Bowl Sunday. Yep, that big! We’re talking Oscar-Eve excitement on the level of “can we open one present on Christmas Eve….pleeeeease???”

Back in those days, the whole Oscar season felt different too. Less business, more show. You still had all the pre-show pomp and circumstance, but there was far less public campaigning and Weinstein-ing. There were no Vegas odds or Entertainment Weekly prognostications. And you couldn’t care less about Oscar’s ugly little sister’s Golden Globes because they were on cable. The only hype I recall was self-induced. More like panic, it was the startling realization that you’d never see all the nominated movies in time for Oscar night. But I’d catch most of them, pick my favorites, and then tune in/doze off…and dad would wake me up for the big surprise!

Ordinary People over Raging [fu**ing] Bull???” That was my reaction to 1980’s surprise. I was 8-years old.

My love affair with Oscar and all-things movies was passed down by my father. The proof is typed on the birth certificates of his two sons. My brother’s the “Brett Maverick” cowboy and I’m the “come back Shane” gunslinger. HA! “Gunslinger? You look like Chandler Bing and your review of The Vow read like a coming-out party?” True, but here’s my defense…

If you’re ever in my father’s basement “theater”, check out the permanent ass-print in his reclining movie chair. He simply loves watching movies. He prefers classic westerns, but he’ll gladly take classless comedies, hokey horror, the Van-Damme worst action movies ever made, and any rom-com with an “I want the fairy tale” ending. He’ll acknowledge The Godfather is the greatest film of all-time…then he’ll recite Roadhouse verbatim. Yes, even the “I f**ked guys like you in prison” line.

But ass-prints and crap movies aside, dad still knows Oscar-worthy from Oscar-wannabe…and he lives for Oscar Sunday.

Today, my brother and I no longer watch the Oscars alongside dad and his movie chair. But our connection to dad and Oscar night remains stronger than ever. Brett’s an actor himself, and his SAG membership privileges (“For Your Consideration” DVDs) help to lessen my pre-Oscar panic. And we make sure dad gets out to see some of the Oscar front-runners on the big screen as well. Like in 2006, when we finally convinced him to go see Brokeback Mountain with us. Then we had to convince him to sit anywhere near us. “Are you nuts? People are gonna think I’m with a couple of……….”

WTF??? Crash over Brokeback Mountain???” That was my reaction to 2006′s surprise. And I’m straight.

So this year, we’ve seen all the movies we needed to see….except for the one movie we couldn’t hear. We have our personal favorites (mine is Moneyball). The only thing we don’t have is hope for a big Oscar surprise. Seriously, you don’t need a crystal ball to predict The Artist, Clooney, Davis, Plummer, Spencer, and the French director. But I’m not complaining. I already got my crystal surprise.

“Holy shit! Billy Crystal is back as Oscar host!!!” That was my reaction to 2012′s surprise. Because I remember the last 8 times he hosted….and I remember last year’s hosts.

Last year, the beautiful and talented Anne Hathaway proved she had the smarts and personality to host an awards show. That awards show airs on Nickelodeon. Unfair? Okay, I know she was game, but her “aww-shucks, I’m not worthy” giddiness made me grit my teeth right back at her Mr. Ed chompers. Mean?

No, I’ll save mean for her comatose co-host James Franco. He tried to channel Jack Nicholson’s “too-cool-for-the-room” vibe, but he came off like a wannabe Jeff Spicoli. Here’s a thought: Maybe Franco survived 127 Hours between two rocks and played the perfect stoner in Pineapple Express because he has the personality of a fu**ing stone.

Sorry.

What I’m trying to say is Oscar Sunday belongs to Billy Crystal. Word of his return had me reminiscing about Oscars of old. Like the one-armed push-ups that inspired the “Jack Palance just bungee-jumped off the Hollywood sign” quip. Or the Hannibal Lecter “I’m having some members of the Academy for dinner” opening. It’s not just Crystal’s surprise openings and quick-wit, though, it’s his class (not crass, Mr. Gervais). Crystal has a healthy respect for the show, the room, and “that big terrible number that usually opens the Oscars.” Those are his words from 1990, and he’s turned that “big terrible number” into the number-one thing that we’re all guessing about this Oscar Eve. Will he go for the potentially hilarious silent-movie montage in honor of The Artist? Or better yet, will he drag Meg Ryan out of retirement (and her latest collagen treatment) to re-enact her “I’ll have what she’s having” deli orgasm scene…silently? A man can only dream.

Whatever Billy does, I’m sure it’ll surprise us, entertain us, and make it Crystal-clear to all of us why there’s a permanent ass-print in my dad’s movie chair. We simply love the movies.

Note to Brett:

When you get your first Oscar nom…be sure to score some Oscar tix for your cowboy brother and your Roadhouse-lovin’ dad. And make sure you call ahead. I heard The Kodak Theater has a strict policy against dad’s bringing their own movie chairs.

A Mets Fan’s Guide to the Top 10 Baseball Movies of All Time

251415_420212768037111_1648127768_nMets pitchers and catchers report to camp next week. I’ve looked at their projected roster and all I can say is: “Who are these fu**in’ guys.”

If you know that movie line, you probably know where I’m heading with this. Even the eternal optimist in me can’t crystal-ball a scenario where “the worst team a Ponzi scheme can buy” will win 80 games this year. So with little hope for the 2012 Mets —and zero interest in the team playing in the House that Ruthless Built—I turn my attention to my favorite baseball movies of all-time. These are in order, and open to debate…especially from Yankee fans*:

10. The Rookie
The day after watching The Rookie with my young son, I suggested he buy one of those baseballs with the built-in radar. This way he could measure the speed of his fastball. My son was only 4 at the time. I clocked my fastball at 68 MPH. In school terms, that’s a D+. In The Rookie terms, that’s 30 MPH short of the 98 MPH fastball that a 39 year-old chemistry teacher throws. Today, like The Rookie, I’m 39-years old. I wonder how fast my fastball…err…my son’s fastball is now?

9. Moneyball
I hate math. I suck at math. I loved this movie about a general manager who uses advanced math to field a winning baseball team on a shoestring budget. Because beneath all the Bill James number-crunching, there’s an underdog story played to perfection by Brad Pitt as Billy Beane. Like “Jerry Fu**ing Maguire” before him, Billy Beane rolls the dice. He takes a chance on the fat kid from Superbad, sticks to his guns, and watches their little experiment change the game forever. To that, I say, “show me the Money[ball]!”

8. Eight Men Out
By now, everyone knows that the 1919 Black Sox threw the World Series. But most people don’t know how it was done or why it was done. Did Kennesaw Mountain Landis wrongly paint all eight with one broad brush. Was Shoeless Joe Jackson merely a victim of his own illiteracy? Did Buck Weaver commit a crime simply by NOT ratting out his teammates? This is a heartbreaking story from one of baseball’s darkest days. It’s a reminder that baseball is big business…and whenever there’s big money to be made, big-time corruption is sure to follow. Did you hear that WILPONS???

7. Soul of the Game
This little-known, made-for-HBO movie tells the story of the Negro League superstars who were not the first to cross baseball’s color line. Satchel Paige was arguably the greatest pitcher of his generation. Josh Gibson the greatest hitter. Yet it was a lesser-known Jackie Robinson who was anointed to cross the line first.

When “Linsanity” first hit a couple of weeks ago, I made the comment to my boys: “Wow, can you imagine what it must have felt like for Jeremy Lin to sit on the end of that Knicks bench every night? Knowing he was good enough to play…wondering if his Asian-born/Ivy league background was the reason he wasn’t.” Then I kicked my own ass for making the comment, rememebered Satchel’s persistence,  Gibson’s heartbreak, and Robinson’s courage. And I watched Soul of the Game with my boys.

6. The Bad News Bears
A couple of years ago, on the eve of our team’s first 9 year-old All Star game, we scheduled a team-bonding night. We built it around a classic kid’s baseball movie. Twenty minutes in, we realized our mistake. “All we got on this team are a buncha Je*s, spi**s, ni**ers, pansies, and a booger-eatin’ moron!” Bad News Bears is NOT a kid’s movie. It is, quite possibly, the most politically incorrect movie ever made. It also remains one of the most consistently, unapologetically funny movies I’ve ever seen. Oh, and there’s also “a cruddy alky for a manager!”

5. Major League
I had only been dating Helena for a few months. We were watching a Mets game. “El Sid” Fernandez was laboring on the mound [didn’t he always]…when, in a perfect Lou Brown rasp, Helena blurts out: “Get me Vaughn!” First comes “Vaughn”, then comes marriage. And after 17 years of marriage, she still watches baseball on her own Major League terms. After an anemic offensive output from the Mets: “That’s all we got, one goddamn hit?” After David Wright boots a ball at third: “Don’t give me this olé bullshit!” Major League is a major reason why my wife and I don’t only watch rom-coms together.

4. Bull Durham
“…I believe in the soul, the co*k, the pu**y, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch…I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there oughtta be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter…and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.” And I believe that if Crash Davis had heard voices in an Iowa cornfield, he’d have plowed over his corn, built a driving range, and waited for Tin Cup McAvoy to come. And I believe that’s why I like Bull Durham. It shows the funny, sexy, and sometimes “…utterly fu**ing hopeless” side of baseball.

3. The Sandlot
My baseball career peaked at the age of 12. And even though I played baseball until my senior year in high school, I don’t reminisce about wearing a uniform or hoisting a trophy. When I reminisce, I’m playing baseball in sweatpants cuffed at the knee. I’m in the back yard with my brother making permanent baseball diamond dirt-prints. I’m in the street with a tennis ball and a makeshift stickball bat with my friends. I’m nailing cars, breaking the neighbor’s window, or helping my friend to his feet because a telephone pole caught his face before his glove caught the ball. Today, backyards have perfectly manicured lawns. Dead-end streets like mine are dead quiet. Baseball fields are often empty or—GASP—have lacrosse nets where outfielders should be. That’s why I love The Sandlot.

2. The Natural
I was never a fan of comic book superheroes until my brother rented The Natural when I was 12-years old. More like The [Super] Natural, the story of Roy Hobbs still feels like a superhero origin to me. He’s the golden-haired Wonderboy with the corn-fed upbringing. He has a special power—a cannon for a left arm. His weapon of choice—a bat he carved out of a lightning-struck tree. Unfortunately, his father dies before he can warn him that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Need I go further? I will. Sixteen years after he “up and vanished like a fart in the wind”, our hero returns in nomadic Dr. David Bruce Banner fashion. He knocks the cover off baseballs, shatters stadium light bulbs, and could probably leap tall buildings in a single bound. The Natural is baseball and cinematic magic at its best…and Roy Hobbs is my favorite superhero.

1. Field of Dreams
Not only my favorite baseball movie of all-time, but my favorite movie—period. It takes a special kind of movie to send me out on a road trip to Iowa for my one-year wedding anniversary. [Relax ladies, we toured the Bridges of Madison County too. Okay, we drove through one of the bridges.] I needed to experience “the smell of the grass” and “a chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it.” I wasn’t disappointed. I only wish I could make a return trip with my father, brother, and two sons. There’s simply nothing more Apple-pie American than a boy having a catch with his father. And there’s no greater movie ending than the simple, childlike innocence of “Hey dad…you wanna have a catch?” Field of Dreams so authentically represents all that is right about the American dream and America’s game. “It’s the [movie] where dreams come true.”

NOTE TO YANKEE FANS:
Please don’t take the exclusion of Pride of the Yankees too personally. Yes, I hate the Yankees. But Gary Cooper is one of my all-time favorite actors. And yes, his “luckiest man” speech manipulates my tear-ducts just like yours. But sorry…until a Spielbergian director can digitally re-master Gary Cooper into anything that resembles a baseball player who’s actually held a bat before…I cannot rank Pride of the Yankees in my top 10.

Crazy, Stupid [In] Love with The Vow

PrincessI vowed to hate the second half of my Valentine’s date last night. Hell, I even skipped dessert, fearing I’d go into diabetic shock from all the sugary sweet confections on the big screen. Worse than dismissing the film on premise alone, I nearly spoiled dinner for my wife. I started brainstorming these opening insults for a review of a movie I hadn’t seen yet. For example,

I liked The Vow better the first time…when it was called Regarding Henry.

For the love of God, just curl up in bed with James Garner and Gena Rowlands already!

SPOILER ALERT: Rachel McAdams finally remembers…it’s P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney.

Did I really loathe the idea of spending a romantic Valentine’s evening watching a romantic movie with my wife? No. Truth is, it’s no secret that I’ve got a soft spot for rom-coms. But after falling so Crazy, Stupid, [in] Love with the Ryan Gosling ab movie last summer, I really needed to disavow the genre altogether. To put it mildly, I needed to smoke an unfiltered cigarette, slug a pint of Guinness, shit all over The Vow, and watch me some Spaghetti Westerns when I got home.

Instead, I Googled the real-life couple* who inspired the film that I enjoyed way too much. Turns out I liked the cheesy amnesia premise. Enjoyed watching two genetically blessed actors fall in love for the first time…and hopefully for a second time. I especially liked how the producers raided Cousin Eddie’s wardrobe just to make it seem harder to fall in love with Tatum a second time. No joke, at one point he appears to be wearing a denim leisure suit that wouldn’t fit a Build-A-Bear.

Yes, the movie should come with a warning for diabetics. It’s that light and sweet, romantic and contrived. But it’s also just original enough and funny enough to rise above a predictable genre that banks on amnesia from its audience. Rachel McAdams is at her Notebook best as Paige. Channing Tatum summons his inner Christopher “cowbell” Walken as Leo. Like Walken, Tatum’s quirky delivery works to great dramatic and sometimes comedic effect. Just funny enough, in fact, that I’ve lifted my personal boycott on the 21 Jump Street trailer.

The supporting cast is lead by Sam Neill, who basically plays the “not with my daughter” role from Cocktail. Scott “Felicity” Speedman plays the “other guy” who douche-bags his way back into Paige’s life. And as Paige’s mother, poor Jessica Lange looks so old and wrinkly that Sam Neil offers her the occasional Jurassic Park double take.

So does Paige finally remember Leo? Does Leo make her fall back in love with him all over again? Do they steal a page from The Notebook and die happily ever after? Sorry, no spoilers here. I’ll only offer three tips: 1) Skip dessert; 2) See The Vow; 3) Don’t tell anyone I told you so.

*Google note: as for the real-life couple who inspired the film….they look less like Tatum and McAdams…more like Turner and Hooch.