Monday, January 28, 2008

Stars put celebration ahead of strike

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Labor strife has been topping the bill in Hollywood of late, yet you wouldn't have known it from the weekend's awards shows: The town's elite seemed more interested in celebrating, and "No Country for Old Men" emerged as the movie to beat at the Academy Awards.

Javier Bardem won the supporting-actor SAG award for "No Country for Old Men."

1 of 2

more photos »

var CNN_ArticleChanger = new CNN_imageChanger('cnnImgChngr','/2008/SHOWBIZ/TV/01/28/sag.awards.ap/imgChng/p1-0.init.exclude.html',1,1);
Only one winner at the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild of America awards overtly mentioned the union matters that derailed the Golden Globes and jeopardizes the season's biggest party, the Academy Awards on February 24.
Sunday night's SAG awards did have its serious side, with the recent death of Heath Ledger weighing heavily on everyone's minds and prompting a passionate tribute from lead-actor winner Daniel Day-Lewis of the oil-boom epic "There Will Be Blood."
But mostly it was all about Joel and Ethan Coen, brothers who have done it their way with more than 20 years worth of odd and idiosyncratic films and now seem poised to collect the industry's highest honors.
The Coens' crime saga "No Country for Old Men" won the directing honor Saturday at the Directors Guild awards, while co-star Javier Bardem earned SAG's supporting-actor prize and the guild chose the film for best cast performance. Watch the awards bring back Hollywood's glitz and glamour »
"No Country" is a wild, bloody ride as a ruthless killer (supporting actor winner Javier Bardem) relentlessly traces a stash of missing drug money. True to the Coen spirit, the film spins into wildly unexpected places and leaves cryptic loose threads at the end.
SAG prize winnersMovies: Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood." Actress: Julie Christie, "Away From Her." Supporting actor: Javier Bardem, "No Country for Old Men." Supporting actress: Ruby Dee, "American Gangster." Cast: "No Country for Old Men." Stunt ensemble: "The Bourne Ultimatum." ------ Television: Actor in a movie or miniseries: Kevin Kline, "As You Like It." Actress in a movie or miniseries: Queen Latifah, "Life Support." Actor in a drama series: James Gandolfini, "The Sopranos." Actress in a drama series: Edie Falco, "The Sopranos." Actor in a comedy series: Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock." Actress in a comedy series: Tina Fey, "30 Rock." Drama series cast: "The Sopranos." Comedy series cast: "The Office." Stunt ensemble: "24."
"The Coen brothers are freaky little people, and we did a freaky little movie -- whether you liked the ending or not," said "No Country" co-star Josh Brolin as he accepted the cast prize on behalf of the ensemble.
Perhaps the most moving moment of the weekend came when Day-Lewis dedicated his SAG win to Ledger, found dead last week in his Manhattan loft. The cause of the 28-year-old actor's death had not yet been determined.
Though he never met Ledger, Day-Lewis continued to share his admiration backstage, saying he felt sure the actor "would have done many wonderful things with his life." Day-Lewis said the media and the public's insatiable curiosity about Ledger should cease.
"I think we should leave him alone, and I think we should leave his family alone to suffer their unimaginable grief in private," Day-Lewis said. "We should just stop encouraging people, I think, to have greater and greater interest in raking over every detail, which is none of our business."
Both guild ceremonies were virtually free of chatter about the labor troubles involving the Writers Guild of America, whose three-month-old strike forced the Globes off the air and have thrown the fate of the Oscars into question.
Past Oscar recipient Julie Christie, SAG best-actress winner for the Alzheimer's drama "Away From Her," was the sole winner to touch on strike matters, noting how critical unions are.
Christie elaborated backstage, saying labor movements of the past set the stage for workers today to air grievances.
"Without them, we wouldn't have anyone to represent our injustices, if you like, to fight for them to be turned around," said Christie, whose win may position her for the best-actress Oscar 42 years after she won the same prize for "Darling." "To stand up and say this is unfair, do something about it. You have to have a union to do that."
Writers went on strike over their share of profits from movies and films distributed on the Internet and other new media. Their talks with producers broke down December 5, though many in Hollywood hope a new contract negotiated by the Directors Guild might help jump-start negotiations with writers.
As they did with the Globes, Writers Guild leaders say they will not allow members to work on the Oscars. That could prompt actors, who have been steadfast in support of writers, to skip the ceremony, leaving Hollywood's most-watched party an affair without celebrities.
Oscar organizers insist their telecast will go on as planned.
SAG typically is an also-ran to the Oscars and Globes. But if the Oscars end up a celebrity-free zone or the show is called off altogether, SAG could be remembered as the one party untouched by the strike.
Don't Miss
SAG Awards bring glamour to odd awards season
Writers won't picket Grammys, guild vows
'No Country,' 'Blood' lead Oscar nominations
Writers rewarded actors for their support by giving the SAG show their blessing, allowing it to go off without any pickets or protests.
Most nominees were on hand, along with such presenters as Tom Cruise, Kate Hudson, Holly Hunter and Forest Whitaker.
Actors bid fond farewell to one of TV's most-acclaimed series ever as "The Sopranos" swept the dramatic categories, grabbing the lead-acting honors for James Gandolfini and Edie Falco and the overall cast award.
A revered actress, 83-year-old Ruby Dee, won the supporting-actress honor for the crime story "American Gangster."
Dee, also a supporting-actor Oscar nominee, shared fond thoughts of her late husband and frequent acting partner, Ossie Davis, who died in 2005.
"I accept it also for my husband Ossie," Dee said, "because he's working on things up there."
The Coens, who won a screenplay Oscar for 1996's "Fargo," share four Academy Awards nominations for "No Country" -- for directing, screenwriting, editing under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes and best picture as producers on the film.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

'Simpsons Movie' unites show's past, present

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- For a cartoon comedy dependent on how much ruination one homely yellow family can cause, there's an awful lot of drama behind "The Simpsons."

Fans gripe that the animated show is nowhere near as funny as it was in the early glory years of the 1990s. Some predict the big-screen "The Simpsons Movie," opening Friday, will be similarly disappointing. Others wonder why it took so long for the show to make the leap to theaters.
And distributor 20th Century Fox has stoked speculation about the quality of "The Simpsons Movie" by keeping it under tight wraps, declining to show it to critics until a few days before its release.
That's generally taken as a sign that the movie is a stinker, though not always.
In June, Fox withheld critic screenings for "Live Free or Die Hard" until the weekend before its Wednesday opening, leaving reviewers expecting to hate it. Then the movie turned out to be a pleasant throwback to muscular old action flicks, earning solid reviews and becoming a $100 million hit.
Might the same hold true for the first cinematic adventure of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson?
Fox screened the movie over the weekend for a small group of entertainment reporters. The film delivered some laughs, but it certainly did not bring the house down.
The lure of seeing even just a passably funny Simpsons tale on the big-screen might be enough to draw fans who have tuned in over the show's nearly 20-year run, though.
Without giving away details, here's the basic story: Homer dumps waste from his new pet pig into an already polluted lake, causing an environmental crisis that prompts President Schwarzenegger and his evil aide (Albert Brooks) to seal off the town.
Escaping enraged neighbors, the Simpsons begin a new life in Alaska, but they eventually realize they must stand by their hometown of Springfield, which faces an even greater threat.
Along with creator Matt Groening, producers James L. Brooks and Al Jean and director David Silverman, the movie reunited key creative talent from throughout the tenure of "The Simpsons," which is entering its 19th season. Among the writers were such series veterans as Mike Scully, John Swartzwelder, David Mirkin and Jon Vitti. Watch Groening talk about the fun of cartoon violence »
"We wanted to give it an old-school buzz. Everybody or almost everybody who ran the show or was there at the beginning took part in the first meeting for the movie," Brooks said.
The main voice cast -- Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer -- is joined by other series regulars, one superstar celebrity and a major musical guest band.
Thoughts of a feature film go back as far as 1992, when "The Simpsons" overseers considered expanding an episode about Krusty the Klown's summer camp into a movie.
Groening and colleagues say they were always too busy with the show to develop a film version, but once the cast signed a contract extension in 2001, the pieces began falling into place, with work starting in earnest by late 2003.
After beginning as a series of short animated segments on "The Tracey Ullman Show," "The Simpsons" debuted as a half-hour sitcom during the 1989-90 season on the struggling new Fox network.
Groening came up with the idea for his dysfunctional family as he was about to meet with Fox executives to discuss a cartoon idea. He had been thinking about pitching an animated version of his "Life In Hell" comics that featured a dark, twisted world of bunnies.
"Then I thought to myself, this Fox network might not work out, and I'm going to be left at the end of the season with a failed piece of animation and may wreck my nice, little, tidy weekly comic strip," Groening said. "So I created new characters on the spot."
Borrowing the names of his parents and sisters, Groening created the boorish, buffoonish but ever-lovable family that would become the Simpsons.
The show quickly became a cultural sensation, with omnipresent merchandising, voices by Hollywood A-list guest stars and critics that included President George H.W. Bush, who complained that America needed to be more like "The Waltons" and less like "The Simpsons."
That prompted an on-air reply by the show's creators, with Bart asserting his family was like "The Waltons," both clans praying for an end to the Depression.
What made "The Simpsons" so compelling?
"It's a very relatable show. Everyone in my view comes from a family like the Simpsons. No matter who you are, there's somebody where you go, 'That's me,"' producer Jean said. "I used to identify with Lisa. Now I identify with Homer, and Grandpa's coming up fast."
Then there was the idea of a cartoon show with all the goofiness kids like laced with snappy, sophisticated, risque dialogue and gags for older crowds. The show was satiric and madcap, with characters unlike anything that came before on an animated series.
"They were offbeat looking, and the offbeat sensibilities of Matt Groening can't be emphasized enough," said director Silverman. "It has a sort of blank acceptance of all the stupidities of life. ...
"You had a veteran like James Brooks who came from writing smart sitcoms (such as 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' and 'Taxi') and brought that same sensibility now to writing for a cartoon show. That had never been done. I remember reading the first script thinking, this is amazing, I've never seen a script like this for a half-hour animated piece, ever," Silverman said.
In a way, "The Simpsons Movie" allowed its creators to go back to the show's bawdier roots, when they could get away with more ribald humor. Partly because of the uproar over Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, TV censors have been more prudish in recent years, Brooks said.
"When it comes to doing the show, there are things we were able to do with Bart five years ago that we're no longer able to do anymore," Brooks said. "There might be some brash joke that was suddenly outlawed, but that doesn't apply to our movie."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

'Wizards Gone Wild' not in 'Potter' star's plans

NEW YORK (AP) -- Don't get your hopes up, gossip hounds. Daniel Radcliffe, who turns 18 later this month, isn't planning any trips to rehab or jail.

"What everybody would love to see is me having ditched school and then just going wild," says Radcliffe, star of the "Harry Potter" movies, in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine, on newsstands Friday. "That's what I'm determined not to give them."
Radcliffe was 11 when he was first cast as the bespectacled schoolboy wizard.
Warner Bros.' "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," the fifth movie in the series based on J.K. Rowling's novels, opened Wednesday. Warner Brothers is owned by Time Warner, CNN's parent company. Watch muggle mom's review of the movie »
"I actually don't mind watching myself, for sort of the first time in five films," Radcliffe says. "I have got better. Thank God! I still see a lot of room for improvement, obviously. But I've started to see Harry rather than myself."
Don't Miss
I-Reporters show their love for Harry
Are you ready for Harry Potter's last stand?
Radcliffe's racy role in the London stage production

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Review: 'Sicko' a tonic, even with flaws

(CNN) -- America's most inspired polemicist -- and most polarizing filmmaker -- Michael Moore returns to the fray with his first movie since "Fahrenheit 9/11" broke box-office records and challenged George W. Bush's White House.
With "Sicko," this time Moore has set his sights on a more amorphous, and possibly an even more powerful target: HMOs and the American health care industry.
A little over a year ago, Moore invited citizens to send in their health-care horror stories. Within the week his Web site was inundated with 25,000 emails. If this is anecdotal evidence, it's on a scale worth talking about.
"Sicko" begins with three cases illustrating the plight of the 46 million Americans without health insurance, but quickly moves on to address wider concerns about the kind of care reserved for the lucky 250 million who do have coverage. (Analysis: Does Moore get his facts straight?)
In a nutshell, Moore's argument comes down to this: the insurance companies are making a killing at their customers' expense. And in this industry, that term is all too literal.
Moore adopts a low profile in the film's relatively somber first half, softening his familiar snarky stridency for a hushed sincerity more appropriate to the hospital waiting room. Many of the people here are in desperately dire straits: sick, bereaved, or just plain broke. Other interviewees are whistle-blowers, guilty and angry about their roles in the Machine.
As well they might be. As countless stories have documented, Americans face countless problems with their health care. They may be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions -- or retrospectively denied coverage for pre-existing conditions they never knew about.
HMOs employ teams of investigators to disallow claimants on technical grounds and some offer medical directors financial incentives to deny drugs and treatments that -- by definition -- cut into corporate profits. (This style is a legacy of the Nixon administration, according to a striking scene from "Sicko" that plays a snippet from the White House tapes.)
When Moore does eventually slouch on screen, it's to play the innocent abroad, a wide-eyed chump bowled over by the wonders of socialized medicine as it's practiced in Canada, the UK and France. This will be an eye-opener for many -- including the Canadians, the Brits and the French, probably.
Having "enjoyed" first-hand experience of two of these three health systems -- the British and the Canadian -- I can attest that they're not quite as idyllic as Mr. Moore paints them. Except in comparison with the U.S. system, of course, and that's the point. Moore is a master of overstatement, but his comic shtick hits the target more often than not. It only hurts when we laugh.
If Moore missteps, it's in the one sequence he and the Weinstein Company have made sure everyone has already heard about (with a little help from the U.S. government): the boat lift to Cuba for three ailing 9/11 heroes. It's Stunt Man Mike at his crudest, and not as effective as he intended.
To be sure, it's bitterly ironic that Guantanamo detainees have access to better medical care than the soldiers who guard them, but Moore is easily diverted into a silly commercial for Cuban socialist medicine that plays exactly like the kind of Soviet propaganda films he sends up earlier in the movie.
It's tough to see firefighters who have been let down by their own country receiving proper care in Havana, but what makes it harder is the suspicion that Michael Moore is treating them like hostages in his own propaganda war. You have to wonder how this squares with the results of the World Health Organization report cited in "Sicko," which placed the U.S. at No. 37, one spot above Slovenia -- and, if you look fast enough, two places above Cuba.
But all is fair in love and Moore, and the system is sick, no question. With four times as many health lobbyists as there are congressmen, and with multimillion-dollar campaign donations at stake, the prospect of universal care seems a distant hope. (In that regard, the brief sequence implying that Hilary Clinton has been bought off may be the most significant.)
It's not impossible that this bitterly funny, bitterly sad call to alms could move reform back up the political agenda. For that reason alone, you owe it to yourself to see this movie.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Review: 'A Mighty Heart' showcases an understated Jolie

(CNN) -- Daniel Pearl flew in to Islamabad, Pakistan, on September 12, 2001. As the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, he would spend the next four months reporting on Afghanistan and Operation Enduring Freedom.
He and his pregnant wife, Mariane, a reporter for French public radio, celebrated the New Year in the sprawling city of Karachi, Pakistan, a nexus for gunrunners and drug-smugglers; dirt poor and decidedly dangerous.
The evening of January 23, the last day of his assignment, Danny Pearl went to interview Sheik Mubarak Ali Shah Gilani. He never returned.
Produced by Brad Pitt and starring Angelina Jolie, "A Mighty Heart" is based on Mariane Pearl's memoir of the same name. It's a breathless account of the events of that January day and the nightmarish five weeks that followed, as U.S. intelligence and Pakistan's counterterrorist agency hunted the kidnappers.
Give the tabloids' favorite celebrity couple some credit: This is hardly a conventional star vehicle. Several months pregnant and essentially a passive figure in the drama, Mariane scarcely leaves her friend Asra's house, save for an infuriatingly unproductive meeting with a local government minister and an interview with CNN.
The large, gated home becomes the unofficial command center for the search and rescue operation, manned by Asra (Archie Panjabi); the Journal's foreign editor, John Bussey (Denis O'Hare); Randall Bennett (Will Patton) from the U.S. consulate; and Pakistan CID's "Captain" (Irfan Khan -- the Bollywood star from "The Namesake").
Set in the very eye of the War on Terror, this is necessarily a grim and painful movie, but the tense, raw alliance of reporters and public officials from three continents has us hoping against hope for a breakthrough. We might discern one too, in their shared concern for Mariane and her baby.
Famously prolific and congenitally unsentimental, British director Michael Winterbottom is at his weakest supplying rote flashbacks to the Pearls' loving marriage. The movie is much more convincing when it sticks with place and process and lets the emotions take care of themselves.
This is the third nonfiction drama Winterbottom has made in Pakistan since September 11, but it's the first that feels like the work of an outsider. (The others were "In This World" and "The Road to Guantanamo".)
It's an authentically jumbled snapshot of the impenetrable, overwhelming poverty of a Third World slum city (exteriors were shot in Karachi, the house scenes in India). Few shots last more than a couple of seconds, and most are punctuated with the clamor of horns and brakes. As dusk falls, it really does feel like we're encroaching on some dark heart.
The movie's clipped procedural mode hots up as the authorities begin to connect the dots -- or rather the cell numbers and Internet service providers. In the most troubling sequence, with time running out, Captain tortures a suspect. The information he extracts is valuable but the effort is ultimately futile. Were his actions justified? Winterbottom doesn't exactly suppress the question, but he doesn't let it detain him either. That's the privilege but also the handicap of such a committed neutral observer.
Jolie has attracted some negative comment for playing the dark-skinned French (Dutch-Afro-Cuban-Chinese) journalist, but whatever you think of the casting, her restrained, unshowy performance and soft, subtle accent hit the right notes: Mariane, a practicing Buddhist, is smart and articulate, resolute in her convictions even as she is pushed to her very limits.
Her grief erupts in one heart-rending sequence, but it's her dignity and empathy that stay with you -- the adamant refusal to surrender her compassion. This kind of heroism is worth celebrating.