Had the great opportunity this week to interview Henry Winkler and also the directors of the upcoming "How To Train Your Dragon," Chris Sanders and Dean Debois." Look for them soon!
FINAL OSCAR THOUGHTS
15 out of 24 this year. Not too bad, since I really don't get to see ALL of the shorts and documentary films each year. Unlike the critics Terence despises, I don't get screeners of everything!
This past Sunday we were treated with the 82nd Academy Awards presentation. With the Best Picture category doubled to ten, we were promised an awards show like we've never seen before. Hopefully that means we will never see another one like it again.
The show opened with Neil Patrick Harris, who has gained an almost cult like following thanks to his appearance in the "Harold and Kumar" films. To me, he was the funny white guy in "Undercover Brother." He has had some success with hosting other award shows, like the Tonys. But the Tonys aren't the Oscars. If the Oscars are major league baseball then the Tonys are the Kane County Cougars. Nothing against Broadway...I'm a self proclaimed theater geek...I just feel like they could have found someone more pertinent to the show to open it. It certainly didn't help that Harris was stuck with a lame song about doing things alone (at least that's what I got out of it). And when you have to rhyme "Crosby and Hope" with "Don't Drop the Soap," you know it's going to be a long night.
Another surprise occurred with the presentation of the first award, Best Supporting Actor. In March 1989, the Academy had changed the award announcement from "and the winner is" to "and the Oscar goes to," partly because some actors in the past (George C. Scott, Dustin Hoffman) had decried the awards as a competition. In fact, Richard Burton once said that the only way to find out who is the BEST at anything is to have all five nominees tackle the same role! Of course that was also the same ceremony which featured Rob Lowe dancing infamously with Snow White so whoever was in charge that year really did a bang up job. Anyway, this year the presenters went with "and the winner is," reportedly to add some excitement to the awards.
The show was also short on fact checkers. At least twice I caught major gaffes when presenters were announced. When he was announced as "Academy Award winner Robert Downey, Jr.," Downey had a look of, "What, I won an Oscar?" on his face. Also, when the film "Precious" was introduced it was noted it had earned it's "four nominations tonight." Unfortunately it was nominated for six. Guess it didn't earn two of those noms. And even though they didn't have the nominated songs performed they wasted a lot of time with interpretive dances to the nominated musical scores. If that doesn't make you want to see "The Hurt Locker," which at around $15 million is the lowest grossing film to win Best Picture, I don't know what would. I realize that the shows co-producer, Adam Shankman, was once a dancer and in fact had been part of the "Little Mermaid" dancers on the 1990 awards show. But still.....boring. It almost made me wish for "Lord of the Dance" to make a return.
I also felt bad for Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman, John Calley and Gordon Willis, who were given honorary Oscars...two months ago! This meant that four distinguished careers were covered in less then 90 seconds, with short clips of their careers and receiving of the awards. At least Cormans' award led to a moderately decent tribute to horror films, though why the "Twilight" kids introduced it I have no idea. The only thing horrible about those films are, well, the films. Kudos to the academy for beginning and ending the horror tribute with clips from "Jaws," but a small smack on the hand for slipping in a shot of the fin from "Jaws 2" during the opening attack scene from "Jaws." And once again, the academy blew the "In Memoriam" tribute sequence. Over the years I have always enjoyed this part of the show, basically because I like to see who gets the most applause. But I also realized that the only people that really get recognized are the HUGE stars. When Roy Scheider passed away I took the time to write the academy. I explained to them that the "In Memoriam" section is more of a way for fans to honor their favorites, not for a bunch of industry people to clap at names they might recognize. I even offered to introduce the tributes, hoping that way it would be a celebration of everyone that passed, not just 40 people and Paul Newman. I received a very nice letter from one of the academy directors who told me that if I did the job, I would make the ceremony about 40 people and Roy Scheider. Of course, when they did the tribute last year, there was polite applause for most, a little more then usual for Roy, which I appreciated, and hoots and whistles for Paul Newman. This year what upset me is that you couldn't see the first two people honored because of the camera angle. I could make out Patrick Swayze, and it made sense to have him first since Demi Moore introduced the segment, but I still have no idea who the second actor honored was. If anyone knows, please drop me a note. Of course, like in every year, there were some people excluded, most notably Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon. The academy noted that Farrah was mostly a television star and had already been honored at the Emmys. No word on why McMahon, so funny in "Fun with Dick and Jane," was passed over. Also noticeably missing: the late, great Bea Arthur. Biggest applause gainer was a tie between Roy Disney and Karl Malden.
Now, to prove I'm not Mr. Negative, here are a few things I did like about the show:
Though Alec Baldwin seemed a little out of his element (stage fright?) I thought he and Steve Martin did well with the material they had. The highlight to me was their "Paranormal Activity" spoof. The John Hughes tribute was a brilliant piece, honoring a man who left us all way to early. I was glad to learn that I wasn't the only person in the country that gasped at Judd Nelson's appearance. Maybe he really does crash on Molly Ringwalds' sofa, as implied on "Family Guy." Anthony Michael Hall is damn scary looking. He got so big so fast in the late 1980s that I wonder if there is a little roid damage going on (my opinion only, please don't tell him I said he took steroids...he looks like he could kick my ass and how embarrassing would that be). And Macauly Culkin, who turns 30 this year, still looks like he's nine. Ben Stiller, after a short hiccup, killed when he came out in full "Avatar" mode. Funniest lines included him noting that he was dressed that way even though "Avatar" wasn't nominated in the category he was presenting and him adding that he would "stand as far away from the winners as far as possible so as not to demean their achievement." Thanks to the quick piece on short films I learned that Taylor Hackford has already won an Oscar. And it was great to see former actor Fisher Stevens win for "The Cove," though he should have had Johnny 5 (yes, it's a "Short Circuit" reference) hold up the sign reading "TEXT DOLPHIN TO 44144," instead of a producer. That way they wouldn't have had their mikes cut off and been played off the stage so quickly. Incidentally, if you are so inclined to actually text "DOLPHIN" to 44144, you will be enrolled in TakePart.com's efforts to end the hunt of dolphins.
And, as in almost all awards shows, there were some very moving speeches. The best:
Screenwriters Mark Boal ("The Hurt Locker" and Geoffrey Fletcher ("Precious") thanking their parents, especially Boal, whose father had just passed away within the past month. Fletcher became the first African-American to win a screenwriting award. Sincere congratulations.
Mo'Nique, who won Best Supporting Actress, adamantly refused to "campaign" for her award. Instead of doing flowing interviews and attending academy sponsored parties, Mo'Nique continued to do her BET television show. In winning, she thanked those "who based their vote on the performance and not the politics."
But the very best speeches were given by Best Actor and Actress winners Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock. His eyes filling with tears, Bridges repeatedly held his trophy skyward, shouting "mom and dad, mom and dad, mom and dad" in tribute to his late parents, Lloyd and Dorothy Bridges. Bullock also had to regain her composure when she thanked all mothers, including her own. "To Helga B," she said, "for reminding her daughters that there's no race, no religion, no class system, no color... no sexual orientation, that makes us better than anyone else. We are all deserving of love."
Award wise, I really wasn't too disappointed at the winners. Congratulations to Kathryn Bigelow, who finally crashed through the glass ceiling. Great touch by the academy having Barbra Streisand present it. Just before she presented Clint Eastwood with his first directing Oscar in 1993, Streisand noted that the academy had proclaimed the ceremony would honor "the year of the woman." Before opening the envelope, Streisand noted the evening and added that she "looks forward to the time when tributes like this will no longer be necessary." Well, if I may paraphrase Ms. Streisand, "The time has come." I was disappointed that "Avatar" won the Cinematography award, primarily because the art of photography comes with so many challenges, most notably the light and elements available. While "The Hurt Locker" filmed in the hot Jordan sun, with sand all around, "Avatar" was mostly shot in a computer, where the quick push of a button could make a scene perfectly lit. And was "The Hurt Locker" the BEST film of 2009. Probably not. But, like last year's "Slumdog Millionaire," it's a choice the academy can point to with pride.
Lost a few good ones this week, one very popular with the state of Florida:
Charles B. Pierce, director of some of the best bad movies of the 70s and 80s, died this week at his Tennessee home from natural causes. He was 71. Pierce began his film career as a set decorator, working on such television shows as "T.H.E. Cat," "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" and "Pistols n' Petticoats." In 1969 he graduated to feature films, beginning with "The Sterile Cuckoo." He spent the first half of the 70s working on made for television films like "The Night Strangler" and exploitation movies like "Coffy" and "Dillenger." In 1976 he worked with Clint Eastwood on "The Outlaw Josey Wales," and his film work improved greatly, including "The Cheap Detective" and the underated Gary Busey film "Carny." He also helped design the "Man from U.N.C.L.E." reunion film, "The 15 Year After Affair."
But it was as an independent filmmaker that Pierce is best remembered. In between his "studio" jobs, Pierce was busy creating his own empire. Beginning with "The Legend of Boggy Creek" in 1972, Pierce created his own genre' of film, the quasi-documentary. He followed "Creek" up with two more features, "The Bootleggers" and "Winterhawk." Then came his masterpiece, "The Sun that Dreaded Sundown." Filmed, as usualy, in Arkansas and featuring a cast that included Academy Award winner Ben Johnson and "Gilligans Island" star Dawn Welles. The story of a serial killer who is never caught, the film still holds a place in my memory. In 1978 Pierce undertook "The Norseman," filmed in the Tampa area (mostly New Port Ritchey and the Hillsborough State Park)and starring television's own $6 milliom dollar man, Lee Majors. The film was hard to watch, unless you really enjoyed looking for mistakes. Among the ones most noted: condominiums on the shore, planes in the sky, an oil tanker is visible on the horizon in one shot, vikings wearing wristwatches and, even though the vikings are invading Canadian land, the multitude of palmetto trees. Pierce would make a few more features but none as well done as "The Town That Dreaded Sundown." He did continue doing set design work for telelvision, ending his career in the early 1990s with stints on "McGyver" and "The Bonnie Hunt Show."
One of the most popular young actors of the 1980s and part of the duo known as the "Coreys," Corey Haim unfortunately saw his career go the way of most child/teenage stars. The 38 year old actor was found dead this week, apparently from an accidental drug overdose. No official word had been released as this was being written. After a few small roles in the early 80s, Haim rose to stardom in the title role of the film "Lucas." The movie, also starring a very young Winona Ryder and Charlie Sheen, resonated with teen audiences. His next big hit was the vampire thriller "The Lost Boys," his first of several films with Corey Feldman. Other movies starring the duo include "License to Drive" and "Dream a Little Dream." By the early 90s, both actors were finding most of their work in straight to video movies, including "Dream a Little Dream 2." The two later starred in the reality show "The Two Coreys," which sadly highlighted how far Haim had fallen. One memorable episode found the actor in tears when he learned he wasn't being considered for a role in the straight to video "Lost Boys" sequel. He did end up appearing in the film but in a very limited role. I had the opportunity to observe Haim a couple of years ago at a convention. The young faced kid I knew from the movies had turned into a hardened man who spent more of his time outside smoking then attending to the few fans he may have attracted. Even though I could see no one trying to get to his table he kept verbally abusing the assistant helping Linda Hamilton, whose line of well wishers threaded throughout the autograph area, blaming them for keeping his "fans" away. A sad sight. In 2004 the Irish band The Thrills had a hit single called "Whatever Happened to Corey Haim?" Sadly, now the world knows.
A member of the famous Los Angeles Ram defensive line known as the Fearsome Foursome, Merlin Olsen left football to become a popular actor in such television series as "Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy." The 1982 NFL Hall of Fame inductee died this week after a year long battle with cancer. He was 69. A 1962 graduate of Utah State, Olsen won the Outland Trophy that year as college football's best defensive player. A first round draft choice of the then Los Angeles Rams, he was named the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1963. While playing in Los Angeles he made the occasional televsion appearance and built a reputation as a gentle giant of a man. After retiring from the Rams in 1976 he joined the cast of Michael Landon's "Little House on the Prairie," playing Jonathan Garvey. When that series ended he starred in the title role of "Father Murphy." He was also well known as the pitchman for FTD Florists. His last role was in the made for television film "Aaron's Way: The Harvest," which also became a television series that ran for one season.
"Working Class Dog" by Rick Springfield
"Hard to Hold" - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, featuring songs written and performed by Rick Springfield.
Bum, bum bum bum bum bum. Bum bum bum bum bum, bum.
If you use your imagination you can almost hear the opening riff to "Jesse's Girl," a song that hit #1 on the charts and made Rick Springfield a bonafide teen idol. Yet the album it came from, "Working Class Dog," was thought to be such a risk that, fearing he wouldn't have any income, Springfield signed a two year contract to appear on "General Hospital." By the summer of 1981, "General Hospital" would find their ratings skyrocketing as fans all over the country tuned in to watch rocking Dr. Noah Drake.
"Working Class Dog" was an album that really combined raw guitar and vocals. Not a lot of drum fills or saxophone solos, which seemed to be the norm in the early 1980s. Besides "Jesse's Girl," the album spawned other hits including "Love is Alright, Tonight" and the Sammy Hagar penned "I've Done Everything For You."
I must admit here that the person I have seen the most times in concert is Springfield. Sure, he writes some simple songs, but to me they rock! And it never hurts to know the lyrics. On July 15, 1990, while attending a show at Max's On Broadway in Baltimore, I was given the chance of a lifetime. It had been some time since Springfield had played live and, though the band was tight, he was having trouble with some of the lyrics. During the song "I Get Excited," there is a break after the chorus. However, he couldn't seem to remember the words. Not expecting the delay after the break, I began singing "No baby you don't look so nervous when you bite your lips..." and then realized I was the only one singing along. Springfield looked down from the stage, pointed at me and said "you." We finished the song together!
Incidentally, the cover shown above was the original release cover, with a hunky Ricky on the front. For whatever reason, when the album had its second pressing, the front and back covers were reversed, with Springfield's dog, Ron, front and center. Who knew people would go for the dog instead of the rock star?
|Sorry, Rick, the fans wanted a prettier face!|
Like most musicians in the 1980s (Sting, Phil Collins, John Cougar Mellencamp) the lure of the silver screen came soon after they hit the top of the charts. The lure also attracted Rick Springfield, who played a rock star not unlike himself in the film "Hard to Hold" (or, as I called it, hard to act). Not sure if he was just disinterested or in a hurry to go home but Springfield turns in a performance here that makes his work on "General Hospital" look like Emmy material. The highlight of the film are the original songs, including the hit "Love Somebody." It's a catchy tune but you have to watch out when you play it on guitar because if you just vary your strumming you find yourself playing "Born to Run" instead! The album spawned four hits, including "Love Somebody." The others: "Don't Walk Away," "Taxi Dancing" and "Bop 'til You Drop," which I always remember had a great video directed by David Fincher ("Se7en," "Fight Club") which took place during an intergalactic war. Pretty cool, especially on the big screen!
Well, that's all for now. Have a great week. See ya!
"Mike's Rant" is ©2010 by Michael A. Smith. Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.