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Oscar pools add to fun during awards show

I have to admit I was expecting a more entertaining Oscars show with Seth McFarlane handling the hosting duties. He did fine despite what the haters on Twitter said, but it’s still The Oscars, and much of the show can still be very boring. I switched over to watch “The Walking Dead” and the Showtime Sunday shows instead.

But, with the popularity of Oscar pools and betting on the winners, plenty of people were still glued to the screen waiting for the announcements. That’s not surprising, as the huge popularity of football has a lot to do with our desire to bet on sports and the exploding popularity of fantasy football.

There were plenty of surprises on Oscar night to keep everyone excited. Things got started with Christoph Waltz winning for Best Supporting Actor for Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” He definitely was not the favorite, with Nate Silver and others having him as the third most likely winner in the category with Tommy Lee Jones as the favorite. So right off the bat, many had a miss in their Oscar pool, while a few had a huge early win to start the evening.

Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence were favorites, so that had to reassure those who were less adventurous in their picks, but the Best Director and Best Picture results definitely had to blow up most pools. Ang Lee was a big surprise. As for “Argo,” it did pick up steam with people like Silver picking it to win, and the snub of Ben Affleck by the Academy may have even helped its cause. “Lincoln” was an excellent film, but I didn’t leave the theater thinking it was a lock for Best Picture. Daniel Day-Lewis was probably the biggest lock of the night, as his portrayal of Lincoln was inspiring.

So next year I think I’m finally going to enter a pool so it’s a little easier to sit through some of the contrived dance numbers and lame jokes.

You can follow us on Twitter @moviebuffs and on Facebook as well.

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Trailer time: “127 Hours”

Starting with the Black Knight scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and the “let’s make sure we don’t accidentally get a G-rating” cantina sequence in “Star Wars,” not to mention largely offscreen bits that were nevertheless highly emotionally intense in movies like the Brian DePalma/Oliver Stone “Scarface” and Ang Lee’s underrated 1999 “Ride With the Devil,” it’s been kind of a long time since a single amputated limb has been considered extreme cinema. Director Danny Boyle and writer Simon Beaufoy may force us to reconsider that with “127 Hours.”

According to /Film, word has it that “127 hours” contains a solid hour of screentime without dialogue. If Danny Boyle doe his job right, I’m guessing even the most gleeful gorehound, might be taken aback by the crucial sequences in this film. In case you haven’t guessed already, it’s based on the real-life experiences of mountain climber Aron Ralston, played here by James Franco, who faced the ultimate survival challenge and won — but at the cost of having to remove his own arm.

Audiences who have no problem seeing people torn apart by bullets at the movies regularly squirm when we see an onscreen blood test or an actor playing a junkie pretending to shoot up. How will they react to a closer to real-time self-amputation? How will Boyle — not a particularly squeamish director by any means — deal with it? And what about my squeamish self? The MPAA R rating is for “language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images” which sounds relatively restrained and about par for the course, but who knows? Will anybody want to see this? Assuming it’s well received, what about the Oscar people? I have no idea how people will react to this one.

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A roundtable chat with Kevin Kline of “The Extra Man”

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A highly accomplished stage actor, trained at Julliard under the tutelage of such exacting instructors as the legendary John Houseman, Kevin Kline pretty much started his film career as one of the best of the best, a genuine “actor’s actor” and also something of an old fashioned movie star with the presence to match. His first movie role was opposite Meryl Streep in Alan Pakula’s 1982 Oscar-winning film version of “Sophie’s Choice.” That was followed by Lawrence Kasdan’s Oscar-nominated ensemble dramedy, “The Big Chill,” and a leading role opposite Denzel Washington in Richard Attenborough’s portentous 1987 apartheid drama, “Cry Freedom.”

Though that was followed up by a part in Kasdan’s lighthearted homage to classic westerns, “Silverado,” Kevin Kline’s comic gifts remained under-recognized until his utterly ingenious, deservedly Oscar-winning turn as the murderous and hilariously insecure and pretentious Otto in the farce classic, “A Fish Called Wanda.” After that Kline became one of the screen’s most reliable comic leading men with parts in such high-quality mainstream comedies as “Dave” and “In and Out,” was well as the occasional part in such hard-edged tragicomic dramas as “Grand Canyon,” again with Lawrence Kasdan, and Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm.”

Kline, who recently completed a successful stage run in Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac opposite Jennifer Garner, has — like other outstanding actors of his generation — gracefully moved from the A-list to the art-house. Though once noted for turning down movie roles in favor of stage work — John Stewart reminded him of his “Kevin Decline” nickname on his recent “Daily Show” “Colbert Report” appearance — Kline has been a busy and hugely reliable film actor for decades. More recent roles include the screen’s first correctly gay Cole Porter in the 2004 musical biopic “De-Lovely,” Garrison Keillor’s radio detective Guy Noir in Robert Altman’s 2006 swan song, “A Prairie Home Companion,” Jacques in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” and the 21st century’s version of Inspector Dreyfus opposite Steve Martin‘s Inspector Clouseau in the rebooted “Pink Panther” series.

Add to those the role of the suave but irascible platonic male escort Henry Harrison in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s adaptation of the Jonathan Ames novel, “The Extra Man.” Taking in a confused and nervous younger protegee (Paul Dano of “There Will Be Blood”), Harrison is an utterly reactionary self-made throwback to another time and place, and an ideal role for an actor gifted with the finest of old fashioned acting virtues.

Kevin Kline and Paul Dano in

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A press day chat with director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, of “Micmacs”

Jean-Pierre JeunetIf you’re even a halfway serious film fan, you may have noticed that directors like Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, and Quentin Tarantino do not make movies set on Planet Earth, they make movies set on Planets Anderson, Burton, and Tarantino. I’m a bit less of an expert on France’s extremely popular Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but it’s obvious that, even when his films are set in Paris, they’re really set on Planet Jeunet. His films have their own look and exist in their own reality.

As with Tim Burton, Jeunet’s roots are in animation. Together with his early collaborator, cartoonist Marc Caro, he made two films that pretty much destroyed the idea of France as a land where all movies were gritty examinations of the lives of depressed intellectuals (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Dystopic but decidedly non-realistic, “Delicatessen” and, to a much greater extent, 1995′s “The City of Lost Children” broke through internationally, with the latter becoming a popular midnight selection and attracting a geek audience that might have ordinarily rejected subtitled films. That was followed by his first solo production and also his first and, so far, only American film. 1997′s “Alien: Resurrection” was a domestic commercial disappointment that generated mixed reviews and more than a little fan hate in the U.S. — even its screenwriter, fan-master Joss Whedon, has entirely disowned it — but it was nevertheless an international success which is still warmly embraced by its jovial director. After that, Jeunet broke through even bigger with the worldwide success of “Amelie” in 2001, easily one of the most widely seen French films in the United States of the last couple of decades — so much so that it was simply referenced as “the French movie” in last year’s “Up in the Air.”

Dany Boon in Now, Jeunet is back with his first film since his worldwide box office and critical hit, 2005′s “A Very Long Engagement,” with his own take on Chaplinesque/Keatonesque comedy with just a dash of Rube Goldberg not-quite-sci-fi. “Micmacs” stars comic Dany Boon (“My Best Friend”) as the hapless Bazil, whose father was killed by a landmine and whose health and livelihood was ruined by a bullet — each produced by a ruthless arms manufacturer. Homeless, he is befriended by a ragtag assortment of seven eccentrics with various unique skills. Bazil enlists their aid in avenging himself against the two firms.

The film has done reasonably well in its initial New York opening, and will be expanding to more theaters this Friday. It’s generally also been a hit with critics, very definitely including PH’s own Jason Zingale.

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A capery, spy-ey, hobbity, clashy, ghosty midweek movie news

A sprained ankle and other unexciting matters sidelined me yestereday, but now I can use my imposed semi-immobility for bloggy purposes.

* THR is claiming an exclusive that a date has finally been set for the two-part Peter Jackson/Guillermo del Toro collaboration, “The Hobbit.” (That’s with an assist from the late J.R.R. Tolkien, of course.) There was some apparent confusion earlier in the day, but it now looks like the two films will be released in Christmas of 2012 and 2013. That’s a year off from the original plan for the LOTR follow-up/prequel (though LOTR is technically the sequel here). Though this article doesn’t mention it, at least part of the problem was widely supposed to be the decline and fall of MGM.

* I’m not at all sure how the “poison pill” actually works but it appears that a decision by authorities up in British Columbia — which is, like, part of an entirely different country than ours and everything — will make it easier for Carl Icahn to attempt his hostile takeover of Lionsgate.

* Does anybody really want a “Clash of the Titans” sequel? Well, we’re getting one anyhow.

Clash of the Titans

* Bill Murray is apparently bound and determined to be the proverbial turd in the “Ghostbusters 3″ punchbowl. It wasn’t a punch I had my heart set on, in any case, much as I liked the first one.

* Just the day before yesterday I was part of a press round-table with the affable, stylish French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Amelie,” “City of Lost Children”). Someone brought up his adapatation of the acclaimed, fantastical Booker Prize-winning novel, The Life of Pi, a project which the vagaries of movie-making had apparently forced him to give up on. Today, Anne Thompson brings word that it appears that the project has been picked up by another strong directorial hand, Ang Lee.  And, guess what, it’ll be 3-D. Lee’s one of the movies’ great humanists still working, so I’m sure the film won’t be overwhelmed by effects.

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“Clash of the Titans” trailers, compare and contrast

We have a new trailer for another long-awaited upcoming genre flick. This time, by way of Peter Hall at Cinematical, we have the remake of the 1981 Ray Harryhausen mythological effects showcase, “Clash of the Titans.” I’ve liked some of director Louis Leterrier’s work and disliked others. (“Unleashed” worked well for me; “Transporter II” drove me out of the theater even though the first film in the series, directed by Hong Kong stand-by Corey Yuen, was a fun guilty pleasure. I was okay with “The Incredible Hulk,” though I’m probably one of the few that actually preferred the Ang Lee attempt.) Overall, I’m not a fan of the kind of cutting and, even more so, the music, we have in the trailer, but otherwise this does look like fairly amusing. There’s a chance you’ll like it more.

And, for comparison, here’s the trailer of the first go-round, which I’ve never actually seen. I’d forgotten it’s such a star-studded affair, though in a budget-conscious kind of a way.

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A “Woodstock” movie moment

Even though Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” isn’t exactly taking the movie world by storm, I thought I’d take the opportunity to present one of the most famed moments from Michael Wadleigh’s documentary, “Woodstock.”

Even though I’m not a fan of lengthy guitar solos in my pop music, there are exceptions — and most of them probably come courtesy of Jimi Hendrix. I’m not sure the appeal here is entirely musical by its nature, but its definitely powerful and historic. Whatever “soul” is, I don’t think any conventional guitar hero ever had half as much as Hendrix did.

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3-D “Final Destination” wins horror franchise battle

The Final Destination

Apparently the lure of bizarre deaths in 3-D was somewhat stronger than more traditional forms of slaughter this weekend. “The Final Destination” won the violent, R-dominated movie derby this weekend and died its way to an estimated $28.3 million for New Line. So says THR/Reuters and Nikki Finke, with Ms. Finke mentioning those 3-D ticket prices as its main advantage against  The Weinstein Company’s latest return to the Michael Myers well, “Halloween 2.” The slasher flick came in at the #3 spot with an estimate of $17.4 million, which actually could have been a lot worse. Judging by the post-release reviews that are trickling in at Rotten Tomatoes, the good will Zombie earned from gore-friendly horror fans on “The Devil’s Rejects” seems to have largely dissipated with this entry. Moreover, Finke’s post and comments are full of remarks on the oddness of facing off two scare-franchises on the same weekend when many students start returning to school. And there’s also the matter of the Weinsteins competing against themselves.

Melanie Laurent
And that brings us to “Inglourious Basterds,” which held well at $20 million on its second weekend, dipping a better-than-average 47% according to Pamela McClintock of Variety, which will no doubt be assuaging whatever disappointment Harvey Weinstein may feel re: “Halloween 2.”  The performance of “Basterds” is pretty magnificent considering last week La Finke and her sources were talking about a huge 70% drop because of the perhaps overestimated returning-to-college factor and, I’m guessing, their prejudice that “Inglourious Basterds” simply can’t possibly be an ongoing moneymaker in the U.S. market.

I caught up with “Basterds” yesterday. I guess it’s no surprise that a Tarantino-positive cinegeek with a heavy retro tendency like myself would hugely enjoy this borderline surrealist World War II opus.  However, it really was something to be in the presence of a very mainstream, semi-surburban cineplex audience rapt with attention during long stretches of subtitled dialogue in a film full of the kind of homages and film references that are supposed to ruin a movie’s chances. Proving, I suppose, the power of stories and characterization to overcome an audience’s prejudices, if not the cynical preconceptions of those inside the Hollywood bubble. Of course, it’s just easier to blow things up to please a young and male audience, and Tarantino does that, too. So there’s your formula. The other well-reviewed violent genre actioner, “District 9,” held on as well in its fourth week with an estimated $10.7 million.

Taking Woodstock Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” was pretty much a bust. It did even less well than I guessed Friday and made only an approximate $3.7 million, though in fewer theaters than the other major releases. To echo myself, fare aimed at older audiences needs favorable reviews and/or buzz to really succeed, and the mild reaction to this fact-based comedy apparently wasn’t cutting it. Even so, this film probably should have started out with an arthouse release.

Speaking of the arthouse circuit, as often happens specialty fare hosted the biggest per screen averages of the week. The documentary “The September Issue” featuring Vogue editor Anna Wintour did smashing business in its first weekend in six New York theaters, with some $40,000 per screen according to Box Office Mojo. Presumably every fashionista in the area turned up to see what I guess might be marketed as the real life version of “The Devil Wears Prada.” Not quite as great, but still at least as strong as a stocky sports geek’s headbutt, was the Bullz-Eye/PH approved “Big Fan,” which did a healthy $13,000 on each of its two coastal screens this weekend.

Patton Oswalt and Kevin Corrigan in

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Recycled horrors and boomer-bait form box office threesome

It’s an odd duck of a weekend coming up, movie-wise. Our new releases include two films seeking to squeeze just a few more dollars from some long-running horror franchises and a historical prestige comedy which isn’t generating a huge amount of prestige.

Though it’s not quite a given, the prognosticators assume that one of the horror franchises — neither of which has been screened for critics — will top the weekend box office. I think you’d have to give the edge to Warner/New Line’s “The Final Destination,” mainly because it’s in 3-D. The format may gin up interest in the fifth installment of the nearly decade old series highlighting elaborately gruesome deaths and definitely will gin up ticket prices at the nearly 1,700 venues showing it in that format. The other horror flick, The Weinstein Company’s “Halloween II,” is not only a sequel, but a sequel to a reboot/remake. The cachet of director Rob Zombie has probably helped give this thing some steam and apparently both horror films are doing the “tracking” thing well, says THR‘s Carl DiOrio. Still, splitting the fright ticket here seems almost inevitable as the films appeal to largely the same audience.

The numbers being bandied about for both films seem to top out at no higher than $20 million or so, with significantly lower amounts for one or both likely. Of course, that mean’s it’s far from impossible that neither film will win the weekend, and Quentin Tarantino‘s verifiable hit “Inglourious Basterds” might just walk away with its second #1 slot to go with its strong weekday performance. Of course, with Hollywood concerned for the fate of Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s new company, the performance of both the Tarantino and Zombie productions will be very closely scrutinized.

Taking WoodstockLikely to come in fourth place is something completely different. Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock,” a fact-based comedy about the young entrepreneur who found himself inside a musical/historical whirlwind when he set up the epoch-making music festival at Max Yasgur’s farm. Though Lee is thought of as a rather heavy-duty director these days in the wake of “Brokeback Mountain,” humor has always been a strong suit going back to his early Taiwan-centric international hits, “The Wedding Banquet” and “Eat Drink Man Woman” (which had nothing to do with cannibalism). Even the downbeat “The Ice Storm” is far more darkly funny that it’s usually given credit for.

That, however, was then. Our own David Medsker apparently reflects critics as a whole in his split decision on the film, and that doesn’t bode well because this isn’t a teenager-centric horror flick. Movies appealing to boomers are helped by good reviews; movies by arthouse-fave directors like Lee need good reviews; movie starring culty stand-ups like Demetri Martin in their first starring role might benefit from good reviews, too. So, a meh-by-definition 51% Rotten Tomatoes rating doesn’t really cut it and I will expect this one to do moderate business at best once the general apathy sets in. Still, that might be ameliorated somewhat by the ongoing interest in all things baby-boomer and to a lesser extent by the absurdly young looking Demetri Martin’s cable TV fame. (Martin, by the way, is 36, despite having a near identical hairstyle to me at age 12. Funny guy, however.) The presence of Emile Hersch, Liev Schreiber, and Eugene Levy in the Greco-Jewish dominated cast might not hurt, either. At least it gives violence-averse aging hippies and ultra-PC liberals (and I’ve known a few) some appropriate entertainment.

Patton Oswalt in That pretty much covers the new releases. However, film geeks in L.A. and New York will have the chance to see a frequently hilarious nightmare version of a sports geek via the acclaimed tragicomedy, “Big Fan,” from Robert Siegel, the very talented writer of “The Wrestler.” Our sports-loving compatriot Mike Farley digs it, and I very much admired it, in a bummed out sort of way, as well when I saw it at the Los Angeles Film Festival several weeks back. The mass of critics agree, too. Patton Oswalt might not look much like Robert DeNiro did during his “Taxi Driver” days, but in every other way, he gives Bobby D. a run for his money.

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Blu Tuesday: Greedy Studio, Hidden Agenda

In lieu of my weekly Blu-ray column, I wanted to take the opportunity to take a closer look at one of this week’s higher profile releases. Fans of Ang Lee’s martial arts epic, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” have been waiting for an HD version of the film for quite some time now, but no one could have imagined it would happen like this. Instead of being given the update it deserves – complete with new bonus material and a silly subtitle like The Green Dynasty Edition – the film limps onto Blu-ray as part of a three-pack with two other movies it has nothing in common with other than falling under the wuxia subgenre. That’s not a slight against the included Zhang Yimou films (both “House of Flying Daggers” and “The Curse of the Golden Flower” are quite good in their own right), but rather the studio for thinking they could get away with such a heartless scam.

While most fans of “Crouching Tiger” will likely enjoy the other two movies (no doubt Sony’s big selling point), what the studio has failed to consider is that those same people probably bought them on Blu-ray the first time around. An unfortunate oversight or a crafty scheme to force consumers to pay for an added value they don’t want? I’m going to lean towards the latter, especially when the “Crouching Tiger” disc has been treated so poorly. True, the movie looks absolutely stunning in high definition, but there isn’t a single new thing about the release other than the upgraded video and audio. The same three special features have been imported from the DVD, while the addition of access to BD-Live means very little in terms of ever seeing new extras. If you don’t own any of the films, you could certainly spend your money on worse things, but just know that by doing so, you’re only encouraging Sony to do more of the same in the future.

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