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Colbert on Colbert

Yes, Stephen Colbert will be replacing David Letterman, and of course it’s great to hear Steven Colbert discussing it.

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

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Howard Stern back on Letterman

Howard Stern was back on David Letterman’s show and it’s a good one. As usual, Howard has to bring up the feud with Jay Leno.

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Hidden Netflix Gems – I’m Still Here

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Joaquin Phoenix‘s much-publicized retirement from acting in order to pursue his burgeoning career as a rapper had cries of “Hoax!” surrounding it from the very beginning, and its subsequent critical and audience response was mostly negative. However, despite the apparent trend of people upset at being duped, Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here is a fascinating and frequently hilarious send-up of celebrity culture anchored by an amazingly committed performance from Phoenix. In the film, as in reality, this is the kind of thing that could potentially end a career and forever ruin a reputation, and the courage he displays in sticking to it is very impressive.

In one of the best scenes, Phoenix rejects an offer to co-star with Ben Stiller (who you would never guess by watching is in on the joke the whole time) in Greenberg; in another, he hilariously attempts to obtain a record deal with Sean “Puffy” Combs, who isn’t quite the actor Stiller is, though his performance is just good enough that its weaker elements could be seen as arrogant posturing for the cameras that follow Phoenix everywhere. Then there is the famous David Letterman interview, in which he mumbles and stares blankly at the roaring audience, seemingly unable to fathom why they think he’s so funny (Letterman was not in on the joke, but of course he is unfazed after previous encounters with the likes of Crispin Glover and Harmony Korine).

So, what of the supposed rapping, you ask? Is it any good? The answer is a resounding “not really.” While the filmmakers wisely make it just decent enough to convince us that an arrogant movie star who has lost his mind to drugs and the excess of stardom would believe it was his new calling, his flows are about what you’d see in the mid-range of a good Hip-Hop open mic. The rhymes are clumsy and mostly monosyllabic, the beats generic; Phoenix’s delivery is full of the gruff showmanship of a spoiled rich dude with no real inkling of the dues a great emcee must pay. The funniest part about it is that at his few live appearances as a rapper, star-struck morons who are clearly just tickled to be near an Oscar-nominated actor mostly cheer him on. At one such performance he tells the lone heckler, “I’ve got a million dollars in my bank account – what do you got?” Cue the cheers.

This is why the film works, and why it is has not permanently damaged Phoenix’s acting career. By committing himself so fully to the performance and taking a great risk of being reviled and blacklisted by the Hollywood community, Phoenix has made a strong and convincing statement about our celebrity culture and the idea of reinventing oneself. Beyond any of that, though, it’s a very fun movie to watch, and all the more impressive for making you wonder what’s real even when you know it’s a hoax.

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The Golden Globes happened, the world continues to turn

You probably know by now that the big water cooler topic in Hollywood about last night at the Golden Globes isn’t so much the awards themselves. Yes, there were some nice surprises in the acting categories, most notably for Paul Giamatti in “Barney’s Version.” “The Social Network” remains a big Oscar favorite, and so on. (You can see a complete list of last night’s winners here, by the way). No. It appears the most criticized man in Hollywood this day is not Mel Gibson or Jeff Zucker, but one Mr. Ricky Gervais.  Here, via the Guardian, is the opening monologue for those of you who missed it or want to relive the moment.

It seems to me that there is no more thankless high-profile task in major-league Hollywood today than being a stand-up hosting an award show. Much better to be an actor doing tightly scripted song-and-dances. As a conventional host, if you’re too much of a flatterer you annoy everyone who wasn’t personally flattered, but just ask Chris Rock and Jon Stewart how even relatively tame cracks can be bandied about in the press for days as writers panic on behalf of show biz egos.

Mary McNamara‘s piece at the L.A. Times underplays the criticism that Rock received at the time for his not-too-extreme critique of Jude Law’s acting abilities compared to Hollywood greats. David Letterman was bashed for being too silly. Stewart was deemed insufficiently differential and not funny enough, though to me it was case of maybe being too honest for the room. Of course, that was the Oscars — which shouldn’t be taken all that seriously but still has a certain mythological import to it — and this was the Golden Globes, the famously drunken award show with the often bizarre nominations and sometimes strange wins.

My attitude is this: Yes, Gervais crossed the line at points — though determining where the line is isn’t always so easy. The crack about Scientology and certain allegedly closeted top stars was pretty nasty, and worse, wasn’t funny. I could understand why the head of the HFPA was angry — though if he didn’t want to have cruel jokes made about him and his job, he’s heading the wrong organization. On the other hand, Gervais was often very funny with better aimed and gentler jabs, and last night’s performance does have its fans. I thought the joke about Bruce Willis being Ashton Kutcher’s dad was funny and it looked to me like Willis maybe thought so too. Others were somewhere in between. They hired Gervais, but what they really wanted was Don Rickles. Someone who’d insult people in such a way that no one would take it seriously. That’s hard to do if you don’t happen to actually be Rickles.

I wouldn’t want to be Gervais, or Gervais’s publicist, today but I think we all take these things way too seriously, and everyone still has their careers. We spend too much time reading the tea leaves and are too quick to make Nikki Finke-style conclusions about the goodness or evil of certain figures based on pretty minimal information. The Steve Carrell “it never gets old” line and putative feud over the different versions of “The Office” struck me as more Jack Benny and Fred Allen than West Coast vs. East Coast rappers. They might well have been “joking on the square,” but they might just as easily have been nervously joking.

Anyhow, if any of you have any thoughts on the matter, feel more than free to pipe up in comments. Oh, and be nice!

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It’s your Yom Kippur Friday movie news dump

Yom Kippur is the holiday where one abstains from worldly pleasures of all kinds, including eating and drinking, and reflects on spiritual and moral values, atoning for one’s sins, and becoming a better person. In other words, just another day in Hollywood!

*  The big news right now is the bombshell, but not unexpected, admission to the New York Times by Casey Affleck that “I’m Still Here” is a fictional film. Moreover, Affleck still may not have come completely clean because he stated that David Letterman wasn’t in on the truth during the notorious interview with star/co-conspirator Joaquin Phoenix. Via Company Town, we learn that Letterman writer Bill Scheft is comparing what went on to Andy Kaufman stunts and even took credit for one of the lines.

Joaquin Phoenix in A lot of people apparently think that Affleck, perhaps more than Phoenix, has some atoning to do, including Anne Thompson. I guess I can understand her frustration at being manipulated and lied to, but ultimately, it’s only a movie and we in the show biz press have all the credibility of car salesmen. Also it is, after all, a movie. From everything I’ve heard about the film, the far greater sin would have been if it had actually been real.

* Orthodox Jewish-bred Israeli-Brit Sacha Baron Cohen seems to be well on his way to a Shana Tova (good year). He’ll be moving into the world of “serious” acting in a planned biopic about the late multitalented Queen singer/songwriter/pianist Freddie Mercury to be written by the exceedingly busy docu-drama specialist Peter Morgan. I’ve read some ethnic quibbles somewhere (sorry, lost the link) since Mercury’s family hailed from parts of Asia. It seems to me the physical resemblance tells the tale and is no more offensive than the multi-ethnic Asian-Caucasian-Native American Lou Diamond Phillips playing a Mexican-American teen in “Stand and Deliver,” despite having not a drop of Latino blood in his veins. All ethnicities are really ethnic mixes anyhow. I can’t count the number of times I assumed someone was Jewish only to find out they were actually a mix of other groups that just came out looking all Jewy or people who look Latino who are actually Eurasian, etc.

No one seems to know whether Cohen, who can sing a little, will sing his own part. Considering Mercury’s remarkable voice, I wouldn’t complain if they simply used the old recordings. If it was good enough for “The Jolson Story” it’s good enough for this.

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A roundtable chat with Luke Wilson of “Middle Men”

MM-07766

It’s been nearly 15 years since producer James L. Brooks bankrolled a feature version of a short film made by some Texas youngsters, and that movie (“Bottle Rocket”) introduced the movie world to director Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, and his brother, Luke. Since then, Dallas-born Luke Wilson’s movie-star handsome likeness has become a highly familiar to filmgoers, playing both leading men and supporting roles mostly in comedies like “Legally Blonde,” “Old School,” and Mike Judge’s criminally maltreated “Idiocracy,” as well as “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and a classic cameo in “Anchorman.” (He was the anchor who — spoiler alert — got his arm was sliced off with a sword by Tim Robbins.)

To this day, Wilson has a habit of turning up in odd and interesting places, like a series of well-known commercials for AT&T or in the uneven but entertaining “Middle Men,” in which Wilson very credibly stars as a Texas businessman who gets much more than he expected at the intersection of e-commerce and adult entertainment. He is also preparing to play the part of Laura Dern’s flaky ex-husband on “Enlightened,” a new TV series from cult writer-producer Mike White (“Chuck and Buck,” “School of Rock“) with episodes directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme.

At the risk of creating an embarrassing but perhaps partially correct impression of a man-crush, in person Luke Wilson is a highly charismatic guy. Behind his highly colloquial speech — I’ve left out a lot of “likes” — is an intelligence that, without giving away much of anything, dispenses with a lot of the usual show business interview platitudes. Now in his late 30s, he also appeared thinner than his slightly chunky appearance on “Middle Man” or his recent AT&T commercials. That was because Wilson had deliberately gone over his normal weight by about 25 pounds for the role of a hard-driving businessman and family guy.

What was that like?

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RIP Harvey Pekar

Not that today’s version of Comic-Con — or yesterday’s version, for that matter — was ever even close to being his scene, but it’s still going to be a little less fun and a lot sadder to be there knowing that Cleveland-born-and-bred Harvey Pekar has left the world at age 70. For those of you know who are not familiar with American Splendor, his great yearly autobiographical comics or his occasional graphic-novel sized books like Our Cancer Year, all I can say is that Pekar was a late-blooming writer who understood that comics were a medium appropriate for as many different kinds of stories as the stage or the theater. Since he had friends like underground comics legend Robert Crumb and since his own hilariously grumpy yet humanistic vision of the world was, in its way, a natural fit for the comic book form, it was where he found his artistic home. The world is a richer, funnier, kinder place because of it.

My excuse for being able to note Pekar’s passing here, where I’m supposed to write about movies, is that, after being discovered by David Letterman, who then discarded him when he decided to poke a few too many not-so-funny fingers in the eye of his then-bosses at General Electric, the movies eventually found their way to Pekar’s door. It was his good fortune that husband-and-wife documentarians Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini on their very first narrative feature managed to pull off one of the best movies of the oughts, and my choice, still, for the best comic book adaptation ever with their wonderful and hugely inventive 2003 film version of “American Splendor” featuring great lead performances by Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis.  Naturally, I’ve got a couple of film clips.

The first it’s 100% pure, uncut Pekar. It’s also not too far from my own frequent train of thought when I’m shopping in areas rich in retirees of my and Pekar’s own ethnic.

More clips after the flip.

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Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout Conan…including Conan himself!

First, Dave’s take…

…and then Craig’s:

Please note how both of them find the time to bash Carson Daly, proving once again that there’s no such thing as too easy a target. Kudos to Jimmy Kimmel, however, for figuring out a way to get a laugh out of Daly’s situation without being mean about it:

Bob linked to this in the comments section of my earlier post, but here’s what Patton Oswalt had to say on the matter:

And, of course, this post wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t offer Conan’s own take on the situation:

Gee, can you tell he’s pissed?

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Letterman’s alleged blackmailer might plead down

Letterman extortion

Robert Halderman, the “48 Hours” producer awaiting trial for attempting to extort $2 million from David Letterman, is seeking a plea bargain that would have him only serve one year in jail. Last October, Halderman threatened to expose the talk show host’s affairs to the public.

The offer won’t be considered by the office of outgoing Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau, the sources said, because prosecutors feel the call should be made by Cyrus Vance Jr., who will take office in January.

Halderman’s lawyer, Gerald Shargel, denied knowing anything about an offer. “There have been no plea negotiations. None whatsoever,” Shargel said.

Instead, Shargel said he plans to forge ahead this week, filing additional papers on his motion to dismiss the charges.

Armed with the tapes, cops busted Halderman Oct. 1. He is free on $200,000 bail.

Shargel has filed papers demanding dismissal of the charges, arguing that the proposed transaction was nothing more than a TV.

If convicted by a jury, the maximum sentence Halderman can get is 15 years, which is much longer than what he’s seeking.

As I predicted, Letterman’s image remains untarnished. By quickly admitting to his infidelities, he’s escaped any constant scrutiny. Tiger Woods should have paid attention.

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David Letterman target of extortion plot

Comedian David Letterman is the recent celebrity forced to confront actions that occurred years ago. On September 9th, an employer for CBS’ “48 Hours” threatened to disclose past affairs Letterman had with “Late Show” staffers. Earlier today, the Manhattan district attorney said the man intended to blackmail Letterman for $2 million.

Robert J. “Joe” Halderman, a producer for the true-crime show “48 Hours,” was arrested Thursday and indicted on one count of attempted first-degree grand larceny, punishable from five to 15 years upon conviction, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said.

The district attorney’s office said Halderman left a letter and other material for Letterman early Sept. 9. He wrote that he needed “to make a large chunk of money” by selling Letterman a screenplay treatment.

The letter told Letterman that his world was “about to collapse around him” when information about his private life is disclosed. He said it would lead to “a ruined reputation” and severe damage to his professional and family life.

Letterman acknowledged the story on his show last night. In front of a televised audience, he admitted to having relationships with past employees, but realizes that he has to protect them, himself, and his family.

What isn’t clear is whether or not Letterman slept with any of these women while married. Letterman and his wife Regina have been together since 1986. Their son, Harry, is now six years old. While’s it’s unfortunate Letterman was involved, remember that he and his wife weren’t married until March of this year. We have no idea about the inner workings and the ups and downs of their relationship.

Dave has hosted a talk show program in some shape or form since 1980. Unlike Jay Leno, who is very buddy-buddy with a good portion of Hollywood, Letterman has always kept a close circle of friends. These friends have usually been his fellow staff members. Like I said, we don’t know the extent of these indiscretions. On the surface, Dave seems like a happily married man now settling into the roles of “husband” and “father” later in life. I’ll keep thinking of him that way until I learn of evidence more dastardly than this.

Just keep being funny, Dave. You’re all right in my book.

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