The geek overload continues! (updated)

With the completely and utterly sold-out Comic-Con starting mid-week, Hollywood publicists seem to be working overtime to fulfill your no doubt insatiable need for geek news. I could probably write seven or eight posts catering to nerd proclivities. But you’re getting just one today, (and, with the help of few snafus, this one took much longer than it should have). A few highlights

* Leonardo DiCaprio’s company has signed writer Rand Ravich (“The Astronaut’s Wife,” the TV series “Life”) to do a new film somehow tied to Rod Serling’s classic anthology science-fiction/fantasy TV series, “The Twilight Zone.” Many of you will remember the 1983 film, which utilized multiple writers and directors and consisted of three adaptations of well known episodes from the original series, one tale loosely drawn from a pair of episodes (sadly infamous due to the accident which killed actor Vic Morrow and two illegally hired children, very nearly ending the career of director John Landis), and a framing story featuring Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd. No word on what form this new film would take — a single tale would be missing the entire point of “The Twilight Zone,” IMO — and I’m unfamiliar with Ravich’s work. So, it’ll be interesting to watch this one move further along the pipeline.

[Update: Apparently, one year ago at least, the idea was to make a single film drawn from an episode of the series. Why, I have no idea. I learned this via Monika Bartyzel, you can read her post and my messed up comments here.

* The word on the overseas grosses for “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” are in and they’re a new worldwide five day record of $297 million. Blimey.

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A Chat with Cassandra Sawtell (“Harper’s Island”)

You asked for it, you got it: another “Harper’s Island” interview, this time with the young lady who played Madison, the creepiest little girl on the island. Rest assured, however, that it’s a testament to Cassandra Sawtell’s acting abilities that she was able to pull off her role on the series. I spoke with her this afternoon, and she couldn’t have been more pleasant, and she even managed to surprise me with an upcoming film appearance of hers that isn’t mentioned within her IMDb listing…and, wow, what a high-profile film it is!

Stay tuned for…

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Richard Roeper on the Oscars

Richard Roeper nailed all the major categories and was 21 for 24 in his predictions. He sums up the night in his latest blog.

Who knows if Mickey Rourke’s offscreen antics cost him the Best Actor trophy. More likely, Academy voters felt Sean Penn’s performance in “Milk” was more likely to resonate through the ages. Both actors played charming, doomed characters, but Harvey Milk was a real-life crusader, whereas the wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson was a fictional creation. We felt empathy for Rourke’s character, despite his self-destructive and self-loathing ways—but we felt inspired by Penn’s Harvey Milk. The roles themselves might have given Penn the edge.

I love Kate Winslet but I didn’t love “The Reader.” She was fine in a supporting role, but she was unforgettable in her much larger role in “Revolutionary Road.” Heath Ledger’s performance was Oscar-worthy. The tragedy of his death was reflected in the faces of all those talented actors who worked with him or knew him or simply appreciated his gifts. Penelope Cruz had a showcase role in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and she hit it out of the park. Like Dianne Weist and Mira Sorvino, she is also the beneficiary of a Woody Allen screenplay.

“Slumdog Millionaire” was the best movie of 2008 and one of the best 100 films I’ve ever seen. I’m thrilled for the film, the cast and of course for Best Director winner Danny Boyle.

As for the show: Hugh Jackman did a fine job in a couple of lavish and slightly wacky production numbers, and then he seemed to disappear in the second half, as is usually the case with hosts. I can’t imagine that he’d ever want to take on the job again. The ratings won’t be great, but the Oscars will still bring in more viewers than the Grammys and the Emmys combined. Until/unless they cut the ceremony to two hours and eliminate the broadcast of the “minor” categories, the numbers will continue to go down. When the viewers at home have never heard of the winner onstage, have never seen his film and have never heard of any of the people he’s thanking—that’s not timeless TV.

  

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Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger

People will be discussing Heath Ledger’s performance in “The Dark Knight” long after we’re all gone. His tragic death adds to the drama surrounding his Oscar, but the performance speaks for itself. It was stunning and completely original. He deserves the Academy Award, and it’s a shame he wasn’t around to accept it. It was heartbreaking to watch his family accept the Oscar with such grace and dignity.

Here’s the take from Bullz-Eye’s Jason Zingale.

For all the Oscar buzz surrounding Heath Ledger in the past few weeks, there still aren’t enough hours in the day to gush about his knockout performance as The Joker. It’s beyond phenomenal – a villainous turn so good that you never know what to expect next – and it puts Jack Nicholson’s cartoonish rendition from the 1989 version to shame. Ledger’s Clown Prince isn’t a one-dimensional goofball who listens to bad 80s music while parading around a museum – he’s a diehard anarchist who’s both smart and incredibly dangerous. Dressed like a bum with dirty green hair, smeared-on white and red makeup, and a hand-me-down purple suit, the Joker truly is the wild card he’s supposed to be. One minute he could be playfully entertaining his guests with one of many versions of how he received the smile-like scars on his face (when in reality, he probably just did it himself), and the next, he’s a nightmarish psychopath with the laugh of a rabid hyena.

  

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Using statistics to predict the Oscars

Movie buffs love predicting Oscar winners, but stats guru Nate Silver decided to look at hard data and trends to come up with his own predictions. Political junkies are familiar with Silver, as his blog became one of the top resources for interpreting polls and predicting election results in the last cycle.

After spending most of 2008 predicting the success of political actors—also called politicians—it’s only natural that Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight.com) would turn his attention to the genuine article: the nominees in the major categories for the 81st Annual Academy Awards (Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. on ABC). Formally speaking, this required the use of statistical software and a process called logistic regression. Informally, it involved building a huge database of the past 30 years of Oscar history. Categories included genre, MPAA classification, the release date, opening-weekend box office (adjusted for inflation), and whether the film won any other awards. We also looked at whether being nominated in one category predicts success in another. For example, is someone more likely to win Best Actress if her film has also been nominated for Best Picture? (Yes!) But the greatest predictor (80 percent of what you need to know) is other awards earned that year, particularly from peers (the Directors Guild Awards, for instance, reliably foretells Best Picture). Genre matters a lot (the Academy has an aversion to comedy); MPAA and release date don’t at all. A film’s average user rating on IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) is sometimes a predictor of success; box grosses rarely are. And, as in Washington, politics matter, in ways foreseeable and not. Below, Silver’s results, including one upset we never would have anticipated.

Check out the article for his predictions. There aren’t many surprises, but it’s interesting to see the probability percentages he allocates to each category.

  

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