Mubarak ho, Mr. “Robot”-o

Though there’s been some bombshell television news today, it’s been a blissfully slow news 48 hours regarding the movie world. True, Mike Fleming had a couple of scoops yesterday. His short list of possible “Superman” directors is fun — I’ll take Duncan Jones please, though Matt Reeves would be okay, too.  Also, though I remain impressed by her work, having just seen another terrific performance by Chloe Moretz at a screening last night of “Let Me In,” the fact that she’s got another nice gig as “Emily the Strange” is interesting but not exactly earth shattering. So, I’ll forgo the end-of-week movie news dump.

Instead, we’ll spotlight what have to be the trailers of the day, if not the week. According to Anne Thompson, it apparently started from a tweet by the very busy former “Lost” showrunner Damon Lindelof, who’s heading to India and will be checking out what has to be one of the most lavish Bollywood films ever in terms of effects. It’s a superheroic science fiction tale involving, well, a robot, a giant snake thing, an enormous number of guns, and, of course, big time musical numbers! Here’s the short trailer and some brief TV spots Thompson ran.

Also, just about the time Thompson put up her post, I was alerted by friend-of-the-blog-and-blogger Randy R. to a another, slightly more musical comedy oriented trailer that was running on the site of Ms. Thompson’s comics counterpart, Heidi MacDonald.

Gotta love Bollywood: something for everyone.

Just for the record, “Robot” is directed by Shankar (though it’s such a common name I’m not 100% sure if this is the same Shankar who crafted the hugely popular  “3 Idiots,” though it seems like a reasonable bet) and stars Aishwarya Rai and Rajnikanth who I gather is known as simply Rajni and is a superstar. The music is by A.R. Rahman who is easily the best known composer of Bollywood music here in the West for his terrific work on “Lagaan” and also as the double-Oscar winning composer of the music for “Slumdog Millionaire.”

  

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A trailer for a Sunday morning: “Miral”

Artist turned director Julian Schnabel managed to make a film about a man with one of the most terrifying illnesses I can imagine into a genuinely uplifting experience with 2007’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Now he takes on probably the most single most contentious issue in all of world politics, Israel-Palestine, in “Miral.”

Take a look at this French trailer for the English-language film, written by Palestinian-Italian journalist-author Rula Jebreal, adapting her own novel. “Miral” stars a slightly de-glammed Freida Pinto of “Slumdog Millionaire” and Arab-Israeli actress Hiam Abbass.

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” ran the risk of being a drippy in terms of being a bit of rather conventional arthouse fare/Oscar-bait, but he was quite adept at transcending that at every turn there. Let’s hope he and writer Jebreal — working in, or being translated into, English — pull off the same trick here.

Clearly, the film-makers are hoping for a large audience for “Miral.” Considering the subject matter and what looks like an honest but evenhanded treatment of the ultimate hot-button topic, I kind of hope they get it; I also hope all my Jewish relatives see it. I hate to say it, but too many people — and not only Jews — have allowed support for Israel to become translated into what I see as a near complete lack of awareness of the humanity of Palestinians.

H/t /Film. (I have to say I’m not sure I agree with Brad Brevet about the Tom Waits song at the end. Maybe it’s a bit of cultural stereotyping on my part, but when I think about the problems of a teenager in modern day Palestine/Israel, I don’t think of Waits’ bluesy tones, so popular among middle-aged ex-bohos in L.A. and New York.)

  

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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 Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Nate Silver pegged the odds at 99% that Slumdog would win this, so hopefully you picked it in your pool.

Here’s David Medsker’s take in his Bullz-Eye.com review.

In the end, though, the magic of “Slumdog” is in the story, not the actors who play it out. Its moral seems to be twofold: follow your heart and the money will follow, and sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. As both a lucky dog and hopeless romantic, “Slumdog” is a huge, if odd, affirmation that I’m living a good life, and I’ll take that any day over, say, a period piece about missing children or abusive priests.

  

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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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