Happy #65, Herr Wenders and Mr. Martin

I don’t know what astrologers will make of it, but 65 years ago today, a German infant in Dusseldorf and a relatively poor not-black child in Waco, were born.

One became one of the most influential and popular serious film makers of his time. Here’s a moment from probably my second favorite film of my least favorite movie decade, “Wings of Desire” starring Bruno Ganz as an angel who envies us mortals.

Today’s other birthday boy became a rather talented comedian, writer, and actor and a bit underrated at all of it.

A confession: I’ve never seen “The Jerk.” Another one for the Netflix queue.

  

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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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Met Them at the Greek — a press day chat with Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Rose Byrne and Nicholas Stoller of “Get Him to the Greek”

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If you saw “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” — and I hope you have as its one of the stronger comedies to be made over the last several years — you’ll likely have noticed the strong comic chemistry between British comedy sensation Russell Brand as three-quarters insane, recovering addict rock star Aldous Snow and Jonah Hill (“Superbad“) as a resort waiter and somewhat overly devoted fan of Snow’s. Well, you’re not the only one, and so we have the somewhat slapdash, sometimes brilliant, and ultimately winning new comedy, “Get Him to the Greek,” which once again brings us Brand as Aldous Snow, who, since the events of “Sarah Marshall” has suffered a failed marriage to rocker Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), had a seven-year old son, and removed the “recovering” from his addiction — kind of impressive since “Sarah Marshall” was only two years ago.

Nevertheless, having fallen headlong off the wagon, Snow needs help arriving on-time and semi-cognizant for an important TV appearance, a sound check, and a special comeback performance at L.A.’s Greek Theater. The task falls to ambitious young record company assistant Aaron Green (Hill, playing a different character than in “Sarah Marshall”), a huge fan of Snow’s in a sweet but rocky relationship with his improbably adorable doctor girlfriend (Elizabeth Moss of “Mad Men“). Frequently vomit-stained hijinks ensue as Green and Snow barely survive a number of unfortunate events, including a nearly apocalyptic visit to the set of “The Today Show,” one of the most truly mad Las Vegas sequences in film history, and the kind of freaky three-ways that would make most porn producers blanch. It’s all wrapped up with the sort of good-hearted traditional morality which reminds us that the producer is the Walt Disney of male-centric, R-rated comedies, Judd Apatow.

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Weekend box office preview — how high will “Iron Man 2” fly?

“Pretty high” is the obvious answer. As I write this, the first midnight shows are just finishing up the trailers on the East Coast, fanboys are queuing up in the Midwest, and their West Coast brethren are enjoying their pre-film burgers and Red Bull, but as far as everyone seems to be concerned, the sequel to the surprise “four quadrant” mega-blockbuster of 2008 is already a massive hit.  “Iron Man 2” has been booked into a record number of theaters, 4,380 according to Box Office Mojo.

Robert Downey Jr. in

Moreover, Nikki Finke is reporting that the film has already earned $132 million from 53 assorted countries where it has already opened. The summer solstice is more than six weeks away, but summer-time film madness is, we are informed, very much upon us. (Just btw, Anthony D’Alessandro offers a brief historical look at the outward creep of the summer movie season over the last couple of decades.)

So, the question remains, just how many millions will the second film about billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) fetch. Will it beat the record $158.4 million opening of “The Dark Knight” and crack $160 mill? Or, will it get a mere $140 million or so and send everyone to the immensely well appointed and hugely relative poor house? That seems to be the floor being offered up by the various gurus, including Ben Fritz of the L.A. Times‘ Company Town blog and THR’s jolly Carl DiOrio, who characteristically seems to be leaning slightly towards the possibility of a huge opening for Marvel and Paramount.

Nevertheless, there is a small dark cloud here and that’s the general perception, at least among us press types — who are, I remind you again, people too — that “Iron Man 2” is, while not at all bad, also not as good as the first one. This is a rare case where I’ve actually seen the week’s big movie in advance myself and, quality wise, I’m seeing this one as a glass-half-empty. For me, the story simply fails to find a strong emotional connection between Tony Stark’s troubles and the various threats he’s facing. It all feels a bit vague and disconnected despite director Jon Favreau’s way with humor, mostly good acting, and some very decent action scenes.

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Oscar Postscript

Well, as far as the show itself is concerned, my moderately upbeat assessment of it in last night’s live blog seems to have me in the minority. Certainly, my old fellow-in-film-blogging, Brian Doan, found plenty to dislike as did Roger Ebert in his Twitter feed, and even I’m likely to agree that either Martin or Baldwin alone might have been funnier than the two of them together. There were a number of very professionally done and actually funny tandem gags after their initial notably rough start — but, yeah, much of the material — from who else but Bruce Vilanch — wasn’t that much fresher than stuff from the Bob Hope era.

As for other complaints, I don’t disagree. On the other hand, from where I sit doofy production numbers are par for the course and part of the fun. Less fun are film montages that too often seem to miss the point of the genres of they are celebrating, but they are a tradition as well, except when Chuck Workman’s involved, anyhow.

Brian Doan and I definitely agree about the short shrift given to Governor’s Award winners Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman, and Gordon Willis and, having read a number of negative comments at various reportorial, geek, and cinephile blogs, I wonder if I went easy on any number of things including Mo’Nique’s somewhat defiant/entitled acceptance speech, which I reviewed more like a performance than for content. I certainly did go very easy on the evening’s one obvious moment of weirdness but I’d rather do that leap to a conclusion about something I really don’t know anything about.

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And there’s also the fact that I just like the Oscars. Every year when people complain about the show, I’m always scratching my head and I’m equally flummoxed by the outsized praise certain years get. I’m always entertained by these particular awards because, whether or not I agree with the awards or the nominations, the results will have a pretty crucial effect on any number of careers and that’s more than enough suspense for me.

However, with three locks in the acting nominations, there was less of that for me than usual. If it had been up to me, many awards would have been different. The fact of the matter is, though I intend to take a second look at both of them, neither “Avatar” nor “The Hurt Locker” really grabbed me in a strongly emotional way. Objectively, though, I’m pretty sure “The Hurt Locker” is the better, or at least the less-flawed and vastly more intelligent, film. I’m glad it won, if only because it’s probably the least fiscally successful film to win the Best Picture award but seems to earn praise from almost everyone who sees it. It’s an award for quality, not marketing and I appreciate that even if my own tastes run more towards “Inglourious Basterds” and, to a somewhat lesser degree, “Up in the Air.”

Anyhow, just in case anyone out there needs an update, below the jump are a complete list of awards and nominees that I promise you I did not simply cut and paste from someplace.

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