Saturday, February 24, 2007
The joy of badness
Assistant producer Debra Alban and I are off to the Razzies in a couple hours.

My money's on "Basic Instinct 2" for worst picture, though you can't rule out "Lady in the Water." The former was merely trying to be a decent thriller; the latter was infused with M. Night Shyamalan's self-importance. That's gotta count for something.

There's something wonderful about a cheeky awards ceremony honoring bad movies -- and the Razzies, which have remained deliberately amateurish, do a fine job. All the hand-wringing that surrounds the Oscars is nonexistent. The only point is to have a good laugh.

I look forward to laughing -- a lot.

(Want more laughs at the expense of bad films? See if you can find copies of the Medved brothers' "The 50 Worst Films of All Time" and/or "The Golden Turkey Awards.")
Friday, February 23, 2007
A glorious temple of movies
Who would have thought a former water facility at the southern edge of Beverly Hills could become an astonishing trove of all things movie-related? That's the building that's now home to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Margaret Herrick Library and Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study.

If you haven't done so yet, check out the gallery devoted to the library (put together by CNN.com's Debra Alban). Debra and I were given a tour by the library's gracious director, Linda Harris Mehr, and what we saw would keep even the most casual film buff busy for weeks:

- Cary Grant's scrapbooks
- Alfred Hitchcock's camera set-ups for "North by Northwest"
- Movie posters from the earliest days of film to the present, from all over the world (the facility has 31,000)
- Costume designs for films ranging from "Gone with the Wind" to "Elf"
- Scripts for thousands of films

And on and on and on -- clippings, photographs, books, memorabilia, even a working nickelodeon, the contraption that helped a number of the early movie moguls establish their fortunes.

The vast majority of the material isn't on display (indeed, most of it is protected in climate-controlled rooms), and the library is a research and archival institution. But the facility is open to the public Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Certainly, if you're working on anything movie-related, it's a must.

The Academy is also working to establish a museum, which I can see becoming as wonderful as one of my favorite places, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Next time you're in Los Angeles, take a little time to drop by.
The worst best picture of all time
The folks at Rotten Tomatoes (rottentomatoes.com), the movie review aggregation site, have put together a list of every best picture from best to worst -- or, more accurately, from worst to best.

The rankings were put together using a combination of contemporary and current reviews, so you have the interesting mix of the late New York Times critic Bosley Crowther next to, say, David Cornelius of efilmcritic.com.

I won't say what the worst (or best) film is -- you'll have to check it out for yourself -- but what's striking is how many of the bottom 20 are from the last 15 years or so. Not that winning best picture has often been associated with actually being a great picture, of course.

So rev up those arguments. It makes for fascinating reading.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
'The Queen' and Britney Spears
There's a scene in the best picture nominee "The Queen" that shows a huddled group of motorcyclists waiting outside a building. As a shadowy Princess Diana comes out and ducks into a car, photographers leap aboard the motorcycles, which take off after Diana's speeding vehicle.

We all know how that ended.

As I watched that scene earlier this week, I couldn't help but think of Britney Spears. Her life has gotten to the point that, every time she makes a move, I receive an e-mail at work about the latest, usually attributed to TMZ or X-17 -- which are then investigated by all the major news outlets, including CNN.

Why? There's extremely high interest in Spears' every step; it's "news," which is why every news outlet angling for your interest is covering it. On the other hand, it's creepy, watching a presumed nervous breakdown play out in public, paparazzi motorcyles close behind. (Craig Ferguson's points are well taken. Indeed, his entire much-praised monologue is well worth viewing: It's here on YouTube, courtesy of CBS.)

Spears has been growing up in public for years and often played to the camera. I hope she can find a way to banish them -- and us -- and get her life together. That would be an ending worth seeing.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Haunting 'Ghosts'
From CNN.com's Cybil Wallace:

What turned U.S. soldiers into the torturers at Abu Ghraib?

A new documentary, "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," claims that -- unlike the official line that these were loose-cannon soldiers who went on a rampage on the overnight shift -- the soldiers were following orders. Whether you believe that or not, after watching this disturbing film you'll have plenty to ponder.

"Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" debuts Thursday night on HBO. It was also an official selection of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival’s American documentary competition. (HBO, like CNN, is a unit of Time Warner.)

The documentary features interviews with both the torturers and the tortured, and manages to paint both as having suddenly landed in a version of hell.

The soldiers -- both those accused of the abuse and witnesses to it -- say they were unprepared for their assignment, unsure of their ever-changing orders and existed in a place where insanity was the norm. One soldier described his time at Abu Ghraib as " 'Apocalypse Now' meets 'The Shining,' except this is real and you're in the middle of it."

And then there are the former prisoners, none of whom were ever charged with any crime after being held for up to five months. One former prisoner described watching his elderly father die after being refused medical treatment. They were also shown photographs –- featuring those now iconic images -- and recognized their family members in them.

It keeps coming back to those photos. The soldiers took hundreds of them, with a kind of disconnect to what was going on in front of them. At one point, a female soldier tries to explain why she posed with an Iraqi's corpse -– with a large smile and thumbs-up gesture.

That scene follows an interview with one of the prisoners. He describes hearing a man being tortured.

"We listened as his soul cracked," he said.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Radio, radio
So XM and Sirius have announced they're going to merge.

I couldn't help but be struck by a statement from a member of the National Association of Broadcasters. The NAB is planning to fight the proposed combo, and its executive vice-president, Dennis Wharton, had this to say: "In the coming weeks, policymakers will have to weigh whether an industry that makes Howard Stern its poster child should be rewarded with a monopoly platform for offensive programming," he said.

Excuse me? Perhaps Mr. Wharton should look at his own business. It's not as if local radio stations -- the vast majority of which are owned by giant national conglomerates -- have a sterling reputation for programming. Music stations are boring, talk stations air the same programs with different hosts (if they're not picking up a nationally syndicated arch-conservative or arch-liberal, they have their own versions) and news stations all too seldom beat the local bushes.

Yes, I'm biased. I subscribe to XM. But I subscribed for a reason: Local radio stations weren't meeting my needs. So I pay for a service -- and I'm very satisfied.

I don't know what the merger will bring, or if I'll lose some of my favorite channels or personalities. If so, I can reconsider my subscription. And if I do, I'll be listening to a lot more CDs, because I'm never going back to local radio.

Perhaps the NAB -- and local advertisers -- should ponder that.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Britney's freaky Friday
Mark the date: February 16, 2007. It may one day come to be known as "Freaky Friday."

Within a 24-hour period, the star of the real "Freaky Friday," Lindsay Lohan, proclaimed her 30-day, "come-and-go-as-I-please" stint in rehab was over. Done. She was good to go. Or so she believed.

On the same "Freaky Friday," Nicole "Wrong Way" Richie was officially charged with driving under the influence for her compass-reversing incident on an L.A. highway, in which police say she admitted smoking the ganja weed (yes, she did inhale) and smoothing it all out with a taste of Vicodin.

Meanwhile, LATER THAT EVENING (as the caption in a movie might say), Britney Spears, in a "can you top this" moment that will not soon be forgotten, rather publicly shaved her head at Esther's Haircutting Studio in Tarzana, California, and washed that rather flagrant act of "hair today, gone tonight" public exhibitionism down with a tattoo cocktail or two, as if to brand that night on her body lest she, or we, forget.

As we watched the sheer wonderment of what Britney had done, it seemed as if we were witnessing a meltdown unmatched since the Wicked Witch of the West disappeared into a puddle of vapor. Or at the very least Mariah Carey's breakdown several years ago while live on MTV.

Fortunately for all of us, as all this went down, Paris Hilton was out of country. Not in Paris, mind you, but in Austria, attending the publicly televised Vienna Opera Ball, where cameras caught her looking bored -- so bored, in fact, that a commentator for the local broadcaster deadpanned "Look how excited she is," his observation bolstered by the fact that she was playing with her cell phone.

(In case you were wondering what the heck Paris Hilton was doing at the Vienna Opera Ball, as well you should, she was invited by a 74-year-old construction magnate whose previous guests have included Pamela Anderson and Carmen Electra. Go figure.)

So now that all of these events have been documented, it brings me to a question I was asked, coincidentally, the morning of that "Freaky Friday" before we knew all of these events would transpire. It was a question asked by a newspaper reporter who was interviewing me for a story on the transient nature of fame and why we pay so much attention to every little step they take, every move they make.

For the same reason, I said, that so many people watch NASCAR -- which I believe has less to do with the roar of the car and the thrill of the race and just as much to do with the anticipation of a possible crash. After which we will look and gawk and say what a terrible thing has just happened, yet secretly dwell in the satisfaction that what we came to anticipate had actually occurred.

If you throw in Paris's DUI arrest to the litany of transgressions previously mentioned, then it is fair to say that the "Not-so-Fantastic-Four" -- Paris, Britney, Nicole and Lindsay -- have all crashed in one way or another.


And we will all continue watching, waiting for the next accident, which is inevitable -- as is the likelihood that the next time, someone will be seriously injured. One can only hope that the same friends and family who are there when the times are good and the cash is flowing, and there are perks to be had and swag to be swiped (but seem to disappear when the good times are not flowing), will step up and do something.

It's 10 p.m. Do you know where your wayward celebrity children are?
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