Mo nominees, mo problems

So I have here this link, and it reveals to me something very shocking: The Academy is doubling the number of Best Picture nominees at the Oscars from five to 10.

Is it me, or did this come about A YEAR TOO LATE for “The Dark Knight”? Hey Heath, what do you think? Let’s find a medium and organize a seance to find out.

Of course this is a good thing. The fact that the Academy even recognized the need for change is a gigantic leap forward. And I would be appropriately thrilled (I am a little), but I’m too busy taking umbrage (the proper Southern thing to do) and sniffing out the conspiracy I know is lurking in here somewhere.

Polish off that crown, Colbert: Sanford has an affair!

What a huge day for news in my po-dunk ‘lil state! Our illustrious, trout-for-brains governor, the one and only Mark Sanford, has admitted to a long-standing affair that he continued … last weekend … on Father’s Day.

Finally, oh finally, John Edwards can turn to his steadfast wife and utter the words: “See, Lizzie? I’m not THAT bad.”

But maybe what’s gone down isn’t so terrible. After all, all Sanford did was trade the stimulus for, ahem, a little stimulation. Or perhaps the hullabaloo over said moneys resulted from a direct lack thereof. Men in the throes of not gettin’ any are known to do crazy, crazy things.

OK, OK, yes … I just remembered this is a movie blog, and thus I must interject some sort of movie-related banter. So I think this might be an excellent time, Mr. Sanford, to suggest some names for the movie that will be made about your Big Adventure (which makes Pee-Wee’s look, well, kinda boring and devoid of, well, sex). Here are a few I’m tossing about:

  • “From Stimulus to Stimulation: The Mark Sanford Story”
  • “Define ‘Separation': The Demise of a Republican Marriage”
  • “Mark Sanford: M.I.A. to F.U.B.A.R.”
  • “Dulce de Sanford”
  • “‘Doing Something Exotic': What I Didn’t Learn from John Edwards”
  • “Mark Does Argentina”
  • “Episcopal Fever”
  • “Outsourcing Infidelity”

Read the full story online here.

For more details — such as how Sanford, uh, hiked the Appalachians with his mistress on the taxpayers’ dime — click here.

“Proposal” a mixed bag of cliches, worthwhile moments

HOW did I end up in this movie? I mean, I have a SIX-PACK now, dammit!

HOW did I end up in this movie? I mean, I have a SIX-PACK now, dammit!

There is one scene, one single, lonely but powerful little scene, that transcends all the cliches and hokey gimmicks “The Proposal” shamelessly trafficks: Margaret (Sandra Bullock), who checked out on love years ago, stands confronted with the very real possibility (in the form of one Ryan Reynolds) and says, very simply, “I’m scared.” Just two words, but what a whallop of emotional truth they pack. After all, in romance one partner is always chasing the other, no? And here, it seems the person who most wants to run is the one willing to let herself get caught. She surrenders, and not without considerable hesitation. Indeed, it’s a moment so honest and unadorned it feels inexplicably out of place in a movie directed by the same woman who directed — gulp — the subtle-as-an-AK47 “27 Dresses.”

So why is this delicate interaction included in “The Proposal,” which revolves around a cliche so dead-tired even the witty Reynolds cannot charm it alive? Perhaps it exists to provide a shot of credibility, but I suspect the success of the moment has more to do with Bullock and Reynolds. They’re too good. They take a scene meant to be hokey — think Julia Roberts a la “Notting Hill,” that shudder-inducing “I’m just a girl” speech — and make it real and plain and true. Bravo. It works beautifully.

Oh, if only the rest of “The Proposal” were 1/16 that disarming. Bullock and Reynolds, always friendly faces in a romantic comedy, and even the fiery-yet-vulnerable Betty White try their damndest to make it so, but with a plot like this it’s impossible. Raise the shields and prepare for the barrage of cliches: Margaret, the cheerless head of book-publishing company Colden Books, is facing certain deportation (back to Canada!) when she steamrolls her bright, long-suffering assistant Andrew (Reynolds) into a green card engagement. With a highly suspicious INS agent (Denis O’Hare) on their heels, Margaret and Andrew trek out to Alaska, where the orphaned shrew is wined, dined and charmed to bits by Andrew’s family (including White as Wacky Ole’ Gammy and is-she-high-on-something-and-where-can-I-get-it? Mary Steenburgen as Doting Mom). Wacky hijinks ensue, leading up to the same ending that’s been used since the beginning of time. Blecch. Don’t expect any clever tricks here; it’s all as standard as a FAFSA form.

Then again, what kind of schmuck goes into a movie like “The Proposal” expecting clever tricks? This one, that’s who. Or maybe it’s more of a fervent hope than an expectation. An 11th-hour twist? At least one character (including household pets) who doesn’t do exactly what we expect? Nope, nope. Even worse, there’s some seriously bad typecasting going on, and it takes the form of Oscar Nuñez — arguably the funniest secondary character on NBC’s “The Office” — as a heavily accented exotic dancer/lothario. How did he agree to do this? Is the economy this bad, Oscar? Don’t stoop; Sir Ian McKellan would never stoop. What a terrible waste of a genuine talent.

Still, predictable doesn’t have to equal uniformly terrible, especially when heavy-hitters like Bullock (she was aces in “While You Were Sleeping”) and Reynolds (go see “Definitely, Maybe”) show up. Reynolds has had a way with one-liners since “Two Girls and a Guy,” and he’s dependably droll here. Better still, he’s outgrown that lanky cute phase and morphed into something resembling a leading man. He can hold his own. And Bullock injects a little bit of Lucy Eleanor Moderatz into Margaret, proving she can do pratfalls and vulnerability and make it all look believable. Somehow, she makes that same character feel fresh most every time. Ditto that for the unflappable Betty White, now 87 and making a fine career of playing outspoken, kooky-but-warmly-accepting grandmas in Hollywood. Watching these three act (re: not overact) is the most enjoyable pleasure to be expected from the unoriginal “Proposal.”

Grade: C

It turns out “Bruno” might be (whispering) “offensive”

Yep, it looks like “Bruno” is taking it up the tailpipe again. (I meant criticism, people. Kindly extract your minds from the gutter.)

It seems that gay activists across America are worried the film dabbles in all-too-common stereotypes and may give people the wrong impression about the GLBT community, what its members stand for and, most important, that they condone the wearing of Velcro jumpsuits to a fashion show. (OK, fine, I added the last one. It just seems like poor judgment in general, no?)

Being something of a flaming liberal myself, I’m inclined to agree. Sure, “Bruno” has the potential to shock, awe, offend and generally dismay. But consider this: The people who are offended are the ones who get it. They get that Cohen is jabbing at them, shining a big bright strobe light (note the reference to house music) on their prejudices and misconceptions and parading them around in all their vivid ugliness. Even if they get huffy (they will) and storm out of the theater, they will be aware, on the teeniest of teensy levels, that it’s the bigots, not the lesbians or the gays or the bisexuals or the transgendered, who are the butt of the joke. If you ask me, that moment of realization — or even one of genuine hesitation — makes every risk Cohen takes into a big, fat payoff.

No, it’s the people who just laugh stupidly and point and say “that foreign gay dude is funny” you need to lobotomize, swiftly and with great force, as they leave the theater.

Not to mention there are all the fans (this hand waving in the air? yeah, that’s mine) who’ll get two … two … two shows for the price of one: a biting, incisive, technicolor satire (“Bruno,” of course) and a re-enactment of “Confederacy of Dunces” with popcorn. July 10 can’t get here fast enough.

Judd who?: The randy dudecom returns in “The Hangover”

Ed Helms ponders that age-old question of "Which came first, the chicken or the hangover?" in "The Hangover."

Ed Helms ponders that age-old question of "Which came first, the chicken or the hangover?" in "The Hangover."

“The Hangover” is a rarity these days, as out of place in Hollywood as William H. Macy in “Wild Hogs”: a rude, crude and unapologetically lewd man-boy comedy. Remember those? The movies where guys got drunk on Budweiser, staged wrestling matches in pools of KY, did every dumb and random thing that popped into their sex-focused brains? Since that Judd Apatow character came along, dudecoms have been in short supply.

Not anymore. In fact, “The Hangover” feels a little like a big fat “suck it” to Apatow and his minions. Gone is the talk of feelings, the heart-to-hearts, the squishy male bonding. In its place, director Todd Phillips (hint: he made “Old School”) throws, well, everything else imaginable, from a tiger to a stolen police cruiser to a squirrelly Asian gangster who delights in “you’re so fat” jokes – all framed in a flashback narrative. It’s a trippy approach that manages to be as consistently funny as it is reliably surprising. And where’s the action? Vegas, baby, always Vegas.

And since “The Hangover” is a Vegas movie, it must begin with a bang: Tightly-wound Stu (Ed Helms), rakish Phil (Bradley Cooper) and bearded weirdo Alan (Zach Galifianakis) wake up in their trashed hotel room still drunk with no memory of the bachelor party they threw for groom-to-be Doug (Justin Bartha). Doug’s nowhere to be found, but that’s not the only problem. There’s a stolen cop car, a very pissed-off tiger, a man-purse overflowing with $80,000 in poker chips, a pragmatic stripper (Heather Graham) looking for Mr. Right. Oh, and a chicken.

Time to zip up about how these pieces fit together; the whole point of “The Hangover” is the gradual reconstruction of the gang’s epic bachelor party. The flashback framing gives Phillips the chance to monkey with time and structure, but “Hangover” is no “Memento”; it’s hardly that cerebral. What it is is a cheerfully crass whodunit-of-sorts that gives the actors plenty of room to get their joke on. Admittedly, some do it better than others. Bartha’s missing for 90 minutes, so he means little; he’s just the catalyst. He’s too vanilla, anyway. (He’s been unimpressive since his turn as a mentally-challenged hostage in “Gigli.”) Cooper, with his creepily blue eyes and (what I swear to be) an I’m-hiding-heads-in-my-freezer grin, pulls the charming jerk card. That works here. Helms works his barely-contained Andy Bernard rage to great comic effect at every turn. He’s Happy Gilmore with the volume on 4, or a kinder, gentler Phil Weston. Pay attention to his “riddle me that” speech; Helms makes it one of the movie’s funniest moments.

But the rest of those moments belong to Galifianakis. His awkward, socially-stunted performance has so many critics wetting themselves you might be tempted to think it can’t be that good. It is. Alan’s a socially-frustrated goob who always says the wrong thing, who aims for wit but lands on stupidity. Galifianakis lets that awkwardness flower, blurting out things like “I wish I could breast-feed” or calling Roofies “rapies.”  Don’t look away; this is how great comedy careers are born.

And how great franchises are born. Can’t wait for “The Hangover 2: Trippin’ Balls and Nailing Chicks.”

Grade: B

Cheeky “Drag Me to Hell” a gross-out gas

Alison Lohman's got the I-pissed-off-a-gypsy-and-now-she's-gonna-kill-me blues in "Drag Me to Hell."

Alison Lohman's got the I-pissed-off-a-gypsy-and-now-she's-gonna-kill-me blues in "Drag Me to Hell."

Some Ash-style advice for Sam Raimi virgins bound for “Drag Me to Hell”: “Buckle up, boneheads, ’cause you’re going for a ride.” And what a comical, violent, gloriously silly trip it is. Yes, “Drag Me to Hell,” Raimi’s return to the horror comedy that made his “Evil Dead” series such a cult sensation, is a dementedly chipper shockfest soaked in bodily secretions. (Take your pick; they’re all there, and they all coat Alison Lohman’s saucer-eyed, perpetually quizzical face at some point.) There’s cartoonish violence aplenty, too, and it’s all so outrageous that the only missing is a split-second technicolor “KABLAM-O!” screen. Yet that’s the beauty of Raimi off-kilter genius: He knows when to do subtle and when to do camp. And “Drag Me” is pure, light-hearted camp.

Take, for example, the setup for “Drag Me to Hell,” which sounds for all the world like any episode of Nickelodeon’s “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”: To secure a promotion in her bank, loan officer Christine (Lohman, not yet mainstream enough to lose her indie cred) forcloses the home of Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), an elderly woman too sick to make mortgage payments. Wrong. Possessed of some gnarly dentures and a gnarlier attitude, Mrs. Ganush unloads a whopper of a hex on Christine. Tormented by a demon, the once-meek Christine morphs into madwoman who’ll try anything — psychic readings, some light ritual animal slaughter — to kill the curse. All fiancee Clay (Justin Long, the go-to ironically bemused movie boyfriend) can do is foot the bill.

Still, don’t let the quirky story fool you; there’s much to shriek and squirm and squeam about in “Drag Me to Hell.” Raimi rides all the worst horror movie cliches like Seattle Slew, and he makes them work just as hard. Laughable one-liners, blockhead run-up-the-stairs moves, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night scenes, a skittish heroine willing to navigate a veritable sea of sputum and survive colossal ghostly ass-whoopings — it’s all there in spades. Kudos, too, to Lohman, Raver and Long, who manage to play straight while looking, ever so secretly, like they’re in on the joke. Because just like “Evil Dead,” that’s all Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” is: one big joke, and one that never stops being hilarious.

Hail to the king, Sam. It’s good to have you back.

Grade: B+

Bill’s dead, Raimi’s a Streisand and other news

Some notable news in the world of movies:

Who killed Bill? — A slew of breaking news reports reveal that 72-year-old David Carradine, none other than Bill from Tarantino’s wildly popular “Kill Bill” films, was found dead in a hotel room in Bangkok. The circumstances surrounding his death seem, at best, a little shady. Natural causes? Maybe. Suicide? Also possible. But maybe it’s just that no one considered the obvious: Nobody puts The Bride in a corner.

* Pulling a Streisand … Raimi-style — Remaking a beloved low-fi film takes a certain amount of intestinal fortitude. But remaking your own cult hit? Why, that’s takes a real hefty pair of low-hangers. Sam Raimi, the mastermind behind “The Evil Dead” movies that catapulted Bruce Campbell into his current lucrative career of, ahem, being Bruce Campbell, has signed on to remake … his own movie. Details are pretty scant, but it looks like Raimi’s got plans to handle the screenplay, and casting is speculation-only at this point. This could be genius or two steps away from a “Glitter”-style meltdown. (Funny how closely related those states are, isn’t it?) I’ll attempt to be open-minded about this, but I know one thing: If Nicholas Cage is the new Ash, I’ll have to find an obliging tree branch to end my misery.

* The Teabag Heard ‘Round the World — I’m was disheartened to hear that Sacha Baron Cohen’s stunt at the MTV Movie Awards — which will forever exist in my mind as The Bruno Butt Plant of 2009 — was not only staged but rehearsed. The reason for my unhappiness has nothing to do with the stunt itself. (Does it get better than a half-naked, flaxen-haired, flamboyantly gay angel plopping his bare butt cheeks on a homophobic white rapper?) This means I have to reform my opinion of Eminem, who showed way more acting chops one inch from Cohen’s derriere than he did anywhere in “8 Mile.” What’s next? Is Andy Rooney going to show up in “Bruno” dressed as Sarah Jessica Parker and make out with Cohen? (Note: Cohen, if you could pull this off, I’ll devote my life, full-time, to stalking you.)

* How I Know the End of the World Is Imminent – Theologians, religious scholars and crackpots alike have been arguing for centuries over the exact date the End Times will make our Blackberries stop working and our Starbucks stop flowing (oh, and humanity will die, too). I suspect they’ll keep right on fighting about “the signs” while missing the one right in front of everyone’s face: “Twilight” winning not one but FIVE AWARDS at the MTV Movie Awards last weekend. Let that sink in. “Twilight” … won … five … awards. The names of the awards aren’t as shocking as, you know, the fact that the movie won any award ever. I don’t know about you, but that tells me end times are drawing nigh. I’m going to need a Bible, a Quran, the Tao Te Ching, the Talmud and a broom. Quickly.

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