Archive for February, 2009

27 Feb 2009

WonderCon Day 1: Sit Down, Shut Up TV Panel

No Comments Opinion, Published Work

So, I must apologize for the lateness of this supposed “live blog,” but for some reason, Casey O’Lear and I were not able to access the WonderCon Wi-Fi. We hope to solve this issue tomorrow, but for now, here is my wrap up of the “Sit Down, Shut Up” panel.

Premeiring on Fox on April 19th, “Sit Down, Shut Up” is an all new animated series that is centered around a group of senseless and morally void teachers. It is based off a live action Australian TV show of the same name, but Fox would only air it if it was animated.

What Producers Mitch Hurwitz (Arrested Development) and Josh Weinstein (The Simpsons) hope will set it apart from Fox’s regular animated line-up is that it will be the first animated show that uses live action backgrounds. While the characters will all be animated, all of the backgrounds are three dimensional locations that were photographed then altered in post-production.

The panel, including Will Arnett (Baby Mama), Kenan Thompson (Saturday Night Live), Henry Winkler (Happy Days) and Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarpants), was more amusing than productive. While the producers tried to focus on the show, the actors often veered off topic.

Arnett, who plays a socially awkward English teacher on the show, was pretty quiet. When asked about an Arrested Development movie, he said that they are planning one but nothing is in the works at the time.

Kenan, who plays the female principal, was also fairly quiet through the panel. He mentioned how he “likes to play ladies” and gave the audience an example of his feminine vocal skills.

Henry Winkler, who plays a German teacher, was the highlight of the panel. Acting subdued like his role in “Waterboy,” he constantly chimed in whenever the moment was right to make a quick jab. He mentioned how his character is a pill-popping freak who deals with a large intestine that grows outside of his body and toenails that grow together. At one point he even broke into character as the Fonz from “Happy Days” by saying,”I will come to your house and break your knees if you do not watch ‘Sit Down, Shut Up’ on April 19.”

Arriving with ruffled hair and goofy glasses, Tom Kenny, who plays an angry foriegn teacher and the angry foriegn teacher’s interpreter, mainly posed for pictures while the rest of the actors talked. When the Q&A section of the panel started, the first person asked Kenny to do his Spongebob voice. He ultimately did and then said, “What a reatrded way for a grown man to please an audience.” The final question was also dealt to Kenny, but instead of answering the question, he made fun of the fact that the guy was wearing an all-purple suit by asking, “When is Purple Rain 2 coming out?”

From what I saw, the show looks fairly amusing and should only add to the lineup that currently contains “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons.”

If you want to learn more about the show, go to the show’s website at

24 Feb 2009

Reinvented Oscars bring no surprises

No Comments Opinion, Oscars, Published Work

And so it was written:  Danny Boyle and his intercinematical (half Bollywood, half Hollywood) baby “Slumdog Millionaire” won an outstanding eight Oscars, including the coveted Best Picture. Some interesting facts about its achievement:

  • Only 14 other movies have won eight or more Oscars in the show’s history
  • It is the first Best Picture winner since “The Return of the King” in 2004 to win more than four Oscars
  • It is also the first film since “The Return of the King” to win Best Picture without any acting nominations

Is its near sweep a huge surprise? Not really. About a week ago, I received the chance to talk with Jim Aicholtz, an Emmy-winning sound mixer and official Oscar voter.  Over his 44 years as a voter, he mentioned that when a crowd pleaser like “Slumdog” comes along, many voters will just go down the list and vote for anything it is nominated for. Since the entire Academy gets to vote for almost every prize, many who haven’t seen all the nominees will vote for the most popular movie. This can be very aggravating for the technical branches of the Academy, which are much smaller than say the actor’s branch, because voters are not necessarily voting for the candidate to win as much as the movie.

While I was expecting it to win six Oscars, it invalidated my “Upset of the Night” prediction by winning Best Song while also picking up one of the sound categories.  In fact, the only thing in its way of sweeping was ironically “The Dark Knight,” which was supposed to be one of its bigger opponents, that was, before the actual nominations anyways.

As for the big revamp of the show’s production, I thought producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark did a good job of changing the show’s tempo.  Their biggest accomplishment was grouping many of the awards into the different aspects of the filmmaking process and then having one presenter announce the winners back-to-back.  Another great addition was having Queen Latifah gracefully sing “I’ll be Seeing You” during the in memoriam tribute.

The worst change was easily the dreadful medley of nominated songs, which awkwardly sandwiched “Wall-E’s” beautiful and soft “Down to Earth” into two chaotic and upbeat “Slumdog” songs. It was obvious that R&B singer John Legend was uncomfortable performing Peter Gabriel’s song “Down to Earth.” Earlier in the week, Gabriel dropped out of the production after learning he would only receive 65 seconds to sing his longer than five-minute song.  Kudos to you Mr. Gabriel, I only wish you could have won to rub it in the producer’s faces.

Hugh Jackman, on the other hand was flawless.  His showmanship and graceful yet amusing musical numbers really livened up the show. By ushering in a new style of host Jackman proved that the show doesn’t have to rely on a comedian to lead the show.

By predicting all of the major awards correctly and going 17/21 (not included in the tally were the animated, live-action, and documentary short awards), it seems fair to say that using the prior awards to predict the winners is still the best method.

Now that Hollywood has awarded “Slumdog” nearly everything it possibly could, let’s look forward to what Oscar bait 2009 has to offer. In June, Michael Mann’s drama “Public Enemies” starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale looks to start the Oscar race early with a gritty look at some of America’s most notorious gangsters. Early October brings Martin Scorsese’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s fourth pairing in “Shutter Island,” which is based on a U.S. marshall’s manhunt for an escaped criminally insane convict. Entering the into the busy December month is Peter Jackson’s highly anticipated adaptation of the critically praised book “The Lovely Bones.” Finally, “Titanic” director James Cameron returns with his first feature film in 12 years with “Avatar,” a story of survival on a distant planet.  With revolutionary special effects being created specifically for this film along with a $200 million-plus budget, Cameron looks to end the decade with a bang.

17 Feb 2009

Final answer: 'Slumdog'

No Comments Opinion, Oscars, Published Work


Jay Brissenden

2008 is finally coming to a close for Hollywood this Sunday night. Personally, I found more wrong with movies last year than I did right. That aside, the Oscar lineup rocked. Even if “Slumdog”isn’t my favorite film of the year (“Frost/Nixon” and “The Dark Knight” were), I’ll be OK with it taking the big prize, which it seems locked to. Using the science of studying the awards before the Oscars, I have come up with my thoughts on surefire wins and the nominees that look to get the golden shaft.

Best Picture

Nominees: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk,” “The Reader,” “Slumdog Millionaire”
Who will win: “Slumdog Millionaire”
-”Slumdog” has won almost every single pre-Oscar award possible including sweeping all of the guild awards. Not even “No Country for Old Men” did that.
Who should win: “Milk”
-While it might not add much new to the biopic genre, “Milk” is a year-defining film that not only inspires, but features one of the best ensemble performances of the year.

Best Director

Nominees: Danny Boyle for “Slumdog Millionaire,” Stephen Daldry for “The Reader,” David Fincher for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Ron Howard for “Frost/Nixon,”Gus Van Sant for “Milk”
Who will win: Danny Boyle
-Along with “Slumdog” winning almost all of the Best Picture awards, Boyle has picked up most of the Best Director prizes for the film’s direction.
Who should win: Danny Boyle
-While Boyle’s work on “Slumdog” may not be my favorite of the year, it is hard to deny his incredible passion for filmmaking, which he displays through the blazing visuals and overall stunning production.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Nominees: Richard Jenkins for “The Visitor,” Frank Langella for “Frost/Nixon,” Sean Penn for “Milk,” Brad Pitt for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Mickey Rourke for “The Wrestler”
Who will win: Sean Penn
-While Penn has split most Best Actor prizes with Rourke over the past few months, Academy members will probably find it easier to vote for Penn’s grateful demeanor vs. Rourke’s “I’d like to thank my dogs” attitude.
Who should win: Sean Penn or Frank Langella
-Rourke might have had the comeback performance of the year, but both Penn and Langella were able to completely dissolve into their characters and give equally moving and stunning award-worthy performances.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Nominees: Anne Hathaway in “Rachel Getting Married,” Angelina Jolie for “Changeling,” Melissa Leo for “Frozen River,” Meryl Streep for “Doubt,” Kate Winslet for “The Reader”
Who will win: Kate Winslet
-She might have won most of her awards for her part in “The Reader” in the supporting category, but the Academy shows its love for the performance by promoting her to the more prestigious lead actress category.
Who should win: Kate Winslet (But not for “The Reader”)
-Sure, she played a very subdued and effective Nazi in “The Reader,” but nothing can compare to her multi-layered and haunting role in “Revolutionary Road.”  So if she wins, I’m taking it as a win for both of her “revolutionary”roles this past year.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Nominees: Josh Brolin for “Milk,” Robert Downey Jr. for “Tropic Thunder,” Phillip Seymour Hoffman for “Doubt,” Heath Ledger for “The Dark Knight,” Michael Shannon for “Revolutionary Road”
Who will win: Heath Ledger
-Unless the Academy continues to show its bias to comic-book movies, Ledger is probably an even bigger lock to win than “Slumdog”considering he has already gathered a whopping 26 awards over the past three months.
Who should win: Heath Ledger
-There’s no debate that “The Dark Knight’s” greatness relied heavily on Ledger’s once-in-a-lifetime turn as The Joker, which has already gone down as one of the greatest screen performances of all time.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Nominees: Amy Adams for “Doubt,” Penelope Cruz for “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” Viola Davis for “Doubt,” Taraji P. Henson for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Marisa Tomei for “The Wrestler”
Who will win: Penelope Cruz
-This is unquestionably the hardest race to call, but I’m going with Cruz for the win because she has been snubbed multiple times in the past by the Academy and now seems to be her time. Also, many actresses that have worked in a Woody Allen film in the past have grabbed the Oscar.
Who should win: Penelope Cruz
-Her devil-channeling transformation as an obsessed and bi-curious ex-wife made a somewhat dull Woody Allen film into an extremely humorous and awkward affair. While the other actresses may have given solid performances, none elevated their films quite like Cruz.

Upset of the Night

Best Original Song: “Down to Earth” from “Wall-E” will trump the two “Slumdog Millionaire” songs (“O Saya”and “Jai Ho”).
-If there is one award “Slumdog”should win, it’s for its vibrant closing song, “Jai Ho.” However, the Academy has historically snubbed films with multiple song nominations because the voters are split between the songs, allowing a single-song nominee to win.

Jay Brissenden can be reached at

17 Feb 2009

Best Picture Nominees

No Comments Oscars, Published Work

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’

(13 Oscar nominations)
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Taraji P. Henson
Description: Based on the short novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Button” is set around a man who is born with all the characteristics of an 80-year-old and progressively grows younger. This nearly three-hour epic shows that it’s important to live life to it fullest, no matter which way we are going.
Fun Fact: Tom Cruise and John Travolta were at one point set to star as Benjamin Button, while Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard, nominated for Best Director for “Frost/Nixon” this year, were asked to direct the film.


(5 Oscar nominations)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Starring: Frank Langella and Michael Sheen
Description: Adapted from the Tony award-winning play, “Frost/Nixon” gives viewers a behind the scenes look at how David Frost acquired the interview with the recently resigned president and the thrilling look at how Frost was able to crack Richard Nixon’s political shell.
Fun Fact: During the entire shooting of the film, on-and off-camera, Langella stayed in character as Nixon and insisted that everyone call him ‘Mr. President.’


(8 Oscar nominations)
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco and Emile Hirsch
Description: Set in the ’70s, “Milk” depicts Harvey Milk’s rise to power as a politician and his struggle and ultimate victory in becoming the first openly gay man ever elected to a public office. Van Sant’s unflinching poetic look at one of recent history’s most inspiring political figures has been called an instant classic by many of today’s top critics.
Fun Fact: One of Penn’s friends actually believed Penn was gay in real life after seeing “Milk” until Penn told him otherwise.

‘The Reader’

(5 Oscar nominations)
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Starring: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and David Kross
Description: In post-WWII Germany, a 15-year-old boy has a brief affair with a much older woman who was at one time involved in the Nazi movement.  Years after the affair ended, the boy, while in law school, rediscovers the woman on trial for war-crimes, which alters both of their lives forever.
Fun Fact: The filming took a break for David Kross to turn 18 so the love scenes could be filmed.

‘Slumdog Millionaire’

(10 Oscar nominations)
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Starring: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto and Anil Kapoor
Description: This sweeping modern-day fairy tale tells the story of Jamal Malik’s quest to find the girl he loves by going on India’s version of the hit TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” Told through flashbacks, “Slumdog” recreates Malik’s tumultuous childhood and how his life experiences helped him answer the show’s nearly impossible questions.
Fun Fact: The current exchange rate for 20,000,000 Rupees, the grand prize on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” in the movie, is $411,600 USD.

17 Feb 2009

Road to the Oscars

No Comments Features, Oscars, Published Work

Photo courtesy of A.M.P.A.S.

Every year at the end of February, dozens of 13 ½ inch tall, 8 ½ pound golden men named Oscar are given out to Hollywood’s elite.  While Oscar may be considered the most prestigious film award by many, he is far from the only award. Oscar wraps up three straight months of awards parties, where hundreds of shiny blunt statuettes of different pedigrees are handed out.

Hollywood’s self-love fest kicks off in early December when the National Board of Review (NBR) hands out the first awards of the year. Comprised of “knowledgeable film buffs, academics, young film professionals and students in the New York metropolitan area,” according to the NBR’s official Web site, the Board gives award-trackers their first glimpse of how the season may play out. This year, “Slumdog Millionaire”won the group’s best picture award and has since gone on to claim dozens of other similar awards.

“Awards flesh out something we can all agree on,” Reno Gazette-Journal Arts Editor Forrest Hartman said.

While Hartman said that all awards play a role in the Oscar race, it isn’t until the critic awards start that Oscar predictors start to get a good idea of the year’s front runners. Read more