Tag Archives: Neil Patrick Harris

Travolta’s Face Grab, A ‘Glory’-ious Speech and Other Oscar Highs and Lows

In many ways, Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony was so forgettable, it hardly feels worth rehashing Hollywood’s big night.

It’s not exactly a shock that ratings for the 87th installment of the show dropped to a six-year low. Can you blame viewers for changing the channel during what was often a dull and disappointing evening?

Despite a surprisingly lackluster performance by host extraordinaire Neil Patrick Harris, an abundance of awkward puns and some creepy presenter shenanigans, there were a few moments of genuine delight, including heartfelt speeches and a refreshingly wacky rendition of the song from “The Lego Movie.”

Below, a recap of the low points and highlights of this year’s Oscars.

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The Low Points

The Host: I’m as big a fan of the ubiquitous Neil Patrick Harris as the next person. The classy, hilarious, self-deprecating former child actor is always a welcome sight, whether in “How I Met Your Mother,” the “Harold and Kumar” movies, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” a Broadway musical or one of his countless stints as awards show emcee.

So Harris’ almost total failure in his first — and probably last — stint as Oscar host came as a crushing disappointment.

It wasn’t really his fault, though. The show was disjointed, badly written, poorly paced and woefully out of touch.

For whatever reason, the ceremony’s writers declined to capitalize on Harris’ strengths, resorting to a series of leaden puns and occasionally insensitive ad-libbed banter. Making fun of a winner’s dress after she just mentioned her son’s suicide probably isn’t the best choice, for instance.

The night’s longest running gag involved a dramatic magic trick that should have been right up Harris’ alley. But enlisting previous Oscar winner Octavia Harris to keep an eye on a locked box all night verged on insulting and, after a whole lot of build-up, the illusion’s finale was a huge letdown, merely a recap of the evening’s hashtag-worthy events.

Yes, there were occasionally funny bits. I liked the part where Harris walked through the audience in nothing but tighty whities, a la Michael Keaton’s “Birdman” character, encountering a drumming Miles Teller along the way, but I’m guessing a large portion of viewers didn’t get the joke since they hadn’t seen the films.

Overall, the evening felt strained and “uptight,” as several guests at an Oscar party I attended remarked. The Academy still has a long way to go to make Hollywood’s most celebrated awards show more relevant and entertaining to its biggest audience — everyone who doesn’t happen to be an industry insider.

As J.K. Simmons’ terrifying music instructor likes to shout in best picture nominee “Whiplash”: “NOT MY TEMPO!”

John Travolta and Other Awkward/Insensitive Moments: I already mentioned Harris’ callous mockery of the dress worn by a producer of a documentary about crisis hotlines, who also happened to be a bereaved mother.

Sadly, Sunday’s Oscars were full of other painfully awkward and insensitive gaffs.

There was Sean Penn’s joke about green cards before presenting one of the night’s biggest awards to “Birdman” director Gabriel Gonzalez Inarritu. There was Terrence Howard’s strange and overly emotional introduction of “The Imitation Game.” There was Harris’ mispronunciation of “12 Years a Slave” star Chiwetel Ejiofor’s name.

However, the most jaw-dropping embarrassment occurred in the ill-advised union of “Frozen” star Idina Menzel and John Travolta, who shared the stage to present the award for best original song. As you may recall, Travolta became a Twitter legend after bungling Menzel’s name at last year’s Oscar ceremony, spawning legions of “Adele Dazeem” jokes.

The show’s producers no doubt thought it would be touching, or perhaps funny, to give Travolta the opportunity to extend an olive branch to Menzel, but their meeting quickly devolved into ickiness as Travolta grabbed his co-presenter’s chin in his hand while she vainly struggled to be free of his grasp.

That’s the stuff of ratings and social media fame, but it also left a yucky taste in our mouths.

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The Highlights

The Music: The ceremony opened with a lively, old-fashioned, Sondheim-esque musical number by seasoned showman Harris, the talented Anna Kendrick — dressed as Cinderella, a la “Into the Woods,” and an impish Jack Black.

Penned by “Frozen” songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez, the piece celebrated the magic of “moving pictures,” poking fun at the Academy Awards and paying homage to classic and popular films.

The lyrics were playful and clever — “I love happy endings. Except for in ‘Gone Girl’ when that lady slit your throat,” Kendrick crooned to Harris — and even got a little edgy when Black crashed the party with a roll call of the industry’s flaws and a jab at modern moviegoers’ obsession with “screens in our jeans.” It was a nice twist on the traditional song-and-dance prologue we’ve come to expect from the show.

Building on that momentum, Tegan and Sara and comedy trio The Lonely Island hit the stage to perform best song nominee “Everything is Awesome” in a performance so surreal and fun, it immediately provided the event a much needed jolt of energy.

“The Lego Movie” may have been snubbed in the best animated feature film category, but it stole the night with a Lego choir, Lego Oscar statuettes, an assortment of costumed dancers, a cape-wearing Andy Samberg, Will Arnett as Batman and cameos by Questlove and Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh.

Unfortunately, the moment didn’t last. The rest of the night’s musical performances were a snooze with the exception of John Legend and Common’s rousing rendition of “Glory,” from the movie “Selma.” The winning song brought the Dolby Theatre to its feet and tears to the eyes of many, including Chris Pine, whose effusive reaction became Twitter fodder.

As for Lady Gaga’s impressive but random tribute to “The Sound of Music,” it was just another head-scratching moment in a ceremony that too often felt confused and cobbled together. Better to have used the time to give host Harris a chance to show his stuff.

The Speeches: In a telecast that lacked humor and energy, with predictable results in all but the minor categories, the winners’ speeches provided brief glimmers of passion, inspiration and controversy.

Accepting the best supporting actor award for “Whiplash,” J.K. Simmons sweetly commanded the viewing audience to call their parents. Best actress and actor winners Julianne Moore and Eddie Redmayne dedicated their statuettes to sufferers of Alzheimer’s and ALS, respectively.

Best director winner Inarritu petitioned for “dignity” and “respect” for immigrants. The adorably enthusiastic Graham Norton, who nabbed a trophy for his screenplay for “The Imitation Game,” recalled a youthful suicide attempt and admonished misfit kids to “stay weird.”

Best song winners Common and John Legend showed us how acceptance speeches should be done with a pair of graceful statements about civil rights.

“The spirit of this bridge transcends race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and social status,” Common said, referring to Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, immortalized by Martin Luther King Jr.

“The spirit of this bridge connects the kid from the south side of Chicago, dreaming of a better life, to those in France standing up for their freedom of expression to the people in Hong Kong protesting for democracy.”

“Selma is now because the struggle for justice is right now,” Legend added.

One of the night’s most talked-about speeches came courtesy of best supporting actress Patricia Arquette, who honored her “Boyhood” character, a struggling single mom, with a demand for equal pay for women. Her statement was met with both enthusiasm — Meryl Streep leaped to her feet to show her approval — and outrage.

Whether you agreed with Streep or not, you had to admit it was one of the night’s most memorable occasions.

 Photos: news.com.au, article.wn.com, robot6.comicbookresources.com.

 

 

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‘Gone Girl’ a Wickedly Entertaining Thriller

‘Gone Girl’
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, language)
149 minutes

If you’ve had the demented pleasure of reading Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” then you know that much of the anticipation surrounding the movie stemmed from curiosity.

How would director David Fincher handle the book’s clever dual structure, its unreliable first-person narratives? What about that uncompromising ending? And that whiplash-inducing twist halfway through. How would he pull that off on screen?

If you’ve read Flynn’s novel, you also know it’s nearly impossible to review the film without spoiling the tasty but poisonous machinations of its tangled plot.

Well, here goes nothing.

The surprising truth is that the movie adaptation of “Gone Girl” is wickedly entertaining and a success on almost every level.

Although authors often translate their works to the screen with mixed results, Entertainment Weekly scribe turned novelist Gillian Flynn bravely takes the knife to her intricate thriller, trimming the fat but preserving all the juiciest morsels. She’s done such an excellent job of condensing and streamlining that, even at two and a half hours long, the movie zings along at a near perfect pace.

As you might suspect, Fincher is just the man to tackle this poisonous murder-mystery, which oozes with the sort of outrageous domestic dramas you typically find in Lifetime television movies. By embracing the book’s camp potential and slyly underlining its pitch-black humor, Fincher transforms a story full of preposterous developments into a smart, sordid guilty pleasure.

Crime, obsession, sociopathy, kinky sex, deeply troubled misfits and people pretending to be what they’re not — these subjects are the forte of Fincher, who previously went slumming in such grim and gritty thrillers as “Seven,” “Fight Club,” “Zodiac,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and even the “The Social Network.”

At first glance, “Gone Girl” appears to be perhaps a little too conventional for Fincher’s freakier predilections. In a very meta bit of casting, Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a smugly handsome magazine writer who is vilified by the press when he becomes a suspect in the disappearance of his beautiful, blonde wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike).

(Affleck has never been charged with murder, but he does know what it’s like to be embraced and then scorned by an unforgiving media.)

We meet Nick Dunne on the morning his wife vanishes from their suburban Missouri home, leaving behind a crime scene that suggests a violent struggle. Nick immediately calls the police and a pair of no-nonsense detectives (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) arrive to investigate, quickly uncovering an envelope cheekily labeled “Clue One.”

According to Nick, said clue is part of an anniversary scavenger hunt Amy designed for her hubby, complete with rhyming riddles and destinations rife with personal significance. As the cops go treasure hunting in search of a lead, Nick awkwardly navigates the media circus surrounding Amy’s disappearance.

His increasingly tactless, public faux pas are intercut with excerpts from Amy’s diary, recalling the couple’s courtship in New York. In scenes so sugary sweet and picture-postcard perfect they could be from a slightly ominous romantic comedy, we learn Amy is something of a celebrity, the inspiration for a series of children’s books authored by her insensitive parents (David Clennon, Lisa Banes).

We see Nick and Amy meet-cute as young writers, agree to marry after a witty proposal and bask in short-lived bliss, until the recession, lay-offs, a family illness and an abrupt move shake the foundations of their hitherto solid union.

Even when nothing sinister is happening, Fincher keeps the audience unsettled, off-balance, tipping us off that everything is not as it seems. He’s aided by a jittery, minimalist musical score by “Social Network” collaborators Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

There’s something brilliantly deceptive about the way Fincher lures us in. For much of the film, I kept wondering if “Gone Girl” was maybe too tame for his talents. It wasn’t until the film’s final act, which features a spectacular, stomach-churning outburst of sex and violence, that I finally realized how mistaken I was.

Readers will note that, as with virtually every page-to-screen transfer, some of the telling motivational detail of Flynn’s rich and complicated characterizations is lost in the film.

However, a fine cast goes a long way to remedying these shortcomings.

Affleck is ideally positioned as a golden boy whose plastic grin and glib charm suggest he’s hiding dark secrets.

Speaking of charm, Neil Patrick Harris puts his trademark charisma to supremely icky uses in a part best left to the imagination.

I actually think the lovably snarky Carrie Coon, of TV series “The Leftovers,” makes more of the character of Nick’s supportive twin sister, Margo, than is found in Flynn’s book.

Tyler Perry may not seem the obvious choice to play a hotshot defense attorney, but he’s great in the role. And Dickens is possibly the best matter-of-fact lady detective since Frances McDormand in “Fargo.”

There’s not much I can say about Pike’s performance without heading into dangerous spoiler territory, but it is pivotal to the film’s success, weirdly hypnotic and unexpectedly funny.

As for the much-ballyhooed changes Fincher and Flynn supposedly made to the book’s ending, it’s a mystery to me what happened there. As far as I can tell, there are no major alterations, certainly nothing worth getting excited about.

As a satire of America’s fascination with murder, especially the slaying of pretty, young wives, “Gone Girl” is pointed and hilarious. Its depiction of a fickle public and an easily manipulated media may be over-the-top but it’s also undeniably relevant.

Just as Flynn’s book was more than a trashy page-turner, riffing shrewdly on gender politics, the fictions we construct around our romantic relationships and the fractured fairy tale marriage often turns out to be, so “Gone Girl” the movie has deeper — if not earth-shattering — things on its mind than simply serving up a sizzling who-done-it.

 

 

 

 

This Weekend, See ‘Maleficent,’ Skip ‘A Million Ways’

Maleficent
Two and a half stars (out of four)
Rating: PG (Fantasy action and violence, frightening images)
98 minutes

Angelina Jolie has always kinda scared me. Not because she used to wear vials of blood around her neck and sleep with knives under her pillow, but because she’s always been something of a goddess, so chilly and unapproachable. Maybe that’s why she’s perfect as the iconic villain of Disney’s “Maleficent,” a revisionist history of the studio’s own classic animated film “Sleeping Beauty.”

As a kid, the sorceress and her eerie, horned silhouette struck terror into my heart. Jolie melts into the stuff of my childhood nightmares so effortlessly, with cheekbones Marlene Dietrich would kill for and a purr that’s pure, silky evil. “Maleficent” is a surprisingly sympathetic take on the object of my youthful fears, putting a clever enough spin on the gorgeously animated 1959 “Sleeping Beauty” with a refreshingly feminist twist.

The movie imagines a colorful back story for the fairy tale’s famous baddie, envisioning her as the winged, nature-loving guardian of an enchanted forest whose betrayal at the hand’s of an ambitious lover drives her to cast that notorious narcoleptic curse upon an innocent princess. This alternate myth gives Jolie ample opportunity to display many facets of an intriguing character. Clad in leathery black, there’s something of the sexy dominatrix about her but she’s also vulnerable and funny and downright tragic with a magnificent sneer and a killer villain’s laugh.

Unlike co-stars Sharlto Copley, who plays the maniacally paranoid King Stephan, and Elle Fanning, as the simpering Aurora (apparently, it is too much to ask to have two interesting female characters in one movie), Jolie ingeniously underplays what could have been an unbearably hammy performance.

“Maleficent” is heavy on visual effects. It was directed by first-timer Robert Stromberg, a former VFX artist and supervisor. He’s populated the film with an ensemble of obnoxious CGI fairies and cutesy woodland critters. Not all of them are convincing, but Jolie is the only special effect this movie really needs.

A Million Ways to Die in the West

 A Million Ways to Die in the West
One and a half stars
Rating: R (strong crude and sexual content, language, violence and drug material)
116 minutes

There may be “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” but there are only a handful of jokes hilarious enough to send yer whiskey snortin’ out yer nose, pardner.

Writer-director Seth MacFarlane seems to be on to something by playing this Western parody mostly straight. As the title suggests, the film pokes fun at the often lethal living conditions of the 1800s frontier, but the concept proves limited. This ain’t no “Blazing Saddles.”

At first, the sight of villagers in the tiny Arizona outpost of Old Stump perishing in sudden and random ways — getting squashed by a block of ice or gored by a runaway bull —  is mighty amusing, but the well of laughs quickly runs dry. What’s left is a fairly predictable story about a misfit sheep farmer (played by MacFarlane) who befriends a like-minded, sharp-shootin’ cowgirl (a game Charlize Theron), only to run afoul of her outlaw husband (Liam Neeson).

The film’s gags are just as irreverent, raunchy and politically incorrect as you’d expect from the creator of “Family Guy” and “Ted” and the Oscar’s most controversial host. There’s a running joke involving the town virgin (Giovanni Ribisi) dating the town whore (Sarah Silverman) and Neil Patrick Harris does unspeakable things to a couple of dandy bowler hats, but there is a general dearth of laugh-out-loud moments. Even a moustache-themed dance number doesn’t feel nearly as clever or strange as it should.

There’s a reason MacFarlane doesn’t usually star in his own films. He’s just too smug to play the sarcastic but likable everyman. But the ubiquitous Harris is a hoot as his romantic rival, the preening proprietor of the local moustachery. There’s also a priceless joke that almost makes sitting through this overlong, underwritten comedy worthwhile, at least for “Back to the Future” fans.

 Photos by Disney, Lorey Sebastian