Archive for February, 2011

Reflections on a Golden Gong

Monday, February 28th, 2011

If you had asked me a week before the Oscars if I thought James Franco would be a good host, I’d have given you a ‘maybe’. He can be funny, and he certainly seems confident, smart, and proud of what he does. If you had asked me again a day before the Oscars, after his prissy response to Ricky Gervais in which the actor lectured the comedian about what is or isn’t funny, and I’d have given a more confident answer. He was going to suck, because he thinks that his business is too important to be mocked, and the Oscars isn’t entertaining if it isn’t a roast.

It’s easy to joke that Franco looked stoned, but of course it isn’t a joke. With his eyes half closed and his face slack, he brought down the energy in the room every time he appeared, and that was a big room with a lot of uppers going on. Even when he strode on to the stage in Marilyn drag, it was more stunt than gag, with no payoff or punchline.

younghiposcarYounger, hipper Oscar

Anne Hathaway was better. She was by no means good, and I doubt she’ll ever be invited back. I thought she would be a total non-presence, but next to Franco’s sleepy stiffness she had a gushing affability, like this was the superest gymkhana that daddy had ever taken her to.

Every Oscars gets dubbed the worst Oscars ever, and it is hard to remember a good one, but no-one watches the Oscars because they expect the whole show to be good. It’s the moments that matter. What made this such a bad show was that it had so very few moments. Taken as a whole, the Oscars are never good. People speak fondly of the Billy Crystal years, but when Billy Crystal hosted I always felt like I was watching a daytime game show. Yet I admit that his brief appearance was one of the scant few highlights. Melissa Leo’s bad language was another. I’m struggling to name a third, as I found Kirk Douglas’s stroke-afflicted mumbling more frightening than charming.

None of the speeches stand out in my memory. Colin Firth’s speech was good for the first half hour, but it waned as the leaves turned. I would have enjoyed Aaron Sorkin’s speech more if he had delivered it while walking to and from the podium. Christian Bale’s speech ought to have been spectacularly mad, but in the end it was only remarkable because he forgot his wife’s name.

Lowlights were many, mostly in the form of the hosts’ strained attempts at banter, delivered with all the art and dexterity of a Slap Chop, but all their horrors paled next to the holographic ghost of Bob Hope, an exploitation of the dead that seemed to drag on much longer than the too-abrupt In Memoriam package.

Who should host the Oscars next year? The job usually goes to comedians - stand ups and talk show hosts. Hugh Jackman two years ago and Franco and Hathaway this year have been failed attempts to do something that’s both new yet conversely a little more ‘old Hollywood’. Last year’s Alec Baldwin/Steve Martin double act bridged the actor/comedian gap, but failed to live up to its promise. If an actor is picked again next year, it needs to be someone with enough wit and charm to win over audiences both in the theatre and at home, and preferably someone heavyweight, yet able to laugh at themselves. Robert Downey Jr, George Clooney and Kevin Spacey spring to mind.

If they go back to comedians, Tina Fey would be a laudable choice. Ricky Gervais would be too untamed, and the Oscars probably wouldn’t want the Globes’ cast-offs. Perhaps Ellen DeGeneres deserves a second chance, and Jimmy Fallon might deserve a first chance, except that he’s on the wrong network, which makes the most plausible contender for the job one Jimmy Kimmel.

On second thoughts, James Franco might do better next time, right?

British Steel

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

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Full disclosure: I’ve been an admirer of Henry Cavill’s work (by which I mean his bone structure) for a while now. I’m fairly confident that he’s the most handsome man in the world (a position previously held by George Clooney), and he’s overdue a shot at the big time, so I was giddily over-excited to hear that he’s been cast as the new Superman.

From what I’ve seen, the general response online has been very positive. Most agree that he looks the part. He has the jawline, brilliant blue eyes and dark hair. He’s not a bad match for John Byrne’s definitive modern interpretation of the character, though no human being could look good with the bulging neck that Byrne always drew. In fact I’d say Cavill’s only flaw is that he’s perhaps too good looking for Superman, who is the most sexless of all the superheroes. Cavill is also one of the shorter actors to play the role,  but short here means 6′ 1″, so I think the magic of cinema can make it work.

As you may have heard, some people do have a problem with the casting - because Cavill is not American, and Superman is an American icon. The objection is frequently underscored with the question; “How would you feel if an American played James Bond?”

Yet it’s hard to think of a British icon who has not been portrayed by a non-Brit. Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Queen Elizabeth I and, yes, James Bond have all been played by foreigners. In fact the first actor to play Bond was an American named Barry Nelson. Technically Woody Allen also played an American Bond in the 1966 Casino Royale. Even if you don’t count that, two of the five major movie Bonds were Australian and Irish, and plenty of Americans have been considered for the part, including  Adam West, Clint Eastwood, James Brolin and Burt Reynolds.

A better example than James Bond would be Doctor Who (or the Doctor, if you’re picky), who has always been played by British actors on the show, though he, like Superman, is an alien. Some fans probably would be appalled if an American took the role, claiming there is some quintessential British quality to the character that an American can’t hope to grasp, but I would put them in the same crackpot category as the Cavill bashers.

There are some characters that probably should only be played by someone from the right country. Captain America springs to mind. He actually, literally stands as a representative of his country, down to his very name, and I think a substantial crowd would boycott an un-American Captain America. I don’t think many other characters fit in the same category. For all the rest, it’s more important that they are played as the right nationality than that they are played by the right nationality.

And when you get down to the nitty gritty, it actually makes perfect sense for Superman to be played by a non-American. I don’t mean because he’s an alien, since that obviously limits the casting possibilities (and Rene Zellweger would be wrong for the part), but because he is an immigrant. He’s an American icon because he represents the dream of coming to America to achieve. His creators came from immigrant families, and their view of America was through immigrant eyes.

Super-nerdy side note: If you read Action Comics Annual #1 from 1991, it’s established that Superman was legally recognised as having been born in the US (”from an artificial womb”) so that he would be eligible to run for president, but (a) we know that Superman was born on Krypton, (b) this is obviously a very stupid story, and (c) the immigrant reading of Superman is much more romantic and pro-American than the needlessly defensive ‘artificial womb’ reading.

A few people have also complained that Tom Welling should have got the part. You know, the kid from Smallville, who plays pre-Superman Clark Kent. There is so much wrong with this idea that it’s barely worth rebutting, but the most obvious objections are that Welling is a terrible actor with wet eyes, and making a movie that’s associated with a crappy CW show with an audience of three million would needlessly hamper the movie’s appeal. We should all be very grateful to be spared a big screen Tom Welling Superman.

On the other hand, he is an American.