Baseball Toaster Screen Jam
Monthly archives: November 2006


Transition Players
2006-11-28 08:56
by Jon Weisman

At, my latest is a feature on actor-directors:

Shooting perhaps the most emotional scene of potential Oscar nominee "Little Children," Jackie Earle Haley was drained. Take after take, each taking its toll.

Todd Field came over for a pep talk. Field, the "Little Children" director with a lengthy resume of his own as an actor, needed to bring all his experience to bear in support of Haley. Field put his arm on Haley's shoulder and leaned in.

"And he said, 'Better you than me,' " Haley recalls with a laugh.

In this year's Oscar race, there is no shortage of actors such as Field, Robert De Niro ("The Good Shepherd") and Emilio Estevez ("Bobby") who are quite happy to join longtime convert Clint Eastwood ("Flags of Our Fathers," "Letters from Iwo Jima") behind the camera.

While an acting background has never been a director's prerequisite, there seems little doubt that on-camera experience accelerated these directors' off-camera education. ...

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Despite discouraging news that it employs both a voiceover and numerous forced analogies between love and baseball, My Boys, a half-hour comedy about a female sportswriter, debuts tonight on TBS with fairly promising advanced reviews. I'll be checking it out.

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The former George Michael from Arrested Development, 18-year-old Michael Cera, is writing, producing and starring in a direct-to-web, "multiminute" series entitled The Good Life, reports Andrew Wallenstein of the Hollywood Reporter.

Gone in 60 seconds? Only at an absolute minimum.

"Shot mockumentary-style, Good Life follows Cera and Clark Duke as aspiring TV producers who are so convinced that they have the next big thing on their hands that they remain oblivious to the fact that they have made little progress getting their dream show made," Wallenstein writes.

If it's as good as the underrated The Good Life from the 1990s, it will be worth watching.

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I haven't written about Heroes, but it is quite a fun show. I fear the hype surrounding it may get out of control, but the stories and pacing are really snappy and engaging. The only storyline that continues to leave me cold is the Niki-Jessica one, which I just find dull and unrewarding.

In the meantime, I'll agree with those who say that the highlight of Heroes is Hiro - Masi Oka.

One thing I look forward to each week: the cool way the show displays its episode title after the cold opening.

* * *

I missed an episode or two of The Nine after seeing the first month's work and was going to abandon the low-rated program, but found time over Thanksgiving weekend to see the two most recent ones, and they entertained me. But just when I think I'm back in, they push me back out. ABC has pulled the show off the air, and figures to burn off its remaning six episodes without producing any new ones, according to Michael Schneider of Variety.

Robert Altman, 1925-2006
2006-11-21 09:17
by Jon Weisman

My favorite Altman films were M*A*S*H and The Player. Nashville never took with me. But I was always interested in seeing what he would do next, which seems almost as much as any artist could hope for.

Obituary on

Oscar Chances of Little Miss Sunshine
2006-11-17 13:48
by Jon Weisman

I have a small piece in Variety today summing up the Oscar chances of Little Miss Sunshine:

So there's this plucky underdog trying to get to Southern California to compete for the prize of "Little Miss Oscar." As far as it has come, how can we be sure it'll make the final cut?

The Academy Award prospects of "Little Miss Sunshine" echo the unlikely but compelling pageant hopes of the film's young heroine, Olive. A black comedy with feature-film rookies in the writing and directing slots, with a script that took years to move into production at a sub-$10 million budget, "Sunshine" lacks the sonorous import of the typical Oscar champ but still emerged as one of the most beloved movies of 2006: fun, unpretentious and charming.

Sundance Film Festival audiences gave "Sunshine" a standing ovation (which was then followed by a rights sale to Fox Searchlight for $10.5 million). Though a few complain that the film wears its quirks on its sleeve, "Sunshine" will make too many year-end top-10 lists not to receive nomination consideration, following in the footsteps of recent personal tales "Lost in Translation" and "Sideways." ...

Veronica Mars Draws a Soft 20
2006-11-17 13:23
by Jon Weisman

The CW extended its order of Veronica Mars episodes this season to 20, short of the 22 typical of a full season, according to Josef Adalian of Variety:

CW only committed to 13 episodes of "Mars" last May when the net set its first-ever fall schedule. Its decision to add seven episodes to that order means the skein will live on -- but that prospects for a fourth season remain hazy if ratings don't pick up in the second half of the season.

Despite having a new and improved lead-in from ex-WB skein "Gilmore Girls," "Mars" has done little to improve its ratings this season, growing a scant 5% among the CW-friendly women 18-34 aud.

A fourth season of "Mars" is critical to producer Warner Bros. TV, since the studio needs to wrap a critical mass of episodes to ensure any sort of life for the show in syndication.

Screen Jam Open Chat/Jenna Fischer Blogging Live
2006-11-16 15:10
by Jon Weisman

Jenna Fischer of The Office is blogging live at tonight. It's a little tricky, though - she's blogging about tonight's episode after it airs on the East Coast, which means she'll start talking about it before it airs on the West Coast. So if you're like me, you'll catch up with her later.

Tonight's episode of The Office, scheduled to run from 8:36 p.m. to 9:20 p.m.

In the mean time, open-chat away. Just don't talk about any television that hasn't aired on the West Coast.

Phonier Than Fiction?
2006-11-14 09:00
by Jon Weisman

I've never lived to be a contrarian, and so it's with no pleasure at all that I find myself down on a movie that has enamored may others.

Good Will Hunting was like that for me. It wasn't even that I hated the movie - it was just that, among other things, I didn't find Matt Damon's character a tenth as sympathetic as everyone else did, and therefore was not swept away.

Allies of Stranger Than Fiction will be happy to know that everyone I've talked to so far not only liked the movie, they loved the movie. And there is a lot to enjoy, from charming performances by Will Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal to an ending that resonates sweetly as you walk out of the theater. There are also some laugh-out loud moments, including one of the best lines I've heard all year in the theater.

But for those who have seen the movie ...

Continue reading...

Stupid Things People Do in TV and Movies, Part 1
2006-11-13 21:50
by Jon Weisman

Fifty yards away, man sees someone he's been looking for.

Rather than quietly approach, man yells, "Hey!"

Man now must chase alerted subject.

Fur Tries To Fly
2006-11-10 09:12
by Jon Weisman

I was skeptical of the concept of Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus taking the real 20th-century photographer and trying to tell the story of her soul through fiction, in sort of an ultra-serious use of the same technique as Curb Your Enthusiasm and Larry David.

I mainly went to Fur because LACMA presented a rich Diane Arbus exhibition that fairly enthralled me toward the end of my first year working there, and to check out Nicole Kidman to see if she might give an Oscar-worthy performance. Kidman might get some notice, but I don't think the movie will be big enough to get her in the final five; in any case, it's Robert Downey, Jr. who steals the film. Fur starts out rather fidgety for the first 20-30 minutes, but the more Downey's character became involved, the more he involved Arbus, the more involved I came.

In the end, I think what Fur is saying is every bit as important as what a movie like Flags of Our Fathers is saying - beauty and heroism are equally complex and misunderstood concepts.

Trivia worth knowing: Arbus' husband, Allan, later played Dr. Sidney Freedman on M*A*S*H. Now 88, Arbus attended the opening for the LACMA exhibition a few years back.

The Office Is So Good, It Makes Me Want To Cry
2006-11-10 06:56
by Jon Weisman

They did it!!

(Future Dwight knew they would.)

Angelina, Madonna ... Gina
2006-11-09 08:45
by Jon Weisman

The latest megastar to go the international adoption route is .. Sesame Street veterinarian Gina. Her new, 2-ish-year-old son from Guatemala, Marco, arrived at his new home this morning and politely embraced the rather profound diversity of his new neighborhood, taking the giant yellow bird and furry monsters of all colors in stride. (My experience with my kids is that upon seeing such sights, they would freak out. They might freak out in excitement or in fear, but one way or another, they would definitely freak out.)

Anyway, Maria showed Gordon and Luis how to fit an oversized crib through an apartment door, Gina sang, and all was well. Not a tabloid reporter anywhere to be seen - though I wouldn't put it past Grover to try selling an exclusive to Us.

Lost Open Chat
2006-11-08 22:06
by Jon Weisman

Please, no spoilers about future episodes, not even anything that ABC itself has teased. This is just to talk about what happened.
Continue reading...

Its Fan Mourns Six Degrees
2006-11-08 14:54
by Jon Weisman

Starting November 30, Men in Trees is moving to Thursdays at 10 p.m. on ABC with a full-season order, according to Variety. The pairing with Grey's Anatomy makes sense ...

If Trees gets any viewership at all, James Tupper (Jack Slattery) will turn Patrick Dempsey's Dr. McDreamy from Grey's Anatomy into Dr. McCatnap. ... Should ratings become an issue, the obvious answer for Trees is a pairing with Grey's Anatomy - even if the latter is a rerun. In several ways, Trees is already the superior show - and given the backlash that almost seems inevitable for Grey's, ABC would be wise to expose any fans of Meredith and Derek to Marin and Jack. The latter two are a lot less annoying and look like they'll be more fun.
... but comes at the cost of Six Degrees.

Men is light but inoffensive, but I'm sad to lose Six. I don't know why I and so few others saw something there that most did not.

A Veronica Mars Question
2006-11-07 22:41
by Jon Weisman

Was Keith Mars simply daydreaming in the middle of an intersection in Tuesday night's episode?

Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Website of Screen Jam
2006-11-07 20:33
by Jon Weisman

Though it's hardly the second coming of comedy, Borat has sufficient laughs to justify some of the buzz.

The movie soars when Borat puts himself completely at the mercy of a potentially hostile environment and truly reacts to his surroundings. In contrast, the set-up jokes, along the lines of his sister being the No. 4 prostitute in all of Kazakhstan, often fall flat without a good topper. At the start of the movie, I was worried about how little I was laughing, but the deeper Borat got into alien territory, the funnier he got. (It definitely helped when I was caught off guard by some stuff, as opposed to the clips I have seen time and again in promotion of the film.)

I'm not sure that the film is all that profound, since for every boor that Sacha Baron Cohen presents to us, one can assume that there are plenty of normal people he's not showing. I'm not shocked to find that there are racists and homophobes in the U.S. But the way Borat occasionally gets them to confront their prejudices is, well, entertaining, and again, Borat's ad-libs do approach genius from time to time.

And the wrestling sequence ... well, yeah, that worked.

But there's this storyline in some of the press that Borat has somehow reinvented audaciousness, and I think that's going a little far. Cohen is carrying the audaciousness banner, no doubt, but is what he's doing more nervy than what The Colbert Report, The Daily Show and some others are doing, night after night after night?

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Sunday night, I saw a more serious kind of foreign film, Z odzysku (Retrieval), a Polish picture that won an award at the Cannes Film Festival and that will be the official Polish entry for the Oscars. It's a well-done film, with an opening scene that resonated in my head long after the plot had moved on from it.

The pacing is patient, and for the first half hour I did wonder whether the story of a young man trying to figure out his life amid unsavory options would pay off in the end. It does.

* * *

As a former James Bond diehard, who read all of Ian Fleming's novels and saw every film growing up before turning sour on the whole enterprise, I have to say that the trailer for Casino Royale really enticed me.

By the way, have you ever read Moonraker? The film was one of the worst in the Bond series, but the bridge game in the book was spellbinding - and I don't even play bridge.

Adrienne Shelly
2006-11-06 10:00
by Jon Weisman

I was hoping someone would write a tribute to actress Adrienne Shelly, the talented, crush-worthy, that-hair and those-lips actress whose sudden death last week came as a shock. Here's Gary Susman of Entertainment Weekly:

Before Maggie Gyllenhaal, before Parker Posey, there was Adrienne Shelly. Around 1990, when the first wave of the Sundance-era indie-film revolution was cresting, Shelly was the queen of the scene. With the one-two punch of The Unbelievable Truth and Trust, she and filmmaker Hal Hartley had made put each other on the map, and those deadpan romantic comedies had made the lush-lipped actress a pin-up among indie film fanboys. She'd go on to specialize in portrayals of waifish, fringe-dwelling women who often seemed to hide a ferocious intelligence behind an offbeat exterior. In recent years, she'd largely given up acting for directing (though she appeared on screen this year in Matt Dillon's Factotum), including a movie she'd recently directed and submitted to the 2007 Sundance Festival called Waitress, starring Keri Russell.

It seemed that the 40-year-old indie-film fixture was finally on the verge of fulfilling the potential of those early Hartley comedies, which is why her mysterious apparent suicide this week is such a shocker. It's horrible to think she'll now get more international press attention for the manner of her death than she did for her life's work. It's worth going back and watching the Hartley movies or Joel Hershman's Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me and Deran Serafian's The Road Killers in order to recall what a singular, sharp but sweet presence she was in movies. Meanwhile, let's hope Sundance screens Waitress and finds a way to pay tribute to Shelly; after all, she helped lay the fest's foundation.

Update: An arrest has been made in what is has become a homicide investigation.

The Queen Ain't Dead
2006-11-03 22:07
by Jon Weisman

For as long as is relevant, the most memorable portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I had ever seen was Scott Thompson's. And who could ever deny his exquisite commitment to the part?

But tonight, I'm crowning Helen Mirren as the QE to end all QEs for her work in The Queen. Mirren is the frontrunner for the next Best Actress Oscar, and now I can see why. Playing someone known to the public as perhaps the definition of wooden, Mirren brings it all: pride, stubborness, confusion, humanity and heartbreak. Like the best performers, she absolutely loses herself in the part. It's a performance so strong, I truly expect it will affect the legacy of the Queen and the monarchy for years to come.

The film itself is worthy of a Best Picture nomination, so sophisticated is it in analyzing and humanizing a subject that has practically been tabloid fodder, the death of Princess Diana and its aftermath. It moves into my top five for 2006, with The Last King of Scotland, United 93, Little Children and Little Miss Sunshine.

Though perfectly executed, and despite telling a story that was both personal and global, I don't think The Queen is as important a film as Last King, United and Little Children, so I'm putting it fourth for now. But I have no reservations about recommending it.

Eko Echoes
2006-11-03 08:59
by Jon Weisman

The Los Angeles Times and Entertainment Weekly have interviews with Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and producers of Lost to discuss Mr. Eko's sudden death. Big factor: Akinnuoye-Agbaje is directing a movie that he has written about African, Asian and West Indian immigrants to the U.K., and so he was proactive in arranging his departure.

Headed Off the Cliff
2006-11-01 22:10
by Jon Weisman

So after next week's episode, as many of you know, ABC pulls Lost off the air until February, replacing it with Day Break, which through all its commercials looks like the answer to the question, "What if we decided to take the very popular movie, Groundhog Day, and remake it in the most uninspiring way possible?"

Though I might be a little wrong, there's a good chance that I'm quite sufficiently right. Now, in the Wednesday 9 p.m. timeslot, Lost has already been shedding viewers to CBS' Criminal Minds, which is fine - the core audience of Lost is sufficient to keep the cheeseburgers coming to the island. However, Day Break figures to practically beg ABC viewers to sample other programming (in addition to getting Barry Manilow stuck in my head). ABC may well be living its own recurring nightmare in the timeslot soon enough, and I am more than a little curious how the folks at the network will weather it. Maybe they, like Phil Connors, will only escape by learning to truly love all their fellow man.

As for Lost, tonight's episode intrigued me, touched me and saddened me, and not because of the ongoing realization that there just weren't enough ugly people on the doomed flight. (To think Kiele Sanchez and Rodrigo Santoro are coming off the bench - now that's a deep roster. If only Lost could figure out how to intergrate them into the flow a little better.) As an actor, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje has my ever-loving heart. The guy is just a hammer.