Beating up Million Dollar Baby.

Running thoughts on movies and their makings.
Jan. 28 2005 3:25 PM

Beating Up Baby

Clint Eastwood, in the line of fire; plus, Hide and Seek.

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De Niro underplays and does good work, and he's judicious enough to pull the audience through some potentially ludicrous patches without convulsing. But the costume designer shouldn't have given Shue—as De Niro's potential girlfriend—so many cleavage-baring outfits: She's eye candy, but those boobs wreck the mood. And it's too bad that Fanning—with her gloomy affect and huge, shocked-open eyes—looks too much like Christina Ricci's Wednesday to usher us completely into her tortured inner world. I kept waiting for Thing to pop up and give her dad the finger.

Martha's cabaret: Sometimes it's great when there's a screw-up in one of my reviews, because then I get e-mails from people who use the occasion to enlighten me in other ways. Once in a while, I even hear from celebrities, like the writer/blogger Virginia Postrel or the great Harry Shearer, who told me, re: my Johnny Carson appreciation, that Steve Allen had essentially invented Carnac the Magnificent and that most of Carson's shticks were borrowed. When I misidentified Josie Maran in The Aviator, I got a lovely note from the actress Martha Plimpton, and used the correction to bemoan her absence from movies these days.

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Well, it turns out she has a budding career as a singer—and who would have thought that this punky misfit actress would turn out to be a fabulous cabaret diva? Last night, I caught her at Joe's Pub in New York's Public Theater with Julian Fleisher in a show called Save It for the Stage. (It was one night only, but they'll pop up again.) Plimpton and Fleisher compare themselves to "Steve and Eydie, Sonny and Cher, Bonnie and Clyde, and Leopold and Loeb," which should give you some idea of the (unrehearsed) onstage banter. But if the act borders on camp, Plimpton sings with her whole heart: She has a chesty but soaring voice, and with her short blond hair and slinky body she looks great when she's contorting herself in front of a microphone.

Her rendition of "Neverland" was too earnestly plaintive, but everything else was a joy: the opening medley of "Movin' On Up" (from The Jeffersons) and "Nine to Five; "Little Red Corvette"—'70s/early '80s songs revitalized by her stylings and the witty band. Plimpton will bring down the house with a number, then break character and shrug and squeal as if to say, "Was that me? Did I just pull that off?" It's so exhilarating when you discover that an actor whom you loved (and I've followed Plimpton since The River Rat in 1984) has pipes.

So: Anyone else out there got a correction? ... 2:06 p.m. PT

Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2004

Everyone's jawing about the omission of both The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 from the list of Oscar-nominated films, proving that the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have collectively opted to steer clear of controversy this year. This will likely take some of the steam out of the charge that Hollywood is run by godless liberal Jews, although I expect a handful of godful unliberal Christians (among them that brave defender of Christmas, Bill O'Reilly) to get some mileage out of the snub. For my part, I'd have liked to see Moore's "I told you so" speech, but there's always the danger he'd alienate far more people than he'd convert.

As longtime readers are probably sick of hearing, I think the Oscars are worthless as a measure of artistic merit but fascinating as a measure of how establishment Hollywood hopes to present itself to the world. As in most elections, the best candidates are rarely nominated, let alone win, but the campaigns (overt and whispering) have become juicier than the ceremonies themselves. What bugs me is that even people I respect will come out of a movie and say, "That was a great performance! Do you think it will win an Oscar?" If it's a great performance, who cares if it wins an Oscar (apart, of course, from the actor whose fees will go up)? Are we all so obsessed with competition (Oscars, the widespread attention to box-office performances, etc.) that we need our opinions endorsed by the (fickle, thoughtless) majority? Give out your own private awards this year, and watch the Oscars for the spectacle of exhibitionists walking the tightrope between humility and grandiosity.

The happy side of all this is that it throws the national spotlight on movies for a month or two—good for me. With gleeful opportunism and shameless hypocrisy, I welcome the chance to play political pundit (or, in some cases, horse-racing commentator) on radio, television, and in this precious space.

My biggest disappointment, of course, is that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was shut out of the major categories, with the exception of Kate Winslet (no chance) and Charlie Kaufman (a good shot). I didn't expect a nod for Jim Carrey or director Michel Gondry, but given the movie's fluid weave I'd love to have seen some recognition for the editor, Valdís Óskarsdóttir, and the cinematographer, Ellen Kuras.

It was a pleasant surprise to see Alan Alda recognized for The Aviator—a terrific job in a part that was brilliantly written by John Logan. Alda has always been an underrated actor, although it's party his fault: He used his success from M*A*S*H in the '80s to write and direct a bunch of films showing off his insufferable liberal-humanist side. Like many light comic actors, he can be more haunting playing conflicted men or outright sleazeballs.