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Murphy to Oscar: “Oh-Tay!”

September 8th, 2011 No comments

  

I read the news today. Oh boy.

I smell a Ratner…

Still stinging from criticism of the less-than-stellar 2010 Oscars telecast last February which paired actors Anne Hathaway and James Franco as show hosts, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has announced that Eddie Murphy will host the 2011 Oscarcast. That’s right: Eddie Murphy, the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member turned 80s and 90s box-office powerhouse. While still a recognizeable figure, Murphy’s star has faded substantially in the past decade, despite maintaining a lucrative job voicing the character of Donkey in the “Shrek” films, as well as receiving a Best Supporting Actor nomination for “Dreamgirls” in 2006. Even still, Murphy, whose last film was box office dud “Imagine That,” will be seen in the upcoming “Tower Heist,” opposite Ben Stiller and Casey Affleck, directed by Oscar co-producer Brett Ratner (who works alongside seasoned Oscar producer Don Mischer).

Can “Pluto Nash 3D” or “Re-Meet Dave” be far behind?

Ratner has expressed a desire to resurrect the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise with Murphy; the 3-film series made nearly a billion dollars in box office receipts from 1984 to 1994. Still only 50, Murphy broke-out in stand-up comedy and was made a cast member of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” at the age of 19. Two years later, he made his feature film debut in Walter Hill’s successful “48 Hrs.”, then cemented his box office stature with 1983’s “Trading Places,” a bona fide blockbuster hit. A number of hit films followed (“Coming to America,” “The Nutty Professor”), but by 2002 Murphy’s film roles grew increasingly formulaic, and he was saddled with a series of high-profile flops, including “The Adventures of Pluto Nash,”  “Norbit” and “Meet Dave.” Clearly both Murphy and Ratner believe that “Tower Heist,” in which Murphy plays a thief recruited to help steal $20 million believed hidden by a Bernie Madoff-like con man, will revitalize his career. Early buzz on ‘Heist,’ which features a supporting cast filled with the likes of Alan Alda, Gabourey Sidibe and Matthew Broderick, is strong.

Have I seen this one before?

The Academy has drawn on comedians to host the Oscarcast many times before: Bob Hope was considered the show’s ‘unofficial host’ for years. Johnny Carson hosted the show numerous times, and Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and even David Letterman have hosted (although Letterman was a one-shot wonder, as were subsequent ‘edgy’ comic hosts Jon Stewart and Chris Rock). It’s hoped that Murphy’s stand-up experience and career longevity will restore the Academy Awards telecast’s steadily declining ratings, but that a tough bet to make, given that Murphy’s dated appeal and R-rated humor may not  translate to a network awards show.

In other Brett Ratner-related news…

Whether by coincidence or design, another Ratner crony re-surfaced this week: Chris Tucker, of “Rush Hour” fame, announced he was set to join director David O. Russell’s comedy “The Silver Linings Playbook,” the director’s follow-up to last year’s box office hit “The Fighter.” Tucker hasn’t been in a film since “Rush Hour 3” in 2007, after hemming and hawing 6 years to make that film. Although he was (and remains) attached to a crime script at Warner Brothers called “The Rabbit,” it seems likely that Tucker’s next two projects will be Russell’s  ‘Silver Linings,’ as well as “Neighborhood Watch,” opposite Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill. Tucker is a mercurial figure who has worked with visionary directors like Quentin Tarantino (“Jackie Brown,”) and Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”) before finding financial and career stability with Ratner, with whom Tucker has made 4 films: the 3 “Rush Hour” films, as well as “Money Talks,” Ratner’s debut feature. Presently, Tucker is performing a standup comedy tour, set to end in November.

Beverly Hills Cop-out?

Eddie Murphy’s hosting gig at the 2011 Oscars next February probably won’t change much in terms of the show’s ratings decline. Despite Murphy’s $7 billion (with a b) in career box office earnings, what needs to be changed at the Oscars is the show, not its host. The Academy has already decreed that the number of Best Picture nominees will not be the 10-title phone-book list of recent years, itself a promising start. It’s clear the different producers of the last few years have taken stabs at originality, but the Academy Awards telecast remains a real relic of old Hollywood. Like the movie business itself, which is declining in the numbers of ticket buyers, the Academy Awards TV broadcast is going to have to find a new, sustainable model if it wishes to enjoy continued ratings – or relevancy.

R.I.P. Sally Menke 1953-2010

September 28th, 2010 No comments

The cinema world lost an exceptional talent yesterday with the death of film editor Sally Menke, award-winning and multi-nominated talent behind the editing of every Quentin Tarantino film, including his latest, “Inglourious Basterds,” for which she was nominated for both an Academy Award and BAFTA award. Apparently Menke went out in the worsening Los Angeles morning heat for a walk with her dog in Beechwood Canyon, but when she did not return, family and friends notified authorities and began searching. Her body was reportedly found near the trail at 2 AM, with her dog guarding her. Although no cause of death has been established, it is believed to be related to the 113 degree heat blanketing Los Angeles yesterday.

It’s a big loss for the film industry – and for Quentin Tarantino especially. Sally Menke had edited every single one of Tarantino’s films, undoubtedly aiding him in developing the quirky chronology-fragmenting style that has come to define a Tarantino film. From the chatty opening of “Reservoir Dogs” through its casually intense violence, torture, and bloody denoument, Sally Menke showed that there was a different way to put together a traditional bank robbery picture that would turn the genre on its ear… if you’ll forgive a bad pun.

As an editor, Sally Menke worked with other directors: she edited Oliver Stone’s “Heaven & Earth” in 1993, (the year before she edited “Pulp Fiction” for Tarantino, for which she and garnered her first Academy Award and BAFTA nominations) and with Lee Tamahori in 1996 on “Mulholland Falls.” In 2000 she edited Billy Bob Thornton’s “All the Pretty Horses,” and in 2001 his “Daddy and Them,” although it seems clear that working with Tarantino was her first priority, and she would only take a non-Tarantino job if the notoriously deliberate writer-director was between films.

But it was “Pulp Fiction” that put both her and Tarantino firmly on the Hollywood map. Nominated for top awards in both America and England, Sally came home empty-handed but with a big reservoir of credibility. For the next few years she worked steadily as Tarantino followed “Pulp Fiction” up with “Jackie Brown,” both ‘Kill Bill’ films, “Kill Bill Vol. 1” and “Kill Bill Vol. 2” as well as the ‘Grindhouse’ double bill of “Grindhouse: Death Proof” and “Death Proof,” its feature-length sibling. This was followed by her greatest artistic accomplishment (and, sadly, her Tarantino swan song), the award-nominated editing of Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”

Sally Menke’s final film was 2010’s “Peacock,” an oddball indie film starring Cillian Murphy as… well, without ruining things for anyone, let’s just say he’s something of a pick-up artist. Apart from its notoreity as Sally Menke’s last film, “Peacock” will probably be best known as another Ellen Page film…

But Sally Menke’s legacy lives on in the vibrant, life-giving momentum she gave her films and their creators. She will be missed. Her work, however, is for the ages.