Open Mic

February 2013

Costume Designers Awards a Loose, Fitting Affair

Hillary Atkin Posted February 22, 2013 at 12:34 PM

Anne Hathaway had the crowd going when she dramatically announced, "We should all take a moment of silence …," took a long pause, and then continued, "for the more than 100 disco balls that died for the sake of my dress."

It was a comment that may have missed its mark comedically -- Hathaway, a recent "Saturday Night Live" host, bowed to the greater expertise of Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph there -- but her comment was perfectly appropriate within the context of the 15th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards.

Actor and comedian Joel McHale hosted the gala, held Tuesday, Feb. 19, in the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom.

Awards season regulars call it the most fun and loose of the guild presentations, which, with the exception of the Screen Actors Guild ceremony, are not televised, and therefore foster a much wider swath of freedom of speech.

The Costume Designers Guild hands out awards for costume design excellence in seven categories in film, television and commercials, as well as four honorary statues.

Hathaway was honored with the LACOSTE Spotlight Award, which was presented by her “Les Miserables” co-star, Russell Crowe, in a rare public appearance.

"I did a lot of research on Anne. She originally wanted to be a nun, but ditched that idea because she wouldn't be part of an organization that couldn't love her gay brother," Crowe said.

"She measures everything with her heart,” he said in introducing a clip reel that showcased the costumes she wore in films ranging from "The Princess Diaries" to "The Devil Wears Prada," “Brokeback Mountain” to "The Dark Knight Rises" and her latest and much acclaimed outing as Fantine in “Les Miz.”

"I have always wanted a crystal crocodile," Hathaway said in accepting the award.

Earlier in the evening, Rudolph, Poehler, “30 Rock” and “SNL” costume designer Tom Broecker and Steve Martin had lauded producer Lorne Michaels for receiving the Distinguished Collaborator Award. Rudolph reflected on her days at "SNL" when her costume changes went from Beyonce to Maya Angelou in the space of a commercial break.

"Lorne Michaels is a legend," Martin said. "Lorne Michaels does it all. He produces …" (insert audience laughter here) “... and I'm glad were not giving him a plaque, and that it's a trophy. Not one man in Hollywood wants a plaque wife. He wants a trophy wife."

Another honorary award went to Eduardo Castro, for career achievement in television, spanning 25 years of his work on shows including "Miami Vice," “Ugly Betty" and "Once Upon a Time."

Castro gave a lengthy acceptance speech that highlighted anecdotes from his career, beginning as a student at Carnegie Mellon and moving on to an apprenticeship at Western Costume before touching on other stories from his years as a costume designer -- a protracted speech that had McHale proclaiming “holy shit” when it finally ended.

Molly Maginnis kept her acceptance nice and tight when she took the prize for costume design in a contemporary television series for NBC’s “Smash.”

“Downton Abbey’s” Caroline McCall won the trophy for period/fantasy television series and Lou Eyrich got the award for made-for-TV movie or miniseries with "American Horror Story: Asylum, Season 2."

Judianna Makovsky took the stage twice, once for winning for commercial design with “Captain Morgan Black" and again in receiving the career achievement award in film for her work in pictures including "The Cotton Club," "Dick Tracy," "Big," "Lolita," "The Devil's Advocate," "Reversal of Fortune,” “Seabiscuit,” "Great Expectations” and "The Hunger Games."

Another highlight of the evening, presenter Shirley MacLaine, who called costume designers "intricate people who mess with your body" and "people who make the past live."

They also apparently get to keep whatever is left in the pockets of their costumes. Said McHale, “Edith Head made a fortune from black tar heroin she found."


More Honors for 'Argo' -- an In-Depth Look at the Writers Guild Awards

Hillary Atkin Posted February 19, 2013 at 1:23 PM

To twist a popular line from the screenplay -- "I've never left anyone behind" -- "Argo” is apparently not leaving any awards behind. Chris Terrio added another one to the film’s trophy case by taking the award for best adapted screenplay at the 2013 Writers Guild Awards, which honor outstanding achievement in writing for film, television, radio, new media and video games.

"I'm so honored to be in the category," Terrio said of the competition for the prize, “Life of Pi,” “Lincoln,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” before recalling the journey that led to this accolade. "When I started this in 2008, I couldn't pay my rent and I was living in New York and I had defaulted on my student loans. I had nothing, but I had my spec scripts, and I had my Guild card. And I can't tell you how that propped me up, to know that in a very lonely profession I was in the same club as all you guys."

Terrio’s award was handed out near the end of ceremonies Sunday night at the JW Marriott L.A. LIVE in Los Angeles. He also lauded fellow WGA member and “Argo” director, producer and actor Ben Affleck, who has recently racked up honors at BAFTA, DGA and PGA, as being kind and brilliant.

“Zero Dark Thirty’s” writer Mark Boal won the award for original screenplay, which was up against those for "Moonrise Kingdom,” "Flight," "Looper" and "The Master."

"I don't agree with pitting works of art against each other -- unless of course I'm the one getting the award -- but it's really lovely to get this from the WGA," he said before showering praise on the film’s director. "Unlike Ben Affleck, [director] Kathryn Bigelow came tonight. She led us to a place of truth and beauty, and there's no higher calling for an artist. I thank her for letting me be part of that vision."

Boal and Terrio are also nominated for Oscars in their respective screenplay categories. Several of their fellow Academy Award nominees were not eligible for WGAs under the Guild guidelines, including Quentin Tarantino's already acclaimed script for “Django Unchained.”

The WGA Awards are held concurrently on both coasts -- the New York confab taking place this year at the B.B. King Blues Club -- and the East was apparently a few steps ahead of the West, as several of the winners in Los Angeles were notified by their counterparts in New York before their names were announced.

That was the case for the writing staff of HBO’s “Girls," which won the hotly contested award for new series over two other HBO offerings, “The Newsroom” and "Veep,” in a field that also included Fox’s “The Mindy Project" and ABC’s "Nashville."

The Los Angeles ceremony was hosted by actor Nathan Fillion, star of "Castle," who started things off by saying if the audience didn't know him, their moms did. "I'm the face of your words, the one who goes out into the world where I take credit for them. Actors and writers don't always see eye to eyeglasses, but agree on one thing: Producers are dicks. I will land this awards show upside down if I have to."

West Coast presenters included Julie Bowen, Jane Lynch, Jessica Chastain, Steven Spielberg, Kate Walsh, Jacki Weaver, Rico Rodriguez, Anna Gunn, Alfred Molina, Matthew Weiner, Amy Poehler, Adam Scott, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele and Tobey Maguire.

The honorary awards were especially prominent this year, and their recipients -- Tom Stoppard, Tony Kushner, Phil Rosenthal, Dan Petrie Jr. and Joshua Brand and John Falsey were referred to several times throughout the evening as inspirations.

"Breaking Bad” continued its award-winning ways by taking the best drama series writing prize from competitors that included "Mad Men," "Boardwalk Empire," "Game of Thrones" and "Homeland" -- a field that virtually defines the current golden age of television.

The comedy series trophy was also hotly tested with “Louie” winning out over last year's winner, "Modern Family," "Parks and Recreation," "Girls" and the recently retired "30 Rock.”

The WGA also recognizes individual episodes of drama and comedy, for which “Mad Men’s” Semi Chellas and Matt Weiner and “Modern Family’s” Elaine Ko took home trophies.

Two highly acclaimed longform programs took more honors, as the writers of History’s “Hatfields & McCoys” and HBO’s “Game Change” hoisted hardware.

While those wins for Ted Mann, Ronald Parker, Bill Kerby and Danny Strong might have been expected, a surprise came in the comedy/variety series category, when “Portlandia” won over “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” “Saturday Night Live,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Conan,” “Key & Peele” and “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Perhaps the funniest line of the evening came during Fillion’s intro of a clip from one of the nominated screenplays. “It’s the story of a man who just wanted to spend a quiet evening at home with his family,” he said, as minds throughout the hotel ballroom raced to figure out to which one he was referring. ”Instead, Navy SEALS shot him in the eye.”

Click here for the complete list of nominees and winners.

Netflix's 'House of Cards' Is Like a Twisting, Turning, Head-Spinning Roller Coaster Ride, and Just as Exhilarating. This Long Presidents' Day Weekend Is a Good Time to Binge-Watch Season One

Chuck Ross Posted February 14, 2013 at 11:47 PM

I’ve always thought the best dramas usually have the nastiest of villains. Think “one-armed man” in the original TV series -- or the movie version -- of “The Fugitive.” Or the sicko killer named Scorpio in “Dirty Harry,” played with such sadistic brilliance by Andy Robinson that I still can’t get him out of my head 42 years after I first saw that movie.

Sometimes the nasty villain is the protagonist of the piece if not quite the hero. Think “Scarface” or “The Sopranos.”

One of the most popular TV figures ever was the cunning, scheming, Machiavellian J.R. Ewing of “Dallas” fame.

And now, thank the Lord, we have Kevin Spacey’s Francis “Frank” Underwood joining that elite group of sly, shrewd, serpentine operators who inhabit a consciousness that’s shady at best and maliciously sinful at worst. These characters can make watching a TV show an absolute joy.

Frank is, well, seemingly frank when talking to his political colleagues, and genuinely frank whenever he’s breaking down the fourth wall and addressing the audience, a la the title character in Shakespeare’s “Richard III.” The word underwood refers to the undergrowth -- the shrubs and such that make up the underbelly beneath the taller trees in a forest. It is there one finds most of the poisonous fungi and spores and disgusting spiders and insects.

Frank Underwood is the main character of “House of Cards,” the drama series that Netflix put up on its steaming service on Feb. 1, 2013. What makes this series unique is not just that it was made for Netflix, but that Netflix put up, at one time, all 13 episodes made for season one of the series. Eventually, Netflix will do the same for the upcoming season two of “House of Cards.”

This U.S. version of “House of Cards” is based on a beloved British series of the same name that originally aired in the U.K. in 1990. That miniseries, in turn, was based on the novel “House of Cards” by Michael Dobbs. Dobbs was chief of staff of the Conservative Party in Britain when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister in the 1980s. The main character of Dobbs’ novel (and the U.K. miniseries) is Francis Urquhart, the chief whip of the Conservative Party in Parliament. I have neither read the book nor seen the acclaimed U.K miniseries.

The U.S. version of the series translates all of the action to the shores of America, with the show’s center being inside the Beltway. Underwood is the whip in the House of Representatives for the just-elected Democratic majority. A number of media reports have said that among the original influences on Dobbs when writing his “House of Cards” novel were some of Shakespeare’s darkest dramas, such as “Richard III” and “Macbeth.”

This past weekend I binge-watched all 13 episodes of “House of Cards.” The show reminded me of a roller coaster: The first 8 episodes were the coaster making that anticipatory climb up that initial tall hill, and the last 5 were the thrill-a-second drops and twists and turns and loops.

Even better news if you haven’t watched “House of Cards” yet: You can skip episodes 3 and 8, and still understand all the shenanigans that happen during the last five episodes. Then, like watching bonus material on a DVD, after you finish watching episode 13, you can go back to episodes 3 and 8 if you wish, as they are basically character pieces fleshing out some of what Underwood is all about.

The reference to Underwood as Shakespearean-like seems to fit. The great actor Ian McKellen, who made a movie version of “Richard III,” has written, “It is an odd, critical commonplace that, despite so many performances to the contrary, Richard III is still accepted as an embodiment of pure evil. ... I was prepared to explore Richard's humanity rather than reduce him to an emblem of wickedness.

“All of Shakespeare's troubled heroes reveal their inner selves in their confidential soliloquies. These are not thoughts-out-loud, rather true confessions to the audience. Richard may lie to all the other characters but within his solo speeches he always tells the truth. I never doubted that in the film he would have to break through the fourth wall of the screen and talk directly to the camera, as to a confidant. If this unsettled the audience, so much the better. They should not be comfortable hearing his vile secrets and being treated as accomplices. They would also better appreciate the brilliance of his ability to fool, deceive and seduce his hapless victims. Men and women are all players to Shakespeare but Richard is a consummate actor.”

And thus it is so with Underwood’s asides to the audience. Interestingly, Spacey played Underwood almost immediately after he finished a 10-month tour playing Richard III all over the world.

Here’s Spacey addressing this point a few weeks ago on NPR’s “Weekend Saturday” with host Scott Simon. Spacey said, “Well, I actually am kind of enormously grateful that a year ago, I had the chance to do Richard III -- which this character was largely based on, from Michael Dobbs' original novel, and hence, why the direct address is employed. That was not Michael Dobbs' idea. … That happened to be William Shakespeare's idea.

“And so I had the experience of playing a character who does break the fourth wall. I don't think Richard has as much finesse as we're trying to give to Francis. He's just sort of slashing and burning, and the bodies are mounting up, in the course of that play. And while that experience was much more theatrical, and the requirements of doing the series are much subtler, I think it translated incredibly well. And I think it does have kind of those -- sort of epic Shakespearean storylines and archetypes, and relationships between characters that are very complicated and difficult. But for me, it's been a little bit like, this first season -- we've shot 13 -- it's been a little bit like playing 13 hours of a championship chess match.”

Simon then asked Spacey whether he has to like the character of Underwood to play him.

Spacey replied, “No. I've played many characters that I didn't necessarily care for. But I'm also quite careful about judging the characters that I play. I think that's a huge mistake...if you end up judging a character you're playing …. 

"People who like to only color with black and white, it gets really boring after a while. 'Cause life is not like that. Life is complex, and the gray areas are far more interesting than the black and white areas. So I never think of characters as villains … villainy is not something you can play. It's not an active acting thing that you can do. It is a judgment about a character. And I can't judge the characters I play. I can only play them, and let the chips fall where they may.”

And Spacey plays Underwood to the hilt. Underwood is from South Carolina (though Spacey seems to lose his Southern accent on occasion -- Spacey grew up in California), and Spacey plays him as genteel as possible, though certainly not gentle. One of the pleasures of watching Underwood is seeing other characters getting skewered by his pretentious politeness.

In the interview with Simon, “House of Cards” showrunner Beau Willamon, who wrote or co-wrote all of this season’s episodes, also spoke of the connection between Underwood and Richard III: “If you look at all the things that Richard III does in black and white, is anyone really capable of liking him? But you find yourself glued to him. You find elements in him that you like because it allows you to access parts of yourself that you don't exhibit in your everyday behavior. There's a part of all of us that wishes we could, at times, be Richard III, or at times be Francis Underwood. And I think audiences have grown accustomed to that in a very sophisticated way, with characters like Tony Soprano or [“Breaking Bad’s”] Walter White. Why do we keep going back to these characters? Because they give us access to something. And it's that attraction, which is far more powerful than the black and white of likability, as it were.”

A tip of the hat to Willamon, for the Herculean job he's done on "House of Cards." A playwright best known for writing the political thriller “Farragut North” -- which was later made into the George Clooney vehicle “The Ides of March” -- Willamon has said that one of the best things he was able to do with “House of Cards” was write all 13 episodes before shooting began. That prevented him from writing himself into a corner as used to happen sometimes with the show “24,” as those scripts were being completed just a few weeks before being shot. Unfortunately, Willamon said he won’t be able to write all 13 episodes of season two before shooting of those episodes begins.

Two more things: the acting and directing of the series. Two acting standouts, besides Spacey, are Robin Wright, in one of her best roles, as Underwood’s enigmatic wife, Claire, and Kate Mara, who plays the reporter Zoe Barnes in the series. Another standout in the large and mostly superb cast is Michael Kelly, as Underwood's loyal "left"-hand man, Doug Stamper. He does indeed rubber stamp any nefarious plans Underwood makes. 

Finally a word about the direction of the show. David Fincher directed the first two episodes and is listed as one of the show’s executive producers (along with Spacey, Willamon and many others). The critic David Thomson once said about the director that it is to “Fincher’s credit that his films take place somewhere beyond our edge -- yet in a recognizable extension of our nightmares.” He also notes that Fincher has an interest in film noir.

Fincher sets the tone in the very first scene of the series. No spoiler here, but it’s clear from that first scene that Fincher sees the noir potential in “House of Cards.”

Showrunner Willamon, in another interview, with News Corp.’s IGN Entertainment, said, “In terms of directors, David, of course, established a visual tone, a style. The actors do the heavy lifting of creating their roles in those first two episodes. I think they provided the following directors a frame in which to work. We had amazing directors. We had James Foley, Joel Schumacher, Charles McDougall, Carl Franklin, Allen Coulter ...”

Then Willamon added this about Fincher: “David was mostly based out of L.A., which is where the editing base was, out of his office. So all of our editors were working out of David’s offices in L.A., and the supreme advantage of that was David was personally overseeing the post process. Of course the directors were working on their own edits with the editors, but David was there to collaborate with them and play a part in that process and to make sure that the visual voice of the show remained consistent. He was involved heavily on every episode. He read every script, always had insightful thoughts and notes.

“Sometimes we would be on the phone with Kevin and do a four-hour jam session talking about two scripts down the line. [David] was looking at dailies every day and in direct communication with the directors. Whenever they had questions, he would direct them, I was there to talk with them about story and character development on my side of things, so it was a team effort and incredible collaboration, and his attention to the micro and macro simultaneously was unlike anything I have ever seen. I can’t imagine any other director in the history of television being quite as committed as David Fincher. Maybe they are out there, and maybe my knowledge of TV history just isn’t good enough, but he has an incredible work ethic, a savant-like knowledge of his craft and a vision and dedication that’s truly inspiring.”

My suggestion: With the Presidents' Day holiday coming up on Monday, what more appropriate time to binge-watch “House of Cards” on Netflix. As Shakespeare once wrote, “Something wicked this way comes.”

To which I paraphrase Henry Higgins -- and I think you will too, once you start watching this series: “How simply frightful. And how delightful!”

'Argo' Steamroller Continues Its Momentum With DGA Award for Affleck

Hillary Atkin Posted February 4, 2013 at 11:02 AM

It was, of course, Ben Affleck’s night at the 65th Annual DGA Awards, and the newly anointed best director of “Argo” could be forgiven for acting almost like a kid in a candy store -- or an actor auditioning for some of the best helmers in the feature film business, which he acknowledged during his acceptance speech.

Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper had been his “betters,” as he called them, vying for the trophy for outstanding directorial achievement in feature film, the latter two of whom, like Affleck, were left off the directing nominees list for the Academy Awards.

“I don't know if this makes me a real director," he said with all modesty.

The untelevised ceremonies were hosted by Kelsey Grammer before an audience of about 1,600 people squeezed into the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood and Highland on Saturday, Feb. 2.

The Groundhog Day element: Grammer had also hosted last year, taking over the duties performed for many years by legendary comedian Carl Reiner.

Poking fun at himself, Grammer joked about his show "Boss" being canceled and people confusing it with Tony Danza’s “Who’s the Boss," which ran for eight years in the 1980s and early 90s. There was also the requisite Manti Te’o joke in his opening remarks, as well as this gem directed at Bigelow: “It must be torture waiting for your name to be called."

Threads of humor were laced through the evening, ranging from G-rated jokes from Martin Short to edgy racial humor from Cedric the Entertainer and Chris Spencer, who handed out the directorial award in a genre often ripe for ridicule, reality television program.

"We could just call ‘The Amazing Race’ ‘Black People,’” said Spencer, in one of his more printable comments. “That one went over really big last night at the Image Awards."

The DGA show has a unique format among awards presentations. Each of the five feature film directors up for the top prize is lauded by a colleague or co-workers involved the project at hand -- or in the case of Short, a fill-in who waxed euphoric about Spielberg because, he said, Gary Busey and Bill Clinton were unavailable.

As each is bestowed with a golden Directors Guild of America medallion, they are all singularly recognized for their achievements and make a speech, setting them apart from the contenders in the other categories.

The HBO telefilm "Game Change" continued its own golden path when director Jay Roach won the award for television miniseries or movie, accepting it from Peter Fonda, who had come on stage to the strains of "Born to Be Wild," an anthem that never fails to generate excitement after all these decades.

In his acceptance speech, Roach recalled how he grew up in a family where there was a rule that no one could talk politics at the dinner table. "But in 2008 when John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, I said, ‘We gotta talk about this.’”

Since "Game Change" aired last year, starring Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, it seems that no one can stop talking about it. Last weekend, Moore took home a SAG Award for her role, following on the heels of her Golden Globe, and the movie also took the Producers Guild prize for best television movie after winning the Globe.

Rian Johnson, director of the "Breaking Bad" episode called “Fifty-One,” bested directors of "Homeland," for which two episodes were nominated, along with "Mad Men" and "The Newsroom," to take the DGA Award.

Another hotly contested television category was outstanding directorial achievement in comedy series, where the prize was awarded to Lena Dunham for HBO's "Girls."

"This is an unbelievable honor, to even call these people my peers is surreal, which is an overused L.A. word," said Dunham, who also thanked her father for "directing the shit out of our family." "Steven Spielberg, I already came for you. Ben Affleck, I'm coming for you," she said, later explaining that she meant meeting them at the gala event.

Glenn Weiss took the musical variety trophy for at the 66th Annual Tony Awards, while director Brian Smith won for “MasterChef,” his third nomination and first win in the reality program category.

Jill Mitwell was honored with her fourth DGA Award in daytime serials for directing an episode of "One Life to Live" and Paul Hoen received his second trophy in children's programs for “Let It Shine” on the Disney Channel.

Throughout the ceremonies, Grammer would appear with a few choice jokes, but mostly stayed away from digs at a list of presenters that included Frank Capra III, Bryan Cranston, DGA President Taylor Hackford, Anne Hathaway, last year’s feature film winner Michel Hazanavicius, Helen Hunt, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Norman Jewison, Suraj Sharma, Steven Soderbergh, George Stevens Jr., Eric Stonestreet, Quvenzhane Wallis and Sam Waterston.

In the documentary category, it was only fitting that musician -- or, as some would call him, rock god -- Dave Grohl, who in addition to being the frontman of the Foo Fighters also directed the just-released doc “Sound City,” presented the award to Malik Bendjelloul for "Searching for Sugar Man.”

The film, which is also nominated for a best documentary Oscar and a BAFTA, chronicles the musician Rodriguez, a little-known American whose music became wildly popular in South Africa, even as he remained cloaked in obscurity. Bendjelloul said the movie took four years to make.

"Sometimes we take freedom of artistic expression for granted, until it is taken away," said Bigelow as she was feted for helming "Zero Dark Thirty." We must remember the sacrifices of those who fought and died for our freedoms, and understand the responsibility that comes with freedom.”

Lee, Spielberg and Hooper all spoke eloquently of their respective films, proving that in this situation -- with lights, in-house cameras and action -- they were just as practiced as their actors.