Sunday, February 09, 2020


The good-natured, yet hyper-violent Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is amusing enough to get by, a sort-of Deadpool-lite strung together with a wink, a pagan’s prayer and a lot of chicken wire, and absent the Ryan Reynolds picture’s impudent, gruesome, genuinely transgressive and hugely entertaining impulses. But BOP is a distinct upgrade over the Oscar-winning-epic-that-shall-not-be-named from whose befouled loins it sprang came (okay, okay, Suicide Squad, but you likely knew that already), and it allows Ewan McGregor, as the unctuous and evil villain Black Mask, the most fun he’s probably ever had on screen. Margot Robbie, of course, chews it up in grand style too as our bubblegum-snapping “heroine,” the admittedly insane but magnetically likable Harley Quinn, the Joker’s ex-girlfriend, whose mismatched wardrobe reflects the bells and whistles constantly jangling about inside her head but is also a continuing act of found fashion art, like what might happen if Jackson Pollock did a line for Hot Topic. Robbie has her share of kicks as well, of course, even if the movie isn’t sharp or funny enough to match her enthusiasm. There are also game turns from Rosie Perez as an ‘80s-cop-show-obsessed cop (an idea the movie does almost nothing with), Jurnee Smollett-Bell as a songstress/not-at-all-committed employee of the Mask’s whose glass-shattering voice might have Ella Fitzgerald protesting from the grave, Chris Messina as the Mask’s creepy, face-stealing henchman, and Ella Jay Basco as the pickpocketing kid around whom all this nonsense spins.

But the movie is near-stolen by Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress, a mysterious, revenge-inspired assassin with a pretty by-the-numbers back story who dishes out gory karma all while constantly correcting onlookers about her assumed moniker and choice of weaponry. The young actress absolutely sells her pseudo-hero’s poker-faced, confident purpose while at the same time undermining it with the humorous insecurity of a kid brought up in isolation on a steady diet of unslaked vengeance who just, in her own weird way, wants to reconnect with the concept of belonging to a sort of family. Winstead is deadpan hilarious here, and she and Robbie share the movie’s best sequence, a motorcycle-car chase that finally moves the picture’s roller derby sensibility from subtext to rip-roaring text, with Harley Quinn on skates behind Huntress’s cycle, whipping around, over and onto a fleeing car full of creeps. Birds of Prey is worth seeing for this sequence alone, but Robbie, McGregor, and especially Winstead make it worth the whole trip.

Which leads me to my nifty Mary Elizabeth Winstead story. When my eldest daughter was five, we saw the superhero comedy Sky High at a drive-in. We not only loved the movie, a sort-of wackier John Hughes-type coming-of-age picture done up at a high school for budding superheroes who don’t quite know what to do with how their bodies are changing, adapting to their nascent super-abilities, but we also loved Winstead in it—she plays the superhero high school’s most popular student, who has designs on the story’s protagonist and who goes from potential girlfriend to deadly foe, in a Disney way, of course. About a year after we saw the movie, and after we’d bought it and seen in a couple thousand more times on DVD, my daughters and wife and I were window shopping in Burbank and strolled into an Urban Outfitters where I almost immediately spotted the actress, who was standing and talking to a friend. (At almost six feet, she was very striking and kinda hard to miss.) So after a moment or two to screw up my courage, I walked over, introduced myself, explained that my six and four-year-old daughters were huge fans of her performance as the super-villainess Royal Pain, and asked if she’d mind if I brought them over to meet her. This was early enough in her career that Winstead may have been purely happy just to have been recognized, but she seemed delighted by the suggestion, and so I retrieved my kids and we stepped over to where she was. 
The looks on their faces, especially my eldest’s, as they met their first, and maybe favorite at the time, movie star was, as they say, priceless. Winstead talked to them for a few minutes, was extremely charming, and also still enough of a kid herself at the time to be real with them in a way that she might not otherwise have been able to access, and I will always love her for that moment she gave my kids. So, when I sat next to my daughter last night as she crushed massively over Winstead on-screen as Huntress, it was a really neat and once-in-a-lifetime thing to be able to remember that moment and remind my kid about it afterward. She would have loved the movie anyway, but this terrific young actress sealed that response with a well-placed arrow right in my daughter’s heart.

Thanks, #MaryElizabethWinstead, wherever you are!

Sunday, February 02, 2020


Well, the most wonderful time of the year is upon us yet again, and if you’re thinking I’m about 30-days-and-change late in going on about Christmas, well, you obviously don’t live in Los Angeles. For around these parts, the time in between the announcement of the Academy Award nominations and the awards ceremony itself—this year a much shorter gauntlet of days for campaigning nominees and their studio backers to run—is Christmas redux, a month-long-or-so orgy of adulation when everyone loves everyone else’s work (except all the stuff they forgot about, naturally) and the spirit of lavishing career-honoring praise and statues permeates the air like thick, throat-thrashing smoke from a nearby wildfire.

This year is no different, of course, but maybe the usual sense of inevitability about who’s gonna win what is a bit more pronounced, simply because for awards show after awards show the same handful of winners have been seen trotting to the stage to accept the acting, directing and technical achievement awards. This is encouraging a dangerous sense of security among office Oscar pool participants (and by office Oscar pool participants I am referring, of course, to myself) who may think they’ve got a better handle on what whims Oscar will indulge next weekend than usual. That know-it-all-and-then-overthink-it impulse sinks my Oscar pool chances almost every year.

And if you’ve read this column over the years, you’ll have a sense of just why my Oscar pool ballot typically takes on water pretty early in the show. There’s no need to provide links to my doomed Oscar predix of the past—just trust me, I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about when it comes to second-guessing the nebulous and fickle AMPAS voting body. Of course, that shocking admission shall be no hindrance to my carrying on as usual and making public my guesses as to what might transpire next Sunday night at the Dolby Theater in beautiful downtown Hollywood. 

But this year I’ve recruited some help.

With a great expenditure of time, effort and a goodly percentage of my savings account, I went in search of the one person whose psychic energy might actually enhance my odds of reigning supreme at my Oscar party, the woman whose predictive powers and all-around acumen with the crystal ball would shame Sylvia Browne and Jeane Dixon, both of whom have sloughed off this mortal coil anyway, so it’s not like they’d do me any good— I’m even worse at contacting the dead via séance than I am at picking Oscar winners. No, the woman I’m referring to is, perhaps surprisingly, still alive. I discovered that she’s been living in a convalescent home just outside Chicago, Illinois, which caters to fringe TV personalities, for the past 26 years and, after several long telephone conversations which were scattered in their subject matter, to say the least, I convinced her to help me in my quest to win this year’s Oscar pool.

Her name is Gladys Meyerowitz, and you will be forgiven if that name doesn’t quite ring a bell, because you probably only know her from the name by which she appeared briefly on the UBN Television  Network in 1976, on the roster of regular contributors to that network’s wildly popular (until it suddenly wasn’t) The Howard Beale Show. I’m referring, of course, to Sybil the Soothsayer. 

During our conversations, Gladys made me call her Sybil. She says that hearing herself referred to by that name again helped focus the psychic energy which, she admits, has been a little spottier in her old age. But Sybil remained supremely confident in her ability to interpret that energy and accurately prognosticate about what’s going to happen when all of Hollywood gathers together next Sunday night. Even though she claims she hasn’t been out to a movie since 1986 (“That Blue Velvet put me off watching pictures in public for good!”), she’s still got a DVD player and, of course, her own feisty, sometimes spiritually enhanced opinions, which I have included alongside her picks in each category. And since this is my spot behind the velvet curtain and not hers, I have indicated who I believe should win from all the nominees in each category, as well as who I would pick if I were not restricted to just the five or so choices winnowed down by the Academy.

So, let’s get to it. Straight from The Howard Beale Show, via the Bob Bell and Beverly Braun Convalescent Home for the Semi-Famous, here are Sybil the Soothsayer’s picks to win big at this year’s Academy Awards. Adjust your expectations and your Oscar pool ballot choices accordingly.


SYBIL SAYS: 1917 (“I picked this over Parasite because I don’t like to think about maggots and leeches and things like that.”)


MY PICK: Parasite


SYBIL SAYS: Renee Zellweger, Judy (“I knew Judy Garland, and lemme tell ya, Renee’s no Judy Garland, but Vincente Minnelli told me a couple weeks ago she was gonna win, so…”)

DESERVED WINNER:  Um… Scarlett Johansson?

MY PICK: Mary Kay Place, Diane


SYBIL SAYS: Joaquin Phoenix, Joker (“The Academy likes a comedian.”)

DESERVED WINNER: Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory

MY PICK: Antonio Banderas


SYBIL SAYS: Laura Dern, Marriage Story (“That young lady has a coltish charm about her, don’t ya think? She’s gonna go places.”)


MY PICK: Yeo-jeong Jo, So-dam Park, Hye-jin Jang, Jeon-eun Lee, Parasite (so sue me)


SYBIL SAYS: Brad Pitt, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (“He should’ve won for Oceans’ Twelve. This will be a make-up win for that.”)

DESERVED WINNER: Joe Pesci, The Irishman

MY PICK: Joe Pesci


SYBIL SAYS: Sam Mendes, 1917 (“Such a good boy, making a movie about his grandpa like that. And I have it on very good authority that the old man liked the picture a lot, though he did say he thought Benedict Cumberbatch sucked.”)

DESERVED WINNER: Bong Joon Ho, Parasite

MY PICK: Bong Joon Ho


SYBIL SAYS: Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time.. in Hollywood  (“Hasn’t he won before? Who does he think he is? Woody Allen?)

DESERVED WINNER: Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won, Parasite

MY PICK: Bong Joon Ho, Han Jin Won


SYBIL SAYS: Taika Waititi, Jojo Rabbit (“How could the academy vote against an anti-Nazi bunny?”)

DESERVED WINNER: Steven Zaillian, The Irishman

MY PICK: Steven Zaillian


SYBIL SAYS: I Lost My Body (“I can relate, and have several times.”)


MY PICK: I Lost My Body


SYBIL SAYS: Roger Deakins, 1917 (“At my age, I prefer long takes. Plus, how the hell did he do that?!”)

DESERVED WINNER: Jarin Blascke, The Lighthouse

MY PICK: Kyung-pyo Hong, Parasite


SYBIL SAYS: Jacqueline Durran, Little Women (“Don’t you think I should have won one in 1976 for my STS garb in Network?! They would’ve had to give it to me and not Theoni V. Aldredge too, ‘cause that sucker came right out of my closet!”)

DESERVED WINNER: Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson, The Irishman

MY PICK: Ruth Carter, Dolemite Is My Name


SYBIL SAYS: American Factory (“Maybe Michelle Obama will show up!”)


MY PICK: Honeyland


SYBIL SAYS: Yang Jinmo, Parasite (“I heard just now they apparently edited all the actual parasites out of the final cut, and that’s good enough for me, so…”)

DESERVED WINNER: Thelma Schoonmaker, The Irishman

MY PICK: The Irishman


SYBIL SAYS: Parasite (“Enough already!”)


MY PICK: Parasite


SYBIL SAYS: Joker (“They give an Oscar for this, but not for stunt people? Jeez…”)

DESERVED WINNER: Bombshell (better a win here for prosthetics than a Best Actress win for prosthetics)



SYBIL SAYS: Hildur Gudnadottir, Joker (“Give it to the kid from Iceland. Everybody else sounds like they’re stealing from themselves.”)

DESERVED WINNER: Thomas Newman, 1917

MY PICK: James Newton Howard, A Hidden Life


SYBIL SAYS: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again”, Rocketman (“They wanna see Elton John on stage more than they do Michelle Obama even!”)


MY PICK: “Love Theme from Uncut Gems


SYBIL SAYS: Barbara Ling, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (“Production design so good, why, the made Hollywood look like it was a real place!”)

DESERVED WINNER: Lee Ha Jun, Chon Won Woo, Parasite

MY PICK: Parasite


SYBIL SAYS: Donald Sylvester, Ford v Ferrari (“Those cars are goddamn loud!”)

DESERVED WINNER: Wylie Stateman, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

MY PICK: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood


SYBIL SAYS: Paul Massey, David Giammarco, Steven A. Morrow, Ford v Ferrari (“Goddamn, those cars are loud!”)

DESERVED WINNER: Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler, Mark Ulano, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

MY PICK: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood


SYBIL SAYS: Dan DeLeeuw, Russell Earl, Matt Aitken, Dan Sudick, Avengers: Endgame (“Volume counts in this category, plus I have a bit of a crush on Thanos. No, not Josh Brolin. Thanos.”)

DESERVED WINNER: Pablo Helman, Leandro Estebecorena, Nelson Sepulveda-Fauser, Stephane Grabli, The Irishman

MY PICK: The Irishman

Thanks to Sybil for soothsaying her way onto that rickety Oscar predix limb for me this year. If you use her picks as your own and you lose, well, I predict… you won’t ever do that again! Good luck, and happy Academy Awards!