Dalton Ross on awesome guitar faces and ”Ishtar”
This past week, Hollywood honored the best and brightest cinematic offerings at the Oscars. But even though it took home Best Picture, The Departed is unlikely to make as lasting an imprint on the film community as another high-profile title, now celebrating its 20th anniversary: Ishtar. Starring A-listers Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as failed songwriters caught up in international espionage, Ishtar is considered one of the greatest Hollywood flops of all time — a punchline of the highest (actually, lowest) order. It’s Gigli, Battlefield Earth, Waterworld, and Showgirls all wrapped into one, or so we have all been led to believe. Why, just recently, Hoffman himself mocked its appearance in Warren Beatty’s Golden Globe lifetime achievement montage, and Time magazine even included the movie on its list of ”The 100 Worst Ideas of the Century” (right alongside asbestos, spray-on hair, and the Treaty of Versailles). Certainly one of the reasons Ishtar is so widely ridiculed has to do with the huge cost ($40 million, with only a $14 million return) and even huger egos involved, but I’m here to tell you something that many may find funnier than anything in the actual film — it’s not that bad.
Okay, Ishtar is certainly not a great movie, and perhaps not even a very good one. The first 20 minutes jump around more than an old House of Pain song, the action scenes are somewhat laughable, and the awful ’80s score sounds like it was composed by a Middle Eastern Jan Hammer. However, there are also several amusing parts — some of them even intentional. I cackle watching Hoffman try in vain to teach Beatty the difference between ”smuck” and ”schmuck,” guffaw at the bit about a blind camel, and pause the screen every time that woman flashes her left breast. (I never claimed to be a proud man.) Plus, Hoffman and Beatty are joyfully wretched as a pair of struggling singer-songwriters. The two are such bad crooners — and they don’t appear to be faking their badness in the least — that one could even call Ishtar a cutting-edge precursor to awkwardly uncomfortable gems such as The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, especially when you consider lyrics like ”She said, come look, there’s a wardrobe of love in my eyes/Take your time, look around, and see if there’s something your size.”
In fact, I would take Ishtar any day of the week over the only other Beatty and Hoffman pairing: 1990’s Dick Tracy, the soundtrack of which features a Madonna song where she actually rhymes ”hanky-panky” with ”spanky.” And how can a film with two stars as big as this — and one that opened at No. 1 in theaters, I might add — still not be available on DVD? Everything comes out on DVD! Just to underscore that point, here is a list of some other titles that have been released on DVD before Ishtar: Billy the Kid Versus Dracula, Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood, Gymkata, The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak, It’s Pat: The Movie, Bloodfist VII: Manhunt (starring Don ”The Dragon” Wilson), Suburban Commando, and, of course, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. Which brings us to another question: Is the Avocado Jungle of Death more or less perilous than the Land of the Yik Yak?
Regardless, it is ridiculous that Ishtar has yet to join these and other… you know, good films on DVD. After all, no one is likely to rethink their drink when it comes to Ishtar if they can’t even see the damn thing. It’s time to bring Ishtar back, people, if for no other reason than to hear classic lines like this: ”And now from the team of Rogers & Clarke… Rogers!” What? It makes me chuckle.
THE TOP FIVE STANDOUT GUITAR FACES OF ALL TIME (see images, above)
1. Eddie Van Halen
Usually Eddie is all smiles while playing, as if he’s the happiest ax wielder in the world, but this one was simply too good to pass up.
2. Jimi Hendrix
Excuse him while he kisses the sky. This head-back, eyes-closed, mouth-open look is almost as iconic as the man’s music. Almost.
3. John Mayer
Honestly, I don’t even have a clue as to what is going on here. Take a good, long look, Jessica. Is this what you signed up for?
4. B.B. King
I’m sorry — does someone need to go to the bathroom? Obviously, all that pain and concentration must be going into something.
It’s the anti-guitar face. Who knows what’s lurking under that thick, curly mane and top hat? The guy’s just looking for a little privacy, that’s all.
THE KEVIN O’CONNELL REPORT
An update on everyone’s favorite 19-time Academy Award nominee, Kevin O’Connell. I spoke to Kevin last Thursday and — as always — he was in a really positive frame of mind. He talked about hanging out at the pizza store he owns on Oscar day and then getting his Toyota Prius to take him to the Academy Awards. EW’s Whitney Pastorek caught up with him Sunday on the red carpet and he was all smiles. Unfortunately, Kevin was bested yet again for the Sound Mixing trophy. This wasn’t a huge shock. For one thing, I think there were a fair amount of people that were simply not gonna vote for a Mel Gibson movie. For another, he was up against a musical, Dreamgirls, and even though that shouldn’t matter, I believe it did. I’m not trying to talk smack about the Dreamgirls crew — one of the three winners, Bob Beamer, even wrote in with a very nice email recently — but one of them seemed to have no problem whatsoever talking trash about Kevin. Winner Michael Minkler was asked backstage about O’Connell and had this to say:
”I think Kevin should just like maybe just go away with 19 wins and just call it a record and that would be the end of it. We work really, really hard at what we do, all of us do in our craft. And if we, you know, stumble upon an award like this, somebody is willing to honor us with something like this, we are so grateful. And I just wonder what Kevin’s trying to do out there by trying to get an award by using sympathy. And Kevin’s an okay mixer but enough’s enough about Kevin… I just think that he should take up another line of work.”
Wow, I tried to start a Sound Mixing war of words a while back, but little did I know it would actually come to fruition! First of all, let me say this: Kevin did not play any sort of sympathy card. I called him from out of the blue the day the nominations were announced. And then Oprah did. And then Katie Couric’s people did. He handled interview requests the same way as any other nominee. In fact, I can guarantee you he was classier than 99% of them.
But all of this is a bit irrelevant right now because Kevin suffered an even greater loss on Sunday night: His mother, Skippy O’Connell, passed away shortly after the ceremony. Skippy is the one who got Kevin into the sound business 30 years ago, and Kevin was at her bedside when she died. I’m sure something like this helps puts everything in perspective for O’Connell (and hopefully for Michael Minkler as well). My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family, and if you’d like to add your well-wishes, send me an e-mail and I’ll try to forward them on to Kevin. He’ll always be a winner in my book. (Damn, that sounded corny.)
OBSESSION OF THE WEEK
This past weekend, the wife and I made plans to head out to a movie. The dinner choice was easy — we agreed on sushi. But then it came time to talk about the flick. There were two options: The Lives of Others or Music and Lyrics. The Lives of Others had glowing reviews from all corners of the critical world (and a soon to be Best Foreign Language Film Oscar) going for it; Music and Lyrics had Hugh Grant. A few weeks ago, I exposed my wife’s crush on Hugh Grant. She denied it, but what movie do you think she picked? Let me just say this: She watched the film, and I watched her watching the film. Frankly, I am surprised her face did not cramp up from smiling so incessantly, especially during the parts where Grant insisted on shaking his booty and performing graphic pelvic thrusts. She later proclaimed it to be ”THE BEST MOVIE EVER!” (The all-caps should simulate her yelling that to no one in particular after the screening.) I suppose everyone needs an obsession of some sort, but I wish Christina could pick something other than a guy who stars in really crappy movies.
Sorry I bailed on last week’s column, folks. There was a holiday, a birthday, and assorted other activities that kept me from you all, but I’m back and better than ever! That’s actually a lie. But I am back to consider your comments on my Valentine’s Day wish list, including thoughts on why the Oscars continually overlook comedic performances and the great marching band vs. U2 debate. In any event, on to the mailbag we go…
I agree with you about not wanting to hear Anna Nicole Smith’s name ever again. Celebrity gossip is usually a guilty pleasure of mine (in moderation, of course) but the media coverage of her life, and now her death, was consistently nauseating. Speaking of ”sordid and sad,” it appears Britney Spears is headed down the same road, and once again I find myself cringing and looking away whenever I come across a headline or recent photo of her. When it comes to press coverage on a celebrity’s personal downward spiral, when is enough enough? — Kelly West
Nauseating pretty much sums it up. It’s tough when you are an entertainment journalist on issues like this. On one hand, people expect your take. On the other, you don’t want to pile on. The whole thing seems like a sideshow to me, and one which I have little-to-no interest in attending.
Dalton, I love your Valentine’s wish list — especially the item about the Winchester ’73 rifle. I don’t hate Nikki and Paulo as much as you and a lot of ”Lost” lovers seem to, but I can completely understand the feeling. JJ Abrams promised ”Alias” fans a few years ago that we would come to appreciate the nasty woman who stole Vaughn from Sydney. I never came to appreciate her. In fact, I disliked the character so much, I’ve blocked her name from my memory. I was really glad when Vaughn killed her, though, so if that counts as appreciation, I guess I’ll have to take back my previous statement. — Michele Behnken
Lost producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse are smart guys, but I still don’t see how they are gonna pull this off. Viewers are defecting from the show in droves, and I highly doubt that Nikki and Paulo are the ones that are gonna draw them back. That said, I’ll be more than happy to eat crow if they prove me wrong.
Curse you Dalton! I would have gone the rest of my life without remembering that I had watched Mr. Personality. It was so close to being completely banished from my brain. Thanks to you, now I have to own up to my problem. My name is Philip and I am a teeveeholic. — Philip Cotrell
Oh, I can do much worse than that, Philip. You want me to bring up some really painful reality TV memories? Try these on for size: Bachelorettes in Alaska, Chains of Love, Unan1mous, The One, The Benefactor, Boot Camp, Forever Eden (a poor imitation of the far superior Paradise Hotel), The Swan, Celebrity Mole Yucatan, Princes of Malibu… need I go on?
Definitely the marching band! Whatever happened to that anyway, the swaying tubas, the blaring horns, the waiting for someone to mess up and the whole line to go crashing like dominoes! Now that’s entertainment. U2 bores me. (And yet get me every time they release something, damn them.) — Christine
While I am loathe to dis and dismiss any band with a member named ”The Edge,” it does seem to me that with all the sassy high-stepping that goes on these days, we totally need to bring back the marching band as Super Bowl halftime entertainment. Or maybe U2 should become a marching band. What? It wouldn’t look any more stupid than 70 percent of the ZooTv tour.
For my money, Steve Carrell’s performance in 40 Year-Old Virgin was comic gold. It was his first starring role, and a true breakout performance. Had he been in a drama, Oscar may have taken notice, because Oscar loves an ingénue or breakout. As long as it is in a DRAMA. In a comedy, where is the Oscar love? Carrell made me laugh until I wept in Virgin; tears of laughter are much harder earned than tears of cheap sentiment. I should know. I cried during every single episode of Little House on the Prairie. Cue the sappy strings and zoom in on half pint’s trembly lip, and I’m a goner. But watching a performance and laughing out loud ’til your stomach hurts and your eyes fill with tears? Now that is an Oscar-worthy acting achievement. I’m just sayin’. — Janine Fisher
Damn, how hip are we?!? Two weeks ago we discuss how comedians are shamefully overlooked at the Oscars, and then Will Ferrell and Jack Black come out and do a whole song and dance at the ceremony about the same topic. Are they swiping our hype? Not likely. But Janine, you and several other readers pointed out Carrell in the 40 Year-Old Virgin as an Oscar-worthy role. I won’t argue with you. But I will mock you for crying during Little House on the Prairie.
What are your thoughts on Ishtar? Rightfully ridiculed, or misunderstood masterpiece? (Okay, masterpiece may be pushing it.) Ladies, can you please tell me what the deal is with Hugh Grant? And don’t forget to send in those well-wishes for Kevin O’Connell. You can send all your questions, comments, and quibbles to firstname.lastname@example.org, or just fill out the handy dandy form below. See ya next week!