Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Sunday, March 30, 2003

I may have posted this before, but if so, it's worth posting again
Houston Chronicle
March 24, 2003, 2:31PM
Martin remains Hollywood's leading man of letters

In the market for all that is both cerebral and zany about Steve Martin? Look no further than his latest movie.

Bringing Down the House, which opened last weekend, acts as a two-hour showcase for -- and much needed reminder of -- Martin's flair for carefully choreographed word-play and off-the-cuff lunacy. But, of course, that's nothing new.

For more than 30 years now, Martin has toggled back and forth between playing the uptight, put-upon, suburban white guy, and some seriously "wild and crazy" guys, either spewing absurdist plays on words or engaging in some of the most inspired physical comedy this side of Buster Keaton.

Steve Martin's white-collar life is turned upside when an escaped convict moves in with him in Bringing Down the House.
But even as Martin has carved a niche as one of Hollywood's most idiosyncratic and innovative clown-savants, he has suffered a kind of pop-culture identity crisis. On the strength of Martin's meteoric rise in the 1970s, thanks to an act that offered a little bit of winking social commentary and a lot of loony performance art, his audience just always assumed he would remain in that guise forever.

But he hasn't. He's gotten better by varying his act. Ironically, the reward for Martin's constant versatility as a performer has been a healthy dose of underappreciation.

Pop-culture icons -- and the late '70s Steve Martin was as close to a comic deity as one could be -- are indulged many things by their audience, except change. Trouble is, the 57-year-old Martin (who has finally aged into his prematurely white hair) has spent the past 20 years doing nothing "but" changing, altering the outlets for his creativity. He is, perhaps, the lengthiest hyphenate in Hollywood, with a resume that reads stand-up comedian-producer-stage and screen actor-musician-playwright-screenwriter-New Yorker essayist-connoisseur-art collector.

This is the curriculum vitae of the entertainment world's most unsung Renaissance man. In the next six months, Martin will be available on the big screen (Bringing Down the House), the small screen (as the cheeky host of the 75th annual Academy Awards on March 23) and in bookstores (thanks to the publication of his second novella, The Pleasure of My Company).

"Steve is doing many things at once. ... The range is enormous," says David Remnick, The New Yorker's editor. "There is no guarantee that a verbal magician like Robin Williams can transfer his talent to paper. Steve can. ... I hate to throw the word 'genius' around too often, but why not? He really is one."

Martin's genius first took flight on Saturday Night Live, for which he often served as guest host during its early years. Martin's road-map to the funny bone on SNL has been described as "Dadaesque." And that's pretty accurate. He cemented his surreal credentials by playing the banjo with an arrow through his cranium, or performing a happy-feet dance after juggling several cats, and wearing rabbit ears with a double-breasted white suit while twisting balloon animals.

Martin's wacky SNL shtick earned him iconic status, and the performance of his hit single, King Tut, with Martin in an Egyptian headdress backed up by the "Toot Uncommons," became the stuff of television legend.

Martin's comedy even managed to launch two expressions -- "Well, excuuuuuuuuuse me!" and "I am a wild and crazy guy!" -- into the cultural lexicon. Not bad for a Waco, Texas, native who went from selling guide books at Disneyland to majoring in philosophy at Long Beach State College.

Steve Martin's most taken-for-granted talent is probably his physical comedy. But not since Martin's own early idols -- Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and Jerry Lewis -- has the cinema witnessed a comedian more in command of his body.

Martin can be so loose-limbed that he becomes almost invertebrate. In 1984's All of Me, Martin's walk is reduced to a spasm of flailing arms and knock-knees, as he rebels against the half of his body being occupied by Lily Tomlin.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988) may have captured Martin's physical versatility at its best. His slouch sums up the smarminess of his $5 dollar con man before he becomes a spastic virtuoso as "monkey boy" Ruprecht.

But Martin is a thinking-man's comic, too, and it's this persona that has found a harder time cementing itself into the public's consciousness. When Martin is in his more irreverent, witty mode, his comedy caroms drollery from unlikely angles. In the now-immortal bar scene from 1987's Roxanne, he substitutes deliciously barbed wordplay for the parrying of swords from Edmond Rostand's classic Cyrano de Bergerac. And in Martin's screenplay for 1999's Bowfinger, he harpoons Hollywood's big-star worship by having hapless, Hollywood wannabes hire the movie world's biggest star (Eddie Murphy) without him knowing it. The movie also features "chubby rain," one of Martin's most sublime verbal inventions.

"I don't know how he does his comedy, and quite honestly I don't want to know," says Frank Oz, Martin's director on four movies, including Bowfinger. "He comes at comedy from an angle we mortals don't come from."

During a recent surprise appearance on Saturday Night Live, the show that launched his acting career, Martin announced that he was just making a cameo appearance -- no jokes, no bits, just a silent cameo. It was a brilliant mini-Martin commentary on stars posturing for any available airtime.

Indeed, much of Martin's comedy, especially as seen in his 1991 film, L.A. Story, has centered on lampooning the entertainment industry's fascination with the superficial and its self-important, preening celebrities. Martin, personally, enjoys continuing the spoof by giving autograph-seekers a card that states, according to several accounts, "This certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny."

On closer examination, of course, it's no surprise that Martin has drifted in and out of mass appeal in recent years. He has, after all, become (no oxymoron intended) a Hollywood man of letters.

More than 20 years ago, Martin published Cruel Shoes, a collection of wry musings and improvisational word games. Since then, he has churned out a best-selling novella, 2000's Shopgirl, and a widely attended play (Picasso at the Lapin Agile) and has become an essayist for the The New Yorker.

What Shopgirl revealed was Martin's almost curatorial eye for character detail. The story revolves around Mirabelle, a pretty -- though thoroughly unremarkable -- glove saleswoman in Beverly Hills whose life begins to blossom through her meeting a well-groomed, middle-aged store customer.

A whole other aspect to Martin's worldview emerges from Shopgirl, as he fills it with his ardent belief in romance in addition to a darker, more desolate sense of humor.

"If people have fully embraced Steve as a writer, it's because he strikes a pose between humor and loneliness as he paints a very romantic view of the world," says Leigh Haber, Martin's longtime editor at Hyperion Books. "He really does tap into the intrinsic loneliness of people and the way they, hopefully, look to connect."

The calibrated eccentricity of Martin's humor can also be found in his periodic essays for The New Yorker. He opens one, titled The Ethicist, by having the wave performed at a prison execution. And in Side Effects, Martin writes: "Dosage: Take two tablets every six hours for joint pain. Side effects: This drug may cause joint pain. ..."

Susan Morrison, Martin's editor at The New Yorker, sees an inimitable correlation between his writer's persona and his stage self: "As meticulously contrived as Steve's physical contortions," she says, "so too is the crazy reasoning of his stories."

"The thing people notice in Steve is how modern he is," says Gil Cates, the producer of this year's Academy Awards broadcast. "There is this brevity to him which I find exhilarating. He doesn't suck the air out of a room. He is very elegant, streamlined and, finally, thoughtful."

And Cates might have added, restlessly creative. To those who know Martin well, he is often deemed the Paul Simon of comedy. He simply refuses to repeat himself.

Martin often seems to be staging his own private "can I top this?" competition.

In so many ways, one of Martin's upcoming projects, like the current Bringing Down the House, sums up his multifaceted expressive abilities. His next scheduled film is Shopgirl. Naturally, Martin has written the adaptation.


An oldie, but interesting
from the March/April 2001 issue of Book Magazine
Steve Martin: Lonely Guy
by Kristin Kloberdanz

When the emcee of the Seventy-third Academy Awards takes the stage in March, the audience will see something they've never seen before: a literary novelist playing host to Hollywood's navel-baring navel gazers. Will Steve Martin be out of place? Not really. While we're used to seeing him among the bejeweled in the audience, playing odd man out puts Martin in his comfort zone.

In a career of many paths—actor, director, screenwriter, playwright, essayist and, now, novelist—he has always played that character. From the "wild and crazy guy" of early Saturday Night Live to his 1979 Hollywood breakthrough, The Jerk, to all three main characters in his current hit novella, Shopgirl, Martin has earned a reputation as one of America's smarter entertainers by portraying the individual who doesn't fit in.

In the past few years, Martin has been trying harder to fit himself into the role of a writer. He says it hasn't been easy. "Believe it or not, people still come up to me and say, 'I love The Jerk,' " he joked to the crowd at the National Book Awards last November (an event he has emceed for the past two years). "And I say, 'But did you read my latest book?' And they say, 'That's what I'm talking about.' "

Martin, whose ability to entertain relies more on an ironic distance from audiences than his ability to warmly connect with them, is well suited to the solitary craft of writing. "That's where he finds more comfort and happiness than any of the other things he does," says Morris Walker, Martin's childhood friend and the author of the "authorized" biography Steve Martin: The Magic Years. "More than making movies, more than television, writing is the thing he loves most."

Martin has been writing for decades, but until recently, it was behind the scenes. He began his showbiz career crafting routines for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Later, after SNL's glory days made him a star, Martin co-wrote The Jerk (with Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias), a comedy about an oddball—Martin's Navin Johnson, who fervently believes he was "born a poor black child"—trying to find his place in the world. In 1987, he wrote the screenplay for Roxanne, basing the film on one of his favorite stories: Edmund Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac.

Martin actually published his first bestseller in 1977. Along with his hit albums, that era's Martin juggernaut included Cruel Shoes, a collection of mini stories in the spirit of his comedy routines: the Sein Language of its day. It was in the mid-'90s, after starring in several box-office and critical bombs, that Martin distanced himself from Hollywood to regroup, focusing on writing for a different kind of audience.

He began by writing a play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which premiered in 1994, about the artist meeting Albert Einstein. Then he started writing short humorous essays for The New Yorker, and in 1998, he collected them in Pure Drivel. These short, deadpan takes on the oddities and inconsistencies of contemporary culture displayed the authorial distance that is Martin's trademark.

Shopgirl, Martin's first longer work of fiction, is more ambitious, if minimalist in form. It's tied to nearly all of his earlier works by the theme of isolation. Mirabelle, the title character, is a loner who works at the glove counter at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and whose two closest friends are her cats, one of which never comes out from under the sofa when she's around. She has tentative relationships with two men: Jeremy, a comically poor communicator who believes a chance encounter at a Laundromat actually qualifies as a date, and Ray, a businessman nearly twice Mirabelle's age who courts her as a lover while maintaining an absolute determination not to fall in love. Mirabelle takes anti-depressants and drinks alone in local bars, waiting, Martin writes, for "some omniscient voice to illuminate and spotlight her, and to inform everyone that this one has value..."

Clearly, Martin wants the reader to see that Mirabelle does have value, and that Ray and Jeremy do, too. Martin has always been at his best when he evokes empathy for his characters. There was the garish Czechoslovakian outcast who wasn't really that wild or crazy but acted that way in hopes of becoming the life of the party. And the lead in The Lonely Guy, a shy man who comes home one day to find his girlfriend in bed with her lover; he writes a book on his experiences and becomes rich and famous, but that doesn't deliver the love he craves. In the screenplay Martin wrote adapting George Eliot's Silas Marner into 1994's A Simple Twist of Fate, he played an embittered man, betrayed by his wife, who isolates himself in a small town until a child comes into his life. Over and over, Martin has created characters whom we laugh at—not with—and then finds ways for them to be embraced and accepted.

Martin's comedy can be cold, distant, sometimes mean-spirited. Even in a feel-good movie like Parenthood (1989), he doesn't generate the kind of warmth that many other stars do—that's what makes him so good in David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner (1997), which calls for icy deliberation. His empathy is under the surface: What we see is the isolation, in bold relief.

As an actor playing an isolated character, Martin's distance from the audience is hard, perhaps impossible, for him to overcome. As a writer, he has the freedom both to portray his characters and reveal his own voice.

"I am so excited now that I am becoming known as a writer," Martin quipped to the literati at last fall's book awards, "for, not only has my income dropped, I am hanging out with an entirely different group of people. Unlike Billy Crystal, who hosts the Oscars, I host the National Book Awards, which means that when I go to a fancy restaurant, I am whisked by Billy's table in the center of the room and taken to a small table in the back called the writers' table, where sit people named Rokowski and Brinski and Bosnorfski, people who not only write great literature but who also have not picked up a check in twelve years."

Martin appears genuinely happier to be at that back table. But on March 25, he'll be at the very front: He is hosting the Academy Awards this year, taking over for Crystal. The match may prove ideal, with Martin attempting to deliver the perfect melange of jokes to amuse a disparate audience for four hours. This annual flirtation can be witty; it can also be mean-spirited. It's what characters do in bars when they're trying to be noticed, and to fit in.


Still wowing them at the box office
Box office victory for 'Head of State'
From the Life & Mind Desk
Published 3/30/2003 4:25 PM

HOLLYWOOD, March 30 (UPI) -- The opening of Chris Rock's political comedy "Head of State" topped the nation's box office with an estimated $14 million at 2,151 theaters during the Friday-Sunday period, studio sources said Sunday.

Another comedy, "Bringing Down the House," finished a close second with $12.5 million at 2,910 theaters as the Steve Martin-Queen Latifah vehicle hit the $100 million mark on Sunday, its 24th day of release by Disney. The weekend represented a decline of only 23 percent from its third weekend.

"The success of 'Bringing Down the House' underlines how well a comedy can do when it's perceived by audiences as delivering on its promise," Rockwell noted.


"Head of State" and "Bringing Down the House" will see competition next weekend from a trio of openers -- Warner's teen comedy "What a Girl Wants," starring Amanda Bynes; New Line's drug-agent drama "A Man Apart," starring Vin Diesel; and 20th Century Fox's "Phone Booth," centered on a sniper attacking a man in a phone booth.
Friday, March 28, 2003

What Steve will be doing on April 20th

United Press International
March 28, 2003 Friday 14:21 PM Eastern Time
Hollywood Digest


An all-star cast has been assemble for "100 Years of Hope & Humor," an NBC TV special set for April 20 to honor legendary entertainer Bob Hope's 100th birthday.

Jane Pauley will host the show, which will feature appearances by Alan Alda, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Phyllis Diller, Kelsey Grammer, Jay Leno, Steve Martin, Arnold Palmer, Don Rickles, Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods. The show will also feature a special tribute from President George W. Bush.

The special will include footage of Hope with 11 U.S. presidents, his association with golf and other sports, his work with the USO, and vaudeville, film and television performances.

The guest list also includes Drew Carey, Bob Costas, Alan King, Bernie Mac, Eric McCormack, Jack Nicklaus, LeAnn Rimes, Joan Rivers, Ray Romano, Jane Russell, Brooke Shields and Raquel Welch.

Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope on May 29, 1903 in Eltham, England, and was raised in Cleveland.


A tidbit on writing the Oscars

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada)
March 26, 2003 Wednesday FINAL EDITION
Section A; Pg. 3A
Stars come out on opening night for look at 'A New Day ...'
By Norm Clarke

Team Humor

Rita Rudner, a member of host Steve Martin's joke-writing team for the Academy Awards, said the team worked on material all night in the event Michael Moore won for his antigun documentary, 'Bowling for Columbine.'

Sure enough, Moore won, and Martin was prepared. 'So sweet backstage seeing the Teamsters helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo,' he said.

Martin came backstage and told the writers, 'It only took eight of us to come up with that line.'


Why Steve doesn't read scripts that are sent to him

The Associated Press.
March 28, 2003, Friday, BC cycle
2:38 PM Eastern Time
Writer claims she had original idea for smash movie
By ERIN McCLAM, Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK: A New York lawyer who claims she had the original idea for the box-office smash "Bringing Down the House" filed a $15 million copyright lawsuit Friday against star Queen Latifah and the movie's producers.

Marie Flaherty claims the movie is a ripoff of "Amoral Dilemma," a screenplay she wrote several years ago about a lawyer who meets a prisoner online, only to have the prisoner wreak havoc in his life.

"Bringing Down the House," a comedy starring Latifah and Steve Martin, is about a prisoner who meets a lawyer in a chat room, then weasels her way into his life in hopes he can exonerate her.

The movie has been atop the box-office charts since it was released earlier this month, raking in $83.3 million through last weekend.

Flaherty claims Boston attorney George N. Tobia Jr. agreed to represent her in 1999 as she tried to sell "Amoral Dilemma."

Just a few months later, she says, Tobia called her to say he and a family friend, screenwriter Jason Filardi, had sold a script - "," the screenplay that eventually became "Bringing Down the House."

Flaherty confronted Tobia about the similarities, and he told her repeatedly that Filardi's script was a comedy, while hers was a drama, she argues in the lawsuit.

Tobia did not immediately return a call for comment.

The copyright-infringement suit, filed in Manhattan federal court, seeks a minimum of $15 million - but Flaherty also points out the court could award her more considering the movie's hefty gross.

The suit names as defendants Tobia, Filardi and the movie's producers - including Latifah, whose real name is Dana Owens. Latifah spokeswoman Amanda Silverman did not immediately have a comment on the suit.

Martin, who did not co-produce the movie, is not named as a defendant.

Hyde Park Entertainment, which produced the film, and Walt Disney Co., which distributed it, are also listed as co-defendants.

Flaherty, an attorney who plans to represent herself, did not immediately return a call for comment.


Chiding Mr. Martin

Chicago Sun-Times
March 23, 2003 Sunday
Bringing down the standards of Steve Martin's career
By Lloyd Sachs

This year's Academy Awards will probably lumber toward midnight like they do every year, but with Steve Martin hosting them again, we're guaranteed of some bright moments--even if he reins himself in in deference to the goings-on in Iraq.

Call him Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside. As one of the more stylish members of the Hollywood establishment, he brings a sanguine sparkle to the proceedings. As an irreverent outsider, one who has endeared himself to the New York literati with his books and plays and New Yorker pieces, he can take the starch out of the proceedings, without simmering in his own naughtiness the way Whoopi Goldberg did.

For a long time now, Martin has been one of the most consistently funny fellows on television, whether shmoozing with Letterman or guest hosting "Saturday Night Live" or even turning up on "Charlie Rose." Unfortunately, the TV Steve is shadowed by the movie Steve, who for all his smarts and comic sophistication and zany originality can't seem to avoid films that are beneath him. Films like the new hit "Bringing Down the House," in which his potentially rich teaming with Queen Latifah is doused in tired and timid conceits.

Like his brother in outlandishness, Robin Williams, though without his taste for mawkishness or his raving iconoclasm, Martin compromises and contradicts his upstart status with each crummy commercial movie he makes. It's like hitching your sensibility to Eminem and having him turn into Vanilla Ice. You can almost hear his bones creak while stooping to enter these middlebrow affairs. The more he makes calculating movies like "House," the more you wish he'd return to the lowbrow yuks of "The Jerk" (1979). At least it came by its stupidity honestly.

It would be one thing if plucked cinematic chickens like this were exceptions or accidents. But Martin, like Williams, has demonstrated mediocre taste from the start of his film career. No director, it would seem, was uninspired enough for him to cast his lot with--not Carl Reiner, with whom he has made a string of poor to semi-decent comedies like "The Man With Two Brains" (1983) (the name of Martin's character, Michael Hfuhruhurr, was the funniest thing in it), not Herbert Ross (the ambitious but deadly "Pennies From Heaven," 1981), not Arthur Hiller ("The Lonely Guy, 1984"), not John Hughes ("Planes, Trains and Automobiles," 1987).

And as you can tell from more recent, universally disregarded efforts like "Mixed Nuts" (1994) and "The Out-of-Towners" (1999), his taste in filmmakers hasn't gotten any better.

There was a time when Martin seemed poised to become one of the great comic leading men. At least I thought so after his wondrous mid-'80s performances as the principled lawyer in Reiner's "All of Me" (1984) who becomes half-possessed by the spirit of the snootily rich Lily Tomlin, and the smitten small-town fire chief in Fred Schepisi's "Roxanne" (1987), a sweet-tempered take on "Cyrano de Bergerac" that Martin wrote with himself in mind.

"What makes Martin's success so interesting and impressive is that he is one of the few comic actors of his generation who draws from a reservoir of humane values--hopefulness, compassion, grace," I wrote in an overly optimistic 1987 appreciation of him. These were not only hilarious, inventive performances, they were physical tours de force--the first a convulsive sidesplitter in conveying the absurdity of two sensibilities warring inside one body, the second a display of agility and balletic assurance that Fred Astaire would have admired.

So went the golden age of Steve Martin. Since then, there has been an occasional standout picture like "Housesitter" (1992), in which he co-starred Goldie Hawn, and there was David Mamet's offbeat "The Spanish Prisoner" (1997), in which he played an enigmatic baddie. There also was Herbert Ross' "Leap of Faith" (1992), which was terrible, but let Martin stretch a bit as a hustler, a character close to his heart. But there has been nothing to push him back to the heights of "Roxanne" and rescue him from his recurring role as victimized shirt-and-tie guy. Though he is a master of sang-froid, even he is beginning to seem embarrassed by the embarrassing movies in which he appears.

You certainly can sympathize with him. American moviegoers, as you may have noticed, have not had much of a taste for comic actors who are obviously smarter than they are. In the age of "Dumb and Dumber," Martin may, indeed, have been remiss in not making "The Jerk II." The only actor out there getting by with graceful physical comedy, meanwhile, is Jackie Chan, an action figure Gene Kelly would have loved.

A guy's gotta work: If nothing better is being offered than "Bringing Down the House," I guess Martin's gotta take it. Though as a writer, Martin has initiated several movies, including "L.A. Story" (1991)--an intermittently amusing West Coast take on Woody Allen's Manhattan stories--he doesn't have the filmic vision of an Allen, or an Albert Brooks, or even a Mel Brooks.

That said, aren't there any more skilled directors out there who can coax Martin's genius back out? If we had a Hollywood rotisserie league, I would draft Wes Anderson (who elicited Gene Hackman's funniest all-time performance in "The Royal Tenenbaums") and sit back and watch the fun he and Martin would have. I would call on Warren Beatty (whose "Bulworth" presents a much more riotous clash of uptight whiteness and house-raising blackness than "Bringing Down the House"). Or what about putting Martin together with those newsprung master adapters of New Yorker style, Spike Jonz and Charlie Kaufman--and Nicolas Cage?

Well, maybe not. But someone needs to inject some life in Martin's film career. Playing it safe is killing him. And if he plans on any kind of extended run as a pot-shot-taking Oscars host, he can't keep making movies that draw pot shots so readily. Unless he himself wants to cleanse his soul and take pot shots at himself. Maybe an arrow through the head would set him straight.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

An unused Oscar joke from Dave Barry


Jon Macks wrote a joke during the show that, because of time, Steve Martin didn't get to use. It was right after the Oscar was handed out for best original song, and the joke was: "Ladies and gentlemen, I don't want to alarm anybody, but the Bible says that one of the signs of the Apocalypse is when Barbra Streisand gives an Oscar to Eminem."
posted by Dave 12:16 PM 25 March 2003

Monday, March 24, 2003

All in one place -- a huge hunk of articles on Steve and the Oscars

Edmonton Sun (Canada)
March 24, 2003 Monday, Final Edition
Entertainment; Pg. ES4


- TO SCREEN LEGEND MICKEY ROONEY, SEATED DEEP IN THE NOSEBLEEDS: "I'm sorry we couldn't get you a better seat, but Vin Diesel is here!"

- IN DESCRIBING WHAT A MOVIE STAR IS: "THEY ARE SHORT AND TALL, THIN ... AND SKINNY. They are young (the screen shows a picture of Haley Joel Osment), middle-aged (Natalie Portman) and old (Reese Witherspoon)."

- FOLLOWING MICHAEL MOORE'S FIERY ANTI-BUSH ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: "The teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo."


- FOLLOWING THE MEMORIAL TO ACTORS AND FILMMAKERS WHO PASSED AWAY IN 2002: "Later we're doing a montage of people you think are dead, but aren't."


March 24, 2003, Monday, FINAL EDITION
LIFE; Pg. 1D
A jolly good show -- for a host of reasons
BYRobert Bianco

It was an Oscars to remember -- and not for the reason you might think.

Though the war in Iraq was not forgotten, the focus at Sunday's Academy Awards remained firmly on the Oscars and on their marvelous host, Steve Martin. Making an obviously welcome return, Martin was greeted by a standing ovation, and he went on to earn it.

The first and perhaps prime task of an Oscar host is to give a funny monologue, and Martin delivered the goods. But then, most hosts do.

What sets Martin apart is his good-natured mastery of mock sincerity. And what better place for that than the Oscars?

Luckily for viewers, Martin has two other qualities that are essential to a good Academy Awards host: wit and insider status. He used both to his and our advantage, winning the crowd's confidence and then gleefully mocking them all night. Not every joke worked, but an impressive percentage of them did -- from accusing Meryl Streep of selling academy screening tapes online to joking about the annual salute to the deceased. ("Next we're doing a montage of people you think are dead but aren't.")

Though Martin and the movies were the show's stars, the war in Iraq did make some cameo appearances. There were a few pleas for peace, some touching, some pompous, some just odd. Still, with the major exception of Michael Moore (and really, who thought he could resist?) most of the attendees seemed to realize that the occasion was not designed to provide them with a platform for protest.

In a strange way, the seldom-realized threat of excess commentary acted in Oscar's favor, adding a touch of tension to what is so often a dull evening.

Admit it: Weren't you on the edge of your seat when Susan Sarandon and Barbra Streisand came out, waiting to see whether they would say something controversial? For the record, neither did, unless you consider Streisand's mild comments about free speech controversial.

Though the show ran a fairly standard 3 1/2 hours, it seemed to move more quickly than usual. Which is odd, really, because it took an inordinately long time for the winners to make their way to the stage, a trek we then had to relive in instant replay.

It also had more surprises and emotional highs than is often the case, from Chris Cooper's sweetly gracious acceptance speech, to Adrien Brody's upset win, to the on-stage reunion of 59 former Oscar winners, to Kirk and Michael Douglas' father-son act. There was even a nice clips package, for once, as former Oscar winners reflected on what winning was like.

Of course, the evening didn't go by without a few thuds. You'd think in a year dominated by a musical that the show's producers would be able to get the musical numbers right.

Alas, no.

Catherine Zeta-Jones and Queen Latifah would have more than filled the small screen; those dancers just got in the way. And really, if you're going to do a montage salute to Oscar production numbers, the least you can do is include that legendary dancing team, Rob Lowe and Snow White.

We remember, even if Oscar wants to forget.


Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA)
March 24, 2003 Monday
LIVING; Television; Pg. 1
Martin was Academy's Mr. Right; The perfect host for an awards show in trying times
BY Dave Walker

Hollywood's prom to honor the half-dozen films made annually for grown-ups rose to a stiff challenge Sunday night.

It had been a grim day, with war news of American casualties and prisoners of war.

As the sobering foreign reportage continued on cable -- a roll call of the missing on one network, a story about a captured chemical weapons facility on another -- the Oscars rolled on ABC.

Even though the war was still young, a deliverance from anxiety, the kind a good movie provides, was called for.

For a change, the Academy Awards delivered.

Typically an industrial air-kiss, the Oscars managed to find the perfect tone for an awards show during trying times.

Host Steve Martin, who by end of the evening perhaps wrested from Billy Crystal the title of reigning Oscar superhost, set the mood early, with a rollicking opening monologue that name-dropped practically every nominee, presenter and past winner in the house.

Introducing Hollywood Golden Ager Mickey Rooney, seated in a distant row, Martin said, "Not a lot of people know this, but Mickey Rooney is the same age as the Earth. At one point, Mickey Rooney was the biggest box office star in all the 38 states. Mickey, I'm sorry we couldn't get you a better seat, but Vin Diesel is here."

Martin's opening-segment kicker was a mock-serious essay accompanied by a soaring orchestral arrangement. Its title: "What is a Movie Star?"

The segment concluded with a laugh-out-loud series of sight gags zeroing in on Harrison Ford, Jack Nicholson and then the many attendees with whom Martin has allegedly been intimate.

It began, "A movie star is many things. Tall or short, thin or skinny.

"They can be Democrats . . .

"Or skinny.

"We worship them, idolize them and, yes, sometimes we're annoyed with them, like when they shoot their wives."

Brilliant. Bravo.
Big-picture, the Oscars' move last year to the new Kodak Theatre continued to pay off.

This was a gorgeous production start to finish. With perfect lighting onstage and in the audience, attendees were made to look more beautiful than even movie stars are supposed to look.

One odd production touch: Winner-reaction replays, coming right after the acceptance speech and just before a commercial.

Winners, for the most part, kept their speeches within the suggested time limit, though the Oscar orchestra seemed more strict in playing exit cues than the pit crew of any awards broadcast in recent memory.

When winners got to extend their thank-yous, the payoff was generally worth it. Cooper's heartfelt acceptance speech comes to mind. Same for Adrien Brody, winner of an acting award for "The Pianist," who shouted down his exit music to address the Iraq war and say hello to a friend from Queens now serving in Kuwait.

The most dramatic, but predictable, moment came at midshow, when Michael Moore, a winner for "Bowling For Columbine," called up his fellow nominees in the Documentary Feature category to collectively protest the war. Moore shouted, "We are against this war, Mr. Bush!" as his get-the-hook music played.

Presenting the next award, Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America and a veteran political insider, oddly opted to let Moore's speech stand without comment.

So it was up to host Steve Martin to offer the audience closure.

"It was so sweet backstage, you should've seen it," Martin said. "Some Teamsters were helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo."
Earlier in the evening, before the start of the main event, security concerns and the dimmed tenor of the evening shoved Joan Rivers up the block and across the street from red-carpet arrivals -- beyond shouting distance, even for her.

Nonetheless, the E! cable network's pre-show remained the usual carnival of vulgar shtick and insultingly poor preparation.

Holed up in a makeshift perch in the Roosevelt Hotel (where studio lighting proved most cruel to serial cosmetic-surgery patients), Rivers was reduced to misidentifying arriving stars as their images were displayed on a TV monitor.

A few poorly advised attendees -- tango maniac Robert Duvall, for one -- made their way to her microphone, anyway.

Rivers started the evening with a giggling fit, recovering in time to deliver such comic gems as, "They warned me not to make a political speech, but I'm all about the First Amendment: Hooray for Grover Cleveland!"

Removing Rivers from the sidewalk in front of the Kodak Theatre was the first victory in this war of liberation.

For the Academy's consideration: Next year, Long Beach.

Fresno Bee (California)
March 24, 2003, Monday FINAL EDITION

Martin deftly handles a sticky situation

The selection of Steve Martin proved to be a masterful decision by nervous Oscar organizers.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences did not want Sunday's telecast of the "75th Anniversary Academy Awards" to be turned into a platform for anti-war commentary. The potential was there. The annual salute to films reaches an estimated audience of one billion people around the globe.

The splashy red carpet arrivals at the Kodak Theatre were canceled out of fear of setting an inappropriate tone because of the war in Iraq. Celebrities quietly made their way into the theater stopping only for a few photographs.

Martin broke the tension. He joked at the beginning of his opening monologue that the only objections to his returning as host came from France and Germany.

Then Martin shifted to poking fun at the movie industry.

"Jack Nicholson got in a hot tub with Kathy Bates this year. But who hasn't? Nicole Kidman has worn a fake nose in every film she has made except 'The Hours,' " Martin said.

Martin's ability to be classy and comic made him the perfect host for such a potentially political telecast. He cleverly guided the program as it settled into a respectful celebration of movies.

The first 13 awards were presented without incident.

The closet any comments came to being controversial were from Chris Cooper. After picking up the Oscar as best supporting actor, Cooper said, "In light of all the trouble in the world, I wish us all peace."

Then outspoken filmmaker Michael Moore picked up the Oscar for best documentary feature for "Bowling for Columbine."

Appearing on stage surrounded by his fellow documentary filmmakers, Moore said, "We do nonfiction. We live in fictitious times.

"We are against this war. Shame on you, Mr. Bush," Moore said over the music cue to end his acceptance speech. "Anybody's got both the pope and the Dixie Chicks against them isn't long for the White House."

Moore's comments were greeted by surprised looks from the celebrity-filled audience and a smattering of booing.

Martin showed his mastery of the job when he returned to the stage. He joked, "It was so sweet backstage. The teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the back of his limo."

Moore's comments were the one major political incident in what was a low-key celebration of Hollywood's best. Even noted activist Susan Sarandon introduced without comment a tribute to Hollywood greats who had died in the past year.

Oscar winners in the best actor and actress category made pleas for peace as part of emotional thanks. Adrien Brody, the winner for his work in "The Pianist," only was able to make his comments after begging for more acceptance speech time.

"It fills me with great joy but I'm also filled with a lot of sadness tonight because I'm accepting an award at such a strange time and my experiences in making this film made me very aware of the sadness and the dehumanization of people at times of war and the repercussions of war and whether you believe in God or Allah, may he watch over you and let's pray for a peaceful and swift resolution," Brody said.

Nicole Kidman explained she decided to attend the awards ceremony despite the war because, "Art is important and because you believe in what you do. You want to honor that. At the same time you say there are a lot of problems in the war."

Overall the telecast was a classy salute to the present with little political commentary.

The show also paid honor to Oscar's past. One of the most emotional moments in the diamond jubilee anniversary featured a collection of 59 past Oscar winners appearing together on stage. Those included in the tribute included Mickey Rooney, Martin Landau, Julie Andrews, Red Buttons, Kirk Douglas, Sean Connery and Denzel Washington.

There were no anti-war comments during the official Oscar pre-show. The 30-minute pre-show hosted by Jann Carl, Chris Connelly, Jim Moret and Shaun Robinson was a bland collection of easy questions for a few celebrities and several film tributes. The film tributes seemed a waste considering only 30 minutes was allotted for the official pre-show.

The quiet grace of the Oscar telecast followed the disastrous pre-Oscar show on E! Entertainment. The cable channel proceeded with its planned two-hour pre-Oscar show despite the cancelation of the red carpet interviews. The show is the cable channel's highest rated program of the year.

Joan Rivers reached a new peak in embarrassing television work when she began the lackluster pre-Oscar show program with a profanity-laced comedy routine.

Then things got worse.

Instead of being mavens of the red carpet, Joan and Melissa Rivers were forced to host the program from blocks away at the Roosevelt Hotel. Although the show originated down the block from the Kodak Theatre, the program was still called "Live from the Red Carpet."

Without the steady stream of celebrities, the pair found themselves talking about: what each other was wearing, the rumors of a sexual encounter between Melissa Rivers and Chris Judd during ABC's flop reality show "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here," and celebrity gossip.

While the cable channel's pre-Oscar coverage has been superficial at best in the past, this year's program showed how painfully annoying the Rivers can be.


The New York Post
March 24, 2003, Monday
Late City Final; Pg. 041
BY Adam Buckman

THE Oscars didn't seem any more somber or subdued than they did any other year.

As in previous years, last night's telecast on ABC was dull, overlong and also mildly entertaining.

Or, in other words: Business as usual.

This was to be, of course, the somber, wartime Academy Awards.

In the days leading up to last night's show, I took that to mean that the celebrities would be doing their darndest to refrain from smiling or having fun of any kind, lest someone accuse them of wanton frivolousness at a time of international distress.

But there were smiles aplenty, especially when celebrity firebrands such as Susan Sarandon and Barbra Streisand refrained - surprisingly - from using their time on stage to lash out at President Bush and his handling of the crisis in Iraq.

The telecast's light-hearted tone was set smartly from the outset by host Steve Martin, who delivered one of the funniest opening Oscar monologues in recent memory.

He didn't star in the usual elaborate, pre-produced bit lampooning the year's top nominees, but - in the parlance of comedy - Martin killed anyway.

Noting that the audience seemed no less dressed up than they've been at previous Oscars, he said sarcastically, "Well, I'm glad they cut back on all the glitz!"

Then he said, "You probably noticed there was no fancy red carpet tonight - that'll send 'em a message!"

He even managed to make light-hearted fun of the diplomatic efforts that had transpired at the U.N. over the past several months.

"Everybody has been so supportive of my hosting this year," he said, "except, of course, France and Germany!"

Literally speaking, he was wrong about the red carpet. There was a carpet outside the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. And it was red too.

He was really referring to the fact that the stars weren't granting silly interviews on their way inside, although most stopped long enough to pose for pictures.

While some outspoken stars kept their mouths shut on the subject of the war, some couldn't resist acknowledging the strife overseas.

Classy, elegant Nicole Kidman, winner for best actress for "The Hours," graciously explained why the Oscar show had to go on, despite the war.

"Why do you come to the Academy Awards when the world is in such turmoil?" she asked. "Because art is important and because you believe in what you do and . . . it is a tradition that needs to be upheld."

Best Actor-winner Adrien Brody ("The Pianist") made a tearful wish for "a peaceful and swift resolution" to the war. And Martin ended the telecast with a greeting for American service men and women overseas.

The mood was shattered briefly by the obnoxious presence of outspoken documentarian Michael Moore, whose diatribe against President Bush was not unexpected.

Some cheers greeted Moore's anti-war speech after he won the Oscar for Best Documentary for "Bowling for Columbine." But the cheers were quickly intermingled with nervous boos from those in the audience who may not have disagreed with him, but who were uncomfortable that he raised the issues during a telecast that was supposed to be apolitical.

Nimble Martin saved the day again when he appeared a few minutes later. "It was so sweet backstage, you should see it," he said. "The teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo!"

Besides that, about the only mention of the war in Iraq came when Peter Jennings broke in twice to report that Iraqi resistance was intensifying as U.S. forces drew within 100 miles of Baghdad.

In the Kodak Theatre, however, the war seemed far, far away.

GRAPHIC: -Steve Martin presented one of the funniest opening monologues in years. "Everybody has been so supportive of my hosting this year," he said, "except, of course, France and Germany!" AP


The Vancouver Province
March 24, 2003 Monday Final Edition
e entertainment today; The Oscar Timeline; Pg. B4
Martin makes it a party: Hysterical start to show with plenty of plugs for peace
The Province
By Dana Gee

5:26 p.m.: Anyone who thought the 75th annual Academy Awards was going to be a solemn affair this year, thankfully, was proven wrong!

Host Steve Martin killed, as he effortlessly stretched his former standup legs and got the show off to a hysterical running start.

"There was no fancy red carpet this year. That'll show 'em," said Martin, making the first reference to the war in Iraq.

Martin, who returned to the hosting job after missing last year, thanked everyone involved with the show.

"Everybody has been really supportive, except France and Germany," he said.

A favourite mark on Martin's hit list was the idea of highly paid celebrity.

He pointed out Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney, who was so far back in the balcony that the tiny Rooney looked the size of Oscar himself.

"Mickey, I'm sorry we couldn't get you a better seat, but Vin Diesel is here," said Martin, indicating the front rows.

In a routine that slowed only once, huge laughs were had when Martin moved effortlessly though a speech entitled "What Is a Movie Star."

In this segment no star was left untouched or left unlaughing, especially the women and Ernest Borgnine, who had their images flashed on the screen after Martin thanked those in Hollywood who had slept with him for their tight-lipped discretion.

5:50 p.m.: The stunning Jennifer Connelly -- last year's best supporting actress for A Beautiful Mind -- was on hand to give out the best supporting actor honours. Connelly announced the Oscar would go to closely shorn and soon-teary Chris Cooper for Adaptation.

Cooper thanked the usual suspects, then earned the honours of first quasi-political statement of the evening by calling for peace.

5:55 p.m.: Jennifer Lopez swooped out on stage in a rather tame pistachio-coloured one-shoulder kaftan dress. Actually it was kind of disappointing. We count on Jen for a huge injection of va va voom!

5:59 p.m.: Could it be true? Could Renee Zellweger's singing in Chicago have come compliments of Pro Tools -- a Mac program that can make even my cat-in-pain singing voice not so offensive? Seriously, why else didn't the red-hot Texan star join her very pregnant co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones on stage for the performance of the nominated best song "I Move On?"

Instead, Zellweger stayed safe in her Kodak Theatre seat while Queen Latifah sang her part.

6:09 p.m.: Please give the mouse a rest. Mickey the cartoon character joined Jennifer Garner on stage for what was supposed to be witty little banter between a person and a computer image. Instead it was a painful three minutes complete with the usual nod to front-row veteran Jack Nicholson.

6:15 p.m.: Poor Mira Sorvino. She stumbled horribly during her presentation of achievement in costume design. But give the former Oscar winner credit: She laughed, then thanked the audience for laughing too!

6:22 p.m.: The camera panned what had to be the official old-star section of the audience -- a section that was magnificently dressed and groomed better than a champion poodle.

Paul Simon -- on stage to sing his nominated song "Father and Daughter," opted out of the whole black tie thing and wore a plain black long-sleeved T-shirt.

Mind you, after witnessing Martin's razor sharp wit, Simon was probably smart to avoid the tuxedo and therefore saving himself from the obvious penguin jokes.

6:27 p.m.: My Big Fat Greek Wedding star and writer, Winnipeg's own Nia Vardalos -- still beating that whole kooky Greek family thing to death -- introduced the award for best makeup by, of course, saying makeup was a word her dad said the Greeks invented. The folks from the beautifully lush Frida won the honour.

6:31 p.m.: The votes are in. OK, my vote is in. Sean Connery still looks magnificent. Mr. Bond took the stage in his fancy Scottish dress shirt gave out the best supporting actress award to Zeta-Jones.

He must have been thinking, "Boy, she's come a long way since that stinky Entrapment" -- you know, the one she spent the whole time on all fours with her bum in the air that the pair made together a few years back.

"My hormones are so way out of control to be dealing with this," said the stunning actress, who is slated to deliver child No. 2 in a few weeks.

6:39 p.m.: The award for the most innocuous peace reference of the night went to Matthew McConaughey's "a healthy evening to all of you."

7:13 p.m.: Way to go, Michael Moore. Onstage to accept his award for best documentary for Bowling for Columbine, the outspoken filmmaker surprised no one by condemning -- to mixed applause and boos -- George Bush and his war machine.

Moore -- flanked by his film's producers, including Canada's own Salter Street guy Michael Donovan and the other doc category nominees, said he and the others love non-fiction and oppose the "fictious" actions of the U.S. war on Iraq.

Martin, not one to let a good moment pass, returned to the stage and said: "The teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo."


Backstage at the Oscars

along with this article, there is a really good pic of steve and his writers backstage working on jokes. right click on the pic, choose open in new window, and you'll get a bigger version. get while it's there.,0,6611039.story?coll=cl%2Doscst

Los Angeles Times
March 24, 2003 Monday Home Edition
Calendar; Part 5; Page 2; Calendar Desk
The Oscar show, and how it went on
Steve Martin thinks on his feet, helping to pull together a cohesive ceremony in a dicey world.
By John Horn, Times Staff Writer

Whether or not this year's Academy Awards would go forward was a minute-by-minute dilemma. And once the show began, the frantic decision-making didn't let up.

As it turned out, handling the threat and progress of war was hardly the main hurdle to pulling off the show, as was revealed by a night backstage at the Kodak Theatre. After the house lights dimmed to open the show, producer Gil Cates and director Louis Horvitz had to adapt to a superstar actress' last-second demands for rewrite, a divisive political speech by a documentary filmmaker and even a walkie-talkie that plummeted to the stage.

One of the biggest challenges show organizers faced was how they would incorporate the war into the global telecast. They mostly didn't.

Host Steve Martin and the show's writers had contemplated -- then jettisoned -- a direct joke about Saddam Hussein. Martin was going to address the Iraqi leader and say: "I hope your connection goes out just before we announce best picture."

The 75th Academy Awards started off with a breakdown in a key piece of scenery -- an enormous rotating globe that hung over the front of the stage. A worker ascended into the theater's rafters to try to fix the problem, but in the middle of a Martin monologue, the worker's walkie-talkie fell off his belt and crashed to the stage, startling Martin and stagehands in the wings. Martin quickly ad-libbed to say the incident was planned.

Throughout the night, the show's writers scrambled. Much of the week had been spent fielding calls from presenter Barbra Streisand about specific word changes in her remarks. On Sunday night, mere minutes before she was to go on to present the cinematography Oscar, Julia Roberts let it be known that she didn't want to recite her presentation speech, and would rather just announce the nominees. Cates dashed out of the production truck backstage at the Kodak Theatre -- where presenters Meryl Streep and Colin Farrell were catching a quick smoke -- into the wings of the auditorium to hurriedly confer with Buz Kohan to discuss options. Kohan, a member of the team writing presenters' comments, marched into the greenroom to meet with Roberts and see if he could work out a compromise.

Later in the broadcast, documentary feature winner Michael Moore began an attack on President Bush after winning the trophy for "Bowling for Columbine." He was promptly greeted by boos not only from the audience but also from many of the stagehands. As Moore's speech reached its crescendo, Cates and Horvitz decided in the production truck to cut him off.

"Music! Music!" Horvitz yelled. The orchestra quickly drowned out the rest of Moore's speech. As he walked backstage with his trophy in his hands, Moore heard even more criticism from the stagehands, one of whom came up to the filmmaker and told him in colorful language that he had a different opinion of the president.

The ever-shifting tension between escapist entertainment and violent global conflict made this year's Oscar show the most logistically complicated since the ceremony was postponed by one day after President Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981. In the hours leading up to this year's broadcast, that friction was evident in nearly every corner backstage at the Kodak.

In one dressing room, where Oscar guests changed into their tuxedos, there were two distinctly different groups -- those who had firearms strapped across their chests and those who did not. The weapon-carrying people in black tie were undercover police officers, strapping young men with ear pieces.

For Horvitz, much of the earlier part of the day was spent in the control truck, staring at 21 monitors representing every television camera inside the Kodak Theatre. Behind him, a single monitor showed the bombings in Baghdad.

"Ready three. Go three. Ready nine. Go nine," Horvitz said, cuing each shot. U2 had just finished performing the nominated song "The Hands That Built America" from "Gangs of New York." But that wasn't the only part of the ceremony Horvitz and Cates had to work on in the final rehearsal before Sunday's show.

ABC called to inform award organizers that it wanted an additional 30 seconds and possibly more for a news update that would run in the middle of the broadcast, as well as a two-minute segment to deliver the latest war information to Oscar viewers. "Guys, it looks like we're going to add another ABC news break," Cates told the nine people squeezed into the broadcast control truck.

Inside the truck, the mood was intense -- focused but light-hearted. The show's staff quickly figured out where to place both updates, and looked for spots to trim the show so that it didn't run past its promised 3 1/2-hour length. (It exceed that mark only by about five minutes.)

Nevertheless, the preoccupation of nearly everybody backstage shifted from air strikes to air kisses. Televisions that on Sunday morning had been tuned to CNN later were tuned to NCAA basketball games. In the greenroom, a small holding tank for presenters and winners, caterers set out Fiji water, red corn tortilla chips and chocolate torte.

Mindful that there could very well be last-minute changes to both the Oscar broadcast and the news updates, Cates had in front of him the seat assignment inside the theater for Alex Wallau, president of ABC Networks, and his mobile phone number.

But for these 3 1/2 hours, he didn't need them.


Monday, March 24, 2003

BDtH top of the box office for third week


'BRINGING Down the House" led the box office for the third straight weekend, but the overall numbers dropped significantly during the first weekend of the war in Iraq.
The top 12 films grossed $83.9 million - a 29 percent drop from a year ago.

"I think the war has impacted people's desire to go out to the movies. I think people were at home with their families, they were watching the news and not a lot of movies did a lot of business," said Rick Sands, chief operating officer of Miramax, which released "View from the Top," a slapstick airline comedy starring Gwyneth Paltrow that debuted at No. 4.

But Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations, said the weekend's drop-off from a year ago may have more to do with the films that were out than with the war. A year ago, "Blade 2" had a $32.5 million debut and "Ice Age" was in its second weekend.

"We can only guess, but I just think that this weekend turned out pretty much like we expected and any impact the war had is negligible," Dergarabedian said.

Benefiting from strong word of mouth, "Bringing Down the House," a comedy starring Steve Martin as an uptight lawyer and Queen Latifah as an escaped convict, became the first film this year to stay No. 1 three weekends in a row and is on track to cross $100 million within weeks. It presented tough competition for the weekend's new films, Dergarabedian said.

"It's doing incredibly well," he said. "The two newcomers that were comedies really got hurt."

The film also likely pulled audiences from the Stephen King adaptation "Dreamcatcher," which tells the story of four longtime friends (Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Timothy Olyphant and Damian Lewis) who communicate telepathically.

Last night's Oscars should boost sales for the winning films, and three big new openings could mean strong box office next weekend. The comedy "Head of State," starring Chris Rock and Bernie Mac, opens against the sci-fi thriller "The Core" and "Basic," John Travolta's military thriller.- AP


A recap of Steve's performance at the Oscars
Sunday, March 23, 2003
Yahoo News
Steve Martin Opens Oscars on an Ironic Note
2 hours, 47 minutes ago

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Steve Martin kicked off the 75th anniversary edition of the Academy Awards (news - web sites) on Sunday, poking fun at many of the stars in attendance and jokingly confessing that he had "licked all the Oscars (news - web sites)," but for the most part avoiding the topic of the war in Iraq (news - web sites).

Making his second appearance as host of the Oscars, the white-haired comedian opened the show with only an oblique reference to the war that has overshadowed pre-Oscar events in Hollywood and prompted organizers to tone down the usual razzle-dazzle of the awards show.

Walking on to the gilded stage at the top of the telecast, Martin looked around and said, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, "Well, I'm glad they cut back on all the glitz. You probably noticed there was no fancy red carpet tonight. That'll send 'em a message."

Proceeding in a monologue studded with jabs at showbiz pomp and celebrity, he added, "By the way, the proceeds from tonight's Oscar telecast, and I think this is great, will be divvied up among huge corporations."

Martin turned his trademark sardonic wit on a number of the Oscar nominees, joking at one point, "Tonight, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep made Oscar history backstage, and it wasn't pretty."

He added: "It was a big year for Jack, He also got in a hot tub with Kathy Bates. But hey, who hasn't?"

Both Nicholson, nominated as best actor for "About Schmidt," and Bates, as best supporting actress in the same film, looked shocked and then laughed at the ribbing.

Of Nicole Kidman, who famously wore a prosthetic nose in her Oscar-nominated portrayal of British writer Virginia Woolf in "The Hours, Martin delivered the obviously bogus revelation that she "has worn a fake nose in every movie she's ever made, except 'The Hours.' Looking good, Nicole."

Turning to last year's best actress winner, Halle Berry, sitting in the front row, Martin said, "Halle Berry is here, and notice I'm standing exactly 22 feet from her, in compliance with the court order."

Then, poking at himself, Martin, who first hosted the Academy Awards in 2001, said, "I've just realized that hosting the Oscars for the second time is like making love to a woman for the second time -- I guess."

And in a reference to the aggressive pre-Oscar campaigning by Miramax Films and its hit musical "Chicago," which earned 13 Oscar nominations, Martin said, "Now here's what they did, and you tell me if its fair. They made a really good movie that everybody likes."

Paying tribute to veteran star Mickey Rooney, who was in the audience, Martin said: "At one point Mickey Rooney was the biggest box office star in all the 38 states."
As Rooney stood up at his seat in the balcony and blew kisses to the audience, Martin shouted to him, "I'm sorry we couldn't get you a better seat, but Vin Diesel is here."

Martin rounded out his monologue with a faux tribute to movie stars, set to stirring music: "Movie stars are many things, they can be tall, short, thin or skinny. They can be Democrats or ... skinny. ... We worship them, we idolize them, sometimes we're annoyed with them, like when they shoot their wives.

"Movie stars crave publicity but have the decency not to publicize that they have slept with me," he continued, as shots of a number of stars flashed on the screen -- Kidman, Berry, Julianne Moore, Renee Zellweger, Diane Lane, Julie Andrews, Ted Danson, the cartoon character Stitch and Ernest Borgnine."

Wrapping up, Martin said, "there are no losers tonight, but we're about to change all that."

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Dave Barry on working with Steve in writing the Oscar monologue and jokes
Posted on Sun, Mar. 23, 2003

Joking around with Oscar and Steve

About six months ago, I got an e-mail. Here's what it said:

Hi Dave, it's Steve Martin.

I'm hosting the Oscars this year and am trying to put together a team of geniuses to help me write it. Here's my question: do you know any? HA! I'm wondering if the idea appeals to you at all. You, me, Rita Rudner and a few others. Best Oscar monologue ever. California. Tickets to the show. Fame.

I know you won't do it, so go (bad word) yourself.


Needless to say, I was excited. I've been a big Steve Martin fan since he had an arrow through his head. To have him ask me to work with him was an honor.

On the other hand, I worried that I'd embarrass myself. I've never tried to write jokes for somebody else, and I knew the other writers on Martin's team would be show-biz pros. So I showed the e-mail to my wife, and told her about my concerns. She told me to think about it carefully, and make whatever decision I truly thought I would be comfortable with, as long as that decision was yes, because if I turned down a chance for us to go to the Academy Awards, she would kill me with a machete.

That was all the encouragement I needed. I e-mailed Martin that I'd do it. My exact words were: ``The Oscars? (Bad word) YES.''

Even though the first meeting of the writers was two months away, I immediately started trying to think up Academy Awards jokes that would be good enough for Martin to deliver to an audience of extremely famous movie stars, plus something like one billion TV viewers. It was intimidating, but within a few weeks, I had: no jokes. I didn't even have any funny-sounding words that might eventually be assembled into jokes. I had zero.

My wife, meanwhile, was making substantial progress. Within a few days, she had a new dress and a matching purse, and was actively pursuing earrings. She also had ordered a pair of shoes that cost roughly the same as a year in medical school. There was to be no turning back.

In November, I went to California for the first meeting of the writers, in a Beverly Hills hotel. We sat at a round table in a conference room. Martin was to my immediate left, taking notes on his laptop computer as the other writers tossed out idea after idea. This group process was unfamiliar and intimidating to me; I've always written alone. I tried to have an idea, but my brain had frozen into a cold, hard mass of lifeless tissue. For about an hour, the only coherent thought it could form was: I'm sitting right next to Steve Martin!


But gradually my brain began to thaw, as I realized a surprising thing: These people were all remarkably generous. I'd assumed that they'd be competitive -- lobbying for their own jokes, maybe even criticizing other people's. But it wasn't like that at all. In fact, it was the opposite: If somebody came up with something good, the laughter around the table was instant and genuine; if somebody came up with a joke that needed help, everyone tried to think of ways to improve it.

Many jokes mutated through a number of forms, with various people coming up with various elements, until eventually there was no way to tell whose joke it was. This is the way it works in Hollywood; almost everything is collaborative. All of these people had spent many hours sitting in writer-filled rooms just like this, dreaming up stuff.

As I became comfortable with the process, I also got to know, and become friends with, the other writers, my collaborators. In alphabetical order, they were:

• Beth Armogida, an awards-show veteran who writes jokes for Jay Leno and for two seasons wrote for Drew Carey on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

• Dave Boone, the head writer for Hollywood Squares and a collaborator on four previous Academy Award shows, creating material for Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg.

• Andy Breckman, who has worked for Dave Letterman and Saturday Night Live; wrote a bunch of movies (including Rat Race and Sgt. Bilko); created the TV show Monk; and is insane (I mean this in a good way).

• Jon Macks, an Academy Awards veteran and a staff writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and who is nicknamed the ''Machine'' because he is so prolific. This is a guy who, as far as I can tell, thinks entirely in jokes. If Jon were sentenced to die on the guillotine, he'd fire off three jokes while the blade was coming down and at least two of them would be really good.

• Rita Rudner, the very funny standup comic lady and TV host, who also turns out to be a sweet person.

• Robert Shapiro, our dryly amusing liaison to the Academy Awards, who kept us updated on which stars were coming, which stars were not coming and which stars were actually deceased.

• Bruce Vilanch, actor, comedian, Hollywood Squares fixture, big hairy funny guy and award-winning writer who has worked on every Academy Awards show since 1989 and knows all the dirt on everybody who has ever been anybody in Hollywood (we are talking about a lot of dirt).

By the second meeting, we were comfortable with each other and with the way Martin liked to work. There was a clear pattern to the way he reacted to ideas. When somebody tossed out a joke, Martin would, most of the time, nod and say, ''Ya, ya, ya.'' This meant: ''no.'' He almost never actually said no, because he's a genuinely nice guy, and he wanted to let the joke-tosser know he appreciated the effort. But ''ya'' definitely meant no.

When Martin liked an idea enough to at least consider using it, you could tell because he typed it into his computer. The taptaptap of his keyboard was kind of like applause. If he really liked the joke, he'd perform it, trying different wordings and deliveries; sometimes he'd even stand up to do this, giving it the full standup-comedian treatment. And if it was your idea, you'd think -- at least I did -- Steve Martin is performing MY joke.

The most interesting part for me was listening to the group work on a joke that wasn't quite right, trying to figure out why, using a kind of shorthand developed from countless hours of making humor for a living. Like, Macks would toss out a joke (he does this every 30 seconds, awake or asleep) and Martin would go, ''Ya, ya, ya,'' meaning ''no.'' And Macks would go, ''Too roast-y?'' And Martin would go, ''Yeah, too ba-dump-BUMP.'' With that cleared up, it was on to the next joke.


We met eight times over the course of three months. Most of the meetings were in the living room of Martin's home, a fine place to sit and laugh. In addition to the writers, these meetings were attended by Martin's Labrador retriever, Roger, whose contribution to the process was to periodically emit eye-watering blasts of flatulence. We'd be sitting around, tossing out jokes, and suddenly, WHOA, the air would turn green. When this happened, Martin would give Roger a stern lecture.

''Roger,'' he'd say, ``do you want me to do to you what I did to the cat?''

Roger would cower and look guilty, to indicate that he was sorry and would never do it again. But he always forgot.

Some of our jokes stunk, too. But I thought a lot of them were pretty funny. Of course some of these couldn't be used in the show, because they were too insider-y, or too vicious, or too obscene (defined as ``very funny''). We also had to steer clear of certain topics, the most obvious one being the looming war. Since we had no way to know what the news would be on the night of the show, Martin decided early on -- correctly, I think -- that although he'd probably have to acknowledge breaking news, he'd focus his monologue on the movie industry, which is, at least theoretically, the subject of the Academy Awards.

In the end, Martin took the mass of jokes, winnowed it down to the ones he liked and thought would work well together, and shaped these into his monologue. In the process, a lot of jokes got cut, including a few I'd grown attached to. My personal favorite -- I lobbied for it at every meeting -- was one Breckman came up with one day while we were going over a list of the movies that came out last year.

''Halloween 8 came out,'' Breckman said. ``I thought it was the best Halloween ever. It made Halloween 7 look like Halloween 5.''

For some reason, I love that joke. But you won't hear it on the show tonight. In fact, I don't know exactly what you will hear: Martin continued working on his monologue right up to the end.

But whatever you hear, I hope you'll be entertained. I don't presume to speak for the Academy Awards, but I believe the general feeling of the people involved in putting on the show is this: We know you have more important things -- MUCH more important things -- on your mind right now. We know that, in the context of world events, it makes absolutely no difference who wins these weird little statuettes. We just hope that -- if you feel up to it -- you'll enjoy this brief and harmless diversion from real life.

OK, maybe not ''brief.'' But however long it runs, we hope you like it. We especially hope you like the jokes.

And if you hear any jokes you don't like, those were Roger's.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Alas. BDtH loses best trailer award.

how awful. About Schmidt won. i bet they were bribed.

Hey, Academy! Take some new pics

although this is the 75th anniversary of the oscars, the academy has not seen fit to make any new publicity shots of steve as host. fortunately for them, he looked really good in 2001 and can be recycled. for those of you who maybe missed the old ones, here's a goody

personally, i think he should be on that pedestal naked except for a loincloth and a sword. but i only think that because it would be the true oscar pose. no other reason. really.

Steve's New Yorker article

provided by R.L. who likes to remain initialled

Iraq: An Actor’s View

My intelligence has told me that if Iraq violates the 180th parallel or intrudes even weaponically across the Kuwaiti border north of the mountain city of Kundalini, the Kurdish opposition could smash any transgression south of the floodplains, or at least the area above the floodplains, or, in case there are no floods, that sort of grassy area in the hills. Well, really it’s not so grassy, according to my intelligence.

However, I have inferred from my travel brochures that a few well-armed men could sneak in from northern Turkey and capture the city of, uh, one of the smaller cities, or possibly go through Islamatown (I know the actual name of the city is Islamabad, but I don’t like the implication). We could then negotiate with the Tanjekestan footmen and bring about a peaceful settlement, if and only if North Korea decides to switch completely from direct current to alternating current.

See, if we could just get Saddam and the President in a room together and have them watch, say, “Singing’ in the Rain,” I don’t think we’d have much of a problem. Because the nature of the movie is to celebrate joy and fun and silliness. So how could two men, even those who have vast ideological differences, such as when and how much to bomb the living daylights out of each other, hate one another after seeing “Singin’ in the Rain”? Since “Singin’ in the Rain” is an American movie, I think that, for the sake of balance, it should be followed by a live performance of Saddam’s romantic play, “Your Eyes Don’t Make Me Want to Spit in No Camel’s Face.” I have seen “Your Eyes Don’t Make Me Want to Spit in No Camel’s Face,” though, and I have to say it did not induce heavy mitting from the audience. It’s also nine hours long’ President Bush would just have to tolerate this.

Another plan I’ve been thinking about is to kidnap Saddam and a few other Al Qaeda higher-ups and bring them to Los Angeles. Here they could be given a rental car and set free in the residential areas of the city. They would soon experience the friendly “you go first” traffic wave, and would be so seduced by it that they would want to live here. Or at least they would begin to understand that we Americans are really a bunch of friendly people who just want to let the other guy go first, and then, a minute later, pass him by flooring it in the right-turn lane while flipping him the bird. If Saddam decided to relocate here, we could give him a suburban block in the Valley to control as a sop.

My intelligence sources have also told me that Saddam is sitting on a big pile of Botox. Fine.

Obviously, Saddam is in hiding. If you were living underground with very little access to the outside, wouldn’t it be great to meet the cast of “Everybody Loves Raymond”? Of course it would. Saddam would welcome the cast of “Everybody Loves Raymond” with open arms. Then—blewie! The cast of “Everybody Loves Raymond” would forever live in our memory as great American heroes.

I am of the opinion, based on the above, that we should not invade Iraq at this time. I believe we should get Iraq to invest in a movie. Saddam would then be distracted by obsessing over why the critics just didn’t get it, while losing his oil fields to creative accounting.

Note to Saddam’s makeup man: swarthy is out. I suggest a lighter base with a hint of blush. Dot on some lip gloss for a sunny tint.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Steve in the New Yorker again

a little bird told me that Steve has a piece in the new New Yorker about Iraq. it's true and i'm going to find it. then i'll share.

Newsday (New York, NY)
March 20, 2003 Thursday
NEWS, Pg. A14
Walters Is Off, Rivers Is On

Barbara Walters is stepping away from the Oscars, but Joan Rivers is not.

ABC yesterday postponed Walters' annual Oscars interview special - which was set to feature nominees Nicolas Cage, Renee Zellweger and Julianne Moore - because of the confrontation with Iraq. There was a chance Walters' special would be pre-empted for news coverage anyway.

The same possibility still exists for the Academy Awards ceremony on ABC. Organizers have promised the show will go on, but have canceled the splashy red carpet arrivals at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood for fear that would set an inappropriate tone.

That would seem disastrous for the E! entertainment network, whose eight hours of pre-Oscar coverage is centered on comments about stars' wardrobes by Rivers and her daughter, Melissa.

Rivers' show this year may focus less on fashion and interviews and more on Oscar predictions, but E! isn't abandoning it, said Mark Sonnenberg, the cable channel's entertainment chief.

"For a lot of people, there's a comfort there - if Joan is on the red carpet, it's OK," he said yesterday.

Rivers will display an appropriate tone, Sonnenberg said. "She's a professional," he said.

The Oscar preshow coverage traditionally helps E! score its highest ratings of the year.

The ceremony, from host Steve Martin's monologue to the celebrity presentations and film clip montages, is also changed to reflect the nation's mood. Telecast producer Gil Cates refused to cite specifics on how the ceremony would address the impending conflict.

There's a compliment for Steve buried in here

The New York Times
March 21, 2003, Friday, Late Edition - Final
Section E; Part 1; Page 1; Column 1; Movies, Performing Arts/Weekend Desk
With Eye on the War, Oscar Plans Proceed

The beginning of the war against Iraq has left officials at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences quietly nervous but publicly optimistic about whether the 75th Annual Academy Awards will proceed as planned on Sunday night.

The official word from academy headquarters today was that Sunday's show would go on as scheduled at 8:30 p.m., Eastern time, in the Kodak Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. But time still remains for it to be postponed should wider attacks involving American soldiers occur.

"Everything we say is set on sand at this moment," said Kevin Brockman, senior vice president for entertainment communications at ABC, the network that is to broadcast the ceremonies. "We are really attempting to remain fluid."

Like many others, ABC and the academy were caught by surprise by the pace of the war's opening salvos. "All of our intelligence was wrong," Mr. Brockman said. "Everything we thought we knew, we don't know."

Academy officials said they could comfortably make a decision as late as Friday evening to postpone the event, which is expected to draw more than 3,500 people from around the world. And Mr. Brockman said that in an emergency the decision to postpone could be made as late as the day of the show, just as it was for the 2001 Emmy Awards after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

While it is theoretically possible for the Oscars to proceed without being broadcast on ABC, that is not likely to happen, Mr. Brockman said. "I think a decision will be made one way or the other," he said.

In the end, that decision may hinge on the reaction of some of the telecast's biggest sponsors, including General Motors, J. C. Penney and Pepsi. Because of the popularity of the Oscar show, ABC was able to fill up its advertising slots very quickly and with a contract that guarantees the advertisers no minimum audience. So theoretically, the advertisers are locked in.

"Here you have this sort of remarkable moment where you have big advertisers who are very key supporters of the network," said Seth Siegel, chairman of the licensing division of the Beanstalk Group, a global trademark licensing agency. "If they say they're furious and they want out, who is going to tell them they can't get out at a moment like this?"

Eastman Kodak, a longtime Oscar advertiser, said that the company had reviewed its advertisements for this year and believed they were still appropriate. Glenn Mathison, a spokesman for the Charles Schwab investment agency, said that the company had a standing order to pull all of its television advertising for seven days after the war's start but that it would proceed with its Oscar commercials.

MasterCard says it is staying in, too, as are American Express, AOL Time Warner and Washington Mutual. Yahoo hopes to introduce a new Internet personals-ad service during the Academy Awards. "It's sweet, it's charming, you'll smile, maybe you'll laugh," said Terry Semel, the company's chief executive.

Pepsi-Cola, however, "is developing plans for what would be appropriate" during the Oscars, and its ultimate decision will depend on what is happening in Iraq on Sunday, said Bart Casabona, a company spokesman.

As of today, though, none of the major advertisers had pulled out, network officials said. If they do, a new calculus may be needed.

"At that point, I predict ABC would say it's inappropriate for us to be on the air at this moment, so we're going to delay the show in respect both to our advertisers and to the desire to be united as a nation," Mr. Siegel said.

Toning Things Down

Already the academy's decision to tone down the celebrity hoopla surrounding the awards, including canceling the red-carpet arrival of the stars, has reverberated through many of the Oscar-related events that are scheduled around Hollywood during the movie industry's most important weekend of the year.

Miramax Films, whose 40 Oscar nominations, including 13 for the front-runner, "Chicago," make it the dominant player this weekend, has always had a night-before party at which stars from its nominated films appear in satirical skits, and then a second party on the night of the ceremonies. As of this morning, the parties were to go on as scheduled, but without the skits.

"At the moment, the plan is for everything to go on but be more subdued," said Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax.

The annual Oscar night party given by Vanity Fair magazine at Morton's Restaurant in West Hollywood, traditionally the weekend's biggest celebrity magnet, is also to continue as planned, but without a red-carpet arrival area or access for cameras and interviewers. Paramount Pictures, whose film "The Hours" has nine nominations, will have its after-Oscars party as planned at the Pacific Design Center, a block east of Morton's.

The weekend's other major awards event is Saturday afternoon's Independent Spirit Awards, given to achievement in smaller, less mainstream films by the Independent Film Project/West. Many of the major Oscar nominees, like Julianne Moore and John C. Reilly, are also up for Spirit Awards. The event, under a sprawling tent at the beach in Santa Monica, will proceed and include a red-carpet arrival area -- perhaps the only red carpet in Hollywood this weekend.

"The Spirit Awards have always been a place where artists come together and speak their minds," said Dawn Hudson, the group's executive director. "It is our hope that Saturday's ceremonies will provide both this type of forum as well as focus on independent film."

The producers of the Oscar telecast said they had been heartened by the assurances from almost all of the nominees and celebrity presenters that they will attend Sunday night's event.

These include, they said, some of the movie industry's most outspoken opponents of the war, like Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore and Ben Affleck. Many of them are expected to register their disapproval by wearing antiwar pins, in the shape of a dove or a peace symbol, or swatches of duct tape.

At least one nominee, Aki Kaurismaki, a Finnish director whose "Man Without a Past" is up for best foreign-language film, has said that he will stay away from the ceremonies in protest against the war.

And Will Smith, who was to be a presenter this year, has pulled out of the show.

"He felt uncomfortable in attending and respectfully asked to be excused," said his publicist, Stan Rosenfield. "There's no agenda, there's no speeches. He just felt uncomfortable in attending."

Suspense Over Speeches

Oscar producers were reporting no other major defections from the show as of this morning. Of more concern to them was whether any of the celebrities would take advantage of the global television audience on Sunday night to make a political statement about the war.

Gil Cates, the show's producer, said that the presenters had been given scripts and would be expected to stick to them but that the winners would be free to say anything. "It's their 45 seconds," Mr. Cates said.

The uncertainty about who will speak out, and how strongly, could well add to the pleasure of watching the show, said Peter Bart, editor of Variety.

"It will add another element of suspense, in a way," he said. "And they really lucked out in having Steve Martin as the host this year. He's shown himself to be brilliant at coming up with the right tone and the right note of wit for the right moment, and that's really going to be needed this year."
Bruce Vilanch, the show's longtime chief writer, said he hoped the winners would keep their political views to themselves. But, he added, he understands that the temptation may prove too great for some. "We'll have to play it by the seat of our pants, since we don't know what's going to happen," he said.

Stephen Daldry, a nominee for his direction of "The Hours," has said that he will most certainly make an antiwar statement if he wins, although he is widely considered a long shot in that category.

Security Concerns

When Oscar organizers announced on Wednesday that they would dismantle the red-carpet arrival area outside the Kodak Theater, a frenzy of logistical reorganization began that was continuing today. The 500 fans who had earmarked seats in the now-dismantled bleachers will be given another place to watch the evening's events.

But without celebrities pirouetting down the red carpet, there will be nothing to chronicle for the 500 television and print journalists who had received credentials for spaces along the arrival line. Under the new plan, the celebrities will leave their limousines at the curb and go directly into the theater, although there were hopes that some sort of pool arrangement could be set up to get shots of the arrivals. Questions, however, will not be allowed.

Cameras will also be excluded from the Governor's Ball, the academy's own post-awards event in a ballroom adjacent to the Kodak Theater. But the backstage photo and interview areas at the ceremonies will be available as usual.

Security, meanwhile, will be even tighter than it was last year, when all of those attending had to submit to searches and pass through metal detectors while hundreds of police officers monitored a security perimeter of several blocks around the site. The biggest difference this year will be a new network of closed-circuit cameras covering all of the streets around the Kodak Theater and every entrance point. No one will be able to get into the building without being seen, the police said.

Propriety -- not security -- was the reason that academy officials gave for closing down the red carpet. Too many celebrities, Mr. Cates said, had called to ask if they could enter the building through the back door, saying that they felt it was inappropriate to stress the event's glamour or party aspects during a time of war.

This is not the first time that the academy has responded to a national crisis in this way. In its first decades, the Academy Awards were held at a formal banquet in Hollywood. But in 1942, as the United States moved into World War II and rationing became a fact of life for ordinary citizens, many stars and studio executives felt it would be unseemly for bejeweled Hollywood royalty to be seen stuffing themselves and drinking Champagne. So the ceremonies were moved into an auditorium, where they have remained ever since.

This same sense of propriety will extend to the content of this year's show, with writers working up until showtime composing new material for Mr. Martin and some fresh introductions for the presenters. Since this is the academy's 75th anniversary, much of the show had already been reserved to vintage film clips and sequences from past Oscar shows.

For the 75th Time


Who won?

Daily News, Los Angeles, Calif.
March 14, 2003, Friday
Film Industry to Honor Best Movie Trailers
By Greg Hernandez

A sleepy and disheveled Queen Latifah gives Steve Martin a strategic kick in the theatrical trailer for the smash comedy "Bringing Down the House." That is one of several hilarious bits that whetted the appetites of moviegoers who turned out in droves to see the nation's current No. 1 film.

"The trailer was great," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations Co. "People were quoting lines from that trailer right off the bat. The trailer just really captured the audience and got the buzz going."

"House" features the unlikely pairing of Martin as a straight-laced lawyer who meets a woman (Latifah) on the Internet who happens to be in prison and gets out to wreak havoc in his life. The film's trailer was among the nominees for Thursday night's fourth annual Golden Trailer Awards, a program devoted to these feature film previews -- each about two minutes -- that experts say can either jump-start a film's box office run or contribute to it being DOA.

"The best trailers don't tell you every plot twist, but you get to the end and you know whether you will laugh or cry and if you want to have that experience," said Steve Stockman, president of Santa Monica-based Custom Productions. "In truth, the stories in movies aren't all that different, but consumers purchase the experience of how the story is told. The idea of putting two completely opposite people together and having them become friends ... is a story that has been in movies for 80 years."

"House," released by Disney's Touchstone Pictures, enjoyed the third-largest March opening in history with a gross of $ 31.1 million, a figure far beyond even the most optimistic studio and industry expectations.

Chuck Viane, president of Disney's Buena Vista Distribution, said the trailer for "House" is among the handful of standout trailers each year that connect on every level with a widespread audience.

"Trailers are probably the key to all movies," Viane said. "This one creatively allowed our marketing people to show the connection that (director) Adam Shankman made with the actors. Nothing was forced, and everything was this wonderful ebb and flow of comedy."

Evelyn Brady, executive producer of the Golden Trailer Awards, said the past 10 years have seen an evolution in movie trailers from a random batch of movie scenes to a more creatively told minifeature.

"People talk about movie trailers. They are part of our culture now," Brady said. "They are now more of an artfully told story that is weaved together, leaving out the third act."

The "Bringing Down the House" trailer was among the best comedy nominees Thursday, competing against the previews for "About Schmidt," "Adaptation," "Daddy Day Care" and "Undercover Brother."

High-profile nominees in other categories include trailers from such blockbusters as "Daredevil," "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." In the best dramatic category, trailers are competing from Academy Award-nominated films "The Hours," "Gangs of New York" and "The Pianist."

The trailer for Universal Films' "8 Mile" is up for awards in the categories of most original trailer and best music trailer. The trailer for rapper Eminem's film debut connected with audiences as the movie grossed $ 51.2 million during its opening weekend on its way to a domestic gross of $ 116.7 million.

The "8 Mile" trailer was produced by mOcean, a Venice-based company.

Producer Brian Hamryck and creative director Nichael McIntyre had to weigh how to show Eminem's humanity with the rougher edges of the film.

"Universal came in knowing they had the core audience of Eminem pretty much locked in," said McIntyre. "The concern they had was attracting a broader range of people. The movie definitely had the goods, but it was a question of how do you show a movie about Eminem to appeal to his base audience and not make it threatening to the rest of the population."

Industry experts said one universal rule of trailers is that, to generate the positive word of mouth that can create an unexpected hit, they must reflect the goods the film will deliver.

"They have to match the movie because if you go to the movie and find that it's nothing like the experience sold in the trailer, you are going to be angry," Stockman said. "That's how you get bad word of mouth for a film."


Steve's place in Oscar history

The Daily News of Los Angeles
March 16, 2003 Sunday, Valley Edition
Section U; Pg. U5
BY Valerie Kuklenski

Will Rogers, 1934: Not the first host, but the first to see the potential for humor in the formal affair. "This looks a lot like the last roundup of the ermine," he said.

George Jessel, 1937: He made the mistake of bypassing presenter Bette Davis and handed Luise Rainer her best actress award himself.

Bob Hope, 1940-43, 1945, 1953, 1955, 1958-62, 1965-68, 1970 (as one of the "friends of Oscar" gang), 1975, 1978: The NBC radio star hosted the 1940 ceremonies, when "Gone With the Wind" was the big winner, as expected. "What a wonderful thing, this benefit for David Selznick," Hope said. In 1967, he sized up the show as "this farcical charade of vulgar egotism and pomposity."

Jack Benny, 1944, 1947: "It seems to me that to get a nomination a picture must have no laughs," Benny deadpanned. "And they tell me I've come pretty close to that a few times already."

Fred Astaire, 1951: The song-and-dance man beseeched winners to be brief, recalling the year "a girl took the Beverly Hills phone book up with her."

Danny Kaye, 1952: Continuing on that theme, Kaye told guests: "The academy asks that your speech be no longer than the movie itself."

Donald O'Connor, 1954: The comic sidekick seemed to be out of his element in the lead position, so he got down to business: "On with the reading of the will."

Jerry Lewis, 1956-57, 1959: He told the audience he was tapped to emcee when the academy was unable to locate Hope. "He was at home."

Frank Sinatra, 1963, 1975: "The greatest pizza maker in the world - Miss Sophia Loren." You can take the boy out of Hoboken, but ...

Jack Lemmon, 1964, 1972, 1985: A past co-host, he raised a couple of brows in 1964 by introducing Julie Andrews as "My Fair Lady," even though Audrey Hepburn had already finished filming the movie version.

Clint Eastwood, 1973: Tapped last minute to co-host in place of Charlton Heston, he won big laughs for sticking to the script, including Moses jokes.

David Niven, 1974: He did his duty and was rewarded with a streaker.

Richard Pryor, 1977, 1983: "I'm here to explain why black people will never be nominated for anything," he said.

Johnny Carson, 1979-82, 1984: The first nonmovie star to host, he called the ceremony "two hours of sparkling entertainment spread over a four-hour show."

Robin Williams, 1986: In a co-hosting stint, Jane Fonda and Alan Alda gave greetings to viewers around the world while Williams "translated."

Chevy Chase, 1987-88: In 1988, he told viewers that Cher "has decided against the wardrobe of just the dress shields and odor eaters and is going for the full body covering."

Billy Crystal, 1990-93, 1997-98, 2000: A year after the no-hosted 1989 show opened with a disastrous Snow White-Rob Lowe duet, Crystal redeemed the ceremony's image with his first best-picture medley and his quick responses to turns of events in the show.

Whoopi Goldberg, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2002: "So they went and gave me a live microphone for three hours...," she said, hinting that the audience and the academy should expect the unexpected from her.

David Letterman, 1995: "Oprah ... Uma. Uma ... Oprah." He hasn't been invited back.

Steve Martin, 2001, 2003: In his first outing, he brought a subdued wit (and, unfortunately, lower-than-usual ratings) to the ceremony while trying to keep things moving. "Please hold your applause," he said, "until it's for me."

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