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Judge Michael Rankins's Blog

Judge Michael Rankins • Location: Rohnert Park, CA
• Member since: April 2002
• 152 full reviews
• 3 small claims

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Oscar and his friends
January 31st, 2006 9:09AM

No real excitement in the Academy Award nominations released this morning. Most of the names on the list we've already seen nominated at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild awards.

A few observations:

I'm sure some people will be shocked that Keira Knightley was tabbed for Actress in a Leading Role for Pride and Prejudice, but there's genuine talent behind that preternaturally lovely face. She won't win, but this probably won't be her last shot at an Oscar.

There are only three nominees for Original Song this year, but I'll be on the edge of my chair to see the production number they come up with for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from Hustle & Flow. I'm fairly certain this is the first Academy Award-nominated song about pimps. Doggone it, it's about time pimps get some love on Oscar night. I'm sure they've supplied plenty over the years.

I'm pleasantly surprised to see that Wally Pfister was nominated for Achievement in Cinematography for Batman Begins. That truly is a gorgeously photographed film.

That's an intriguing triad of films contending for the Animated Feature Film Oscar: Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, and Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Intriguing because we have traditional ink-and-paint animation (Howl) pitted against two stop-motion films (Bride and W&G). Not a single all-CGI picture in the bunch. Maybe there's still hope for the old-school styles of animation after all.

As tickled as I am to see George Lucas's latest bilgefest shut out of the Visual Effects prize, I'm stunned that Spielberg's War of the Worlds remake was nominated in that category. WotW was easily the worst big-budget film I saw this year, and frankly, I didn't find the special effects any more impressive than the rest of the movie.

We'll see how it all shakes out on Oscar night, March 5.

Golden Global warming
January 17th, 2006 1:17PM

About the Golden Globes: I managed to catch most of the significant moments. Here's what leapt out at me during the three-hour lovefest...

Not a great night for the Sutherlands: Three nominations, no statues. Dad Donald was up for two awards (Best Actor in a Mini-Series or Made-for-TV Movie for Human Trafficking; Best Supporting Actor in a TV Series for Commander in Chief); son Kiefer was nominated for the fourth time (he won in 2002) for Best Actor in a Drama Series. You could almost sense Kiefer thinking, "Why aren't you people watching 24? You're killing my ratings!"

Nice to see Geena Davis — an underrated actress — win for playing the first female POTUS in Commander in Chief. Man, she is one gigantic woman. (In a good way.)

Nice also to see Hugh Laurie win for House, an excellent show I'm only recently catching up with in reruns. His acceptance gag — choosing three allegedly random names from a fistful of slips of paper crammed into his pants pocket, so he didn't have to thank everyone involved with the show — was priceless.

More love for S. Epatha Merkerson, who already won an Emmy for her performance in Lackawanna Blues and now has a Golden Globe to match it. One of the least heralded talents in weekly television, getting some long-overdue recognition. You go, Lt. Van Buren.

I didn't see Jonathan Rhys-Meyers play Elvis, but he must have been incredible to beat out superlative actors like Kenneth Branagh (brilliant as FDR in Warm Springs) and Ed Harris (brilliant also in Empire Falls).

Since most of the nominated feature films aren't yet released on DVD, I haven't seen those, including Brokeback Mountain. But I did feel a flicker of vicarious vindication for Ang Lee, whose previous film, Hulk, was a ton better than most people (including most comics fans, which still leaves me scratching my head) acknowledged.

I'm always pleased to see genuine acting talents like Felicity Huffman get respect, so good on her for winning — not for her role in Desperate Housewives — but for her starring turn in the film Transamerica. Although... as was the case when Hilary Swank won big some years back for Boys Don't Cry, a woman winning praise for playing a transgendered role is getting a sort of backhanded compliment. After all, it takes certain physical and facial characteristics to even be considered to portray a preoperative transsexual. No one's inviting, say, Nicole Kidman or Halle Berry to play those parts. I hope that realization doesn't detract from the joy Ms. Huffman deserves to feel for her victory.

Then again, I find Felicity Huffman the most attractive woman on Desperate Housewives, so I'm not sure what that says about me. If anything.

Seeing the ever-stylish Denzel Washington stride onto the stage to hand out the final award of the evening, I thought, in the immortal words of Johnny Bravo, "You're a good-lookin' sack o' man, brother."

What's Up With That Dress? Award: Charlize Theron. Did someone just wrap her in black gauze and shove her out of the limo?

What's Up With That Suit? Award: Harold Perrineau. You'll get our first call when we cast the remake of Superfly, Harold.

What Time Is It? Award: Johnny Depp. Dude, did we wake you? Depp looked as though he just rolled out of bed and into the auditorium, without benefit of either a comb or coffee.

Giving New Meaning to the Term "Golden Globes": Drew Barrymore. Enough said.

Cancellation: It's not a good thing
November 14th, 2005 5:23PM

The Apprentice: Martha Stewart is going the way of all television series that no one wants to watch.

Producer Mark Burnett announced today that America's domestic goddess and jailhouse diva's turn as a Donald Trump wannabe will meet its end on December 21. No word on whether NBC's programming mogul Jeff Zucker sat Martha down and told her, "You just don't fit," or wrote her a sappy one-page kiss-off letter like the one Martha writes to deep-sixed contestants at the conclusion of each week's episode.

I still think the Apprentice format has expansion potential. Burnett's production team just needs to rope in celebrity executives better suited to the job than Martha Stewart has been. In case Burnett is listening, I have a few ideas in mind, along with each host's signature tagline in the mold of The Donald's "You're fired!"

* The Apprentice: Hugh Hefner: "Your Viagra prescription is canceled."

* The Apprentice: Michael Dell: "Dude, you're getting a pink slip."

* The Apprentice: Ron Popeil: "I'm going to set you and forget you."

* The Apprentice: George Zimmer: "You're going to like being unemployed. I guarantee it!"

* The Apprentice: Bill Gates: "Consider your hard drive erased."

* The Apprentice: James Dyson: "I just think things should work properly... and you don't."

* The Apprentice: Ozzy Osbourne: "Get the &#&@ out'a here, you $*@#&?*$@&+&!"

* The Apprentice: George W. Bush: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."

Imagine there's no talent
November 7th, 2005 10:51PM

Here's a peculiar little tidbit of Hollywood casting news:

Two upcoming independent films about the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and John Lennon both will star the same actress: Lindsay Lohan.

Of course. Who wouldn't have thought of that?

I know that, for my own part, when I consider the amazing social contributions of cultural icons like Bobby Kennedy and John Lennon, Lindsay Lohan is the first name that pops into my head.

Perhaps Hilary Duff couldn't fit either project into her busy schedule.

From the "For Pity's Sake, Let It Go" File
October 17th, 2005 5:06PM

Sylvester Stallone has signed a deal to write, direct, and star in a sixth Rocky movie. The storyline will involve "an aging, widowed Rocky who is reluctant to get back in the ring, but ends up doing it 'just to compete, not to win.'"

Please, Sly, for the love of all that's good and decent...

Just say no.

You are almost 60 years old, man. Yogi Berra was wrong. When it's over, it's over.

Rocket's red glare
October 17th, 2005 2:57PM

If you're much under 40, the name Charles Rocket probably doesn't mean much to you. In fact, if you're over 40, it probably doesn't mean much to you either.

All right, when it comes right down to it, unless either you're a bottomless pit of pop culture knowledge — which I, of course, am — or you knew the man personally — which I did not, I'm afraid — Charles Rocket may not even be a blip on your informational radar screen.

That is, unless you read the news today, and saw that Charles Rocket has committed suicide.

A quarter-century ago, Charles Rocket expended his 15 minutes of fame in a sunburst of profane glory when he dropped an F-bomb live on network television. At the time, Rocket was a member of the cast of NBC's after-hours hit, Saturday Night Live. But not just any member, and not just any cast. Charles Rocket received the double whammy from the fickle finger of television fate: He was the designated heir apparent to one of America's most beloved comedic actors — Chevy Chase, who had shot to stardom as the original anchor of SNL's mock newscast, Weekend Update — and he was one of those chosen to succeed perhaps the most legendary improvisational comedy troupe of all time — the original Not Ready for Prime Time Players, whose ranks included budding stars John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray (Chase's replacement in the cast, but not at the Weekend Update desk), Jane Curtin, and Gilda Radner.

When the five-year contracts of the SNL cast expired at the end of the 1979-80 season (Chase, who had only signed a one-year deal, had bolted four years previously), NBC brought in another collection of fresh-faced talents to repopulate the show. The early favorite as the breakout star of the group, Charles Rocket, possessed the same kind of all-American good looks and wry-bordering-on-smug comic delivery that had made Chevy Chase a household name, and which none of the other original cast members — incredible talents though they were — had quite been able to duplicate. Rocket was installed as the new Weekend Update anchor, replacing the tag team of Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin, who had made "Jane, you ignorant slut" a national catchphrase.

Talk about being set up for failure.

The problems were numerous. As the original cast departed, so had most of the show's premier comedy writing talent. Executive producer Lorne Michaels was shunted aside in favor of Jean Doumanian, whose prior screen credits numbered exactly zero. And most of the cast, with the exception of a brash young comic named Eddie Murphy, simply wasn't very funny. (Denny Dillon, anyone? Ann Risley? Gail Matthius? Or, Lord help us, Gilbert Gottfried?)

The critics were scathing. The ratings tanked. The audience abandoned ship. Advertisers and network executives fumed. Cast members felt clammy beads of flop sweat pooling upon their collective brow.

Then came the night when Charles Rocket, in the middle of a sketch spoofing the then-popular primetime soap opera Dallas, let slip the one Anglo-Saxonism you can never, ever say on the broadcast airwaves. It was never clear whether the faux pas was planned, or entirely accidental. But clearly, the frustration of unfulfilled expectations and mounting pressures had taken a hand.

Rocket wasn't asked back the following season. (I was going to say, "Rocket was fired," but it seemed inappropriate.) Neither were most of his castmates — Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo (no, I can't explain it, either), and Robin Duke being the notable exceptions.

Charles Rocket (whose real name, incidentally, was Charles Claverie) worked steadily in television after the SNL debacle, with recurring roles on Moonlighting and Touched by an Angel and guest shots on dozens of other series and low-budget films. But he never became the comedy superstar many thought he might.

I have no way of knowing what drove Charles Rocket to take his own life — the state of his career, family issues, personal problems, or some combination thereof. Maybe no one does.

But this I know: A person who commits suicide by overdosing on pills or slashing his or her wrists is crying out for help. A person who slits his own throat may well be beyond help.

As the man used to say at the conclusion of his Weekend Update stints: "I'm Charles Rocket. Good night, and watch out."

Wake me when the Emmys are over
September 19th, 2005 12:32PM

Ah, the Emmys.

Almost always, the Emmys are the biggest snoozefest among the major entertainment awards shows, lacking the high drama of the Oscars and the goofy dinner-party atmosphere of the Golden Globes. Perhaps because of their strict television orientation, the Emmys always seem to aim for a bland, lowest-common-denominator approach that will offend almost no one and bore practically everyone.

Emmy 2005 was no different.

The ennui began with host Ellen DeGeneres, who holds for me all the appeal of lukewarm rice pudding. Has there ever been a comedian as prominent in the industry as Ellen who was consistently less funny? Okay... Jerry Seinfeld. But other than that? Ellen's dorky, deer-in-headlights stage persona simply turns me off, and last night, her comedic inserts into the broadcast seemed especially forced and desperate.

Then came a roster of presenters that couldn’t have been more poorly chosen — uniformly lifeless and ill at ease. At the Academy Awards, the folks handing out the statues may be nervous, even clumsy, but at least they seem a little awestruck by the spectacle. At the Golden Globes, most of the presenters have tossed back a libation or three by the time the show starts, so they come off more loosey-goosey and natural. Last night's Emmy-passer-outers all looked as though they might break into the Pepto-Bismol dance at any moment.

And whose misbegotten idea was that "Emmy Idol" business, which kept interrupting the show with god-awful renditions of TV theme songs performed by people who either had no business singing on stage (is there anyone in America who enjoyed having their eardrums subjected to Donald Trump and Megan Mullaly croaking out "Green Acres"?) or were clearly embarrassed by their assigned material (Gary Dourdan from CSI duetting "Movin" On Up" from The Jeffersons with Macy Gray — a song that had to be pitched so low to accommodate Dourdan's baritone tessitura that it was barely recognizable)? Frederica von Stade is one of the world's premier opera singers, but she had to be cursing the agent who got her the gig warbling the theme from Star Trek as William Shatner leered at (and practically drooled on) her.

But the Emmycast offered a handful of cool moments, too. Fr'instance:

* Jon Stewart's crack about the writing staff of The Daily Show being "only 80 percent Ivy league-educated Jews." Easily the best joke of the night.

* The bolt of lightning that galvanized Felicity Huffman when she won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. She clearly thought one of her Desperate Housewives costars and conominees, Marcia Cross or Teri Hatcher, would get the nod. Huffman's an excellent actress who deserves more notice. She's also a striking woman-next-door standout among her overhyped glamour girl confederates on Housewives.

* S. Epatha Merkerson from Law & Order losing her speech notes down the front of her evening gown. Merkerson, who won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Movie or Miniseries for Lackawanna Blues, is another fine actress who rarely gets the attention her talent warrants. Maybe they'll give her more to do on L&O this season now that she's won an Emmy.

* James Spader repeating as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Has anyone ever before won back-to-back Emmys for playing the same character, but on two different series (The Practice and Boston Legal)? I doubt it. And for all his talent, is Spader the creepiest guy in Hollywood, or what? Give him another ten years, and he'll be a stocky Christopher Walken.

* The classy tributes to the late Johnny Carson (delivered by a surprisingly subdued David Letterman — did they load him up with Valium before he took the stage?) and the triumvirate of network news anchors who left their desks this year — Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather due to retirement, Peter Jennings due to his death from lung cancer.

* Knowing that Everybody Loves Raymond won't be around to win anything ever again.

Hey! Hey! Hey! Cybersquatting's not okay!
September 12th, 2005 5:26PM

The United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) today struck a blow in the name of trademark justice, awarding entertainer Bill Cosby the rights to the Internet domain fatalbert.org. Cybersquatter Sterling Davenport of Loretto, Tennessee, who had registered the domain, was found by a WIPO arbitrator to have "no rights or legitimate interests in the domain name." Davenport apparently used the fatalbert.org ID to divert traffic to a Web site selling adult paraphernalia.

Cosby introduced Fat Albert in his standup comedy routines in the early 1960s. The character later spawned a successful Saturday morning cartoon series and, more recently, a live-action feature film starring Kenan Thompson as the rotund one.

My favorite Fat Albert character was always Weird Harold. Not because the guy was all that interesting, but just because I like the sound of the name Weird Harold. The only Harold I ever knew was a kid in high school named Harold Rosenthal, who — now that I think about it — actually was a little weird. He used to call me "Reggie," allegedly because he thought I resembled baseball slugger Reggie Jackson. I don't, really, but if it pleased Harold to think so, it was okay with me.

I did, however, enjoy Reggie candy bars. Pitcher Ken Holtzman, a teammate of Jackson's with both the Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees, once observed that you didn't even have to eat a Reggie Bar to know whether it was tasty — when you unwrapped it, the Reggie Bar would tell you how good it was.

Where was I going with this post?

I forget.

Twenty-Five Movies Judge Rankins Would Want Along If He Were a Character on Lost
August 2nd, 2005 9:55PM

On my real-world blog, I was recently challenged to list my Five Best Movie Dramas and Five Best Movie Comedies. That anyone could pick the five "best" examples of any category of film is, in my not-so-humble opinion, presumptuous and silly. Even choosing only five favorites in each category is a stretch -- ask me on a dozen days and I'll give you a dozen different lists, depending upon (a) my mood, and (b) my memory that day.

So instead, I'll offer up these 25 films that I could watch again and again in perpetuity. Not necessarily my list of the "best" (whatever that means) 25 films ever made, but 25 I never tire of viewing repeatedly.

In alphabetical order:
The Abyss. 2001, only with water and soul.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and Big Trouble in Little China. I'm going to fudge and count these as one, because the latter was born from the ashes of the script for the sequel to the former ("Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League").

Blazing Saddles. Quite simply, the funniest movie I've ever seen.

Casablanca. We'll always have Paris.

Die Hard. Welcome to the party, pal -- the only action movie you'll ever need to see.

Double Indemnity. One of the three most seductive female villains in the history of the movies. You'll find the others in The Last Seduction and The Spanish Prisoner, two films that barely missed making this list.

Enter the Dragon. Lee... Bruce Lee. "It's like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all the heavenly glory." More wonderfully cheesy dialogue than you can shake the '70s at. John Saxon does kung fu. Jim Kelly does kung fro. And of course, tons o' Bruce dishing out the jeet kune do.

Fargo. Every time I watch this film, I'm more amazed at just how clever it is.

Heavy Metal. Call it adolescent nostalgia if you must, but I get the jones to watch this at least once a month, like clockwork.

L.A. Confidential. Incredible script, incredible acting, incredible atmosphere. The finest of the neo-noir pastiches, by a Los Angeles mile.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It's fair, I think, to consider this a single epic film in three parts.

Memento. Had a more profound first-viewing impact on me than any film since I first saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

A Mighty Wind. The funniest film since Blazing Saddles.

The Natural. If I can only pick one baseball movie, it's the legend of Roy Hobbs, by a whisker over Bull Durham and Field of Dreams.

Ocean's Eleven. "You're either in or out." Count me in. Just barely ahead of Soderbergh's Out of Sight, only because it's a little more fun.

Once Upon a Time in the West. Greatest. Western. Ever. Though I hate to leave Unforgiven off the list.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service. If I could only have one Bond, it would be this one. Lazenby aside, OHMSS is the best-made film in the series.

The Princess Bride. Perhaps the most perfect family film ever.

Princess Mononoke. Spirited Away is a more monumental cinematic achievement, but Mononoke is a wall-to-wall wonder, and again, more fun.

Psycho. Forty-five years later, horrormeisters are still playing catch-up.

Raiders of the Lost Ark. You can keep the two inferior sequels. The swordsman gag and Karen Allen's bottomless eyes would be worth the honor all by themselves.

Ronin. John Frankenheimer's last masterpiece, and maybe the last time De Niro acted as if he cared.

Streets of Fire. "Tom Cody. Pleased ta meet ya." Wins the Walter Hill spot ahead of 48 Hrs. and The Warriors. Sorry about the career these days, Walter. But you were a giant once.

Tremors. The quintessential monster movie. Whatever happened to Finn Carter, anyway?

The Usual Suspects. One of the cinema's most compelling mysteries, and one of its most amazing ensemble casts.

Jack's back...and Chloe, too
August 2nd, 2005 4:45PM

No surprise here, 24 fans: Kiefer Sutherland returns as our favorite ends-justify-the-means antiterrorist agent, Jack Bauer, in next season's skein of episodes, which begin airing in January.

A few of the other confirmed returning cast members are a little surprising, though. Carlos Bernard is back as Jack's right-hand man, Tony Almeida, even those Tony and his wife Michelle Dessler (played by the swoon-inducing Reiko Aylesworth) appeared to ride off into the sunset at the end of last season. Also back are Gregory Itzen as wishy-washy President Logan, and Mary Lynn Rajskub as Jack's dweeby tech geek, Chloe O'Brian.

I'm glad to see that last-mentioned cast update. Playing one of the goofiest, most off-putting characters on television, Rajskub has carved her own little niche in 24 that no other actor could appropriately fill. She's one of those rare actresses — Kathleen Wilhoite is another — who makes dorky seem almost cute. Almost.

Besides, I keep waiting for the season when Chloe and Jack hook up.

No, really.

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