Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Pia's Voyage, which never took off...

A dear, dear friend (who shall remain anonymous to protect his innocence) lent me this 'forgotten treasure' from 1988: "Voyage of the Rock Aliens" (dir. James Fargo, US, 1988, 95 mins.). It stars Pia Zadora and Ruth Gordon and others, who have disappeared into television guest stardom, it seems. It seems more like an excuse to promote the Pia Zadora/Jermain Jackson single "When the Rain Begins to Fall." The film never had a US release, short of straight to video. The dvd I watched was from the UK (PAL, no region). I found myself compelled to take notes.

Here they are. Unedited. (The titles in quotations are the musical numbers.)

An hour and 35 minutes?!! I'll NEVER make it!!!

Oh, this is... is... uh.. uh... ohmigod Pia Zadora and Jermain Jackson are singing to a hideously sound mixed track!!
It's barely even MTV material! Even at it's time.

Actually this opening number (When the Rain Begins to Fall) sort of reminds me of a bad Toto video.

(I'm just going to jot notes as this creeps along...)

Pia's white boyfriend is sorta hot. In that '80s way.
Ooooo... they're fighting! Very choreographically. Almost "West Side Story."
This is the first time I've ever really appreciated sound mixing. The song in the background and the fighting foreground, though Pia and Jermaine are singing in the foreground of the fighting... it's all so fucked up.

Robot puppets... oh dear. Waking up the crew? Oh dear. Oh, hello pretty blond boy. Oh my. They wish to be Devo. "It's the 21st Century" at least looked well produced. Considering.

Lake Eerie scene. "Real Love" I love these clothes! Flashback!! Flashback!! Oooo... Frankie... Ooooo.... What a BUTT on that boy!! I want his hair. And jaw. And butt.

Ruth Gordon. She had Oscars, ya know. Writing and acting. And here she is. Poor thing. I like (dubbed) blond alien boy. I hope he undresses in this. Oh fuck the robot puppet seems to be a major character.

Frankie and Pia making out at the 'bar'. He must be gay. I hope he is.
Where is he now?Craig Sheffer, now

When's the next song?

Oh finally. A soda shop song. "Justine" I don't like the blond boy who is singing this, though. Frankie (Craig Sheffer??) just walked into the soda shop with an open jacket and no shirt and I am aroused. This whole aliens-enter-the-soda-shop scene could have worked had it been faster. [30 minutes down, 60 to go.]

The girl's toilet song, now. Does Pia have balls for doing a song in a toilet or does she get major demerits?

Craig Sheffer is on "One Tree Hill" these days it seems. (My mind was wandering during the next alien song...)

Blond alien boy (who is actually six to TWELVE years older than the rest of the cast?!), Tom Nolan, was in "Batman Begins"?!

"A Little Bit of Heaven" sort of pops out from nowhere, huh?

Ah! Michael Berryman in a 'cameo'!?

Alien blond boy's 'force field' is sort of a HOOT! har har har!!

Ooo! More Michael Berryman! woo hoo!

ohmigod what is she wearing?! It's huge! It's blue plaid! It's a tablecloth!! Thank god there is a song to distract us from it! (It underscores chainsaws big scene.) "Troublemania"? [55 minutes down, 35 to go]

The only thing keeping this from being a HOOT of a midnight movie is it is sort of sloppily/slowly paced...

Craig Sheffer... sigh... Pia in that hideous dress! blech! What to do?! Oh, she's had a costume change into a white jumpsuit sort of thing. Craig is glaring at her and clenching his jaw. I am aroused.

"Let's dance tonight" is recorded terribly! I don't remember how it sounded on the CD. Ooooo... it's a battle of the bands! Oooooh I get it now! It's classic rock versus future rock!

I'm waiting for Craig to crawl across the floor, nearly naked. Is it soon??

Pia is a trooper. I'm at the lakeside-can-I-join-the-band scene, where blond boy is telling Pia that he is an alien. I would be aroused if he would get rid of that terrible costume.

The rebuilding the chainsaw bit should have been cut completely.

Only 20 minutes to go and my patience is waning. It's time for Sheffer to get nekkid! Oh, but Frankie is at his locker now... Maybe, it's time?! He's posing against the door as he speaks to a picture of Pia and I love him. He lipsyncs terribly, but... "Nature of the Beast"... Oh, I love his little strutting thing going on here. I LOATHE the editing to the cougar! More Sheffer!! LESS cougar!! OH!! ask and you receive! Oh my. I am aroused. Must freeze frame. pause. pause.



Ok, we continue.

Silly gang scene... silly Pia and blond boy scene... silly... Oh, it all seems silly after "Nature of the Beast". Let's rewind for a moment.


Ok, back to the film, er, movie, er... well, whatever. I hate that thing on Pia's head. I didn't notice it beyond the white jumpsuit-thing, but I hate it.

More chainsaw schtick.

Oh NO!!! Sheffer has a LOT of clothes on now! MORE than before the cougar song!! Hmmm.. rewind? No, keep going...

Coming up to something of a finale or climax, it seems. Big rubber monster from the Lake (aka out of nowhere) has popped up, only to be interrupted by MORE chainsaw schtick. Poor Michael Berryman. It's almost like watching Lon Chaney wrestling with the rubber squid-beast.

Ok, so Pia has picked Sheffer over blond boy Tom Nolan. I guess that's ok.

Poor Ruth Gordon involved in stupid steamroller bit. Poor dog involved in stupid fire hydrant bit. Poor Tom Nolan, trapped in a bad movie as the secondary and losing love interest. And he's trying to act, too.

Oh! The final scene!! I sort of hope! (Then I can rewind to the cougar song, again!) Flowers blooming while Sheffer lipsyncs to Jermain Jackson. Oh, what happened to him? He was in the first scene singing this and then... How did we get here from there, anyway?

p.s. Here are requested screen captures of the fat jogger girl and the cephalopod:

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Asian-American Film Festival (Part 2: The Kabuki Screenings)

Ok. Me = Bad. Sorta. Due to circumstances within and out of my control (aka chemo-day and sold out programs), I was only able to attend two programs during the second half of the 24th San Francisco International Asian American Fim Festival at the AMC (soon to be Sundance) Kabuki 8.

"Be With Me" (dir. Eric Khoo, Singapore, 2005, 90 mins.) first reminded me of Svankmeier's "Conspirators of Pleasure" but then it became so much more! It is an interwoven trio of stories, told nearly silently. Why? Perhaps because the central story is based on the autobiography of Theresa Chan, who has been deaf and blind since she was 14. She plays herself and is a remarkable presence! The other two stories (a teenage lesbian in an unrequited love affair, and a security guard who is emotionally unable to approach the object of his affection) pale in comparison to Ms. Chan's recollections and musings about love in her life. (I'd love to read the book now.)

The lack of dialogue gives it a nearly zen-like pacing. Ms. Chan's sequence is replaced by a sub-titled narration. Unlike my usual disdain for overly narrated 'cinema,' it totally works here. The teenage girls communicate via text messaging on their cell phones and instant messaging via p.c.s. The security guard is nearly unable to communicate at all, until he finally writes a letter. All of this together gives the film a totally unique style that I have never encountered before. The program notes compare it to a new age of silent film, but even that doesn't really do it justice. Ironically, this was Singapore's submission for the Oscar this year and it was disqualified for not having enough 'foreign language.' I call 'bullshit' on that!

In conclusion, it is difficult to verbalize something that was so nearly purely visual and cinematic. Despite some awkwardness in intertwining the three stories, I loved this. Maxxxxx says "Sweet, sweet eye juice." (Twisted bird!)

Unfortunately, I did not love the second shorts program I saw at the festival, entitled Mystery Arcade. I usually LOVE shorts programs, but this as well as last Saturday's were totally underwhelming at best. Out of the five shorts in this collection, I LOATHED one, was bored out of my mind by one, tolerated two and enjoyed one. ( Maxxxxx says, "Do a poop! Do a poop!") In order of preference:

"Hiro" (dir. Matthew Swanson, Canada, 2005, 20 mins.) A really GEEKY bug collector becomes a hero in dealing with the mob. Don't ask how. It's totally Quirky and yes, that is with a capital "Q"! There were some inspired gags that made me laugh out loud (a rarity at this fest, it seems). Unfortunately, this was the third in the program and I would have enjoyed it more had it been placed earlier.

"Astronaut" (dir. Ian Kenji Barbour, Canada, 2005, 29 mins.) In a nearly brilliant piece of cinema verite, three young guys are interviewed and a revelation of their interconnection is slowly revealed. What makes this 'nearly brilliant' was the performance of the on-line game player, who falls in love with one of the other players, but only in the game. He was so 'present' and real that it is his performance that grounded the film in its style. His dialogue (improvisations?) is also so funny that it lifted the story of the three looking for 'Jane' out of its potential dreariness into something fairly entertaining.

"Missing" (dir. Kit Hui, USA, 2005, 14 mins.) It's sort of a David Lynch-esque telling of a man's frustration over his wife's sudden disappearance and the odd clues she has left him. Not totally satisfying as he isn't that good of an actor and the initial sequence is just too vague. However, the climax was a fairly good pay-off.

"My Break Ups Into A Million Pieces" (dir. Amir Motlagh, USA, 2005, 16 (LONG) mins.) and "High Wind" (dir. Vanessa Ly, France/USA, 2005, 17 (PAINFULLY LONG) mins.) were just DULL attempts at 'art'. I hate that. And that's all the space I am going to give them. Unfortunately, these were the only directors present, so I did NOT stay for the Q&A afterwards.

I promise to be much more THOROUGH as the season kicks into high gear with the S.F. International Film Festival, which opens in just a few weeks! Wheeeeeee!!!

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Asian-American Film Festival (Part 1: The Castro Screenings)

Well, towards the end of what could be considered a shitty week in the City (a freakin' $75 parking ticket for being 1 foot over the 'red zone'; $400 to repair the car after it was broken into; $100 to replace the Sirius Radio they stole), I spent the majority of the weekend at the Castro Theater watching flicks at the

24th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, so you can take the following recap of the first half of the festival with a large grain of salt.

I managed to see 5 features and a handful of short subjects, and had a TOTAL GORGEFEST for St. Paddy's Day with the East Bay'ers (Jaryn, Pete, Gretchen, et al) on Saturday and a FAB brunch with friends Daren and Alan on Sunday. It was also sort of a "homecoming weekend" as I regrouped with most of the other film-sluts that I'll be 'living with' during the SFIFF and Frameline's LGBT Film Fest!

To begin, just a brief note regarding the Executive Director of the Festival, Taro Goto. He seems like a nice enough person, but... He babbles. I found his introductions of the programs hard to follow as he tends to digress in his analysis of the director's filmography that I don't know if he is referring to the film we're about to watch or is off on some historical tangent. ANYWAY..., in viewing order, let's begin with Friday night (I did not go to Opening Night on Thursday):

"Citizen Dog" ("Mah Nakorn") (dir. Wisit Sasanatieng, Thailand, 2005, 100 mins.) is being publicized as Thailand's "Amelie." Well, it does have extensive narration, a bright palette in the production design, and a fantasia of plot developments. The cinematography just POPS off the screen, and the music score is charming. Some of the 'bits' and sequences are at the very least clever and at some of their best, inspired! When the visuals reflect the characters' dreams and fantasies, that is when they are at their BEST! Our lead, Mahasmut Bunyaraksh, is basically a farm boy who has come to the big city (Bangkok) against his grandmother's warning ("If you get a job in Bangkok, you'll wake up with a tail wagging out your ass"), to find love and fortune. And thus,surrealism and attempted (and sometimes achieved) hilarity ensues. He becomes obsessed with a cleaning woman where he works. Now, here's where I started having a bit of a problem. I found her to be so much more appealing than our lead male, that it threw the balance of the screenplay off a bit for me. He remains sort of a dull cipher throughout the film. (He doesn't even speak for the first 20 minutes!) On one hand, his introversion explains his extreme flights of fancy. However, the narration almost annoyingly takes the place of any inner charm that he might possess. Since the comparison was made, one of the major reasons that "Amelie" worked for me is that Audrey Tatou was allowed to say VOLUMES with just a glance and a wry smile. Bunyaraksh is either incapable or not allowed those moments here. Maxxxxx says, "Sweet, sweet eye juice!" (I don't know, but I think he likes the visuals.)

"Rules of Dating" (dir. Jae-Rim Han, South Korea, 2005, 114 mins.) so painfully depicted my (limited) dating history, that I find it hard to recap. Yes, it was humorous at first, and then descends into discomfort before plummeting into pain, as a couple navigate dating and intimacy in botched attempts to find love. The spiral that they take is realistic and not romanticized. I loved it! (Even in the CHILLY Castro Theater, which needs to repair their heating!) Maxxxxx says, "I love you!" and then bites my hand.

Saturday morning presented the shorts program entitled, Confessions of Longing, a collection of 8 films. I could only sit through 5 of them. They seemed to be focused on lesbian/gay/transgender issues. But they're not happy issues, apparently. OK, that's an understatement. This group of shorts was just miserable. For example, in "Porcelain" (dir. M.R. Stiff, USA, 2005, 4 mins.) a young Filipino guy bemoans the idea of being fetishized by hunky white men. My answer to that would be to enjoy it while he can! Poor thing. bleh! There was also a documentary about a group of mixed-race Filipino lesbians who have traveled to Manila to 'reclaim their heritage and language,' aka learn Tagalog. Yawn. I don't even want to get into the other three! Maxxxxx says, "Wanna come out?!"

Thank GAWD that I had the East Bay St. Patrick's Day GORGEFEST to go to and get me outta there! (Somewhat unfortunately, I so over indulged that I was swimmingly nauseous on the way home and ditched the rest of the day to just go home and lay down.) I did recover and was able to have a fabulous little brunch with Daren and Alan at 'Blue' on Sunday morning, I started the day with:

"Bridge to the Sun" (dir. Etienne Perier, France/USA, 1961, 113 mins.), which is part of a tribute to actor James Shigeta. The film is based on the book of the same name, which is the autobiographical story of Gwen Tarasaki. She was a Tennessee woman who married a Japanese diplomat just a few years before World War II. The story itself is really pretty compelling. And Carroll Baker as Gwen was her fabulous self! There were some masterfully composed images! (There are also some embarrassingly bad sets.) However, between the complex story, Baker's incredible performance and Shigeta's on screen charm, the flick was a winner! It's worth the rental! But, pity! It is NOT available in any video format. Mr. Shigeta was present for a Q&A. However, the 73 year old actor was having some problems hearing and understanding some of the questions (thanks to Mr. Goto!), so that was cut off short. Maxxxxx charges to his kitchen cubby hole, as if he were being bombed.

"Letter From An Unknown Woman" (dir. Jing Lei Xu, China, 2004, 90 mins.) is a Chinese version of the novella by Stefan Zweig (which Max Ophuls filmed in 1948). Though a bit heavy on the narration (a pet peeve, if you haven't noticed), the production design and particularly the cinematography (Pin Bing Lee ("In The Mood For Love") was exceptional! Jing Lei Xu directs herself as the woman suffering from 20 years of unrequited love and she expresses that in a letter to the object of her affection, to be read after her death. I wasn't so much moved by this as fascinated by the era it was set in: 1930's China. Though it is capably produced, I can't say I was overly involved. Ah well. Maxxxxx yawns.

And finally, the 'Centerpiece Film' "Water" (dir. Deepa Mehta, India/Canada, 2005, 114 mins.), the last part of Mehta's 'elemental trilogy' following "Fire" and "Earth." It is gorgeously photographed (Giles Nuttgens), scored (A.R. Rahman and Mychael Danna) and features a bearably cute 8 year old Sarala and a nearly unbelievably gorgeous pair of ill-fated lovers (Lisa Ray and John Abraham). The story is set in 1930s India and centers on an ashram of widows, who are social outcasts and are denied nearly any contact with men, much less any future romantic involvement. The 8 year old is something of a go-between that brings together our nearly unbelievably gorgeous lovers-to-be. There is cuteness, pathos, tragedy and a certain cheap sentimentality that borders on Spielberg-ian. I LIKED watching it, but felt cheaply manipulated by the end. I did not stay for the Q&A with Ms. Mehta, as the film ends on a political/feminist note and I just wasn't in the mood to hear more unnecessary proselytizing. Maxxxxx says, "Time for shower!"

I'll be catching the next 4 nights of the festival at the AMC Kabuki and recap that on Thursday night. Maxxxxx says, "Breakfast? Breakfast?"

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Hills Are Alive With...

Emilie de Ravin is Lost in the Hills
What can one say after seeing Alexandre Aja's remake of "The Hills Have Eyes," Wes Craven's classic freaky shocker. Ironically, Craven is the producer of this remake. Aja has decided to create an homage to horror-with-a-message flicks. Well, since he decided to go THERE... (spoilers follow, unless of course you've seen the original):

It opens with a montage of nuclear explosions intercut with stills of deformed fetuses, babies and children. We then 'fast forward' to the All American Family: father, mother, a son, a daughter and their other daughter and her husband and baby. The patriarch and wife are gun-toting Christians. The older daughter and son-in-law (and by association, the baby) are peace loving yuppies, though the daughter still shows her conservative roots by wearing the most drab and inappropriate dress one could possibly wear while driving through the New Mexico desert. The remaining two 'kids' (inc. Emilie de Ravin from "Lost") are BORED with it all and we are led to believe they are edgy, since she actually sun bathes in a BIKINI! He wears a BLACK t-shirt! Gasp! So, we get some tedious bits of political infighting within the family, as well as a moment of "We're NOT going to pray now, are we?!" from the rebellious daughter.

Surprisingly, the conservatives are the first to bite it (or be bitten, as the case might be), but then the rest of them adopt the methods of the deceased in order to survive. Of course, our peace loving yuppie (Aaron Stanford of "X2" and "Tadpole" fame) is motivated to extreme acts of violence in order to avenge his wife and protect his baby, including a nearly ridiculous killing by implanting the American flag into a mutant's skull. Ah, now THAT'S exercising some Family values!

Unfortunately, the mutants are used as simple monsters. With the possible exception of 'Ruby' (who is the 'Red Riding Hood' symbol amongst the 'wolves' of both sides in this fable), they might as well be zombies, instead of a generation of victims from the nuclear testing fields, which I thought was the point Aja was going to make, at least according to his prologue. That's too bad. By not following up on at least that point, there really aren't any characters to have any empathy for. We simply sit there and watch the carnage pile up on both sides: monsters and neo-war hawks. Not that I mind a good, senseless bloodbath (it makes me laugh!), but if you're going to attempt to make a point with it, well then, you're treading in deeper waters.

Also, Ms. de Ravin proves to be as annoying in this as she is in "Lost."

Maxxxxx gives it a "Ssssshhhhhhit!"

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Agony and Ecstasy: Tsotsi and The Libertine

Only a couple of films this week, but they were surprisingly about the same thing. Sort of.

"Tsotsi" (which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language flick) translates into 'thug,' and the young actor, Presley Chweneyagae, plays him brilliantly. The film is also gloriously photographed! Based, or more accurately, inspired by Athol Fugard's only novel, it exposes the plight of AIDS orphans in Johannesburg, focusing on 'Tsotsi' as he finds a sort of redemption after having unwittingly kidnapped a baby. There is quite a bit of "City of God" in this, however not as violently edited. But it is about as brutal. The audience I saw it with was quite vocal in their reactions. (grrrr...) However, it does speak to how involving the film is.
Chweneyagae at the Oscars, with co-star Thembi Nyandeni

Then, later in the week, I saw "The Libertine" featuring Johnny Depp as the poet John Wilmot. Who knew that he was right up there with the Marquis de Sade in the debauchery department? The language in the script is INTENSELY dense! It took me about 20 minutes to get used to it. Depp does a fabulous job in conveying it. It's nearly a Shakespearean performance! John Malkovich as Charles II is his usual quirky self. I love him. Samantha Morton gives perhaps the most nuanced performance in the cast as Elizabeth Barry, the actress that will eventually humanize Wilmot. Kelly Reilly ("Mrs. Henderson Presents..." "Pride and Prejudice") pops up in THIS too, as Wilmot's favorite prostitute. The production design and cinematography are gritty, muddy and so realistic, I forgot that they were sets. The imagery becomes dreamlike. In fact, it was nearly Ken Russell-esque, particularly during the orgy in St. James Park. And I am a HUGE Michael Nyman fan, whose score just sweeps me away. My only hesitation I had was for the makeup for Wilmot's death due to syphilis. It looked sort of like Linda Blair's "Exorcist" make up. It was just really over-the-top icky. Other than that, I loved this and want to see it again, so that I can listen to the words some more...

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Quartet of Triple Plays

Well, that was sort of a surprise. And sort of not. But they really spread the wealth: "Crash," "Brokeback Mountain," "King Kong," and "Memoirs of a Geisha" won 3 Oscars each. Compared to the sweeps of the past few years, this was sort of surprise.

I was jotting thoughts down as the evening S L O W L Y progressed... (And my Tivo was stuttering?! Is it dyeing?!)

The Red Carpet:
Matt Dillon looks GREAT! Mizrahi's interview was sort of a hoot!
Gary Busey looks terrible.
The "March of the Penguins" guys were a hoot with their stuffed penguins! Hee hee
Clooney looks FABULOUS of course.
Naomi Watts is in a weird dress. Givenchy? Hmmm.
Dolly Parton has a FAB dress, but MY GOD she's got HUGE BREASTS now! And she looks Asian. Stop the face lifts now!!
Kiera Knightly? what is up with the HEAVY makeup and that HEAVY necklace?!
Roger Ebert is being senile in his interviews. He didn't even know who the producer of "Good Night, and Good Luck" was as he interviewed him.
Steve Carell looks great and not at all bitter, considering he could have been nominated for "40 Year Old Virgin."
Michelle Williams is in a huge YELLOW dress.
Jada Pinket Smith looks gorgeous! She and Will are great together.
Felicity Huffman probably should NOT be showing that much cleavage. Her ABC red carpet interview was sort of touching.
Philip Seymour Hoffman CLEANED himself up! He has gained a few pounds, huh?
David Straithairn has lost a few pounds! Very quiet red carpet interview.
Jake Gyllenhall is hot. He's HOT! DULL interview, but hot.
Rachel Weisz has stunning makeup. Ok dress for a maternity gown.

The Ceremony:
The opening monologue. Eh.
I love George Clooney. Love him. Loved his speech.
Underscoring the speeches??? What's up with that??
Too much talking by presenters.
What's 'up' in Ben Stiller's crotch? (Ha! Jon Stewart noticed that too!)
Is Reese Witherspoon wearing a tacky wedding dress?
I LOVED Wallace and Gromit, but their acceptance speech was cute. I hate cute.
The biography flick montage was sort of a waste of time? This was when I KNEW this was going to run LONNNNNNNGGGGGGG!
Asshole makeup guy took up ALL of their time. Poor makeup woman.
Rachel Weisz is sort of taking the moment too seriously.
Lauren Bacall canĂ‚’t see her teleprompter apparently. What is up with all these montges?? The film noir was noticeably odd.
I liked the actress campaigning spoof.
J-Lo was WORKING that dress! It's lovely, but she certainly WORKED it!
I don't remember this song from "Crash" at all. Lovely song, though. Silly dancing and the back lighting of the burning car is putting her in a terrible light.
Jon Stewart just seems a bit out of his element.
WHAT did Sandra Bullock do to her hair?!
Not another montage?! (politics, racism, etc.)
And ANOTHER montage?!!! (widescreen spectacles to make us want to go out more? It looked great on my projector screen though, so it didn't work! ha!)
Tomlin and Streep are brilliant. I think they should host!! But what's on Streep's back?
And ANOTHER montage, but for Altman, which at least it has a purpose! He gave a nice speech, too.
Ok. I admit it. I LIKE the Pimp song! I LOVED Hustle and Flow!
Is Jennifer Garner pregnant?
ANOTHER montage!! In memorium
But NO montage for Foreign Language Film??!
Actor?! Already??!! All five of them really are incredible.
Cinematography. Cutie. Dull, but cute.
Actress already?!?!! Reese. Well, ok. She's babbling on and on and on. Nearly a Sally Field moment.
Dustin Hoffman is sort of crazy. Likeable, but crazy.
They cut off the Screenplay acceptance speech?!?
They cut off the BEST PICTURE speech?!? I mean, the thing was over 30 minutes late already, so why not have ANOTHER montage, instead?!

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