The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
The Writers Guild of America has announced its nominations for outstanding achievement in screen in 2002.
Antwone Fisher, Bowling for Columbine, Far From Heaven, Gangs of New York and My Big Fat Greek Wedding have been nominated for the WGA's best original screenplay award.
About a Boy, About Schmidt, Adaptation, Chicago and
The Hours meanwhile will contend for best adapted screenplay.
Antwone Fisher, Written by Antwone Fisher; Fox Searchlight
Bowling for Columbine, Written by Michael Moore; United Artists/Alliance Atlantis/Salter Street Films/Dog Eat Dog Films
Far From Heaven, Written by Todd Haynes; Focus Features
Gangs of New York, Screenplay by Jay Cocks and Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan, story by Jay Cocks; Miramax Films
My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Written by Nia Vardalos; Gold Circle Films/HBO/MPH Entertainment/Playtone
About a Boy, Screenplay by Peter Hedges and Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz, based on the novel by Nick Hornby; Universal Pictures/Studio Canal/Working Title Films/Tribeca Productions
About Schmidt, Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Louis Begley; New Line Cinema
Adaptation, Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman, based on the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean; Columbia Pictures
Chicago, Screenplay by Bill Condon, based on the musical play, book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb and the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins; Miramax Films
The Hours, Screenplay by David Hare, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham; Paramount Pictures/Miramax Films
Animation--any length--one airing time (new category)
"The Bart Wants What It Wants" (The Simpsons), Written by John Frink & Don Payne; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Blame It on Lisa" (The Simpsons), Written by Bob Bendetson; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Godfellas" (Futurama), Written by Ken Keeler; 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Jaws Wired Shut" (The Simpsons), Written by Matt Selman; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"My Own Private Rodeo" (King of the Hill), Written by Alex Gregory & Peter Huyck; 20th Century Fox Television Productions in association with Deedle-Dee Productions, Judgmental Films and 3 Arts Entertainment; Fox
Santa Baby! Written by Peter Bakalian & Suzanne Collins; Rankin/Bass; Fox
Original Long Form--over one hour--one or two parts, one or two airing times
Dor to Door, Written by William H. Macy & Steven Schachter; Turner Pages, Inc.; TNT
The Gathering Storm, Teleplay by Hugh Whitemore, Story by Larry Ramin and Hugh Whitemore; a Scott Free Production in association with HBO Films; HBO
Sins of the Father Written by John Pielmeier, based on the magazine article that appeared in Texas Monthly by Pamela Colloff; Artisan; FX
Strange Relations, Written by Tim Kazurinsky; Showtime; Granada Entertainment; Showtime
Adapted Long Form--over one hour--one or two parts, one or two airing times
"Batogne" (Band of Brothers), Written by Bruce C. McKenna, based on the book by Stephen E. Ambrose; DreamWorks/Playtone/HBO; HBO
Hysterical Blindness, Teleplay by Laura Cahill, based on the play by Laura Cahill; Hysterical Films, Inc.; HBO
Last Call, Screenplay by Henry Bromell, based on the memoir Against the Current: As I Remember F. Scott Fitzgerald by Frances Kroll Ring; Room 520/Barnstorm Films; Showtime
Mark Twain's Roughing It, Teleplay by Steven H. Berman, based on the book Roughing It by Mark Twain; Larry Levinson Productions; Hallmark Channel
Episodic Drama--any length, one airing time
"Game On" (The West Wing), Written by Aaron Sorkin & Paul Redford; John Wells Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television; NBC
"In Place of Anger" (Six Feet Under), Written by Christian Taylor; Six Feet Productions; HBO
"Nino Del Polvo" (Resurrection Boulevard), Written by Robert Eisele; Showtime; Viacom Productions, Inc.; Patagonia House; Showtime
"On the Beach" (ER), Written by John Wells; Constant C Productions; Amblin Television; Warner Bros. Television; NBC
Pilot (The Education of Max Bickford), Written by Dawn Prestwich & Nicole Yorkin; 20th Century Fox Television; CBS
"Whoever Did This" (The Sopranos), Written by Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess; Soprano Productions, Inc.; HBO
Episodic Comedy--any length, one airing time
"Change of Address" (Sex and the City), Written by Julie Rottenberg & Elisa Zuritsky; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
"I Heart NY" (Sex and the City), Written by Michael Patrick King; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
Pilot (The Bernie Mac Show), Written by Larry Wilmore; Regency Television in association with 20th Century Fox Television; FOX
"My First Day", (pilot, Scrubs), Written by Bill Lawrence; Touchstone Television Productions; NBC
"Plus One is the Loneliest Number" (Sex and the City), Written by Cindy Chupack; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
"Rooms With a View" (Frasier), Written by Dan O' Shannon & Lori Kirkland & Bob Daily; Grub Street Productions in association with Paramount Pictures; NBC
"The Wedding" (Ed), Written by Rob Burnett & Jon Beckerman; Viacom Productions in association with Worldwide Pants, Inc. and NBC Studios; NBC
Comedy/Variety---Music, Awards, Tributes--Specials--any length
The Kennedy Center Honors Written by Don Baer and George Stevens, Jr., Film Sequences Written by Sara Lukinson; A George Stevens Jr. Presentation - Kennedy Center Television Productions, Inc.; CBS
NBC 75th Anniversary Special, Written by Doug Abeles, James Anderson, Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Charlie Grandy, Steve Higgins, Lorne Michaels, Paula Pell, Herb Sargent, Michael Schur, Michael Shoemaker; Broadway Video in association with NBC Studios; NBC
Comedy/Variety--(including talk) Series
Dennis Miller Live, Written by Eddie Feldmann, Jose Arroyo, Richard Dahm, David Feldman, Jim Hanna, Rob Z. Kutner, Kirsten McFarland, Dennis Miller, Jacob Sager Weinstein; Happy Family Productions; HBO
Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Written by Mike Sweeney, Chris Albers, Andy Blitz, Kevin Dorff, Jonathan Glaser, Michael Gordon, Brian Kiley, Michael Koman, Brian McCann, Guy Nicolucci, Conan O'Brien, Andrew Secunda, Allison Silverman, Robert Smigel, Brian Stack, Andrew Weinberg; Broadway Video; NBC
Mad TV, Writing Supervised by Scott King, Written by Dick Blasucci, Garry Campbell, Lauren Dombrowski, Bryan Adams, Bruce McCoy, Michael Hitchcock, Steven Cragg, Chris Cluess, John Crane, Jennifer Joyce, Tami Sagher, Devon Shepard, Rich Talarico, Jim Wise, Kal Clarke, Sultan Pepper, Bill Kelley, Maiya Williams, Dino Stamatopoulos; QDE/Girl Group; FOX
Saturday Night Live, Written by Tina Fey, Doug Abeles, Leo Allen, James Anderson, Max Brooks, James Downey, James Eagan, Hugh Fink, Charlie Grandy, Jack Handey, Steve Higgins, Erik Kenward, Dennis McNicholas, Lorne Michaels, Corwin Moore, Matt Murray, Paula Pell, Matt Piedmont, Ken Scarborough, Michael Schur, Frank Sebastiano, T. Sean Shannon, Eric Slovin, Robert Smigel, Emily Spivey, Andrew Steele, Scott Wainio, Jerry Collins, Tom David; Broadway Video in association with SNL Studios; NBC
Guiding Light, Written by Millee Taggart, Lucky Gold, Christopher Dunn, Tita Bell, Jill Lorie Hurst, Penelope Koechl, David Kreizman, Eleanor Labine, Alan Madison, Danielle Paige, A.J. Pierce, Janet Reed Ahearn, Susan Rice, David Rupel, Melissa Salmons, Eddie Sanchez, Lisa Seidman, David Smilow; Procter & Gamble; CBS
The Young and the Restless, Written by Kay Alden, Trent Jones, John F. Smith, Jerry Birn, Jim Houghton, Natalie Minardi, Janice Ferri, Eric Freiwald, Joshua McCaffrey, Michael Minnis, Rex M. Best; Columbia TriStar; CBS
Elmo's World: Happy Holidays!, Written by Christine Ferraro; Sesame Workshop; PBS
Off Season, Written by Glenn Gers; Showtime Networks, Inc.; Showtime
Our America, Teleplay by Gordon Rayfield, Based on the book "Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago" by Lealan Jones, Lloyd Newman and David Isay; Joseph Stern Productions; All Media, Inc.; Showtime
The Red Sneakers, Teleplay by Mark Saltzman, Story by Jeffrey Rubin; Lynch Entertainment, Tom Lynch Company, RS Productions, Ltd., Showtime Networks, Inc.; Showtime
Bioterror (Nova), Written by Matthew Collins; A Nova Production by the New York Times/ Granada Factuals USA and Lone Wolf Pictures, Inc., for WGBH/ Boston in association with Channel 4 Television; PBS
The Man Who Knew (Frontline), Written by Michael J. Kirk, Kirk Documentary Group; PBS
9/11, Written by Tom Forman & Greg Kandra; Goldfish Pictures, Inc.; CBS
Rollover: The Hidden Story of the SUV (Frontline), Written by Marc Shaffer & Barak Goodman; 10/20 Productions; PBS
Documentary--Other Than Current Events
America's First River, Part One, Written by Tom Spain; WNET/Educational Broadcasting Corp.; Public Affairs Television; PBS
Empire State Building Ironworker (A Day in their Lives), Written by Peter Hankoff; Termite Art Productions; History Channel; History Channel
Evolution of a Revolution (Founding Brothers), Written by Kelly McPherson and Melissa Jo Peltier & Allison MacEwan; MPH Entertainment Inc.; History Channel; History Channel
Monkey Trial (American Experience), Written by Christine Lesiak; WGBH Educational Foundation; PBS
News--Regularly Scheduled, Bulletin or Breaking Report
Attack on America Written by Jerry Cipriano, Paul Fischer, Thomas Harris, Hugh Heckman, Bruce Meyer; CBS Evening News; CBS
September 11th Controllers, Written by Jonathan W. Kaplan; CBS
It wasn't exactly like the nosy newspaper said it was going to be, but as expected, "American Beauty" was the big winner, nabbing a field-best five Oscars, including Best Picture, at tonight's 72nd Annual Academy Awards.
"Beauty" star Kevin Spacey was named Best Actor. The relatively no-name Hilary Swank ("Boys Don't Cry") bested Spacey's big-name co-star Annette Bening in the Best Actress race. The Wall Street Journal may have spoiled some of the surprises (including the Swank victory) with its controversial scoop-the-Oscars story Friday, but nobody here seemed to care.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was looking at the night's scorecard and realizing that, after "American Beauty" (which also claimed wins for Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Original Screenplay), the other big film was "The Matrix," which swept the four technical categories in which it was nominated.
Here's an annotated recap of the night's winners at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium:
BEST PICTURE: "American Beauty."
Kevin Spacey BEST ACTOR: Kevin Spacey, "American Beauty." Heavy favorite or no, Spacey says he's "stunned" and goes on to inexplicably thank, um, Jack Lemmon. Backstage, when the "American Beauty" winners converge with the adoring press, Spacey explains that he first met Lemmon when he was 13 (Spacey, not Lemmon) and considers him a mentor. Lemmon's turn as a corporate schmuck in "The Apartment" (1960), in fact, was the inspiration for Spacey's Oscar-winning performance. "He really was a model for Lester Burnham. Without his performance in 'The Apartment,' it never would have been possible for me," Spacey says. The press here are adept at posing some odd questions, and when a scribe asks Spacey if he was "surprised" that he got so emotional onstage (and thus stammered through his acceptance), the actor retorts: "Actually, I was experiencing an aneurysm."
BEST ACTRESS: Hilary Swank, "Boys Don't Cry." "We have come a long way," says the star, formerly of "The Next Karate Kid." And, for those wondering what husband Chad Lowe said in Hilary's ear before she accepted her award, it was: "Breathe and be free." He should have said, "Don't forget to thank me when you're up there," 'cause once she took the stage, he started bawling (aw!) and she started talking about not him.
Hilary Swank Backstage, Swank fixes the boo-boo with a "Thank you, honey, you're my everything," and explains that the faux pax occurred because "it's very surreal up there." Meanwhile, Swank proves the hippest and most chatty Oscar winner paraded in front of reporters. She waxes about living in a car with her mom ("My mom has been the biggest believer in me. … We picked up from Washington state, we got in our Oldsmobile with $75 to our name, and we drove down to Los Angeles" and lived on air mattresses until Swank got a job on "Growing Pains").
Michael Caine BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Michael Caine, "The Cider House Rules." On stage, a hyperventilating Caine reels off a the-other-guys-were-really-wonderful-too speech. By the time he finishes, it's Friday. When Caine finally comes backstage, we raise our number in the air (that's the way it works back here if you want to ask a star a question -- getting called on is kind of like winning a raffle), but, no, we don't get called on. We actually had two questions we wanted to ask Caine -- one was about all the abortion protesters lining Jefferson Boulevard outside the Shrine tonight (he plays an abortion doctor in "Cider House'), the other one was, "Hey, Michael, what was the best part about making 'Jaws: The Revenge?'"
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Angelina Jolie, "Girl, Interrupted." Angelina Jolie Onstage, Jolie (looking like Wednesday from "The Addams Family") thanks her brother (a lot). Backstage, the 24-year-old-star offspring of Jon Voight (a winner himself for 1978's "Coming Home") gets used to the feel of Oscar. "My dad's mother had his [trophy] in a goldfish bowl, on the mantelpiece," Jolie says. "I never held it. You know, you grow up with it, and you kind of think it's just this strange thing in grandma's house." As for the brother thing -- the guy's name is James Haven Voight and, according to Jolie, "he and I were each other's everything."
BEST DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes, "American Beauty."
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Alan Ball, "American Beauty." Ball used to write for "Cybill." He doesn't write for "Cybill" anymore. Instead, he uses his mike time at the Shrine to thank plastic bags that float in the wind and, you know, inspire him.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: John Irving, "The Cider House Rules." After author Irving thanks Miramax on stage for having the guts to make a film about the "abortion issue" and praises Planned Parenthood for getting behind the film, Irving ducks out -- he's the only high-profile Oscar winner to avoid meeting the press backstage.
IRVING G. THALBERG MEMORIAL AWARD: Warren Beatty. In a rambling to-all-the-girls-I've-loved-before speech, Beatty pays tribute to wife Annette Bening: "She is my treasure." Reflecting on his award in the press boom afterward, Beatty talks a lot of cybertalk about the "broadband revolution" and delivers some of that great stammering that he's known and loved for. Asked whether he's dismayed that Bening didn't get the Best Actress nod, the almost-presidential candidate star says: "I'm disappointed, but Annette did win. She's, it, it's, this thing about, I mean, who could possibly say that Annette is anything other than a winner? So, uh, it's one, one, and, and I think that Hilary gave a terrific performance in a wonderful movie, you know. I don't think it's the greatest idea in the world to think of these things as competitive."
TELECAST ASIDE NO. 1: Jack Nicholson introduces a filmed tribute on the subject of Warren "Mad Dog" Beatty. In a fit of good taste, the package features just one testimonial from a Beatty ex-girlfriend (Julie Christie).
TELECAST ASIDE NO. 2: Edward Norton pulls duty on introducing the perfunctory people-who-died-last-year clips. Madeline Kahn and George C. Scott win on the applause-o-meter. Proving timing is everything, Hedy Lamarr, who passed away in January about 50 years after she was really famous, draws only minor hand-clappage. And, hey, what about Bones McCoy? Didn't DeForest Kelley, who played the good "Star Trek" doctor die in 1999, too? Respondeth Academy spokesman John Pavlik when asked about the omission: "Who?"
BEST SONG: "You'll Be in My Heart" (from "Tarzan"), Phil Collins. Backstage, as Mr. "Sussudio" drones on about how the critics never like his music and so forth, most of the disinterested reporters watch Michael Caine on the TV monitors. To add insult to insult, one writer prefaces his question to Collins with a "Congratulations, guy."
TELECAST ASIDE NO. 3: Best Song presenter Cher is attacked by her dress. She declines to press charges.
TELECAST ASIDE NO. 4: "South Park" warbler Robin Williams sings "fart" and "bitch" on national television. In other news, the world goes to hell in a handbasket.
TELECAST ASIDE NO. 5: Horshack from "Welcome Back Kotter" sings the Oscar-nominated "Music of My Heart" with Gloria Estefan. Er, make that 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake sings "Music of My Heart" with Gloria Estefan.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: "The Red Violin." We do not think Keanu Reeves was forced at gunpoint to present this category. We just think it sounded that way.
TELECAST ASIDE NO. 6: The Oscar producers may have eliminated The Pointless Dance Number, but they've come up with a new one: The Pointless Song Medley. Time to go to refrigerator. Unless you're into hearing Queen Latifah "sing" "The Way We Were." Others on hand: Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks, apparently after taking a wrong turn at the Coun ry Music Association Awards.
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Conrad L. Hall, "American Beauty." This is Hall's second win. He won his first Oscar a hundred years ago (well, back in 1970 for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid").
BEST ART DIRECTION: "Sleepy Hollow."
BEST MAKEUP: "Topsy-Turvy."
BEST EDITING: "The Matrix."
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: "The Matrix." Presenter Arnold Schwarzenegger's hair color, while a fine visual effect in itself, apparently did not qualify.
BEST SOUND-EFFECTS EDITING: "The Matrix" (again). Somewhere, George Lucas broods.
BEST SOUND: "The Matrix." A few minutes after this category is announced, an Academy staffer asks the backstage media if anyone is interested in meeting "The Matrix" sound-geek guys, no hands are raised; ditto for the "Topsy-Turvy" folks who took the Oscar for Best Makeup. Know this: The Oscar press cares about stars, not necessarily winners.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: "Topsy-Turvy." Backstage, winner Lindy Hemming isn't totally ignored, but the best question a reporter can muster is, "What do you think of all the outfits the stars are wearing?"
HONORARY OSCAR: Andrzej Wajda Jane Fonda -- sans Ted Turner or a cause -- does the presenting honors on this one. Without incident, she introduces Polish filmmaker Wajda who surprises no one by speaking in, yes, Polish.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: "All About My Mother" (Spain). "PEEEEDROOO" Almodovar (in the vernacular of presenter Penelope Cruz) accepts the Oscar. When the Director Who Made Antonio Banderas a Star comes backstage, he's greeted by rousing applause, much of which comes from the substantial Latin media corps. In addition to picking up the Oscar, Almodovar gets points back here for his wild hair, cool all-black tuxedo and (natch) cool name.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: "One Day in September." This is first (and only) upset of the night. The heavy, heavy favorite was "Buena Vista Social Club" (aka the only doc civilians have heard of).
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: "King Gimp." Was this an upset? Heck if we know.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT: "The Old Man and the Sea."
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT: "My Mother Dreams the Satan's Disciples in New York." No, we've never heard of it, either.
TELECAST ASIDE NO. 7: In his opening, host Billy Crystal acknowledges Willie Fulgear, the man who found Oscar, ending a week's worth of media oversaturation.
TELECAST ASIDE NO. 8: Hackneyed or tradition? Doesn't matter. Billy Crystal's going to do it, anyway -- his opening song salute to the Best Picture nominees. This year, "The Green Mile" gets set to the tune of "Green Acres," "The Sixth Sense," to "People," "The Insider" to "The Minute Waltz," "The Cider House Rules" to "Mame," "American Beauty" to "The Lady Is a Tramp."
TELECAST ASIDE NO. 9: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Robert Rehme opens the show. Exciting, no? No. But it's only a front -- a way to intro host Billy Crystal's romp through cinema history, including stops in "Casablanca," "The French Connection" and "West Side Story." Fortunately, Crystal avoids a detour to "My Giant" Village.