Chris Klein and the cruel comedy of audition tapes.

Chris Klein and the cruel comedy of audition tapes. (photo)

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Poor Chris Klein. It’s bad enough that the guy has been reduced to appearing in stuff like “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li.” Now, he has to deal with the fact that late last week someone leaked a tape of his failed audition for the movie version of “Mamma Mia!” online.

After some awkward small talk, Klein says, “Let’s go, shall we? Before I embarrass myself further,” then proceeds to embarrass himself further and farther and more intensely than most of us will ever do in our lives.

For three-and-a-half excruciating minutes, Klein absolutely butchers ABBA’s “Lay All Your Love On Me.” Flat notes, vocal cracks, intense stares to camera, eyebrows that defy logic and gravity by refusing to go down — it’s beyond terrible; it’s guy-on-“American Idol”-who-can’t-sing-but-who-gets-to-audition-for-the-judges-so-Simon-can-make-fun-of-him terrible.

Good sport that he is, Klein has made his own self-deprecating response video, in which he flunks auditions for “Twilight,” “Dreamgirls,” and more. But it doesn’t do much to erase the discomfort of the original. And while everyone’s falling all over themselves to make fun of Klein (including, let’s not forget, Klein himself), we should remember that most auditions are incredibly, incredibly awkward. Every actor has bad ones; most actors are just lucky that they don’t wind up on the Internet in front of millions and millions of people.

Even successful auditions can get awkward. Christopher Reeve scored the role of his life with a great reading of the rooftop flirtation scene between The Man of Steel and Lois Lane from “Superman.” But the poor guy was so nervous, he sweated through his tights; he spends almost the entire scene in the classic superhero hands-on-hips pose, revealing some not-so-super pit stains (the evidence is in the below clip, beginning around 2:17):

Seth Rogen was still an unpolished Canadian teenager when he auditioned for a role in “Freaks and Geeks.” Judd Apatow, the show’s producer, cast Rogen, then brought him along to his next show, “Undeclared,” encouraged him to write, and turned him into a movie star. It all started with this one very nervous audition. Look at the way Rogen fidgets and fixes his shirt; see the deer-in-the-headlights stare. Does this look like the audition of the future young king of mainstream comedy?

Or consider these two auditions by “300” and “The Ugly Truth”‘ star Gerard Butler, reading for the role of Dracula in “Dracula 2000″ — or at least I think these are two auditions for “Dracula 2000.” Sporting a terrible heavy metal wig and guyliner, Butler is so hilariously over-the-top that if I didn’t know he ultimately got the part, I’d swear this was a parody à la Chris Klein’s face-saving Funny or Die sketch. Judge for yourself:

This is why there are casting directors. It’s up to them to see past these unrefined moments to the potential underneath. That doesn’t make the process any less strange or, at times, any less of a crapshoot. To wit, here’s a funny scene that lampoons that very idea from Shane Black’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” in which Robert Downey Jr. plays a robber who hides out from the police at a casting call with unexpected results:

Now, that is a great audition. But, please Chris Klein, don’t get any ideas and show up to your next one bleeding.

On the plus side, Klein’s fridge-nuking moment is about to be replaced in the public consciousness by another hilariously weird audition, this one featuring (and put online by) silicon-based life form Heidi Montag. In it, Montag tries to prove to Michael Bay that she’s ready to take over for Megan Fox in “Transformers 3″ by clumsily shooting a pistol on a gun range. I wonder if she knows any ABBA songs.

[Photo: “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, 20th Century Fox, 2009]

Jackie That 70s Show

Jackie Oh!

15 That ’70s Show Quotes to Help You Unleash Your Inner Jackie

Catch That '70s Show Mondays and Tuesdays from 6-10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Carsey-Werner Company

When life gets you down, just ask yourself: what would Jackie do? (But don’t ask her, because she doesn’t care about your stupid problems.) Before you catch That ’70s Show on IFC, take a look at some quotes that will help you be the best Jackie you can be.

15. She knows her strengths.

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14. She doesn’t let a little thing like emotions get in the way.

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13. She’s her own best friend.

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12. She has big plans for her future.

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11. She keeps her ego in check.

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10. She can really put things in perspective.

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9. She’s a lover…

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8. But she knows not to just throw her love around.

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7. She’s proud of her accomplishments.

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6. She knows her place in the world.

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5. She asks herself the hard questions.

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4. She takes care of herself.

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3. She’s deep.

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2. She’s a problem solver.

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1. And she’s always modest.

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Jake Gyllenhaal, the “smart-throb.”

Jake Gyllenhaal, the “smart-throb.”  (photo)

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In an intriguing and moody profile of Jake Gyllenhaal, The Independent‘s Lesley O’Toole introduces us to an unlikely new coinage along the lines of “bromance”: “smart-throb.” This neologism is new to me, but apparently it comes up every now and then: it apparently also applies to David Krumholtz on “Numb3rs” and, long ago, Jonathan Taylor Thomas. August company, to be sure, though O’Toole proposes that the ranks also include the older likes of George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr. and Matt Damon. (Best not to think about what actors didn’t make the cut.)

What she means, of course, is that Gyllenhaal, who wasn’t initially known for his biceps, has gotten very jacked. O’Toole makes the semi-convincing parallel to Downey Jr. in that he was once sensitive and dark and is now noticeably bigger than when he first got started. But even as Donnie Darko, Gyllenhaal seemed a lot better sculpted than your average teen weirdo; his contemporary Tobey Maguire was no stranger to the weight room, but there’s always been a tentative, unnerving quality around him that might disqualify him.

05142010_downey.jpgThis is by no means a real trend, though it was nice of O’Toole to give us the vocabulary in case it becomes one. It does, at least, suggest that fat husbands with hot wives may be all well and good for network TV, but at the cinematheque, the idea of a wiry action hero is still a definite implausibility; if you’re going to head up a franchise, you’ll still need the six-pack.

Whether or not this actually succeeds in changing Gyllenhaal’s image remains to be seen; public reaction to him as a long-haired, sword-wielding “Prince of Persia” has been muted and mostly confused. But it also suggests we’ve entered the era of the smart big hero who requires both brains and brawn, a departure from the days when most of the action heroes past had whole movies designed to cover up their thespian inadequacies. And there’s a domino effect where otherwise potentially mediocre movies are elevated by casts that are vastly overqualified.

Of course, be careful how far you want to take this logic. Nicolas Cage started embracing it with feverish intensity around 1996, and now he’s only sporadically useful.

[Photos: “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” Disney, 2010; “Iron Man 2,” Paramount, 2010.]

Great moments in MTV Movie Awards?

Great moments in MTV Movie Awards? (photo)

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The nominations for this year’s MTV Movie Awards were announced yesterday, to the evident excitement of no one in particular. New categories include “Global Superstar,” “Best Scared-as-SH*T Performance” and “Biggest Badass Star”; “Twilight,” “Avatar” and “The Hangover” slaughtered everything in the nominations department, in keeping with the ceremonies’ populist bent and reputation for rewarding precisely those movies that triumph over critics’ sneers.

For all the show’s looseness (or appearance of; up through 2006, it was stitched together for broadcast from separately filmed parts), there’s something kind of joyless and cynical about the awards’ predictable genuflection to teens, whose loyalties are easily bought. It’s pretty clear the Awards used to skew at least a little older; either that, or teens in the ’90s were slightly more open to the idea of watching non-comedies about people older than themselves. (“A Few Good Men” won Best Picture in 1993, which seems pretty improbable in retrospect.) At the very least, the Awards can claim credit for their now-defunct Best New Filmmaker category, which correctly identified Wes Anderson, Steve James, and Sofia Coppola early — as well as, more impressively, “Hoop Dreams”‘ Steve James. (In deference, it’d seem, to greater tact/concern about the language of sexual harassment, the “Most Desirable” thespian categories were retired long before that.)

And while it’s surely a question of forgetting details, for a show that lets America’s youngest and most pursued demographic get what they want entertainment-wise, the Awards have produced surprisingly few memorable moments just for pure fun. Last year’s big highlight was Sacha Baron Cohen’s staged conflict with Eminem; I also remember the White Stripes blowing the roof off in 2002 (the staged crowd filling the dance floor looked surprisingly raucous). That’s about it, though; no matter the host, the show doesn’t seem noticeably more relaxed or spontaneous than any other. It’s not really surprising the official synopses tend to mock the broadcast in MTV’s own mid-90s language of snark and self-dismissal, even for shows too recent to look back on with some degree of self-aware affection.

05132010_dumb.jpgOf course, Viacom companies are some of the most vigilant about monitoring YouTube for clips of any of their property, which makes it difficult to jog old memories. Nonetheless, in the interest of staying positive, here’s a clip from 1995 that seems relevant since “Iron Man 2″ will be dominating theaters for a bit. This is Robert Downey Jr. presenting Best Comedic Performance to Jim Carrey for “Dumb and Dumber.” At this moment, Carrey is pretty much the biggest star in the world and Downey’s just a cult actor — a state of affairs that’s almost completely inverted now. Just before his public difficulties would start, Downey seems relaxed and — while not yet known as a straight comic actor, just a few years after “Chaplin” was his big bid for Serious Thespian status — he’s able to keep up with Carrey, especially in the backstage moment after. It really is a bit of flashback magic. So there’s something to this show after all, I guess, just like every piece of pop cultural garbage left alone for 15 years:

[Photos: “A Few Good Men,” Columbia, 1992; “Dumb & Dumber,” New Line Cinema, 1994.]

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