Friday, March 31, 2006

Hey all.

Still here. Unpleasant real world stuff is keeping me occupied. Possibly I'll get a chance to post something this weekend. Till then -- which is more unlikely:

A) George Mason wins the NCAA Tournament*? Or

B) Basic Instinct 2 is actually good?


*Special note for Mike: this is a sports reference.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Showtime's made a huge mistake.

According to Tim Goodman, the last shred of hope for the return of Arrested Development has disappeared.

It's hard to even get upset about it at this point, having had so long to become resigned to this likely outcome, but feel welcome to express in the comments any lingering outrage you may be holding on to over the loss of what very well may be the best sitcom in the history of television. At least the show got the chance to wrap things up before the end. Now all that's left is to wait for the final season to be released on DVD. I look forward to the commentary tracks.


I just wrote a great big, in-depth, well-reasoned (for me, anyway) post about my dissatisfaction with the movie Duets, which I rented last night, but then my computer crashed before I could save it. Now, instead of trying to recreate that post, I'll go with this small, shallow, completely free of insightful criticism (but completely true) post that's sure to offend those few of you who have seen and enjoyed the movie:

It stinks!

Friday, March 24, 2006

META: Comments

I need to change the comments system on this blog. I think I've talked about this before, but I really really mean it this time for sure.

When I first started the blog, there was something about the commenting system provided by Blogspot that bugged me. I can't even remember what it was now, but it was very obnoxious at the time. So I removed Blogspot's comment link and added Haloscan's comment system. Which mostly does the job admirably. Except: it has a limited storage capacity. (For the free service that I use, at least.) Which means, once a certain amount of comments have been left, it begins deleting older comments to make room for new ones.

There's been a lot of great commenting going on here in the past couple weeks. Good comments, and loads of 'em. I hate to think that in a couple months, maybe less, they're going to vanish.

Sometime this weekend, hopefully, I'm going to switch back to the Blogspot comments system, which, from what I've seen on other Blogspot sites, has fixed whatever problem I may once have had with it, and is just fine and dandy. And I may see if I can transfer over what Haloscan comments still exist to the Blogspot comments, to keep the historical record intact. I expect this will drive me up the wall, trying to figure it out, so wish me luck.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

MUSIC: Perfect Albums

I heard something off Boston's first album on the radio today, and it made me think that there isn't a single song on that album that you won't hear on the radio. Literally every track on that record gets regular radio play. (At least it does on the dinosaur rock stations I listen to.)

So I wondered -- how many albums can you say that about? And then I realized: I've gotten posts out of much weaker premises than that. So -- let's try to find out!

I'm calling these "Perfect Albums," although that's exaggerating. "Radio Perfect Albums," maybe. Basically, any album that doesn't have one single song you would be surprised to hear on the radio; an album where you could point to any title on the track list at random, and if the radio played it right that second, you'd think, "Yeah, that makes sense."

And we start with:

Boston -- Boston. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm not sure if I've heard "Something About You" on the radio. Already my post is flawed! I'm sure I have heard it; I just can't remember how it goes right now.

The Who -- Who's Next. You had to know this would be on here. I've previously declared this to be the greatest rock album of all time, and I certainly have not wavered in that belief. This is the definition of a perfect album. Just look at the track list. LOOK AT IT!!

"Baba O'Riley"
"Love Ain't For Keeping"
"My Wife"
"The Song Is Over"
"Getting In Tune"
"Going Mobile"
"Behind Blue Eyes"
"Won't Get Fooled Again"
Not one song that is less than great. And certainly not one song you won't hear on the radio.

The Beatles -- Sgt. Pepper. There are possibly one or more other Beatles albums that would fit in here, but this is the most obvious, and the most radio-played. Also interesting (to me, at least): this album contains two songs that are always played together on the radio; you never, ever hear "With a Little Help From My Friends" on the radio without "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" immediately preceding it. The only other example of this kind of thing I can think of is Queen's "We Will Rock You"/"We Are the Champions." Even "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)" sometimes gets played without "The Happiest Days of Our Lives" leading into it. Although "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse," come to think of it, almost always are played together.

And speaking of which, I would include Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon here, but the instrumental tracks don't really get played on the radio. I have heard, rarely, "Speak To Me" and "On the Run" played as bookends to "Breathe," but I don't think I've ever heard "Any Colour You Like" on the radio.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience -- Are You Experienced? According to Wikipedia, there are major differences between the US and UK versions of this album; the UK version drops the three hit singles Hendrix had released before the album was put together ("Purple Haze," "Hey Joe," and "The Wind Cries Mary") and adds three different songs. Well, that's just dumb. I'm talking about the US version here, obviously. I've actually gotten a little burned out on this album, and find it hard to listen to anymore. Probably because of its radio-friendliness; if I could go a few months -- or even one damn day! -- without hearing a song from it on the radio, I might grow to miss and re-appreciate it. Fat chance.

AC/DC -- Back in Black. This one kind of snuck up on me. Looking at a list of best selling albums on Wikipedia, I found this one at #5. That's in the US; worldwide, it is supposedly the #2 selling album of any kind ever. EVER. AC/DC. I would not have expected that. Yet, looking at the track list -- one radio hit after another. Not one song I wouldn't expect to hear any day of the week. It really is pretty damn awesome, isn't it? So, if this is #2 worldwide, what's #1? This is:

Michael Jackson -- Thriller. Remember when Michael Jackson used to be an awesomely talented recording artist and performer, and was almost completely not crazy? You hear these songs a lot less often these days, for obvious reasons (crazy!), but at one time every track could be heard on the radio.

Fleetwood Mac -- Rumours. This one I'd call a maybe. Only because I can't immediately bring to mind the song "I Don't Want To Know." I don't know if that means it doesn't get any airplay, or if it's just the fault of my decaying brain. But I know every other song off this album gets played on the radio frequently.

Tom Petty -- Full Moon Fever. Another maybe. It seems like I've heard all these songs on the radio, but that may just be because I've listened to this album a bajillion times, and in my mind the songs all still sound fresh to me, as though I just heard them on the radio yesterday. I don't honestly know if I've ever heard "The Apartment Song" or "Alright For Now" on the radio. I know I've heard all the others -- even "Zombie Zoo."

Led Zeppelin -- some damn album or other. I'm not familiar enough with Led Zeppelin anymore to bring their songs to mind just from looking at the track listings -- maybe I never was. Fact is, I'm pretty damn sick of Led Zeppelin. They're overplayed, and overrated. But I'll bet at least one of their albums would fit in here. Whether it's I, II, IV, or Houses of the Holy, I couldn't say. I'm sure one of you can tell me. And when you do, if you feel the urge to defend their greatness to me -- resist it.

I don't really have anything very recent on this list, do I? Trying to think of an album that fits this list that's been released since 1990 has me coming up blank. Nirvana's Nevermind was my first thought, but as many singles as it had, there are still a lot of songs on there that never got any airplay. Pearl Jam's Ten? Nope. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill? Not quite. If you can name one, let me know.

And tell me if I've missed any other older ones. I'm sure there are a few. I was surprised at a couple bands who don't appear here; the Rolling Stones, for example, never recorded an album that comes even close. But don't mention any more Beatles albums. We all know, like, every song from every album gets played on the radio; I just wanted to name the top one.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

TV: The Shield finale

SPOILERS. Seriously.

The 90-minute fifth season finale of The Shield just ended, and I feel like I've been punched in the teeth. And I mean that as a compliment.

One of the best dramas on TV has wrapped up its best season since its first -- hell, I'll call it the best season, period. The very first episode of The Shield remains the best hour of the series, and one of the best hours of television I've ever seen -- but as far as sustaining such relentless intensity over the entire season, this has been the best. (Disclaimer: this is not technically the end of the season; just like Battlestar Galactica did this year, The Shield's season is longer than usual -- 21 episodes -- and has been split in half. Call the first eleven episodes season 5.0. The final ten -- season 5.5 -- have yet to be scheduled, as far as I can discover.)

I've written previously about how great this show has been this year, owing in large part to Forest Whitaker's powerful, unnerving performance as Lt. Kavanaugh, the ultra-cool Internal Affairs detective who completely unravels while trying to bring bad cop Vic Mackey to justice. And that post was before the last two episodes, which have rocked my face and kicked my ass, and also rocked my ass and kicked my face. (Whatever that means.)

As great as tonight's episode was, I'd say last week's was even better, with Claudette's long-overdue promotion to captain of the Barn (and if CCH Pounder doesn't get some Emmy love this year, heads will roll), and Mackey's sexual romp with Kavanaugh's ex-wife. Did you see Mackey's face in that scene? Did you watch the amazing array of emotions Michael Chiklis displayed? At best, he thinks he can dig up a little dirt on Kavanaugh from his ex; when she makes sexual advances on him, the storm of emotions that crosses Mackey's mug is one of the best pieces of acting I've seen from the always-stellar Chiklis. Disbelief, guilt, glee, shame, vengeance, doubt, lust -- it's all there and gone in about five seconds. Then, when Mackey later uses the encounter to push the already distraught Kavanaugh even further over the edge -- it's so cruel, and yet you can't help sharing Mackey's cat-who-ate-the-canary (so to speak) grin. The hell with Kavanaugh! Mackey may be a bad cop, but he's our bad cop! And then, when Anthony Anderson's imprisoned ganglord Antwon Mitchell tells Mackey that all bets are off, that the prison-bound Lem will be murdered as soon as he's behind bars, and Mackey sends Lem into hiding before he can surrender himself to the police -- well, you had to know right then that, as the FX promos have been promising, it was indeed "the beginning of the end."

Which brings us to tonight's finale. You knew someone was going to die. Could've been Kavanaugh. Hell, from the way the episode began, with Kavanaugh menacing Corrine in her home, I wouldn't have been too surprised if Kavanaugh had gone nuts and killed Mackey's ex as retaliation. But as soon as Lem and Shane stepped out of their vehicles to discuss Lem's future, it was obvious one of them would not be walking away. Right up to the end, I thought Lem might be the one to catch wise and put a bullet in Shane before Shane could kill him, but I should've known the show would want to make this as painful as possible. Damnation. It's not enough for Shane merely to kill Lem -- he has to blow him up with a hand grenade. That is messed up, dude. And Shane's breakdown in the immediate aftermath, his pleading for forgiveness from Lem's corpse -- what a wrenching moment for the perpetually in-over-his-head Shane. Trying to protect the team in the only fashion his short-sighted mind can conceive, while in reality almost certainly assuring the team -- and especially him -- ten times the hell to pay down the line. It was a great showcase for Walton Goggins as Shane, and a sad farewell to the heart of the Strike Team, Kenny Johnson's Lem.

"We're gonna find out who did this, and we're gonna kill 'em," says Mackey, delivering the awesome final line of the episode as he purposefully strides away from the scene of the crime, unaware Lem's killer is right by his side. When Mackey does find out -- and he will -- Shane is a dead man, there's no question. This, Vic will not forgive. The Strike Team is a family, and Shane just killed their brother. When the show comes back again, I don't know how it can survive the fallout from this episode. Maybe FX wasn't kidding; maybe this really is the beginning of the end. And there's no guarantee anyone walks away from it. Which is just part of what makes this show such a brilliantly gut-wrenching drama. I already can't wait to see where we go from here.

MUSIC: The Sounds

Just wondering: anybody else familiar with the band The Sounds? I heard their album, Dying To Say This To You, at the record store today, found a used copy for $6.99, and picked it up on an impulse. I haven't done that for a long time -- bought an album by a band I'm completely unfamiliar with. Just to give you a comparison, the other two CDs I bought were Billy Joel's The Stranger and Sheryl Crow's Tuesday Night Music Club. I'm on the cutting edge of two decades ago! (Hell, these albums weren't exactly "cutting edge" when they were brand new, were they? But they're damn good. So there.)

I think The Sounds are Swedish (though they sing in English); I could confirm that pretty easily using the intarwebs, but I don't really feel like it. And I'm not sure how I'd describe the music -- synth-heavy, equally heavy guitars, poppish, but on the more rocking end of the scale. (The term "New Wave" suggests itself, but I'm ignoring it.) I'm really digging it. Anybody else ever heard of these people?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Everything ties back into Gaffigan

How I feel when I finally post about a movie that (almost) nobody else wants to talk about anymore:

"Hey, I just saw Heat!"
"Heat? I saw that fifteen years ago!"
"Uh... yeah, I wanna talk about it now."
"No, loser!"
--Jim Gaffigan, Doin' My Time

Which reminds me... Heat was a pretty good movie, wasn't it? I'm not really sure myself, because when I saw it in the theater, some dumb bitch behind me decided to loudly talk non-stop throughout the entire three hours. Actual, swear-to-god, sample chatter, upon seeing a wooden fence onscreen: "A fence!"

When I rule the world: instant death penalty. No trial, no appeal. Straight to the boiling vat of popcorn butter! And you don't even want to know what I'll do to idiots who answer their cell phones.

MOVIES: A History of Violence

Spoilers ahead.

I watched A History of Violence a few days ago, and I have to say I was disappointed. I love David Cronenberg's work, and I was really looking forward to seeing this movie -- it's the film I most regretted not seeing in a theater last year. But this film didn't do much for me. It mostly just sat there.

Here is the one thing the movie does right: the violence. Whenever a violent scene would occur, it would jolt me upright and get me cheering. Hooray, violence! (Which is perhaps not the message the movie is trying to impart to the viewer.) But the only time the film comes alive at all is when somebody is getting killed. (How ironical!!!) I think Viggo Mortensen is just fine as an actor, although his first name bugs me for no good reason, but here, as small-town diner owner Tom Stall, he's just boring. I think Maria Bello (as Tom's wife Edie) is beautiful, and a tremendous actress, and I certainly enjoyed her down-and-dirty sex scenes -- hooray, sex! But again, mostly boring. Ed Harris is always awesome beyond comprehension, and he's the one real bright spot in this film, aside from the violence -- probably because his character, Carl Fogarty, personifies violence. He's the physical reminder of Tom's violent past, the promise of future violence, he dies a violent -- and to me, completely unexpected* -- death (hey, I said spoilers!), and he's the catalyst for violent change in the life of Tom and his family: because of him, Tom's son becomes a killer, too. (Speaking of the son: a little too Adam Brody for his own good.)

The main two problems for me with this film are 1) almost every scene without sex or violence is boring, and 2) there is never any question that Tom is who Fogarty says he is, a man named Joey Cusack with a violent past. If there had been some doubt that Tom was exactly the man Fogarty was looking for, it might have created some suspense, some psychological tension, what have you. But Tom's denials fall utterly flat, and the time the film spends establishing Tom as a quiet, peaceful man, and establishing the quiet, peaceful town in which he lives, also falls flat.

Cronenberg, I guess, is trying to make a statement against violence here, or at least, that's what the DVD extras tell us he's trying to do. But Cronenberg fails here at denying his own cinematic violent past. Blood and gore is what he does best. It's by no means the only thing he does well, but it's what he's known for and what he excels at better than almost any other director in film history. You can see that Cronenberg, and the script, are telling us that violence begets violence, that it causes more damage than is at first apparent, that it can take on a life of its own. But when the only truly interesting moments in the film are those of violence, that conveys the exact opposite message.

All in all, it's not terrible, but it's nowhere near the greatness I was expecting. For Cronenberg's visual flair, for certain performances, mainly Ed Harris and the Oscar-nominated William Hurt as Joey Cusack's brother Richie (which nomination to me is inexplicable: it's an entertainingly bizarre performance -- "I tried to strangle you in your crib; I guess all kids do that" -- but it's so brief, not even ten minutes at the end of the picture), for those jarring, gruesome scenes of violence, I'm glad I saw it. But it's far from Cronenberg's best, and I have no desire to see it again.

*I expected him to die at some point, of course, just not so early on.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Sidebar Update

Time to update the ol' sidebar again. Yay!

This week's Object of My Affection is Jan Smithers, who played Bailey Quarters on one of the best sitcoms ever, WKRP in Cincinnati. She may be my very first TV crush. (I would say she was definitely the first, but Yvonne Craig as Batgirl on Batman may have slightly pre-dated her. Is it any wonder I turned into a giant nerd?)

For me, Bailey was always the gal of choice on WKRP, never the more conventional bombshell Jennifer (as played by the giant-haired Loni Anderson). Kind of like I always favored Mary Ann over Ginger: it's that girl-next-door thing, it's a powerful attraction. Speaking of girl-next-door, I discovered a few years back that Jan Smithers lives, if not quite next door, at least in the same town as me, my hometown of Ojai, CA. I ran into her a couple times at the late lamented Ojai Brew Pub. I never quite worked up the nerve to tell her that she was my first TV love*, but I can say that she is still lovely, and she is a complete sweetheart.

Also, I'm hating the fact that WKRP will never be released on DVD -- at least, not in anything resembling the way it originally aired -- due to the impossibility of re-licensing all the music they used. If you've seen the show in reruns, you've probably noticed that the music the radio station plays has been very obviously, and poorly, dubbed over in most instances. Some episodes were so heavily reliant on certain music that removing or changing that music just destroys them. If I ever won the lottery, I'd set aside a chunk of change to buy the music rights for a WKRP DVD release. That would be my contribution to charity!

STILL reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I'm up to about page 375, which is not even halfway. I love this book, but man, I gotta remember how to read faster. So, as with last week, because I'm sick of seeing Jonathan Strange on the sidebar, I'm putting up one of the books I plan on reading next: Stephen King's Cell. I understand Zombie Tom didn't care for it, but frankly, I don't think he even read it.

I'm leaving the season 3 DVD of Newsradio up under Watching, because, well, I'm still watching it. I love this show, and I love the commentary tracks on the DVDs, which alternate between the writers making interesting and funny observations on how the program was put together, and Andy Dick laughing like a maniac at stuff he doesn't remember doing.

I'm listening to the new CD from Jim Gaffigan, Beyond the Pale. It's every bit as hilarious as his previous disc, Doin' My Time, only with 100% less F-words this time out. I was listening to this on the road trip, and, as with the other Gaffigan album, almost driving off the road from laughing so hard. Now that's comedy.

In honor of the gigantic blizzard I blundered into while driving through Arizona, Lyric of the Week comes from PE's classic response to the state's refusal to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day, "By the Time I Get To Arizona." Lyric that makes me feel old: "I'm blowing up in '90/Started tickin' in '86." This song came out in 1990?? Damn!

And as for Barney's quote, this week it comes directly from Barney's blog, which is awesome.

*How that conversation would probably have gone:
--Um, excuse me, I just wanted to say HOLY CRAP I LOVE YOU BAILEY OH MY GOD!!!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

MOVIES: His Girl Friday

On the recommendation of Monty from the comments to my Top Ten Directors post, I rented the DVD of His Girl Friday. I've long meant to see this movie; I'm aware of its great reputation as a classic, I like Cary Grant, I like Rosalind Russell, I like Howard Hawks. I though I would love this movie. But, at the risk of enraging Monty, perhaps to the point of bloodshed: I don't. I don't like it at all. I actually kind of hate it.

First of all, and perhaps worst of all, it's not very funny. I smiled a few times -- there are a number of clever lines and some fine moments of witty banter -- but for this team, for this movie, I expected barrels of laughs, and it doesn't deliver anything approaching that. I guess the rapid-fire cross-talk of the characters is supposed to be inherently entertaining just by itself, and I admire the facility of the delivery by Grant and especially Russell, but it's not enough on its own. Second, I don't like Cary Grant at all. He's often played smooth-talking cads similar to his Walter Burns in Friday, but his performance here is mostly lacking his usual overpowering charm. It's the fault of the character more than the performance, I'd say: Walter Burns isn't simply a cad. He's a turd. He's a world-class shitheel. I completely despise him. He's a vile, loathsome, lying, cheating, backstabbing piece of crap. He has no redeeming qualities, other than he's played by Cary Grant. And speaking of bad characters, the other reporters in the city hall press room are equally horrid; for a film that seems to want to romanticize the world of journalism, it sure makes all the journalists look like assholes. And Rosalind Russell's Hildy Johnson is just as bad. She's horrible to her fiance, played by Ralph Bellamy, who is admittedly a doormat and a sucker, but he's very kind and very supportive and very much in love with her, and she walks all over him and dismisses him completely in the middle of writing her story -- to the point of allowing him to cool his heels in jail instead of bailing him out, to the point of allowing his mother-in-law to be kidnapped by one of Grant's seedy accomplices, to the point of being totally unaware that he has told her that he's leaving town, with or without her. Also: in order to support Grant's newspaper's stance that a condemned prisoner shouldn't be executed, due to Grant's opinion that he's insane, she conducts an interview with the man in which she leads him and twists his words, fabricating a story that she gets him to endorse, which allegedly indicates his insanity because it implies sympathy to Communism. That's some fine journalism there.

Of course, I'm aware that the historical context of movies like this needs to be considered when viewing them today. In 1940, fear of the "Red Menace" was real and widespread. Enough so that it was plausible to an audience that listening to a Communist sympathizer's soapbox rantings could cause insanity in the prisoner? Maybe... but that's stretching it. It's just a ridiculous plot point. Another contextual factor that needs to be considered when watching this film is the casual racism of the age. When one reporter describes a "colored" woman having a "pickaninny" baby -- well, what are you going to do? People talked like that back then, and it's tough to resent a movie for representing that reality. However, the crime that the prisoner in question committed, the one the newspaper is devoting all its resources to defending him from, is this: he shot a cop. Now, why on Earth would a newspaper defend a guy who unquestionably, undeniably, by his own confession, murdered a policeman? Oh, wait -- it was a colored cop. Well, gee, I guess that's not so bad.

That's what this whole movie hinges on, and that's what I hate about it: the crusade Grant and Russell and their paper are all on is to save a white man who murdered a black man. Russell trumps up that ridiculous interview with the prisoner that supposedly proves his insanity, despite several doctors who have already determined him to be sane; Grant bribes the governor into signing a reprieve for the man's execution. On what basis? Why is the newspaper going to all this trouble? They think the man is getting railroaded by the justice system because the mayor's election is approaching, and he counts on the black vote to guarantee his re-election -- which just must be the only reason he would want this man brought to justice. That the mayor indeed is corrupt still does not come near justifying the extremes to which Grant, Russell & co. go to preventing the murderer's execution.

Am I overreacting to the racial issues raised by this film? I don't think so. I ask you to consider this: what if the races of the killer and his victim were reversed? Would that movie have been made, with the sympathies still so strongly and clearly with the killer? Maybe today, but in 1940 -- not a chance in hell.

So I find the plot contemptible. Isn't there enough else in the movie to make me enjoy it? After all, I find certain elements (well, one, mainly) of Philadelphia Story to be repugnant, but it's still one of my favorite movies ever. And shouldn't I cut Friday some slack, and not take a comedy (well, comedy/drama) so seriously? I say no to both questions. As I was saying above, Grant, Russell, and Hawks don't do nearly enough to redeem the plot of His Girl Friday. They give solid (though tremendously unsympathetic) performances, and the direction, with its overlapping dialogue, is practically revolutionary in the development of cinema, but they never came close to selling me on His Girl Friday as a great film. They never even convinced me it was a good film.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

TV: Battlestar Galactica

Hey, my vacation was cut short, for reasons I may or may not detail at some future point, because it's all kind of a bummer. But at any rate, I'm back, and I just watched the season two finale of Battlestar Galactica. And I have just three words to sum it up:




Season three in October is a long, long way away. But I could rewatch this episode just about every night until then and be satisfied. It rocked my face, and then it kicked my face's ASS.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

TV: The Unit and Sons & Daughters

Last post before I leave on vacation. Miss me!

So, here's what I thought about The Unit, the new drama about an elite military strike team, created by David Mamet and Shawn Ryan (creator of The Shield), and starring the always-excellent Dennis Haysbert:

Didn't see it.

And here is what I thought about Sons & Daughters, the new semi-improvised comedy produced by Lorne Michaels:

Didn't see it.

If the networks are going to schedule the only two interesting new shows of the mid-season not only at the exact same time as each other, but also up against two other shows I'm already committed to, Scrubs and House, so that it's impossible for me to TiVo either one of them, I say screw 'em. I don't need your crappy new shows. Go suck an egg. So there.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


First of all: excellent participation on the last two entries, everybody (and the liveblogging post before that as well). I should do a list every day! (But I won't. Maybe.) I love to see people engaged and commenting at the ol' blogstead. And please, neither topic is closed; keep adding your two cents on the top ten directors or the top ten films.

But now, of course, having built up interest in the blog, I'll be taking a break. Perfect timing! I'll be out of town from Thursday through Monday. This might not be the last post until then, but consider this an early "Gone Fishin'" notice, just in case.

So I watched the DVD of Crash last night. I hadn't intended to, but a buddy called up and had it rented, so I went over and three of us checked it out. And I'll tell you what: it's no Best Picture.

Most of the criticisms I've read of the film turned out to be accurate. It's filled with cheap irony and ridiculous coincidences (to the point where you think there must be only 12 people living in L.A.) and obviously telegraphed "shocks;" the characters are almost uniformly stupid people who do and say stupid things (either due to, yes, sheer stupidity, or intentional baiting), both for shock value and to broadcast the message: WE'RE ALL RACIST!!! Oh, really, is that the point of this movie? I didn't get that. Even an ounce of subtlety might have helped make this film less ludicrous, but subtle never enters the picture.

Speaking of ludicrous: rapper-turned-actor Ludacris is one of the things I did enjoy about the film. He's surprisingly good. In fact, all the actors are good, some very good; the problem is with the material, not them. There are some effective moments peppered throughout: Michael Pena's story to his daughter hiding under the bed was very sweet and funny ("Yeah right, you're a fairy"), and come on, who didn't love seeing Terrence Howard kick the crap out of Ludacris? (And take his gun: "Now it's my gun!") And Tony Danza: BEST CAMEO EVER.

But those moments are outweighed ten times by the eye-rolling, ridiculous, groan-inducing, impossible-to-swallow scenes: Don Cheadle's mother instantly blaming him for his brother's death. William Fichtner's "fucking black people" speech to Cheadle. Howard's complete, batshit insane freakout for the cops. Ryan Phillippe and Larenz Tate's matching St. Christopher statues. Ludacris apparently having no problem liberating a van full of slaves from his evil fence, who had planned on selling them. Thandie Newton's... actually, almost every single thing Thandie Newton's character does or says. By the time we got to Sandra Bullock hugging her maid and weeping, "You're the best friend I've got," I was laughing hysterically. "What, are we in Driving Miss Daisy all of a sudden?" I asked. "'Hoke, you're my best friend!'" And then I got the rest of the room laughing when Matt Dillon's father last is shown, trying again to take a pee: "Awwww... poor racist cop's dad!"

The movie is so self-consciously declaring itself to be The Definitive Film Statement On Racism. And I could not take it seriously. Some damn fine acting wasted in a mostly piss-poor script.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

MOVIES: Top Ten Films

Well, from the comments to yesterday's post about my top ten directors (and the discussion there is by no means finished, please keep speaking up), Dale has given me today's assignment: top ten movies.

Again, this will be mostly off the top of my head. I don't think there are a great many surprises to be found here, especially considering which directors I named in the last post.

  • Chinatown

  • Citizen Kane

  • McCabe & Mrs. Miller

  • The Godfather

  • Casablanca

  • Ran

  • Sunset Blvd.

  • The Wild Bunch

  • The Philadelphia Story

  • Goodfellas

That's a damn good ten movies. If there's any one of 'em you haven't seen, go see it now. RIGHT NOW!!

Here's ten more:

  • Unforgiven

  • Rio Bravo

  • It Happened One Night

  • The Apartment

  • Rear Window

  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

  • Fargo

  • The Quiet Man

  • Dead Ringers

The problem isn't coming up with ten great films, it's limiting it to only ten. Look, here's ten more without even trying:

  • The Man Who Would Be King

  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?

  • Apocalypse Now

  • The Searchers

  • Raging Bull

  • A Clockwork Orange

  • Some Like It Hot

  • Pulp Fiction

  • Lawrence of Arabia

  • Robocop

Yeah, I said Robocop! If you know me at all, you knew that had to show up on here somewhere. It's a great personal favorite, and I would argue that it is in fact a great movie, period. I expect many of you will disagree, but that is why you have thumbs: so you can go sit on them.

I'd say the first ten are pretty solidly confirmed as my actual top ten. I might, depending on what day you met me, switch The Apartment for Sunset Blvd., say, or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for The Wild Bunch. But it's a pretty firm top ten, and the first five are probably my actual, permanent, no foolin' top five, in that order.

So thirty great movies, and I didn't even touch on some on the great directors I named. No Woody Allen? (For the record, I'd put Crimes and Misdemeanors as my favorite from him, followed by one of his lesser known works, The Purple Rose of Cairo.) No Soderbergh? (Out of Sight.) No Spielberg? (Saving Private Ryan.) No Gilliam (whose name only came up in the comments, but whom I should have included in my second ten)? (I'd take a personal favorite, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, over the more obvious Brazil.)

I intentionally tried to spread the bottom twenty films out between several directors, so I didn't have, say, five titles by one person. There are still some repeats, but I easily could have made a list of twenty using only Altman, Wilder, and Huston. But again, as with yesterday's list, there are probably many blatant errors I'm making. You probably think I'm crazy for saying McCabe is Altman's best, as opposed to The Player, or Nashville. Maybe you think only a lunatic would list Ran but not The Seven Samurai. Well, aren't you a bold one! Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Monday, March 06, 2006

MOVIES: Top Ten Directors

During my epic Oscar liveblogging last night, I threw out the suggestion that Robert Altman may be the greatest director ever. I stand by my assertion that he's our greatest living director (only Scorsese challenges him, I think; sorry, Ian, I'm not a Bergman fan), but greatest ever was overstating it. Who would I say is the greatest ever? Tough. I don't know if I could nail it down to just one, so I'm going to throw out my list of who I would consider to be in the top ten. This is off the top of my head, and in no particular order, and I reserve the right to completely change my mind on any of them, because I'm fickle like that.

  • Robert Altman

  • Martin Scorsese

  • Orson Welles

  • Frank Capra

  • Alfred Hitchcock

  • Akira Kurosawa

  • Stanley Kubrick

  • Sam Peckinpah

  • John Ford

  • John Huston

Now, what can you surmise from that list? Well, for one thing, I like Westerns. Also, I'm pretty American-centric. There are only a couple of British names (was Kubrick British? Or just an American expatriate? I can never remember, and I don't feel like looking it up right now*), and only one non-English language director on the list. I don't care for Bergman; I'm no fan of Fellini. Maybe I haven't been exposed to enough great world cinema to be a fair judge, but screw it, there's enough great American cinema to fill my movie life a hundred times, and I don't think anyone could genuinely dismiss any of my choices -- without getting a poke in the eye from me, that is. (Though I bet Peckinpah's inclusion raises the most eyebrows.)

Ten other directors who could've made the list:

  • Francis Ford Coppola, if he had stopped making movies after 1979

  • Joel and/or Ethan Coen, whichever one directs their films**

  • Steven Spielberg, who can be schmaltzy and syrupy and corny, but when he's good -- man, he's good

  • Sam Raimi, just to get a genre*** name in there (aside from Spielberg, of course)

  • Roman Polanski, who directed my favorite film of all time, Chinatown

  • Sergio Leone, because, as we've already established, I like Westerns

  • Clint Eastwood, who has directed some brilliant films among some pretty schlocky ones

  • Charlie Chaplin, though I haven't really seen enough of his work to name him by more than reputation alone

  • Woody Allen, who was probably #11 on my top ten list

  • Steven Soderbergh, who may still have the biggest career ahead of him of all those I've named

Your turn. Which really obvious name whose films I definitely love have I forgotten? Which name do you think I'm stupid crazy for including? Which crappy-ass director that you like but I hate are you outraged that I excluded?

*Okay, I looked it up. He was born in the Bronx.
**It's Joel.
***Fine, Westerns are a genre, too. Aren't you Mr. Smarty Pants for wanting to point that out. Genres other than Westerns, okay? And yes, I do know Raimi has directed a Western, too.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Minute-by-minute at the 2006 Oscars Ceremony

2005 Oscars.

2006 Pre-Show.

5:00 -- Welcome to the 78th Annual Academy Awards! We open with a computer-generated pastiche, if that's the word I'm looking for, and I don't really care if it is, of famous movie moments, characters, stars, and props, from Back to the Future's DeLorean to Christopher Reeve as Superman. It's corny as all git-out, and kind of dopey to see, say, Jimmy Stewart next to Spider-Man, but it somehow works.

5:02 -- Time elapsed to first Brokeback joke: two minutes. The opening comedy film shows past Oscar hosts turning down this year's job, starting with Billy Crystal and Chris Rock, sharing a tent. Please, please let this be the last such joke of the evening. For Whoopi Goldberg's bit, she says, "Oh, hell no." My thoughts on her, exactly. The farther she stays away from the Oscars, the better, as far as I'm concerned. In fact, her five-second filmed bit has already soured me a little.

5:04 -- Finally we get to Jon Stewart, in bed with Halle Berry, who is wearing flannel PJs. She tells him it's a dream. He peeks under the covers; she says, "The flannel's down there, too." "In my dream??"

5:05 -- Cut to George Clooney in bed with Stewart. Second gay joke in five minutes. Does not bode well.

5:05 -- Stewart finally makes his actual entrance. "Thank you, ladies, gentlemen... Felicity." Because she plays a dude who wants to be a chick! GET IT??? Stewart says, "It's an exciting night, an exciting night." We see in the audience, directly behind Philip Seymour Hoffman, a woman checking her cell phone. So, maybe not that exciting. Oh, that woman is Catherine Keener! Put down the phone, hon!

5:06 -- "Tonight is the night we celebrate excellence in film... with me, the fourth male lead from Death to Smoochy."

5:06 -- "It's exciting for the stars as well -- this is the first time many of you have ever voted for a winner."

5:08 -- "Good night, and good luck" is "not just Edward R. Murrow's sign-off, it's also how Mr. Clooney ends all his dates." The joke is really sold by Clooney playing along, laughing, then turning serious as though he just realized what was being said.

5:09 -- To Steven Spielberg, director of Schindler's List and Munich: "I think I speak for all Jews when I say: I can't wait to see what happens to us next." Crossing his fingers: "Trilogy!!"

5:10 -- "Bjork couldn't be here tonight -- she was trying on her Oscar dress, and Dick Cheney shot her." Old reference, fairly weak, tremendously obvious, but the audience loves it, and I have to admit I laughed, too.

5:13 -- "I just feel like there's nothing remotely gay about the classic Hollywood Westerns." Cue two-minute clip of very suggestive moments from classic Hollywood Westerns. Hilarious. Best bits -- John Wayne: "I'll have you spread-eagled on a wagon wheel!" And Gregory Peck to Charlton Heston: "The goodbye that I have in mind will take a little more room than we have in here."

5:15 -- "Charlton Heston is cut. Guy looks like he's been lifting twenty commandments."

5:15 -- On the order that presenters have traditionally been scheduled in the ceremony: "We're going to be introducing the presenters in order of how talented they are." First up: Nicole Kidman. Hey, maybe he wasn't kidding!

5:19 -- Kidman presents Best Supporting Actor to Clooney. Hey, I'm an early 1-for-1 in my picks! Clooney: "All right, so I'm not winning Director." Weirdly, the orchestra plays during his entire time on stage, instead of kicking in when he was running late. That's very annoying.

5:24 -- Stewart, re: Clooney's Oscar: "That's the kind of thing that can really get a fella laid."

5:25 -- While jokingly helping to demonstrate the Academy's new methods of keeping acceptance speeches short (the orchestra actually comes on stage and surrounds the winner), Tom Hanks thanks "Hooch." That is awesome.

5:27 -- Ben Stiller, presenting Visual Effects, comes out in a green suit, and pretends that FX is making it appear as though only his disembodied head is being seen (it's not). Pretty funny. He says, "This is blowing Spielberg's mind!" Even funnier, Spielberg in the audience shakes his head and mouths, "No it's not."

5:29 -- Kong wins. I'm 2-for-2. Man, this show seems like it's running really long already. And I'm already about a half hour behind on TiVo. That's why (when I'm being honest) I call this kind of post "semi-liveblogging."

5:32 -- Reese Witherspoon presents Best Animated Feature to Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I actually pump my fist at this and yell, "Yeah!" as though I helped make the movie or something. 3-for-3, by the way. (Which coincidentally is also my number of successfully consumed beers at this point.)

5:34 -- Naomi Watts introduces Dolly Parton, and that makes me inordinately happy for no good reason.

5:37 -- To see Jack Nicholson obey Dolly Parton and clap along with her song is the first truly transcendent moment of this evening. Right on, Jack! If Dolly doesn't win, I will literally give up watching TV for the rest of my life.

5:42 -- Coming back from commercial, Stewart pretends he's been proselytizing: "And that's why I think Scientology is right, not just for this city, but for the country!" Tom Cruise and John Travolta will murder him for this after the show, while Katie Holmes and Kelly Preston watch and laugh. The camera cuts to Joaquin Phoenix in the crowd. Is he a Scientologist?

5:44 -- Luke and Owen Wilson present for Best Live Action Short: Six Shooter. My first miss. I'm 3-for-4.

5:45 -- Owen introduces two animated characters from Chicken Little. That's fucking humiliating. Couldn't they at least have gotten characters from a film that was nominated? Hey -- is that Joan Cusack doing one of the voices? Now I want to see that movie.

5:47 -- Best Animated Short goes to The Moon and the Son. Frick! I usually get at least one of the short categories. I'm 3-for-5.

5:48 -- Jennifer Aniston presents Best Costume Design. This is the closest she'll ever get to an Oscar. Unless she has a three-way with Brad and Angelina (who, of course, won for Girl, Interrupted). Hmmm... I need to sit down and ponder that for a while. (Minus Brad Pitt.)

5:50 -- Colleen Atwood wins for Memoirs of a Geisha. 3-for-6. For cry-yi! I'm getting pounded in the minor categories!!

5:51 -- Russell Crowe presents a clip reel of movie biographies. He punches Colleen Atwood in the head as he enters.

5:57 -- Will Ferrell and Steve Carrell present for Best Makeup. I would pay $20 to see a movie starring both of them, but maybe that's just me. [EDIT: In the comments, Monty makes a good point: that movie has already been made, and it was called Anchorman. I actually did pay $20 for that movie on DVD. What I meant was I wanted a new movie, but I am nonetheless chagrined.]

5:59 -- The Chronicles of Narnia wins. Hellfire, I am not going to win one of the minor categories, am I? 3-for-7.

6:01 -- Speaking of the host of the Scientific and Technical Awards (aka The Nerd Awards That Don't Get To Be Presented At The Real Show), Stewart introduces "the very clothed Rachel McAdams." That's a dig at her for her very public refusal to appear on this cover. Oh, how I admire her integrity for not wanting to pose naked for the camera. Damn, dude, that's two nudie links in one sub-entry for a liveblogging post. Have I got it going on or what??

6:03 -- Morgan Freeman presents Best Supporting Actress, and stumbles over his lines a bit. Where's Easy Reader now, huh??

6:06 -- Rachel Weisz wins. Finally, back to the major categories, I get a win! 4-for-8, and back to .500 at least.

6:11 -- Lauren Bacall comes out to present a clip reel for film noir. She's very shaky, and stumbles a lot. It's great to see her, but a little sad as well. As the clip begins, I bet myself that the last scene will be Bacall saying, "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow." I'm wrong. But it feels like more of a mistake on the Academy's part, I have to say.

6:17 -- A slew of fake campaign commercials for Best Actress (narrated by Stephen Colbert). Funny, but could be better.

6:19 -- Terrence Howard presents Documentary Short. A Note of Triumph wins. Man, I have never been this off on my picks. 4-for-9. You know what would make this night better right now? More beer!

6:21 -- Charlize Theron presents Documentary Feature. She's hot, of course, but her dress, with its enormous tumor of material on her left shoulder, is not flattering. And the winner is -- March of the Pneguins. Good thing I flip-flopped on my pick! I'm back to .500 at 5-for-10.

6:24 -- Jennifer Lopez enters as the March of the Penguins guys leave. They taunt her with their Oscars and stuffed penguins. She introduces the song "In the Deep" from Crash. It's boring as hell. But, as opposed to Dolly Parton, who was her own stage show, there's a crazy, fiery, incredibly poorly choreographed reenactment of moments from the movie going on behind the singer. It's Oscar night at its worst.

6:32 -- Stewart, following up on that awful stage show: "If you are trying to escape a burning car, my suggestion would be not to move in slow motion."

6:32 -- Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves present Best Art Direction. Keanu shows remarkable restraint, and does not say, "Whoa."

6:34 -- Memoirs of a Geisha wins again?? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills! I'm down to 5-for-11. Jeezum Crow, I am doing horribly here.

6:36 -- Samuel L. Jackson presents a clip reel of big social theme films. It's as ponderous and self-important as you'd imagine it to be (except for Dolly in 9 to 5).

6:40 -- After, Stewart: "And none of those issues were ever a problem again."

6:44 -- There's some nonsense from Academy President Sid Ganis, and then Salma Hayek comes out to hot things up. She introduces Itzhak Perlman, whose first name looks like a typo, and who plays excerpts from the nominated Best Musical Scores.

6:49 -- Brokeback Mountain wins. That's my first win in a minor category!! (Not counting Documentary Feature, which is borderline at best -- or not; hell, this year, the winning documentary has outgrossed all five Best Picture nominees.) Back to 50/50, at 6-for-12.

6:56 -- Jake Gyllenhaal presents a clip reel on epic movies. Let's see, there's Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, the original King Kong (which, to get off the subject, wasn't actually filmed in widescreen, 70MM, epic format, but in small-screen, TV-ratio... but I digress), Braveheart, 2001, Ran... Grease??? One of these things is not like the others, one of these things doesn't belong.

6:58 -- Dude, they just showed Smokey & the Bandit, too. Now, I like Grease and Smokey & the Bandit as much as the next musical-loving redneck out there... but, as examples of epic filmmaking? You can do better, people.

6:59 -- Stewart: "Wow, I can't wait till later, when we see 'Oscar's salute to montages.' Holy crap, we're out of clips! We are literally out of film clips."

7:00 -- Jessica Alba and Eric Bana present Best Sound Mixing together, for no apparent reason. King Kong wins. I picked it for Sound Editing, not Sound Mixing. So I'm boned. 6-for-13.

7:03 -- Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep ("the most nominated actor in Oscar history," with 13) come out to present "a special award." Ooh, is this Robert Altman's honorary Oscar? Normally, these kinds of things are where I fast forward to catch up on my lag time, but in this case, I want to hear every word Altman says. I hope he rips Hollywood a new one. Tomlin and Streep do their intro in overlapping, Altman-style conversation, which is awesome.

7:09 -- After a clip reel, Altman enters. Our greatest living director? The greatest director ever? I think a strong case could be made for either argument, and I think, even considering Spielberg, Scorsese, you name it -- I think, in the living director category, unquestionably, without even having to have the argument, it's Altman. The man is a sheer genius, and I worship his films. (Okay, maybe not O.C. and Stiggs, but most of them.) M*A*S*H, Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, 3 Women, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Tanner '88 on HBO, The Player, Short Cuts, Gosford Park... in the world of film, he's one of my greatest heroes. If you catch me in a certain mood, I'll swear that McCabe and Mrs. Miller is the greatest film ever made. And Altman has never won an Oscar.

7:11 -- "I know some of you have liked some of the sections [meaning various entries in his filmography], and others, you... anyway, it's all right." Other than that, it's a pretty mild and gracious speech. None of the hell-raising I was hoping for. But a good showing. Look for A Prairie Home Companion this Summer. I guarantee its awesomeness.

7:19 -- "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," from Hustle & Flow, is performed. Apparently, this is the first rap performance ever at the Oscars, even though Eminem's "Lose Yourself" from 8 Mile has already won an Oscar. All things considered, I could've gone another year without a rap performance at the Oscars. Not a great song.

7:22 -- Queen Latifah presents Best Song.

7:24 -- I don't know what happens after this, because Dolly Parton loses to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," and as promised, I subsequently throw my TV out the goddam window. I better go borrow the neighbor's TV. 6-for-14.

7:25 -- Stewart thinks this is the funniest fucking thing ever. "You know what? I think it just got a little easier out here for a pimp."

7:27 -- Jennifer Garner, rocking some major post-birthing boobies, presents Best Sound Editing. She almost takes a header on the way to the microphone. She coolly quips, "I do my own stunts." Bring back Alias!

7:29 -- Son of a gun. King Kong wins for Editing as well as Mixing. But I'm still under .500, at 7-for-15.

7:30 -- "Academy Award winner George Clooney" (man, it's weird to say that) comes out to introduce the Who Croaked This Year? salute. Clap for the most popular! Pat Morita takes the early lead. Chris Penn comes close, but young and tragic can't quite overshadow Karate Kid and Happy Days. Shelley Winters briefly seizes the lead, but is immediately surpassed by Anne Bancroft! And who will be the final corpse, always guaranteed to draw the most applause? It's Richard Pryor! Richard Pryor wins most popular dead entertainer!! As always, post-mourning, we fade silently to commercial, with no coming attractions from the announcer. Because it's all so solemn and somber.

7:38 -- Will Smith presents Best Foreign Language Film. Ebert & Roeper steered me right: Tsotsi wins! Takes me back up to a miserable 50% correct, at 8-for-16. The director's acceptance speech is the most stirring of the night so far, and the most energetic save for Three Six Mafia's acceptance for Best Song. (CRASH! There goes my neighbor's TV!)

7:40 -- Stewart: "For those of you keeping score at home -- Martin Scorsese: zero Oscars. Three Six Mafia: one."

7:41 -- He introduces Ziyi Zhang. He says "Ziyi" as "Zoo-wee." Is that right?

7:42 -- Ziyi Zhang presents Best Film Editing to Crash. Wow! Is this an omen for a Best Picture upset? Dang it, I shouldn't have changed my pick! (Of course, all of you already know which film won; I'm an hour behind at this point.) 8-for-17.

7:44 -- Hilary Swank comes out to present Best Actor. She's been hitting the fake tan pretty hard. Looks hot, though. And single!

7:47 -- Hoffman wins! Wow, it's his first nomination? I thought he had at least one before. He should have. I gotta see this movie. He's a very awkward public speaker. He doesn't bark the whole speech, or even a part of it, as the press kept asking him (apparently it was a bet he made back in college). I would've liked to have heard that speech. 9-for-18.

7:55 -- John Travolta comes out, possibly to proselytize on behalf of Scientology for real. If I may editorialize here for a moment: Scientologists are crazy. They are batshit fucking insane. They believe alien ghosts cause all your problems. No, seriously. INSANE. And now, John Travolta!

7:56 -- He presents Cinematography to -- Memoirs of a Geisha??? Isn't this its third Oscar?? Is frickin' Geisha going to be the big winner of the night? How bizarre would that be! I'm sure this is all very gratifying to the twelve people who saw it in the theater. 9-for-19.

7:57 -- Jamie Foxx enters to present Best Actress. And -- my #1 guaranteed pick of the night does indeed win: Reese Witherspoon. Very nice. But, as has been the norm all throughout the night (with a couple exceptions), a very tame, uninspired speech, even considering the tearful conclusion. No big surprises so far this year, other than Best Song. No big, memorable speeches (again, other than for Best Song) or mistakes. Very, very bland. 10-for-20.

8:07 -- Dustin Hoffman presents Adapted Screenplay. Brokeback Mountain wins. I'm back over .500 for the first time since... I don't even want to go back and check since when (11-for-21). DAMN, what a boring speech. Wow, we're ten minutes over the alloted running time already. I set the TiVo for a half hour extra. I hope that's going to be enough! There should only be, if I'm counting correctly, three more awards (Original Screenplay, Director, Picture -- right?). I hope we can crank those out in less than 20 minutes.

8:13 -- Uma Thurman presents Best Original Screenplay. I'm totally up in the air now. I have no idea what's going to happen here. And it goes to -- Crash! Wow. Both front-runners for Best Picture have also won for Best Screenplay. That kicks my "consolation prize" theory to the curb. I'm 11-for-22, and I know I'm going to win for Director (Ang Lee), but Best Picture? I honestly don't know which way it's going to go. If I had to bet on it right now, I'd say it's down to even odds between the two.

8:19 -- Tom Hanks comes out to present Best Director. Watch me be wrong on this one, too. And... nope, it's Ang Lee. I'm 12-for-23, and at worst, I'll be 50% for the night. Which is far below the worst I actually expected I would be. While we're on the subject of Brokeback, thank you to the ceremony's writers and producers for getting the gay jokes out of the way in the first few minutes.

8:22 -- Jack! Jack Nicholson presents Best Picture. AWESOME. He pronounces "Capote" as "Cuh-poh-tay."

8:23 -- GOD DAMN IT!!! Why didn't I trust my instincts? STUPID STUPID STUPID!!! I had it perfectly reasoned out, I had the Academy pegged to a homophobic T. But noooooooo. FUCK A DUCK!!! I chickened out. I picked the apparent popular choice, instead of the choice that years of Oscar history have taught me must win. Roger, I admire you for standing by your convictions. But I blew it. Crash. Fucking goddam Crash. I KNEW IT, but couldn't make myself stand by it. I suck. 12-for-24 for the night, and my worst record since I first began keeping track.

8:29 -- Stewart calls the evening to a close. A solid and at times very funny hosting job from him, but he wasn't helped by the nominees nor the acceptance speeches (with, once again, Best Song being the major exception). That said, I don't expect to see him here again. He was very good, but he'll be a one-time host -- like Steve Martin.

Minute-by-minute at the 2006 Oscars Pre-Show

2005 Pre-Show.

3:00 -- Roger Ebert and George Pennacchio begin the local ABC affiliate's pre-pre-show program, and I open my first beer. I'll only be checking in on this first hour of coverage intermittently, to preserve my sanity for as long as possible.

3:02 -- Richard Roeper is with Marc Brown in the balcony, where there's no danger he'll accidentally interact with the talent. Maybe one day he'll get to sit at the grown-ups table.

3:07 -- Seriously, what the hell possible reason could there be for Lisa Rinna to be at the Oscars? Other than the fact that she always ices up her nipples before going out into public, that is. That's good TV.

3:08 -- They have a segment with Muppets Statler and Waldorf! They're looking for Charlize Theron. Man, whoever are doing the voices are hardly even trying. That's sad.

3:10 -- Wow, Rachel Weisz is hotter tonight than I usually give her credit for. Maybe it's the accent. Probably the accent.

3:14 -- Gary fuckin' Busey is there?? What the? I mean, first of all, what possible reason could there be for him to attend the Oscars at all, unless we've suddenly gone back in time 27 years. But more importantly, I'm amazed he has the balls to show his face in public following this career decision.

3:17 -- Roger Ebert's pretend girlfriend, Amy Adams, is here. She looks old around the eyes. Pennacchio goes straight to the money question, probing her on the lucrative offers that must be pouring in for her. Dick. She responds very classily, "Well, I'm not going to talk about things such as that right now. Not tonight." That alone makes me want to rent Junebug.

3:20 -- Pennacchio asks Diana Ossana, co-writer of Brokeback Mountain, "How much money has it made nationally now?" What a crass jackass.

3:24 -- Dolly Parton, still looking pretty darn hot, sportin' some mega-cleavage. You know, there was a time I actually thought those things were real. Sweet, naive youth.

3:25 -- My night has just been made. LEE frickin' MAJORS is here. I don't care is he has even less reason to be here than Gary Busey. It's COL. STEVE AUSTIN, yo. Try to keep him out, and he'll just doo-doo-doo-doo-doo and jump right over the damn wall.

3:26 -- Pennacchio refers to Terrence Howard as "a guy who made $12,000 on a film, and is now getting offers of $2 and $3 million [his emphasis, directly into the camera] for a movie". There is no end to this dipstick's sleazy monetary fixation.

3:31 -- Dolly Parton stops by to talk to Ebert. She's such a sweetheart. "You gonna sing that song tonight?" Ebert asks. "Well, yes Ah am!" she says, and it's so enthusiastic and charming. If you don't love Dolly Parton, you may be dead inside. "I thought that I might could do a good song for it," she adds.

3:35 -- George Clooney: "You know this Ang Lee guy? I don't like him. And I think he's a Communist."

3:40 -- Is it just me, or does Keira Knightley look a lot like Natalie Portman? But, like, with hair.

3:47 -- BODY BLOW!! Ebert introduces "Grant Heslov, one of the producers of Crash," and goes on to mention the extremes in criticism "your film" has received. Heslov says, "Well, it's Good Night, and Good Luck. that I'm a producer of." OUCH!! Sit down, Ebert, sit down! You're so fired.

3:51 -- Pennacchio introduces Steve Carrell: "He's become one of the biggest stars in the world right now." Carrell reacts as though Pennacchio were a complete idiot. Which is the correct reaction.

3:55 -- Will Smith and Will Ferrell are talking to Ebert at the same time. Smith praises Ferrell's commitment to his characters. Ebert jokes that Ferrell should say something nice about Smith now. Ferrell: "I love The Fresh Prince, and, uh, I used to write fan letters to you, but you would never write back." Smith, awesomely playing along: "I was like, 'Who's this crazy -- who's this 37-year-old kid writing me these letters?'"

3:57 -- Paul Giamatti, looking very scruffy, is the last star to stop by... for this pre-pre-show show. Up next: the official pre-show!

Boy, I checked in a little more than "intermittently" in the pre-pre-show, didn't I? I'll need to really skip ahead a bit for the next hour, because I'm already lagging behind a bit on the TiVo, and I want to be caught up to live TV by the time of the actual show.

4:00 -- It's Billy Bush! NOOOOOOOO!!! Actually, I shouldn't be so disrespectful of our future 46th President (I'm calling it now).

4:02 -- Bush macks on Keira Knightley. She says she was afraid of messing up in Pride & Prejudice. "Such self-loathing from a beautiful girl!" Bush says. Smooth.

4:13 -- Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams are an item? I did not know that. I'm in danger of losing my Pop Culture Commentator license.

4:15 -- Bush to Will Smith, on Jada Pinkett-Smith: "Well, if there was a category for most beautiful..." Smith cuts him off: "Hey, careful, that's my wife!" Funny bit, except... the way Bush genuinely leered at Jada while he was speaking kind of creeped me out. He's gross.

4:19 -- Chris Connelly: "The awesome and unbelievable Salma Hayek -- grab your rosaries, boys!" What the HELL does that mean??

4:30 -- I haven't seen Crash or Hustle & Flow yet, but when Terrence Howard speaks, it makes me think that I should. Man, he's got some weird, powerful charisma about him.

4:34 -- Reese Witherspoon continues to be deliriously gorgeous, and Ryan Phillippe continues not to deserve her.

4:40 -- Felicity Huffman looks lovely, but she also looks like a deer in the headlights. Where's William H. Macy to back her up? And Chris Connelly makes her cry by showing her pre-taped well wishes from her Desperate Housewives co-stars. Big meanie!

4:44 -- Bush drags the following responses out of David Strathairn: "No," "No," and, "In a word: no." Nice interview. Then they talk about the kind of tobacco Strathairn smoked in Good Night, and Good Luck. Riveting.

4:50 -- I get caught up on live TV, with plenty of time to spare! In the middle of a commercial, no less. Buy Miller Genuine Draft!

4:52 -- Bush talks to Sid Ganis, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. He asks him about what's in store for tonight. "It's gonna be, uh... a great show, Billy. A great show." Another awesome interview. Even Billy looks underwhelmed by that one.

4:54 -- I'm pretty sick of Jamie Foxx, but when asked what we don't know about him yet, he says, "I can't bowl. I gotta get my bowling thing going right now." And that's pretty sweet.

4:56 -- And that'll do it! Here comes the real deal. Don't let me down, Jon Stewart!

2006 Oscars Ceremony.

Sidebar Update: Oscars Edition

Don't forget to tune in this evening for my Academy Awards liveblogging! I'm all ready to go: I've got five cases of Southern Comfort, three keys of high-grade cocaine, seven underage Guatemalan hookers and a spider monkey. Am I forgetting anything? (If you said "a chainsaw," I like the way you think -- but I'm way ahead of you.)

I've got a little time before the festivities start; the show is at 5PM Pacific, but I'll start with the pre-show, as per usual. In fact, I'm starting with the pre-pre-show, which starts at 3PM; Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper are doing extra coverage for the local L.A. station. Yippee! (By which I mean, better crack that first bottle of SoCo right now.)

So with that time to kill, I've decided to do a sidebar update. A special, Oscar-themed update, in which almost nothing has anything to do with the Oscars. Whoot!

The Object of My Affection is Scarlett Johansson. I hope she's at the ceremony tonight; at these awards shows, she's always decked out in a gorgeous tribute to classic Hollywood glamour. Also, she's not above showing her naked butt on magazine covers with other hot naked actresses and creepy weird old guys who like to sniff ears.

Still reading Jonathan Strange, but I got sick of seeing it over on the sidebar, so I put up the next book in line instead: Terry Pratchett's Thud! At the rate I'm reading Jonathan Strange, I should get to it sometime in May.

Watching the season 3 DVDs of NewsRadio, one of the best sitcoms ever. They kind of snuck this release out under the radar; I didn't hear anything about it until after it was already in the stores. But hell, I'm just grateful they released it at all.

I'm never sure if I talk too much or too little about The Refreshments, one of my favorite music groups. Most likely, all you've ever heard from them is the theme song to King of the Hill, but I bet you'd like their other stuff if you listened to it. They're not quite Southern rock; I tend to think of them as Southwestern rock, or maybe "Tex-Mex". They only released two albums, but both were excellent; The Bottle & Fresh Horses is the second.

In honor of Oscar night, I'm hating past undeserving Oscar winners, especially those for Best Picture. Not all undeserving winners were terrible (though certainly some were); many just won against far, far more deserving competitors. I mean, I like Dances With Wolves just fine, but dude, it beat Goodfellas.

Lyric of the Week is some nihilistic rage from "Zero" by Smashing Pumpkins. And Barney, well, he always speaks for himself.

See you back here for the Oscars!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Oscar Predictions

In the comments to my last post, Off-Coloratura asked if I was going to post my official Oscar predictions before the ceremony on Sunday. Well, I don't have anything better to post about today, so I guess so.

About a month ago, I posted my preliminary, gut instinct predictions on the heels of the announcement of the nominees. I said at the time that there were very few picks I was confident about, and indeed I have flip-flopped on several of them. For the sake of completism (as in, making a complete fool out of myself), here are my really truly for sure this time picks for every category.

I'll run down the awards I didn't mention last time first, most of which I don't care about and am only taking wild guesses at.

Wallace and Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit seems like a shoo-in to me.

It's hard to determine just what exactly makes for a good Art Direction nominee. After all, this is a category with Good Night, and Good Luck. going up against King Kong. I think I'll go with the ape (and no, I don't mean George Clooney).

Rodrigo Prieto, Brokeback Mountain.

These kinds of awards often go to the weirdest of the nominees, so I'll take Charlie and the Chocolate Factory here.

God Sleeps in Rwanda. The sole basis of my pick is that it has both "God" and "Rwanda" in the title.

This is a tough one. But Brokeback isn't nominated here, which makes it easier for me to go with Munich.

Tsotsi, which I pick only because Ebert & Roeper talked about it last week, and it looks pretty darn good.

Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. Just a guess.

I think John Williams cancels himself out, for being nominated for both Munich and Memoirs of a Geisha, so I'll go with Brokeback.

Still very weird only three songs were nominated. Of those, I have to go with Dolly Parton for "Travelin' Thru" from Transamerica.

I suspect it will be between The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello and 9, because of what little I've seen and read, they seem the most visually interesting and inspired. I'll take 9, on the theory that most Oscar voters stopped reading the title of the other nominee after the third word. "Just put me down for 9, that's easy to remember."

I pick Our Time Is Up on the basis that it's the only nominee with a recognizable Hollywood face starring in it (sure, it's only Kevin Pollak, but that's enough to put it over the top, I think).

I'll take King Kong again. The Academy will feel sorry that they didn't give Peter Jackson any nominations in big categories (even though he probably didn't deserve them), so I think the monkey wins in the minor categories. (And by monkey, I do mean Peter Jackson.)

Trying to figure out the difference between Sound Mixing and Sound Editing makes me not care so much I want to quit this post and go play some Minesweeper instead. So I won't try to figure it out, and just guess that Kong probably won't win for both sound categories, so I'll pick, on a wild hunch, Walk the Line instead.

Star Wars is not even nominated? Weird. Gotta be King Kong.

And now we're back to categories I picked winners for in my earlier post. Some of my picks have changed.

I picked Murderball before, on the rationalization that the most popular documentary usually loses (usually doesn't even get nominated, actually). I now think this year is going to be a rare exception: I'll take March of the Penguins.

My theory has always been that the Screenplay categories are consolation prizes for the best movies that don't have a hope in hell of winning one of the six majors (Picture, Acting, Directing). But then I went against that logic, and picked Brokeback. I stand by it.

Much as I want it to be The Squid and the Whale, I picked Syriana before, and I also stand by that pick.

It was the surest lock before, and it still is: Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line.

Rachel Weisz won the Golden Globe for The Constant Gardener, but I didn't think she would repeat her win at the Oscars. I now do. Sorry, Michelle Williams.

My main theory, when I made my original picks, was that the Academy wasn't quite as liberal and gay-friendly as you might at first think; that, in fact, its ranks are pretty well packed with ancient, conservative, clueless homophobes. I picked Joaquin Phoenix, believing that Philip Seymour Hoffman was a little too Capote-y for the majority's liking. But he sure seems unstoppable now. I pick Hoffman.

Wishful thinking made me pick Paul Giamatti, but, even though he finally got the nomination he deserved, I don't think it's his year to win. Unbelievably, it is George Clooney's year. George Clooney: Oscar winner. Weird. But likely.

It was Ang Lee before, and it's Ang Lee now.

Brokeback Mountain doesn't seem to have lost any momentum, does it? While Crash has had as many vocal and emotional detractors as it has had defenders. This is still a very tough pick for me. I know it's going to be one of those two. And I truly believe that not all of Hollywood is quite so comfortable with the gays as much of the rest of the country believes. I picked Crash before, and I want to stay with that pick because A) I think my reasoning is sound and valid, and B) I would look like an awesome genius if it did pull off the upset and win. Yes, I said "upset," which means that I believe Brokeback is the film to beat. In the end, I lack the courage to stand by my previous prediction. I pick the obvious choice, Brokeback. Dang it!

So there you have it, my choices in every Oscar category. I'll be back here at 4PM Pacific time on Sunday, starting my legendary liveblogging an hour early to catch the horrors of the red carpet pre-show. Please stop by to see how my picks are doing, and also to see which starlets I drool over in between spewing petty, smart-assed insults at all that displeases me (which, as you probably know by now, is an awful lot). It'll be fun!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

COMICS: Lulu Moppet and Glenn Ganges

Here's a weird thing to say: I like Little Lulu.

I've been reading just buckets of praise (a large part of it from Mike) for the new Dark Horse collections of old Little Lulu comics. I kept thinking, "Little Lulu? Really? Whatever." But then finally I broke down last week and picked up My Dinner with Lulu. And I enjoyed the heck out of it. The characters of Lulu and Tubby are so well written, with a child's sense of perfectly logical illogic, and the stories are packed with truly absurd and clever humor. I especially enjoyed the stories Lulu tells to young troublemaker Alvin, which are often filled with artwork comically contradicting what Lulu is saying -- which seems to me a very sophisticated storytelling technique for a children's comic over half a century old (but maybe that's just me, not giving the era and genre enough credit). I'd recommend this book to anybody, and I'll be picking up more collections as soon as my local comic shoppe gets 'em back in stock.

What I would not recommend: Kevin Huizenga's Ganges. I recently wrote about another Huizenga comic, Or Else, which I did not care for. I didn't want to dismiss Huizenga completely after sampling one mini-comic, so I picked up the first issue of Ganges, which has been receiving the lion's share of the copious amounts of praise being lavished on Huizenga's work across the internets. And I'm still not very impressed.

It's beautifully packaged -- perhaps over-packaged. Like the mini-comic, it's on very thick, durable paper; it's over-sized (8"x11", I believe); and it has a (completely gratuitous) removable slipcover, like you'd find on a hardback book. The price, also like the mini, reflects the package: $7.95 for 32 pages. I think the publisher (is it still Drawn & Quarterly?) perceives Huizenga as a "prestige format" kind of guy, and I don't; I think a regular-sized, regular-priced comic would've served the material equally well, or better (at least value-wise).

As for the content, I had much the same problem with it that I did with Or Else. The stories primarily take small, mundane events and expand them into epic occurrences. One whole story in Ganges is built around our hero, Glenn Ganges, witnessing some kid on a bike dumping trash out of his pockets onto the sidewalk. To Ganges, this is a devastating event, and he spins elaborate fantasies out of it -- what will this kid be like when he grows up? How should Ganges have confronted the kid? And I just didn't care. There are ways, I (kind of) said in my look at Or Else, to successfully inflate minutiae into representing a larger reality -- to make the small seem important -- but with this story, I felt the event didn't warrant such vast attention, and the presentation didn't give me any reason to change my mind.

Most of the chapters in Ganges struck me in a similar way, but I didn't hate the book. The bit illustrating the Beatles' "She's Leaving Home," and the ensuing debate of the song's meaning, was kind of clever and cute (although the discussion sounded like it was straight out of a Tarantino movie). Ganges imagining he's time traveling as he walks to the library was visually interesting, with a creative panel structure and imaginative use of thought balloons (or whatever you want to call it) to indicate the character's conception of slipping through time. The final story, in which Ganges watches over his sleeping wife, and envisions the multitudes of other people who have done the same thing with their partners, was effectively dark and moody. But the overall impression the book left me with was one of inconsequentiality. I get the feeling Huizenga thinks he's crafting meaningful and thoughtful tales, delving deep into the richness of the mind's interior, exploring the larger meaning in the commonplace and banal, but the stories mostly leave me going: "Yeah...? And...?" It's all much ado about nothing, and aside from a few graphically inspired flourishes, the "ado" doesn't grab me. I think I'm done with Huizenga.

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