Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Language of Oscar

Favorite Oscar-related use of language: A pre-Oscar fluff piece on Ellen Degeneres' hosting gig strung a series of her firsts together (first female comic asked by Johnny Carson to sit down, first sitcom star to come out) with this lovely bit of shading: "first openly gay woman to host the Oscars." Gotta love that insinuating "openly."

Least-favorite Oscar-related use of language: The announcer, referring to some female presenter, called her dress (paraphrasing from memory) "literally eye candy." No, her dress was not constructed from candy eyeballs.

Until Whenever

Monday, February 26, 2007

Brief Thoughts on Eddie Murphy

I haven't seen Little Miss Sunshine yet (nor, for that matter, Little Children, Blood Diamonds, or The Departed), so I'm certainly not going to say that Eddie Murphy should have won last night. But I did want to comment on some criticism of Murphy that I read somewhere (don't remember where) around why he shouldn't win.

1 - He was somewhat dismissive in some interviews of the nomination; he didn't seem to want it enough.

Well, that's just crap. I don't care if he attacked the Oscars in print; I don't care if he said he didn't want it outright. The award should go to the most worthy performance, and that is it. (Yes, I realize that in the real world this rarely happens, but still.)

2 - He admitted that the much praised moment in the film when he finds out that his socially conscious comeback album won't be produced and starts to get ready to shoot up, and at the cries of dismay from his mistress shoots her a steely, defeated look, wasn't calculated. He said something about someone on set marvelling at the moment and the look (as many critics did) and him (Murphy) not knowing what they were talking about. He hadn't realized that he had given a "look." Accordingly, he doesn't deserve the award.

This one is even dumber. The goal of many an actor is to lose themselves in a character to the point that they don't have to consciously think about reacting; they instead just react as the character. So that Murphy didn't sculpt that "look" in the mirror is not evidence of his laziness or lack of skill, but just evidence that he takes a instinctual approach to acting. All we as an audience need be concerned with is if it works.

As an aside, I've heard a similar criticism levied against actresses who use "aids" to cry in a scene. Onions, whatever. The charge is that an actress who can't really cry is a bad actress. Nonsense. Acting is about convincing an audience of a character's emotions and reality. That's it. And no matter how he or she is doing it, if they are doing it, and well, then they are doing good work.

Until Whenever

Friday, February 23, 2007

Not Madison. Or Mayer. Or The Grouch.

I think Tom started this one. Prepare to be disappointed in me. Oscar-winning films I have seen are italicized. Those I have a real desire to see are bolded.

1928 - Wings
1928 - Sunrise
1929 - The Broadway Melody
1930 - All Quiet on the Western Front
1931 - Cimarron
1932 - Grand Hotel
1933 - Cavalcade
1934 - It Happened One Night
1935 - Mutiny on the Bounty
1936 - The Great Ziegfeld
1937 - The Life of Emile Zola
1938 - You Can't Take It With You - I did play Grandpa in a college production, so I am curious to see the film version.
1939 - Gone With the Wind - Not sure why, but I just can't muster up any enthusiasm for finally seeing it.
1940 - Rebecca
1941 - How Green Was My Valley
1942 - Mrs. Miniver
1943 - Casablanca - Our first hit. Totally lived up to the substantial hype when I finally saw this.
1944 - Going My Way
1945 - The Lost Weekend
1946 - The Best Years of Our Lives
1947 - Gentleman's Agreement
1948 - Hamlet - I've seen Mel Gibson's and Kenneth Branagh's versions, so I really should see this one.
1949 - All the King's Men
1950 - All About Eve
1951 - An American in Paris: #2! Great music.
1952 - The Greatest Show on Earth
1953 - From Here to Eternity
1954 - On the Waterfront - In my Blockbuster queue.
1955 - Marty
1956 - Around the World in 80 Days
1957 - The Bridge on the River Kwai: Want to be really embarrassed for me? I've never seen Alec Guinness in anything besides Star Wars.
1958 - Gigi
1959 - Ben-Hur - William Goldman calls it the best film ever, so I kind of have to give it a shot.
1960 - The Apartment - I like Jack Lemmon a lot, so . . .
1961 - West Side Story - #3! Brilliant. A nicely stylized approach to the material as well.
1962 - Lawrence of Arabia - Read too many good things to ignore.
1963 - Tom Jones
1964 - My Fair Lady - #4! Some call it the greatest musical ever. I don't go that far, but it's up there. And this is a pretty spot-on adaptation.
1965 - The Sound of Music - #5! OK, not a huge fan.
1966 - A Man For All Seasons
1967 - In the Heat of the Night
1968 - Oliver!
1969 - Midnight Cowboy - The first X-rated film to win is really a must-see, no?
1970 - Patton
1971 - The French Connection
1972 - The Godfather: #6 Everything it's been said to be and more.
1973 - The Sting - A good con is great fun,so I really do need to see this.
1974 - The Godfather Part II #7- Here's where I stand on the great "which is better" debate - they equally good, if in slightly different ways.
1975 - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - #8 I absolutely love that they mixed in actual mentally ill patients with actors.
1976 - Rocky - #9 It's so easy to forget - Rocky loses. A much better film than it's often given credit for.
1977 - Annie Hall - I saw Match Point a week ago; my first Woody Allen film!
1978 - The Deer Hunter
1979 - Kramer vs. Kramer
1980 - Ordinary People
1981 - Chariots of Fire #10- Saw in the theater as a kid and remember loving it; haven't seen it since and remember pretty much nothing about details.
1982 - Gandhi
1983 - Terms of Endearment
1984 - Amadeus - Also sitting in the queue.
1985 - Out of Africa
1986 - Platoon
1987 - The Last Emperor
1988 - Rain Man - #11 Haven't seen this in ages.
1989 - Driving Miss Daisy - #12 Who's better than Morgan Freeman?
1990 - Dances With Wolves - #13 Still holds up well.I've never understood the anger at this film. My guess is that if it had been directed by someone else--but was the exact same film--it wouldn't be nearly as dismissed as it is today.
1991 - The Silence of the Lambs - #14. Jody Foster and Anthony Hopkins should really do
another film together.
1992 - Unforgiven - #15. Saw in the theater and haven't seen this. I would really like to revisit it.
1993 - Schindler's List - #16. Remarkable.
1994 - Forrest Gump - #17. I've said this before, but if this film flopped at the box office, critics would still be raving about how good it was and how dumb the public is.
1995 - Braveheart - #18. Those big battle scenes have been much imitated, but not yet equaled. 1996 - The English Patient
1997 - Titanic - #19. Everyone forgets how much the critics loved this when it came out. It was only when it made absolutely unfathomable amounts of money that they started hedging their bets.
1998 - Shakespeare in Love - #20. Another I haven't seen since the theater.
1999 - American Beauty - #21. Didn't quite get the fuss.
2000 - Gladiator - #22. Fun, but no Braveheart.
2001 - A Beautiful Mind - #23. A gorgeous score, and a brilliant performance. The "imaginary people" stuff was maybe just a bit too on the nose though.
2002 - Chicago - #24. A brilliant treatment of the material, with some thrilling performances.
2003 - The Lord of the Rings - #25. One I'll be watching again and again for a long time. Can't wait to share this series with the kids.
2004 - Million Dollar Baby - #26. Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman together? Heaven.
2005 - Crash - #27. Have to admit to not getting some of the backlash I've read. I thought it was a great throwback to the kind of melodramatic, coincidence-filled, tightly plotted tale Dickens loved, with a modern sheen on top.

Until Whenever

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!

Top Ten Meals

Defined for these purposes as the "top ten dinner meals I most look to order at restaurants or eat with the family." No sandwiches, no snacks, no desserts, no fast food, but real meals.

10 - Pasta with Mushrooms
A restaurant by me does a wonderful job with this simple dish. An abundance of different mushroom types is the key.

9 - Eggplant Parmigiana
Love Mom's and Wife's homemade versions the best. Which is better? Like I'd ever say!

8 - Gnocchi with Red Clam Sauce
A regular Italian haunt when I lived in Morris county had a mix and match pasta and sauce option, which is where I first sampled this odd combo. Alas a good gnocchi is dismayingly hard to come by.

7 - Chicken Marsala
The wife makes a sublime rendition with baby bellas.

6 - Steak
Not that picky about the cut, really. Just a good steak.

5 - Crawfish Etoufee
The Jose Tejas' version is sublime. Sweet, sweet crayfish.

4. Fish Specials
A cheat, I know. But I'm always eager to try a good fish dish and like pretty much all kinds and all types of preparations. My favorite part of hearing the specials read.

3. Rack of Lamb
There's an old steakhouse in New York that, or so I've heard tell, serves a gargantuan and sublime "mutton (really lamb) chop that I'm dying to try.

2. Blackened Swordfish
A really fresh, not-long-out-of-the-sea swordfish steak hot off the iron and sizzling.

1. Braised Lamb Shank
A favorite local restaurant often has this on their menu, and it's my favorite meal. The lamb meat verily drips off the bone, and the accompanying ragu is only there as a coating. Meaty goodness.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tosy and Cosh: The Soundtrack

A fun meme via Lefty. The putative soundtrack to my life described below was generated off a random iPod shuffle.

Opening credits: "The Birds" Benjamin Britten, A Ceremony of Carols
Angelic choir. Nice.

Waking up: "Drowning Man" - U2
A defeated, resigned, beginning to my day as I awake and ready for work. Accurate!

First day of school: "Helpless" - Neil Young
I apparently go to school in North Ontario.

Falling in love: "Interlude I" - Benjamin Britten, Peter Grimes
Tense and spooky music. A foreboding and ominous turn of events - will this love story not be a happy one?

First song: "Got a Devilish Grin" - Clint Mansell, Requiem for a Dream
My first song is a very tongue-in-cheek samba line.

Breaking up: "Hold Fast to Dreams" Dave Brubeck
Another oddly appropriate one; a bittersweet art song about not losing hope.

Prom: "Spirit on the Water" - Bob Dylan
I go to the prom in the 1930s, with Bob Dylan as bandleader. Sweet!

Life: "Merrily We Roll Along" - Stephen Sondheim
"Yesterday is done/See the pretty countryside/Everybody merrily, merrily rolling along." Perfect.

Mental Breakdown: "Superhuman" - Velvet Revolver
I breakdown to bad hard rock.

Driving: "An Cat Dubh" - U2
A moody drive in the dark, probably a foggy night.

Flashback: "The Monorail Song" - The Cast of The Simpsons
I flashback to the time I swindled a town of yellow rubes out of a ton of money.

Getting back together: "'Twas on a Holy Thursday" - William Bolcom
A cheery, joyous occasion!

Wedding: "How Can I Lose You?" - Adam Guettel
My love life is seemingly ominous always, as my bride leaves me on the altar.

Birth of Child: "Chega de Saudabe" - Antonio Carlos Jobim
My child is born to gentle bossa nova.

Final Battle: "4th of July" - U2
And a dull, meandering battle it is.

Death Scene: "Oxford Town" - Bob Dylan
I die to the strains of Dylan and his guitar, as I head off to an afterlife I seem to have dubbed "Oxford Town."

Funeral song: "Two Fairy Tales" - Stephen Sondheim
At my funeral my life is remembered in song and in fairy tale allegory.

End Credits: "Saul Has Slain His Thousands" - Alan Menken/Tim Rice
A triumphant tune plays out over the credits . . .

Until Whenever

Monday, February 19, 2007

Checking in with the Girls

(Gilmore Girls spoilers lie ahead)

So we're a good halfway through (little more, I think, actually) the first Sherman-Palladino-less season of Gilmore Girls and from what I've read, the critics and pop-culture bloggers of the land are less than thrilled. The bloom is off the rose, and I haven't read nary a critic or blogger express much of a desire for the show to get another season. And while I concede some of their points, I have to admit to being impressed with what new producer Daniel Rosenthal and his crew have done with the hand they've been dealt this season.

After all, the decision to have Lorelai leave longtime-flame-more-recent-beau Luke and hop into her daughter's father's bed was the previous regime's, not his. And the impulse surely must have been there to write away that development, much reviled by GG fans, as quickly as possible. But no, they took their time and dealt with it fairly organically, to the point that it was only finally resolved with the dissolution of that relationship last week. But what really compelled me to post was one recent moment in particular.

The catalyst for the breakup of Chris and Lorelai is a character reference Lorelai writes for Luke to help him get partial custody of his daughter. Chris finds the letter and pretty much loses it. Nothing fancy going on so far. But what I really loved is how they made it clear without ever hitting us over the head with it that the real reason Chris gets so angry, is that the letter, without meaning to, points up what a poor father he was to Rory. As the letter points out, Luke was always there for the two Gilmore girls. And, even with all of the stuff that's happened, he always will be there. And Chris wasn't. And in the episode immediately following, he once again isn't. We never hear Lorelai tell him that his absence still hurts after all these years; we never hear Chris get defensive about his absence. But it sits there, in our view but un-highlighted, as the real reason for his anger, as the real reason for Lorelai's inability, much as she might wish to, to truly trust him (which is why she can't, in the end, love him, trust being so critical to love). It's a subtle bit of writing that I haven't seen credited anywhere, and that I want to, in my very small way, acknowledge.

Yes, Gilmore Girls has had its moments of flailing this year (and last). But it still does a lot of things exceptionally well.

Until Whenever
Stupid Real-Life

Sorry about the absence. Real-life gets in the way sometimes, and that's all there is to it.

Just saw this bit of news (via Pop Candy) and was tantalized greatly. Read the link for more details but the takeaways are:

Lord of the Rings film composer Howard Shore, whose Ring score will surely stand as one of the 21st Century's most lasting contributions to the genre, has written an opera.

The opera is based on David Cronenberg's The Fly.

Cronenberg himself will direct.

Placido Domingo will conduct.

David Henry Hwang, who wrote the brilliant M. Butterfly wrote the libretto.

Seriously - how cool is that?

Until Whenever

Friday, February 09, 2007


Via Pop Candy, I see this list of favorite ten minute-plus songs. Of course, I couldn't resist listing mine (in length order).

1. "Underture" - The Who - Tommy (10:05)
One of my favorite Tommy tracks, and quite possibly my favorite instrumental rock track ever. What's remarkable is how, with no lyrics to fall back on and a fairly simple, repetitive hook, they still manage to spin a compelling, cohesive musical statement together.

2. "Sinnerman" - Nina Simone - The Essential Nina Simone (10:19)
A remarkable piece of folky, funky, traditional spiritual sounding music. Used to great effect in the climax of The Thomas Crown Affair.

3. "Natural Beauty" - Neil Young - Harvest Moon (10:23)
Slow, languid, and just a little touch of melancholy. A leisurely, patient stroll through what is at heart a simple song.

2. "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" - Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited (11:19)
Dylan loves his long songs and this is one of the best. I love how it unfolds.

1. "Highlands" - Bob Dylan- Time Out of Mind (16:31)
The longest "song" in my collection. Pretty much a complete short story told through multiple casual verses. Brilliant.

Until Whenever
Something in My Eye

EW's PopWatch blog has a neat post and comments thread running now about TV moments that made you cry. I could list many, but I'll settle for one no one in the thread mentioned . A late-in-the-run All in the Family, when Michael and Gloria move to California. The end of the ep has Gloria and Edith in tears saying their goodbyes, and when Gloria runs to the cab crying Edith can't bear to watch and runs back inside. Leaving Archie and Mike on the porch. A clearly choked-up Mike, if memory serves without looking directly at Archie, says something to the effect of "I know you always thought I hated you Arch. But I want you to know. I love you." He then gives Archie a fierce hug as Archie looks straight ahead, clearly moved and trying not to show it, saying nothing. Mike runs of the porch to the cab and Archie tries, mostly successfully but not completely, to hold back tears. Beautifully played and executed.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

At Long Last

Lost returns tonight, and I am eager and giddy with anticipation. While reports from critics and bloggers may indicate that many have lost their passion for the show, I haven't at all. The fall's six-episode arc may have left many cold, but I liked it just fine. My suspicion is that much of the problem lay not with the story itself, but with (irony of ironies) how they had to rush through the "Jack, Sawyer, and Kate are kidnapped" story in six straight eps, as opposed to taking maybe 10 or 11 to get to the same point, as I suspect they would have in a normally structured season. The necessity of such a structure made the pushing of many characters almost completely off-screen unavoidable, and I think it's left a bad taste in many mouths. But after what I assume will be a more or less conclusion to that arc tonight, I imagine we can expect to get back to the core cast pretty quickly. So, no, I'm not apathetic, or less interested than I was in September. Not at all.

One related aside: I've read from dozens of people how stupid it is, how straining the bounds of suspended disbelief it is, that Jack, with Ben on the operating table in the fall finale, doesn't ask for a boat, or a phone, but merely for Kate and Sawyer to be released. But he's got a very limited window of opportunity here. After all, if he does let Ben die he loses any power he has. There's simply no time for a boat, and it's not as if he can assume that they have a portable phone they can just bring him. So he asks for something the time frame won't effect. Made sense to me.

Until Whenever
My Ka: $3.99 a month for Seven Months

Well over a year ago, Marvel put out a press release trumpeting that Stephen King would be producing his first-ever comic. The very carefully worded release, very deliberately I'm sure, gave off the impression that King would be writing the comic and that the content would be new stories about the young Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, the central character in King's epic seven-novel Dark Tower series.

Over the last year, it became clear that the comic would not actually be written by, but merely overseen by, King, (Peter David does the actual scripting) and that it would be primarily a retelling of stories already told in the Dark Tower novels.

Today, the first issue of the series was released. And, because it's Stephen King and I simply could not resist, I bought it.

And liked it. Mostly. No; it's not what I had imagined when I first read that press release fifteen or so months ago. But it is a faithful and engaging translation of the deep and wonderful world King created through those seven novels. Peter David does a faithful job of aping King's style and of appropriating all of the relevant modes of speech, dialects, and lingo the novels are written with. But artist Jae Lee, as respected and obviously gifted as he is, seems the wrong choice for this world. The bizarre mix of Old West, sci-fi, and fantasy that King stirred up to create the world of the Dark Tower requires a less polished and abstract style than Lee's, a less pretty style. for all of Lee's talents, his faces have a certain sameness to them,and his rendition of the young Roland looks pretty much like all of his previous young, arrogant, vaguely Asian-looking protagonists. I was hoping for a more muscular style, a grittier, more realistic look that could better capture the wasted landscape and weathered characters King describes.

Be that as it may, there's something to be sad for the fact that I will continue to get the monthly issues of this book despite my heavy misgivings about the art, and despite the fact that I know the story already and expect to be surprised by very little. And maybe that something that's to be said is more about my gullibility and weakness in the face of the mighty Marvel hype machine. But maybe it says something as well about the enduring power and heft of the world and characters King has created. Most likely, of course, it's a little of both.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!

Top Ten Simpsons Musical Numbers

Ground rules - no new lyrics to existing songs (so now "Talkin' Baseball," for example), but only new music and lyrics considered:

10 - "Baby on Board" - "Baby on board, how I've adored,/That sign on my car's windowpane"

9 - "Capital City" - "It's the kind of place that makes a bum feel like a king./And it makes a king feel like some nutty, cuckoo, super-king"

8 - "Senor Burns" - "So I'll settle my score on the salsa floor/With this vengeful Latin rhythm"

7 - "We Do (the Stonecutter's Song)" - "Who holds back the electric car?/Who makes Steve Gutenberg a star?/We do! We do!"

6 - "The Monorail Song" - "But Main Street's still all cracked and broken/Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken!"

5 - "Springfield! Springfield!" - "Let's go crazy, Broadway style!"

4 - "Stop the Planet of the Apes" - "What's wrong with me?/I think you're crazy/I want a second opinion/You're also lazy"

3 - "Simpsoncalifragilisticexpliala(Annoyed Grunt)Cious" - "And so, let us leave/On this heartwarming scene/Can I be a boozehound?/Not till you're fifteen."

2 - "An Amendment to Be" - "There's a lot of flag-burners/Who've got too much freedom/I want to make it legal/For policemen to beat'em/'Cause there's limits to our liberties/At least I hope and pray that there are/'Cause those liberal freaks go too far. "

1 - "Oh Streetcar!" - "You can always depend on/The kindness of strangers/To pluck up your spirits/And shield you from dangers/Now here's a tip from Blanche you won't regret/A stranger's just a friend you haven't met/You haven't met/STREETCAR!"

Until Whenever

Monday, February 05, 2007

Catching Up

My pitiful accounting of films I've seen in 2006 is ever-so-slightly less pitiful now. In the last few weeks I've seen:

Friends with Money - A great cast (Frances McCormand is, in particular, just great; Joan Cusack gets to play a much more real character than the sometimes sitcom-wacky characters she often essays; and Jenifer Aniston proves again that she's got some chops at least) in the service of a wan, plotless, insular little script. That makes it sound like I hated it, but I actually found it at least mildly entertaining, if primarily for those performances. But in the end, the core hook of four female friends, three rich one not wasn't enough to hang a movie on. Still, the script did nail some nicely understated very real-feeling insights, especially through the angry mid-life despair of McCormand's character.

Thanks for Smoking - Highly entertaining and snappy, if in the end somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Aaron Eckhart is slickly great in the lead and (with the exception of a miscast Katie Holmes - whose biggest burden, I think, is that she still plays on screen like a kid, not an adult--and I don't think it's due to anything she's doing, either; I don't think she can do anything about it) the supporting cast is great, but the big ending falls kind of flat. The film tries to mock with high satire both the busybodies who would stop competent adults from smoking if they want to and the hypocritical unfeeling tobacco industry itself, and fails to toe that admittedly vanishingly thin line all the way through.

The Illusionist - Beautifully filmed, gorgeous to look at and with a should-have-been-a-contender supporting performance from a wonderful Paul Giamatti. Two big problems though: We are supposed to believe that at least some of the remarkable tricks the titular stage magician performs are just that - tricks. But when they are executed for us on screen with very obvious CGI magic, there's a disconnect I couldn't get past. Two, the final-moment twist, designed to make us question all that's come before, is executed far too quickly. It may be that the intent is to put that twist in doubt as well - whether the twist is "real" is ambiguous. But the effect is to make the viewer feel as if he's been hoodwinked - as if he hasn't been played fair with. I can deal with ambiguity in films, even in their conclusions, but the build up here was too unambiguous, too traditional in structure and build, to sustain such a wishy-washy climax.

Until Whenever