Oscar 2011 Review

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It’s a routine.  Every year the Oscar telecast promises to be better, every year it is the same, every year people write about how it should be better and every year I join in with my own opinion.  Why does this cycle repeat?  Well, apparently, AMPAS is too busy congratulating each other to recognize that there’s a real problem despite the poor ratings.  And too many of the people who write about how to fix it have similarly skewed views of why people tune in.  And I keep writing because AMPAS hasn’t listened to me yet and I hold out hope that somebody will forward one of my blog entries to them.

Put succinctly, the problem with the Oscars is that the produces of the broadcast don’t acknowledge that people are tuning in because they like movies.  And what would be an ideal thing to show to people who like movies?  Hmm.. if only it were obvious… movies you dumbasses.  In this year’s Oscar broadcast, count the number of minutes of clips of movies they showed.  No, montages don’t count because that’s just a whiff of a movie.  I mean actually being able to get engaged in a scene.  I can’t remember any!  At least in years past, they had a few minutes.  And compare that to the Grammys where it was mostly music with a few acceptance speeches interspersed.  If I had to watch Cee Lo sit in the audience and have some other person on stage tell him how great he was, I’d be bored out of my mind – i.e. watching the Oscars.  Instead, watching the Grammy’s, we got to see Cee Lo in a performance that was anything but boring.

I completely disagree with those who say you have to cut categories.  What they need to do is make us care about the categories by showing clips.  Best Documentary Short Subject?  Give me at least 30 seconds of all 5 nominees and cut 2 and a half minutes of montages.  Boom, show just got more interesting.  Sound editing?  Run 15 seconds of each nominee without the sound edited and then do it again after the sound has been edited.  And for the love of mike, for Best Picture, give me at least a 2 minute long clip, uninterrupted from each movie!  Okay, so you probably have to drop the field down to 5 nominees again to make 10 minutes of clips fit in the show, but it’s pretty clear that 5 nominees worked before.

Okay, not all movies are going to contribute meat clips and examples of unedited sound.  That’s okay.  You’ll need to just show a title card for a few seconds for them.  It’ll save time for the ones that do contribute clips.  But think of it from a movie marketing perspective.  How happy would those movie moguls be to get more of their property shown for free!?

Again, drop the patter, drop the dance numbers, drop the stuff that has nothing to do with movies, and just focus on showing movie fans what they like.  One more time:  Movies!!!!!

DVD: The Damned United

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A soccer movie starring Michael Sheen (Tony Blair from “The Queen”) – what’s not to love? The movie tracks the 44 days that Brian Clough was manager of Leeds United F.C. as well as some flashback sequences where we learn what made Clough the man he was and why he would want the Leeds job. Of course I don’t know, but I suspect the off-the-field scenes were probably just the way they would have been 40 years ago with arguments between manager and owner, players who had their own idea agendas, trades, etc.. And as expected, great acting from Michael Sheen. But also cool to see so many other greats like Jim Broadbent and Timothy Spall. And Colm Meaney was genius as former Leeds manager Don Revie.

I also found myself thinking that Revie probably left the job knowing he’d been there through the best of times and knowing that he couldn’t keep winning so he should go out on top. And that’s the same motivation that appears to be behind some current day executives ditching corporations too. (I’m thinking of you, Jack Welch.)

As interesting as it was getting inside the head of Brian Clough and seeing the soccer world of 40 years ago, it wasn’t as complete a story as I would have hoped. There is some controversy about the accuracy of the book that the movie is based on where reports say that the book exaggerated elements. And even still, the topic seems a stretch for a feature-length movie.

Rating: 7 (out of 10)

Fall TV Highlights

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I haven’t had a lot of time this Fall for TV watching, but there has been some good TV to watch.It’s worth writing about Hawaii Five-O, Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp, Nikita, The Good Wife and Modern Family.

First up is Hawaii Five-O.  It’s actually been somewhat of a disappointment.  The plots have been weak and routine police procedural stuff.  Grace Park is surprisingly wooden in the role of a rookie cop who somehow knows all the answers.  And even though Scott Caan started off the show as a highlight with his wit, his talking like he has ants in his shorts act gets wearisome by about the third show you watch.  And then there’s the high-end technology that always saves the day which would seem farfetched even for the CIA.  So why is this show a highlight?  First of all, you can’t beat seeing Hawaii visuals on TV – Hawaii is definitely a character in the show, as it should be.  Second, the plots are getting better.  The show where the surfer was shot was a low point but the shows since have gotten much better.  I really liked the plot where we viewers didn’t have any more insight than the detectives in chasing down would-be bank robbers and then again when the detectives were chasing down a newlywed killer.  In both shows, the viewer followed the detectives nearly exclusively which was a welcome change from seeing the bad guys do their thing and wondering when the police where going to figure it out.  As for Scott Caan, I think he may be mellowing his act a little and I really like the ongoing subplot about his daughter and how he tries to be a good Dad even as work and his ex make it difficult.  Now, if they could only get rid of the line when they approach a stranger and say “we’re five-oh” as though that means anything to anyone other than people who watch the TV show.

Next up, is Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp.  I started watching because Kip Winger was part of the reality show cast (Winger rocks!) but I got hooked on the concept.  It was a short run, maybe just seven episodes, of watching regular people with musical talent who always wanted to be rock stars.  A slew of people show up at the “camp” and audition.  The 3 counselors chose 5 people each so we watched those 15 people chosen as strangers turn into three bands by the end of a week.  They performed a cover song, performed unplugged, wrote an original song, and recorded it in a recording studio.  It was produced by Mark Burnett so you know there is going to be some clever editing to give the sense of conflict and you know you are going to need to deal with a certain amount of cheese.  But some scenes were just priceless like a bassist orders a drink that ends up looking all frilly and as his luck goes, that’s the night Lemmy shows up and asks him what the f he’s drinking.  Hard to call it good TV but I had a lot of fun watching it.

I’ve always been a fan of the Nikita world – woman’s life taken over by the government to become an assasin, but I haven’t enjoyed any follow-up as much as the original (French) movie.  The new TV show has a good premise, though: what happens after the Nikita escapes that government world.  And back when the movie came out, one probably considered what she needed to do as necessary.  In our current times, however, the government agency is now a rogue agency which also suits the storyline. So now we have a government trained killer going after the organization that she used to be part of.  And she’s got a mole working the inside with her and she’s got a complicated relationship with Michael who is alternately the right-hand man for the really bad guy in charge and is one of the few with a conscience.  Nice depth to the story.  The acting is a little weak and there’s a lot of people just trying to look cool.  Also, the tech is sometimes a little questionable.  But there’s definitely a sense that the story is going somewhere so I’ll stick around for the ride.

The Good Wife is not a new show but it is so good, I need to mention it here.  And it is a highlight of the Fall TV season for me.  The show is saddled with a terrible name that only addresses one small part of the show.  The lead character is Alicia.  Her husband was the Illinois attorney general and was caught with a hooker so he had to resign and Alicia didn’t leave her husband – that’s where the name comes from.  But as I said, that’s only a small part of the show.  Most of each episode actually follows Alicia in her job as a lawyer making the show primarily a legal drama.  But the law firm does a lot of its own investigation with a pair of in-house investigators so it is a little bit of a whodunit.  And Alicia’s husband is trying to get his political career back on track so there’s a healthy dose of politics.  Also, there’s the political connections in the office like the competition of Alicia to stay on top of her game as the sole breadwinner.  And the competition between the two in-house investigators.  There’s also a bit of a family drama where Alicia’s two teenagers get caught in politicial crossfire or do typical stupid teeanage things.  And on top of all these varying storylines and rich breadth, the characters really make the show – the investigator Kalinda who always seems to be a little mysterious even if we think we learn what she’s been hiding; or Alicia’s mother-in-law who is priceless when finding out that her grandson’s girlfriend is not a white WASP; and my new favorite is Eli, the political strategist who knows exactly how to work the system.

I’ll also throw in an honorable mention for Modern Family.  Again, it’s not a new show, but it is still providing big laughs.  The episode earlier in the season when Cam and Mitchell eventually kissed was just outstanding.  It may have been a little predictable, but seeing the kids freak out about the dead grandma coming out on the printer was very clever.  And I got the biggest laugh out of Gloria putting one over on Jay and Jay’s embattled resignation “beats slapping the chicken”.

DVD: In Bruges

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In Bruges is an odd little movie but I did like it. The movie opens in Bruges, Belgium with an introduction to the two criminals we follow through the movie. Initially, we only know that they have recently done something bad and their boss wants them to wait in Bruges for a while. Then, over the first third of the movie, we slowly learn more about the nature of their crimes while getting a fantastic guided tour of the historic sites in Bruges. Before watching the movie, I wondered why it had such an odd title but I now know it does fit the movie – Bruges itself is very much a character in the movie.

The two main characters are a bit of an odd couple themselves. There’s Ken (Brendan Gleeson), the elder and wiser hitman who knows how to put what’s happened behind him and enjoy the present and there’s Ray (Colin Farrell), who is a bit of a hothead and very uncomfortable out of his element. In the middle third of the movie, we learn the full details of their crime and we learn the true nature of the trip to Bruges. Things turns weird (with Ray partying with some locals, movie crew, and hookers) and then violent. But stick with it for the ending – it’s not that there’s some big surprise but there is a bit of an “oh” moment when you see how it all comes together.

Rating: 8 (out of 10)

DVD: Magnolia (AKA: The Frog Movie)

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Boogie Nights was a helluva movie, so I figure I’d give Paul Thomas Anderson’s other big movie a go. And about 2 hours in, I was still along for the ride and thinking that even though many of the characters were not likable, the movie was still enjoyable. Major stars throughout, story exposition was fast and dense, all with the sense that there was going to be an amazing conclusion. And then it rained frogs. What in the hell…

Reading up after the fact, there were apparent clues to what was to come since there were biblical references to the passages from Exodus stating “smite all thy borders with frogs”. And while that’s a cute foreshadowing device to those watching backdrops and pausing frame by frame and looking up biblical passages, it doesn’t help make the raining of frogs over all of LA any less stupid. Granted, it helps resolve a number of the film’s pending storylines but surely there must have been another way to end the movie which would have continued in the same direction as the story up to then!

Rating: 4 (out of 10)

Movie: Toy Story 3

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It was great to see the toys all back in action. The Pixar people sure do know how to tell a story. And they tell it with heart. The ending of this movie (I’m not going to give it away) is an instant classic.

There were two things wrong with the movie. The first, as my mother pointed out to me, is that some of the favorite toys didn’t make it into this movie. Granted, a certain amount of lost toys through the years is reasonable. But some were odd omissions like Bo Peep. I think she could have been in Andy’s sister’s collection or already at the day care center – perhaps as another reason why Woody was torn between staying and going.

My biggest complaint was the garbage truck and the incinerator. I know that the story needed to have some element of danger but I think the realism that a Pixar movie brings precludes putting the characters in as dire circumstances as having the characters give up and hold hands as they near their fiery death! That’s a plight that a kid as old as Andy could recognize but since this movie is targeted at a much younger audience, it was too much. And there was a simple fix for it: When confronted at the garbage bin, everything should have happened as it did right up until Lotso reached out and grabbed Woody. Instead of grabbing Woody, the garbage truck should have pulled up then, emptied the bin, have Lotso fall on the ground, trash guy pick it up and put it on the front of the truck, and Andy’s toys should have jumped on board and gotten a ride to Andy’s. A simple way to skip over the horror element and still arrive at the same results.

Rating: 7 (out of 10)

DVDs: Crank 2 & Transporter 3

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No, I’m not expecting great things from something like Crank 2. I only added it to the Netflix list because the first Crank was reasonably entertaining – not great, but a fun mix of action and absurdity. Well, the second Crank did still mix action and absurdity but it was no longer fun. Even Dwight Yoakam’s character wasn’t fun any more. In the first, he was a bit of a mystery, but in this one he was a little mean. The movie as a whole was even a little racist – just because despicable characters say things that are bad doesn’t take away the sting of some of the words. And then there’s the really gross stuff that I may have a hard time ever getting out of my head and which I will not describe here. Still, there was one redeeming quality: the cast: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam, David Carradine, Corey Haim, Chester Bennington (of Linkin Park), Geri Halliwell, Bai Ling, and John de Lancie. Not all winners, but definitely an amazing sight in the same movie.

Rating: 2 (out of 10)

And speaking of Jason Statham, the reason I saw the original Crank in the first place was because he was so much fun in the original Transporter. The second one was a good action movie, but did take some of the transporting out of it so it was good to see Frank Martin back to transporting in #3. But in this one, he is an unwilling transporter which takes some of the fun out of it while adding a little more urgency. Too bad since what made the first work so well was the mix of fun and action. The dialogue is not surprisingly a little forced, especially with his package, a Ukrainian kidnap victim; the best dialogue is with his friend Tarconi. Overall, the movie does manage to hold together enough to entertain – I just wish it were better.

Rating: 6 (out of 10)

Two Statham action movies – one tries more serious action and mostly delivers, the other tries for shock and ends up delivering mostly shlock. Best Statham movie to date is between the Bank Job and the first Transporter.

Lost Wrap-Up

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The finale of Lost was weeks ago now but I kept the show on the DVR so I could revisit it later. I wanted to let the show sink in for a bit and watch again with less anticipation. I had intended to do it sooner, but life being what it is, I’ve only gotten to it now. I’m glad I did follow through on that plan because I definitely picked up some additional insight on the second viewing.

Continue reading »

Lost No More?

| by Ken | in Review 4 Comments »

Tonight is the night that Lost ends. I’ll be live blogging during the finale (see below). But before we begin, I thought I’d review the status of questions being answered. I asked a bunch of questions 2 months ago that I hoped/assumed would be answered over the course of the remaining episodes. Of those 15 questions, we’ve gotten answers to 3: We now know that Richard doesn’t age because he asked Jacob to make him that way and that he arrived on the ship as a prisoner; we now know that Jacob and the Man In Black were twin brothers (cool! did not see that coming); and we now know that dead people can wander around the island because the Man In Black can take on their appearance. But there’s still a lot that remains unanswered. And of course, at this point, I have every expectation that the questions will remain unanswered. We’ve got 150 minutes of TV (minus commercials) to see if I’m wrong. I’ll hope so.

So far, it’s mostly setup and just kind of nice seeing the characters remember stuff. Great line from Doc Juliette: You two speak English just fine.”

Another great line: “You disrespect his memory by wearing his face.”

Cool, so now that “the light” is out, the smoke monster is a monster no more. Good thinking Jack. And I did not see that coming.

I’m really liking the characters “remembering” their island lives. Dominic Monaghan and Josh Holloway, in particular, delivered fantastic emotional performances.

And now great stuff from Jorge Garcia too.

Interesting, not nearly as much to say as I was expecting. I’ll probably have more to reflect on tomorrow. But for now, there were no questions answered. And at the same time, I’m not nearly as upset as I expected to be about it.

Lost Theories

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As Lost is winding down, I’m getting more and more concerned that there isn’t enough time to answer the questions in the queue. The fact that the show continues to pose new questions rather than resolving long open questions is what is so exasperating. And this concerns me because I’ve been watching for 6 seasons looking forward to some resolution. I fear a failure to follow-through on that resolution could be permanently damaging to my ability to commit to a TV show. Or maybe that’s a good thing – it will certainly free up some time.

A couple of Lost theories for now – I’ll add more as they occur to me.

  • Could it be that the “Kwon” that has a number is neither Jin nor Sun but their daughter Ji Yeon? Or maybe all 3 of them?

  • Perhaps one reading of Lost is that we all have hidden Jacobs in our lives? That things happen for reasons which help us get to where we are going? Sort of a combination of fate and faith?

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