Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar picks

I'm going out on a limb to predict that tonight's Oscars will be remembered for Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen presenting the Best Animated Film Award. Or maybe having Shaq and the Rock present best actress? I love award season, even if it was cleaner way back when to just have Billy Crystal get up there and slog his way through. James Franco and Anne Hathaway don't do jack for me. Bring back Billy, or at least let Ricky Gervais tell a few vaguely racist jokes and make everyone uncomfortable for a few hours. My picks:

Best actor: Colin Firth, The King's Speech (a befuddling charming, yet kinda boring actor)
Best actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan (also the unofficial from worst-to-first award. Remember her in that Wal-Mart movie?)
Supporting actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter (defeats Geoffrey Rush with a crushing left to the body)
Supporting actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter (in a performance that resonated a little too much with my own childhood. Thanks, mom!)
Documentary: Restrepo (in a film that they will NEVER show at a military recruitment center)
Animated feature: Toy Story 3 (they should change the name of the award to the Annual-Reminder-that-Pixar-is-the-only-thing-right-with-Hollywood Award)
Best picture: The King's Speech (I think my feelings are clear. The Social Network does not deserve this award).

Good night, and good luck. Here's to hoping that next year, or maybe the one after that, I'm attending the Oscars because my screenplay becomes the next Hollywood success story ala the girl who wrote Juno.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

First names: the album

Last week I sifted through my iTunes and created a playlist of songs with first names as their titles. Here's what I came up with, keeping in mind the song had to be a first name and a first name only (no Penny Lane, no Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, etc.)

1. Daniel by Bat for Lashes
2. Derek by Animal Collective
3. Lump by Presidents of the United States
4. Jolene by Mindy Smith with Dolly Parton
5. Amie by Damien Rice
6. Ramona by Guster
7. Samson by Regina Spektor
8. James by Camera Obscura
9. Stephen by Voxtrot
10. Jeremy by Pearl Jam
11. Sylvia by The Antlers
12. Rose by A Perfect Circle
13. Jimmy by M.I.A.
14. Rachel by Sleigh Bells
15. Bryn by Vampire Weekend
16. Henrietta by The Fratellis
17. Alfie by Lily Allen
18. Judy by The Pipettes
19. Ada by The National
20. Gideon by My Morning Jacket
21. Angela by All We Seabees

From the Queue: Pride and Prejuidice and The A-Team

The last two movies from Netflix were Pride and Prejudice and the A-Team. It happened by complete accident, but it was actually helpful to watch these two movies back-to-back. I appreciated the other more by watching them consecutively.

Pride and Prejudice was an Ali pick, even though she'd already seen the film. I found Keira Knightley's impossibly wide smile irritating, but the movie was good enough, if not a tad predictable. If I had a soul, I'd probably have found it romantic. And, it was perfect material for me to practice my British accent. Because Ali loved it so much, I give a juiced-up four stars.

The A-Team was a must see for me because I loved the TV show in the 80s. Unlike the last several action films, the A-Team didn't try to be more than it's supposed to be. Yes, it was still unrealistic action, but unlike Red, it didn't devolve into more than that. The movie did a fine job capturing the characters from the TV show and modernizing the script. I give it three stars, but I was pleasantly surprised overall.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

From the Queue: The Social Network

The Social Network was a serious contender for the Oscar before a single critic ever watched the film. Of course it was. The film was delivered by a star director, with an it-boy lead actor and it was about the creation of Facebook, which out-of-touch apparently film critics huddled together to decide is the defining component of "our" generation.

I see the strengths of Social Network. It's interesting to see how Facebook came to be even if I could give a shit about the programming genius of its creator. But just like many people's Facebook pages, Twitter accounts or blog sites, the Social Network is entirely too self aware.

The dialogue, for instance, is fast and tries desperately to be clever. The characters, especially the Harvard undergrads, are caricatures of real people. If the film's depiction of Napster founder Sean Parker (surprisingly well-portrayed by Justin Timberlake) is accurate, then Mr. Parker should be straight-jacketed and jailed immediately for the good of society, because he is the living devil. The deposition scenes do not seem believable, and this comes from someone whose day job sometimes leads him to read depositions for research. People just don't have snappy answers for lawyers like that.

Then there's just my personal bias that I don't want something as cliche as a social networking site, or an iPad, or any Web-based technology, defining society.

The Social Network works just fine as a film about how a mogul built his empire -- with heartless tenacity and a penchant for delivering what people want out of their Web experience. This movie could have been about how Coca-Cola, or McDonald's, or Apple or any other mega corporation came to be, and it would be no more or less socially relevant. The film's main character, well-played by Jesse Eisenberg, is the youngest billionaire in the world, and as a case study he makes for good material. But this film is still about some billionaire, and maybe it's just me, but I didn't find him particularly easy to relate to.

One more disappointment as a music fan, I would have rather seen some newer blog-era artists soundtrack the film. Trent Reznor did a fine job scoring the movie and earned an Oscar nomination for his efforts, but I don't think of NIN when I think of Facebook. It would have been cool to use artists actually relevant when the site was being created in 2003.

I gave the Social Network three stars.

A cool song

This Tuneyards, or is it tUnE-yArDs, song is getting some blog buzz lately. I've listened to it a lot and still find it compelling. First the roar of the singer's voice. Then the simple rhythm of the music. Are those vocal loops pulling the song along or some kind of synthesized beat? I hear the shouts in the background, but what is she screaming about? Then the horns come and all of that is before the lyrics ever seep in.

It's just a really cool song.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


I've had a week to think about the Packers' Super Bowl victory and my final conclusion is that it was the most gratifying championship any of my favorite teams has ever earned.

The Packers go down as the most injury-plagued team to ever win the Lombardi Trophy. They had to win three impossibly difficult road games to reach the Super Bowl, knocking off the No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds in the NFC. Just to make the playoffs, the Packers had to win two difficult home games against the Giants and the Bears.

If they did that with a full-strength roster, it would have been impressive enough. To do it without key starters like Jermichael Finley, Ryan Grant, Mark Tauscher and Nick Barnett, was truly remarkable.

The Bulls teams of the 1990s were fun to root for because of their dominance, and the unparalleled play of star Michael Jordan. I am beginning to wonder if the Packers couldn't go on to form a similar dynasty.

They won't have a world-popular superstar at the helm, but in place of that, the Packers could have a team concept built on stellar depth and unselfishness. One guy goes down, the next guy takes his turn and gets the job done.

If this injury plagued roster is good enough to win the championship, how much better will the team be with Finley returning next season, along with 12 other key players? Between Grant's likely return and emerging James Starks, the running game figures to be exponentially better. The other area of needed improvement, special teams, should be looking up as well with so many key reserves back on coverage units.

The Packers had one of the youngest rosters in the league last season, but the main reason for hope of a dynasty is Aaron Rodgers. He's only 27 years-old. And there are young stars at other key positions -- wide receiver Greg Jennings, tackle Bryan Bulga, guard Josh Sitton, Finley at tight end, nose tackle B.J. Raji, pass rusher Clay Matthews, cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, safety Nick Collins.

The key contributors are already in place. This team wasn't as dominant as 1996 Packers, who had the No. offense and defense. But whereas that team was relatively futile based on its talent level, only winning one title, this Packers roster is built for the long haul. And the coaching staff seems to be in place too. Mike McCarthy earned his stripes this season by guiding such an injury plagued team. Why other franchises weren't clamoring to hire Dom Capers, Darren Perry, Winston Moss, Tom Clements or Joe Philbin is beyond me. But it appears they'll all be back, and barring a labor dispute, the Packers will be the odds-on favorite to repeat.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lucy and Lloyd

My lovely wife is getting her blog on in 2011 and blowing me clear out of the water thus far.

For a look at all things Ali, click over to Lucy and Lloyd. I'm going to start egging her on to do a post about the Packers, Bulls or Cubs.

From the Queue: Catfish and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Catfish was one of the most unique movies I've seen in several years. It's a sort of case study of that hypothetical situation from the internet age -- what if the pretty girl on the other side of the social networking site is anything but a pretty girl after all?

Cynics will be taken aback at one of the central character's adeptness at dishonesty, but I didn't find that. I found Catfish to be in all actuality a tender look at a human being's capacity to escape from their own surroundings.

After watching the film, we had very real questions as to whether Catfish was a true documentary, since its main characters sometimes seem more like weak actors than real people. The general parameters of the film seem to be legitimate though, and Catfish creates real suspense in a way that true works of fiction often fail to do.

More than any of that, it's just outside the mainstream, which was refreshing to me. Perhaps it simply found me where I was, but I gave Catfish five stars.


Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is a horror film about a childhood actress gone batshit crazy. She keeps her wheelchair bound sister, who also was a star actress earlier in life, hostage in the upstairs of their home.

The movie plays all the same chords as Misery, one of my other favorite horror flicks. And it has one of the greatest final scenes in cinematic history in my opinion. We watched this shortly after Rear Window, another brilliant popcorn horror film I don't think Whatever Happened to Baby Jane ever reaches Rear Window's high points, but it's pretty close. I am upset I didn't see it sooner. Four stars.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

From the Queue: Red and Despicable Me

Maybe I'm getting old, but for me Red continued a streak of disappointing action films. The cast is stocked with award-winning actors and led by tried-and-true action star Bruce Willis. As you'd expect the acting is good, but as is often the case with modern action films, the plot is somewhere between cartoonish and preposterous.

The best action films double as thrillers, such as the Bourne movies. Red never thrills as a story about retired CIA agents trying to prevent their own assassinations. There are clever lines and plenty of shit gets blown up. But this is still a comic book movie, and a rather sappy one at that. Two stars.

Despicable Me continued the streak of excellent animated films dating back to 2009, including Up, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Toy Story 3 and How to Train Your Dragon.

It's your basic heel-turned-face plot with villain ultimately opting to save three impossibly cute orphan girls instead of pursuing his super-evil plot to literally steal the moon.

What makes Despicable Me so good is that it is genuinely funny, moreso than most adult comedies Hollywood offers up nowadays. For that reason, Despicable Me would be just as enjoyable for adults as for kids. Four stars.