Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saturday Playlist

1. Leonard Nimoy: Amphibious Assault
2. Isaac Hayes: Ain’t That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One)
3. Richard Thompson: It Won’t Be Long
4. Cream: Sunshine of Your Love
5. Billy Joel: Falling of the Rain
6. James Newton Howard: Listening to Celia’s Heart
7. Harry Nilsson: 1941
8. Jethro Tull: Black Sunday
9. Britney Spears: Mmm Papi
10. The Marcels: Blue Moon

1. From Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space. I am know obligated to acknowledge that I actually have all four of Leonard Nimoy's albums. And both of Shatner's.
2. I love this song; there's not much Isaac Hayes you can find out there that I don't like, actually.
3. Beatles cover from Thompson's epic 1000 Years of Popular Music.
4. I just dig this song.
5. From sunshine to rain. Neat. Cold Spring Harbor is a pretty underrated, intimate work.
6. James Newton Howard's Restoration score is one of my favorite in film history. I've heard it more times than I've seen the film (although I quite like the film). Howard incorporates a lot of great Henry Purcell music from the time period. (I love Purcell, and I'm surprised how forgotten he seems to be. I had two music professors in college who had never heard of him; and one of those teachers was good.)
7. From Aerial Pandemonium Ballet. I love every Nilsson album; I don't think I could pick a favorite.
8. From A, one of the last good Tull albums. I've just started watching the BBC series Saxondale, and I dig all of the Tull music in it, so it's nice the iTunes shuffle sort of plucked one out.
9. Off of the new album, Circus. I dig this one a little more than her last one.
10. I just love this song. It's so much fun to sing along with. I've been searching lately for all of the songs I love from the 1950s, and I was glad to finally dig this one up. Harder to find that I thought!

I'm Torn...

...between my hatred of Lindsay Lohan, my love of big fake boobs, and my abject fear of mummies.

Let Me Introduce Myself; I'm Something Stupid

Friday, February 27, 2009

Throwdown 2/27

Random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. 31 August 2010. That’s the date President Obama has set for the withdrawal of at least half of the American forces in Iraq. Just wanted to get that out of the way first. I know a lot of people would’ve liked for it to have been sooner, but at least there’s an end in sight now.

2. Samuel L. Jackson went from being nearly dropped out of Iron Man 2 to getting signed for a nine-picture deal with Marvel Entertainment for (potentially) Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America, and The Avengers, as well as other sequels and (possibly) a Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD movie. I think what we're seeing now is the use of the internet as a Hollywood negotiating tactic; float the rumor, wait for the fan reaction. It's pretty smart, I think. And it's awesome; I was going to be pretty disappointed if Jackson wasn't back. The kid in me is thrilled. I haven’t been able to read a Marvel Comic in years, but after Iron Man and even The Incredible Hulk, I’m certainly xazzed about this movie universe they’re putting together. Man, if only we could get do-overs on The Fantastic Four

3. I saw a few fanboys going nuts this week over Megatron. Apparently, Michael Bay had said that Megatron was not going to be the villain in Transformers 2: Dragging Out the Idiotic Quest for the Magical Car Battery because he’d died in the first one (something I’d completely forgotten; I can barely remember that piece of shit). Anyway, when the merchandising started coming out, it became quickly apparent that Megatron was indeed in the movie. I saw a surprising number of people getting all pissy and screaming that Michael Bay was a fucking liar. Was there ever a time when fanboys didn’t want to know every single detail of a movie before they saw it? I seem to remember one, but maybe I was just sheltered. There’s a difference between lying and trying not to spoil a surprise in a movie, guys. Calm down. It’s still going to suck hard.

4. Vivid Entertainment has offered OctoMom Nadya Suleman a porno movie; they’ll even give her full medical and dental if she becomes a contract girl. I can’t wait to see if she takes it. At least then it won’t be taxpayers footing the bill for her emotional issues. Hilariously, another porn company, PinkVisual, have offered OctoMom a year’s worth of diapers if she doesn’t do porn. I’m just looking for anything that will get that image of her gigantic pregnant belly out of my head. (And have you seen the the videos Radar is putting up of Octo and her put-upon mother? Octo is absolutely insane and a total bitch who treats her mother like shit and still expects her mom to do everything she tells her to.)

5. I really didn’t have much to say about this matter of Rihanna and Chris Brown. I find violence against women, especially a woman you profess to love, awful. And my reaction to that is so ingrained in me that I felt it went without saying. I rolled my eyes when there was news that, even though he cheated on her and put her in the hospital for not being okay with it, she allegedly still loves him and wants him back. But here’s what finally pissed me off the most: this Chicago Tribune report that teenagers think domestic violence is normal and that Rihanna is to blame. That not only has domestic abuse gained acceptance, but in some ways, approval. America, what the fuck have you done to your kids that they find this something normal? That kids today, boys and girls, think it’s okay to beat your girlfriend and then blame her for “deserving” it? There are so many ways this country is socially sick, but this is one of the absolute worst.

6. How great is this? This is a composite image, courtesy of NASA, of the white dwarf-star supernova observed by Tycho Brahe in 1572. No commentary, really. I just thought it was incredible. (Picture via io9.)

7. Go here to read a 224-word poem by Demetri Martin. It’s a palindrome. Impressive.

8. Nadya Vessey, a New Zealand woman who lost both of her legs below the knee as the result of a medical condition, went to Weta Workshop and had them make a mermaid prosthetic for her. That’s… pretty damn awesome. Why not, eh? Now she can put it on and swim, and that’s also kind of beautiful.

9. People in Ireland marched this week to protest a pension levy on public sector workers. Tell me if this sounds recognizable: Ireland had a property bubble that burst, the economy collapsed, and the largest banks received a bailout or were nationalized. The brunt of the financial collapse is being felt by middle and lower class families, especially public workers, who are going to see their pay cut by the equivalent of $3600 a year. So, the most vulnerable are being penalized. The difference is the Irish took their anger out in protest. I wonder what it’s like being from a country that gives a shit about the way it’s governed.

10. This Roland Burris crap is getting harder and harder to keep straight. So, Burris’ son Roland Burris II was hit with a $34,163 tax lien by the IRS. Three weeks later, a mortgage company filed a foreclosure suit on his Chicago home. Three weeks after that, Burris was hired on by then Gov. Rod Blagojevich to a $75,000 a year state job. The job? Senior counsel for the state’s housing authority. This despite being basically a tax deadbeat. But wait, it gets better. This is not the first time the IRS has put a lien on Burris II’s property; he had two of them “resolved” in 2005. This lien seeks unpaid taxes for 2004, 2005 and 2007. The foreclosure suit is a result of him paying less than $3000 on a $372,000 mortgage he got in 2006. And the kicker on all this is that Burris II bought the land from the city for just a buck. One dollar. So, to put this into perspective, keep in mind that when Burris II got this job five months ago, Senator Burris was already leveraging to get Obama’s seat. And keep in mind, too, that Patti Blagojevich had been given a job from the charity that Senator Burris’ partner sits on the board of. And that charity is accused of making development scams possible for Mayor Daley. Can’t wait to see how Senator Burris “modifies” his story this time.

11. California is making some progressive decisions these days. First they threw out their ridiculous anti-video game violence law as unconstitutional. Then, there’s a bill that’s been introduced that would legalize marijuana, subject it to essentially the same limits and taxations as alcohol. It could bring about $13 billion in revenue to the state. Finally, someone figured it the fuck out. (Now Cali just needs to repeal that Prop 8 piece of legislated bigotry.) In fact, it looks like the administration is going to leave marijuana controls up to the states and reinstate the needle exchange program. Drug raids would also cease, which is a good thing, since we hear far too little about drug operations being shut down and far too much about trigger happy SWAT teams breaking into grandma’s house and shooting her dog because she has an eye disease. We can do better than that.

12. News came today that the Obama administration is looking to rescind Bush’s “conscience rule.” This was the rule that allowed health workers to refuse treatment to patients on the grounds of moral and/or religious objections. Seven states (including mine) have filed a lawsuit against the Bush rule, citing cases (among others) of women who have been raped and become pregnant because of moral objections to contraception (which, as I’ve said many times, seems to stem from a feeling that women should be punished just for having sex). There is no justification to me that religion should interfere in health cases; if you have a moral objection to anything you may come across in your job, you get another job. Or move to Utah. I'm sick of letting the crusaders triumph over rationality while hiding behind a false sense of fairness.

13. Turns out some military personnel are ignoring the president’s order to stop torturing. Prisoner abuse is up at Gitmo. How long will the feet-dragging go on before there are any prosecutions on this and any other prisoner abuses? As much as I’m happy with what President Obama is doing, there are so many other things—torture, the Binyam Mohamed case, state secrets—that I think just need a lot better work. We need a Truth Commission. This speech by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gets to the heart of the matter. I don’t think he’d be comparing these abuses to Pol Pot if he didn’t have a good idea of what the Commission was going to find. We need to get this out in the open and make sure it never happens again.

14. Just what America needed the week after that asinine New York Post cartoon: a mayor in California sending this around. If the Republican Party really wants to race from its current irrelevance into complete obscurity, keep acting like racism is funny and acceptable. Seriously, the fact that racism has become one of the tools of the right wing arsenal is absolute proof to me that they’ve completely run dry of ideas. They can’t attack Obama on policy, because their only attack has been to do more of what we did for the last thirty years. Attacking new methods by holding up past failures as innovation is just stupid. Racism is desperation. Call it; after the 2010 elections, it’s curtains for the Republican Party. Good riddance. Call us back when you remember what the point of your party is.

15. The GOP is starting to look like that old electric football game where the players would just spin around and around and fall down. They’re already starting their robocalls for the 2010 election, which I’m sure won’t make people hate them even more. They’re out trying to point out all of the earmarks in the recovery package, which has already been debunked; they can’t name a single earmark that actually exists, but they claim they’re there. Here’s a little list of some more Republican stupidity I thought was hilarious this week:

A. Sarah Palin has been forced by the court to pay $7000 to Alaska for the travel expenses for her children that she charged the state for; she acknowledged no wrongdoing but did not contest the charges. They’re also going to make her pay back taxes in state meal allowances for all of those days she was at her home but charged the state for expenses. Her attorney, showing how deluded these people are, said Palin was “fully exonerated.” She’s got an attorney who doesn’t know what words mean.

B. Alan Keyes: “Obama is a radical communist and I think it is becoming clear. That is what I told people in Illinois and now everybody realizes it is coming true. He is going to destroy this country and we are either going to stop him or the United States of America is going to cease to exist.” So, treason much? Can we please get Alan Keyes put in jail for essentially calling for the assassination of the president? (Dr. Monkey has a longer post about this that I recommend reading.)

C. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Insert your own joke. I, for one, think it was incredibly brave of the man who many people thought was the future of the Republican Party to come out on TV and end his political career by going down in flames like that. He’ll try to come back, he will, but he’s a tiny man who will be easy to ignore. One thing that struck me as implausible, though: the extreme, disingenuous irony of attacking the government for spending money to monitor natural disasters, when more money spent monitoring natural disaster could’ve, like, helped Louisiana a few years ago… So, you’re against preparedness and safety. Good to know. (After Michael Steele’s embarrassing showing these last two weeks, also, and Alan Keyes’ dumbass comments about communism, did the Republicans go through their entire list of minorities? Time to find a new useless tactic.)

D. Oh, good. This again. Senator Richard Shelby: “Well his father was Kenyan but they said he was born in Hawaii, but I haven’t seen any birth certificate. You have to be born in America to be president.” Will somebody please smack this asshole with his own hand? Look at this, shitbird.

E. Last week, I talked about State Senator Buttars, who was reprimanded by the State Senate of Utah for his homophobic comments about equal rights for gay couples. Turns out they actually reprimanded him because he wasn’t the gay basher of choice for Utah Senate Republicans. Yes, seriously. He violated an agreement that he wouldn’t talk about gay issues because he’s become such a “lightning rod.” In clearing up the apparent confusion, State Senator Howard Stephenson was sure to add “we agree with many of the things he said.” The only thing that’s really confusing me right now is why gay people would even want to live in Utah. Or anyone sane, honestly. Let the Mormons have it. We can put a fence around it, right?

F. Another dumbass State Senator, Dave Schultheis of Colorado, a Republican (of course) who announced he would vote against a bill requiring HIV tests for pregnant women (pregnant women) because HIV “stems from sexual promiscuity for the most part” and the government shouldn’t “remove the negative consequences that take place from poor behavior and unacceptable behavior.” Hey, let’s run that through the Republican to English translator: State Senator Dave Schultheis thinks that women who have sex deserve to die.

16. So, we gave Citigroup $25 billion, and none of it ever got to Citibank. The $10 billion we gave to Morgan Stanley never actually got to a bank, either. No wonder banks aren’t lending, despite TARP. We gave the money to the holding companies. Bernanke and Paulson fucked us once again by doing a bait and switch and not allowing any oversight on it. Apparently, their plan (and it’s a plan similar to what Geithner said a week or two ago, creepily) is to just keep funneling money into Citigroup in the hopes that the managers over there who have been doing such a great job will just come up with something to stop bleeding money. It’s a shadow banking system being propped up by the government. This is why TARP is a failure; you can’t build a house from the roof down. Last night, Citigroup was bailed out for a third fucking time, with the federal government taking somewhere between a 30 and 40% stake in the company. Details are going to be announced today. Look, if this fails, too, the government had better temporarily nationalize it completely and take over or just let the damn thing fail. It’s a joke.

17. More stimulus irritants: John Thain, the douchebag former CEO of Merrill Lynch, a company TARP gave $15 billion because they were on the verge of economic collapse, said: “Bonuses were determined based upon the performance and the retention of people, and there is nothing that happened in the world or the economy that would make you say that those were not the right thing to do for the retention and the reward of the people who were performing.” $15 billion is about how much Merrill Lynch lost in the fourth quarter for 2008. I mean, why wouldn’t you pay out over $800 million in bonuses to executives who lost $15 billion, especially if the taxpayer is paying for it, right?

18. It’s been confirmed that the US aid package to rebuild Gaza is going to be around $900 million. Can we take this out of the allowance we give Israel, please?

19. Viviane Castro, a Brazilian carnival queen, painted Obama on her thigh as a protest against Brazil selling out the Amazon rainforest to the United States. It kind of fails as a protest, though it’s definitely worth looking at…

20. Nancy Pelosi can shut it now. Suddenly she’s eager to show how much she disagrees with the president on Iraq, tax cuts, and the prosecution of former Bush officials. On that last one, “former” is the key word. She wasn’t willing to go after them when Bush was in office, which is why I can’t take her sudden anti-torture conviction very seriously. If she wanted to have credibility on prosecutions, she shouldn’t have taken impeachment off the table. It’s a lot easier to have principles when you’re not in danger of losing your job over them, isn’t it? The way she’s suddenly angling to be some kind of maverick is not about anything more than political protection. She wants to be re-elected. That’s it. End of story. Frankly, I’m surprised at the Democrats’ reaction to Obama’s new budget, which does raise the deficit (as any budget would have done by this point) but is one of the most progressive we’ve ever seen: $634 billion for health care and an end to overpayment to insurance companies, including halting the privatization of Medicare that seems to have been looming. That alone seems pretty progressive to me. He’s also being honest about the cost of the Iraq War and the interest costs, and not artificially inflating revenues (which is what the housing bubble did in previous years). And it’s long-term. Maybe not long-term enough—that remains to be seen—but we’re in a crisis right now and he’s trying very hard to attack this crisis from several different fronts. With Congress dithering around this thing for the last two years, it’s about time someone finally tried to fix it instead of encouraging America to ignore it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Goodnight, Miss Brahms

Wendy Richard, 1943-2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Philip Jose Farmer 1918-2009

"Everybody should fear only one person, and that person should be himself." -- The Magic Labyrinth

One of my favorite authors, creator of many of my favorite works and the inspiration for the Wold Newton Universe, one of my favorite things in fandom, passed away today at the age of 91. I've been reading his books for the last 15 years, since I idly decided to read To Your Scattered Bodies Go and found myself carried away by his imagination. I've got every book he ever wrote. I'm glad I do. I can enter his world whenever I wish. Goodbye, sir.

Ash Wednesday

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

I was prepared not to like it, but I actually thought it was very good. What seemed like it would be an overwrought drama about how suburbia makes you hate your spouse really felt more to me about a marriage that was poisoned by an inability to be honest and an acceptance of a routine that was secretly comforting to one and unbearable to the other. The real point seemed to me not that suburbia can be soul-crushing, but how hopeless you can feel when you're unhappy and can't figure out how to change your situation. It makes the point much more effectively than director Sam Mendes' pitiful American Beauty or pretty-but-muted Road to Perdition. And the actors were very good; not only Michael Shannon, but Kate and Leo, too. And Kate Winslet was better in this movie than in The Reader, she just isn't naked. Just saying, the nudest nominee usually wins... **** stars.

Well, it passed the time. None of these three movies is particularly good, but High School Musical 2 is the best one, and this one doesn't come close to HSM2. I mean, it's about 30 minutes longer than the two that were made for TV, and they still can't fill the running time with an interesting story. And even then, they essentially drop several ancillary characters (no cooking for Zeke?) and severely cut short on some of the others. Now, I don't care if Monique Coleman trips and falls in a ditch, but it felt like Ashley Tisdale was barely in the movie at all. Since she is, far and away, above and beyond, the best thing going in these movies (I say a third time, she's the only one who gets that she's in an arch comedy and acts accordingly, stealing the first two completely), I was extremely disappointed that she had so little time to do anything--especially in favor of some particularly untalented newcomers who seem to only be there to set up Disney Channel's inevitable High School Musical: The New Class or somesuch nightmare. And why are the filmmakers ignoring the obvious Chad-Ryan love connection that took place in the second movie? And why can't Vanessa Hudgens act convincingly? Granted, I think she's purdy and has a sweet voice--she's refreshingly and innocently lewd in a lot of ways--but she still doesn't have a character down. The bright spots this does have are: 1. Ashley Tisdale, even in a limited capacity; 2. Zac Efron finally seems to be figuring out what this whole "acting" thing entails; 3. Kenny Ortega uses his bigger budget to stage some very good musical scenes--"I Want It All" is the highlight of the movie; 4. I dug the curtain call ending; 5. Baby V is just hot; and 6. it had a better message than the last film. The first film is a coming-out-of-the-closet allegory, but the second film had this terrible message that amounted to: don't change too much, because the pack won't accept you if you do. The message of the third movie is that you can make your own future without having to compromise who you are. And that's a nice message. *1/2 stars, though, because the story is a mess.

How could Clint Eastwood not have been nominated for Best Actor? This is his best performance since Unforgiven, 16 years prior. Has it been so long? I think what Eastwood did for the Western in Unforgiven he did here for a certain kind of movie that was made in the 1970s and doesn't really get made anymore. In a way, it sort of catches up with the attitudes of Dirty Harry almost forty years later and takes another look at it from a modern and, I think, more mature viewpoint. Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retiree and Korean War vet who has just become a widower and now lives alone in a neighborhood that, like a lot of nice 1950s suburban neighborhoods, has become a ghetto. He lives in a mostly Hmong neighborhood. His prize possession is a 1972 Ford Gran Torino (a beautiful car). He's distant from his sons; their wives and children don't even like him. A gang tries to recruit the boy next door, and Walt becomes involved when a fight spills over onto his lawn and he pulls a rifle on the assailants. From then on, Walt becomes involved with the family, and not in a way that felt cliched or script-dictated, but in a sort of organic way that grows out of his willingness to like people individually (but not in groups, where stereotypes take over) and his dissatisfaction with the decline of the neighborhood and the world at large. Much has been said about the movie's casual racism, but I think people are being oversensitive in the case of this movie. Walt's casual racism is part of his viewpoint, and I think to pretend he's not a guy who takes out his anger at the loose standards of the modern world on people who aren't like him is dishonest. I'm from the Midwest (this movie takes place in Michigan). I've lived in the Midwest my whole life. I know guys like this, older guys. I'm related to some of them. Walt Kowalski is a character that I found remarkably true to life. And I think what Clint Eastwood is doing here, given the way this movie turns and the way it ends, is a mature commentary on movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish, were vigilantism is actively encouraged. It's not an epic work, but it is Clint Eastwood's strongest film as both director and actor since Unforgiven. That he had the sense to make this movie small and personal instead of something grander than it really is only strengthens it. **** stars.

The Disney Channel hyped the shit out of this one. Too bad it's not very good. But I expect great things from Emily Osment eventually. She's one of the real talents they've got there. * star for Emily. And for Jason Earles, who is actually hilarious as the villain in a white tux and pompadour.

I keep hearing that Bill Maher is smug in this movie, but I don't think so. As a non-believer, it's pretty hard to keep hearing about the deity superstitions over and over again. It's hard to take people seriously when they profess to believe in an ancient illusion and give it power over their lives. And it's so, so hard to keep from laughing when told that books which tell believers that they can and should murder anyone who doesn't believe the same thing they do are the vital foundations of messages of peace. And that goes for most of the religions. I think Maher shows restraint in dealing with fervent believers who often argue from their own very smug position of having figured everything out and condescending towards people who just don't "get" the "reality" of Jesus or Allah or Jehovah or whatever. Yes, Bill Maher is provocative, but I don't think he's very smug in this movie. Or very rude, honestly. I think he was trying to find someone who could at least explain why they believe what they believe in a way that sounded authentic and rational instead of saying they read it in a book or it "just is." The greatest lesson that Paul T. Riddell taught me was "When someone disagrees with you, don't tell them they're wrong, ask them what they mean." And my friend Carl has pointed out many times that 90% of people, when asked, can't defend their opinions or why they believe what they believe. Maher found a number of people who couldn't, but he did find some people (like those people in the truckers' church, most of them) who were willing to listen and have some sort of a debate. If anyone is being smug, it's not him. He has the courage of conviction (and Maher is not an atheist, he just says that no one can know the unknowable with certainty, which I believe also) and the courage to take on a subject most people are uncomfortable discussing. It's one of the two best documentaries I've seen from 2008. **** stars.

I'm not David Fincher's biggest fan (liked Panic Room, Seven, The Game and Zodiac, hated Fight Club and Alien 3), but I never thought he'd make a movie that didn't at least spark some kind of passion in me for anything. It's a nothing film, a hollow shell with nothing inside but CGI and good actors set adrift with no characters to play. What the hell happened? The film overreaches completely, taking what could have been an interesting concept and dragging it out so that it takes too long to get to what is basically a Hallmark cliche ("Live a life you're proud of"). There's nothing deep and profound here; it's just a glossy fairy tale. They could have axed the lazy narration and the awful framing device, which seems to really only be there to emotionally blackmail the audience by hitching its dime novel sentiment on the back of a national tragedy that still resonates. That was very cheap and manipulative, and the movie certainly never earned it. People are comparing this to Forrest Gump, but at least Forrest Gump was about something, even though it was about something I disagreed with completely (the triumph of conservative values--although Benjamin Button does its little bit to trash liberal lifestyles). The movie never gets into what it might actually be like to live backwards and how it would affect someone's life; instead, Brad Pitt drifts through the story without a care in the world and drops out whenever real life (like raising a kid) becomes too messy for him, and just expects everyone to be okay with it. And the character Cate Blanchett plays isn't much better; she's unlikable in the extreme. And yet, it's not that the film is wretched or awful. It isn't, really. It's just boring and ineffective. It's nothing. ** stars.

I've never seen a Chan-wook Park movie before, but I obviously need to see more. This was a very interesting movie, beautiful to look at but perhaps intentionally obscure. Park doesn't take you by the hand and lead you around, which I appreciate. The story concerns a woman who checks into a mental hospital and thinks she's a cyborg. Because she's a cyborg, she thinks she doesn't have to eat and nearly starves herself to death. Another inmate, a man who thinks he can steal peoples' souls and give them what he wishes to be rid of (such as a sneezing fit), falls in love with her and tries to make her better. The interesting thing is, he seems to understand in some way that her psychosis is a psychosis, and simply humors her in ways that make her life easier. There's something very touching about that. He finds simple solutions to her problems, and makes her life something better as a result, even as she detaches from reality. It's not an easy movie, but it's inventive and beautiful, and a comment on the way that we're in danger of losing our humanity because we want so much to be clever. **** stars.

OLEANNA (1994)
I admit, I had a hard time with this one. David Mamet's best films (Homicide, Things Change, House of Games) are so clear, even as they're about subterfuge and misunderstanding. Here we have a comment on the inability of people to understand each other on the most fundamental level. The plot, such as it is, concerns a student (Deborah Eisenstadt) and her professor (William H. Macy) in a meeting over the student's grade. But the meeting results in two wildly divergent versions of what happened and a complaint of sexual harrassment. The fact is, the two of them are completely self-absorbed and never relate to each other as human beings, but as the abstracts of student and professor. I guess this film is a comment on what the consequences of reducing people to abstracts can be. But I never found it completely plausible, and the academic language was (perhaps deliberately) dense. Not an easy film to become involved in, but far from Mamet's worst effort. *** stars.

Talk about a divisive film; people either seem to love it or hate it. Honestly, I liked it but I think it's overrated. It's basically a neo-Dickensian fable about a poor Indian kid who goes on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in order to... what? Prove his love for a girl? The connection never really comes through for me, and frankly, it's a little forced. What I liked about the movie was the structure of the screenplay; he answers every question he's asked, and we see in flashbacks events from his life that inform his answers. There's a point to be made there about how our experiences make up our lives, how our knowledge is informed by those experiences, and how no knowledge is truly wasteful. But the filmmakers opt instead for a love story that never comes off and a gang story that just feels pointless. Danny Boyle tackled poverty and crime so much more adeptly in Millions, which is a far better film that too few people saw. *** stars.

MILK (2008)
The best movie of 2008, an excellent portrayal not just of a compassionate man, but a movement for compassion that continues today. I know Harvey Milk's story, and what this movie did so well was to make Milk more than just a biopic, but a movie about how dearly people can hold their essential humanity, and how that humanity can be denied and spat upon by condescending people who are terrified that someone out there might not be like them. The actors are mostly excellent--Diego Luna was over the top in a way that was distracting, but it's the first time I've ever been impressed with Emile Hirsch. Sean Penn is excellent, James Franco is excellent, and I would've like to have seen more of Allison Pill and Lucas Grabeel. And not to forget Josh Brolin, who brings a soul to a man that it would be too easy to dismiss as having none. **** stars.

Ron Howard is hit or miss for me as a filmmaker. I think he was helped enormously here by Peter Morgan's excellent play/screenplay, and the excellent performances of the two leads, Michael Sheen as David Frost and Frank Langella as Richard M. Nixon. And, seriously, just watching these two actors is enough, though I think the film is a lot better than its critics are giving it credit for. This is also the kind of movie that makes me hate that more people haven't put Frank Langella in better roles; he's an excellent actor who is too often ignored for the great work he's capable of. **** stars.

Just decide which story you want to follow, the Nazi story or the love story. It doesn't really work as both, even though neither one is all that interesting. The film starts as the story of a teenager (David Kross) who has a sexual affair with an older woman (Kate Winslet) in the 1960s. She likes him to read to her, and he does so. Maybe this is a spoiler, but she can't read. It's obvious from very early, and the film waits way too long for Kross to actually figure that out. At the end of the summer, she ends the affair and disappears, only to turn up again as one of a number of women SS guards on trial (Kross is a law student and is in the court as part of a class project). Moral dilemma, failure to act, lots of guilt, everyone getting older for the next 20 years for what feels like real time. What's your point? Seriously, what is it? Neither half of the film works, and they sit uncomfortably together. Kate Winslet is good, but that's like saying the sun rises in the east. She's always good. Bruno Ganz is great as the law professor. He brings up a much more interesting dilemma than whatever is going on in this movie--is it legal for Germany to prosecute people whose crimes were not all illegal under the laws of the time--that the movie does zilch with. It doesn't do much of anything, really. ** stars.

DOUBT (2008)
Doubt is the kind of film in too short supply: a film that's not afraid to admit that it doesn't have the answers. The film takes place at a Catholic school in the 1960s, where Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) rules with an iron fist as principal. She doesn't care much for the new priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and jumps to conclusions when naive Sister James (Amy Adams) has cause to believe that Father Flynn may have interfered with the school's only black student. There are many doubts in this film, but very few are entertained until it's too late. Instead, beliefs are spoken of, and beliefs are pursued relentlessly. Sister Aloysius, for example, makes up her mind early on and investigates only to find evidence that supports her predetermined conclusion. Father Flynn tries to protect the boy, but implicates himself in doing so. (There's an interesting implication that Father Flynn might secretly be gay, but I never quite came to believe that he had ever molested a child; if he really was run out of past parishes, I think that's the reason why and not any molestation.) Sister James recants her accusation, but is ignored. And the boy's mother (Viola Davis) makes her feelings clear in a powerful scene that got her a deserved nomination. The acting from all three of the leads is tremendous, especially from Streep. It's a fascinating film that leaves much room for discussion and skepticism. **** stars.

This is the first good Darren Aronofsky movie. He and screenwriter Robert D. Siegel take themes of alienation and make them something roughly poetic. (Like I said, it's Rocky with a wearier view of the world.) Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a former wrestling champion who is now poor and just barely hanging on. He lives alone and frequents a strip club where Marisa Tomei is a performer. Both of them are past their prime, stuck in lives they should have moved on from long before but never did. They're not sure where to go or what to do. Randy has a heart attack and decides to change his life; to get a regular job, to reconnect with his daughter, to settle down. But nothing goes right; he's basically a fuck-up, and he fucks it all up. And from there, things play out the way you think they will, but not in a way that feels tired and cliched. It's a way that feels justified. **** stars.

By now, you know what you're getting. I don't think any of them have been as good as Bender's Big Score, but it's still another great outing for Futurama. This is supposed to be the last film, but there are still some unresolved stories and it opens itself up for another entry (although it also ends in a way that I could live with if it were the end). It all really comes down at this point to how much you like the characters. And I like them a hell of a lot. I'd be happy to see two of these every year for a long time to come. *** stars. If I really have one giant complaint, it's that Billy West isn't on the commentary. That's just not right.

Another Step in the Right Direction

For the second time this month, President Barack Obama finally found an area where he wasn't the president of change: he didn't make me want to dive for the remote and change the channel when he started speaking, the way Bush always did. Bush was a man whose speech was painful to my ears; I always had to read his addresses later. When Obama speaks, he's a man worth listening to.

It was nice to see the man I elected standing before a joint session of Congress and talking about solutions instead of who's to blame for problems. His address was part New Deal, part Great Society (in cynical terms, his address was all programs that some Republican Congress will repeal down the line, so that when the nation crashes again, they can blame Democrats again, and the cycle will go ever on).

Congress looked more partisan than ever. The Republicans didn't even want to stand up and applaud Obama at first. I was watching on NBC, and whomever the technical director on this was did quite the job of making the Republicans look like cynical douchebags. Mitch McConnell looked shocked and appalled when Obama mentioned tax credits for college education. The Republicans then looked like hypocrites when they applauded Obama's promise to resolve this economic crisis with a recovery package that they wouldn't vote for.

It was refreshing not to have to see Dick Cheney scowling at America behind the president. Yet another reason I could never watch Bush address Congress. Nancy Pelosi looked beside herself with joy, leaping up whenever she could. Now that a Democrat is in office, her spine has grown back, this time extra springy.

It was also refreshing to hear a president who knows what the issues are and wants to tackle them instead of letting everyone else fight it out and then doing whatever the hell he wants. President Obama brought up the economy, global warming, health care, education, and the wars. There are a lot of people this morning who feel that his plans sounded vague but optimistic. I think the vagueness can't be helped. He's only been in office for a month, and he's got a lot to fix. He was left with a broken (and nearly broke) country, and a broken government that people don't have a lot of faith in. If he's going to do what he did last night--and thank Christ someone finally did, which was to call on Congress to lead and to call on citizens to take an active role in their recovery, or else this isn't going to work--he needs to lift peoples' spirits first. His plans aren't all in place yet; this is the preview. This is the hyping up. I hope Obama's actions as president live up to the hype; he's the first president I've seen in my lifetime to stress responsibility and individual action as essential parts of governance.

It was an ambitious and hopeful speech. He used historical examples of how American business and government intervention have been successful in overcoming financial crisis. He brought up, as I've always hoped someone would, that you don't have to let the auto industry die, you have to repurpose it into manufacturing something people want to buy (and, hopefully, something cleaner). He talked about energy efficiency and energy independence, but denounced protectionism as something destructive (which it is; see the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act to see how well protectionism actually protects).

Finally, a president addressed the inefficiency of the American health care system and made a promise to do something about it. He even pledged to more cancer research (I wonder if there are Republicans this morning trying to figure out how to brand themselves as "anti-spending" rather than "pro-cancer"). And he talked about the importance of education, which has been a mockery for the last decade.

What I find absurd is that the Republicans have been trying so hard to paint Obama as yet another "tax-and-spend Democrat" (whatever that means; that's how the government pays for programs is to tax and then spend), when a good portion of last night's address was devoted to assuring fiscal responsibility. He wants to cut the deficit, he wants to eliminate wasteful spending ($2 trillion over the next 10 years, he's already claimed to have found), he wants to get rid of earmarks, and he wants to cut taxes. How is it that the Democrats have not been pushing more that the Republicans voted against the largest tax cut in US history when they voted against the recovery package? It's basically proof that Republicans are only for tax cuts on the rich and corporations; the Republicans were against it because it cut taxes on the middle class.

So, yes, I'd agree that the plans were a little vague. But the goals were strong. And at this point, only a month in, I applaud President Obama for at least knowing where the goal posts are. He just needs to figure out how to get there. And I think he's got much more of a chance (and a willingness) than the last guy, whose only plans were to plot a course to quagmire in the Middle East and his brush-filled vacation home. The results are going to be the real thing. The reminder, "We aren't quitters," is as important as "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." We've got a president who believes in us again, and asks for us to believe in him. He didn't try to terrorize us into submission with prophecies of the end times to come. He simply told us what he was going to do, and he did it without hiding behind political rhetoric and iconography. And I can respect that.

It's stuff like this that makes me take issue with the disappointed liberals who seem to think that Obama is just withholding some kind of magic hand wave that will make all of our problems instantly go away. The biggest complaint I hear is "He hasn't done anything presidential yet." He's been president for one month. And already he's announced pay caps for staff, stricter rules for lobbyists, signed an executive order to close Gitmo and secret CIA prisons, signed the Lily Ledbetter Act, attempted to present a more tolerant image of America on Arab television, revived diplomacy, signed S-CHIP legislation, canceled leases around Arches National Park, signed the recovery package, announced a plan to prevent home foreclosures, banned emergency funding for Iraq, and attempted to find a common ground with an opposition party that is trying to obstruct everything he does. What exactly is their definition of "presidential"?

I think it was awfully presidential of the president to give this nation a lift when it so desperately needs it. He's reminding us that we can do something about our situation. Compare that to "keep shopping" and tell me that's not presidential.

Happy National Pancake Day!

I saw a miraculous manifestation in my pamcakes and it spooked me from eating the darn things. But if you're into flapjackery, IHOP is giving away a free short stack today until 10 p.m. Get in line early!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Two Very Short Videos I Saw Today

First, a DirecTV commercial that is far, far better than the ones we get here. I hope you horror fans dig it as much as I did. (I ganked this from Hell Bent for Taters; just had to share it!)

And secondly, the best alternate ending I've seen to Back to the Future. And I've seen a surprising number. But this one was the funniest, I thought.

The Health Report, Year 3: Week 11


What I can't believe is that I've been on this diet for about a month now and I haven't had any soda. At all. None. The closest I've come is drinking SoBe, which is the most perfect drink I could ever want, one Icee, and a couple of cups of coffee. That's astounding to me, because soda has always been the area where I've caved in during a diet. And now I don't even want it. I was a slave to Pepsi from pretty much the ages of 12 through 30. Then it was Coke for the last two and a half years. And I don't want it anymore. It's not a sacrifice to live without it. I'm not taking a stand on the evils of soda. I just don't crave it.


That said, I am gonna try this stuff when it comes out in April. It's made with cane sugar. I've been waiting to try Pepsi with sugar and no HFCS for a long time now, so it does need to be tried. (As for Mountain Dew, I don't know what they can do with the changeover; it'll still taste like cold mountain man piss.)

This week was much like the week before in terms of still eating responsibly and not minding it. Except for this weekend; we had a bit of an Oscar blowout, I will admit. I like huge breakfasts, and we made honey and wheat pancakes from a mix topped with a bit of real maple syrup, strawberries, and blueberries. There was also a bit of bacon--real bacon, the thick-cut stuff from the meat market--as well as some flavored coffee (the flavor keeps me from doing what I used to do, which is filling half of the cup with sugar and cream). This was a treat for us because we were seeing all five of the Best Picture nominees and we've been extremely good with breakfast for a month (except that one waffle sandwich, which was good, but come on--four bucks? I could make my own for less than that. Ooh, I should make my own!). It was... beautiful. It was a beautiful breakfast.

Oh, and I forgot, there was this neat Scandinavian breakfast cheese that we cooked. It was mind-blowing. I can't remember what it was called, though. But it was yet another perfect thing that comes from Scandinavia. Like Victoria Silvstedt.

Anyway, here's the thing that is interesting to me about this breakfast: it didn't derail the diet. I've been eating conservatively ever since (this was Saturday morning). Eating conservatively has, finally, become my normal mode of eating. I'm not gorging myself at all. The South Beach Diet really did what it said it would and changed the way I eat. I didn't feel guilty and say "Well, I fucked up, there's no point in going back. Long John Silver's for lunch, then! It's too late now!" And let's be honest, that happens to us. It happened to me, and my diet was off for a year.

No, rather I felt like I'd given myself a treat and that it was a one-time deal. I said to Becca: "That was amazing. Maybe we could do that again in March or something." I went right back to my normal diet and that was that.

I guess that's a victory for me. I'm no longer enthralled by junk food and fast food. Even better, it's not a habit anymore. Not my go-to. I've turned a real corner in my life, and I'm very happy about it.

I'm a Rainbow

I've participated in the newest Green Monkey Music Mix, and now I must explain my choices. The theme of Splotchy's latest was ROYGBIV; that is, seven songs with colors in the names, no repeat colors. Since I think trying to be creative within the lines is more challenging, I tried to stick to the idea of ROYGBIV.

1. RED: "Little Red Book" by Love
Love is one of my all time favorite bands, and this was the first one I thought of. I think it's a good way to start, with the insistent guitar riff and the drums. It's a psychedelic take on the Burt Bacharach-Hal David song.

2. ORANGE: "Orange Crate Art" by Brian Wilson & Van Dyke Parks
Impossibly pretty. This is a great spring song (and it's nearly, nearly spring), and the opening acoustic guitar verse just makes me smile. As longtime readers know, Brian Wilson is one of the gods in my personal universe, and his music always reaches into my heart.

3. YELLOW: "Yellow Rainbow" by The Move
A favorite band of mine. To be honest, I just put "yellow" into my iTunes search and pulled this one out because it fit what was becoming, in my head, a bit of a low key psychedelic/classic rock theme. I've been listening to a lot of obscure psychedelic music from the sixties lately, so I just went for The Move.

4. GREEN: "The Village Green Preservation Society" by The Kinks
The opening track from my favorite album by one of my favorite bands. Again, it feels springlike, and I just love that they found a rhyme for "Dracula." It's about preserving tradition even as life changes, but with a pop culture bent. God save Donald Duck indeed.

5. BLUE: "Pools of Blue" by Barclay James Harvest
I think this is a nice mix to get high to. I'm just going to say it. This is one of my favorite psychedelic songs, and it just carries you off on that wave, you know? The Mary Jane wave, I mean.

6. INDIGO: Um, "Deep Purple" by The Beach Boys
Of all the 28,000 songs on my iTunes player, I had exactly one with "indigo" in the title: "Mood Indigo" by Frank Sinatra. Now that I was on to a similar sound, I decided to type in "purple" and pulled this track off of an unreleased album, Adult Child. It just sounded better coming after the previous five songs.

7. VIOLET: "Violet" by Hole
I just hadn't heard this in forever. Live Through This is such a great album, and it's easy to forget that. Hey, why not a rock closer to the whole thing?

You can hear all the music at the above link, if you like. I always find these mixes awesome, myself. I just dig music. Any music. All music.

Comet Lulin

It's passing by the Earth so closely that it should be visible in the southeastern sky this week. I'm going to be looking closely for it.

Happy Birthday, Sophie Howard!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Because There Haven't Been Enough Comments on the Oscars Yet

Here are my own in unstructured order.

* I'd like to thank the man who invented the mute feature on televisions. I could never watch ABC's lame pre-ceremony-runway-whatever-the-hell without it. I don't want to hear idiots interview people who can barely hide their contempt for idiocy. It's uncomfortable. I just want to see what people are wearing.

* By which I really mean, I just want to see who looks sexy. Which was actually kind of a hard thing to do this year, because not only are we in yet another beige year, but the women of Hollywood suddenly decided it was the year to wear gowns that made them look frumpy, ill, or like participants in a cheap wedding. So many gowns this year looked perfectly nice... until you got down to the bottoms, in which case they were all festooned with ugly Christmas tree skirts all around them. What the hell was that all about?

*My eyes just about popped out of my head when I saw my darling Amy Adams. I know there are a number of people who read this blog that don't like her (and aren't shy about telling me so, as if I care), but I think she's gorgeous. I also have a thing about corset dresses. I saw someone or other talking to her (Tim Gunn, maybe?) and from the side it was astounding. Every time she breathed, her chest moved and her dress stayed perfectly still. That was the first highlight of my Oscar night.

You want an eyeroll from your girlfriend? Call Amy Adams "boner-inducing" as though it were a compliment. Which it is, right?

Becca's comment: "She looks like she's already regretting wearing that dress." She was right, too. Why does Amy Adams always look nervous? I think I've said stuff about this before on previous Oscar posts.

* Will someone please feed Angelina Jolie?!

* Hey, Melissa George. Unexpected. She's sexy; I'm sparing you the bottom of the dress.

* Well, you know me. I thought Milky Miley Cyrus looked tasty arousing boner-inducing sweetly jailbait lissome dainty in her gown... but only from the waist up. The bottom half of the dress was particularly bad. Becca thought Miley looked graceless, without poise, and "hickey, as in like a hick or hick-like." (And for those offended by my joking around, don't worry: I won't be attracted to Miley Ray Cyrus until 12:01 AM on the day she turns 18, just like the rest of the internet...) Her teeth have magically gotten straighter since the Golden Globes.

Oh, and to the people I see today wondering what Miley has to do with the Oscars... last year's Oscars were the lowest-rated ever, they want younger people to find the Oscars relevant so people will keep watching, Miley appeals to younger people. Cynical? Sure. It's a business. All business is cynical. Well, successful business, anyway.

I assume this is where the photographer fell over after being surprised at how ugly the bottom half of Miley's dress was.

* Danny Boyle is apparently now the Patron Saint of India. There was something kind of tacky about him dragging around his coterie of Indians behind him on the red carpet. "I bring your people Oscars and bad hair!" Slumdog Millionaire won 8 Oscars over the night. I'd be embarrassed if I were an Academy member. Since I'm not, I just think it's ridiculous. It's a fair movie being pushed as an Important Film. From what I can tell, people loved the uninspiring dancing so much at the end that they were fooled into thinking the whole movie was an Uplifting Experience. Can we get over it now? It's not like people are going to mention it again in a few years, except to complain about how it won Best Picture.

* Lots of people are annoyed and mildly pissed that Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens were there. What difference does it make? They weren't being invited to speak to Congress about capital gains taxation or the plight of starving Iraqi refugees, they were at the frigging Oscars. BFD. Not that it has anything to do with the quality of any movie, but I dig Vanessa Hudgens. Not as an actress, really, but it could be worse... could be Joe Jonas.

Becca's been giving me shit about my attraction to Baby V, as well as the fact that I call her Baby V, as well as the fact that I've been getting inexplicably attracted to Zac Efron over the last year or so. Well, what can you do? Anyway, it's no more (or less) embarrassing than her admission that she'd have sex with at least two of the Jonas Brothers. Try to guess which ones!

* Becca's by-now obligatory question: "Wait, you mean Robert Downey Jr. isn't gay?" So there's my eyeroll moment. Now we're even.

* Kind of funny observation Becca brought up: Richard Jenkins and Josh Brolin were both nominated this year. They played a couple in a movie called Flirting with Disaster, which we went to see at the Oakbrook Mall in 1996 when I lived near there. We haven't met that many people who actually liked that movie, if they even saw it. Great flick.

* Leslie Mann is incredibly beautiful. At least I think so. I've thought so ever since I saw her over a decade ago in The Cable Guy and George of the Jungle. She was so shiny and sexy.

Dear Hollywood: More Leslie Mann, please.

* Thank God we didn't get the long montage/clip intro. I liked the way the show opened simply with Hugh Jackman walking out onstage and introducing himself instead of a giant clipfest puffing the show up. I dug the new stage and what they did with it; it felt more intimate and personable instead of so daunting and self-serious. I heard they were trying to make the show more youthful or something like that. I think what they succeeded in was making Hollywood seem like a collection of colleagues and less like some kind of hierarchy. What it's really like I have no experience of. Nor do I really care. But last night the Oscars felt (to me) like it was less obsessed with itself and its age-old pseudo-importance, and more like a real celebration of the movies of the past year.

* That said, I missed Jack Nicholson in the front row. Come on, there's tradition and then there's tradition.

* Hugh Jackman hosts, he charms, he smolders, and he sings! And dances! Hugh was exactly as good as I thought he'd be when I first heard he was going to host. Thank you, Oscars, for approaching a genuine movie star instead of a comedian that no one finds funny anymore. The opening was clever, set the tone for an entertaining and breezier show (basically Oscar took the stick out of his ass), and had Hugh Jackman in a tux singing and dancing! Hugh's Oscar hosting job was the best role I've ever seen him in, frankly; I was more entertained by him last night than I ever have been in any of his movies. I mean that.

And Anne Hathaway sang! Thank you!

The whole opening raised a number of questions for me. To wit:
1. Why isn't Hugh Jackman in Nine instead of Daniel Day-Lewis?
2. Why isn't Hugh Jackman in movie musicals all the time?
3. Why isn't Hugh Jackman in comedies more often?
4. Have those people who compared Chris Noth to Cary Grant never seen Hugh Jackman before?
5. How much does it cost to rent Hugh Jackman?
6. How much better would Phantom of the Opera been if it had starred Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman instead of those untalented goons Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum? (Of course, you'd also have to remove Joel Schumacher from the director's chair.)
7. Why can't I be in a hotel room right now with Hugh Jackman and/or Anne Hathaway?

Seriously, Hugh Jackman was effortlessly charming, breezily energetic, dignified, handsome, sexy, and pitch-perfect.

* Boy, it took a long time to figure out how to open a curtain instead of closing it. The first technical difficulty of the night; I wonder if it also resulted in the first firing?

* I'm still not sure about this new device of giving long intros to the five nominees in all of the acting categories. If you take the Oscars, as I do, to be on some level a massive strokefest, do you really need to do still more stroking off after you nominate someone? I mean, it was kind of nice, but kind of flowery and over the top, too. Was the objective to get all five nominees in tears before they were handed their award (or not)? I don't know, my mental jury is still out on this innovation.

* Becca asked what Goldie Hawn won an Oscar for. I couldn't remember off the top of my head. At all. I had to look her up today to see that she won for a 1969 film called Cactus Flower, which I've never seen. I knew she was in something with Walter Matthau; that's what it is.

* Tilda Swinton still reminds me of David Bowie. It's hot. Really hot.

* By the way, I just dug Marisa Tomei's dress. She's a beautiful woman and her dress actually complimented her, unlike a lot of this year's dresses and their wearers. At least she had the sense to go with a whole fishtail if she was going to do the whole weird tree skirt thing everyone was doing. Hers looks unembarrassing as a result. She deserved the nomination, too.

I used to work with a guy who was so in love with Marisa Tomei that he even had a very thought-out fantasy about her. It involved her needing to study what it was like to work in a bookstore for a role, following him around all day, him taking her out to lunch, and her giving him a single kiss on the cheek before riding off in her limo. It was so innocent that it was kind of cute.

* Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I wonder if Woody Allen is going to switch to using her now instead of Scarlett Johansson, who is apparently getting all diva-y. Penelope was the best part of a mediocre film, but I still like to imagine her Oscar as really being for Volver.

No, I'm not imagining that Oscar is something else...that I've never imagined before!

* Electronic Cerebrectomy's Sexiest Woman of 2008 Tina Fey got a much larger round of applause than Steve Martin. Poor guy. He's an incredibly talented comic actor who's just made some bad movies over the past decade or so. He's still a legend. Which is not to say that Tina Fey isn't super talented, because she is. Nice jab at sci-fi-entology, too. I think the device of the two of them reading from the nominated screenplays came off; it did show that screenplays are not just dialogue. The actors don't make it up themselves. Unless the movie is improvised, like all of Mike Leigh's movies, which keep getting Original Screenplay nominations... They also handed both screenplay awards one after the other. Useful streamlining.

* Best Original Screenplay: Milk. Winner Dustin Lance Black was overwhelmed. He gave a sincere acceptance that brought mist to my eyes. Good for him for winning, and good for him for what he said about equal rights. I'd like to live in a free country one day; so would he. So would a lot of people. Good on Black. I'm an atheist, but thank God for Harvey Milk, indeed. (Recommendation: after you've seen Milk, which was my favorite movie of the year, see the excellent documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. You'll cry, but you'll see a portrait of a brave, caring man.)

Speaking of movies about Harvey Milk, remember when Oliver Stone was going to make The Mayor of Castro Street in the late eighties or early nineties with Robin Williams? Boy, am I glad that movie never happened.

* Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire. No surprise there. I at least liked the structure of Slumdog (I'll talk about it more in Film Week on Wednesday), but Simon Beaufoy has written better movies. He wrote one this year, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

* Jennifer Aniston looked uncomfortable as hell onstage in front of Brangelina. Let me ask you this question, you ladies who were always on "Team Aniston" or "Team Jolie"? How the hell does Brad Pitt come out clean in this situation? I mean, the dude cheated on his wife and it's the other woman's fault? Really? That said, could we stop stoking this garbage. Jennifer Aniston used to just be a shitty actress. Now she's a shitty actress who can't get over her husband leaving her, like, four or five years ago or something. It's embarrassing that there's just this one aspect to her media profile.

* Hollywood is officially over Jack Black. Very few laughs at his Pixar-DreamWorks joke, and most of them were awkward (though Katzenberg thought it was funny). Black's delivery was strained, but why do you think he's become so unpopular? Is it the quality of his films (although I thought Tropic Thunder was one of the best movies of the year), or was it King Kong? So many people were just, like, angry about him being in that movie.

* Best Animated Feature: WALL-E. And it was. It could have--and should have--easily competed for Best Picture, but now that they've pushed all of the animated features into their little ghetto, that's no longer allowed. (That animated feature montage, by the way, showed how this category could--and should--be five nominees instead of three.) Andrew Stanton was well-spoken as always. I love those Pixar guys.

* Best Animated Short: La Maison en Petits Cubes. I knew it would be the one I haven't seen. I can't say if it deserves it or not, I'm just glad animation is still being recognized. I loved the director's "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto" line, though.

* In honor of the rich history of Hollywood Westerns that mix genres, James Bond led a horse out onstage to present some more awards. He doesn't need the accessory. Honestly, if Sarah Jessica Parker wanted to look attractive, she shouldn't have presented with one of the most effortlessly sexy people in the room. Daniel Craig would've been the sexiest thing in a tux if Hugh Jackman hadn't been hosting. Instead of doing what would have really made the show great--a 15-minute on-camera makeout session with Hugh--Craig and his prop handed out some more awards.

Also, the jazz music that played under their presentations was a distracting and unsuccessful attempt at giving the show the illusion of speed. Everything's fine so far, just calm down and let the show flow. And the set design for this batch of awards was a little overpowering.

* Best Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Meh. Did you know this was once a project for Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise in the nineties? So I guess it could have been absolutely terrible instead of merely a hollow nothing. I heard the F. Scott Fitzgerald story is actually a farce. I'll have to read it.

Also, the first cut off speech of the night. Cringe inside.

* Best Costume Design: The Duchess. Didn't see it, not interested. Still, it kept Keira Knightley out of my face for a year, which is nice. Best Makeup: The computer-generated faces of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Should've been Hellboy II for doing the hard work alone.

* I'm sparing you a picture of Robert Pattinson and Amanda Seyfried doing whatever the hell they were doing. Introducing a montage? I couldn't look at it. Amanda Seyfried, who has yet to regain her standing with me since the horror that was Mamma Mia!, was wearing a hideous dress with a ridiculous bow, and Robert Pattinson is just hideous and ridiculous. I guess it kept all the vamptards (Twitards?) happy, but for me it was just another reason to be overjoyed for the invention of TiVo.

* Ben Stiller, the Joaquin Phoenix thing is played out. He was funnier a couple of years ago when he did the greenscreen presentation bit ("Spielberg's mind is blown!"). I also think it was yet another reminder that self-important actors don't think the tech awards are very important. The cameraman couldn't figure out whether to follow him around or show the nominees, which just makes Stiller's bullshit more disrespectful. Natalie (who looked very sweet) didn't seem prepared to keep up with it; was it spur of the moment? Thank goodness for her that she has experience acting with unhelpful inanimate objects like Jar Jar Binks, Artoo-Detoo, and Hayden Christensen.

* Best Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire. Not surprising, but still pretty lame.

* Becca: "At least she had the grace to put on a towel when she got out of the shower and took the bus to the show. And I think it's really brave of her not to do anything with her hair. At all." Hmm, is she trying to get the role of Athena in the completely unnecessary Clash of the Titans remake, or does she just look terrible? She introduced the Science & Technical Awards, which is to say that they rather disrespectfully didn't mention anyone whose technological innovation makes movies what they are, and instead gave a rather half-assed, shortchanged introduction to Ed Catmull of Pixar, one of the fathers of modern computer animation, and quickly cut to commercial. Catmull deserved much better.

* Well, of course I dug the short film Judd Apatow did. And it was hilarious. And awesome. And I liked the dig at The Reader as a comedy (as I enjoyed the opening song's little techno bit about how no one's seen The Reader). Boy, how svelte does Seth Rogen look; guy's lost a lot of weight to play the Green Hornet. Good for him. Losing weight feels good. And any chance to see James Franco is good for me. I love to see Freaks and Geeks alumni together. And James Franco. Anywhere. Oh, man, Franco.

Gosh, you're pretty. Look into my eyes, James Franco. You will ditch your arm candy and come back to my place. Wait, what do you mean you can't see my eyes over the internet? Foiled again!

* Great Janusz Kaminski appearance! He totally looked stoned.

Best Short Film: Spielzeugland. Or as Becca predicted before the winner was announced, "It'll be the Nazi one." Franco couldn't pronounce it. God, you're adorable. I speak German, if you want some lessons.

(I'll stop now, I'm sure someone's getting uncomfortable.)

* The salute to musicals? I loved it. I loved that it was so old-fashioned and so new at the same time. Okay, I'll stop saying Zac Efron doesn't do his own singing now. (Cute kid, but he needs a haircut). Beyonce was beautiful. I love that Hugh Jackman got to sing twice at the Oscars. This musical display seems to be the most divisive moment of last night's show, but I thought it was wonderful. Honestly, you could've just shown me this, the opening musical number, and the Apatow film and I'd have called it the Best Oscars Ever. This was a soaring moment.

Enlarge this. You can see Beyonce's nipple slip. I give these to you because I care. And I want Beyonce, even though I think she's a (talented) antifeminist twit. And it drives up my traffic to have the words "Beyonce nipple slip" on my front page.

They nailed it, but, if musicals are indeed back, could you guys make some good ones now? I haven't dug most of them so far (though I loved Hairspray, off the top of my head).

* Diane Lane and Josh Brolin are a good-looking couple. They've come a long way since 1985, when she was in The Cotton Club and he was in The Goonies.

* Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight. Now, I honestly feel he deserved that award. And it was nice to see the late Ledger, one of my favorite actors of the last decade, win the award he should've won for Brokeback Mountain, a much better movie than The Dark Knight. His Joker was perfect. But I seriously doubt his performance would've won if he hadn't died. Not to bring down the celebration, but the Oscars have never really judged on merit, and I think if he were still alive, the nomination would be seen as enough for a supporting performance in a genre film (think Johnny Depp's symbolic nomination for the first of the 99 Pirates of the Caribbean films; or, sorry, first of three, they just each feel 33 hours long). I wonder who they'd have given it to otherwise; maybe Robert Downey Jr., solidifying the comeback of an actor who has always been pretty popular and praised by his colleagues (he was one of Premiere magazine's many Most Underrated Actors in the mid-nineties, though such pronouncements always made people like Jeff Bridges then seem overrated).

I also wasn't a fan of having Ledger's entire family give speeches. I mean, not the mother of his baby, but the rest of them. I was waiting to see how many people who knew him were going to read. Sorry to say so, but it was a bit overdone is all. Sorry if that makes me insensitive. Well, that's going too far. I'm not sorry.

Also, everything I've ever read about Heath Ledger's feelings about Hollywood and the publicity machine and the Academy Awards leads me to believe that he would've hated winning that award. But I'm still glad he did.

* I liked the documentary montage, mostly because of Werner Herzog, whom I greatly admire. He has such a thoughtful grasp of what he does and why he does it; he's always eloquent about the purposes of film, and what drives him to create them. You should see Burden of Dreams, as good a summation as any on why people must create. Albert Maysles, himself a very talented documentarian, made the clip.

* I see lots of people getting pissy about Bill Maher, though I'm not sure why. Actually, I am sure why. It's not because he made some jokes about not being nominated for the award (and Religulous is one of the two best documentaries I saw all year, the other being the very touching and haunting Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father). Hell, Hugh Jackman did the same thing in the opening. And Jack Black did a variation on it that fell flat. It's that he said what he said about religion being a collection of silly fairy tales or superstitions or whatever his exact quote was. There are a lot of people who feel the Oscars aren't the place for something like that. He's provocative, that's what he does, and I think it's hypocritical to praise him for being provocative and then expect him to be muzzled and play nice because he's at the Oscars. Personally, I think it was pretty classy of him to even show up to present the award after being denied a well-deserved nomination. That's like getting fired but still showing up to cover the boss's vacation because you said you would before you got fired. Plus, everything he said was true.
Anyway, see Religulous, it's excellent.

Could've been worse. Could've been that overly-impressed-with-himself gasbag of a sham Morgan Spurlock.

* Best Documentary: Man on Wire. I haven't seen it. I want to see it less after watching its subject, Philippe Petit, hijack the Oscars for a minute to put the attention on himself. He didn't even win or present an award. Shortest acceptance speech in Oscar history? Hardly. What was he accepting? He didn't win one. Can you imagine having to have dinner with this guy?

Philippe Petit demonstrates to the audience what I'm planning to do with James Franco later.

* Best Documentary Short: Smile Pinki. I haven't seen any of the films and I knew this one was going to be the winner.

* The action montage was not bad. It moved, at least. And Will Smith was not quite as full of it as he's been the last couple of years. He handed out four awards. I do think the batches of awards like this are a decent idea. It cuts down on transitions and is kind of neat to watch at home. I didn't realize until just then that the awards were sort of following the process of making a film. I don't know why anyone in the room needs to be taught that--they know what a makeup artist does, for chrissake--and maybe Michael Bay could use some lessons about it--but it gets some entertainment value out of giving awards for categories a lot of viewers find boring.

* Best Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It's always the least interesting one. Good special effects in the service of nothing. And it needs to be five nominees, damn it! I was rooting for Iron Man, one of Stan Winston's last projects. (Side note: Iron Man nominee Shane Mahan has emailed Becca to tell her he likes her blog.)

* Best Sound Editing: The Dark Knight. Best Sound Mixing: Slumdog Millionaire. I am appalled that Ben Burtt didn't win something here for his excellent work on WALL-E.

* Best Editing: Slumdog Millionaire. I fast-forwarded through this one; I was about 15 minutes behind on TiVo and I just couldn't hear anymore about how Important Slumdog Millionaire is and how it will end all of the poverty in India.

* Nice read, Eddie Murphy.

* Jerry Lewis kept it brief and classy. That was nice. Still, he's kind of impressed with how much a humanitarian he is, isn't he? I mean, he's done some great work for muscular dystrophy, he just demands recognition for it. At least they weren't giving him an award for his movies.

* Lovely presentation of the Best Score nominations by Michael Giacchino, whom everyone points out does the tones for Lost but too few pointed out was the composer of two great scores, The Incredibles and Ratatouille (and it's beautiful theme song, "Le Festin"). None of the scores were bad (at least given the little bit of Defiance I heard), but Best Original Score still went to the least good, the Most Important Film in the History of Time TM, Slumdog Millionaire.

* Cutting down Best Original Song to three nominees is lame, but I liked the medley presentation they went with. Too bad that Peter Gabriel got too precious about it to participate in the whole thing; it was a neat Bollywood deal, and Gabriel's "Down to Earth" sounded good with the instrumentation they gave it. John Legend has a gorgeous voice, and was a good replacement for Gabriel; I'd like to hear him take on the entire song. "O Saya" was kind of a snoozer, and I was sick of hearing "Jai Ho" by the end of the number (and yet I felt it ended too abruptly). Best Original Song: "Jai Ho," of course. Meh.

* Hey, Bridget Fonda sighting! She's lovely.

* I love Liam Neeson, but you can see him aging rapidly before your very eyes. Becca: "He's reached that Sean Connery stage where he can't take his hands off of anything female for a moment." I can't even remember who he came out with. Freida Pinto? Meh.

* Best Foreign Language Film: Departures. Haven't seen it, but it looks interesting. Neat imagery, anyway.

* Queen Latifah is beautiful. She sang "I'll Be Seeing You"... pretty well. The sweeping camera moves all over the memorial montage seemed kind of disrespectful. More than that, it wasn't interesting on a technical level. It was an unsuccessful attempt to make the show seem like it was moving faster than it was. And even more than that, it was unnecessary. The show was paced just fine. I wasn't feeling the time, but I was annoyed by the sweeping cameras. Can we just take a moment out here?

* Paul Newman got the most applause in the memorial montage. He probably deserved it. I'm sorry he's gone. I didn't know him, and I don't miss him personally, but by all accounts he was a sweet guy (and I'm sure he was), and he was a terrific actor. I'm sorry he won't make any more films. Charlton Heston, meanwhile, got a deafening silence from the audience. I was surprised. He used to have more left-leaning politics (does anyone even remember that he was against US involvement in Vietnam?), but he became so extreme right wing in the eighties. And worse, he became outspoken but couldn't defend himself on it. I've never had a problem with what Michael Moore "did to him" in Bowling for Columbine. Heston did it to himself by becoming president of the NRA. My mom was always a Heston fan, and she was sorry when he became their president because, she knew and he didn't know, he was just a figurehead to gain them yet more national attention. Sorry, Chuck, but if you're going to take the leadership of a controversial organization, and you're going to hold pro-gun rallies in cities where children have been killed by guns, than you do have to answer for your beliefs. And me liking Planet of the Apes or you being old does not absolve you from answering for what the organization you head and speak for does. He didn't have to appear on camera; when he did, not having any answers beyond an apparent lack of the understanding of world history just wasn't good enough. You know what? I wouldn't have applauded, either.

That was probably an out-of-place rant in an Oscars post, but whatever.

* Best Director: Danny Boyle. I have nothing to say about this award or category or anything. Oh, except, why did they do this before Best Actor and Best Actress? Usually it's second to last. I'm just asking, I don't really care when they do it.

* Can I get some of what Sophia Loren is on?

* Angelina Jolie looked nicer than usual, but she still looked like an emaciated vampire. Someone, please, just hook her up to an IV with bacon grease in it or something! Won't someone just feed her, please?!!

* Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader. Looking at her, I couldn't believe she's the same young girl I've been watching in movies for 14 years. Becca used to be totally in love with her, but got tired of seeing movies like The Life of David Gale. Kate looks like a mature adult now, which makes me afraid that I'm in actuality no longer 17. (Yeah, I know, leave me the fuck alone.) But Kate's Oscar is tempered by three things. First, she deserved an Oscar, but she got it for the wrong movie. It was a good performance in a fair-to-mediocre film.

Second, I just kept thinking of this. It makes the Oscar for this particular movie look like a joke.

Not that it's a surprise that the Oscars are self-parody. It would've made an interesting acceptance speech, though.

And third, Anne Hathaway just gave a better performance in Rachel Getting Married. She just did. Hers was the best performance anyone gave in 2008, and if the Oscars actually were decided on merit and quality, she would have won. I hope she has many more chances in the future.

For what it's worth, I thought Kate Winslet was gracious, genuine, and lovely, and I'm glad she kept it together and didn't cry. I'm glad she wasn't embarrassing like Halle Berry, tacky like Julia Roberts, or self-important like Nicole Kidman.

* So, it's "Sir Ben Kingsley" but not "Sir Anthony Hopkins"? (I have heard, though, that Ben Kingsley gets pissed off when he's not addressed as "Sir Ben," and I've also heard that Anthony Hopkins hates actors who go around flaunting their honors and only accepted the knighthood at his wife's suggestion.)

* Yes, Brad Pitt is very talented... when he has a role to play.

* Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk. JD covers the excitement in his own inimitable style. As much as I deride some of the stuff he does politically or how seriously he can take himself, I've never bagged on Sean Penn's acting. When he's firing on all cylinders, he's an extremely talented actor. Milk was some of his best acting. So I don't have a problem with this. Great acting in a great movie, plain and simple. And I liked what he said about equal rights; he was moving.

There's part of me that feels bad for Mickey Rourke. Much like Burt Reynolds in 1997, he looked like he really could have used it. And I did think Rourke's was the best performance, though Penn comes in a very close second. Did anyone notice that The Passion of the Wrestler was really a wearier version of Rocky? And do you think this sort of comeback would've worked for a woman? I mean, imagine a woman who had the sort of success Mickey Rourke had in the eighties, descends into self-love and self-caricature, becomes a joke, is forced into C movies, works her way back up to B movies, and in the meantime has had so much plastic surgery that she looks like a parody of herself. Do you think the woman gets taken as seriously as Mickey Rourke does, even if the performance is as good? I seriously doubt it.

* The Best Picture montage, which took this year's five nominees and put them alongside previous winners, felt forced. I get that the industry felt these were the five best movies of the year, but don't try and force me to think that makes them the equals of, say, Gone with the Wind or The Godfather just because they got a nomination. I'll make up my own mind on that, thanks.

* Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire. No surprises there. Blurgh. And everyone comes up on stage in an orgy of sentiment porn. TiVo, thanks once more. Because I don't care.

* I also dug the preview for 2009 movies. I hope the Oscars becomes more of what I felt last night was, a celebration of the year's movies and not a self-congratulatory worship of the entire history of American cinema.

* I'm not even going to bother posting pictures for the Vanity Fair party this year. They were boring.

Brief shout-out to Diablo Cody, though, cuz I loves me some D.

Jessica Biel changed from Athena to Electric Athena after the ceremony. Better, worse, or the same?

* So, final summation, then. Hugh Jackman singing, Hugh Jackman dancing, Hugh Jackman in a tux being charming and sexy, great musical numbers, Annie Hathaway singing, the late Heath Ledger getting an Oscar, and an energetic pacing that cut out the deadly tedium that always makes those three and a half hours drag by. I wasn't bored for a minute. I've watched the Academy Awards since 1989, and this is the best Oscars I've ever seen. The best, I say!

* For some more measured (and shorter) thoughts, here are posts by Roger Ebert, Dame James Henry, Dr. Monkey, Glenn, Edward Copeland, JA, Splotchy, Mark Evanier, Ken Levine, and Tallulah Morehead. Be sure to visit Ms. Morehead's blog for what Hugh Jackman didn't present.