Saturday, January 31, 2015
I was in the library and saw Malcolm Gladwell's decade-old bestseller Blink: The Power Of Thinking Without Thinking on the table. I'd never read it.
Speaking of disappointing books, let me mention John Water's Carsick. It purports to be the story of how the well-known director hitchhiked across the United States. I've liked his previous biographical stuff, and this sounded like it could be fun.
Turned out, however, that more than half the book is two fictional versions of the trip--his best and worst case scenarios. The subtitle is John Waters Hitchhikes Across America. If they believed in truth in advertising, they would have added Mostly In His Mind.
Friday, January 30, 2015
Next target, emails from Nigerian oil ministers seeking help
A "news" article about a guy who is surprised that his fake paper is accepted by fake journals seeking to charge him $500.
"The good news is that there are tools available to navigate the process."
I doubt that, very much indeed.
(Maybe it's all a meta joke that I missed, and the spam is the article.)
Poor Mark Whitaker. Late last year his book came out and it's already out of date--Cosby: His Life And Times. (Check the Amazon link and you'll see quite a few commenters taking Whitaker to task, like it's his fault).
It happens, of course, but how could Whitaker have known a month or so after his book was published a scandal would arise that would change how everyone looked at America's favorite comedian. Whitaker himself was apparently aware of the rumors, but decided not to go into them.
Instead, we get lines like this from the introduction:
The funny thing is before the scandal broke I might have put up a post on how I disagreed with Whitaker's claims, but now it's not even worth explaining how he missed the boat.
By the way, the book is pretty good if you can forget about...you know.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
"Bending the cost curve."
WTF? People who use this phrase have something approaching the brainpower of a parrot, but less, since it's not clear yet what their retention is. I realize Obama's 20 year old speech writer used it or more likely stole it before he became a 26 year old speech writer and moved to Hollywood, but give it a rest. It was a failure the first time it was used and it hasn't aged into anything better.
Today is Megan McArdle's birthday. (I didn't know that--I had to look it up). So let me belatedly recommend her book The Up Side Of Down.
She also looks at the wider questions regarding what works best for society: how to avoid the phenomenon of blaming (generally based on our politics) some distinct group whenever anything go wrong; what sort of punishment works (it's not about how harsh it is, but how certain it is); and when we should give people a second chance (she claims easy bankruptcy laws have helped our country overall).
She sometimes goes against common wisdom, but whatever she argues, she's done the research to back it up. And all in her readable style which anyone who knows her will recognize.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Hello? Anybody home? I'm not getting an answer here . . .
I was just watching Parks And Recreation (only seven more episodes to go!). Here, according to the closed captioning--which I have on as I watch--is an exchange between Craig and April:
April: No, go away.
Craig: Watermelon, martinis, exposed brick, Keri Russell's hair.
April: Why did you just say those weird things?
Craig: Please talk to my interns.
April: Fine. Whatever, I'll do it.
End of scene.
Then I realized what happened. He's not saying "watermelon, martinis," he's saying "watermelon martinis." The closed caption typist got it wrong. Is it too much attention to ask for them to listen to the meaning of the dialogue to get the jokes right?
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
The eight-part comic miniseries Galavant ended on Sunday. I found it mildly amusing, but since it wouldn't take that long to follow the hero on his quest, I figured I'd stick around till the end.
But that's just it. There was no end, just a bunch of cliffhangers to taunt us until next season. Somehow I got the idea they were going to wrap up the story, even if they planned to make more episodes later. Sorry, but I'm not going to stick around, and unresolved your unresolved plotlines do not tempt me. I feel cheated.
(Not as cheated as I felt by Under The Dome, which I didn't even like.. I bailed on that show early, but tuned in for the finale out of curiosity. I mean there's a big damn dome--where'd that come from? But once CBS got some ratings they figured they had something, and it turned from a miniseries into a regular show. So what was a mystery with promised closure became ongoing thing that will never get solved if people keep watching. I got out from under immediately.)
Monday, January 26, 2015
All of a sudden I love Bob Dylan
"Why are you asking me these things?"
Move over, Joe Strummer.
(Er, not that I'm expecting Bob to go anywhere soon. Just talkin' bout my heart, here. Gonna have to replace Death or Glory with something from the Dylan catalog now, which I suppose implies I'll have to listen to it.)
I was standing outside a movie theatre over the weekend when I saw American Sniper was letting out. I heard some people talking about it. One woman said "that was, like, the best ending ever."
By the way, with AS becoming such a phenomenon, I wonder if it's going to effect the Oscar race. It's by far the biggest hit nominated, and just as the voting is going on, everyone's talking about it. Mostly I wonder if Michael Keaton, who probably figured the Oscar was in the bag, is starting to wonder. For that matter, are the Boyhood people starting to wonder if they're in trouble?
Sunday, January 25, 2015
You can't handle the truth
"Mr. Scorsese’s partly finished documentary about Mr. Clinton — which once seemed likely to be released as Hillary Rodham Clinton was navigating a presidential run — has stalled over disagreements about control."
Postulating that Obama is an anti-American socialist who will end up destroying the county, he nevertheless deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor for keeping these people out of the White House. At least if we go, we'll go honestly, more or less.
I was driving behind a car with a bumper sticker that read "9-11 Was An Inside Job." If you're nuts enough to believe this, fine, then believe it.
No, what I wonder if about how the sticker shows us your level of paranoia. You believe your government was in on the 9-11 attacks, perhaps even carried them out. In other words, our government is so evil that they're willing to kill thousands of civilians to further their policies. On top of which, they're able to pull the wool over the eyes of the public at large, who will buy their lies about the attacks.
So knowing that, what's to stop them from taking you out? Each bumper sticker gives the government another target. If I honestly believed 9-11 was an inside job, the last thing I'd do is tell anyone about it.
Saturday, January 24, 2015
Yin and Yang
John Kasich is on a national balanced budget tour! Yay!
But hurry home soon, John, so you can protect your Medicaid expansion.
Don't we already know that?
"She has not yet revealed the name of the baby's father."
Life is full of miracles.
Hard to believe, but John Belushi would have been 66 today.
Friday, January 23, 2015
Credit where credit due
Since I haven't hesitated to cast aspersions at people of color, I figure it's only fair to give Boehner kudos for his invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress.
That could be a big deal, and I hope Bibi steps up to it. It's been a long time since we've had anyone who could communicate a message of freedom, love and hope. I don't think I've watched an SOTU since 2002 or so, but I'll watch this.
(What am I saying? There's zero chance the nets will broadcast it.)
Over at the AV Club they're naming the top 25 sitcom episodes of the past 25 years. A daunting task. The 90s was a great time for sitcoms and so have been the past several years. Off the top of my head you've got shows like The Simpsons, Seinfeld, The Wonder Years, Cheers (the tail end), Friends, Roseanne, The Larry Sanders Show, South Park, Family Guy, Arrested Development, Better Off Ted, The Big Bang Theory, The Office (British and American), Parks And Recreation, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Party Down, Malcolm In The Middle, My Name Is Earl, The Middle, Modern Family, 30 Rock, Louie and quite a few more. Just picking the top 25 series is tough, so 25 episodes? You could pick 25 from Seinfeld or The Simpsons alone.
But let's see their list:
I guess this is as high as Modern Family will be ranked--AV club seems to have tired of the show. I admit no single episode especially sticks out, though if I had to choose I'd probably pick "Yard Sale" which is actually from the fourth season, after The AV Club said it was treading water. Their choice is from the first season, and is certainly a fine episode.
24. Everybody Hates Chris "Everybody Hates Food Stamps"
Never watched the show.
23. Girls "Beach House"
This is from season three and I gave up after season one.
This is a good episode, but not its best. In general, I think its best are short bits, not long or multi-part episodes.
21. Spaced "Gone"
Never watched the show.
20. How I Met Your Mother "Slap Bet"
Never watched the show (except the finale)
I liked the show but didn't love it. "Yoko" is a well-known episode, and features the wonderful Sutton Foster, though I'm not sure if I'd call it their best.
18. New Girl "Cooler"
This show doesn't do it for me.
17. Roseanne "A Stash From The Past"
A good episode from a good show, though if I made a list I'm not sure if anything from this show would make it.
16. Archer "Placebo Effect"
Never watched the show.
A good choice--maybe the choice. "The Doll" was probably the first episode of CYE that everyone called a classic.
14. The Larry Sanders Show "Flip"
This is the finale. I don't remember the finale as being especially great. I could name several episodes that I prefer.
13. South Park "Scott Tenorman Must Die"
This may be the most notable episode of South Park, and it's certain powerful, but I almost find it more disturbing than funny.
If you're going to pick one from BOT this is probably the best choice.
11. Parks And Recreation "Fancy Party"
This is one of the most memorable episodes. Good choice.
10. Friends "The One With The Embryos"
A justifiable choice. All Friend 's episodes start with The One With, but they misnamed this one, since fans would no doubt recall this show as the one with the contest for the apartment.
Yeah! Party Down is, along with Community, my favorite sitcom of the past decade, yet many lists would overlook it. And they chose the best episode, too.
8. 30 Rock "Rosemary's Baby"
A pretty good choice. This one is best-remembered for Jack's multiple impressions of Tracy's family.
As good as the other episodes, I guess.
6. NewsRadio "Complaint Box"
What is this doing here? NewsRadio was a mediocre show.
5. Arrested Development "Pier Pressure"
"And that's why you always leave a note!" This episode is often listed as the best, but the show generally kept up a high level so I'm not sure if it stands out that much.
Yes! My other favorite show with its best episode (and there are a lot to choose from). Sometimes you turn on an episode of TV and suddenly you realize you're watching art. My only objection is it's rated too low.
3. The Office (U.S.) "Dinner Party"
One of the best episodes (and like some other classics listed above, off-series).
2. The Simpsons "Marge Vs. The Monorail"
As good a choice as any, but in a season that also includes "Homer The Heretic," "Mr. Plow," and "Last Exit To Springfield" it's hard to go wrong.
You probably guessed this would be a Seinfeld, but I don't agree with the pick (in fact, I prefer "The Pick"). This is an early episode--famous, groundbreaking--but not its best. I'd prefer "Bizarro Jerry" or "The Opposite," not to mention stuff like "The Hamptons," "The Marine Biologist," "The Contest," "The Puffy Shirt" and "The Soup Nazi."
Overall, a good list--especially the top ten.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Tuition Attrition or Shirley You're Not Joking
The premiere for the NBC-less sixth season of Community has been set. It'll be available on Yahoo Screen starting March 17. (Note to self: get Yahoo Screen.)
Though Dan Harmon will be in charge, there are some serious problems. Most of them were visible in season five. The study group had graduated so their reason for being was gone. Getting together as a panel to help Greendale was never as compelling. Worse, two of the original seven in the study group--Pierce (Chevy Chase) and, a bit later, Troy (Donald Glover)--departed. The study group was the nucleus that made the show work, and removing even one changed the show's chemistry. Two made it a different show.
There'll be thirteen episodes. Whether there'll be another season, or a movie, remains to be seen. The new show could also have nudity and swearing if it wishes. The biggest surprise is, according the Harmon, the budget Yahoo's offering is bigger than what they had on NBC (at least by the last year).
Season five, where Harmon returned after being fired, was a comeback, but still couldn't match the glory of the first three seasons. Nevertheless, at times it was as good as ever, so I'm still hopeful.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Something up my sleeve but it hasn't quite gelled yet
Tip of the tongue syndrome . . . there's something in common about these links from Drudge, some unrealized connection, an inchoate next step . . .
What could we put these robots to work doing . . . hmm dee dum dee . . . hmm . . .
100 robots perform synchronized dance routine...
Nearly half of Japanese adults 'not having sex'...
Drones' Next Job: Construction Work...Driverless bulldozers to replace workers...
Military cyborg biker presented to Putin...
I'll See You
No, it's not Irving Berlin's birthday. Just felt the song fit.
You constantly see pointless statistics when journalists are trying to discuss a trend. I usually ignore them, but I found this one in Variety pretty entertaining.
It's possible. The Academy certainly seems to like him, as this is his third acting nomination in three years. But look how writer Ramin Setoodeh tries to stretch this fact into something deeper:
Of the 20 other actors who have ever received three consecutive (or more) Oscar nominations, 60% won a statue in the first three years. Two of the actors, Marlon Brando (1954’s “On the Waterfront”) and Elizabeth Taylor (1960’s “Butterfield 8”), won their Oscar on their fourth consecutive nomination. The last actor before Cooper to Oscar three-peat was Renee Zellweger (2001’s “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” 2002’s “Chicago,” 2003’s “Cold Mountain”), who won on her third try. It’s hard for voters to keep voting against an actor everybody in Hollywood finds so likeable.
Hmm. So 60% of actors win an Oscar in one of their first three consecutive nominations. Now how many are nominated in these categories again? Oh yeah, five. So you get three chance to beat five people, and win three out of five times. Now there's a trend that tells you something.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Palestinian scientists, no doubt
Louis C.K. is in that rare position of someone who's really good, but praised so often that he's become overrated. He was nominated for four Emmys for the fourth (I'd hate to read this sentence on the radio) and most recent season of his quirky show Louie, winning one, and yet it was probably his weakest season so far. Instead of telling one or even two stories per half hour, he decided to go long-form, letting stories last hours, losing their comic and narrative focus (which made some critics, alas, love him all the more).
announced the next season will be more "laugh-centric."
Louie has never been about conventional jokes, but when the humor is so far behind in the rearview mirror it's missing something. Let's hope Louie still has it in him.
We're a week late, but happy birthday, Charles Nelson Reilly. He's best known for his work on TV in shows like The Ghost And Mrs. Muir, Lidsville and Match Game, but before that, he was a successful performer in Broadway musicals, getting a Tony nomination for his work in Hello Dolly! and winning one for How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Boehner has a dream
I rarely see anything from Boehner that has an actual agenda attached to it. So, is that because Boehner has no agenda or because the press declines to publish it?
Taylor Swift apparently has the answer. As the press describes it: "reform the tax code, solve the spending problem [solve?], reform the legal system, reform the regulatory system and improve the education system.
Sure sounds like Boehner. Reform, solve, reform, reform, improve. Mr. Tepid and Mr. Turgid. Let's see how he describes it himself: "All we need is a plan."
Sigh. Perhaps if we elect Republicans who will just give us a government jobs plan, things will go swimmingly.
Dolly Parton turns 69 today.
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Nice little revenue sharing program you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.
"Holder limits seized-asset sharing process that split billions with local, state police"
I thought he quit? Isn't he gone yet?
Nice to see he's done one decent thing in his five years, in any event.
Back To The Future
Parks And Recreation is back for its final thirteen, and they've decided to go weird. Maybe it's a case of Go Big Or Go Home (or do both). Actually, the weirdness started at the end of last season when they flashforwarded three years ahead, and we saw Leslie with triplet toddlers and a job at the National Park Service.
But last season's vision was just a hint. In the first two new half-hours, "2017" and "Ron And Jammy" we get to see how everyone ended up. Tom has several successful restaurants, Ron runs a successful construction business, Ben is running things in Pawnee, April has a respectable Pawnee government job, Andy has a ninja TV show--in general everyone is doing great.
But let's not skim over that too quickly--Leslie and Ron hate each other. Their relationship has been the center of the show. I suppose the producers wanted to shake things up, ensure we're awake. But it's impossible to believe the two won't make up--there are already indications of that as they work together to help save Jeremy Jamm from the clutches of Tammy, Ron's ex.
So it looks like we've got enough tension to carry us through to the end, where I assume the characters will find permanent happiness. Parks And Rec is weird, but not cruel.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
"About a dozen earthquakes have been recorded in the Plainfield area in little more than a week"
Palestinian scientists are on the way, vowing to find the frackers who did this.
How many divisions does Georgetown have?
. . . the problem for which the duty of good faith performance is the answer.
That's all we've ever asked for, is an answer.
Happy birthday, Susanna Hoffs, guitarist and lead singer for The Bangles. Also the shortest and the best-looking.
Friday, January 16, 2015
Oscar Oscar Oscar
Oscars--the only award that matters. (Nobels? Hah!) The nominations are out. There weren't too many surprises, but let's look at the main categories.
BEST MOTION PICTURE OF THE YEAR
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Some years back they opened up the category to allow up to ten nominees, partly for commercial reasons--big hits could be nominated and thus more viewers would tune in to the show. Didn't apparently work this year. Except for the potential of American Sniper, none of these films are going to make $100 million domestic.
As for quality, some decent choices but nothing that exciting, and little unexpected. Only eight made it, which means a bunch of titles that might have sneaked in, such as Nightcrawler, Interstellar or Foxcatcher or even Gone Girl or Into The Woods, were snubbed. Selma, snubbed elsewhere, got in. American Sniper was far from guaranteed, and Whiplash is a bit of a surprise, but no real shocks.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Bradley Cooper in American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything
The biggest surprise is David Oyelowo didn't make it as MLK in Selma, allowing Bradley Cooper to get in. Another slight is no Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler. A few even dreamed of Timothy Spall for Mr. Turner or Ralph Fiennes in Grand Budapest Hotel. Still, there's only room for five so some have got to be left out.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Robert Duvall in The Judge
Ethan Hawke in Boyhood
Edward Norton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons in Whiplash
Keeps up with its historical reputation as the best category. Entirely predictable. The only tiresome choice is Robert Duvall, giving us the Robert Duvall we've seen many times before, just more boring than usual.
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore in Still Alice
Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon in Wild
Not that greatest category, but no shocks. The big snub here is Jennifer Aniston for Cake--she was probably replaced by Marion Cotillard (who's already won an Oscar).
PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Laura Dern in Wild
Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game
Emma Stone in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Meryl Streep in Into the Woods
Meryl Streep? Really? Do they have to nominate her for everything she does? She was okay in the movie (as was Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick) but maybe they could have chosen someone new. Didn't think much of Laura Dern either, who gets her second nomination (her dad has two and her mom has three). Doesn't matter much as Patricia Arquette probably has this thing locked up.
ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Everyone is making a big deal about Ava DuVernay not getting nominated for Selma, though I think her work was competent but uninspired and the Academy got it right. A bit surprising not to see Clint Eastwood. Bennett Miller probably took his space. David Fincher was snubbed--Gone Girl may not be deep, but it's a director's film. Still no love for Christopher Nolan, but he's never been nominated in this category.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM OF THE YEAR
Big Hero 6
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya
Everything is not awesome--the big snub here is The Lego Movie. It certainly deserved a spot more than the dreadful How To Train Your Dragon 2. I would have liked to see The Book Of Life but that wasn't in the cards.
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR
Wild Tales (Argentina)
The big surprise here is no Force Majeure. And where is We Are The Best!?
American Sniper Written by Jason Hall
The Imitation Game Written by Graham Moore
Inherent Vice Written for the screen by Paul Thomas Anderson
The Theory of Everything Screenplay by Anthony McCarten
Whiplash Written by Damien Chazelle
Not the most inspired group. Might have expected Gillian Flynn for adapting her own Gone Girl. And what is that mess Inherent Vice doing here?
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
Boyhood Written by Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
The Grand Budapest Hotel Screenplay by Wes Anderson; Story by Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
Nightcrawler Written by Dan Gilroy
A more lively category than adapted, and Nightcrawler finally gets some notice. By the way, Linklater and Anderson are both nominated for three Oscars.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth
The big surprise here is Life Itself is missing. Maybe some Hollywood people still resent Roger Ebert.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
This way madness lies
NPR's Morning Edition segment immediately before the hour today is a hoot. It's a thumbsucker, recursively examining press coverage. Two journalists interviewing each other (my absolute favorite way of advancing the state of knowledge--they're too lazy even to find a pseudo expert).
They note something odd: On Monday, the stock market goes down, and they reported it was because of the low price of oil. On Wednesday, the stock market went up, and they reported it was the low price of oil.
They were within an inch of declaring 90 percent of their business model useless, but fortunately the music came up, the segment ended, and the main guy adopted his laughing smiling voice and it was top of the hour, time for the news.
Really, it's a classic. It ought to be required listening in essentially every subject above about fourth grade.
[Note: This was written before the Oscar nominations, which I'll be looking at soon.]
The Director's Guild has announced its nominees for 2014:
Clint Eastwood for American Sniper
Alejandro G. Iñárritu for Birdman
Richard Linklater for Boyhood
Morten Tyldum for The Imitation Game
No surprises here. All these films are getting noticed in the awards game. Eastwood and Tyldum may have not been at the top of the list, but their choice was no shock.
There's only room for five, but people like to talk about the "snubs." Some were expecting David Fincher for Gone Girl or Christopher Nolan for Interstellar. Possibilities, but Gone Girl is seen as a slick commercial job and Interstellar was a disappointment.
DuVernay would have been the first black woman ever nominated for the award. Instead, as is often the case, the pool of DGA feature film nominees is exclusively male.
I have a dream that one day these five nominees will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their characters and plot.
Heck, who hasn't?
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Comme ci, comme ca
Empire Strikes Out
Fox's new musical drama Empire is being touted as the African-American Dynasty. I fear that may be true. Though prime time soaps were huge a generation ago, I didn't have much use for shows like Dallas or Dynasty or Falcon Crest or Knot's Landing, and the last thing we need is for this genre to dominate TV again.
The ratings were pretty good, so maybe Empire will last a long time. It'll have to do it without me.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
We need an app for this
I had not seen this juicy quote before, “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”
It's attributed to Napoleon, the big one. The attribution was not omitted in any of a dozen or so instances I saw.
The source, however, was omitted in all instances except one, the one linked, an 1872 publication, which is quite an impressive research feat coming 50 years after his death.
So obviously it's a typo or a fraud. Clearly it was said by Napoleon III, and I expect everyone to authoritatively cite PajamaGuy for this from now onward.
How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall?
Nothing Lasts Forever was made in 1984 but never released theatrically. It's directed and written by Tom Schiller and stars Zach Galligan of Gremlins fame. A low-budget, absurdist sci-fi comedy, it never had a chance of making money. But at least it finally aired on American television on TCM last week. Schiller shot many short pieces for Saturday Night Live in its early days--odd, whimsical stuff, often in black and white, that was filled more with nostalgia for an earlier American style of film than with comedy. Nothing Lasts Forever is of a piece with this material.
Monday, January 12, 2015
One CC Of Ignorance
Last night on Brooklyn Nine-Nine Jake, the lead character, wanted to be a godfather. To prove what a good one he'd be, he does an impression from the movie The Godfather, saying "What's the matter with you, be a man!"
The person doing the closed captioning gets down what Jake says, even putting quotation marks around it. Unfortunately, she notes he's imitating Al Pacino. I admit Andy Samberg's impression could go either way, but everyone knows it's Marlon Brando's line.
Film Year In Review--2014
Time for our eagerly awaited film wrap-up for 2014. It's a bit later than other critics' because I see movies with regular folks at the cineplex. I did miss a few notable titles, but not so many that this list is pointless (I hope).
Overall, not a great year. I had to scrape to come up with a top ten. On the other hand, there was a lot of bizarre stuff out there--plenty of the films I didn't like were at least different.
Before we get to the fun, a few ground rules. I discuss only feature films released or first made widely available in U.S. theatres in 2014. No TV, no shorts. I'll give out some awards, note some trends, tell you which films were good, bad or ugly, and then list my top ten. You can rush to the bottom right now, but really, most of the best stuff is along the way.
Feel free to leave a comment, whether you agree with me or not--in fact, comments tend to be better when you don't agree.
Performance Of The Year: Edward Norton in Birdman. In a film a clef, his performance, making fun of the serious actor known as Edward Norton, shows how good an actor he is.
Star Of The Year: Shailene Woodley, carrying two hits, Divergent--first in a franchise--and The Fault In Our Stars. Three tied for second--Kevin Hart, who starred Ride Along, About Last Night and Think Like A Man Too; Chris Pratt, lead in Guardians Of The Galaxy and lead voice in The Lego Movie; and Bradley Cooper, a voice in Guardians Of The Galaxy and showing a new side in American Sniper.
Creepiest Performer Of The Year: Jake Gyllenhaal, who got to star in two very creepy films, Nightcrawler and Enemy. (This award does not imply Mr. Gyllenhaal is himself creepy.)
Most Distracting Supporting Role: Oprah Winfrey in Selma. Sorry, but she's one of the most famous faces in America, so every time the film cuts to her, you're thinking "what is Oprah doing here?"
Song Of The Year: "Hate The Sport" from We Are The Best! Couldn't find a video of it, so let's watch runner-up "Everything Is Awesome" from The Lego Movie.
Third place, "I Love You All" from Frank.
Best Sequel: A Trip To Italy
Worst Sequel: A very competitive category, and the winner is Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb--if you watch closely you can see Ben Stiller planning what he'll have for dinner.
Worst Reboot: Godzilla, just edging out Robocop.
Put It Out Of Its Misery Award: I don't see the point in any more Planet Of The Apes movies.
Weirdest Premise: Snowpiercer, where an attempt to fight global warming puts the entire Earth into a deep freeze, and the only people left alive are those aboard a train that travels around the globe.
Oddest Choice Of Director: In the tradition that brought us John Huston's Annie and Sir Richard Attenborough's A Chorus Line, we now have Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys.
Most Generic Title: Men, Women & Children (though quite descriptive in listing the people who avoided this film).
Trend Of The Year: Films with religious themes, both small ones that made good money (such as Heaven Is For Real) and epics (Noah, Exodus: Gods And Kings).
Worst Trend: Movies over two hours. Maybe not a new trend, but it seemed this year that a whole bunch of films were longer than necessary. Length does not equal significance. Don't forget, Citizen Kane was under two hours. Very few films over two hours wouldn't be improved by another trip to editing.
Best Opening, or How To Begin (Again) Your Movie: Begin Again, where down-on-his luck music producer Mark Ruffalo hears the bare bones of a song sung by Keira Knightley and imagines it with full orchestration. (Too bad the rest of the film didn't live up to it.)
Weirdest Part In The Middle Of A Film: Under The Skin. Better to see the whole thing, but click on this link for the spoiler.
Most Memorable Ending: Enemy. This captures most people's reaction.
Here it actually is, but warning--it's a huge spoiler, and meaningless out of context (and, some would say, in context).
Film Hardest To Judge As A Film: The Interview
Worst Plot: Big Hero 6. Teenage Hiro creates microbots that can form any structure he thinks of through a neurotransmitter. Does he use this to become an instant billionaire, since it's a thousand time more amazing than any invention ever? No, he just hopes it'll be impressive enough to get him into college. But his invention is stolen by the villain, who fights Hiro with the awesome power of...Hiro's own microbots. That's the best the villain can do? Why doesn't Hiro build more of them, or just turn off the neurotransmitter--it's his invention, after all. His friends help out, but they're worthless--the only real power they have comes from the weaponized costumes Hiro makes for them (with the help of a ray that Hiro created which is the only invention as amazing as his microbots). Then there's Baymax--the inflatable health-care robot that's the big invention of Hiro's dear departed brother--who gets to join the fight because Hiro adds weapons to his design that would work just as well on an inner tube. The team finally wins and what's the upshot? Hiro destroys the microbots, which could have been the greatest boon humanity has ever known, and keeps one copy of Baymax, rather than build a billion, which would provide the world with better health care as Hiro's brother intended.
Biggest Moneymaking Film I Couldn't Force Myself To See, Not Even At A Sub-Run Theatre: Transformers: Age Of Extinction
Most Well-Reviewed Art Film I Couldn't Force Myself To See: Locke. I'm sorry, the guy is in his car the whole movie.
Jason Statham Award For Actor Who Appears In One Bad Film After Another But Still Manages To Be Appealing: Olivia Wilde in Third Person, Better Living Through Chemistry and The Longest Week, all disasters according to Rotten Tomatoes.
Bulworth Award For Most Undigested Lumps Of Political Blather That Stop The Movie Dead But Are Meant To Be Taken Seriously: Dear White People
Saving Mr. Banks Award For A Story With An Interesting Present That Spends Too Much Time Flashing Back So We Can Discover Why The Protagonist Is Such A Whiner: Wild
House Of Sand And Fog Award For Miserable People Doing Miserable Things That Ends Up In Misery: Foxcatcher
You Me And Dupree Award For The Film That While Nominally A Hollywood Comedy Is Actually A Surrealist Masterpiece Where Plot Points Are Introduced And Dropped For No Reason, Dialogue Is Unrelated To The Action, And Characters Do Things That Bear No Resemblance To How Humans Act: Adam Sandler wins for the second year in a row with Blended.
Worst Trailer For A Good Film: Guardians Of The Galaxy. Looked pretty dopey to me, but it worked in the film.
Worst Framing Device: The Grand Budapest Hotel. We had to go through an awful lot of nonsense to get to the actual story.
Lamest Enemy: Still the Orcs from The Hobbit. They look scary, but I swear their heads come off if you just threaten to swing a sword at them.
Good Timing Award: Selma. It came out just as there were street protests in the news, allowing critics across the nation to make facile connections.
TRENDS AND OBSERVATIONS
Titles That Are Names: Ernest & Celestine, Veronica Mars, Joe, Ida, Lucy, Frank, St. Vincent, John Wick, Annie, Selma
Color My World: Mood Indigo, Blue Ruin, Dear White People
Canine Titles: Mr. Peabody & Sherman, The Rover, Foxcatcher, Into The Woods, The Dog
Not Very Bright: Nightcrawler, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Night At The Museum, About Last Night, Magic In The Moonlight, Moms' Night Out
What Global Warming?: Winter's Tale, Cold In July, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Snowpiercer
Powers Of Ten: The Hundred-Foot Journey, The Grand Seduction, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Million Dollar Arm, A Million Ways To Die In The West
Villain Of Choice: The Russians--John Wick, The Equalizer, Let's Be Cops, The Drop and even the Russian film Leviathan
Cleverly Titled Sequels: Think Like A Man Too, Dumb And Dumber To (Dumb And Dumberer was taken),
Food Porn (aka The Hunger Games): Chef, Land Ho!, A Trip To Italy, The Hundred-Foot Journey, What If
City Of The Year: Detroit--my hometown--featured, not always happily, in Need For Speed, Robocop, Only Lovers Left Alive (where we even get a vampire tour), Lost River and Brick Mansions.
Country Of The Year: India, as seen in The Hundred-Foot Journey, I Origins and Million Dollar Arm, not to mention the crossover Indian hit PK.
Profession Of The Year: Tie. Painter, as seen in Mr. Turner, Big Eyes and (sort of) National Gallery and The Monuments Men, and chef as seen in Chef, Le Chef and The Hundred-Foot Journey.
Actresses Of A Certain Age Get To Play Leaders In Teenage Dystopias: Kate Winslet in Divergent, Julianne Moore in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay--Part 1, Patricia Clarkson in The Maze Runner and Meryl Streep in The Giver.
When A Parent Dies It's A Good Chance To Go Back To Your Small Hometown, Meet Old Friends And Lovers And Take Stock: This Is Where I Leave You, The Judge, Are You Here
It's Safe To Go Out Again: The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies was released, putting an end to the trilogy, thus guaranteeing there's no chance any longer we'll walk into a theatre and see a Hobbit film by mistake.
Ghosts On The Screen: James Gandolfini in The Drop, Robin Williams in A Night In The Musuem: Secret Of The Tomb, Paul Walker in Brick Mansions, Chris Penn (!) in Aftermath, Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Most Wanted Man, God's Pocket and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay--Part 1.
Got A Problem? Go Back In Time: Edge Of Tomorrow (they now wish they could go back in time and rename it Live Die Repeat), X-Men: Days Of Future Past, Interstellar, Predestination, Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Isn't Aging Amazing: Boyhood, Interstellar, Captain America, Predestination
Counting The Days (Films Very Concerned With You Knowing What Day It Is): 3 Days To Kill, Into The Woods, Aftermath, The Gambler, Force Majeure (but not Two Days, One Night)
Frat Humor: 22 Jump Street, Neighbors
Searching For Parents Killed In Genocide: Ida, Chaplin Of The Mountains
Weird Science: Lucy, Transcendence, I Origins, Snowpiercer
Physics Lectures: Interstellar, A Theory Of Everything, Transcendence, Big Hero 6
It's Okay To Kill Kids: Fury, American Sniper, Annie (just kidding about the last one)
Musicians Breaking Down On Stage: Whiplash, Frank, Get On Up
Black Filmmakers Attacking Tyler Perry: Top Five, Dear White People
Crime Was More Fun When We Were Young: Rob The Mob, Inherent Vice, Life Of Crime, A Most Violent Year
Learn To Cut Your Wrist Properly Or You Won't Die: The Skeleton Twins, Calvary
Attempted Suicide With Pills: Men, Women & Children, The Skeleton Twins, Two Nights, One Day
Lee Pace Wants A Shiny Orb To Help Him Rule: Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Nothing Is As Spooky As A Doppelganger: The Double (natch), Enemy, The Babadook
Swimming In Someone Else's Pool: Wish I Was Here, The One I Love
Major Musicians Of The Rock Era Like To Talk To The Camera: Jersey Boys, Get On Up
Start The Film With Drums: Whiplash, Birdman
There's Nothing Like Getting High With Those Close To You If You Want To Connect With Them: The Skeleton Twins, Are You Here, This Is Where I Leave You
TOP TEN (In Alphabetical Order):
Inarritu has always been experimental, but he's so often been grim. Good to see him spread his wings and have some fun.
It doesn't take a lot of money to make a good crime drama, just character and plot.
The Book Of Life
It wasn't a great year for animation, so who would have guessed this relatively unheralded film would work so well. It's got a vibrant look, a well-told story and emotional punch.
Could have been an intriguing experiment that failed. Instead, it works as a film even without the trickery.
Edge Of Tomorrow
Groundhog Day as an action film? Why not. Too bad it seemed to get lost in the shuffle.
Guardians Of The Galaxy
With all the tired comic book sequels out there, this showed how it's supposed to be done.
Not exactly the feel-good film of the year (even if it had been shot in color it would have felt like black and white), but powerful.
The One I Love
A mystery mix with romance. I know it was low budget, but I'm surprised it didn't catch on.
It threatened to be a heavy-handed allegory. Instead, it was a sprightly action-comedy, and though you knew where they were going, you were never sure what they'd see along the way, or what they'd find when they got there.
Song Of The Sea
It's a new story, but it felt like an ancient Irish folk tale.
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Send her to the UN
"Scientific research has shown that they are sentient beings with reason, self-consciousness and individuality."
All right, I'm throwing in the towel. I'm willing to promote these guys up the food chain. But in exchange, I insist we start demoting others. Presumably we'll start with Republicans.
Swords And Singing
Galavant is an ABC comedy miniseries set in the world of fairy tales. It's filling in on Sundays for Once Upon A Time, so if you don't have the sound on you might not notice the difference.
We're vaguely in Mel Brooks territory, following in the tracks of his Robin Hood sitcom from forty years ago When Things Were Rotten, as well as his film Robin Hood: Men In Tights about twenty years later. Those weren't Brooks at his best, and Galavant, alas, doesn't rise above it either. Most of the gags are either anachronisms (everyone talks like it's 2015), self-consciousness about being in a fairy tale, or sex jokes.
It's not horrible, but I wish it could be better. ABC plays two half-hours in a row, so only six left to go. I can probably hold on.
Saturday, January 10, 2015
EJ goes conservative
EJ Dionne thinks this is preposterous: "Imagine an everyday citizen making a New Year's resolution promising that this year, for a change, he or she would actually show up for work."
I know what you're thinking, but you're mistaken. He thinks it's preposterous not because a commitment to showing up for work would be a violation of international human rights, but because it's taken for granted that everybody does it or anyway should do it.
Congratulations, E.J. All those hours spent listening to Glenn and Rush seem to be paying off. Keep showing up for work and you might get it yet.
Rod Stewart turns 70 today. I don't know if we still think he's sexy, but he's left behind quite a bunch of tunes.
Friday, January 09, 2015
A new Turing test
Computers Conquer Texas Hold'em Poker for First Time
But how do they do on online dating?
(Is Texas Hold'em tougher than chess? I wouldn't have thought so, but I admit I know next to nothing about either.)
The United States Olympic Committee has chosen Boston to be its standard-bearer in a global competition to host the 2024 Olympic Games, putting its faith in an old city that is brand new to the Olympic movement.
This is insane. Boston is already one of the most crowded cities in America. And you take your life in your hands every time you drive anywhere. Are they going to build some islands out in Quincy Bay to hold all the competition?
The Big But
There have been condemnations around the world of the Charlie Hebdo attack. But every now and then, you get someone to add "on the other hand." A classic, and all-too-expected example is William Donohue's of the Catholic League. For years he's been going on the offensive against slights--real and imagined--on religion, so this is classic Donohue.
From his latest "Muslims Are Right To Be Angry":
Stephane Charbonnier, the paper’s publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, “Muhammad isn’t sacred to me.” Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. Muhammad isn’t sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him.
I'm not even going to explain why I disagree with this, but let me just note, in addition to everything else, it's hypocritical. Donohue's career is, in essence, attacking and insulting people who disagree with him--often explicitly religious people and often in the harshest terms. Apparently, though, only those who attack the things Donohue cares about are narcissistic, and responsible for whatever happens to them. (Even if he were more soft-spoken, he still would be in the position of "trashing" Muhammad by stating his own views--he believes, after all, that Islam is a false religion and Muhammad is not a Messenger of anything except lies. Not putting that in cartoon form doesn't make it any better.)