Monday, February 28, 2005

Best Picture thoughts

I just got done reading this post from Catallarchy regarding Oscar picks. I was struck by the discussion on the 90's vs the 00's.

This all brings me to this: are we in a drought, or is just impossible to measure up to the movie-making of the 90’s? Take a look at the nominations in the last 5 years, and then look at the 90’s, and tell me there is not a big difference...I mean, tell me there is a single film in the last five years (outside of LotR) that is better than say, Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, or Forrest Gunp. There isn’t one.

This of course is right up my alley since my project deals with this exact issue. So I looked at the list of Best Picture nominees and found this:
Chocolat, Erin Brockovich, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Traffic and Gladiator. Gosford Park, In the Bedroom, Moulin Rouge, Fellowship of the Rings and Beautiful Mind. Chicago, Gangs of New York, the Hours, Two Towers and the Pianist. Lost in Translation, Seabiscuit, Mystic River, Master and Commander and Return of the King.

Looking at the list like that I'm a bit underwhelmed. LOTR movies are clearly great. So was Traffic. And I enjoyed Moulin Rouge and Lost in Translation but I don't think that either of them were 'great' movies. (BTW, I've only seen 14 of the 20 listed. Maybe I'll tackle the whole list in 2015.) Lots of good movies aren't nominated of course, but I think this is an interesting first look.

Further Oscar thoughts

Sean Penn needs a humor transplant. Even if he wanted to defend Jude Law, there must have been a way to do so with a lighter touch.
Martin Scorsese shut out again. He's got to win Best Director at some point doesn't he?
As a way of selling tickets, this Oscar cast was quite good. I really really really want to see 'Million Dollar Baby', the 'Aviator' and 'Finding Neverland' now.
Discussion with my brother about how right-leaning films are snubbed at the Oscars. The Best Picture noms weren't really left-leaning. Even MDB's controversial bit with assisted suicide is more libertarian than right/left. The big argument on his side is the snubbing of 'Passion of the Christ'. If ten years from now, 'Sideways' is remembered over 'Passion', I'll be stunned. I realized during the awards that it would even have been eligible for Foreign Language film.
I enjoyed the show, but it could have been better. Chris Rock has virtually no chance of being invited back next year and that can only be for the better. My suggestion for host? Bonnie Hunt.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Oscar thoughts so far

1) I miss Billy Crystal. Chris Rock is just not funny. His poltical stuff in the opening was his best and that just wasn't that good.
2) Having the costumer from The Incredibles help out with the customing award was brilliant. I've never wanted to pay attention to that award more than this time.
3) The Snack Fairy commercials with Colin Mockerie are pretty good.
4) Replacing Catherine Zeta Jones with Chris Rock can't possibly be funny enough to be worthwhile.
5) I love Tivo.

More later...

Update: Selma Hayek is on the short list of most beautiful women in the world. The FP Gal agrees and apparently I better hope they never meet.

Oscar night

Yes, of course I'll be watching. Movies are the dominant art of our age and the judgement and analyisis of them are worth watching. The run-up, however bores me to tears. I can't stand the celebrity culture aspect. Being able to act is a fine and worthy form of work. The acting profession is good both for the oppurtunities it gives to people who want to act and also as it enables the art forms of stage and screen. But...being able to act doesn't make someone a god or even a better person. And that goes double for any actor or actress whose work rests on their good looks.
Having said that, I always look forward to this show. For the comedy of the host, the movie montages, the goodbyes to passing actors and of course the agruments over what won and lost. My wishes tonight are for Chris Rock to surpass my meager hopes, for at least one of the songs to be listenable, for the political commentary to be brief and for some recognition of 'Eternal Sunshine'.

Monday, February 21, 2005

There must be a market for this

In an effort to prove my theory that Rolling Stones tunes sound better when someone else covers them, I played some Devo for the FP Gal. Her response was that it’d be great for aerobics.

Beauty and the Beast - 1991

This is my favorite Disney film. The music is good, the story is interesting and I'm a sucker for love stories. (Plus, it was part of a prom date and that gives it a little bit of special history for me.)
So, how did it stack up? Well, the bad stuff first: the animation isn't that good. It was cutting edge fourteen years ago, but things have changed since then. The computer graphic ballroom scene looks completely out of place. Disney must have been trying to strut their stuff and that's fine. It's a shame that it doesn't do anything to advance the story or even appear somewhere where conventional animation wouldn't work just as well. And what else? Nothing else but nitpicks, I suppose. The rest still holds up fine.
The enchanted objects in the castle are very enjoyable. Lumiere is quite fun. And the 'Be My Guest' scene is priceless. So is Gaston's song. (Which isn't really the same tune as 'Le Poisson' it's only similar.)
Best Picture material? Sure. Why not. If they had made this movie today, it would have looked much better, but it's hard to hold that against it. A very good (if not excellent) film.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


The people who know me well, know that even more than sports and movies, I'm a politics junkie. Seeing the world from a perspective somewhere between conservative and libertarian. And yet, this blog has been mostly devoid of politics.
I've thought of jumping in from time to time, but haven't for three reasons:

1) I've seen how vicious people become over political differances. One of my supervisors at work, didn't know how she could ever talk to her neighbors again because they had a sign up in their yard for the other candidate. I've seen coworkers become unpeople in the office for the same reasons. I'd be horrified to lose friends because I have different thoughts than they do on tax levels or gay marriage or something.
2) There's a finite level of commitment that I'm willing to commit to policy discusions. I'm not willing to read hours of congressional or legal documents to justify or attack a position. The broad philosophical things I feel a handle on, but I don't want to fight over minutae.
3) I'm still drained from the presidential campaign. The same thing happened in 2001, and I felt cut off until September 11. My passion for the subject is drained.

But...I ran across a post from Ann Althouse a couple of weeks ago that makes me wonder if I do indeed have something to contribute. Ann's a law professor from UW Madison. On her blog last year, she went through a lengthy and public decision making process about who to vote for in November. In the process she found that those on the right wanted to support her and try to convert her, while the left would only denounce her for not being as far left as she was. I've seen the same type of process myself.
Now I don't want to suggest that the right is always nurturing and supporting while the left is always shrill and offputting. The reverse is possible and indeed I think that's what got Bill Clinton elected in '92. So where do I come in?
I met the FP Gal just over a year ago. We met online and both of us had put our political preferences on our profiles. We found that we liked each other, but were on opposite sides of the aisle. After some discussion (and a few heated arguments), we came to an agreement that helped us out.
The vast majority of people on the right and left are good people who only want other people to be well and happy. The differances come from the ideas of how to allow or help people to be well and happy. If you can always remember that the person on the other side is probably a good person at heart you'll find no reason to demonize them. Treat them with respect and don't assume that their stated positions are just smoke screens for their hidden agendas. Remember that good people can have disagreements and still be good people.
I wish more people could understand this.

Other movie reviews

Here's a collection of movies outside of the project that the FP Gal and I have watched over the last week or so.
Sideways - This is a fun movie involving two men in their forties who are struggling to put their love lives in the right frame. One is getting married and still wants to sow some wild oats. The other one has had a failed marriage and wants to give up on relationships. This movie has lots of wine and some nice moments. But it's overrated. This is a very nice arthouse movie. It should not be Best Picture.
Eternal Sunshine - Bought this one this week. An excellent movie in the same mindbending style of 'Being John Malkovich'. In fact, both directed by Spike Jonze. This is easily Jim Carey's best work. Playing not only a regular person, but also given a fairly challenging role. He moves effortlessly between frightened defensiveness and a rather endearing relationship. (And this from someone who has wished that he'd be retaken by aliens and leave us alone. And take Adam Sandler with him.)
Bull Durham - The FP Gal had never seen this move. Now she's seen the first third before falling asleep. This is my favorite sports movie. The gritty realism of the minor leagues puts the players lives into a perspective that's missing from other baseball flicks. Also, Susan Sarandon could not be sexier than she is right here. Oh my!
Not bad stuff from Kevin Costner, either. When he plays a regular guy, especially a flawed one, he's not bad at all. It's when he tries to be an historical figure (Dances with Wolves or JFK) that he falls flat. Some actors can show that elevation. Others just look like props.
Man on Fire - Denzel Washinton movie from last year. Denzel plays a former 'counter-insurgent expert' who is on the verge of commiting suicide. He's hired to bodyguard a small and very cute little girl in Mexico City. She rekindles his desire to live. And then she's kidnapped. He goes on revenge streak to bring them all to justice. (I think this is the same plot as 'The Punisher' and 'Collateral Damage'.)
This is a very good movie. The directing is edgy, but not too edgy. The story makes sense throughout and is presented with a few twists and gasps. And Denzel is just not able to turn in a bad performance. He might be the best actor of this generation.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


On a bright sunny February day, one year ago I met a bright young girl for our first date. We met at the Como Park Conservatory. We spent a pleasant time amongst the plants. I remember thinking that it was like spending time in summer. This isn't to be overrated during the long winter months.
After the Conservatory, we headed over to the zoo. As we wandered through the animals we found out that we had very similar birthdays, only one day apart. We also discovered that we enjoyed each other's company and that she found my sense of humor acceptable. (I remember telling her that Spider Monkeys were named after the spider plant, but she doesn't remember this.)
Well, it's been one whole year and she hasn't tossed me back yet. In fact we're getting along better and better each day. FP Gal, I love you and hope that the journey continues to be as good as it's already been!

Update: The FP Gal still doesn't remember the spider monkey line. Guess I can use it again sometime in the future.

Monday, February 14, 2005

"I suppose if it were Chrismas, you'd put ornaments on it!"

On Feb 2nd I bought 'Groundhog Day' and we watched it. Such a sweet movie about becoming worthy of love. And the greatest scene ever involving a man teaching a rodent how to drive. "That's pretty good for a quadraped".
Today it was 'Man with Two Brains', which starts on Valentine's Day. Now I'll be quoting it for days. The FP-Gal is very understanding. That's why she's still with me.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

JFK - 1991

This is another film that I've only now seen for the first time. Oliver Stone uses this film as a three hour platform to express his theory on the JFK assassination and subsequent investigations. The movie became instantly controversial and Stone was charged with manipulating the truth. I'd like to judge this film on two different levels by seperating out the moviemaking from the historical accuracy.
The film-making is excellent. The story is fast moving and compelling from the get-go. Stone uses historical film interspersed with prepared film to create a seemless recreation of events. The actors look accurate and it's easy to fall into the story's rythym. The movie feels like 1963 (and later '66 and beyond). The events roll along and the fairly complicated web of conspiracy is laid out for the audience to judge. Taken only as movie, it's excellent.
And now for the history part. I've never had great interest in the JFK assassination and am on no level an expert. I have a general distrust of conspiracy theories so you can count me as a skeptic. Having said that, I came away from the movie convinced that something fishy must have happened. The courtroom scene was very compelling in showing a second shooter (at least). A quick google led me to this site which debunks the most damning parts of the movie.
Apart from the physical evidence, there were two different points that didn't pass the smell test to me. The first is the claim that Kennedy was going to end the cold war but was killed by the military to keep this from happening. Kennedy was a Cold Warrior and could never have backed down from that position. He would never have been reelected if he'd run away his earlier anti-communist past. Nor would he have been supported by Congress. And even if the military feared this, there were much easier ways to undermine him. Leaks and prominent disagreements would have done much to stir up the electorate. Killing JFK was well beyond any necessary reaction.
The second point is that conspiracies must be very small to be kept together. In order for this particular theory to be true, dozens (if not hundereds) of people would have to have kept quiet for decades. No death bed confessions. No guilty conciences. No one talking in their sleep or spilling the beans while drunk. This isn't credible at all.

Very good movie spoiled somewhat by the intentions of it's director.

Two Articles from Reason

I'm behind on things I want to blog about (which I expect is the norm), but I wanted to point out two different articles from the magazine 'Reason' which are interesting to me. The first is an interview with Neal Stephenson. He wrote a trilogy that I greatly enjoyed last fall, 'The Baroque Cycle'. Part of what I found facsinating in the books had to do with this:

Here are a few specifics. The medieval is still very much alive and well during this period. People are carrying swords around. Military units have archers. Saracens snatch people from European beaches and carry them off to slavery. There are Alchemists and Cabalists. Great countries are ruled by kings who ride into battle wearing armor. Much of the human landscape—the cities and architecture—are medieval. And yet the modern world is present right next to all of this in the form of calculus, joint-stock companies, international financial systems, etc. This can’t but be fascinating to a novelist.

And indeed the mix of these elements is what drew me in. The one thing that disappoints me is that he isn't asked about my favorite charcter of recent years, Jack Shaftoe. A man who is possesed by the 'imp of the perverse', which causes him to act impulsivly. He often falls in the cesspool only to come out smelling like a rose.

The other article
is a look at Ayn Rand's legacy in what would be her 100th year. I read 'Atlas Shrugged' when I was 19 or 20 and it profoundly affected my life and way of thinking. I was deeply attracted to her sense of right and wrong and her sense of the beauty that exists within humanity. And also to her sense of freedoms. Heinlein wrote that the ability to barter in the marketplace is one of the most important human freedoms and she fleshed out why that would be true. She also introduced me into the world of philosophy and it's connections with the real world. In more recent years, though, I've come to look at her vision as being somewhat clouded. Her views on love are wildly out of step with what I've seen with my own eyes. And as the piece notes, her philosphy doesn't leave room for times when the normal events on life overtake the plans of men.
Still, she was very important to me. Imperfect, yet a beacon away from the morass that modern philosophy was becoming.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


This article in yesterday's Strib is right in step with the movie project that I've started. By viewing these movies in a tight time period, I'm hoping to be able to make judgements tempred by the passing of years. The Academy, of course, doesn't have this luxury. Only the 90's are covered of course on my little blog. I thought I'd comment on the relevant mentions from this article. My thoughts may change after I've seen these movies again.

In 1999, academy members named Roberto Benigni best actor for his arm-waving theatrics in his concentration-camp comedy "Life Is Beautiful," spurning Ian McKellen's soulful, sensitive performance as a faded film director in "Gods and Monsters." This sells Benigni short. Comedy is harder than drama, and comedy in the face of tragedy is quite a feat. Who can forget the effort of a father shielding his son from the horrors of a concentration camp. I remember seeing 'Gods and Monsters' but have no special memory of Ian McKellen. I'm sure it was wonderful, but Benigni was unique.
Is the perfectly pleasant "Shakespeare in Love" really holding up better than 1998's snubbed "Saving Private Ryan"? My brother thinks that this particular Oscar was a travesty. I understand where he's coming from but think that the problem is with the Oscar setup. How do you compare a drama vs a comedy for which one is absolutely the best? I'll talk more about this in October or so.
Why did "The English Patient" ace "Fargo" in 1996? Because it was a better movie.
In what Bizarro universe will 1994's winner, "Forrest Gump," be studied in film history classes while the also-ran "Pulp Fiction" dwindles to a mere footnote? Both of these are great movies. 'Pulp Fiction' will be studied in it's own right, but 'Forrest Gump' is still quite worthy. And 'Shawshank Redemption' is certainly in the running as better than either of them.

My pick for least deserving Oscar of the '90s (major award category) is probably Kim Bassinger for 'LA Confidential'. I don't know what she did behind the scenes for that award, but I'm sure it isn't suitable for a family blog.

Drawing of the Dark

So I'm running through my normal morning routine, looking at the sites and blogs that I read every morning, and what do I run across on Instapundit? He's in the air and reading a book that I completely enjoyed, 'Drawing of the Dark' by Tim Powers. The book features a large scale battle between the Ottaman Turks and forces from the West. At the heart of the battle is a contest to secure a magical brewery. That's right, the magic of beer. Throw in the Arthurian legends, Odin and a very creative view of Christian history and you've got a fine read.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

And the bride wore...a lei?

I got a call this evening from my baby sister who informed me that she and her long time boyfriend were in Maui and had just tied the knot. They'd let the families know that they were going to elope sometime this spring. Where and when remained a mystery. But today on their seventh anniversary together, he made an honest woman of her.
Congratulations to Heidi and Chad. May they be happy together forever.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Bugsy - 1991

You wouldn't count me as a big mob movie fan, and yet I've now seen three of them in six weeks with this project. I'd never seen this movie before and really could have gone on without seeing it. It stars Warren Beatty as the gangster Ben 'don't call me Bugsy!' Seigel. He heads out to California to see if his gang can get a piece of the action only to run into Annette Bening and fall in love. She looks spectacular when he first sees her on a movie set and then never as good again. Another good piece of this movie is Ben Kingsley. The man can flat out act. His piercing earnestness makes him the place to watch in every scene he's in.
Bugsy gets to display his madness by humiliating someone who doublecrosses him. Madness is a tricky concept to act out. The traditional method of 'loud and violent' is pretty standard as a film staple. Beatty doesn't convince me for a second that he's not just reading from a script. Maybe he could have asked Kingsley for tips.
The movie becomes interesting when Bugsy gets an epiphany in the Nevada desert. Gambling is legal there and they could build their own casinos and hotels without competition and have it all be legitimate. If they get in on the ground floor, they could control the whole state. Step one is to build a luxury hotel and he sets out to build 'The Flamingo'. The interesting part of this is to watch this gangster become overwhelmed by the idea of the most beautiful hotel possible. He pours insane amounts of money into getting it just right. He risks everything, including his life for the place.
This movie is Ok but not great. Time is drifitng over it and someday it'll be completely forgotten.

Super Bowl recap

Did I say three touchdowns? I meant three points. Just like their other two super bowls, and I guess I should have known better.

The best commercial was the Ameriquest one with the cat. The commercial with the returning soldiers was very nice. The sexiest one was the Tabascao one with 'tanlines'. As a whole, the commercials were pretty lame. I don't need terribly edgy stuff, but the networks have gone too far and learned the wrong lessons from last year's 'wardrobe malfunction'. The key to understanding that is that parents want the ability to control the level of nudity (and even sexiness) that their kids run across. If they can expect a certain amount of lewdness, they can make a judgement as to how much supervision and censorship they must exercise. If that level jumps unexpectedly, they get pissed. Girls in bikins in a beer commercial are fine. Girls being suddenly disrobed are not. I'm hardly a bluenose, and I can understand the distinction.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Super Bowl

Quick perdiction, the Patriots will win big today. This will be an old fashioned Super Bowl butt whupping with people looking for something different to watch by the third quarter. The Pats are better coached and they have more expierience at the big game. They're the best team from the better conference. They're head and shoulders better than any of the teams the Eagles beat to get here (and yes, that includes my Vikings).
Three touchdown win.

PS. I'm sure that Paul McCartney has been spoken to and will not bare a nipple.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

1990 - What else?

I meant to include a list of other movies that might have been included in 1990 but weren't. The list is a little sparse. This wasn't a very strong movie year.
Hunt for Red October
Miller's Crossing
Pretty Woman

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

1990 in review

Well, with one year in the books it only seems right to do some kind of summing up.

Dances With Wolves
Godfather III

Goodfellas was clearly the best of the lot. Head and shoulders better than the rest. The movie hooks you and fascinates you from the beginning. It's the only one on this list that can make that claim.
Awakenings and Ghost were both good movies. The storytelling was strong in each. They pulled at the heartstrings, but in different ways. Awakenings with fear of a horrible living death, and Ghost with a look at a perfect love.
The remaining pair are both epic and long. They both feature bad hair choices for their stars. They both feature beautiful camera work and they both overestimate how much story they really have.
The score to Awakenings caught my ear. I love a good score and this one is very good. The period music of Goodfellas is very well done and shapes the passage of time perfectly. And Ghost brought 'Unchained Melody' back to life.
I wasn't watching award shows at this time, but there should have been outrage. Goodfellas wuz robbed.