Friday, February 03, 2006

Sorry so slow

Work and my writing have been keeping me down lately (just like THE MAN used to). So I haven't gotten as much blogging done as I should have.

I was going to take on the bizarre ramblings that the Academy Awards should somehow reflect the year's biggest box office hits, but John Rogers beat me to it in style with lots of profanity.

Be sure to click on the link to his debunking of the liberal Hollywood stereotype too!

See you real soon. Why? Because I like you.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

My new love. . .

I've fallen HARD for Kakuro, the new puzzle out of Japan (well, actually, it was invented in the United States, but we quickly lost interest in it; the Japanese loved it for a time, then the British picked up on it, which is how it got back to us). I never liked Sudoku much, but I find Kakuro to be infinitely more interesting.

I am, however, quite bad at it.

Don't know what I'm talking about? Go here.

To be fair, there's an element of, "They fell for Sudoku! Let's see if we can get them hooked on something else!" but I've fallen. Hard.

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AMPAS loves you

Well, the Oscars weighed in, and the surprises mostly came in the "It's surprising that happened the way it did" variety.

Now, we begin the long, hard slog to March, when everyone everyone thinks will win today wins. In the meantime, the media will try to make it a race, overinflating the hopes of Crash, Felicity Huffman and maybe even Terrence Howard. The big four races are locked up. Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay are rapidly becoming that way. Which leaves Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay.

So there you go.

It was a resolutely downbeat year for AMPAS, as they nominated glum "thinkpieces" in all five slots of the Best Picture (and Best Director) races. All five nominees were also given nominations for directing and screenwriting, the first time that's happened since 1964, the year of My Fair Lady, Becket and Mary Poppins. The uplifting (if formulaic) Walk the Line and the tons-o-fun King Kong couldn't crack the lineup (though Walk the Line was probably in sixth).

It was also nice to see some parity. There's less distance between the top nominations getter in the BP category (Brokeback Mountain with 8) and the bottom nominations getters (Capote and Munich with 5). Everyone please ignore that I said "top" and "bottom" in that sentence.

What was I happy with?

-I was overjoyed to see Munich crack the lists for picture, directing and writing. A smart, literary film like this doesn't come along very often. Ignore the naysayers, who have gotten too caught up in the Israel/Palestine thing. The film is really about the aftereffects of violence and makes a nice companion piece to the excellent A History of Violence.

-As overjoyed as I was by that, Terrence Howard had me even MORE overjoyed. I still prefer Philip Seymour Hoffman's work overall in the Best Actor category, but if you see Hustle and Flow, you'll see a star born in Howard, who takes a part that's written as a stereotype and makes it all his own.

-I have never been on the Keira Knightley train, but her work in Joe Wright's sublimely directed Pride & Prejudice deserves mention. She plays against type effortlessly and somehow creates an effervescent Elizabeth Bennett. So. . .I'm glad she got in.

-Supporting Actor is a nice enough category. I'm just happy that no one else from Crash made it in and William Hurt hung around long enough to crack the category for his blistering 10-minute turn in A History of Violence.

-Chanhassen dinner theatre veteran Amy Adams made the Supporting Actress lineup, and all was right with the world. (Oddly enough, I just found out that I SAW Ms. Adams in a Chanhassen production so very long ago. It's odd because I hated the production, but have nothing but love for her.)

-The cinematography nomination for Batman Begins was muchly deserved.

Mostly, I'm glad that AMPAS spread the wealth this year. In every category, I agree with four out of the five choices (or at least see how four out of the five came to be there). And that's something that never happens to me.

So as you venture out this weekend to see one of the Best Picture nominees, which one should you see? Follow my handy guide!

Brokeback Mountain: An old-fashioned Hollywood weeper of a romance. See? I almost had you there, huh? Okay. . .it IS an old-fashioned Hollywood weeper of a romance, except the lovers are two men. For lack of a better word, the movie is tasteful, though it stirs up the emotions any good tragic romance does. If you're worried about rampant male nudity and/or copulation, don't be. It's not in there. Ang Lee's film is a gay romance even your mother can see. It's so tame, some conservatives argue it shows the HARMFUL effects of homosexuality on society (I don't see how they're getting that out of it, but walk in with an agenda. . .). Whatever you walk in expecting, this is sure to push your buttons.

Capote: A very, very, very, very dry film, yet a marvelous one. It's so subtle that it's a wonder it made it to the top five at all. Hoffman's performance is as good as you've heard, while Catherine Keener grounds the movie. And the direction captures the idiosyncracies of the Great Plains like few films ever have. In a year where the crusading journalist was trumpeted right and left (from the praises showered upon the post-Katrina newsmen to Good Night, and Good Luck), this is a reminder of the ethical responsibility all journalism carries and just how easy it is to cross lines. This isn't as manipulative as Brokeback Mountain, but it, too, will get you talking.

Crash: This is out on DVD, so don't bother leaving your house to watch it. Remember how I said Brokeback Mountain would push your buttons? This one will jab at them repeatedly until they're stuck and no longer function. You'll cry out for mercy, but Crash will not give it to you. Some commentators say the film, in its liberal guilt, circles all the way around to actually be racist in the end, but I think the movie's mostly just bad. Still, there are plenty who have enjoyed it. If you're one of them, please make a case for it in the comments section.

Good Night, and Good Luck: Another rousingly manipulative piece. George Clooney has made a film about journalists who ask hard questions, but he seems to have forgotten that what Edward Murrow did (important as it was) ran absolutely contrary to the idea of objectivity as practiced by journalists everywhere. Murrow wasn't as in-your-face as the Fox News commentators, but Clooney is essentially celebrating him for starting us down the path that led to O'Reilly, Hannity and the like. The irony, of course, is that Clooney regularly gets into matches of verbal fisticuffs with O'Reilly (who reportedly liked this film). It was all a little too media self-lovey for me, BUT (and this is a big but) it's handsomely made with strong performances and a killer soundtrack. I'm not as enamored of it as so many in the media are, but you're not going to want your money back. It's another skillful button pusher.

Munich: My favorite film of the year is also one of the year's most controversial. It's easy to sour on Steven Spielberg for making films that are too thematically simplistic (Saving Private Ryan takes two-and-a-half hours to say, "Y'know, war sure is rough!"), but this one has been attacked for being too thematically complex. Just when you think you've got its political or social positions pinned down, it spins off in a completely new direction. This is why it's angered the right AND left in equal measure. Tony Kushner and Eric Roth's script is about how violence saps our souls but also about how there are times when violence is absolutely necessary. Spielberg has described it as a prayer for peace, but buried within it is the contradictory message that sometimes war is called for. Munich is an intellectually rigorous tug-of-war with no easy answers, which makes it all the more remarkable that it's even nominated. If you feel like you enjoyed it but don't know why, David Poland has an excellent scene-by-scene breakdown of the film here. I don't guarantee that you'll enjoy it as much as I did, but it will give you something to chew on with no easy answers.

To be honest, though, the nicest thing about the whole list of nominees is that it called back to recognize so many worthy films, which will be remembered now for years to come simply because of their nominations. In addition to the five listed above, we have Walk the Line. Hustle and Flow. Pride & Prejudice. A History of Violence. Syriana. Cinderella Man. Junebug. The Constant Gardener. The Squid and the Whale. King Kong. Batman Begins. And many, many others. I don't like every film nominated this year, but I'm glad the list is so wide-ranging.

That's all on the Oscars for now. I'll probably weigh in with category-by-category predictions and commentary as the day draws ever nearer so Jared can flop at the Oscar pool again.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Why I am the way I am

A phone call from someone I hadn't thought about in a while made me consider some things I hadn't thought about in a while. Like. . .why I'm having so much trouble getting going on this script second draft. And why I find it easier to waste time than actually, y'know, DO stuff.

You see, I'm adopted (and that's a subject for another post). Today (which is rapidly waning) is the 25th anniversary of said adoption. I've never been anything but grateful for my adoption and the strength it took for my birth mother (whom I've met) to give me up so I could find a new life.

But that's not what this post is about.

When I was a senior in high school, I had a column in the local newspaper. It was mostly goofy stuff about my life, interspersed with the occasional column where I would tackle a "serious" subject, such as the death of a friend or politics or what-have-you. To be perfectly honest, a lot of it was derivative crap (you could see Dave Barry's thumbprints all over it), but it was a good forum to learn how to write in (because the old people in my town weren't too discerning or demanding), and it spurred a lot of my particular gifts.

One week, however, for whatever reason, I sat down and wrote about my adoption. Frankly. Honestly. Openly. I'm not going to say that it was something that completely changed the world, but even today when I read it, I don't cringe (and I ALWAYS cringe). They say, "Write what you know." Well, I wrote what I knew and then some.

The piece, "Reflections on the Baby She Loved Too Much to Keep," bounced around from place to place. For whatever reason, I submitted it to a variety of magazines and anthologies. One of them accepted the piece. And I was off. A number of other publications excerpted the piece from that anthology (including a publication by Weekly Reader!). I made a couple of thousand dollars off of it. Even today, the phrase "Baby she loved too much to keep" has entered the adoption community lexicon (I hoped it would turn up on Sunday's adoption-themed "Grey's Anatomy," but no such luck). Some might worry I peaked at 17, but not me. As good as the piece was for a 17-year-old, it was still just good for a 17-year-old. It's a little trite and over-obvious, all things considered (I won't point you to it because I don't own the copyright on it anymore, but I'm sure it's out there on the Internets somewhere).

But here's the part that really galls me.

It's a first draft.

No. . .really.

The most significant thing I've written in my life to date is a first draft. The editors at my paper -- indeed, the editors at a national publishing house -- only suggested small changes.

And THAT's what has spoiled me.

Real writing is work. It's toil. It's finding the perfect words. Toughing through the rough patches when nothing will come. Sussing out what's wrong with a piece and fixing it.

So when a reporter at one of the magazines that reprinted the article called me up a few weeks ago and asked if I wanted to contribute to a "Where Are They Now" article, it got me to thinking. That piece spoiled me. And even though I'm a better writer now, I'm just beginning to shrug off its effects.

So if you're a teen and you're reading this, if you get something published, great. But don't think it's the end of the line. You're a good writer FOR A TEENAGER. But you're going to be a better writer in your 20s. And, God-willing, you'll be an even BETTER writer in your 70s. Writing is about observation. About deep thoughts. About coming to hard conclusions over time. And you just can't do that at 17.

Heck, I can't do that at 25.

It's a process. And I'm only figuring it out now.

Best of luck.

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Everybody's Doin' It

Oscar predictions for the "big 8."

Because I have to.

If you want more thorough analysis (including predictions in the categories I haven't bothered to do research on), click on the In Contention link off to your right. The good Dr. Tapley will set you straight.

Anyway. . .

Picture
Brokeback Mountain
Capote
Crash
Good Night, and Good Luck
Walk the Line
runner-up: Munich

Not a BAD line-up, per se, but not one that excites me a whole lot, even if it features two films in my top ten, plus another in my top 20 and another in my top 30 (I didn't care for Crash at all). If Munich makes it in, I like it that much better.

Director
George Clooney, Good Night, and Good Luck
Ang Lee, Brokeback Mountain
Fernando Meirelles, The Constant Gardener
Bennett Miller, Capote
Steven Spielberg, Munich
r/u: Paul Haggis, Crash

A slightly more interesting line-up. I'd love to stick David Cronenberg in there, but I won't.

Actor
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Capote
Terrence Howard, Hustle and Flow
Heath Ledger, Brokeback Mountain
Joaquin Phoenix, Walk the Line
David Straithairn, Good Night, and Good Luck
r/u: Russell Crowe, Cinderella Man

I'm not gutsy like Tapley, so I won't predict a David Straithairn snub. I probably should though. Howard is also a huge risk on my part, but it's a solid performance and the man has been working L.A.

Actress
Judi Dench, Mrs. Henderson Presents
Felicity Huffman, Transamerica
Keira Knightley, Pride and Prejudice
Charlize Theron, North Country
Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line
r/u: Ziyi Zhang, Memoirs of a Geisha

This is maybe the worst category in years. I thought perhaps Naomi Watts' performance in King Kong could save it (or Rachel Weisz in Constant Gardener), but the film's box office was disappointing, so her hopes faded. As it is, they just needed to find four names to join Witherspoon on the list.

Supporting Actor
George Clooney, Syriana
Matt Dillon, Crash
Paul Giamatti, Cinderella Man
Jake Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain
William Hurt, A History of Violence
r/u: Terrence Howard, Crash

One never knows. Crash could take three nominations in this category. I really want to not predict Gyllenhaal, but I know it will happen. Another pretty uninteresting category all around.

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Junebug
Maria Bello, A History of Violence
Catherine Keener, Capote
Rachel Weisz, The Constant Gardener
Michelle Williams, Brokeback Mountain
r/u: Frances McDormand, North Country

This and actor are probably the most interesting categories to my mind. Weisz will probably win since her performance is arguably a leading one. But what are you gonna do?

Original Screenplay
Crash
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Good Night and Good Luck
Match Point
The Squid and the Whale
r/u: Syriana

EDIT: I've decided to put The 40-year-old Virgin in here because I thought it might get nominated in August and I still do. I'm making this change at 11:51 PST, 1/30/06.

Syriana is the REAL wild card here. The Academy JUST announced it to be original a few weeks ago. If not enough people got the memo, it won't get in.

Adapted Screenplay
Brokeback Mountain
Capote
The Constant Gardener
Munich
Walk the Line
r/u: A History of Violence

A quite strong category, all things considered. I think Walk the Line gets in as a way to honor its director James Mangold. Granted, the various branches of the Academy don't have a hive mind, but this is what I have decided anyway.

Happy predicting!

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