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Archive for February, 2008

Listeria: Top Ten Rock Band-Related Lyrical Revelations

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 29, 2008

‘Scuse me while I kiss this list

10. “Keep you head still / I’ll be your thrill / And I will go on / My little windmill” (Blink-182, “All the Small Things”)

9. “Oooh see the fire it’s threatening / our very street today / Burns like a red coal carpet / mad bull lost its way” (The Rolling Stones, “Gimme Shelter”)

8. “High upon the roof / thin the blood / Another one on the waves tonight / Coming in for home” (R..E.M., “Orange Crush”

7. “You’ll see the look and you’ll see the lies / You’ll eat the lies / And youuuuu wiiilllllllllllllllll….” (Stone Temple Pilots, “Vasoline”)

6. “We have to whisper above the din of our Rice Krispies.” (The Police, “Synchronicity II”)

5. “IT’S IT! What is it? / IT’S IT! What is it? / IT’S IT! What is it? / IT’S IT! What is it? / IT’S IT! What is it? / IT’S IT! What is it? / IT’S IT! What is it? / IT’S IT! What is it?” (Faith No More, “Epic”)

4. “Hipsters / Unite / Come in line for the big fight / To rock for you / Beware / All those angels with their wings glued on / ‘Coz deep down / They are frightened and they’re scared / If you don’t stare” (No wonder Pavement was so pissed off, Smashing Pumpkins, “Cherub Rock”)

3. “Don’t fake it baby / lay the real thing on me / The church of man-love / Is such a holy place to be” (David Bowie, “Moonage Daydream”)

2. “Never gonna stop / Give it up / Such a dirty mind / I always get it up / For a touch of the younger kind” (The Knack, “My Sharona”)

1. “The headshrinkers / They want everything / My Uncle Bill / My Belisha Beacon” (Radiohead, “My Iron Lung”)

Posted in Listeria | 3 Comments »

Take Five: Things Bugging Me About Stuff White People Like

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 27, 2008

A blog riot of our own

Races–they have different cultures, don’t you know. What’s more, these differences have been known to be isolated and occasionally exaggerated to comedic effect, by such luminaries as Dave Chappelle, Jeff Foxworthy, and Whoever Makes That British Show About Indian People in the UK Whose Name I Forget. It’s a time-honored tradition, one responsible for countless classic buddy comedy movies and a disturbingly high percentage of the decent stand-up comedy out there, and let not we here at Intensities in Ten Suburbs take it upon ourselves to be among the first to call the merits of this comedic sub-genre into question.

However, recently the Internet has reared its ugly head with one of the more troublesome forays into this tradition. A blog entitled Stuff White People Like, which no doubt you IITS readers have been hip to for far longer than I have, has gained a fair amount of notoriety for its claims to document the titular category. Responses have been unsurprisingly mixed, ranging from “It’s true! It’s true! We’re SOOOOO LAME!“-types to reactions more along the lines of “You’re a c*nt and your blogs sucks. ed. note – I had to add a * to this comment to keep it clean.” (Ok, that one might’ve been taken verbatim from their comments page).

Personally, I do have to give it up for some of the entires–Threatening to Move to Canada, 80s Night, and Microbreweries are all at least mildly on point in their cleverness and insight, and their list of the Top Ten Hip Hop Songs That White People Love is destined to make just about anyone shudder with its tragic accuracy. But on the whole, the site is far from perfect, and occasionally borders on the offensive (and not even in the slightly admirable shocking way, but just the irritating, lazy way). The five least ingratiating things:

  • It Assumes That All White People are Posh Hipsters. Admittedly, I don’t have the best understanding of economics and demographic breakdowns and whatnot, but I’m pretty sure there are some white people out there that didn’t go to college (much less travel abroad), prefer steak and potatoes to sushi, have seen Road House more times than all of Wes Anderson’s movies combined and are more likely to get into bar brawls than they are to get into Yoga. Or have we found out a way to force minorities into all of our blue-collar working positions? Score another one for the white guys, I suppose.
  • It Assumes That All White People are Northerners. Uh, NASCAR? Smokey and the Bandit? Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats”? You don’t get much whiter than these southern cultural touchstones, and there’s hundreds more where those came from, below the Mason-Dixon line. But everyone already knows how ridiculous those crazy honkys are, so no point in noting their more pitiful foibles, right? Plus, start to acknowledge that white people exist outside of New York and the Ivy Leagues, and you have to acknowledge that 95% of America, regardless of race, have absolutely no idea who Michel Gondry is.
  • It Gets Really, Really Lazy. Coffee? Plays? Having Two Last Names? I don’t really get how white people have a lock on any of these particular pursuits. And when they’re running low on something creative to right about, SWPL just brings up something supposed to be overly-conscious, like “Awareness” or “Knowing What’s Best for Poor People” or just something blanketly upper-class like “Wine” or “Arts Degrees”. And the one on “Divorce” is just bizarre.
  • It Lacks Parity. Stuff Black People Like? Stuff Taiwanese People Like? Stuff Transsexuals Like? Stuff Strippers-Turned-Bloogers Like? If it’s OK to do one of ’em, it should be OK to do all of ’em. C’mon, have the courage of your convictions.
  • It Simultaneously Ignores and Confirms The One Thing That White People Do Truly Love the Most. Making yourself seem cool and superior by being effacing about your race.

Missing the point? Maybe. Sucking the fun out of it? Hopefully. But if you’re gonna call your blog Stuff White People Like and purport to deliver as such, you had better come correct. And despite what certain members of other cultures may think, it doesn’t do that nearly enough.

Posted in Take Five | 12 Comments »

I Sez: No Country for The Good Doctor

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 26, 2008

Mad Spoiler Alert

“You know, Lee, most of these movies that win a lot of Oscars, I can’t stand. They’re all safe, geriatric, coffee-table dogshit, y’know?…All those assholes make are unwatchable movies from unreadable books. Mad Max, that’s a movie. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, THAT’S a movie. Rio Bravo, THAT’S a movie.” -Clarence Worley, True Romance

I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot since No Country for Old Men took home the Best Picture Oscar last night. As I’ve now stated all too forcefully on this blog now, I did not expect No Country for Old Men or its partner-in-crime, There Will Be Blood, to take home the Best Picture. Because for at least the last decade-and-a-half, safe, geriatric, coffee-table dogshit movies made from unreadable books seem to be about all that’s been winning. And now, this marks two years in a row (The Departed for those of you with less long-term Oscar memory) where movies that Clarence would almost surely have whole-heartedly endorsed have taken home top honors, marking the longest such streak since Silence of the Lambs and Unforgiven won in back-to-back years in ’91 and ’92. Pretty remarkable, if you ask me.

But when I think about it, past Oscar transgressions weren’t the only reason why I predicted No Country to be upset by Juno, or even Atonement. Partly, it’s because even though NCFOM winning is one of the coolest things to happen to the Oscars in ages, and even though it might’ve been my favorite movie of those nominated (only Blood gives it competition), I still kind of wanted it to lose. In a weird way, No Country losing would’ve validated the nagging feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction that No Country left me with–the kind of feeling that no Best Picture winner as strange and untraditional as No Country should really leave me with.

“There wasn’t a single thing about that movie I didn’t love,” one of my friends exclaimed about No Country while discussing it during the Oscars last night. I smiled and nodded, even murmured a half-hearted agreement, even though it wasn’t really the truth. Because I wanted it to be the truth. I wanted it so, so very badly to be the truth. Moreover, because it fucking should have been the truth. Because it seems like everyone loves No Country unreservedly. Because the Academy, the same group of know-nothing know-it-alls that elected Dances With Wolves over Goodfellas and Gladiator over Traffic, were bowled over enough by it to overlook that it was a cynical, understated and extremely violent thriller and not some poncey bullshit that happened a long-ass time ago. Because there seems like no good reason that I shouldn’t love it unreservedly.

And because, for the first 90 minutes of the movie, I did love it unreservedly. Those first 90 minutes were basically the Coens and company putting on a clinic, so to speak–displaying such unbelievable verve in every filmmaking category that counts that it could almost be interpreted as showing off. It was THE perfect thriller, an unbelievable mixture of technical innovation, fascinating storytelling and good old-fashioned suspense. Those 90 minutes ensure Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin as inductees in the all-time badass canon, cement the Coens as being among the most relevant filmmakers of their generation once more, and prove once-and-for-all that it doesn’t matter what accent she’s doing, there’s not an actress on the planet more heartmeltingly adorable than Kelly McDonald. Those 90 minutes ensure that No Country For Old Men is a stone classic, no matter what.

And then…the turn. You remember the first time you saw Mulholland Drive? It’s kind of hard to remember now, for me at least, but the first time I was watching that movie, I was totally with it for about as long as I was with No Country, and I absolutely loved it, the coolest, freakiest and hottest neo-noir I had maybe ever seen. And then there was the scene with the box–you know the one–and everything I thought I knew about the movie changed. Technically, my eyes and ears followed the rest of the movie to its fruition, but mentally, I checked out of the movie at the beginning of the turn. Because I was pissed off. Because I liked that movie–the movie of the first 90 or so minutes, that is–so unbelievably much, and I was furious that David Lynch had robbed me of the opportunity to see how it would’ve ended. I didn’t care nearly as much how this new, unrecognizable movie ended.

Now, a few years later, a whole bunch more late-night viewings, a whole lot of theory reading, and I understand. I get why the movie–the whole movie–ended the way it did, I think it’s as brilliant as anything Lynch has ever done, and I don’t begrudge the turn anymore. So I’m willing to acknowledge that with time, with viewings, with perspective, I might feel similarly about No Country‘s detour. But what infuriates me is the way that no one seems willing to discuss it, that no one even seems to care. Suggest that maybe No Country would have been better served with a more conventional ending, and you may as well be suggesting that Raging Bull should’ve ended with Jake LaMotta hiring Burgess Meredith, losing 50 pounds and fighting his way back to the top to the strains of Bill Conti.

But let’s compare it to another movie from Clarence’s That’s a Movie canon. Let’s say you’re watching The Good, The Bad & the Ugly. You’re about up to the scene where Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach blow up the bridge to sabotage the fighting soldiers on both sides so they can get across unfettered and get to the treasure buried in the nearby graveyard. Only, say this time, before Clint and Eli get there, Lee Van Cleef sneaks up on Eli when he’s alone and kills him. And then, off-screen, we hear Clint getting winged by some enemy fire, and then we see his bloody corpse. Meanwhile, turns out there’s been a nosy sheriff that’s been following all three the entire time, only he’s more interested in eating breakfast and telling metaphorical stories than actually doing any effective detective work, and he never even encounters any of the three main players. Lee Van Cleef slinks back to his dark hole wherever, and the treasure stays buried forever.

OK, so it’s not the same thing. OK, so there’s a deeper meaning to the way the Coens’ movie ended, one more concerned with matters of death and fate and inevitability than with who gets away with the sack with the dollar sign on it. OK, so there’s actually a fairly respected source text that the Coens are referring to here, and they couldn’t very well shape out a completely brand-new, crowd-pleasing ending without fans, critics and anyone else who knows enoughto give a damn screaming bloody murder. I’m willing to concede all of these things. I’m even willing to admit that it makes me an essentially shallow film watcher to demand such instant gratification, especially from filmmakers I claim to love as much as the Coen brothers.

But just for a second, step forward to the monitor. Look me straight in the eyes. And tell me the truth–weren’t you just a little bit disappointed that the movie ended the way it did? Wasn’t there a part of you that was absolutely heartbroken that you didn’t get to see some super-tense Mexican Standoff between Bardem, Brolin and Harrelson, or at least some grand-scale shootout between the first two to determine, as Brolin would put it, the Last Man Standing? Weren’t you a tiny bit flustered when Bardem didn’t even have it out with Tommy Lee Jones at the end? Fuck the Oscars, No Country had the potential to be, straight up, the best thriller maybe ever made, a popcorn classic for the ages, a thinking man’s T2. Are you actually going to tell me you weren’t even slightly angry when that dream was shot full of holes with Brolin?

Well, then, mister, you’re a better movie watcher than I. And hey, maybe you’re part of the contingent that actually gave a great movie the Best Picture Oscar for only the second or third time this decade, so more power to you. But I’m sorry, I guess I’m just not ready to say OK. I’m not ready to be a part of this world yet.

Posted in I Sez, Oscar Sweep '08 | 7 Comments »

Oscar Sweep ’08: Oh Well

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 24, 2008

Could’ve happened

As those of you keeping track of this blog have surely guessed by now, my admittedly ambitious project to watch every movie nominated for an Oscar this year (in the non foreign-short-doc cats) fell short of the mark. It took me too long to get up the courage to sit through movies like August Rush and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and too many of my TV watching hours were spent on distractions like The Wire, LOST and the NBA. To my credit, I did come sort of close–of the 34 movies nominated for an Oscar, there are only nine that I didn’t get around to seeing, and of the movies I didn’t see, none received more than three nominations. Still, I was hoping to present my Oscar Picks for the first time as a fully informed honorary Academy speculator, and instead I’m just presenting them like the rest of you half-informed Oscar Johnny-Come-Latelys. Bummer.

(Italics = Have Not Yet Seen)

Best Picture

* Atonement
* Juno
* Michael Clayton
* No Country for Old Men
* There Will Be Blood

Will Win: You’d be a foolish man to bet on any one of these five nominees–all of them have, in my opinion, at least one reason why there’s no way they can win the Best Picture. I’m saying Juno just because, but moreso, I’m saying it won’t be favorites No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood.

Should Win: There Will Be Blood. As singular and unnerving a movie to ever be nominated for the Best Picture (and should it win, easily the most experimental winner since The Deer Hunter)

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Diving Bell & the Butterfly, I’m Not There, Superbad (hey, like Juno should be any more likely?)

Best Director

* Paul Thomas Anderson – There Will Be Blood
* Joel Coen and Ethan Coen – No Country for Old Men
* Tony Gilroy – Michael Clayton
* Jason Reitman – Juno
* Julian Schnabel – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Will Win: Coens. Whether or not it wins Pic, this should be a slam dunk.

Should Win: Probably Coens. PTA and Schnabel both have about equal claim for their masterful works, but they also didn’t direct Blood Simple, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo and The Big Lebowski with only one nom and 0 wins to show for it.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Todd Haynes for I’m Not There and David Fincher for Zodiac. I can’t say I’m surprised about either, but the fact that neither has yet to be recognized for their respective decades-plus of work is getting progressively more unforgivable.

Best Actor

* George Clooney – Michael Clayton
* Daniel Day-Lewis – There Will Be Blood
* Johnny Depp – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
* Tommy Lee Jones – In the Valley of Elah
* Viggo Mortensen – Eastern Promises

Will Win: Is anyone going against Day-Lewis for this? Some other good nominess here, but you’d have to be a crazy person to think anyone has a chance against Mr. Plainview.

Should Win: I liked Tommy Lee Jones in Elah way more than I thought I would, but this is DDL’s year. Not just anyone could’ve turned “I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE! I DRINK IT UP!” into a SportsCenter-acknowledged catchphrase.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Usually movies/books about people that hit the road to try to really experience life, maaaan just piss me off, but Emile Hirsch somehow made me care about Into the Wild (and also made me forget all about Alpha Dog). I’d give him an Oscar for that.

Best Actress

* Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth: The Golden Age
* Julie Christie – Away from Her
* Marion Cotillard – La Vie en Rose (La môme)
* Laura Linney – The Savages
* Ellen Page – Juno

Will Win: Christie.

Should Win: Christie.

Robbed, I Tells Ya:  Not exactly the strongest year for lead actresses, as evidenced by Ellen Page’s ability to sneak in there under the wire. And aside from maybe Keira Knightley in Atonement, I can’t think of a more worthy nominee to take her place.

Best Supporting Actor

* Casey Affleck – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
* Javier Bardem – No Country for Old Men
* Philip Seymour Hoffman – Charlie Wilson’s War
* Hal Holbrook – Into the Wild
* Tom Wilkinson – Michael Clayton

Will Win: Bardem. It’s one of those Classic performances.

Should Win: Really, I’d be OK with anyone besides Hoffman (phoning it in, though that’s arguably Oscar-worthy in itself) winning, but personally I’d give it to Affleck for the out-of-nowhereness of his performance, playing an insecure, underappreciated hanger-on the way I suppose only the younger brother of Ben Affleck could really now how.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Stacked year for Best Supporting Actors, as Ben Foster in 3:10 to Yuma, Max Von Sydow in Diving Bell & the Butterfly, and of course, Michael Cera in Superbad (OK, so Randy Quaid, Jennifer Tilly and Juliette Lewis can all get at least one Oscar nomination for playing the only role they know how to play, yet somehow it’s unthinkable that Cera’s brilliance be recognized??) all get the snub. And though it might be heresy to say, I actually prefer Josh Brolin’s performance in NCFOM to Bardem’s. “Where’d you get that pistol?” “At the gettin’ place.” Fucking immaculate.

Best Supporting Actress

* Cate Blanchett – I’m Not There
* Ruby Dee – American Gangster
* Saoirse Ronan – Atonement
* Amy Ryan – Gone Baby Gone
* Tilda Swinton – Michael Clayton

Will Win: It’s ridiculous, it’s inexplicable, and yet it feels so inevitable–Ruby Dee will take home Best Supporting Actress for her approximately fourteen seconds’ worth of work in American Gangster. A life’s worth of work yet to be recognized by the Academy, and the only major nomination landed by one of the most successful movies of 2007. Look into your heart, you know it to be true.

Should Win: Aside from Dee, this category is almost as stacked as Supporting Actor, and Swinton and Blanchett give career performances in their respective movies. Maybe it’s the Wire fanboy in me, but I still gotta give this to Ryan. She’s barely in the movie after the first half, but the enduring impression from Gone Baby Gone is still of Ryan’s performance. Stunning.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: The almost unbearably quirky world of Juno seems to be designed specifically to net Best Supporting Actress nominations, so it’s shocking that Alison Janney, Jennifer Garner and the extremely underappreciated Olivia Thirbly (the friend) were all unable to land nods. Besides them, Catherine Keener in Into the Wild doesn’t get too much screentime, but lends the movie an unbelievable amount of soul in her few scenes. Also, no one plays a shrew quite like Leslie Mann in Knocked Up.

Best Original Screenplay

* Juno – Diablo Cody
* Lars and the Real Girl – Nancy Oliver
* Michael Clayton – Tony Gilroy
* Ratatouille – Brad Bird
* The Savages – Tamara Jenkins

Will Win: Never mind, this is the plum category for Juno. The quirky romantic comedy has won this category three of the last four years, and Juno’s is written by someone named Diablo Cody. An ex-stripper, no less! Bet the farm.

Should Win: Not exactly getting the competition of a lifetime in Michael Clayton and the good-but-severely-overrated Ratatouille, Juno is probably most deserving here (though Lars and the Real Girl could very well be a masterwork, dunno).

Robbed I, Tells Ya: Hm. Knocked Up, Hot Fuzz, Planet Terror, SUPERBADDDD….really, anything but Charlie Wilson’s War.

Best Adapted Screenplay

* Atonement – Christopher Hampton, from Atonement, novel by Ian McEwan
* Away from Her – Sarah Polley, from “The Bear Came over the Mountain”, short story by Alice Munro
* The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Ronald Harwood, from Le scaphandre et le papillon, memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby
* No Country for Old Men – Joel and Ethan Coen, from No Country for Old Men, novel by Cormac McCarthy
* There Will Be Blood – Paul Thomas Anderson, from Oil!, novel by Upton Sinclair

Will Win: This could actually go a number of ways, but I’m betting on an upset from The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I’ve heard the idea of NCFOM and Blood splitting votes dismissed as a conspiracy theory, but if it doesn’t hurt them in the Best Pic, I really think it will hurt them here.

Should Win: Probably Diving Bell. Brilliant though their screenplays were, NCFOM and Blood were much more about acting and cinematic verve for me, whereas the story in Diving Bell was everything.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Does I’m Not There count as an adapted screenplay?

Best Animated Feature

* Persepolis
* Ratatouille
* Surf’s Up

Will Win: Ratatouille.

Should Win: The obvious choice here is the innovative and super-serious Persepolis, which in my mind was only half a great movie (problem with flicks based on true stories, don’t you know). Between it and the consistently above-average Ratatouille…it’s a tossup.

What About Me?: Too bad the brilliant first ten minutes of Enchanted weren’t enough to qualify here. And I wasn’t the biggest fan of it or anything, but how the hell did Surf’s Up get in over The Simpsons Movie?

Best Art Direction

* Arthur Max and Beth Rubino – American Gangster
* Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer – Atonement
* Dennis Gassner and Anna Pinnock – The Golden Compass
* Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
* Jack Fisk and Jim Erickson – There Will Be Blood

Will Win: Tough one. I guess they gotta give something to Atonement, right?

Should Win: Golden Compass was the prettiest, but There Will Be Blood the most striking.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: I’m Not There juggled about eight different and equally compelling visual schemes without seeming jarring or bombastic. Well, not too bombastic anyway.

Best Cinematography

* Roger Deakins – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
* Seamus McGarvey – Atonement
* Janusz Kaminski – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
* Roger Deakins – No Country for Old Men
* Robert Elswit – There Will Be Blood

Will Win: There Will Be Blood, I’d say.

Should Win: This actually might be the most stacked category of all–only Atonement‘s cinematgoraphy was anything less than stunning. In lieu of a tiebreaker, I’ll give the award to Roger Deakins for lifetime achievement as a regular Coen collaborator, the man who’s had almost as much of a hand in shaping their classics as the Coens themselves.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Into the Wild? There was some outdoor, landscape-y shit in that, no?

Best Costume Design

* Albert Wolsky – Across the Universe
* Jacqueline Durran – Atonement
* Alexandra Byrne – Elizabeth: The Golden Age
* Marit Allen – La Vie en Rose
* Colleen Atwood – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Will Win: I guess they gotta give something to Sweeney Todd too, right?

Should Win: As I’ve said earlier, Across the Unvierse, for sheer volume’s sake.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Black Snake Moan, anyone? Did you see Christina Ricci in those trailers?

[edit] Best Film Editing

* Christopher Rouse – The Bourne Ultimatum
* Juliette Welfling – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
* Jay Cassidy – Into the Wild
* Roderick Jaynes – No Country for Old Men
* Dylan Tichenor – There Will Be Blood

Will Win: Tossup between Bourne and No Country, but momentum and prestige’ll probably sway it towards No Country.

Should Win: Same deal, pretty much.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: 3:10 to Yuma. Heart-pounding for about the last half-hour, that’s pretty good.

Best Makeup

* Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald – La Vie en Rose
* Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji – Norbit
* Ve Neill and Martin Samuel – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

Will Win: Norbit. I hope.

Should Win: Only category where I didn’t see a single one of the nominees, so I’ll refrain from casting judgement here. But NORBIT.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Across the Universe, for the same reasons as Costume Design.

Best Original Score

* Dario Marianelli – Atonement
* Alberto Iglesias – The Kite Runner
* James Newton Howard – Michael Clayton
* Michael Giacchino – Ratatouille
* Marco Beltrami – 3:10 to Yuma

Will Win: Atonement‘s was the flashiest, I think, so I’d give it to that.

Should Win: I liked 3:10 and Michael Clayton, but none of these are exactly worth buying the soundtrack for.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Academy rules I think disqualified Johnny Greenwood’s work on There Will Be Blood and Eddie Vedder’s work on I’m Not There. Too bad, because their music actually had something to do with the success of their respective movies.

Best Original Song

* Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – “Falling Slowly” from Once
* Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz – “Happy Working Song” from Enchanted
* Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz – “So Close” from Enchanted
* Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz – “That’s How You Know” from Enchanted
* Jamal Joseph, Charles Mack and Tevin Thomas – “Raise It Up” from August Rush

Will Win: Three nods tend to cancel each other out (LOL Dreamgirls), and “Raise It Up” isn’t that notable, so “Falling Slowly.”

Should Win: Kind of cheating since I didn’t actually see the movie, but “Falling Slowly” sure is one purty song.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: None of them are eligible, probably, but Eddie Vedder’s “Hard Sun,” Michael Cera and Ellen Page’s “Anyone Else But You,” and T.V. Caripo’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand” were all pretty tight.

Best Sound Editing

* Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg – The Bourne Ultimatum
* Skip Lievsay – No Country for Old Men
* Randy Thom and Michael Silvers – Ratatouille
* Matthew Wood – There Will Be Blood
* Ethan van Der Ryn and Mike Hopkins – Transformers

Will Win: Bourne.

Should Win: Bourne.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Academy Awards viewers for having to sit through both this and Best Sound Mixing.

Best Sound Mixing

* Scott Millan, David Parker, and Kirk Francis – The Bourne Ultimatum
* Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, and Peter Kurland – No Country for Old Men
* Randy Thom, Michael Semanick, and Doc Kane – Ratatouille
* Paul Massey, David Giammarco, and Jim Steube – 3:10 to Yuma
* Kevin O’Connell, Greg P. Russell, and Peter J. Devlin – Transformers

Should Win: No Country.

Will Win: No Country.

Robbed, I Tells Ya: Skibbity-boop bop bop bop bop

Best Visual Effects

* The Golden Compass
* Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
* Transformers

Will Win: Transformers.

Should Win: Transformers. Really, the movie had one task: Have cars turned into robots and make it look cool. It failed at everything else, but that one thing was pretty cool.

Posted in Oscar Sweep '08 | 3 Comments »

Commercial Break: Things Bugging Me About Naomi Campbell, Lizards and Something Called Life Water

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 24, 2008

For no mere mortal can resist…

No doubt you saw this ad over the course of a Super Bowl that for once was actually more noteworthy for the stuff that, y’know, happened in between the commercial breaks. It’s the kind of clip that makes you wonder why even bother paying attention to the commercials at high-profile telvision events–obviously designed to be eye-catching and chuckle-inducing, to be condusive to water-cooler talk the next day, but actually meaning, signifying, and conveying absolutely nothing. It’s one of those commercials that so flagrantly flies in the face of logic and common sense that it makes you want to swear off paying attention to any commercials not involving Sir Charge or John Mellencamp ever again. Here’s a shortlist:

  • What is this empty, dark, white-walled room that Naomi Campbell is walking into? Does she often go out dressed to the nines to drink vitamin water by herself?
  • Why is this bizarre room somehow lizard-inhabited? Is this why Naomi’s hanging out here?
  • OK, so the lizard makes some superlizard jump for the vitamin water, and once he gets a taste, he’s instantly turned into “Thriller”-era Michael Jackson. Fine, fair enough. Where do all the other lizards suddenly come from? It’s not like all the other zombies suddenly appeared out of nowhere once MJ went zombified in the “Thriller” vid. Does the Life Water also make him multiply by the dozens or something?
  • Why is Naomi totally cool with there being a room full of dancing lizards? We’re given absolutely no context to the relationship that Naomi has with the rest of this situation whatsoever–not even a reaction shot to show her initial surprise at this apparent amphibious (reptilious? I can never remember) predilection for 80s pop.
  • Why does Naomi totally suck at doing the “Thriller” dance? It’s really not that hard to put your hands in the zombie motion and swing them back and forth, but she nonetheless seems to be missing a fundamental understanding of how the dance works. Very disappointing.
  • What the fuck is Life Water, anyway? Vitamin Water wasn’t lame enough to begin with? Christ.
  • Thrillicious? Are you fucking kidding me?

Plus, is there any need for this commercial when this already exists? I mean, goddamn.

Posted in Commercial Break | 2 Comments »

Oscar Sweep ’08: Eastern to Gone

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 23, 2008

Eastern Promises

Plot Summary: Anna (Naomi Watts), a midwife at a London hospital, is shocked when a young Russian girl comes into her hospital pregnant and quickly dies of complications. Taking her diary, she makes the mistake of tracing it to Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), a kind-seeming old man who agrees to translate the diary for Anna, but is actually a mob boss only doing it out of fear it will incriminate him. Anna strikes the fancy of Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), the driver for Semyon’s fool of a son Kirill (Vincent Cassell), which creates problems as Anna’s outrage over the girl’s death gets her in further and further over her head with the mob.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor (Mortensen)

Mini Review: Despite involving the mob, child prostitution, and several gory fight scenes, Eastern Promises is actually one of the least disturbing Cronenberg movies I think I’ve ever seen. I don’t know, maybe it’s just because A History of Violence was so shocking in so many ways to me that by comparison Eastern Promises may as well have been Witless Protection, but this movie just didn’t have the sort of sucker-punch moments that I’ve come to expect from Cronenberg. Not to say that it isn’t worth watching–the acting, and at least one fairly noteworthy fight scene, make it a winner–but emotionally I felt underwhelmed by it, like there was some creepy subtext that i just wasn’t picking up on.

Oscar Nod Worthiness: Mortensen for Best Actor? I dunno. His work in Violence seemed a lot more compelling and a whole lot tougher to me, yet the Academy decided only to recognize William Hurt’s sole scene’s worth of contribution instead. He’s great, of course–the accent is particularly flawless–but it’s just not a role that screams Oscar to me.

What About Me?: Frankly, I’m shocked the Oscar committee even knew this movie existed.

If the Category Existed: Best Naked Knife Fight…ever? Can’t think of too much in the ways of competition.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Plot Summary: Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen of England (Cate Blanchett), needs to find two things: A way to stop the Spanish from conquering her country, and a man. Both are proving particularly challenging, though she does find a loveable rogue in the form of Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen). But as war becomes imminent with the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton), Elizabeth also finds that Raleigh has knocked up her most trusted assistant (Abbie Cornish). Lizzie has some shit to work through.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actress (Blanchett), best Costume Design

Mini-Review: I mean, whatever. People gave this movie a lot of shit, but is it really any worse than the Oscar nod-lavished first Elizabeth? I don’t remember that movie being all that great. True, I was only 12 when I saw it and I think I was asleep for at least half the movie, but I don’t think I’m missing much. Yeah, sure, this one’s more melodramatic I guess (Elizabeth comes off a bit like a teenage crybaby that just happens to have half the power of the free world), but at least that means I was able to actually follow it. And Clive Owen! That dude’s awesome.

Oscar Nod Worthiness: Fuck, it’s Cate Blanchett in a movie about people from a long time ago. And costumes! There are lots of ’em! Big ones! What’re you gonna do, not give them nominations?

What About Me: Score was kind of intense, dunno.
If the Category Existed: Creepiest Foreign Person (tie between King Phillip, who sounds like a Spanish Smeagol, Anthony Babington, who appears to have modelled himself after Paul Bettany in Da Vinci Code, and Mary/Samantha Morton, who is disturbingly quiet even for Samantha Morton)


Plot Summary: In (literal) Disney World, Giselle (Amy Adams) is a Princess who falls in love with Prince Edward (James Marsden), to whom she quickly gets engaged, much to the chagrin of his mother, the evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who wishes to remian Queen. She casts a spell on Giselle to send her to Real People World, where she meets divorce attorney Robert Philip (Patrick Dempsey), who reluctantly teaches her about living in the real world where she teaches him not to be disillusioned about life and romance. Unfortunately, Philip is already engaged, and hear come Edward and Narissa to find Giselle in the Real World.

Oscar Nominations: Best Song (“So Close,” “Happy Working Song” and “That’s How You Know”)

Mini-Review: To hell with this movie. Seriously. It started out well enough–it’s really sort of stunning how right on they got these early animated scenes, it looks (and more importantly, sounds) straight out of a Golden Age Disney flick. But then it’s back to the Real World, and you get all this meta-fairy-tale bullshit. Do you remember when animated Disney Movies were just animated Disney Movies? No irony, no dialogue with Disney history, no real-world practicality–just solid animation and a good story? Are kids these days going to grow up even knowing what a Little Mermaid or a Lion King feels like? It’s sort of interesting that the movie goes with the very anti-Disney premise that true love is based on bond and mutual understanding over love at first sight, but…I dunno. I’ve had enough.

Oscar Nod Worthiness: And that’s what really bugged me–these weren’t great songs at all. Three of ’em, and not a one of ’em would I say is even worthy of a token “Song from an Animated Musical” nod. “Be Our Guest”! “Arabian Knights”! Hell, even “Colors of the Wind” was better than these! This is what happens when you focus too much on making the movie real-world relatable enough to be compatible for adults. You miss out on the important stuff.

What About Me?: “True Love’s Kiss,” the song from the beginning animated part of the movie, was definitely on point enough a satire to be worthy of a nod. Moreso than the three that were nominated, anyway.

If the Category Existed: Maybe a Lifetime Achievement That Guy Award to James Marsden for continually filling such a specific That Guy role. If you’re counting, this now marks the fourth time that poor Jimmy has played a good-guy boyfriend that gets thrown over for a newer, more exciting love–also happened in X-Men, The Notebook and Superman Returns. Hell, if you count X2 and X3, it’s the sixth time. At least at this time, he gets a different chick at the end, even if she’s a hell of a step down from Amy Adams.

The Golden Compass

Plot Summary: I dunno, something about a Golden Compass. And Dust. And Polar Bears.
Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Visual Effects

Mini-Review: Are all kids super-prodigies these days or something? I had to read the Wikipedia entry on this to catch up to what I was watching half the time, how the hell are youngn’s, the presumed target audience for this flick, supposed to keep up with it? Or is this just one of those book series that everyone under a certain age already knows backwards and forwards? I mean, I guess this is only the first of three, and the Star Wars trilogy asks you to roll with a lot of new info in the first movie as well, but damn. I suppose something needs to prepare adolescents for Dan Brown.

Oscar Nod Worthiness: I’ve got no problem with either of these nods. Despite my misgivings about the plot, this was a hell of a movie visually–the entire movie is bathed in a sort of glow that makes it looks like a single ray of sunlight shining through an otherwise closed curtain on a summer afternoon. And the visual effects–hey, there are lots of goofy-looking animals talking. I love talking, goofy-looking animals. Plus, there was that one scene…
What About Me?: Nah, we’re good.

If the Category Existed: Best Polar Bear Fight Scene EVAH. Man was that some nifty shit. Even better if you pretend that they’re fighting over a bottle of Coke.

Gone Baby Gone

Plot Summary: When the child of cokehead Helene McCready (Amy Ryan) disappears, private detectives / lovers Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are hired by her distressed sister Bea (Amy Madigan) to help investigate. They end up working with FBI agents Nick and Remy (John Ashton and Ed Harris) to track the baby down, which they eventually trace to a drug dealer than Helene stole money from. A hand-off is arranged, but goes awry, and soon enough, everything is fucked up…

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Ryan)

Mini-Review: You know things are fucked up when Eli is winning Super Bowl MVPs and Casey is directing and starring in critical darlings. Between this and his work in Assassination of Jesse James, Casey Affleck is emerging as one of the most exciting actors of his generation, with a sort of intelligence, sensitivity and experience not exactly hinted at in his Ocean’s 11-13 work. Gone Baby Gone is a Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) adaptation and feels like it, sharing the setting (Boston) and many of the same issues and themes of River, but I much prefer it to that movie–more disturbing, and more emotionally resonant–even if it goes a bit twist-crazy at the end.

Oscar Nod Worthiness: Hoo-ee, Beaddie Russell ain’t what she used to be. I guess you could look at Amy Ryan’s performance in this movie is what her character in The Wire would look and act like if McNulty had gotten to her at a particularly early age and permanently fucked up her ability to form genuine human connections, but her character in this movie is selfish almost to the point of supervillainy. Tight jeans, exorbidant nail polish, the shrillest Boston accent in history, and a motherfucking evil grin. “You’re an abomination!” Amy Madigan exhorts at one point. Yeah, I’d give her an Oscar.

What About Me?: Maybe if Casey hadn’t gotten the nod for Jesse, he could’ve had a claim to Best Actor here. And I haven’t read the book, but it seems like a Best Adapted Screenplay nod would’ve been appropriate as well.

If the Category Existed: Could give Atonement a run for the Best Title Reference category. “Then she’s gone, baby. Gone.” They actually worked the second “gone” in there. Wow.

Posted in Oscar Sweep '08 | 1 Comment »

Clap Clap ClapClapClap / Take Five: Goofy Looking and Goofier Playing NBA Backup Big Men

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 21, 2008

Rony Turiaf, Los Angeles Lakers

Brian Skinner (left), Phoenix Suns

Brian Scalabrine, Boston Celtics

Renaldo Balkman, New York Knicks

Calvin Booth, Philadelphia 76ers

God bless ’em.

Posted in Clap Clap ClapClapClap, Take Five | 2 Comments »

Time of the Season / Eugoogly (?): S2 of Friday Night Lights

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 21, 2008

Clear eyes and full hearts no longer guaranteed to prevent loss

The Night the Lights Went Out in Dillon was not much unlike any other Friday we’ve spent with our favorite sons and daughters of the Lone Star State this last TV season. Coach felt jealous of a man in Mrs. Coach’s life and acted questionably as a result. Landy and Tyra had relationship quandries, and Saracen spent a couple of lonely nights. Tim made more attempts to reconnect with Tyra, whose sexual urges prove incompatible with her relationship with God Boy. Really, it was one of the least noteworthy episodes of Friday Night Lights thusfar–a pleasant ep, not one you’d tend to single out while thinking either of the classic FNL moments or the bigger “what were they thinking??” moments. In fact, so unextraordinary was the episode that it wasn’t until far after finishing that the thought really struck me:

“Wait a minute…Is that it?

Given some of the short runs the WGA strike has reduced TV’s best shows to this season, I’ve considered the 15 episodes filmed of Friday Night Lights a blessing. But what didn’t occur to me is that these 15 episodes were no doubt structured not as a season unto themselves, but as just the first 15 episodes of a 22-episode seasonal arc. But now episode #15 has aired, and it looks like that’s it for the year–NBC has already made plans to release S2 with just the eps that have already aired, so chances of the show returning before next fall seem doubtful.

Perhaps more upsettingly, it’s equally doubtful that the show will be returning after that. “I love it, you love it,” says NBC chief Ben Silverman. “Unfortunately, no one watches it. That’s the thing with shows. People have to watch them.” Kind of hard to disagree with the practicality of Silverman’s statement, especially since his estimation of an average FNL audience could probably be considered generous–Lights hasn’t produced a rating of 4.0 or better since the season premiere, and I think we’re probably beyond the “well, it just needs some time to gain it’s audience” stage. It’s time to face facts: despite everything it has going for it, this simply is not a show that was destined for mainstream success.

And so here we are, fifteen episodes down in the show’s second season, with absolutely no provided closure, and with little hope of getting any in the future. In all likelihood, we’ll never know whether or not Street’s waitress trystee decides to keep his miracle love child, whether Smash finds peace as an RB at familial but little-known Whitmore, or whether the Panthers make the playoffs and get a shot at defending their title. Hell, I don’t think we ever even found out if Julie got her driver’s license or not. Sure, there’ve been great two-season-wonder shows before–Twin Peaks, the UK Office, The Venture Bros (for now at least)–but despite their arguably premature ends, they at least got to say goodbye with a season (if not necessarily series) finale. The Twin Peaks S2 finale was like watching the end of The Empire Strikes Back with no Return of the Jedi to follow, but the FNL s2 finale was like turning off Aliens in the middle of Bill Paxton’s “GAME OVER, MAN!!” rant. No show deserves that, especially not a show as brilliant as Friday Night Lights.

But enough of all this talk about ends–let’s spend a few minutes talking about the season that was. Few would disagree that it started off a little shaky–the show could’ve ran for 14 seasons, and memories of that Landry murder storyline would’ve continued to linger unpleasantly in fan memories–and Coach being away from Dillon was just too distressing to watch a lot of the time. But once Coach reclaimed the Dillon throne, the show quickly kicked back into high gear, and if it can’t compete with the freshness of S1, there are plenty of moments in the season that rank with any of the beauts from the first–Coach telling Street how much he’s learned from him, Landry berating Tyra for acting surprised after telling her he loves her, and my personal favorite moment, Riggins listening to Lyla’s Christian talk show on his car radio and frustratedly exhorting “Damn it, Lyla!” as he realizes how much he still cares about her. Even last week’s lukewarm episode did have one all-series classic, with Coach and his ex-romantic rival (played, somewhat poetically, by show creator Peter Berg himself) agreeing “red light” at dinner before jumping across the table at each other’s throats.

You will, of course, notice a plot element missing from all these highlights–football. Indeed, with the show’s producers deciding that FNL was more marketable as a “woman’s program,” the football content took a definite backseat this season, especially once Coach was Home Sweet Home for good. It’s hard to say that the show really suffered from it–indeed, this show was never really as much about the football as it was the people whose lives it impacted–but you did kind of miss moments like Saracen’s miraculous first Hail Mary in the pilot, the unforgettable Mud Bowl episode later in the season, and even simpler moments like Riggins, Saracen, Smash and Street gathering on the field Dazed & Confused style and just goofing around in the arena where they all felt the most comfortable. With characters like this, the show could be about mini-golf, but the gradual phasing out of the athletic aspect entirely might’ve been a dangeorus trend for the show’s future.

But really, this was a show whose future could still have been very bright. I would’ve loved to see the show’s first wave of teenagers no longer being indespensible fixtures of the show, but rather being replaced in the third season by a new wave of kids, with new problems and new drama. This was the advantage the show really had moving into the future–since the true protagonists of Lights were Eric and Tami, they could’ve avoided the inevitable downfall of most Teen TV shows when the cast graduates by simpy letting them graduate and move on. It could’ve kept the show fresh through almost countless seasons, as well as allowing it to become one of the most reliable showcases of new acting talent to be found in popular entertainment.

Therein lies the problem, and maybe the solution as well. Like I said previously, Lights was never meant to be viewed as “popular entertainment”–the plot elements are there (sometimes even too much), but they’re filmed, written and acted in a way that feels far too real (gritty, unfrilled, non-televisual, whatever) for mass appeal. But what if the show just moved away from the majors? Given TNT’s oft-stated claim to Know Drama, or USA’s ofter-stated promise of Characters being Welcome, FNL could fit like a glove on either, while not having to live up to the significantly loftier ratings standards of NBC. But I think the show should maybe go even farther, and relocate all the way to IFC or Sundance, where in terms of look and rhythm, the show would be almost indistinguishable from most of the channels’ lineups. What’s more, it could set a precedent for the indie film world embracing the possibilities of the televisual format–the previous reluctance of which being one of the reasons why keeping a show like Friday Night Lights alive is so unfeasible in this day and age. Not everything can go to HBO.

No matter how you look at it, though, I think it’s hard to argue that we weren’t lucky to get as much of this show as we did. For the next generation of upcoming TV mavericks, I’d like to think that FNL was around for long enough to show that not all shows about teens have to be One Tree Hill, not all shows about sports have to be Arli$$, not all shows about a married couple have to be The King of Queens, not all shows adapted from movies have to be Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and hey, not all shows about the South have to be My Name is Earl. Perhaps most importantly, Friday Night Lights showed that you didn’t have to run from TV–the cliches, the contrivances, the character types–to make television that was urgent, innovative, and unbelievably moving.

Shine on, Dillon.

R.I.P. Friday Night Lights, 2006-2008 (?)

Posted in Eugoogly, Time of the Season | 1 Comment »

For the Love of God: No More “Will Ferrell as Dumb Athlete!” Movies

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 17, 2008

Semi-Pro: The Legendary Ballad of Glory of Jackie Moon

You know what it is? It’s arrogance. I don’t know if it’s on the part of Ferrell, his producers, or the studio execs that keep greenlighting these movies, but it’s unbelievable arrogance. To think that a comedic setup is so funny, so irresistible, that it can remain invincible through minor variation after minor variation–it’s hubris, plain and simple. Not even The Ramones were able to get away with that forever, and I am sorry Will Ferrell, but you, sir, are no Ramones.

Yes, I loved Anchorman as much as anyone, sure–back then, Will Ferrell’s style felt so new that I even had to watch it a couple times to really wrap my head around why it was so funny. But it really was hilarious, a blend of satire, slapstick and absurdism that was as fresh as any comedy of the new millenium. And the couple other Frat Packers that Ferrell was in around that time–Old School, Wedding Crashers, Starsky & Hutch–they weren’t quite as great, but they were good enough, different enough, funny enough to make their similarity in humor and cast entirely forgivable.

But then came Talladega Nights. In itself, Talladega Nights wasn’t terrible–it’s definitely watchable, thanks in large part to the support of Gary Cole and John C. Reilly–but it was the start of a dangerous trend. For one thing, Ferrell’s character was essentially a southern-friend duplicate of his Ron Burgundy character. For another, the plot structure was virtually identical to Anchorman‘s, as a slow-witted but beloved cultural icon at the top of his game experiences a downfall, is abandoned by friends and loved ones, learns valuable lessons about sharing and compassion, and ends up back on top. And finally, and perhaps most relevantly to this entry, it was set in the world of sports.

All three of these things were once again, not quite so bad when it was just Talladega Nights–a two and a half star movie at best, but one whose status as a Sunday Afternoon Basic Cable Classic is nonetheless fairly assured. But then came Blades of Glory, and it became clear that these movies were starting to be like copies from a Xerox machine running low on toner. You had all the same elements as Anchorman and Talladega–dumb pro fucks up, learns lesson, gets back–but this one didn’t even really change the setting, transforming it from the world of NASCAR to the world of pro ice skating. It was a fruitful breeding ground for more LOL GAY jokes, but besides that, the humor was the exact same as that of Talladega Nights.

Which brings us to Semi-Pro. You’ve no doubt seen the commercials by now, and you probably know the basic plot–Ferrell as Jackie Moon, a one-hit wonder turned ABA basketball franchise owner/athlete who has to resort to crazy crowd-pleasing tactics to boost attendance before the league is folded. OK, so maybe a little bit of the formula has been tinkered with at least, cool. But, c’mon–another WACKY FERRELL ATHLETE movie? Are they just going to keep going down a checklist of major sports, until eventually we get WACKY FERRELL ULTIMATE FRISBEE nad WACKY FERRELL WATER POLO movie?

That picture up there should say it all, really. Five years ago, a picture of a headbanded, scantily clothed and fro’d-out Ferrell, especially one with that half-joker, half-sexual predator look in his eyes, might’ve very well been a source of hilarity (though frankly, I’m not even sure I can remember that long ago). But look at it now. Doesn’t it just seem like a look of total smug and narcissistic self-satisfaction? Doesn’t it seem like Ferrell feels like its about a dozen times funnier than it actually is? Doesn’t it just fill you with hate?

Actually, considering how profitable, and even sort of acclaimed, these movies continue to be, I’m probably far closer to alone on this than I’d care to be. But I mean–I know Stranger Than Fiction wasn’t a masterpiece or anything, but wasn’t it nice to see a movie where Ferrell could go entire scenes at a time without a malapropism? Doesn’t he ever get as sick of playing stupid people as I do of watching them?

Posted in For the Love of God | 7 Comments »

Blog Hiatus: 2/15-2/16

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 16, 2008

Let me know how the Slam Dunk Competition is.

Posted in Blog Hiatus | Leave a Comment »