Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Just your needing me won't make it come back

This is my 537th post over 54 months. If my recent blog activity is any indication, it will likely be my last.

I wonder if anyone still pokes around here. An abandoned blog is kind of like a ghost town. The infrastructure stands. The people are gone. Someone may pass through -- a wrong turn via a forsaken link -- but no one stays.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oscar nomination predictions

Hi, I'm alive. And as such, I will make my usual outrageous Oscar predictions. I have a hunch that Benjamin Button is facing a major turnabout and might see snubs in high places, but I'm not confident enough to remove it from my best pic shortlist. Here are the highlights of my predix:

1. The Dark Knight and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button will both get 11 nominations -- including picture, director, and adapted screenplay -- although Brad Pitt will be snubbed.

2. Two of the director slots will not match up with the best picture slots. Darren Aronofsky and Gus Van Sant will be cited, while The Wrestler and Milk will be bested for best pic slots by Wall*E and Frost/Nixon.

3. Actors nominated: Leonardo DiCaprio, Melissa Leo, Richard Jenkins, Clint Eastwood, Dev Patel.

4. Actors snubbed: Sally Hawkins, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rosemarie Dewitt, Pitt, James Franco, Taraji P. Henson.

5. Slumdog Millionaire will have 10 nominations, keeping itself in underdog status (technically). Noms will include original song for "Jai Ho."

6. Only 21 films will fill 19 categories, with Slumdog, Dark Knight and Benjamin Button hogging almost all of the technical categories. Few surprises will sneak in; the surprises will come in the shuffling of films already in the mix. The only "surprise" I can foresee is a nomination for the screenplay of The Visitor and "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" from Hamlet 2 for original song.

7. Clint Eastwood, in addition to best actor, will be nominated twice more: as composer of the original score for Changeling and as co-writer for Gran Torino's titular song.


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

FYC: Kristen Wiig in Ghost Town

In Ghost Town, Kristen Wiig doesn't do anything different from her usual Saturday Night Live schtick (the same schtick she schticked in Knocked Up). The schtick is still f*cking funny and it works in this movie, which is a charming soft-shoe into the afterlife. Wiig plays a surgeon who prepares and administers a colonoscopy to Ricky Gervais. Talk about a great comic setup.

She has two scenes -- before and after anesthesia -- and in both she exploits her masterful deadpan and clipped cadence. She's delightfully flippant in both, and adds a bit of verbal slapstick that mixes nicely with Gervais' straight man routine. Actually, when the two are sparring over whether or not Gervais died briefly during the procedure, you can't really tell who is the straight man:

WIIG: Ehhhverybody dies.
GERVAIS: Yes, but at the ends of their lives, and usually just the once.
WIIG: Ehhhverybody's different.

What a curious repeat pair of line readings. What a curious comic actor. If this is the one note Wiig has in her repertoire, then at least she can take heart that it's a good one. There are those who might say her appearance in Ghost Town is too brief to elevate it from cameo to supporting, but I say who cares. Supporting is supporting, not "second lead." It's the small gems, the quicksilver laughs. Wiig delivers them here.

This post is part of StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Blogathon. What actor would you nominate in the category?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

FYC: Hannah Bailey in American Teen

American Teen is billed as a documentary -- about what it means to be a high schooler in the United States in the 21st century -- and that's what it is, I suppose. It is a document. I saw it several times over the summer (for professional reasons). The first time I thought it was cute. The second time I thought it was cheap. And the third time I thought the film's glossy packaging, re-staged moments, and adherence to the narrative conventions of fiction made it a document about a generation raised in front of screens. This movie is not about real-life high school as much as it is about a generation who has been raised by television, and movies, and cell phones, and technologies that keep us occupied in a fantasy land instead of engaging us in the real world. This generation (my generation) knows how to present itself on camera, and its members know what's expected of them after "action." They know how their peers act on MTV and Bravo reality shows. And with American Teen, they had a director whose vision seemed about as real as The Real World.

I'm not suggesting Hannah Bailey is a fictional character. She is a real woman who had a real high school experience during which real things happened. I'm not suggesting her triumphs and problems were manufactured. But never once in American Teen does she forget the camera is watching her. By virtue of her natural traits and her screen savvy, Hannah is the heart and soul of the movie: pretty, charismatic, hip, nerdy in an endearing way, kind of a real-life Juno. American Teen director Nanette Burstein wisely focuses on Hannah, who has the necessary charisma and self-awareness to "carry a movie." And the two collaborate to create one of the more endearing characters onscreen in 2008.

Hannah Bailey laughs, cries, drinks, rocks out on the guitar, descends into depression, yearns to get out of her podunk town, and finally hops in a car and heads West. And we do all these things with her. All of these disparate events are packaged like a coming-of-age movie, with a beginning, middle and end. Hannah must perform when monologuing to the camera, when going through the natural beats of her story, when re-living the beats of her story that the camera missed the first time around. She knows the camera is there, and she knows what lines and actions will make a good scene (she gets more laughs and votes of sympathy than any of the other "characters"). Maybe the Hannah Bailey onscreen is the same as Hannah Bailey in real life. But when you know you're on camera, and you have a director who reinforces this self-awareness, and you have been raised in a media-savvy world...

Well, when the camera starts rolling, you become a character and you give a performance. And Hannah Bailey's was a memorable one, for more reasons than one.

This post is part of StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Blogathon. What actor would you nominate in the category?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Oh Sister James...

I have doubts. I have such doubts.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Fix Is In: Election Reflection

I have only one memory of the 2000 election. This may be because I was a senior in high school and the world outside of me didn’t exist. The memory is from the limbo between Election Day and the Supreme Court ruling that finally gave us a president-elect. One of my Jesuit teachers plodded around the hallways of my Buffalo school mumbling, “The fix is in.” Every day. “The fix is in.”

He was talking about the election. I didn’t really know what he meant, until “the fix” turned into the next eight years of life.

I turned 18 on Sept. 11, 2001. It was my second week at college in Washington.

I have three memories from that day. I remember seeing, from the top floor of my dorm room, a spire of black smoke on the horizon. I remember, like everyone else, a blinding blue sky. I remember, at night, watching a man walk on the giant granite world map on the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the streetlights went from green to yellow to red to green even though there were no cars. The man flicked on his lighter over New York, then did the same over the Middle East, then sat down in the south of Spain.

The next seven years, for me, were like a prolonged vacation. College was fine. I lived abroad. I spent the best summers of my life at home, with friends, doing theatre. I interned at three fabulous publications before settling at the most fabulous of them all, where I have been gainfully employed with benefits. I have friends and a family who have provided for me. I have, in essence, skipped like a stone over the muck. I have been care-free, careless, as self-involved as I was in high school.

During this time, the country got away from me, from us. I blame myself. But I also blame the political climate in which I came of age. It was fearful, muddled, cynical, backward, conducive to complacency, unresponsive to the needs of the people, predicated on vulnerabilities sprung from a cataclysm. The climate appealed to the worst in us, which made a lot of us remain on the sidelines; who wants to play a game that is rigged from the start? Among all of our breathtaking national failures, the worst is still, I think, the episode of prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib. Invading another country, arresting people, depriving them of due process and humiliating them — all under the guise of spreading a democracy that we ourselves don’t wholly practice — simply invalidates the United States of America as an idea. And without that idea on which we were founded, we don’t have much. How did Abu Ghraib happen? Complacency. We do what we want, consequences be damned.

It doesn’t make sense to blame one person. Sure, George W. Bush can be faulted for allowing corruption to smother him and his country. His was a poor example. But he was not the lone actor. Everyone who stood and watched can be faulted too. The United States of America has grown rich enough to allow many of its citizens to create their own self-sufficient worlds, cut off from circumstance. Wrapped in these cocoons, we have ignored those who need our help, our power and our voice. We have ignored ourselves. We let government get away with things because we thought it wouldn’t affect our own lives.

I became an adult on Sept. 11, but almost immediately I reverted back to the pupa stage, which is where I’ve remained. Until, I think, now. A prolonged war and an imminent depression has snapped me out of it. We created a savior when we needed one, and Barack Obama has gamely played the part. There appears to be, to our great luck, a good deal of substance behind his spectacle.

If I wasn’t a pseudo-journalist, I would express the elation of witnessing the election of a new president after being slowly and systematically beaten down by the current political climate. I would express the thundering wonder of watching a nation of PEOPLE — not inherited wealth or age-old political machines — launch a candidate to the the land’s highest office. I would express the admiration for a man who, if nothing else, appeals to the best of us. And that's a great start.

When the election was called last night at 11 p.m., I was at 14th and U streets, ground zero of the 1968 race riots of Washington. Forty years after buildings were burned, an entire city took to the streets with unchecked jubilation to celebrate the election of a biracial president. A drum circle on the corner reached a fever pitch, and passersby swarmed. Inside bars and restaurants, patrons pounded against the windows at the those watching the TVs from outside. Any object available to stand on was stood on, and the blare of car horns almost drowned out the repeated shouts of "Oh my God!" as strangers high-fived each other and fell into embraces. I have never seen or felt anything like it. I will keep three memories from yesterday: the sound of the car horns, the smell of damp pavement, and the sight of “Barack Obama Elected President” first sweeping onto the TV screen and sending a giant tremor up and down the street.

After absorbing the scene, I cabbed back to the Post to write three sentences of copy that wouldn’t be used. The frantic newsroom paused to watch Obama’s midnight speech at Grant Park and then resumed the work of stilling history into words and images.

Then I went to the White House, where hundreds pressed toward the gates. The mansion was dark both inside and out. Versailles was finally surrounded. The people have acted to protect themselves. A crowd of young people sang “God Bless America” toward the White House. The last time I witnessed a similar scene, it was 2001, days after 9/11, when the city converged on the Mall to mourn. Eight years later, something is finally worth celebrating. Most of the crowd appeared college-aged. How nice to become an adult on a promising note. Let’s not squander that promise.

In spite of the stunning errors of the current government, this election was not really about the issues. A president cannot solve a problem with a scribble of his pen. This election has always been about empowerment. Barack Obama won the presidency because he recognizes that a nation operates best when entrusted to the industry, altruism and vision of its citizens. And we needed to be reminded of that.

We worked together on these past eight years. We made them miserable for ourselves. Maybe it was necessary to our evolution. Maybe the first decade of the 21st century was equal to a young person’s adolescence, when bad decisions are made from a position of intense self-involvement. Everyone is forced to grow up sooner or later.

I said before that it doesn’t make sense to blame one person for a nation’s ills. It also does not make sense to invest hope in one person. Chants of “Yes We Can” turned to “Yes We Did” last night, and that made me nervous. The reparation of the country is not over. It has barely started: California voters, led chiefly by minorities, defeated same-sex marriage yesterday. Separate-but-equal. Still. Even on this momentous day. This further proves the election of a president is, at the start, an inspirational formality. Obama may be a great leader, but the country will not meet that standard unless its citizens do.

Perhaps today is a first step toward national adulthood, but it must be a collective step. The American people have proven they can send a man to the White House against all odds. Now, we must realize our powers do not stop there. The fix is in, but the fixing is ours to accomplish.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Station identification

Sometimes my professional life demands that I write about movies, so that's where I've been this past week: watching a crap-ton of apocalyptic flicks and writing down errant thoughts. Apologies for not keeping up. However! Last night friends and I watched both Ghostbusters movies back to back. We used a projector and aimed it at a big wall in the house, so it was a borderline theatrical experience. So I hope to continue with the Ghostbusters@25 series soon.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bette without a butt

Roger Ebert is flourishing as a blogger. The freedom agrees with him. Currently he has a great post on the new Bette Davis stamp, for which her ever-present cigarette was erased: (look at that pose! The erasure is laughably obvious):

Look, I hate smoking. It took my parents from me, my father with lung cancer, my mother with emphysema. [...] On the other hand, I have never objected to smoking in the movies, especially when it is necessary to establish a period or a personality. [...] If virtually all actresses smoked, Bette Davis smoked more than virtually all actresses. When she appeared on the Tonight Show the night after she co-hosted the Oscars, she walked onstage, shook Johnny's hand, sat down, pulled out her Vantages, and lit up. Tumultuous applause. I would guess it is impossible for an impressionist to do Bette Davis without using a cigarette.

Related post: The censors take on filters: Casting a pall (mall) on the alluring, noirish cool of the movies.

Friday, October 10, 2008

This weekend, vacation in Crawford

Hulu is out with its first movie premiere: Crawford, a documentary about the Texas town in which Bush "lives." It's a small masterpiece -- a short, sad, clear-headed look at how the sentiments of a small town are italicized (and then eroded) by the residency of a sitting president. It starts off slow but picks up around minute 30, when Crawford reveals itself as a pressure-cooked microcosm of a divided U.S.A. It turns heartbreaking in the last 15 minutes, when we see what the withering blast of "with us or against us" does when trained on only 700 people. Bravo to director David Modigliani (his first credit) and his crew.

Via The House Next Door.

Marge Gunderson interviews Sarah Palin

This mash-up needed to be done. But the scene in which Marge Gunderson sautées Jerry Lundegaard in politeness would've been a better pick. Couldn't fine the scene on the YouTubes, dammit. Someone get on that.