February 28, 2011

Oscars Telecast Recap

The Oscars show was disjointed, old-fashioned, atonal, but, at least it wasn't as long as it used to be! Regardless of who actually won, I give the show a D-plus. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

The opening Inception parody was OK, especially when they rode into True Grit on horseback, and James Franco tells Jeff Bridges "I loved you in TRON."

Anne Hathaway during the opening monologue: "This was a great year for... lesbians! In general, and in the movies!"

Ninety-four-year-old Kirk Douglas, literally the oldest award presenter they could find, was charming, spontaneous and genuine, even if his earlobes terrify me. I loved his comment "I was nominated three times and never won!" Movie stars never change.

Melissa Leo dropping the F-bomb "...two years ago Kate (Winslet's speech) made it look so f---ing easy." BOOM!

Boys? Table 6 is waiting for their hot wings!
I think some of the winners were as excited to meet the presenters (Kirk Douglas, Oprah) as to win the actual Oscar.

Trent Reznor won an Oscar, just like Eminem and Bruce Springsteen.

Auto-Tune-ing movies, turning Deathly Hallows, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, Twilight, etc, into musicals? One of the few moments where the show felt relevant and contemporary.

After Marisa Tomei summarized this year's technical awards, James Franco chimes in "Congratulations, nerds."

Sandra Bullock engaging each nominee personally. Too Jeff Bridges: "Dude! Didn't you just win last year? How about you give someone else a chance?" The awards need more of this personal engagement. Don't all these people know each other? Why can't it be more congenial?

I really like the live singing (Celine Dion this year) during the In Memoriam montage.

The Bad

The first thing after the opening monologue was a half-hearted tribute to Gone With The Wind. They didn't even show any clips, just Tom Hanks saying how great it was, then they moved on to something else.

Franco makes a "Winter's Bone" joke? Didn't Mike Myers make that joke on SNL a month ago?

I am all in favor of a tribute to great movie scores, but who chose Star Wars, E.T., and West Side Story to honor? Has no one written a great score in the last 30 years?

Billy Crystal honoring Bob Hope? Really? Aren't there any LESS relevant icons they could honor?

Randy Newman wins Best Song again. The other nominees included a standard Alan Mencken ballad from "Tangled", and a mood piece with, like, three notes, from "127 Hours". This category seems less relevant than ever.

I don't like Gwyneth Paltrow anyway, but her flat, brittle singing of her Best Song nominee was embarrassing. After the last note, you could tell by the scowl on her face that she wasn't happy with it either.

The president of the Academy plus a bigwig from ABC-TV got onstage to announce what a great job ABC does airing the show every year, and how they just signed a contract extension. WHO CARES?! This had to be included on the show?

Oprah hasn't made a movie in 13 years, yet she was onstage presenting Documentary Feature? Coincidentally she's hosting her show from the Oscar stage today. Pretty cozy deal she's lined up.

Anne Hathaway introducing Sandra Bullock as if she were a saint. She's a classy lady who had a shitty year, not Mother Teresa mixed with Meryl Streep.

Why is there a brief and meaningless tribute to the birth of sound film? Another nostalgic look back which contains no actual content and goes nowhere either.

I appreciate the idea of hiring two young, relevant, ostensibly funny actors to host the ceremony, but James and Anne did not match up, their tone was totally imbalanced: James Franco seemed to be totally disengaged, as if he was too cool to act like he cared about movies. Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway was a tireless manic cheerleader, who never missed a chance to mention what introducing the next presenter meant to her. Also, all the whooping was obnoxious.

The Ugly

Three of the most exciting and relevant directors working today (Darren Aronofsky, David Fincher, and David O Russell) are nominated for Best Director and Best Picture... and the statuettes go to Tom Hooper and his very pleasant and well acted but totally old-fashioned King's Speech instead.

February 21, 2011

130 Warm Spell

  1. "Silly Love Songs" GLEE Cast Version: I won't apologize for loving this supremely uncool song.
  2. "Plane" Jason Mraz
  3. "I Still Have That Other Girl" Elvis Costello & Burt Bachrach
  4. "Find My Way" The Gabe Dixon Band: the opening credits song from the Sandra Bullock movie The Proposal.
  5. "Gimme Shelter" The Rolling Stones
  6. "Rolling In The Deep" Adele: This whole mix revolves around the awesome song. It totally gives me chills. "Gimme Shelter" is as close as I could come to equaling the drama and goosebumps it evokes.
  7. "Dead American Writers" Tired Pony
  8. "Learning To Fly" Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
  9. "Settled Down Like Rain" The Jayhawks
  10. "Ring of Fire" Johnny Cash
  11. "Home" Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes
  12. "She Runs Away" Duncan Sheik: I have this on an promo only alternative music sampler from 1997.
  13. "Rain In The Summertime" The Alarm
  14. "3,000 Miles" (remix) Ellis Paul [from Sweet Mistakes]
  15. "Windows Are Rolled Down" The first time I heard this new Amos Lee song, I was instantly reminded of "3,000 Miles."
  16. "Run Through The Fields" Does anyone else remember Nuclear Valdez? I have this on a promo only alternative music sampler from 1990.
  17. "Hi Hi Hi" Wings
  18. "Jungle Love" Steve Miller Band
  19. "Battlestar Galactica Theme" Jonathan Coulton feat/John Hodgman: Who knew there were words to the Battlestar Galactica theme song?
  20. "Valerie" Mark Ronson feat/Amy Winehouse

February 8, 2011

129 Twenty Eleven

  1. "I Got More Than A Feeling" A clever mashup of Boston vs. Black Eyed Peas, from Mad Mix Mustang. Found on Best of Bootie 2009
  2. "Fuck You" Cee Lo Green
  3. "Garbage Truck" Sex Bob-Omb
  4. "Down By The Water" The opening drums-and-harmonica of this new Decemberists song reminds me of a song... or maybe many many songs?
  5. "Settled Down Like Rain" The Jayhawks
  6. "Rocks Off" The Old 97s cover the Rolling Stones (and R.E.M. too!) on their 2010 Mimeograph EP.
  7. "Up Around The Bend" Creedence Clearwater Revival
  8. "Bossa Nova Baby" This Elvis Presley song was featured during a montage in the movie No Strings Attached.
  9. "California Gurls" (feat. Snoop Dogg) Katy Perry
  10. "Rush" I chose this Big Audio Dynamite II song because it pokes fun at stuffy English aristocracy in the same way the following track does...
  11. "You're A Good Man Albert Brown (Curse You Red Barrel)" The Dukes Of Stratosphear was a 1960s-psychedelic pop side project of XTC. This song has a rustic English beer-barrel pub atmosphere mixed in.
  12. "Effington" Ben Folds Presents : University A Cappella! includes many terrific university groups. This particular track is Ben multi-tracked over and over (with some help from his kids!)
  13. "It Won't Be Long" The Beatles: has some of the same antic energy as "Effington."
  14. "Ain't Good Enough For You" Bruce Springsteen writes these inconsequential freewheeling party rockers all the time, but they usually don't make it onto the album. This one is no different. Bruce recorded it during the Darkness On The Edge of Town sessions. Obviously it doesn't fit with that album's atmosphere, so he sat on it, until the 2010 release of The Promise.
  15. "Stop Playing With My Heart" A fascinating "concept" album, with a authentic 1980s vibe, from Ryan Adams & The Cardinals.
  16. "I'll Be Alright Without You" Journey
  17. "Caravan" Van Morrison
  18. "Boys Don't Cry" I heard this Grant-Lee Phillips cover of the Cure song on his all-covers CD nineteeneighties, and years later on an episode of How I Met Your Mother.
  19. "Stay Gold" Stevie Wonder recorded this treacly ballad in the early 1980s for the movie Rumble Fish. I thought Emily was pulling my leg when she told me this story... until I found it on iTunes!
  20. "Stand Together" The Beastie Boys

February 4, 2011

Catching Up With Toy Story 3

I have struggled to see Pixar movies in the theater. The audiences for childrens' movies tend to be filled with children! I finally saw Toy Story 3 on DVD, after everyone on Earth told me how terrific it is, how it will make us all cry forever, and so on. I hold Pixar up to a very high standard.* Eleven years after the first terrific Toy Story sequel, Pixar does not NEED this franchise anymore, so they must have had a good reason to return to it.
Too bad #3 feels like a rewrite of #2. It's as good as #2, but that's not a good enough reason for me! Plenty of spoilers ahead...

In the first two movies, it was easy to draw parallels between the toys' lives and our own. Like the toys, our lives only have meaning as long as someone loves us. In this third movie, the toys' motivations are much less clear. The little boy Andy is now grown up and going off to college, so the toys are bound for the dorm room, or the attic, or the trash. What fate will Andy choose for each of them? Andy chooses to take Woody to college with him, which doesn't seem so great to me: it's only a matter of time before he's turned into a bong. Andy chooses the attic for the remainder of the toys, but due to some clunky plot machinations, they think they've been condemned to the garbage. The toys rationalize that the attic is not so bad; they can play with other toys "and the Christmas decorations are fun." This sounds like a desperate screenwriter in denial to me. The only fates which make any emotional sense to the audience are A> Donated to a young child (reborn), or B> garbage (death). Some kind of dusty purgatory in the attic sounds like a fate worse than the garbage heap. How'd you like to be locked in the attic until the next generation has kids of their own?

After some more implausability, Woody and all the rest end up at a day care center. The toys are all thrilled to be saved from the dump. Win-win, right? Wrong: the toys are ruled with an iron fist by the folksy Southern gentle-bear Lotso. The day care center is a prison for toys: the strong and powerful enjoy a cushy life with the older kids, while the new recruits (our gang) are sent down to be tormented by the toddlers. Are we being told that day care is a living nightmare? That toddlers are terrible monsters? This "day care as prison" metaphor works on the surface, but it only serves as an obstacle to discussing the bigger theme of these movies: what is our purpose in life? Eventually the toys are convinced that anything is better than prison, and besides, Woody's going to miss freshman orientation if they don't bust him out.

Of course their prison escape route is through the garbage chute, and they all end up at the dump anyway. An extremely frightening sequence follows where the toys resign themselves to certain death in the incinerator. This scene disturbed me, and I'm a grown man. I don't see how this movie can be rated G with a scene like this, which would give any child nightmares.

They don't get incinerated, they end up back at Andy's house. Then, through a total cheat of the rules of the Toy Story world**, all the toys are donated to a young girl, just like we knew had to happen somehow.

Now that I've finished poking holes in it, it's NOT as good as number 2. They didn't really need to make another sequel. I'm sorry they did. Then again, they've made Cars 2, a sequel to my least-favorite Pixar movie. Aieee!

*The only two which I don't completely love are A Bug's Life, and Cars. I watched UP on DVD while distracted by caring for my newborn son, so I don't have an opinion of it yet!

**At the end of the movie, all the toys are in a cardboard box in Andy's room. Woody grabs a Post-It note and pen, then forges a message from Andy's mother which convinces Andy to give all his toys to a little girl down the street. The only other time I can remember Woody intervening like this is when he talks to Sid at the end of the first movie. I am sure fans of the movie will say "how is this different from all the other things they do while our backs are turned?" but it felt totally wrong to me.