Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Completely Uninformed Analysis of Tonight's Best Picture Race

Since my son arrived, I have seen exactly two movies in a theater. The first one was Joss Whedon’s Avengers, which lived up to every single insane and unnatural expectation I had for it AND had Robert Downey Jr. The second was Les Miserables, which lived up to its name in that it made me very miserable. But we’ll get to that in a second.

Never one to let a complete lack of knowledge and experience slow me down, I would like to offer up my assessments of tonight’s Oscar races, based solely on hearsay and fabrication, which should give you some idea of why I never went into the practice of law.

Here we go:

Several times now, I’ve driven by the theater where Amour is playing and based on the empty parking lot, I’m giving this one less than half a percent chance of winning Best Picture. I heard this movie is super depressing so I’m guessing it's only been nominated because the Academy feels guilty for wishing they could have nominated Avengers. This is their cinematic penance for secretly loving when Hulk smash things.

I heard a review of Argo and 10 minutes of a Ben Affleck interview with Terry Gross on NPR, so I feel pretty solid with my assessment of the picture. Terry Gross and the NPR critic both seemed close to wetting themselves in enthusiasm over this movie, so I think it's got a really got shot at winning. Plus, Affleck gave Alan Arkin a role in a movie, and should win based on that alone. 

I know nothing about Beasts of the Southern Wild aside from the fact that the title makes me think of The Lion King, although I am 100 percent certain it does not feature a humorous performance by Nathan Lane. The art house theater where this movie played had a very full parking lot during its run, so I’m thinking it will finish well ahead of Amour in the voting. There was, however, a new restaurant that opened next to the theater during the run, so I may be giving it too much credit.

I so wanted Django Unchained to be about legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt turning into a giant King Kong-like monster who gets accidentally unchained and let loose on Bonnaroo. It is not about this at all apparently. I do look forward to seeing it and being equal parts entertained and horrified as I am with any Quentin Tarantino movie. But I don't think he'll pull out the win tonight. Maybe if he'd listened to my original idea...

You should know this about me and Les Miserables. I love the book – I’ve read the unabridged version twice and cried each time at Jean Valjean’s demise (sorry, spoilers). I’ve seen the stage version twice in Detroit, once in New York and once in London. Loved them all, so you can imagine how excited I was to see the movie version, directed by the man who helmed another favorite of mine, The King’s Speech. So I settled into my seat a few weeks ago, popcorn in hand, ready to be dazzled – and of course, I hated it with a fiery passion. Hugh Jackman was a terrible, whiny, Lifetime Channel version of Jean Valjean and I wanted Anne Hathaway’s Fantine to die before she even opened her mouth. Even the production quality was terrible – why was every extra made up to look like they’d wandered off the set of The Walking Dead? (Poverty makes you poor; it doesn't give you leprosy.) And why was Sacha Baron Cohen the only actor to French it up with his accent? Shouldn’t they all have gotten on the same page with that one before production started? As someone who has seen Manos: The Hands of Fate multiple times, I have sat through (and exited) worse movies but few have been as disappointing to me as this one.

That said, I’m putting my money on it to win Best Picture because in my heart, I know this is Shakespeare in Love versus Saving Private Ryan all over again.

My husband owned a paperback of Life of Pi but lost it in a move before either of us had a chance to read it. Based on the commercials, though, it looks pretty cool. How is the guy in the boat going to feed that tiger? How?? I am intrigued but obviously not enough to go to the trouble of seeing it. I give this low odds of Best Picture success.

Wow, did I want to see Lincoln but I chose Les Miz that day instead. I read the book upon which Lincoln is based, though, and can say with absolute certaintly that it should win the Oscar for Best Writing of a Book That Spielberg Will Totally Want To Turn Into a Movie. Seriously, if you haven’t read Team of Rivals and if you have even modest interest in government and the Civil War, go read this book. Right now. And then let me know if you end up having just the slightest crush on William Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state, or if that’s just a weird thing I’ll have to cope with on my own. As great as the book is, I don’t think Lincoln will win Best Picture because I have a feeling Hollywood is all like, “Yeah, Spielberg, we know you’re great. Just shut up about it already.” I hope I’m wrong though.

Everyone I know who has seen Silver Linings Playbook says this is an amazing movie, and I’m willing to believe those high marks despite the presence of Bradley Cooper, who has baffled me in his popularity since the first days of Alias. I’d love to see a movie like this take the big trophy home, if only to reward what sounds like a pretty original idea.

I keep getting Zero Dark Thirty confused with the new Anthony Edwards/X-Files rip-off on ABC that likely will be canceled by the time I finish this sentence. (No? Maybe tomorrow.) My husband was supposed to go see Zero Dark Thirty but it never plays during nap time so he couldn't go and now I don’t have a reliable opinion on this entry. I heard it was fairly brutal, possibly inaccurate, has enraged at least one Navy SEAL and features an actress who has been contracted to play the lead in apparently every Hollywood movie made from here on out. All of which makes it too controversial, I think, to win the big enchilada.

So there it is. I predict Les Miz as Best Picture and also predict that Seth McFarlane will make penis jokes. I’m only going for sure things here… 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Abrams Over Lucas: Why Ford Will Have the Greatest Star Wars Experience Of His Life

"I swear I used pressure-treated wood on those cabinets."
You may recall last week a rumor surfaced that Harrison Ford will be involved in the next Star Wars movie as Han Solo and not as Han Solo's older grizzled neighbor shooing Ewoks off his lawn. Personally, I think this is great news, although I can understand others whose adolescence was not officially launched by the sight of Harrison Ford shooting stormtroopers being less than thrilled with the news because hey, now there's an old guy cluttering up my J.J. Abrams movie. However the audience ends up feeling about this, though, Harrison Ford should be feeling extremely lucky that it's Abrams and Disney and not George Lucas resurrecting this behemoth of a franchise.

Why? Oh, because:

1) Ford will get to go to a set and interact with other humans and enjoy the bounty of craft service rather than calling in his lines over a dodgy cell phone line and being CGI'd onto the body of a make-believe Ryan Reynolds. This would absolutely happen with a Lucas version. He does it every Christmas with his family gatherings. FACT. (Not really.)

2) Abrams and Disney will spring for real live screenwriters (like Lawrence Kasdan) who can write with words and such. George Lucas would hire himself again. But George Lucas cannot write. To be more specific, he cannot write dialogue that does not make you wish for the return of silent film. The most common expression on the face of past Star Wars actors is one of shame. Ford likely won't have to be embarrassed cashing in on this payday. He'll still be angry and crazy, but not embarrassed.

3) Ford will experience the shining glory of a lens flare. As my brilliant friend Mickie once said, "Harrison Ford was a carpenter. Just like Jesus." So true. And now he'll have the lighting to match.

4) Ford won't have to hear about how his carpentry work has gone to hell. To whit:
Lucas: Remember that cabinet you built for me in 1974? The one next to the fridge? It creaks like a Jawa Sandcrawler. Every single time I reach for the peanut butter.
Ford: George, I'm in the middle of riding a Taunton.
Lucas: I think you should have used pressure-treated wood. Did you use pressure-treated wood?
Ford: I don't remember.
Lucas: Did you keep the receipt?
Ford: I don't think...
Lucas: Can you check with your accountant?
Production assistant trying to hold Taunton head bursts an abdominal hernia. And scene...

5) If all goes well, Abrams and Disney also will hire Carrie Fisher to reprise her role as Princess Leia. Fisher will score Ford the greatest prescription narcotics known to man. Harrison Ford will never feel better and will give the greatest performance of his career. Oscar = in the bag.  

These movies are going to be awesome.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Five Best Toddler Shows

There was a time when I was knowledgable about film and television and even knew who approximately 50 percent of the people were on the Grammys. Those days are long gone and instead, my brain is filled with characters, theme songs and potential plush tie-ins from the Sprout channel line-up. Created by PBS, Sprout is designed specifically for toddlers and pre-schoolers. That doesn't mean it's not weird though, as evidenced by an Icelandic show called Lazy Town which features nightmare- inducing puppets and a former gymnast. But we'll get to that later. For any moms out there or anyone that just wants to take a trip into the toddler's version of HBO, here are my top Sprout shows.

1) Justin Time
Premise: Young Canadian* boy daydreams of traveling through time with his imaginary friend Olive and a shamwow named Squidgy.
Rating: 5 out of five sippy cups

Seriously, I'd probably watch this show even if I didn't have a child. The animation is gorgeous with kind of a retro Jetsons look that I love. Justin is a nice kid with no horrible habits, Olive is cute as a button and strong and capable to boot. I'm kind of hoping her example is being rooted in my son's subconscious because I would love for him to bring a girl like that home one day. And honestly, the little dishrag character is super cute too. Each episode teaches something about a past era or a different country. One episode even had the main characters rescuing a space chimp! NBC wishes they had a show this good in their prime time lineup.

2) Fireman Sam
Premise: In the Welsh town of Pontypandy, there is one competent fire fighter and his name is Sam. Each episode, he rescues one of the apparently six members of the town, most frequently, the incredibly annoying Norman who I can't help but wish gets plucked from the hillside by an eagle.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of five sippy cups
Fireman Sam kicks ass. The animation is great and the Welsh accents allow me to pretend I'm watching the tamest episode of Torchwood ever produced. Oh and my son loves the action, but I'm pretty sure he hates Norman too.

3) Caillou
Premise: Four year old Canadian boy learns life lessons as he grows - yet weirdly enough remains four. He's had like three Christmases in one year...
Rating: 4 1/2 out of five sippy cups
Poor Caillou takes a lot of flack because the character purportedly whines a lot but I've never had a problem with it because they always explain the reasons he's upset. I really think the show is well-done and has good lessons about patience and kindness. Plus it features my all-time favorite episode of any Sprout show, which I like to call "The Emasculation of Caillou's Father," in which the family car breaks down and Caillou, his little sister and dad are forced to spend time in the local garage where Caillou's dad is subtly berated for not being able to fix a radiator with his bare hands by the side of the road. Meanwhile, Caillou's mom is flirting with the waiter and drinking wine waiting for her erstwhile family to arrive - and hoping they take their own sweet time. Some communications major should be writing their thesis on this thing.

4) 64 Zoo Lane
Premise: A little girl named Lucy is kidnapped each night, Lindbergh-style, by a giraffe and taken to a zoo where she hears stories of life in the wild, as told by different, now-caged animals. It becomes really sad if you think about it too much.
Rating: 4 out of five sippy cups
The animals are cute and the stories teach good lessons about friendship and kindness. And did I mention the animals were cute? Main character could be replaced by a sack of flower and the show would be none the worse for wear.

5) Kipper
Premise: English dog Kipper and his friends do incredibly innocuous things during what could only be termed their extended retirement.
Rating: 5 out of five stars from Mom; 2 1/2 out of five from the actual toddler in the house.
No one in our house likes this show but me and I LOVE IT!! It soothes me in a deeply existential way, which probably means I have some deep and profound issues, given that the show is about a bunch of hyper-literate talking animals. Here's an episode, so you can see for yourself:

Honorable mention: Dinosaur Train because someone had the brains to go into a pitch meeting and say, "Dinosaurs! And trains! And we put 'em together!" Brilliant, because there is nothing little kids love more than dinosaurs and trains AND THEY ARE TOGETHER IN THE SAME MOVING PICTURE!

And now that we've done the best, let's take a look at a few that will make any rational adult pray for thorazine-filled rain to fall from the skies...

1) Angelina Ballerina
Premise: Pretentious, self-absorbed, slightly bitchy mouse goes to arts school and dances...on my last nerve.
Rating: Negative 1 1/2 out of five sippy cups
If there is a hell, it involves me being just out of reach of a box of Oreos and being forced to watch "Angelina Ballerina" on an eternal loop. Oh my God, do I hate this show. It has no redeeming qualities and sends just chronically bad messages to children. And every episode seems to involve the arrival of a new kid at school who knows hip hop and teaches the ballerinas a little something about themselves -- inevitably leaving out the part where they're horrible.

2) Chloe's Closet
Premise: Small, weirdly shaped Australian children play dress-up and are transported to different made up lands. And they have a duck blanky that talks.
Rating: 1 out of five sippy cups
I've never dropped acid so I don't know if this is true, but I'm pretty sure Chloe's Closet is what a trip gone bad would look like. The animation is horrifying and the speech is so cloying and cutesy it makes you hate two-dimensional big-eyed characters. (Sorry all of anime! Blame it on Chloe.) I'm so sad that my son seems to be getting into this show. Just to be clear, I have no problem with him liking a show about little girls and dressing up -- great premise, nice tales of friendship. It's just skin-crawlingly weird.

3) Barney
Premise: You know what Barney is. Please don't make me explain it. Too. Painful. To. Contemplate.
Rating: Negative 5 out of five sippy cups
I have no words for Barney. I hate everything about him, and am so glad it's out of production. Luckily, my little guy seems to loathe the talking purple dinosaur as much as I do.

4) Dora the Explorer
Premise: Little girl travels around with a monkey named Boots and a talking backpack and they do stuff or something. To be honest, I've never watched a whole episode because there's too much shouting. Use your indoor voices, kids! Learn a lesson from Jack Bauer. Seriously.
Rating: 1 1/2 out of five sippy cups
I'm sure this show is fine and I know people love it but it just grates on me. Unfortunately, my kid is nuts for Dora right now. I've had to learn to draw her on his Etch-a-Sketch or else he loses his mind at bedtime. I'm hoping it's just a phase and we can stop shouting about backpacks in the near future.

5) Bob the Builder
Premise: A contractor and his talking machinery fix and build things.
Rating: 2 1/2 out of five sippy cups
Bob the Builder isn't actually that bad. I just wanted to point out the uncanny resemblance between Farmer Pickles and Toby Ziegler from The West Wing. I'm always thinking, wow, look at that steamroller building a driveway for Toby. It's kind of fun, although I keep wishing Josh would show up and yell about something. Anyway, here is photographic evidence:

Right? Uncanny.

These are the things you notice when you go down the toddler TV rabbit hole.

* I'm hoping the fact that all of my boy's favorite shows are either Canadian or British will ensure he becomes a maple-syrup loving, tree-hugging hippie with a great accent. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

So Tired: Feats of Exhaustion-Fueled Confusion, Clumsiness and Near Self-Immolation

I don't understand why people think they need alcohol to become uninhibited and stupid. All you need is to stop sleeping for 10 months straight and boom, it's like you've got a Woodchuck Cider buzz going 24/7. I know this for a fact because one, I love nothing more than a Woodchuck Cider buzz and two, as the new mother of a toddler, I've been chronically exhausted for almost a year now and it has made me painfully dumb. To whit:

  • The other night, I told my two-year-old in a very stern voice that he had better finish his spinach or he'd get a timeout. Yeah, um, we were eating chili.
  • At work, I spent three hours writing a document...that I had already written the day before.   
  • At a recent staff meeting, I laughed and shouted "hello!" when someone used the phrase "penetrating our market." I then tried to pretend it had just been a sneeze.  
  • On multiple occasions, I have tried to open my office with my house key and my house with my office key. It takes me a lot longer to get through doors than it used to.
  • A couple weeks back, I got furious because I couldn't get my coat on, only to look down and discover I had crammed my arm into my son's jacket. His gaze told me he would never respect me again. It also told me to stop stretching the fabric, fatty.
  • In the last year, I have called my son by the cat's name and vice versa approximately one million times. Son now constantly assumes he's being yelled at for climbing the curtains. 
  • I have worn two different shoes and two different socks to work, but NOT on the same day. #smallvictories
  • While making hot chocolate and thinking about marshmallows, I nearly lit my bathrobe on fire.
  • Tried repeatedly to open my car door only to realize it was not my car door and was not even my kind of car. Also not the same color. 
  • I've gotten my Paxtons and Pullmans mixed up. (For you younger kids, that's like getting your Reynolds and Goslings mixed up.) THIS SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN TO ANYONE.
Have these kinds of things happened to anyone else? What are your worst exhaustion-induced incidents? 

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Fiction, schmiction, he's still a man, isn't he?

I stumbled on this item (via @GrantaMag) this morning from Slate Magazine, listing the most attractive men in novels and poems. (The ladies are here.) And I realized, for all my susceptibility toward fictional film and TV characters, I'd never really thought about the fellows on the page. Which is probably a good thing, but still, not a bad notion to consider on a Thursday morning.

The Slate writer has a couple of good ones on the list, including Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird and Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby. The others I've never heard of or simply don't agree with. I would, though, like to add a couple of my own:

Hector from The Iliad because poor Hector tried to do all the right things and that egomaniacal, heel-susceptible jerk Achilles still did him in and then dragged him around the city walls for good measure. *Shakes fist* I will always hate you Achilles!

Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre. Okay, probably not a popular choice because he really is a jerk, too, given that he has his former wife locked up in the attic. So, poor choice in real life but on the page, well, I just can't help it. He's got the dark and broody, riding on horses, hunting with hounds, being all decisive yet conflicted thing going on. I don't know what's wrong with me, but there it is.

Jean Valjean from Les Miserables. Let me underscore that this is the Jean Valjean from the pages of a really long but really great book with a whole unnecessary 100 page interlude on the lives of 19th century French nuns. This is not the Jean Valjean of the Hugh Jackman vintage. (Yes, I hated the movie. Sorry.) True story: I cried for 20 minutes after reading Valjean's death scene. I didn't want him to go. Damn books, making me feel things...

And finally, and perhaps most disturbingly, Thomas Cromwell from Hilary Mantel's historical novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, about Henry VIII. Now, everything I've read about Cromwell says he was likely not a nice dude. At all. But the way Mantel writes him, you can't resist. He's lonely, he's driven, he's kind (okay, except to Anne Boleyn and a half dozen other characters). Most of all, though, he's hilarious. I would totally want to spend an afternoon drinking Woodchucks with the Mantel version of Cromwell. In fact, I don't know if I'll be able to read the third book in the sequel because I'm pretty sure he dies. History has the worst spoilers!

So who are your picks for attractive fictional gentlemen or ladies?

Monday, February 04, 2013

30 Rock, How I Will Miss You

Since it was the debut of 30 Rock that first inspired this blog, it seems only right to post about its end. Before 30 Rock and Liz Lemon, I never knew there were other women out there like me, who loved Star Wars and ham, who often didn't know which part of the dress was "front" and who would much rather stay home and watch "Mad Men" than go to any weird parties where people talked to each other.   What a relief to discover I was not alone.

And then to find out that this show was not just a great piece of news for my self-esteem but also ridiculously inventive, brilliant and breathtakingly funny -- well, how fabulous was that?

I will admit with shame that I skipped a season or two somewhere during 30 Rock's run, when it seemed that the humor had become less clever and inventive and more cold and mean...and not funny. Which was kind of a deal breaker. Call me old fashioned but I like my humor funny.

So I've been quietly compiling this last season on my DVR, wondering if I should even jump back into the pool. But then the reviews for the finale started coming in and fueled by nostalgia, I got up at 5 a.m., put on my earphones and watched it in the bathroom where my sleeping son wouldn't sense me playing with what he has clearly decided is his iPhone. (This is how I watch TV now. It takes me six days to watch a whole Castle between brushing my teeth and flossing.)

All of this is my long, out of practice way of saying the 30 Rock finale was perfect in every way imaginable. There was a Brian Williams joke. Great Tracy Jordan jokes. Pitch perfect satirical tear-down of mommy message boards. Lutz finally got his revenge (Blimpies!), Kenneth proved his immortality and even Jenna was funny, as she finally experienced heartbreak with the removal of her dressing room mirror. But best of all, there was my dear Jack Donaghy's shipboard confession of platonic love -- a speech that managed to be poetic, beautiful, charming and still include the phrase "scale bone mountain." Everything I had loved about 30 Rock was perfectly encapsulated in that one short scene.

I will miss you, 30 Rock. But I promise you this -- I will use the word "hogcock" in a sentence (out loud and not just in my head) at least once this year. It's the least I can do for a show that gave me so much.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

The Lost Years, Unrelated To The TV Series or Any Ray Milland Movies

You see that post below that says I moved? I didn't. I mean, I did, but then this crazy series of life events happened to me and my well-meaning attempt at launching a new blog disappeared into the ether. But I've missed blogging and so I'm back. (Yeah, we've all heard that one before. But I'm really going to try.)

And here, just to bring you up to date, are a few highlights of the last couple years.

  • I shrank 13 pounds through a simple and healthy regimen that involved wisdom tooth surgery and a heretofore unknown allergy to anesthesia. Two days of vomiting followed by ten days of only eating foods that were mushy. Hell yeah, I could sell that diet to a glossy magazine.
  • In related news, I gained five pounds back by eating donuts like a vengeful piranha in a SyFy movie.
  • Moved to a new house where we are the hillbillies of the neighborhood. This was a relief after previously living next door to a man whose nickname -- painted on the back of his truck -- was Chainsaw. Still, though, am thinking of removing all the wheels from a Matchbox car and putting it up on tiny blocks in the front yard, just to provoke.
  • Wrote a novel. A whole novel with pages that turn and everything. 
  • Am now the mother of a wonderful little boy who seems to prefer the Star Wars prequels to the real movies. He is young, though, so there's time to correct his egregious error in judgment. 
So yeah, that's where I'm at. The motherhood thing means I'm guaranteed to be at least two weeks behind on any pop culture event that occurs -- although I KNOW for a fact that Iron Man 3 is coming out this spring. I have a special neuron that twitches with delight whenever one of those babies is nigh. So I'm afraid I won't be bringing you much breaking news, but I'll still try to crack a few jokes and give you meaningful insight on the Sprout channel lineup -- whether you want it or not. (You probably won't.)