23 February 2009

81st Annual Academy Awards

I shouldn't have to tell you that they held the 81st Annual Academy Awards ceremony last night, because according to the TV spots I saw for it, it was the single most important night ever.  Still, in case you don't worship at the altar of Oscar (and I don't), I thought I'd remark on some of the awards.  Note that I did not watch the televised coverage, or any other Academy Awards ceremony since they decided not to bring back David Letterman as host.  Maybe I'm in the minority, but I actually enjoyed his hosting duties in 1994.  "Oprah...Uma; Uma...Oprah" is comic gold, and I double-dog dare anyone to find any phrase from a subsequent awards show that has entered our lexicon on such a level.

For a complete list of final nominees, click here.

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor in a Leading Role: Sean Penn (Milk)
Best Actress in a Leading Role: Kate Winslet (The Reader)
Best Director: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Foreign Language Film: Departures
Best Music (Song): "Jai Ho" (Music by A.R. Rahman; Lyrics by Gulzar) (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Music (Score): A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Film Editing: Chris Dickens (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Sound Mixing: Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Visual Effects: Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton Craig Barron (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Documentary Short: Smile Pinki
Best Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Best Short Film (Live Action): Spielzeugland (Toyland)
Best Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Makeup: Greg Cannom (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Costume Design: Michael O'Connor (The Duchess)
Best Art Direction: Donald Gram Burt (Art Direction); Victor J. Zolfo (Set Decoration) (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Best Short Film (Animated): La maison en petits cubes
Best Animated Feature Film: Wall-E
Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire)
Best Writing - Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black (Milk)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Penelope Cruz (Vicky Christina Barcelona)

Don't ask me why Best Actress in a Supporting Role is the last item on the list, because I didn't sequence it.  This is taken directly from the Academy Awards website.  Is there some sexism involved?  Hard to say, since I don't know how they determine the order of these things.

Otherwise, I've only seen two of the films that won anything: The Dark Knight and Wall-E.  I was interested in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but having Crohn's disease makes seeing a three and a half hour long movie theatrically somewhat impractical.  (And, yes, The Dark Knight pushed my limits, but the stars all aligned and I made it through the whole thing in a matinee showing a few days after it opened.)  I also want to see Slumdog Millionaire; I just haven't gotten around to it yet.  Milk, The Reader and Vicky Christina Barcelona were all movies I decided I was interested in seeing, but only as DVD rentals.

I have nothing to say about Heath Ledger that hasn't already been said by one side or another, other than to say that I think it's a shame that Aaron Eckhart's performance as Harvey Dent has been overshadowed.  He gave the film its humanity and its emotional tug-of-war.

What I find bothersome are these categories with only three nominees.  I mean, really, they only found three films worthy of receiving an award for Best Makeup?  Better still, only three songs were worth considering for Best Music (Song)?  Figure most movies average at least ten songs (excepting, of course, those that strictly employ a score).  Even if we exclude six songs for being pre-existing songs they licensed to use in the film, there are still a ton of original songs that were eligible.  And in the case of that specific field, two of the three final nominees were from the same film!  I don't mean to belittle the work of either A.R. Rahman or Gulzar, but this seems like a category that existed this year solely to ensure that the Slumdog Millionaire DVD could boast of winning at least one Academy Award.  I say, either find five worthy nominees or drop the category.

18 February 2009

The James Bond Art of Richard Chopping

Inspired by a recent blog entry by a friend of mine, I have again reflected on how brilliant many of the past James Bond novel dust jackets and movie posters were.  This magnificence is exposed especially when put side by side with recent re-issues.  Perhaps the greatest artist to touch James Bond was Richard Chopping, contracted by Ian Fleming to design the hardback dust jackets for the original publications starting with From Russia with Love and continuing until John Gardner's debut Bond novel, 1981's License Renewed.  Here is a gallery of his 007 work:


I especially love that not only does the art for The Man with the Golden Gun sprawl across the front and back, but so too does the title text.  My personal favorite of these covers is Octopussy and The Living Daylights with the aquatic life contextualized menacingly.  It's all but forgotten in the cinematic Bond universe, but Ian Fleming's novels were full of references to nature, especially sea life.  Fleming went snorkeling each day in Jamaica when he wrote these books, and that enthusiasm (like his passion for golf and drink) manifested itself in his literary works.  My second favorite is probably From Russia with Love, because I love the simplicy of the revolver and the rose.  What's astounding is that of all these covers, only Dr. No features a woman at all, and she only in silhouette.  And yet, sex permeates all of these covers somehow.

16 February 2009

Concert Wish List

From 1998 through 2004, I saw in concert just about every living artist in whom I was even remotely interested.  I've seen Garth Brooks, Chris LeDoux, George Strait, Gary Allan, Charlie Robison, Willie Nelson and numerous others.  By 2005, just as my To-See list was diminished, I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease.  I thought I could keep on living my life as I had been, until I was forced to sell tickets to a sold out Kenny Chesney concert to a neighbor the day of the show.  I had joined the fan club just to make sure I got an early pre-sell on those tickets because I knew they'd sell out in a hurry, and that's just what happened.

This past summer, I managed to get out to see Hayes Carll and it was a reminder of how much I love live music.  Gone are the days of preordering expensive tickets for big shows, but I'm determined to try to get to at least one show a year from here on out.  I'm not concerned about seeing anyone I've already seen (unless Garth Brooks comes back to town), so I've compiled a new list of artists I want to see in concert.

  • Randy Travis - I've been a fan of his since 1986, and it's disappointing I still haven't seen him in concert.
  • George Jones - I'm not a lifelong fan of the Possum, but I enjoy his music enough and really, how many more chances am I going to get?
  • Kenny Rogers - My mom was a fan of his since before I was born, so I grew up with his music.  I've stayed a fan on my own, and would like to hear his reassuring gravelly voice live just once.
  • Norah Jones - I was moderately interested in her music until I completely fell in love with her Not Too Late album.  According to her website, though, she has never played Louisville, so I don't feel so bad about not having seen her yet.
  • Honeyhoney - A new duo on Keifer Sutherland's start-up record label I discovered last year via iTunes and have come to really enjoy.
  • Joey + Rory - Another new duo I discovered via iTunes last year that I have really come to enjoy.
  • Bruce Robison - I love his writing, enjoy his voice and I've already seen his brother.
  • Allison Moorer - I fell in love with her voice the first time I heard "A Soft Place to Fall" on The Horse Whisperer soundtrack in 1998.  She's played Phoenix Hill Tavern several times, but always picked a time when I was too bogged down with research papers to go.
  • Shelby Lynne - I am addicted to her Just a Little Lovin' album.
  • James Darren - Because what Deep Space Nine fan doesn't want the live Vic Fontaine experience?
  • Erich Kunzel & The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - They've played a set of Star Wars music and Star Trek, and I missed both.  I'd love to catch a nice, geeky set by them sometime.
  • Gretchen Wilson - I really came to like her after reading her autobiography, Redneck Woman.
  • Jewel - I have no idea what any of the words are to any of her songs, but I love the sound of her voice.

Wanted: Concert Set Lists

The following are other shows I've attended, but don't have set lists for (and would like to have them).  If anyone can help with this, I would also be appreciative.
  • George Strait Country Music Festival - 30 May 1999 (I need all of the acts except Strait)
  • Clay Walker & Deana Carter - Kentucky State Fair - 27 August 1999
  • Jo Dee Messina - Micro Brew & BBQ Festival, Churchill Downs - 4 June 2000
  • Toby Keith - Waterfront Park - 24 June 2000
  • Collin Raye, Jolie & The Wanted & Steve Holy - 16 September 2000
  • Montgomery Gentry - Coyote's - 22 February 2001
  • Clay Walker - Caesar's Indiana Colosseum - 6 April 2001
  • George Strait Country Music Festival - 27 May 2001 (I need all acts except Strait & Alan Jackson)
  • Charlie Robison - Coyote's - 21 June 2001
  • Hank Williams, Jr., Montgomery Gentry & Toby Keith - KY State Fair - 16 August 2001
  • Cyndi Thomson - Coyote's - 20 December 2001
  • Montgomery Gentry - Waterfront Park - 4 July 2002
  • Gary Allan & Phil Vassar - Waterfront Park - 28 September 2002
  • Willie Nelson - Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom - 29 September 2002
  • Nappy Roots - Coyote's - 28 November 2002
  • Dixie Chicks & Joan Osbourne - Freedom Hall - 18 May 2003*
  • Hayes Carll - Gerstle's Palace - 28 August 2008
*I believe the Dixie Chicks's set list was the same as their On Top of the World: Live 2-disc set, but have not confirmed this.

06 February 2009

Wild West Magazine's Greatest Westerns

The editors of Wild West Magazine have compiled their list of the 100 Greatest Westerns.  Click here to view their official page.  The top ten, for those who want to know, are as follows:
  1. High Noon
  2. The Ox-Bow Incident
  3. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  4. Ride the High Country
  5. Rio Bravo
  6. Seven Men from Now
  7. The Searchers
  8. Shane
  9. Tombstone
  10. Red River
I've only seen two from the list: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Tombstone.  I'm hardly a great fan of the genre, though I've enjoyed several Westerns over the years, but it seems to me that any list that recognizes those two films has some credibility.  I know it's common for "true cinemaphiles" to bash Tombstone as a Hollywood movie and not a believable portrayal of the period, but as someone whose college degree was earned in history I think sometimes we worry too much about authenticity.  All I know about Tombstone is that there's not a bad performance in the lot, there are a ton of quotable lines of dialogue and several genuinely applause-worthy moments.

As for Liberty Valance, it's a distillation of the entire Western mythology--and perhaps a microcosm of its own era, as well.  If anyone wants to ever get at the heart of why we even tell stories of the Old West, this is the place to start.  Perhaps it's that context in which I can completely just enjoy Tombstone.

Then again, they ranked Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid #37.  What do they know about Westerns?

05 February 2009

Theatrical Experiences

Given the attitudes my parents have toward movies, it's amazing I ever got into them at all.  My dad was a renter, but I don't know of him ever setting foot in a theater in my lifetime.  Certainly, I never went to a movie with him.  My mom--despite being a certifiable TV junkie--has always taken a dim view of movies.  She feels they insult the intelligence of the audience, and so the only times she ever took us to see movies were for releases she thought were targeted at kids.  It was something to do, and many of the movies we saw were second run for $1 a ticket.

I grew up in La Grange, KY and there was no theater in the entire county.  In fact, the closest was Showcase Cinemas, a full forty minutes or so away from the house.  I'm not trying to create a sense of homebound isolation--indeed, mom made sure that we went out pretty much every other Sunday to a mall, a park, a movie, something to remind us of civilization.  Still, coupled with the inconvenience of getting to a theater, mom's own dim view of movies meant we only went for things my brother or I really wanted to see.

Maybe that's why, even today, I still think of going to the theater as a special experience.  I remember classmates who saw movies regularly with their parents.  I was always surprised that other parents took their kids to see live action movies that weren't made for a child audience.  I could never have imagined my mom taking us to see something like Top Gun.  Still, I remember other classmates not getting taken to see The Transformers: The Movie, and my mom took me on opening day...and then again the next weekend.  It seemed some parents would take their kids to movies they themselves wanted to see, but would not endure movies for their kids's sake.

In September 1995, we finally got a theater in LaGrange--the Oldham 8.  The decorum was designed with an old school, vintage theater feel with plush velvet walls.  They named the concession stand "Cafe D.W." in honor of D.W. Griffith, the filmmaker from our county responsible for such racist (yet significant) films as The Birth of a Nation.  The first film I saw at the Eight was Powder on a date.  She was out of my life after barely a month, but my love affair with movie-going had gone to the next level.  Friends and I convened nearly weekly for the duration of our school years.  Sometimes we saw things we hadn't even heard of, just to see something.  Today, of course, because of money and the complexities of being married and having Crohn's disease, I make it to far fewer movies and gone are the days of seeing something blind--but oh, how I miss those days!

Shortly after the Oldham 8 opened, a larger cineplex opened barely 15 minutes away across the county line.  Surrounded by shopping opportunities and restaurants, it quickly displaced the Eight as the go-to hot spot for school aged kids.  Those whose parents dropped them off preferred having things to do, and that was a battle that the Eight couldn't win.  In short order, the audiences at the Eight have devolved into unruly hooligans.  It's so bad that they've even taken to having an employee announce at the beginning of a screening what the rules of behavior are, and the consequences of violating them.  It's like that scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou?  when the prisoners are escorted into the theater by armed guards.

Thinking about all this has got me reviewing a list of movies I've seen theatrically.  The list, which I think is incomplete as of right now, can be seen here.  Some of my standout movie memories:

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial - My earliest theatrical memory; mom had a panic attack during the movie and I recall playing with some other kids we were there with behind the seats.  We got in trouble, and I learned that the theater is not the place to talk or play.

The Transformers: The Movie - The first movie I ever saw more than once theatrically.  Mom took me opening day, and then again the next weekend.  Bonus: The soundtrack was the first cassette I ever owned.

Batman - Believe it or not, I didn't even want to go see this.  Sure, I was interested in the movie, but I wanted to stay home that day.  Mom actually made me go, because she grew up with the '60s TV series and she wanted to see it.  By the time it was over, I was completely hooked and my mom was dismayed by what they had done with the characters she knew and loved.  When I saw Scooby-Doo, I finally understood how she felt that day.

Thunderheart - My first R-Rated theatrical experience.  Parents of a friend of mine were deeply in touch with their Native American heritage and even knew several of the cast members from their annual pow-wows.  They took me, and I think this was also the first time I ever combined Sprite with Junior Mints.

Jurassic Park - the first movie I saw at a drive-in since I was a toddler.  I don't recall those earlier experiences (save Snow White), so this was really the first time I saw a movie at a drive-in and actually knew what was going on.  I'll never forget the way the screen looked at night, surrounded by foliage, during the scene where Grant and the kids are in the tree.  Truly magnificent.  Plus, this was for a friend's birthday outing, and I remember I sat in the front seat with his mom, and he and another friend sat in the back seat.  They wanted to charge her an adult admission for me, but child admission for the two other kids.  I was always flattered by that.

Powder - Hated the film, don't miss the girl at all, but it was the first movie I saw at the Oldham Eight.

Down Periscope and Happy Gilmore - The first time I ever saw two movies back-to-back.  I had seen Periscope with my friends, and ran into some classmates on their way into see Gilmore.  They talked me into sticking around for that, so I bought a ticket and did.  It was far funnier than I expected, and funnier than the first film I saw that night.  The first time I saw an actual, official double feature the titles were Space Cowboys and The Perfect Storm.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace - Not only my first midnight showing of anything, but the first and only time I ever participated in a campout for tickets.  The wait for tickets was far more rewarding than the film itself.

Goldfinger - A once-in-a-lifetime outdoor screening at Fort Knox.  We sat there, looking to the right at the inflatable, portable screen showing the Bond movie.  To our left, Bullion Avenue and the Gold Depository Building.  The weather was gorgeous for an early August night, my Crohn's cooperated and I don't think anyone who was there that night will ever forget it.

04 February 2009

My Abysmal Netflix Rental History

I always supposed I could review a list of everything I've rented from Netflix, and lo and behold I can.  I'm actually embarrassed by this list not because of anything that's on it, but because this is the entirety of what I've rented since I opened my account in July 2001.
  1. The Peacemaker
  2. Wild Things
  3. Jerry Seinfeld: I'm Telling You for the Last Time
  4. The Insider
  5. The Sopranos: The Complete First Season (4 discs; rented twice, to watch with friends)
  6. Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie
  7. Swingers
  8. Major League Baseball: All Century Team
  9. The Sopranos: The Complete Second Season (4 discs)
  10. Dr. No
  11. Bull Durham
  12. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  13. National Geographic: Secrets of the Titanic
  14. Sex and the City: The Complete First Season (2 discs)
  15. Sex and the City: The Complete Second Season (2 discs)
  16. Sex and the City: The Complete Third Season (2 discs)
  17. Airheads
  18. Chicago
  19. The American Presidents, Discs 3 & 5
  20. Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  21. The In-Laws 
  22. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete First Season (6 discs)
  23. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Second Season (7 discs)
  24. Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns, Disc 1
  25. Monster-in-Law
  26. Surviving Christmas
  27. Shadow of the Vampire
  28. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - The First Year, Discs 1 & 2 only
  29. Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Third Season, Disc 6
  30. Underground Railroad
  31. Sicko
  32. Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fifth Season, Disc 2
  33. The True Story of The Bridge on the River Kwai
  34. Gods and Monsters
  35. Modern Marvels: Baseball Parks
  36. The Big One
  37. Tatooing
Several of these, I've wound up buying afterwards (The Sopranos, Swingers, Sicko).  Others I don't even recall renting (Monty Python, Peacemaker).  At least one, I sent back unwatched (The Big One).  All in all, it's a rather pitiful indictment of my even continuing to have a Netflix account, really.  Apparently, between 19 September 2002 and 16 September 2003, my account sat entirely dormant.  What's worse is that I had Underground Railroad checked out from 14 March 2007 until 27 February 2008!