27 February 2013

Things I Love: Pens

As far back as I can remember, I have wielded a writing instrument of some kind. Long before I ever saw the inside of a classroom, I had been writing on paper. My name, names of other people, colors, animals, whatever. I can't recall the first time I was allowed to use a pen but even to this day I feel that pens are a tier above pencils. They're permanent, you know. You can't cover up an error made with a pen unless you use White Out - which is not only a cheat, but an obvious cheat that tells the whole world, "I screwed up but I was too lazy to rewrite everything to this point." You got to know what you're doin' if you're gonna put pen to paper.

My all-time favorite pens are the Pilot Precision V5 extra fine point pens. I used them exclusively in my bachelor studies at the University of Louisville, rotating through the four basic colors (black, blue, red, green). It made it easy for me to tell at a glance when thumbing through my notebooks which notes were from which day. Plus, it broke up the visual monotony of relying only on black and/or blue ink. I love the way those Pilot pens feel in my hand, and the way they glide across the paper. They feel light, but not fragile. I also get a little kick out of seeing the translucent windows that allow me to see the ink inside the pen.

I should also warn you here and now that I am a pen kleptomaniac. I'll steal pens from banks, waitresses, libraries, teachers, I don't even care. I paid for some of these pens. Some of them were promotional pens given by sales reps to my soon-to-be-ex-wife. A lot of them, I just outright absconded with after coming across them somewhere. I have no shame about this whatsoever.

I also have a habit of absentmindedly playing with pens. It looks like this:

I know, that's the coolest video on the entire Internet. No need to thank me. It's just one more thing I do for you, Dear Reader.

My thanks to Nikol Hasler for inspiring the "Things I Love" series.

26 February 2013

The Academy Awards That Should Have Been, Part V

The Academy Awards That Should Have Been
Part V: Writing

Astute readers (and of course you're one, Dear Reader) noticed that nowhere in the previous four parts of this series spotlighting Oscar snubs did I make mention of the two categories for writing. That's because it didn't really belong in any of the other four parts. I chose to place it at the end here not because writing is an afterthought. On the contrary, I worship at the altar of writing. It's that after the awards are handed out and we close the book on one year of film-making, our eyes turn toward the release calendar in hopes of sussing out which films yet to be released will have us talking in another twelve months. As the cycle begins anew, it's fitting to take a look at the foundation of film-making: the screenplays.

WRITING (Adapted Screenplay)
SNUBBED: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance -- James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck

NOMINATED (35th Academy Awards, 1962)
  • David and Lisa -- Eleanor Perry
  • Lawrence of Arabia -- Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
  • [NOTE: The Board of Governors voted on September 26, 1995 to grant then-blacklisted writer Michael Wilson an Academy Award nomination, along with Robert Bolt, for Lawrence of Arabia. This was the result of a Writers Guild of America finding that Wilson and Bolt share the credit for the screenplay.]
  • Lolita -- Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Miracle Worker -- William Gibson
  • To Kill a Mockingbird -- Horton Foote <--winner li="">
First of all, I want to acknowledge that I have only seen Lawrence of Arabia and To Kill a Mockingbird. I've thumbed through T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, though, and I'm certain that Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson deserve a lot more credit for organizing Lawrence's haphazard recollections than Horton Foote deserved for translating Harper Lee's well-structured novel. Foote really just had to get out of the way of Lee and let her story tell itself, and I know that's an awfully reductive (and even insulting) view to take, but there it is.

Whenever we read anything, it seems, discussion almost always turns to imagining how it would be as a movie. We talk of actors to be cast, what people and places might look like, or sometimes even what kind of costumes or music would work. When we finally get the movie versions, we always complain about whatever changes were made from the original material. It seems the more trivial the change, the more fans of the source material are to fixate on it.

What we rarely discuss is how a film can take a story and actually make it work better as a film than it worked in its original medium. We don't like to admit this, of course, because when it comes to adapted works, there are only two camps: purists who will never be satisfied by the adaptation, and the fans who didn't even know about, care about or read the original version until there was a movie. Somewhere between obsession and indifference, though, is a realm in which we can see the power of film-making to not just put on the screen someone else's story, but to reincarnate the soul of the story into a new body.

Why, of all the movies I've seen that were adapted from material originally produced in another medium, do I feel that it's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance that was snubbed? It's because I've read Dorothy Parker's original short story. Her characters are brusque and devoid of any charm, all driven by machismo. Her literary Ransom Stoddard is a wuss made into a man by the toughness of the Old West, but it's the cinematic Ransom Stoddard who represents instead a thoughtful man with noble values and idealism that rises above such posturing nonsense. Johnson's story is a reinforcement of schoolyard gender norms, whereas the film tries to show us that we're too old to still act that way. The film is a masterpiece, and it's because the screenwriters saw more depth to the characters and situation than their creator had given them.

WRITING (Original Screenplay)
SNUBBED: Crazy, Stupid, Love. -- Dan Fogelman

NOMINATED (84th Academy Awards, 2011)
  • The Artist -- Written by Michel Hazanavicius
  • Bridesmaids -- Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
  • Margin Call -- Written by J.C. Chandor
  • Midnight in Paris -- Written by Woody Allen <--winner li="">
  • A Separation -- Written by Asghar Farhadi
I've seen The Artist and Bridesmaids. I can appreciate why both were nominated, but neither resonated with me the way that Dan Fogelman's story for Crazy, Stupid, Love. did. When I saw that during its theatrical run, I was captivated in a way I have rarely experienced with any film. So much of it felt as though Fogelman had dramatized my own adolescence for Robbie's arc and made projections based on my life for Cal's arc. (Eerily enough, my own marriage collapsed in the immediate wake of seeing this film. I'm certain it hit a nerve that night that I failed to really see or understand at the time.)

There was a moment during the film, in one of the scenes with Robbie, where I was the only one in the theater who laughed. It was in that moment that I understood that most of the audience was there just to laugh at Steve Carrell, because that's what they paid to do. They didn't live the kind of life that Robbie, Cal or I had lived, so they didn't see the same things in it that I saw. It was like discovering I was in a room where one person spoke one language, everyone else in the room spoke another similar language, and I was bilingual and fluent in both languages. The rest of the audience might get the gist of what was being said to them, but they didn't appreciate the beauty behind it or its nuances.

Sometimes I want a film that's bigger than life, to remind me of the scale on which we should all try to at least dream, if not live. Sometimes, though, I want something intimate and focused; a film that gives me some one-on-one attention. Crazy, Stupid, Love. is one of those very special films that manages to do both. We see grand gestures, the kinds of which only really work in movies; but we also experience vicariously some of the most agonizing, universal dynamics of romance.

Steve Carrell was a fine choice as Cal and I think it's one of his better screen performances to date, but I feel he attracted the wrong audience for the film. The ad campaign didn't help, of course, trying to sell it as a romcom starring the guy from The 40 Year-Old Virgin and The Office when in fact it's not a romcom at all. Crazy, Stupid, Love. is a drama with a sense of humor. There's a very small group of Films I Wish I'd Written, and Crazy, Stupid, Love. is at the top of that list. It's a blemish on Warner Bros. that they failed to secure a nomination for Dan Fogelman's screenplay.

25 February 2013

The Academy Awards That Should Have Been, Part IV

Part I: Actor and Actresses | Part II: Production | Part III: Post-Production | Part V: Writing

The Academy Awards That Should Have Been
Part IV: The Movies

Having already looked at cast and crew, I now take a look at the movies themselves that should have been nominated over the years in various categories.

SNUBBED: 9 -- Shane Acker

NOMINATED (82nd Academy Awards, 2009)
  • Coraline -- Henry Selick
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox -- Wes Anderson
  • The Princess and the Frog -- John Musker and Ron Clements
  • The Secret of Kells -- Tomm Moore
  • Up -- Pete Docter <--winner li="">
Admittedly, this is rather crowded field. I very nearly chose to argue for Vals Im Bashir [Waltz with Bashir] for this but that was nominated in 2008 for Foreign Language Film so I don't feel it's as snubbed as 9. The animation here is amazing, and I only watched it on DVD. I imagine it's even more impressive on Blu-ray or in its natural environment, a theater. Not only that, but the environment is so richly developed that it truly feels like a world all its own on a visceral level I've not encountered very often. I've seen and enjoyed The Princess and the Frog and Up, and while I don't know that I'd pick 9 over either, I do feel it's as worthy of consideration as both.

SNUBBED: Confessions of a Superhero -- Matthew Ogens

NOMINATED (80th Academy Awards, 2007)
  • No End in Sight -- Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
  • Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience -- Richard E. Robbins
  • Sicko -- Michael Moore and Meghan O'Hara
  • Taxi to the Dark Side -- Alex Gibney and Eva Orner <--winner li="">
  • War/Dance -- Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine
Documentaries are tricky because they have to both entertain and inform. Documentaries about concepts, science and abstract things are a bit easier to process than are docs about actual human beings. There, we sometimes find ourselves suspicious of the documentary's biases. Confessions of a Superhero takes a seemingly laughable premise - four "professional" cosplayers on the streets of Los Angeles - and presents a truly engaging look at people in the margins of society. Unlike a lot of other documentarians who have focused on über-fans, Matthew Ogens never condescends or patronizes his subjects. Superficial viewers may stop at mocking and dismissing what their dreams are, but I invite you to get past the fixation on superheroes and instead look at what these dreams mean to these four people. Maxwell Allen is disturbing as the aggressive Batman, admittedly, but the other three are likable and even inspiring.

I've only seen Sicko of the nominated films. That content needed to be put before audiences, but I feel that Michael Moore got too distracted with the NHS and the stunt at Guantanamo at the expense of maintaining focus and delving further into other key areas that he left unexplored. I'd pick Confessions over Sicko.

DOCUMENTARY (Short Subject)
SNUBBED: The Final Days -- Philip Rosenthal

NOMINATED (73rd Academy Awards, 2000)
  • Big Mama -- Tracy Seretean
  • Curtain Call -- Chuck Braverman, Steve Kalafer
  • Dolphins -- Greg MacGillivray, Alec Lorimore
  • The Man on Lincoln's Nose -- Daniel Raim
  • On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom -- Eric Simonson, Leelai Demoz
I haven't seen any of the nominated shorts, but I'll let you take six minutes to watch The Final Days and decide for yourself whether it was snubbed (it was).

SNUBBED: Persona -- Sweden

NOMINATED (40th Academy Awards, 1967)
  • Closely Watched Trains -- Czechoslovakia <--winner li="">
  • El Amor Brujo -- Spain
  • I Even Met Happy Gypsies -- Yugoslavia
  • Live for Life -- France
  • Portrait of Chieko -- Japan
I have yet to see any of the five nominated films, but I've become quite a fan of Ingmar Bergman's work in recent years and learning that Persona was snubbed invalidates the entire history of the FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM category for me. Or at least, it would if Amélie losing in 2001 hadn't already invalidated the category. Seriously, how does a nominee in this field net four other nominations and not win? I actually have a theory about it, and that's that post-9/11 American voters felt it was incumbent upon them to make a statement by picking No Man's Land. Anyway, Bibi Anderssen and Liv Ullmann were both captivating to watch in Persona, and its unflinching intimacy is the kind of storytelling that hits directly at why we even use art to discuss the human equation.

Also: I picked 1967 because that was the year in which Persona was released in the United States, after having previously played in Sweden and France near the end of 1966.

SHORT FILM (Animated)
SNUBBED: The Arctic Giant -- Max Fleischer, Producer

NOMINATED (15th Academy Awards, 1942)
  • All Out for 'V' -- 20th Century-Fox
  • Blitz Wolf -- Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
  • Der Fuehrer's Face -- Walt Disney, Producer <--winner li="">
  • Juke Box Jamboree -- Walter Lantz, Producer
  • Pigs in a Polka -- Leon Schlesinger, Producer
  • Tulips Shall Grow -- George Pal, Producer
I haven't seen any of these nominees. I very nearly picked The Mechanical Monsters or Volcano, both of which are also excellent. What puts The Arctic Giant over the top? It's Superman fighting a Tyrannosaurus rex. No, really.

SHORT FILM (Live Action)
SNUBBED: Homophobia -- Gregor Schmidinger

NOMINATED (83rd Academy Awards, 2012)
  • Asad -- Bryan Buckley, Mino Jarjoura
  • Buzkashi Boys -- Sam French, Ariel Nasr
  • Curfew -- Shawn Christensen
  • Death of a Shadow -- Tom Van Avermaet, Ellen De Waele
  • Henry -- Yan England
Yeah, that's right: I'm irked at this year's nominations. Again, I can't claim to have seen any of the nominees on account of failing to make it to any of the screenings around town the last two weeks, but I streamed Homophobia last summer and was very impressed by it. It's possible it was ineligible because it was available for streaming, though, so maybe that was the issue. If so, it's a stupid rule to have because it's so difficult for short films to ever find an audience outside film festivals that taking away streaming only stifles the format.

SNUBBED: Ghost World -- Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich and Russell Smith, Producers

NOMINATED (74th Academy Awards, 2001)
  • A Beautiful Mind -- Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, Producers <--winner li="">
  • Gosford Park -- Robert Altman, Bob Balaban and David Levy, Producers
  • In the Bedroom -- Graham Leader, Ross Katz and Todd Field, Producers
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring -- Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Barrie M. Osborne, Producers
  • Moulin Rouge -- Martin Brown, Baz Luhrmann and Fred Baron, Producers
Ghost World isn't even the 2001 BEST PICTURE snub that annoys me the most, but I'm excluding Amélie here since it was at least nominated for FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM (where it should have won). But close behind that film is Ghost World, which is one of the most perfect "quirky" coming-of-age films of recent memory. Having read Daniel Clowes's original comic book story, I'm even more impressed by Terry Zwigoff's adaptation for managing fealty to the source material while also making thoughtful changes to suit the film medium.

I've seen four of the five nominees and I'd handily pick it over A Beautiful Mind, Gosford Park and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I'd have to debate with myself over Moulin Rouge. I think if Ghost World was released today, exactly as-is, it might stand a chance of meriting recognition from the Academy. In those pre-Little Miss Sunshine, pre-Juno days, though, I don't think voters were quite ready to get behind this kind of film for their highest award. A pity, because it's excellent.

23 February 2013

Things I Love: Church Marquees

A week ago, I encouraged you to read a few of my favorite blogs. One of the three I touted is the blog of Nikol Hasler, and I mentioned that she's been running a series lately of things she loves. I've enjoyed the upbeat, positive energy of those posts and it got me thinking I ought to add some of that upbeat, positive energy to my own blog. A couple days ago, I was driving down Highway 146 through Buckner and a church marquee caught my eye. I didn't take a picture, but it read:


It reminded me how much I've enjoyed reading church marquees over the years. I love a good pun, and church marquee writers have some of the best pun sensibility of anyone. I don't much care for the straightforward, sermon-y type marquees but the ones that show a sense of humor and whimsy almost always make me smile even if only inwardly. I think it's because I like to know that there are people of faith who have enough perspective that they can still find room for humor without fearing that it undermines or detracts from their piety. To be honest, I've never really given it much thought and I'm content to not analyze it further (to the shock of anyone who knows me at all, I'm sure). I just like seeing those corny phrases on church marquees. So keep writing them, church marquee writers. I love your work.

16 February 2013

The Academy Awards That Should Have Been, Part III

The Academy Awards That Should Have Been
Part III: Post-Production
SNUBBED: Paranormal Activity -- Oren Peli

NOMINATED (80th Academy Awards, 2007)
  • The Bourne Ultimatum -- Christopher Rouse <--winner li="">
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly -- Juliette Welfling
  • Into the Wild -- Jay Cassidy
  • No Country for Old Men -- Roderick Jaynes
  • There Will Be Blood -- Dylan Tichenor
NOMINATED (82nd Academy Awards, 2009)
  • Avatar -- Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron
  • District 9 -- Julian Clarke
  • The Hurt Locker -- Bob Murawski and Chris Innis <--winner li="">
  • Inglourious Basterds -- Sally Menke
  • Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire -- Joe Klotz

I don't know whether Paranormal Activity should have been eligible for the 2007 awards, when it first played festivals, or the 2009 awards when it finally had its wide release. It's particularly important in this category, since the wide release cut was re-edited from the version that played festivals. Either way, it's a glaring snub.

Culled from a reported 70 hours of footage, creator/writer/director/editor/caterer Oren Peli cut together a taut, suspenseful film in the very precise and precarious found footage genre. The franchise may have jumped the shark, but that first film was a runaway hit in a genre that had become fatigued with endless torture porn. Paranormal Activity demonstrated that audiences would, indeed, still respond to old-fashioned, low-tech suspense stories and there's no question that Peli's editing was one of the most important elements. 2007 or 2009, that work deserved some recognition.

MUSIC (Original Score)
SNUBBED: Glory -- James Horner

NOMINATED (62nd Academy Awards, 1989)
  • Born on the Fourth of July -- John Williams
  • The Fabulous Baker Boys -- David Grusin
  • Field of Dreams -- James Horner
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade -- John Williams
  • The Little Mermaid -- Alan Menken <--winner li="">
Holy damn did the Academy screw up this one! The Little Mermaid? The songs are terrific, maybe the best in the entire Disney canon outside of The Lion King...but Alan Menken's score was the best score of 1989? No. Just...no. Where is Danny Elfman's Batman? That should have been on here ahead of Born on the Fourth of July and Field of Dreams - both of which I have heard - and probably The Fabulous Baker Boys, which I have not heard. But the biggest problem here is that they nominated the wrong James Horner score. He's written some solid, even great, music over the course of his career but he has yet to compose a score on the same level as Glory. It's one of those rare scores that's so perfect it can stand entirely on its own without the film at all.

MUSIC (Original Song)
SNUBBED: "GoldenEye" from GoldenEye -- Music and Lyric by Bono and The Edge

NOMINATED (68th Academy Awards, 1995)
  • "Colors Of The Wind" from Pocahontas -- Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz <--winner li="">
  • "Dead Man Walkin'" from Dead Man Walking -- Music and Lyric by Bruce Springsteen
  • "Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman" from Don Juan DeMarco -- Music and Lyric by Michael Kamen, Bryan Adams and Robert John Lange
  • "Moonlight" from Sabrina -- Music by John Williams; Lyric by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman
  • "You've Got A Friend In Me" from Toy Story -- Music and Lyric by Randy Newman\
Seriously, Academy, just quit with the music categories because you clearly have no idea what you're doing. "Colors of the Wind" isn't even the best song out of these five, much less all movie-made songs from 1995. This should have gone to either "Dead Man Walkin'" or "You've Got a Friend in Me" and if we award retroactively based on how they stand now, this one definitely should have gone to "You've Got a Friend in Me."

Absent entirely, though, is "GoldenEye". James Bond title songs have always been important. Whenever a new Bond movie is announced, one of the very first points of speculation is always about who will perform the title song. With GoldenEye, not only did the song have to live up to that legacy but it also had the added pressure of having to reintroduce 007 to audiences after a remarkable six year absence during which Cold War spies seemed entirely irrelevant. Written by U2's Bono and The Edge and performed by Tina Turner, "GoldenEye" lived up to all the demands. It's moody, sensuous, exciting...everything a Bond song should be. It stands today as one of the best James Bond title songs on record and surely deserved at least a nomination in a category that presented its award to "Colors of the Effing Wind".

SNUBBED - Star Trek: First Contact -- Thomas Causey, Steve Pederson, Tom Perry, Brad Sherman

NOMINATED (69th Academy Awards, 1996)
  • The English Patient -- Walter Murch, Mark Berger, David Parker, Chris Newman <--winner li="">
  • Evita -- Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer, Ken Weston
  • Independence Day -- Chris Carpenter, Bill W. Benton, Bob Beemer, Jeff Wexler
  • The Rock -- Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, Keith A. Wester
  • Twister -- Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, Kevin O'Connell, Geoffrey Patterson
I had to actually look at the Academy's guidelines on this one. Rule Twenty explains this category. I'm also not certain I picked the right people from the sound department to assign to this award, but I'm reasonably confident these are the names that should have been on a ballot. The short version is that this award recognizes the creation of all the things you hear in a movie from sound effects to foley (i.e., faked noises that substitute for what we see on the screen) and dubbed dialog which can range from actors re-recording lines that couldn't be heard clearly during an outdoors shoot or sneaking in background voices that would have been too distracting to have had spoken during principle photography.

When I first got my surround sound system in the late 90s, one of my favorite viewing experiences was Star Trek: First Contact. I'll never forget the scene where the Enterprise engineers are assessing the Phoenix. All of a sudden, from one of the rear speakers, I could hear an entire conversation being exchanged between completely peripheral background characters. That wowed me and it was an epiphany for me about how rich the environment of sound really is, or at least, can be in a film. I'd easily have nominated it over The Rock here, which offered no comparable auditory revelation. (I haven't seen The English Patient or Evita.)

SNUBBED - Star Trek: First Contact -- Cameron Frankley, James Wolvington

NOMINATED (69th Academy Awards, 1996)
  • Daylight -- Richard L. Anderson, David A. Whittaker
  • Eraser -- Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman
  • The Ghost and the Darkness -- Bruce Stambler <--winner li="">
As near as I can tell, Sound Mixing is awarded to the best-sounding movies. The ones you can just close your eyes and enjoy without seeing a frame of footage. Or something. I don't know. This category used to go by the name "Sound Effects Editing" and that's what it was called in 1996 when Star Trek: First Contact should have been nominated for it. Why? Because I've seen Eraser and The Ghost and the Darkness and I'm certain First Contact makes for a better listening experience than Eraser for sure and probably at least as satisfying as The Ghost and the Darkness. Also, I picked First Contact here because I don't understand these sound categories well at all but I figured if it sounded good enough to me for one category, why not both?

SNUBBED: The Fifth Element -- Mark Stetson, Karen E. Goulekas, Nick Allder, Neil Corbould, Nick Dudman
[I had to guess at who the nominees would have been; these were who were named at the BAFTAs. Yes, I know the Academy only recognizes four people for the award.]

NOMINATED (70th Academy Awards, 1997)
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park -- Dennis Muren, Stan Winston, Randal M. Dutra, Michael Lantieri
  • Starship Troopers -- Phil Tippett, Scott E. Anderson, Alec Gillis, John Richardson
  • Titanic -- Robert Legato, Mark Lasoff, Thomas L. Fisher, Michael Kanfer <--winner li="">
Okay, I can appreciate Titanic's win here. The recreation of the sinking was astounding. The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers were great looking movies, too, don't get me wrong. I'd pick The Fifth Element over The Lost World here for two reasons: 1) We'd already seen dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. I was more dazzled by The Fifth Element. 2) Starship Troopers looks better than The Lost World.

14 February 2013

Three Blogs You Should Read When You're Not Reading Mine

I've got a sidebar reading list of blogs I follow, but I've been meaning to do a little more to promote some of my favorite bloggers for quite a while and today seems as good a day as any to actually do it.

Nikol Hasler
I first encountered Nikol as writer/host of The Midwest Teen Sex Show podcast, which itself is well worth going back and watching. It's how a sex ed series produced by [adult swim] might have turned out. Anyway, her blog is like mine in that she's very candid about her personal experiences (including lots of dating problems, as well as weightier subjects like her rough youth and teen years and a recent bout with cancer), but her blog is unlike mine in that she's very funny. Recently, she's been running a series with the self-explanatory title, Things I Love. My favorite entry so far is "Part 6: Hamburgers".

The Audient
This is a movie-centric blog run by a pal of mine. You won't find professional reviews here, despite the fact he's a professional movie critic. Rather, in this blog he discusses his personal viewing experiences and observations as though making conversation. A recent post that I particularly enjoyed was "Double feature candidates aplenty", in which he discusses the process of picking out two movies to watch back-to-back with his wife using a projector set up in their garage. It's both specific and personal to him, which gives context and humanizes the post, but also general and invites discussion about the overall topic of pairing movies.

Unpublished For a Reason
This one is the personal blog of another pal of mine who also has a movie-centric blog. She's an introvert, a Christian, a lover of musicals and all things theater and she's fought depression. Those links in the last sentence will each take you to a recent post of her related to that theme. I really admire the thoughtfulness and candor of her blog, especially her posts about Christianity. Not everyone is capable of the kind of introspection that she puts on display, and that's a very special quality. I usually find humor online but rarely do I literally laugh aloud at much of anything I read or see. She succeeded in a recent post in making my sides hurt, though, with "Movie Reviews by Jessie".

The Academy Awards That Should Have Been, Part II


The Academy Awards That Should Have Been
Part II: Production
SNUBBED: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (Art Direction: Ian Gracie, Phil Harvey, David Lee; Set Decoration: Richard Roberts)
NOMINATED (78th Academy Awards, 2005)
  • Good Night, and Good Luck. -- Art Direction: Jim Bissell; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire -- Art Direction: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • King Kong -- Art Direction: Grant Major; Set Decoration: Dan Hennah and Simon Bright
  • Memoirs of a Geisha -- Art Direction: John Myhre; Set Decoration: Gretchen Rau <--winner li="">
  • Pride & Prejudice -- Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
Say what you want about the story and acting, but Revenge of the Sith is the best looking Star Wars movie of the entire series. I absolutely love just looking at this movie, whether it's the design of the Jedi Starfighters, that amazing opera house or the volcanic Mustafar. I've only seen Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It's a solid looking film, certainly, but let's be honest: it's still mostly just Hogwarts. There's a lot more visual difference between Revenge of the Sith and the other Star Wars prequels than there is between Goblet of Fire and the previous HP movies. Even if you keep that, I have to imagine that Revenge of the Sith is more visually impressive than Good Night, and Good Luck. although I admit that I really like that kind of outside-the-box nominee in a field like this.

CINEMATOGRAPHY [Updated 23 February.]
SNUBBED: Restrepo -- Tim Hetherington

NOMINATED (83rd Academy Awards, 2010)

  • Black Swan -- Matthew Libatique
  • Inception -- Wally Pfister
  • The King's Speech -- Danny Cohen
  • The Social Network -- Jeff Cronenweth
  • True Grit -- Roger Deakins
I knew something was wrong when I originally published this post. It's because I managed to forget which CINEMATOGRAPHY snub actually angered me and it's Tim Hetherington's work on Restrepo. Despite being shot primarily with handheld cameras, Restrepo is not a shaky film. Hetherington captures both the imposing scale of the landscape with the intimate look at each of the soldiers, whether in interview or in action. On top of its technical merits, the footage is astounding. By far the greatest microcosm for why Hetherington should have been nominated is the firefight he managed to film while being caught in it himself. If there was ever an example of the power of using a camera, by God that's it.

SNUBBED: Watchmen -- Michael Wilkinson

NOMINATED (82nd Academy Awards, 2009)
  • Bright Star -- Janet Patterson
  • Coco before Chanel -- Catherine Leterrier
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus -- Monique Prudhomme
  • Nine -- Colleen Atwood
  • The Young Victoria -- Sandy Powell <--winner li="">
It's very hard to make superhero costumes work in live action, but Michael Wilkinson did an amazing job taking Dave Gibbons's designs and making them viable as costumes worn by actual people. To be sure, the costumes benefited from Larry Fong's photography because bad lighting could have completely ruined all of his work. Instead, each costume looks terrific at all times. I've seen none of the nominees and to be honest, I've never even heard of Bright Star. That'd be the first one I'd knock off to make room for Watchmen.

SNUBBED: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen -- Michael Bay

NOMINATED (82nd Academy Awards, 2009)
  • Avatar -- James Cameron
  • The Hurt Locker -- Kathryn Bigelow <--winner li="">
  • Inglourious Basterds -- Quentin Tarantino
  • Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire -- Lee Daniels
  • Up in the Air -- Jason Reitman
Am I really arguing that Michael Bay should have been nominated for directing one of the most inane blockbusters of recent years? Yes, I am, and Orson Welles has my back on this.

Peter Bogdanovich tells the story of discussing directing with Welles once, in which Welles confessed that the director is the most extraneous person on a film shoot. Once everyone is hired and in place, the director could not even show up at all and it wouldn't have much effect on production because everyone knows their job. We lavish the di-rec-tor with all the laurels, but really what we're saying is that we're too lazy to look into the men and women whose work we actually appreciate. The director is a shorthand for all the cast and crew, so that we don't have to burden our attention spans with things like what anyone actually does on a movie.

So how does this lead to Michael Bay? Easy. He's the only director in the world that could have actually helmed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Paramount gave the Transformers sequel a release date before even securing the return of the first film's screenwriters, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. No big deal, right? Happens all the time.

Except that before they ever even really got started on the screenplay, the Writer's Guild went on strike. Paramount never budged on the release date, despite the demanding nature of the film's special effects and editing processes. When the strike ended, it was Bay who effectively locked the writers into a hotel room until they had finished the screenplay. Pages were coming to the director one at a time while he was already at work getting the production underway.

Filming took place across the world, including Shanghai, Paris, Jordan and Egypt, where the film received special permission to film actor John Turtorro standing on one of the Pyramids. Actor Shia LaBoef injured himself driving drunk during filming, which could have interrupted shooting; Bay just had the actor's wounds treated on-screen as a character moment and kept going. Industrial Light and Magic actually had a computer start smoking, it was so overworked by trying to create the digital Devastator. That's right: this film's effects were so elaborate that they overwhelmed ILM. Editing was still taking place right up to the actual premiere screening.

Is the film a convoluted mess full of unlikable characters, banalities and plot holes so big Optimus Prime could get lost in them? Certainly. But if ever there was an example to defy Orson Welles's cynical assertion that the director is extraneous, it was Bay's dogged relentlessness that managed to deliver Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on time. The Best Directing award is almost always considered a validation category for Best Picture, owing again to the aforementioned shorthand factor. Of the directors nominated, only James Cameron tackled a film as technically demanding as what Bay faced...but he had the luxury of something like an entire decade to plan and develop Avatar. I'd like to have seen what Cameron could have done from scratch in the time Bay had to film Revenge of the Fallen.

To use a sports analogy, sometimes the Most Valuable Player doesn't play for a championship team. Sometimes, the best player in the game is wasted on a basement-dweller.

SNUBBED: Shaun of the Dead -- Stuart Conran, Jane Walker

NOMINATED - (77th Academy Awards, 2004)
  • Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events -- Valli O'Reilly and Bill Corso <--winner li="">
  • The Passion of the Christ -- Keith Vanderlaan and Christien Tinsley
  • The Sea Inside -- Jo Allen and Manuel García
Maybe Shaun of the Dead wasn't eligible because it was a British production. I don't know. What I do know is that the zombie design work was terrific. Honorary mention: Dawn of the Dead, makeup by David LeRoy Anderson and Mario Cacioppo (also 2004).

Again, another category where I'm 0-fer. I've never heard of The Sea Inside, so that'd be what I'd bump. I understand that in 2004, Hollywood still took a dim view of genre films and even now, big budget sci-fi/action movies are more accepted than horror. But come on, Academy. Makeup is the one field where there should never be just three nominees because you're throwing out lots of great work. Even if they just added Shaun of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead to the 2004 ballot, that'd put them at five nominees, the same as most other categories. Why the stinginess here?

13 February 2013

The Academy Awards That Should Have Been, Part I

Look, I don't want anyone thinking I take these kinds of things very seriously. I don't. This is just idle conversation about Oscar snubs that kind of annoyed me (and still do). I've confined these snubs to just movies I've seen since I began paying attention to such things, so you're not going to find me pitch a fit about something that happened in the 50s. Because of the length, I'm breaking this into a few different parts. Without further ado, I present...

The Academy Awards That Should Have Been
Part I: Actors and Actresses

SNUBBED: Pierce Brosnan -- The Matador {"Julian"}

NOMINATED (79th Academy Awards, 2006)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio -- Blood Diamond {"Danny Archer"}
  • Ryan Gosling -- Half Nelson {"Dan Dunne"}
  • Peter O'Toole -- Venus {"Maurice"}
  • Will Smith -- The Pursuit of Happyness {"Chris Gardner"}
  • Forest Whitaker -- The Last King of Scotland {"Idi Amin"} <--winner li="">
I've only seen two of the nominated performances: DiCaprio and O'Toole. Sure, Blood Diamond was a more compelling human interest film and yes, DiCaprio gave a solid performance (dubious accent and all). But was it as daring as Brosnan's turn as the narcissistic hit man past his prime? Likewise, I was impressed by O'Toole's dirty old man and in truth, if I'd had a vote, I'd have voted for O'Toole to make up for decades of him being denied a much-deserved Best Actor award, but for my money it was Brosnan who gave the best performance of the year.

SNUBBED: Val Kilmer -- Tombstone {"Doc Holliday"}

NOMINATED (66th Academy Awards, 1993)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio -- What's Eating Gilbert Grape {"Arnie Grape"}
  • Ralph Fiennes -- Schindler's List {"Amon Goeth"}
  • Tommy Lee Jones -- The Fugitive {"Samuel Gerard"} <--winner li="">
  • John Malkovich -- In the Line of Fire {"Mitch Leary"}
  • Pete Postlethwaite -- In the Name of the Father {"Giuseppe Conlon"}
Again, I've only seen two of the nominated performances. This time, it's Fiennes, who should have won; and Jones, who did win, but shouldn't have even been nominated over Kilmer. Long after the comparisons of Tombstone and Wyatt Earp have been relegated to Western history magazines, Kilmer's pitch-perfect Doc Holliday casts a shadow over both films. Kevin Jarre's screenplay was full of rich dialog anyway, but Kilmer got the best lines - or perhaps, he made the most of them. He dominates every frame he's in, and he's missed in every frame he's not.

It's a bit harder for me to think of actress snubs that really bug me, which may be an indictment of how poor the offerings for female roles are in any given year or maybe a reflection of how poorly I've explored films that feature prominent female roles. Maybe both. For the next two, I kind of got a bit nit-picky.

Also, even more egregious than Kilmer's snub is Djimon Hounsou's heartbreaking performance in Amistad

SNUBBED: Audrey Tautou -- Amélie [aka: Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain] {"Amélie Poulain"}

NOMINATED (74th Academy Awards, 2001)
  • Halle Berry -- Monster's Ball {"Leticia Musgrove"}
  • Judi Dench -- Iris {"Iris Murdoch"}
  • Nicole Kidman -- Moulin Rouge {"Satine"}
  • Sissy Spacek -- In the Bedroom {"Ruth Fowler"}
  • Renée Zellweger -- Bridget Jones's Diary {"Bridget Jones"}
It's not often that a foreign language film is nominated in other categories, but Amélie netted five total nominations including Art Direction, Cinematography, Sound and Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen), so I see no reason why Audrey Tautou should not have been nominated for her insanely charming performance in the title role. If you can watch Amélie and not fall in love with Tautou, you shouldn't get to vote on awards based on movies.

I've only seen Zellweger's performance of the five actual nominees and even though I enjoyed that film and Zellweger herself in it, there's just no way I could have picked her over Tautou.

SNUBBED: Maria Bello -- A History of Violence {"Edie Stall"}

I've classified this performance as supporting instead of leading, despite the fact Bello is billed second after Viggo Mortenson for this picture, because it suited me to do so. I invoke Rule Six, section 3 from this year's Academy Awards guidelines:
The determination as to whether a role is a leading or supporting role shall be made individually by members of the branch at the time of balloting.
NOMINATED (78th Academy Awards, 2005)
  • Amy Adams -- Junebug {"Ashley"}
  • Catherine Keener -- Capote {"Nelle Harper Lee"}
  • Frances McDormand -- North Country {"Glory"}
  • Rachel Weisz -- The Constant Gardener {"Tessa Quayle"} <--winner li="">
  • Michelle Williams -- Brokeback Mountain {"Alma"}
I've only seen Rachel Weisz's performance of these nominees. Bello's rawness resonated with me much more strongly than did Weisz's aloofness. Sure, her character was ultimately more tragic but does that make for a more compelling performance? I don't think I could have voted that way.

12 February 2013

Depression and the Second Amendment: Should I Have a Gun?

I've done a pretty lousy job blogging the last few months. I managed just four posts in all of January, which in turn means I've managed just four posts all year. Tomorrow night, President Obama will deliver the State of the Union address. Noted political theorist Ted Nugent will be in attendance as the guest of a member of Congress. Someone screwed this up, because that won't be fun TV. Bring Nugent to the White House Correspondents Dinner. Then you've got something.

This is often a political blog, though not so political that I feel I live up to the title I selected for it. I content myself that "fraternité" is an umbrella for sharing subjects of common interest such as hobbies. That third definitely dominates over "liberté" and "égalité", though.

One thing that has me thinking is discussion amid the gun control proposals about mental health. A lot of people are unaware, but there are differences in legal definitions about mental health than what are found in psychiatry. I bring this up because it's entirely possible for the law and psychiatry to disagree about the status of a given person's mental health. Case in point: Me.

Legally, I have not been re-classified as anything other than perfectly healthy (mentally, anyway). You and I know, Dear Reader, though that's not accurate. I've reached a fairly stable point with managing my mental health issues but they're chronic. They're always with me. Medicine would be irresponsible to ever say I'm "all better". The most it can say is that I'm "better right now".

My wife actually kept a revolver in her nightstand. There were countless nights in 2011 when I gave very serious thought to killing myself but truth be told I only thought about using her revolver once or twice and neither time did I consider it very seriously. It's just not my style. For one thing, it's terribly messy. Leaving behind a corpse is one thing. That can't be helped when you're committing suicide. But leaving behind a biohazard mess for my loved ones to clean? That's just inconsiderate.

I'm also certain that if I tried to use a gun to kill myself, I'd be that guy who screwed it up and wind up paralyzed or some such, but not actually die. What if I wound up like that patient LL Cool J played on House whose body was completely frozen and everyone thought he was brain dead but he really wasn't? I can't imagine many fates more frightening than that. I'm sure there are some, but I don't want to consider them!

Of course, that was a concern with any means of self-harm I contemplated but for some reason the risk just seemed a lot higher with a gun. I never even opened the drawer to look at the revolver. It wasn't on the table. Furthermore, I never gave even the slightest thought to ever harming anyone else - with, or without a gun. Again, that's just not my style. "I am a lover, not a fighter!"

In my novel, I wrote a scene in which one character uses a Glock-19 to shoot another character in a hotel ballroom. I picked that specific weapon because my brother owns one and he showed it to me. It was perfect for my character: easy to conceal, easy to draw and fire and definitely capable of putting down the target. That's how Glock made the gun and it's how they promote it. My brother invited me to go with him to a firing range some time to actually fire it myself so that I could write about the shooting with more veracity. I've not yet taken him up on the offer, mostly because we just haven't gotten around to it. Besides, I've fired a pistol before and I recall that experience vividly enough that I feel the couple of sentences I devoted to the moment are sufficient.

Here I am, though, contemplating how many other Americans are out there just like me: mentally ill, but not legally identified as such. I'm harmless, to others anyway, but who's to say about the rest? Clearly not everyone with mental illness is as docile as me, or we wouldn't be concerned about such people getting hold of firearms. Should I not be allowed to have a gun on account of my mental health, despite the fact that I have done nothing that would otherwise justify curbing my legal right to one? What about going to a firing range? Should I at least be allowed to do that, at my brother's invitation?

Or, let me flip it around:

Do you feel comfortable knowing there are people out there right now just like me who are presently off the law's radar, but are known to their physicians and loved ones as being mentally ill, who can legally get hold of a weapon? Would you feel comfortable standing next to such a person at a firing range?

Being mentally ill doesn't automatically make someone a menace to society. I've shared my experiences with depression and anxiety so candidly for the express purpose of trying to challenge the ignorance about people like myself. I sincerely hope that anyone who reads my posts about depression walks away with a new perception of patients like me.

Part of speaking so candidly, though, means owning up to the unpleasantness about what it's like. Suppose you wanted to argue that someone who's determined to kill themselves will still find a way even without a gun. You're right, but consider the following statistics from the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence:

  • Suicide is still the leading cause of firearm death in the U.S.
  • More than half of all suicides in the U.S. are committed with firearms.
  • Unlike suicide attempts using other methods, 92% of suicide attempts with guns are fatal, meaning a temporarily depressed teenager will never get a second chance at life.
  • A gun in the home is 11 times more likely to be used to attempt or commit a suicide than to be used in self-defense.
  • Homes with guns are 5 times more likely to experience the suicide of a household member than homes without guns.

Suppose it's not federal stormtroopers that you need to fear, or even the bogeyman home invader. What if it's your own loved one?

One nice thing about the Internet is that patients facing depression can reach out and connect with people without having to necessarily endure the embarrassment and humiliation that we often face in person. There's a lot less shame when you're typing on a keyboard than when you have to look someone in the eye and explain what's going on with you.

The danger, though, is that someone with depression can reach out online while never saying a word to indicate there's a problem to anyone offline. My online pals and friends probably had a much clearer understanding of just how depressed I had become than 95% of all the people I interact with in person ever had a chance of knowing. My point in this is that if you think, "Well, I would know if someone in my own home was depressed", you may very well not know until it's too late. There are plenty of people out there who didn't realize what their loved ones were going through until it was too late. They spend the rest of their lives trying to figure out what they missed and grappling with the guilt. It's not because they were any less observant than you or any more selfish than you. It's that a big part of being depressed is hiding it.

I honestly don't have answers to any of these questions myself, or any of the obvious follow-up questions they invite. I just wanted to put this all out there for your consideration.