Thursday, August 30, 2012

I know I'm late to the party, but here are some thoughts on The Newsroom Season 1

Like many people, especially critics, I wasn't a big fan of Aaron Sorkin's new HBO show 'The Newsroom'. After two great movie screenplays ('The Social Network' and 'Moneyball'), I was starting to warm up to Sorkin's fast-talking style in a way I hadn't before. I was genuinely excited for this new project to be his next 'West Wing'. I was obviously disappointed.

Much of the criticism comes from the pretentious way in which Sorkin seems to be giving a shot of reality to the news media. It's true that the media is, in many aspects, doing some pretty terrible work, but the crusading air he gives his characters is shattered when they come up with something as obviously train-wrecky as the mock debate they staged a couple of weeks ago. But these are concerns I actually could set aside if Sorkin insisted on expressing his mind so openly, but did it on the high quality level he showed in 'The West Wing' or 'The Social Network'. Even with the convenient 20/20 hindsight on news events Sorkin got for his show by setting it a couple of years in the past, the biggest problem with the show was with the characterization of its protagonists.

In the season finale that aired on Sunday, Maggie (played by Allison Pill), in a stressful moment of despair proceeds to give a big rant on 'Sex and the City'. Yes, 'Sex and the City' is a hugely superficial show, but it not only aired on the same network 'The Newsroom' is airing, it is also very similar to Sorkin's show. What has he offered us besides shoving his political views into all the episodes? A bunch of romantic misadventures that result as shrill and unengaging as the worst moments of the show he was criticizing.

A lot has been said about the poor characterization of women on the show, where every female character is a complete nervous wreck incapable of holding it together in moments of stress. Even, Emily Mortimer's character McKenzie, who was introduced to us a woman who had been to war, gets incredibly stressed out by any minor inconvenient regarding the production of the news-show. Not only are women incompetent, it seems the only reason they're on the show is to be romantic interests for the male characters. Too much of the show has focused on Will (Jeff Daniels) and McKenzie's past relationship as well as a completely uninteresting love triangle between Jim (John Gallagher Jr.), Don (Thomas Sadoski) and Maggie. Not only was Don so unlikable since the first episode that we couldn't possibly root for him, soon enough Maggie and Jim followed a similar path after their flirting quickly became annoying instead of cute.

For most of the show's first season, the thing that kept me going was Olivia Munn's performance as Sloan Sabbath. Who would have thought that in a show starring the likes of Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Allison Pill and Sam Waterston, she would be the stand-out? Some of it might have to do with the fact that Sloan was the one female main character that wasn't in love with someone in the office. But credit where credit is due, and Olivia Munn acted the hell out of some pretty crappy material to make Sloan a character compelling enough that partially made me stick with a mediocre show.

Sadly, even that was taken away from me when it was revealed last Sunday, that Sloan is, in fact, in love with Don. Now, not only does this development come completely out of nowhere, but also brings the fear of Sorkin turning the best character of the show into another unbearable Maggie (that he has make me not enjoy the lovely Allison Pill when she's onscreen could only be called a crime).

All this being said, I'll probably be back next year to watch the new season. It sounds weird, but I have to say that no matter how irritating the show is, it is still watchable. And it is also somewhat entertaining (and interesting) to see the ways in which it is bad, kind of like 'Glee' was before it became unbearable. I wouldn't like to call this 'hate-watching', but maybe I'll be doing just that.

2012 Emmy Awards Predictions: Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Award Shows, my one weakness. Even if they're meaningless, I can't resist them and so, here is my annual attempt at predicting which actors and shows will become winners. These are predictions for the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards which will be broadcast live on Sunday September 23 on ABC.

To win the Emmy, every actor nominated must submit an episode representative of their best work each season. The episodes submitted are then viewed by a panel that votes for what they deem best. Each actor and his/her publicity team pick which episode to submit. Great submissions can help an underdog, bad ones could prevent a favorite from winning. Let's take a look at what these gentlemen chose. The nominees are...

Giancarlo Esposito in "Breaking Bad" (AMC)
Giancarlo Esposito ended his run on 'Breaking Bad' this year in pretty spectacular fashion. He is probably already the critics' darling and I could see him winning this. He isn't a huge star, but similar unknowns have won for strong episodes (like Zeljko Ivanek who won for 'Damages') and we know voters like the acting in 'Breaking Bad' having awarded Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul.
Episode Submission: "Hermanos"
Esposito had a couple of fantastic tapes to choose from this season and "Hermanos" is one of them. It isn't his character's flashy last appearance or when he gets his revenge on a mexican crime-boss (that would be "Salud"), but it is still a very good submission and looking back the first episode in which we got a glimpse at Gustavo Fring's past.

Aaron Paul in "Breaking Bad" (AMC)
Last time he was nominated, he won. His co-star Esposito might have had a stellar year, but at this point Paul always has a stellar year. He has become the moral center of the show and voters might sympathize with his character as much as regular viewers do. He also benefits from the fact that panelists might be watching him on 'Breaking Bad's fifth season currently airing.
Episode Submission: "End Times"
As it is usual with him, Paul gets to do a lot of good stuff on this episode. This could be a winning tape, but there's a little catch: no actor has ever won twice in this category since 1996. Going against a 25 year old trend is not smart when prognosticating award show results, so I won't.

Jim Carter in "Downton Abbey" (PBS)
If there was ever proof that Emmy voters are madly in love with 'Downton Abbey' is the fact that they decided to nominate Jim Carter for playing the eternally elegant and quippy Mr. Carson, supreme butler of the Grantham estate. It's not that Carter doesn't give a good performance (he is probably my favorite character in 'Downton Abbey'), but head-writer Jullian Fellowes so rarely gives him stuff to do...
Episode Submission: "Episode 2"
... which is precisely why, had he picked any episode he had chosen, he would have probably ended up with the worst submission of the lot. He is fine in "Episode 2", in which he is stressed-out about running the house during WWI and gives a piece of advise to Lady Mary, but he is probably the least likely to win, unless voters on this panel have been watching the show and really love Carson.

Brendan Coyle in "Downton Abbey" (PBS)
Coyle, as Mr. Bates, was by far the best performance in 'Downton Abbey's season one. He was restrained yet emotional and ultimately heartbreaking playing a damaged man finding love. As much as I loved him then, though, I must say I found his incarceration storyline to be one of the biggest disappointing aspects of the show's disappointing second season.
Episode Submission: "Episode 7, Christmas"
In this season finale, Bates spends much of the time incarcerated, then has his usual proud Bates moment and finally a lovely scene with his beloved Anna. I could be acting foolishly by dismissing his chances without much analysis, but there such bravura performances in this category that I just don't see him winning.

Peter Dinklage in "Game of Thrones" (HBO)
Last year's champ had an even bigger role in 'Game of Thrones' second season to the point that many people thought he should be nominated for lead actor. He certainly has the buzz going around town for him (he won the Golden Globe earlier this year) and 'Game of Thrones' is certainly a very popular show.
Episode Submission: "Blackwater"
He of course has to fight against the trend of actors not winning twice in this category. Lucky for him, 'Blackwater' is such a great showcase for his character (who gets huge amounts of screentime for Game of Thrones standards) that he might have a great chance of breaking the trend, even better than Paul.

Jared Harris in "Mad Men" (AMC)
As ridiculous as it sounds, no 'Mad Men' actor has ever won an Emmy. Harris comes in rather surprisingly to this category in place of perennial nominee and Mad Men co-star John Slattery. The reason Harris is here, besides for his great performance, must be that his character exited the show this season. And he did it in pretty spectacular fashion.
Episode Submission: "Commissions and Fees"
Harris' submitted episode is, as expected, his character's last and he might weirdly become the first Mad Men actor to win an Emmy. The win would certainly feel a little weird, but not unearned he has done some great work on the show and is rightfully in a position to win this award.

Will Win: If someone was ever going to break the trend of not repeating, I think it would be Dinklage. Most likely, though, the race is between the departing characters: Jared Harris and Giancarlo Esposito. I could easily see either of them winning, but since it just seems so weird that Harris would be the first Mad Men actor to win, I'll go with Esposito.

Should Win: These are all very good performances, I would go with Giancarlo Esposito who was just tremendous. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Compliance: Milgram Telephone


Back in my last year of high school, we read a couple of german novels (I went to a german school). The first one, Theodor Fontane's 'Effi Briest' is XIX century novel about adultery (not unlike Anna Karenina or Modame Bovary). The second is holocaust drama 'The Reader' written by Bernhard Schlink and adapted into the 2008 film directed by Stephen Daldry and starring Kate Winslet. Both novels have guilt as an important thematic element and we spent a lot of time trying to examine the way the characters were or weren't guilty in both stories.

Of course, no matter how long we argued about it, there wasn't an easy answer to those questions. I remember my teacher asking things such as: Where does the list of guilty people end in a situation as the holocaust? Is the guy who closed the doors of the trains carrying concentration camp prisoners guilty? Was he just doing what he was told to do? Or is he guilty for taking a job he knew would help eliminate people at a massive rate? He then, of course, referred to the experiments conducted by Stanley Milgram that were obviously intended to answer these questions in some shape or form. The experiment tested obedience to authority figures in regular people and the results showed more than half of the subjects would have electrocuted a person if asked to by an authority figure.

Which brings me to 'Compliance', the independent film written and directed by Craig Zobel. It is based on a series of prank calls made to fast food restaurants in which a man pretended to be a police officer and made the store manager strip search a female employee under the assumption that she had committed a crime. The film stars Ann Dowd as store manager Sandra, Dreama Walker as employee Becky and Pat Healey as the prank-caller.

As the movie begins we are reminded, in big bold letters, that it is based on true events. The supposed officer's demands go to such extremes that many people have complained it's unbelievable that such things could have happened. I, for one, am not one of those people. I went in expecting to feel one of two ways and I am glad I didn't.

I didn't say to myself "how could these stupid people not have noticed this was a prank call?" because the "based on true events" sign did alert me that I should not discard the movie as unbelievable right away, the director is certainly trying to do some version of Milgram's experiment to understand the situation, therefore, I was invested in the details of the situation he set up for his characters. An early scene, for example, has Sandra (Ann Dowd) being shut down by a delivery man for trying to handle restaurant business on her own instead of going through he proper channels. The movie doesn't asume that's the only reason why she later did everything the alleged policeman said, but tries to put every character in a certain mindset by filling their day with details.

That's why I didn't say to myself "In Sandra's position, I would have done the same". The complexity and routine character of the situation make us try to understand the characters even if we can't. It might be the screenplay, but also the great performances that sell us on these characters as people more than characters. Dreama Walker, shows many sides of Becky as she tragically resignes to her situation, while Ann Dowd injects Sandra with an unfitting sense of naturalism that makes you immediately recognize her as a real person. You want to believe you wouldn't do these things if you were in this position, but a part of you thinks you actually might. To what extend should we blindly listen to our superiors? What could we do about it? When did we stop listening to each other? There is a lot to think about after watching the movie and for that I'm glad.

Even wondering about why he did this is rather fascinating. He was miles away from the situation, he wasn't there to see what was happening, neither was he pleasing himself while calling. Was this the behavior of just a jerky person? The abusive of anonymity (especially in the internet) is also a topic for today's public.

The movie is certainly a hard sit. There have been walk-outs going on since it debuted at Sundance (none at my screening, though) and some people have commented angrily about its subject. I think it's a well-crafted film, with great performances (especially Dowd as Sandra) and one that is worth watching, at least, for the conversation you could later have with whomever you saw it with.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

2012 Emmy Awards Predictions: Lead Actress in a Comedy Series


Award Shows, my one weakness. Even if they're meaningless, I can't resist them and so, here is my annual attempt at predicting which actors and shows will become winners. These are predictions for the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards which will be broadcast live on Sunday September 23 on ABC.

To win the Emmy, every actor nominated must submit an episode representative of their best work each season. The episodes submitted are then viewed by a panel that votes for what they deem best. Each actor and his/her publicity team pick which episode to submit. Great submissions can help an underdog, bad ones could prevent a favorite from winning. Let's take a look at what these ladies chose. The nominees are...

Tina Fey in "30 Rock" (NBC)
The queen of comedy and for quite a while the queen of winning emmys, Tina Fey was at the center of '30 Rock's Emmy-reign, winning for producing, writing and acting in the show. In recent years the show's Awards-cache has dropped (this is the first year it didn't receive either a writing or directing nomination), which probably means a win for Fey isn't likely.
Episode Submission: "The Tuxedo Begins"
This episode, in which Liz Lemon pretends to be an old lady and slowly morphs into a weird character that resembles The Joker, is a funny showcase for Fey, but not spectacular enough that it would make Emmy voters suddenly want to award her yet again. 

Lena Dunham in "Girls" (HBO)
"Girls" has been perhaps the most polarizing show of the year and Dunham's character Hanna Horvath has maybe been even more polarizing. There is endless debate over people who find the character too unlikable and can't stand her and those who find those unlikable traits to be an essential part of the show. I fall into the latter category and I think Emmy voters do too, judging from how "Girls" has done pretty well with nominations. 
Episode Submission: "She Did"
Dunham is one of tv's "it-girls" right now, so there wouldn't be much surprise if the Emmys want to reward her with a trophy. The thing that could work against her (besides the apparent backlash for her show) is that she has submitted the season finale, which has a very good scene towards the end in which she fights with her boyfriend, but for the most part is not as much a showcase of her acting abilities as it is an ensemble piece. 

Melissa McCarthy in "Mike and Molly" (CBS)
A surprise nominee and an even more surprising winner last year that certainly benefited from her brilliant and popular performance in 'Bridesmaids' that eventually earned her an Oscar nomination. All in all, McCarthy is a big star now and she is back this year to prove she won that Emmy for being great in 'Mike and Molly' and not because she was hilarious in last year's raunchiest comedy (something I quite frankly don't know if she can prove in any way). 
Episode Submission: "The Dress"
McCarthy gets a lot to do in this episode, in which she tries to lose weight to fit into her wedding dress. She is, however, in 'Mike and Molly', which is not a very good show. I didn't watch the tape she won for last year, but I can only asume it was better than this episode, which is not bad, but pales in comparison to the other submissions. 

Zooey Deschanel in "New Girl" (FOX)
Adorkable Zooey was supposed to be the big comedic breakthrough of the year back when 'New Girl' premiered to huge ratings. After a defeat at the Golden Globes and schedule mistreatment from FOX (which missed on the opportunity of making 'New Girl' the biggest thing since 'Friends' by overestimating how many people would like to watch 'The X Factor') her show became a hit that actually lost viewers as it was getting better. 
Episode Submission: "Bad in Bed"
When I first looked at the nominees, I thought Zooey might be the one with the least chances of winning, but boy did she pick a good episode. Her character hasn't always worked as well as the writers would like it to work, but in 'Bad in Bed' she does some pretty funny stuff in an episode that is overall very entertaining. 

Edie Falco in "Nurse Jackie" (Showtime)
Edie Falco's is a performance that has won this award in the past despite the fact that the performance itself is not very comedic. Falco's good in the role and she had her best season this past year, but there has been much debate regarding wether it is fair to submit 'Nurse Jackie' as a comedy. 
Episode Submission: "Disneyland Sucks"
The Emmys love Falco, having given her four awards in the past (three of them for playing Carmela in The Sopranos) and her episode submission is a pretty good one, not to mention one that will resonate with Hollywood voters (it is about Jackie entering rehab). Here's the thing though, no actress has won twice in this category since 2001 and I don't see a reason why Falco should break that trend this year. 

Amy Poehler in "Parks and Recreation" (NBC)
How can you not love Amy Poehler enough to make her win, Emmy voters? That her wonderful portrayal of enthusiastic little-town government employee Leslie Knope goes largely unnoticed by the American public is shame, but that the industry fails to reward her with a golden statue weirdly seems like a crime. This year Leslie run for office, a plot-line that gave her wonderful material that should work in her favor.  
Episode Submission: "Win, Lose or Draw"
Now that Poehler has her best chance to win, I am starting to believe she won't. "Win, Lose or Draw" is a very emotional episode in which Poehler learns the results of the election for city council. But I wonder if it would only work as good as it does for someone who has watched the whole season and already is invested in Leslie Knope's ark. Poehler could be helped by voters who actually watch the show, but I wonder if she could get enough votes from unfamiliar voters.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus in "Veep" (HBO)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has already won two Emmys (One for 'Seinfeld' and one for 'The New Adventures of Old Christine'). She could likely win a third for a third series this year. 'Veep' sort of stood in the shadow of the much more talked-about 'Girls' when it aired, but it is a show that I think has everything to appeal to voters. Series creator Armando Iannucci has won a lot of awards for his british show 'The Tick of It' (including many for its lead actor) and was nominated for an Oscar for 'In The Loop'. It is also a show about politics which sure gives it the snob appeal that helped 'The West Wing' dominate the Emmys for the first half of the last decade. 
Episode Submission: "Tears"
I, for one, found 'Veep' to be an entertaining and funny show, but not a particularly hilarious or clever one. That being said, 'Tears' is probably Julia Louis-Dreyfus best choice for a submission. It is not only one of the best uses of the series' dark comedic sensibilities, it is also a good showcase for her acting abilities. 

Will Win: It's really hard to say, I could see almost any of them winning. At the end, I think it will probably be between Louis-Dreyfus and Poehler. Gun to m head, I'm going with Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Should Win: I think all of these ladies are very good in their shows (even McCarthy whose show doesn't really give her good material), but I could only choose Amy Poehler who was stellar this season. My second choice would be Dunham. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Breaking Bad: "Say My Name"


Well, we didn't expect 'Breaking Bad' to end without a little bloodshed, right? It was just a little surprising to me that Mike was the first to go and in such manner. 

In a way, it was only logical that the only way Walt could get Mike was to get him by surprise at a moment when he is in an unusually vulnerable moment: persecuted by the DEA, losing all the money he was saving for his granddaughter and stripped of all his arms. In an episode in which Walt had been nothing but an asshole (something he's been doing all season long, really), the ultimate demonstration of Walter White Megalomaniac Unstable Person was his decision to shoot Mike for pointing our how they had it much better when Gus was around. 

Mike has a point. With Gus in charge they had a smoothly-running operation, a wonderful place to cook and all the connections necessary to keep it going for as long as they wanted. Hell, they had even get rid of the cartel down south in order to stand at the top of chain. Walt, however, would have probably not be alive at this point had he not killed Gus, so Mike's comment might have made him angry and impotent to a huge degree as he seems to imply Walt is no king of the hill material. 

Anyway, next week is the last episode this year and I suppose Walt will have to deal with this pivotal death in some way. I mean, he just killed a man wanted by the DEA in cold blood. This was a very stupid thing to do and might be the first clue in finally guiding Hank towards the real Heisenberg (we now Hank is a capable detective and I believe the show won't end without him putting things together and realizing the true nature of his brother-in-law.)

Another decision that seems stupid in a very similar way to shooting Mike, is teaching Todd how to cook. From what we've seen of this character and the fact that he seems to have kept the tarantula of the little boy he murdered as a trophy, he might not be the kind of person you want to show how to do the one thing that you get leverage from when dealing with other criminals. Walt's inclusion of Todd in the operation is triggered by him being unable to manipulate Jesse into sticking with him after Mike quits. 

So, here we have it. Walt has pretty much destroyed his relationship with Skyler, his partnership with Jesse and has now killed Mike. Seems like this batch of episodes will look as the set-up for Walt's downfall once we see the series' final episode. 

Also: Is it me, or did Walt leave the frame microphone at Hank's office?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Prediction for the 2012 VMAs

Much has been said about the fact that MTV has so unashamedly abandoned its initial purpose as a television channel to the point that it has officially dropped the word "music" from its logo to make it just a combination of letters. But what to make out of the fact that it is still giving out awards for music videos?

Not much, since said awards carry less weight than ever before. First, because they have stopped awarding videos that are actually interesting and visually striking in order to nominate far more mainstream and popular performers. Secondly, because they've become an awards whose winners are defined by popular vote in all categories, which makes it more a measurer of popularity than quality. 

Trying to predict who wins a "moonman" might be a stupid enterprise that requieres only to look which nominee has the most followers on twitter, but you know award shows are my thing. And since people can vote for this thing, I shall too.

Best Pop Video
fun. feat. Janelle Monae - "We Are Young"
Justin Bieber - "Boyfriend" (will win)
Maroon 5 feat. Wiz Khalifa - "Payphone"
One Direction - "What Makes You Beautiful"
Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris - "We Found Love" (my vote)

If people were truly voting for the best video, I think Rihanna would have this in the bag. I can't start to tell you how many people have told me how awesome that video is. And here's the thing, that song is incredibly superfluos and stupid, but also incredibly fun to listen and party to, whereas the video is trying to be all self-serious and dramatic. The only shot in that video that is as ridiculously fun as the song itself is that cigarette changing colors. Even if don't like the video except for that one bit, the song is fun enough to get my vote. (Although I almost voted for all the slow-motion in "We Are Young" if only to see the amazing Janelle Monae win an award).
As for who will win this thing, it's a fight between the two biggest tween-idols canadian Bieber and the brit guys in One Direction. I must say Bieber's song isn't entirely bad and he seems to be working hard enough to channel some kind of Usher in his musical persona lately. He doesn't exactly rise up to the challenge, but at least he's trying.

Best Rock Video
The Black Keys - "Lonely Boy" (my vote)
Coldplay - "Paradise"
Imagine Dragons - "It's Time" (will win)
Jack White - "Sixteen Sltines"
Linkin Park - "Burn It Down"

Both in terms of the best song and the best video of the bunch, The Black Keys' "Lonely Boy" is miles and away superior to the others. That sadly means they probably have no chance of winning the actual award, but they have my votes and I'll be crossing my fingers for them.
So, if not the Black Keys, then who wins? Jack White certainly doesn't seem like the type of artist who could win, especially at this point in his career. Linkin Park have been MTV favorites for years, but I refuse to believe the world isn't over them yet. Just rewatching Coldplay's video made me want to puke, but they have a reasonable chance of winning by having that elephant costume. I think Imagine Dragons will benefit from its pop-friendly track and seemingly artistic video, although Coldplay could easily win this too.

Best Hip-Hop Video
Childish Gambino - "Heartbeat" (my vote)
Drake feat. Lil Wayne - "HYFR"
Kanye West feat. Big Sean, Pusha-T and 2 Chainz - "Mercy"
Nicki Minaj feat. 2 Chainz - "Beez in the Trap"
Watch the Throne - "Paris" (will win)

As far as the winner is concerned, it's a question wether Nicki Minaj has enough fans and star-power to beat the collaboration of the two biggest names in hip-hop. Kanye and Jay-Z's "Paris" (as MTV.com calls the song) is one of the biggest songs of the year, my common sense tells me they should win this easily, but that sneaky Minaj has me second-guessing. Well, "Beez in the Trap" hasn't been as big as "Superbass" (or "Starships") so I'll stick with the Throne.
My vote, however, goes for Donald Glover's alter-ego Childish Gambino who probably wouldn't be here weren't for Glover's acting career. Still, I'm glad he's here.

Best New Artist
Carly Rae Jepsen - "Call Me Maybe"
Frank Ocean - "Swim Good" (my vote)
fun. feat. Janelle Monae - "We Are Young"
One Direction - "What Makes You Beautiful" (will win)
The Wanted - "Glad You Came"

Hey, I just looked at this category and is it crazy that smash-hit and meme-generator "Call Me Maybe" won't win this category? It is certainly the biggest hit of this bunch, but you would be underestimating teenage fangirls if you thought One Direction is going to lose this one. I personally am not a big fan of this boyband resurgence not only because I don't particularly care for the music they make, but because they have neglected one of the most essential parts of boybandism: the dancing! Anyway, as much as Jepsen's song is the biggest ear-worm since "we like to party", the better artist in this category far and away is Frank Ocean. I haven't liked an R&B artist in a long time, but Ocean's album is certainly worth a listen.

Best Female Video
Beyonce - "Love on Top"
Katy Perry - "Part of Me"
Nicki Minaj - "Starships"
Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris - "We Found Love" (will win and my vote)
Selena Gomez and The Scene - "Love You Like a Love Song"

Wait a second, I thought we all were in agreement that "Love You Like a Love Song" was just one of the worst songs ever recorded. Well, MTV certainly didn't think so. Anyway, this gives me a chance to prove I'm not completely crazy in my appreciation of "We Found Love", just compare the two songs. Selena's is incredibly stupid AND boring, while Rihanna's is incredibly stupid but the most fun you'll have this week. So, there you go.

Best Male Video
Chris Brown - "Turn Up the Music"
Drake feat. Rihanna - "Take Care" (Wil win)
Frank Ocean - "Swim Good" (my vote)
Justin Bieber - "Boyfriend"
Usher - "Climax"

I see what you did there nominating all Drake, Chris Brown and Rihanna in the same category MTV! I guess you're expecting the ultimate fan-response to the whole controversy surrounding these popstar's romantic life. Well, next try you want to try something like that you shouldn't have Justin Bieber nominated in the same category, no matter how many voters are against (or for) beating up your girlfriend, there will always be more fans of the Biebs.

Best Electronic Dance Music Video
Avicil - "Levels"
Calvin Harris - "Feels So Close"
Duck Sauce - "Big Bad Wolf" (my vote)
Martin Solveig - "The Night Out"
Skrillex - "First of the Year (Equinox)" (will win)

As I understand it Skrillex is the biggest name in electronic music because he plays weird noises in his itunes and still has people dancing, so I suppose he wins for having his video look like The Matrix thirteen years after that movie came out. The video I like the most in this list is Duck Sauce's, but the best bet to beat Skrillex is probably Avicil's "Levels" which finds the middleground between being a hugely popular song and having a fun video.
(Also, I don't know how Martin Solveig's song falls in the same category as the other nominees. Not that it is better or worse, but it just doesn't feel like the same genre).

Best Video with a Message
Demi Lovato - "Skyscraper" (will win)
Gym Class Heroes feat. Ryan Tedder - "The Fighter"
Kelly Clarkson - "Dark Side"
K'Naan feat. Nelly Furado - "Is Anybody Out There?" (my vote)
Lil Wayne - "How To Love"
Rise Against - "Ballad of Hollis Brown"

I already detest this new category. I think music "with a message" doesn't translate precisely to "obscure song that is clearly about something depressing or inspirational by an otherwise popular artist". All good music has a message. Some messages are worthier than others, but this category pretends something like Simple Plan's "Perfect" is a good song because it is so obviously about feeling depressed as a teenager. That being said, Demi Lovato wins for having the most popular song of the bunch and my vote goes to K'Naan for being an otherwise interesting artist.

Video of the Year
Drake feat. Rihanna - "Take Care"
Gotye feat. Kimbra - "Somebody That I Used To Know" (will win)
Katy Perry - "Wide Awake"
MIA - "Bad Girls"
Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris - "We Found Love"

For many years this category has had an existential crisis not deciding if it wants to honor the best video or the biggest artist. As of late, it has favored the artist over the visual, but this year might just be the year in which the two meet as there is the chance to honor a hugely popular song and pretend that it became a hit precisely because of its video and not because of it being featured on Glee. If MTV wants to pretend it is still connected to the world of music videos (or even pretend that television is still were people watch music videos instead of YouTube) then giving the top prize to "Somebody Thay I Used To Know" is the thing to do.
As for my vote, at this point I start to feel the shame, but I'd go with "We Found Love".

The MTV Video Music Awards air Sep. 6 at 8pm EST on MTV. You can still vote for who you want to win on MTV.com.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Disney Canon: Bambi


Walt Disney said of 'Bambi': "[it is] the best picture I have ever made, and the best ever to come out of Holywood". To which I reply: "Oh, come on, Walt!" Not to say that 'Bambi' is a bad film (it isn't), but I have to admit I find it to be somewhat overrated by a lot of Disney enthusiasts. 

The main reason for the over-appreciation of the movie, I think, is the harrowing moment in which Bambi's mom is murdered by a character labeled as "man" when he was named one of AFI's greatest villains of all time. The scene in question, is indeed, a moment that has scarred the childhood of too many moviegoers and because of that has installed the movie in the public consciousness that has elevated it into one of the best of Disney's catalogue. Ask anyone what they remember of the film and they will talk about Bambi becoming an orphan.

That pivotal death is the most remembered moment because of how surprising it could seem to someone who watches the movie without knowing that plot point (at this day and age it means practically nobody, but think back to the audiences of 1942). More than the first half of the film is spent watching little Bambi grow up in the forest beside his momma and bunny friend Thumper. If you think Disney film's are too cute to swallow, you (although wrong about your judgement of the studio) should avoid Bambi. The cute factor is amped up to eleven throughout most of the film. This will either make you cringe being unable to stand it or fall for the little deer just for the sake of how adorable he is. We then get shocked when the mother is mercilessly murdered. 

My problem with Bambi relies partly on this point. The main storyline is about the little toddler having to grow up in a world that isn't fair while learning his place in the grand scheme of things. This whole transformation and understanding comes too late in the film, feeling weirdly disjointed and making Bambi's an unsatisfying journey. Because the first half of the film is so cutesy and friendly, there is genuine shock by the major plot point, but once the mother is gone everything continues in a weird episodic way I'm not quite sure what Bambi's ark is and I can't say I know much about his character. It's a pity and a disappointment after the strong parental relationships at the center of 'Pinocchio' and 'Dumbo'. 

It is, however, a gorgeous movie. Unlike 'Dumbo', which was a somewhat rushed production that resulted in great but also very cartoony animation; Disney's animators spent a lot of time studying deer in order to make Bambi's movements as realistic as possible, and they nailed it. The superb character animation adds to the visually striking look of the film: Disney returns to the multiplane cameras used in Pinocchio and has the backgrounds painted with oil paintings instead of watercolors, making this one of the best looking films in his career.  

I may have come off too hard on poor 'Bambi'. It is, after all, an entertaining enough and certainly beautiful movie (I think I'm repeating myself, but it is really good-looking film). The cute characters and fanciful sequences will work very good with kids who are old enough to tolerate the death at the center of the story. It deserves to hold its head high as a better part of the Disney classics, it just doesn't live up to the standards set out by Snow White, Dumbo, and especially Pinocchio. 

*As of the date of publication, the whole movie is available on Youtube.*

Next Time: The Disney Canon is going to take a break. We will be back with 'Saludos Amigos' to kick off the second part of this series (which will probably consist of six parts) on Sunday September 16. On the meantime, why don't you enjoy this clip from Bambi.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

2012 Emmy Awards Predictions: Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series


Award Shows, my one weakness. Even if they're meaningless, I can't resist them and so, here is my annual attempt at predicting which actors and shows will become winners. These are predictions for the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards which will be broadcast live on Sunday September 23 on ABC.

To win the Emmy, every actor nominated must submit an episode representative of their best work each season. The episodes submitted are then viewed by a panel that votes for what they deem best. Each actor and his/her publicity team pick which episode to submit. Great submissions can help an underdog, bad ones could prevent a favorite from winning. Let's take a look at what these guys chose. The nominees are...


Ty Burrell in "Modern Family" (ABC)
He won this category last year and is back to take home his second Emmy. Burrell's Phil has become the breakout character of the show with his portrayal of a heartwarming doofus. Because there are an excessive amount of 'Modern Family' actors nominated and Phil has kind of become the de facto lead of that show, voters will see a lot of him when they watch these tapes. 
Episode Submission: "Lifetime Supply"
That's not to mention the fact that his episode submission is a pretty solid one. In "Lifetime Supply" Phil confronts his apparent death in a pretty funny manner that will not only please voters, but will also bring contrast to the happier and more out-going work he does in his co-star's episodes. 

Jesse Tyler Ferguson in "Modern Family" (ABC)
He may be the least buzzed-about of the Modern Family adult cast, but he may just be the guy to take on Burrell and win the Emmy. He has the disadvantage of regularly playing straight man Mitchell to Eric Stonestreet's more flamboyant Cameron. The Emmys prefer to give the awards to the crazier characters, but "straight-man" roles have won in the past, including Ferguson's co-star Julie Bowen last year. 
Episode Submission: "Leap Day"
In this tape Mitchell tries to organize the perfect birthday party for Cam as hijinks ensue. It is a fine submission and a funny enough one, but what could seal the deal is his emotional breakdown in Ed O'Neill's episode. If he has something going against him, it may be that he hasn't all that great material in either Burrell or Stonestreet's tapes. 

Ed O'Neill in "Modern Family" (ABC)
Considering he is a sitcom veteran in the biggest comedy on television, he should already have won an Emmy. The thing that is keeping it from happening is that his character isn't as obviously comedic as the others. Like Ferguson, he most of the time has to play the straight-man to television wife Sofia Vergara. 
Episode Submission: "Baby on Board"
The other thing keeping him from winning, judging from this submission, is that he is terrible at this. In this episode, he has a conversation with his grand-daughter and then dances for two seconds with her. That's it. His story is actually the C-Plot of the episode. Talking about it, the A-Plot of Cam and Mitchell going to a bordertown to adopt a baby might snatch the gold for either of them. 

Eric Stonestreet in "Modern Family" (ABC)
Oh, poor Cameron. Back in season one he was the absolute stand-out in this great cast, but two seasons later the writers have turned the character into a shrill wining machine.
Episode Submission: "Treehouse"
Stonestreet, however, is a good actor who knows how to work the good stuff when it's given to him and this is episode is an example of that. In "Treehouse" Cameron pretends to be straight in order to prove to Mitchell he could pick up a woman if he wanted to. It's pretty funny and the adoption storyline in Ed O'Neill's tape will help him too. 

Max Greenfield in "New Girl" (FOX)
'New Girl' was a show that got much better as it went along and stopped being the "adorkable" Zooey Deschanel show in order to become more of an ensemble comedy. In this transition, Max Greenfield's lovable douche Schmidt became the beakout star of the show. 
Episode Submission: "Control"
Greenfield's choie is actually a pretty good one, in "Control" we get to see Schmidt turn from an uptight control-freak to a carefree hippie drummer. Showing two sides of a character in a tape is an old trick for striking Emmy gold and voters do tend to fall for it. However, he might be too young and there might just be too many 'Modern Family' actors for him to win. 

Bill Hader in "Saturday Night Live" (NBC)
When I first wrote about Bill Hader's nomination, I was a little surprised and really couldn't make up why he was on the list. I hadn't been watching much of SNL this season and therefore didn't know about his popular performance as "Stefon" which is actually really funny. 
Episode Submission: "Host: Katy Perry"
Anyway, no SNL cast member has won since the rules were weirdly changed so they could get nominated int he supporting categories. No matter how popular Stefon is, if Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig couldn't win, Hader probably won't. 

Who Will Win? I'm going with Ty Burrell, but I think it could end up being Jesse Tyler Ferguson or Eric Stonestreet. 

Who Should Win? My favorite supporting actors aren't nominated (Nick Offerman, Donald Glover, Danny Pudi, Chris Pratt), but if I had to choose from this list, I'd probably go with Greenfield.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

2012 Emmy Award Predictions: Lead Actress in a Drama Series


Award Shows, my one weakness. Even if they're meaningless, I can't resist them and so, here is my annual attempt at predicting which actors and shows will become winners. These are predictions for the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards which will be broadcast live on Sunday September 23 on ABC.

To win the Emmy, every actor nominated must submit an episode representative of their best work each season. The episodes submitted are then viewed by a panel that votes for what they deem best. Each actor and his/her publicity team pick which episode to submit. Great submissions can help an underdog, bad ones could prevent a favorite from winning. Let's take a look at what these ladies chose. The nominees are...

Glenn Close in "Damages" (DirecTV)
I never really liked "Damages", but I acknowledge there was a time when a bunch of people watched and really liked the show and it had some buzz and nominations and was considered one of the best shows on television. I think all of that is gone, where I had even forgotten the show existed. Thanks to Emmy voters and their love for movie stars on television shows, I remembered.
Episode Submission: "I've Done Way Too Much for This Girl"
Let me just say that the episode will be as present in voters' minds as the show was on mine. Close has won twice already for this role back when the show was somewhat popular, she won't win again.

Michelle Dockery in "Downton Abbey" (PBS)
The big story in this year's Emmy Awards is the love they've shown for British soap "Downton Abbey". Now, Lady Mary (Dockery's character) is considered by many fans of the show to be the heart and soul of the series. By others, she's found to be incredibly shrill and unlikeable, especially when the show started. Most people are on agreement that her character has gotten more likable as the show has gone on, but there is still those who find her annoying. 
Episode Submission: "Episode 7/Christmas"
What's notable for her character in this episode is that she decides to get out of an engagement that would save her social image and retrieve to the US, when she's finally proposed to by her loving Matthew. There is something to charm critics here, I believe, and they certainly love "Downton", but it might not be enough. 

Julianna Margulies "The Good Wife" (CBS)
She was the favorite to win two years ago, submitted terribly and lost. So you can see that the tapes do matter. She did, however, win last year with a much better submission. 
Episode Submission: "Parenting Made Easy"
In which her daughter goes missing. Sounds like a dynamite plot-line for an awards tape, right? Well, it really isn't. The episode is very weirdly constructed and is not as much a showcase of Margulies' talents than an ensemble piece. "The Good Wife" not being nominated for Drama Series this year isn't a good indication either. 


Kathy Bates in "Harry's Law" (NBC)
This terrible show is already canceled, but Kathy Bates is such a beloved actress that the Emmy voters decided to continue their long tradition of nominating every Oscar winning star that appears on tv. This show, however terrible, was created by David E. Kelley, who has an impressive track-record of creating pretty mediocre shows that in turn win Emmys for their stars. 
Episode Submission: "Onward and Upward"
In which Kathy Bates' character must organize her ex-husband's funeral, which in and on itself sounds like pretty baity material for winning an award. However, she doesn't have the trick that many David E. Kelley stars have used to win, which is having a grand, closing argument speech to seal the deal with voters. Maybe that will keep her from winning. 

Claire Danes in "Homeland" (Showtime)
She's the favorite to win. She's the "it" girl in one of the best reviewed television series of the past season. She won the Golden Globe back in January and gives what might be the best performance of her lifetime, which certainly doesn't hurt. 
Episode Submission: "The Vest"
If you are playing a showy, over-the-top, crazy-ass character then show it off. "The Vest" displays Danes at her showiest, craziest best when her character is taken off her medication just when she's about to crack the mystery surrounding a future terrorist attack. 

Elisabeth Moss in "Mad Men" (AMC)
Elisabeth Moss has spend five years doing outstanding work playing Peggy Olsen. Last year she had an amazing submission in "The Suitcase", but lost to Julianna Margulies. Logic would tell you that if she couldn't with that tape, she'll never win, but stranger things have happened at the Emmys.
Episode Submission: "The Other Woman"
Peggy has been more of a supporting figure this season. Other than the scene in which Peggy says goodbye to Don as she leaves the agency, there's not much that she gets to do here. 

Who Will Win? Considering how she's got all the buzz and all the press and how her submission is easily the best of this bunch, Claire Danes shouldn't have trouble getting a second Emmy. 

Who Should Win? Well, I have to give fair where fair is due, Claire Danes is truly superb in "Homeland" and deserves all the praise she's gotten and the Emmy to boost. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Breaking Bad: "Buyout"


We are arriving at the end of the first half of Breaking Bad's season 5 (the second part will air in 2013). With just two episodes to go this year, 'Buyout' turned up to be an episode that felt like a transitory one. One that was answering last week's cliffhanger and trying to move the chess pieces for the next two episodes (or maybe the series' final stretch that is still a year away). 

First we have the aftermath of Todd shooting that little kid after the train robbery. Walt, Jesse and Mike decide keeping Todd in the the team is the easiest answer, but there is really nothing easy about the situation they're in right now. With Mike being constantly followed by the DEA and all that Jesse has been through, the guys have decided to sell the methylanine, get 5 million each and end with the meth-operation for good. Mike and Jesse want out, but Walt is not having it. The buyer's aren't having it either, if Walt doesn't sell his share, they won't buy from Mike and Jesse. 

If we didn't know it yet, it is pretty clear Walt has become a full-on villain. Even if the sanest thing to do is get the money and finally end with this ridiculously dangerous business, he insists on going on. "I'm not in the meth business, I'm in the empire business" he tells Jesse. He also explains how he missed out on becoming a millionaire had he stayed with the Gray Matters, the chemical company he created back in college. It feels like what Walt wants above all is power, which is something he clearly didn't have an inch from when we meet him in the pilot. It seems he feels he's been neglected all of his life and has now found out the way to use his genius to earn what he deserves. Megalomaniac to the core. We also get that awkward dinner scene of Walt, Jesse and Skyler all having dinner together, which was fun, but didn't feel as earned and satisfying as similar moments have been in other episodes. 

Anyway, at the end of the episode Walt has apparently come up with a plan that will give Mike and Jesse the 5 million they want without having to sell, which I suppose is really a way for Walt to buy time until he can convince at least Jesse to stay in business. 

Meanwhile, Skyler finds out Walt told Marie about her "affair" with Ted Beneke. Judging from the scene in which she had with Marie and later the dinner scene with Walt and Jesse she can't take this anymore and if this isn't the straw that broke the camel's back, the camel's back is sure going to break very soon. Could it be Skyler ends up killing Walt and not the other way around?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Paranorman: Normal is the Watchword


Studio Laika, the animation movie studio that brought you Coraline a couple of years ago, is back with a new movie. Chris Butler and Sam Fell's Paranorman was a pleasant surprise and along with The Avengers, the most fun I've had in the theater so far this year. 

Norman is a young kid who can talk to ghosts. Because of this, he is not only bullied by the kids in his school, but misunderstood and neglected by his family who don't want to be the laughing stock of their little Massachusetts town where Norman is believed to be a freaky, crazy, kid. Things, however, will turn out differently from what they expect when an ancient curse (dating back to the witch-burning days of yore) will bring zombies back to live to haunt the them. 

As they did with Coraline, Laika studios has crafted a beautiful film, with exquisite stop-motion animation that proves the artisanal craftsmanship involved in animated a movie frame-by-frame is more spectacular and awe-inducing than anything a computer could render. But Paranorman, is not only a movie that looks great. It is also an incredibly clever and well-written film.  

As a horror-comedy it has a unique affection for the genre that is present from the opening scene mimicking old slasher horror movies to the pay-off to what in most movies would have clearly been a romantic relationship remaining hilarious from start to finish -thanks in no small part to a terrific voice cast that includes Casey Affleck, Anna Kendrick, John Goodman and Elaine Stritch. As it is case with the better animated movies (and not those horrible Shrek-knock-offs) the comedy, referencial as it may be, remains character-focused, which will make things funny to anyone who watches and not only those that catch the reference.

However, the real thing that set Paranorman to the top of this year's movies is that besides it being truly funny, Norman's story is one that carries a lot of emotional weight and that I'm sure will resonate with a lot of young viewers. Not unlike our recently covered Dumbo, Paranorman is about acceptance only a different way. It is not only about Norman saving his town and therefore be accepted as he is, but it is also about tolerance and the town learning to accept the members of their society no matter how weird they seems at first. 

Like another wonderful animated movie, How To Train Your Dragon, it asks for understanding and reconciliation in the face of fear. It doesn't ask for our heroes to be warriors, but pacifists, dialogue-starters. Not talkers, but listeners. I think this is still an incredibly important message to get across, that done in such an outstanding way by the filmmakers, makes Paranorman one of the best films of the year.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Disney Canon: Dumbo


Dumbo is the first film on the Disney Canon that I remember watching repeatedly as child. Well, "more than once" would be a truer statement than "repeatedly". This is not to say that I liked this film more than the ones we've already covered, but that it was one that was more available to watch when I was growing up. I don't remember having a VHS copy of the movie, so I must have watched it on television airings, which is entirely possible, because Dumbo is only 60 minutes long making it a perfect time-filler for local tv.

After Pinocchio and Fantasia failed to make a profit on their initial release, the Disney studio was in a tight spot. Dumbo was assembled as a small, cheap film that would hopefully perform well at the box-office and bring money to the studio. And it did. It cost half as much as 'Snow White' and, thus, easily turned out a profit and let uncle Walt live another day at the top. It is certainly curious to note how after two incredibly ambitious films, it was the little film that ended up being the biggest success.

Now back to my memories of Dumbo. Surprisingly, I remembered a lot of it even though I hadn't seen it in at least eight years. Despite not being exactly innovative as far as the animation is concerned, it holds strong images that remained with me all these years. I could have probably recreated the movie in my head if I had made the effort to put the images I remembered in the correct order. I tell you this, because I realized Dumbo is one of the most effective Disney films.

First of all, the movie is very short; so the story is incredibly focused. As far as plot goes, there is little of it. It is a really simple story: Dumbo's quest is to survive life at the circus and hopefully be reunited with his mother once again. As for the storytelling, the whole film seems to be working towards this two goals constantly, on second viewing, even the sequences that seem like a departure from the main plot aren't. Sequences like the travelling train or the setting up of the tent under the pouring rain work as effective world-building for us to understand life at the circus and what this will mean for our hero (Even before we're told, we understand there's a certain hierarchy and the clows are probably at the bottom of it). And what is not adding to our perception of the film's world is adding to the relationship between Dumbo and his mother. One that remains pure throughout the film and that is separated precisely because of the profound love Mrs. Jumbo has for her child.

As I said before, this makes Dumbo an incredibly effective film. The message it is setting out to tell, as well as the primal relationship of mother and child, will resonate with every little movie-watcher. Despite being mocked for his gigantic ears and being separated from his mother, Dumbo becomes triumphant at the end, proving that you can turn your weaknesses into your biggest asset. That you too deserve to be accepted in your own unique way and have a loving family. That you have a place where you belong and you deserve to be loved. It is very powerful stuff, especially for a child, and it goes without saying that the scene in which Dumbo visits his mother in her isolation cell and gently curls up in her trunk still makes me sob like a baby all these years later.

Oh, and did I mention Dumbo doesn't even talk? This is a masterclass in storytelling. No doubt it's Pixar mastermind John Lasseter's favorite film of all-time.

Next Time: Bambi, the mother of all of our childhood's traumatic movie moments. For now, enjoy one of most surreal images of my childhood with the famous "Pink Elephants on Parade" (I wonder how this scene got to screens in 1941).

 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pure Joy: Hit Me With Your Best Shot While Singin' in the Rain


Continuing our participation in The Film Experience's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series and join celebration of Gene Kelly's centennial week by picking our favorite image in Singin' in the Rain, classic Hollywood movie widely considered the greatest musical of all time. 

As anything considered to be the best anything, each person who watches Singin' in the Rain will immediately think "What's so great about this?". This is a real shame and a major barrier that tends to hinder the relationship between modern audiences and great cinema, but one that this musical must live with. 

However, if we're being frank, Singin' in the Rain has it easier than say, The Seventh Seal, because it is actually a lot of fun to watch. The title of this entry was written to express the feeling I experienced while watching this movie. Singin' in the Rain, with a tight story, an amusing yet insightful look at the history of cinema, a lot of humor and spectacular dance sequence is a delight that can easily charm audiences and certainly keep on doing so. 

If there is a problem with the movie -I bet I'm not the only one who thinks this- it's how the plot seems to stop all of a sudden for an overlong musical number ("Gotta dance!"), which feels to me like a big parenthesis in the plot, but is nevertheless amusing and gives us this wonderful image:
Gene Kelly has a playfulness to himself that is just magnetic. As do Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor for that matter. These guys perform incredibly complex tap-dancing routines (part of which are done in one take) in which they climb walls, jump on chairs and couches and land flat on the floor  and they do it while radiating joy. With this kind of performances it isn't a problem to believe people will suddenly burst into song. When your feelings are so gigantic and absolute, what other option do you have but to start dancing? 

Kelly's performance of the titular song, for example, is a masterclass in this respect. It is one of the happiest moments in the history of cinema, sold by a performance that encapsulates the joie-de-vivre of the film and contains my pick for best shot: 

Hope Springs: Reality Bites


Hope Springs is probably not the movie you expect it to be. Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones star as Kay and Arnold. They've been married for 31 years and Kay is not particularly happy about their situation: They have settled in a very stale routine, they sleep in separate beds and haven't been intimate in several years. Kay decides they should go to Maine and take an intensive couple's counseling week with marriage expert Dr. Feld (Steve Carell). Arnold initially opposes this idea, but ends up going because ha does care for his wife and also if he didn't there wouldn't be much a movie. 

This plot description, as well as the trailers would have you being pretty sure about what comes next in the story: they go to a couple of sessions, the doctor makes them do some crazy sexual stuff that old people shouldn't do and it's hilarious, they would have a fight or two and make up at the end. Classic Hollywood stuff. Well, guess again, the movie is far more interested in exploring the relationship between Kay and Arnold and the situation of their marriage than any other studio movie would be.

Much of the movie is spend in Dr. Feld's office, during the counseling sessions as the three talk about the relationship. The movie is intimate and quiet, and don't get me wrong, it's also funny, just in a much more intelligent way than what we're accustomed. Director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) understands where the strengths of the movie lie, so he smartly doesn't get in the way of the script and the performances: When you've got Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones acting off each other, you better not. The screenwriter is Vanessa Taylor, who gracefully avoids the obvious routes and provides a story about intimacy and overcoming problems the way they are usually solved in real life: steadily and slowly, as a process instead of an abrupt and magical answer, which is the way Hollywood likes to give relationship advice. 

This is not to say the movie is an arthouse exploration of intimacy and marriage resembling Bergman's 'Scenes of a Marriage', but it is nevertheless incredible that a Hollywood Studio decided to make a movie that feels real.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Breaking Bad: "Dead Freight"


Well, wow.

Another outstanding episode of 'Breaking Bad'. This time around, we get one of the greatest and most suspenseful set-pieces the show's ever done when Walt, Jesse, Mike and Todd (Jesse Plemons, Landry from Friday Night Lights) set out to rob a train wagon full of methylamine. It's another classic 'Breaking Bad' caper and as me and my dad were watching I asked him: "Do you think there are trains that run through the middle of the desert?" We really couldn't answer, partially because we haven't been to New Mexico, so we let that little detail slide and enjoy what we were watching.

But, of course, with 7 billion people on the planet, there are hardly any deserts left. Especially in the United States of America. And so, there was bound to be a witness to the robbery. And it happened to be that little boy. Another immensely tragic death in the show's history and one that just might be the straw that broke the camel's back as far as the relationship between Walt and Jesse is concerned.

Granted; it was Todd, not Walt, that shot the boy. But we can see from Jesse's reaction that it will mean a lot to him. Having gone through what he's gone through, he is now many times more sensible than Walt and the shooting of a little kid may bring too many similarities to Jesse murdering Gale and the poisoning of Brock. Both moments that have devastating Jesse making the man he is now.

Well, what I have to say is this: This is shaping up to be an incredible season of television. Last year gave us the war between Walt and Gus, which was very exciting; but season four also had to spend a lot of time slowing things down and developing the supporting characters. At the time, it might not have been as fun to watch the show as in other points in time, but it like something that was necessary if the show wanted to stick the landing in its final moments. Now, we are closer to the end and all the development that came before seems more than worthy.

Also: As for the relationship between Walt and Skyler, it seemed last week that Walt might go as far as to murder his wife. This week they seem to be striking a deal about the kids. Walt sending Junior out of the house because of Skyler seems to be a step towards a healthier relationship considering how he's treating her overall, but I doubt this is the end of the problems in the White marriage.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Disney Canon: Fantasia


Sorry for the late post (to the couple of people who read the blog). I am trying to do the "Disney Canon" on fridays, but I couldn't finish this up yesterday. I'll try to be on schedule next week.

Back in 1938, Walt Disney was enjoying the greatest moment in his career. 'Snow White' had just become one of the biggest hits of all-time, Walt's folly had proven to be a huge success and only the sky seemed like the limit for a triumphant Disney. It's understandable that Disney would come up with an idea as (if not more) daring and ambitious than the making of 'Snow White' at this time.

At this point, the cartoon mouse that had started the success of Disney's career was in trouble. Even if the studio itself was doing better than ever, Mickey Mouse was losing his popularity to more dynamic characters like Donald Duck. Disney couldn't let his biggest star fade in the public's eye, so he redesigned Mickey in order to start one of his "Silly Symphonies" shorts scored by Paul Dukas' 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'. The project would soon be part of something way bigger.  

Disney took the stand-alone short and turned it into just one of the segments in 'Fantasia', a feature-length film composed of animated shorts set to classical music. He enlisted composer Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Philharmonic for the score. He had almost all is animators (who did an amazing job) work on a segment or another. He recorded the soundtrack with multiple audio channels, which enabled him to reproduce it using a system he called 'Fantasound', which was the first stereophonic sound system to be used for the showing of a movie. But that wasn't all. Walt's initial plan was to keep revisiting the film every number of years, re-releasing it with new segments replacing some of the older ones. This way, the film would always keep evolving through time. 

The film ended up costing twice as much as 'Snow White', but seeing how that movie ended up making many times its budget in the box office so there was no need to fear... Except the film couldn't make a profit at the box-office. The european market was closed due to World War II and many theaters across the country couldn't afford to star the sophisticated 'Fantasound'. An initial box-office failure, it did (like many other Disney films) end up becoming very popular with audiences and making a lot of money due to re-releases, tv showings and home video. 

There's no doubt this was an incredibly ambitious film, but do the animated pieces of 'Fantasia' hold up to time? Is it a film worth watching these many years later when the novelty it's gone? 

Well, like most films composed of separate segments, some work better than other. However, 'Fantasia's pieces stand fairly in the same level of quality from one another. The animation is certainly superb. Disney really pushed his animators to create a visual spectacle that would stand on par with the classical masterpieces it was going to be paired with. 

As far as the short's content, curiously, the one that works the best and is best remembered is "The Sorcerer's Apprentice". I would say not only because it features Mickey Mouse, but because it is the one short that offers a clear narrative: Mickey puts a spell on a broom to help him with his work and things spin out of control. It is also the only segment that portrays the narrative of the actual piece, which is based on Goethe's poem Der Zauberlehrling, which has essentially the same plot as the cartoon (except it doesn't, of course, star Mickey Mouse). 

In other cases where the music offered a narrative like Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" or Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" Disney didn't use it for the animation. In the "Nutcracker Suite" we have fairies and other magical forest creatures dancing to the tune of Tchaikovsky, ignoring the plot of the ballet, not even featuring a nutcracker. Meanwhile, in "Rite of Spring", the dark and complex story of the piece is exchanged to a depiction of the creation of the earth and evolution in our planet, which includes a long sequence featuring dinosaurs, something that made it one of my favorite parts of the movie as a kid (any movie that has a fight between a T-Rex and a Stegosaurus is worth watching). 

In both these segments, as well as in Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony", more than a clear narrative we have little scenes of action that provide action and movement to the music rathe than a story. These three segments work equally fine thanks to this approach, but for all their virtues (and dinosaurs) they also lack when compared to the three other segments. 

We already know that Mickey's segment benefits greatly from a narrative for the audience to follow. The other two work for very different reasons. Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours" is a comic ballet featuring ostriches, hippos, elephants and alligators dancing until the palace the performance is taking place collapses and works so well precisely because it is the most overtly comedic and amusing sequence. 

As for the final short, we begin with Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain", which presents us with a fearful sequence in which the devil Chernabog summons spirits and demons out of their graves until they are stopped by the night turning into dawn and the sounds of Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria". This highly religious short works especially well in its first part thanks to the intensity of the music paired up with the macabre. I think it also benefits from the contrast it offers in the narrative be it as simple as it is. 

There was always the question amongst the highest of highbrow critics wether it was worth it to trivialize such complex musical compositions with cartoon characters. Stravinsky, unsurprisingly, detested what Disney had done to his "Rite of Spring". I, for one, think it's a fairly effective way to introduce children to these works and I think that's the opinion most people have forged since the theatrical debut of 'Fantasia'. 

At the end, the shorts that work, work really well and the others work fine enough as to make it a good sit-through, especially it you're watching it with kids. I, for one, admire the audacity of Disney's enterprise, but also prefer his more traditionally narrative features. 

Next Time: Dumbo, a tiny movie, but a great success for Disney. For now, let's enjoy one of Fantasia's greatest moments in Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours. Most of the shorts are on YouTube if you want to check them out for yourself.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Endless Debate: Hit Me With Your Best Shot, Sherlock Jr.


Hereby I am participating in The Film Experience's 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' series. Nathaniel Rogers is probably my favorite blogger on the internet and I have enjoyed this series for a long time, so I thought I might as well take part in it. It's my first time, so keep that in mind. Enjoy.

I think it's an interesting debate, but it makes me a little sad that almost every time you bring up Chaplin or Keaton nowadays, the inevitable conversation about which one is better must take place. I personally like Keaton better. Something that began in me (as I think it did in many others) as a way of going against the masses that have established Chaplin as the more popular filmmaker. These days, however, knowing many more cinephiles than I did back when I was thirteen, I know that there is no such thing as an "underdog" in the battle between these two silent giants. The critical consensus probably favors Keaton now.

So, having grown up and matured a little, I have watched both Keaton's and Chapin's work in amore analytical and unbiased fashion and concluded that I loved them both, but Keaton's just better. I think 'The General' is right at the top of the best movies ever made (such a pity it didn't make Sight & Sound's top ten for this decade). Needless to say, re-watching 'Sherlock Jr.' was pure joy. 

The 'HMWYBS' series is supposed to be about your favorite shot in a movie, but I couldn't help but go with a sequence that happens early on in the film and encapsulates one of the aspects that make me prefer Keaton. In the scene, our hero the film projectionist who dreams of being a detective (played by Buster Keaton) tries to impress the girl he's in love with by giving her a box of chocolates (of which he changes the price at the bottom of the box to say it cost 4 dollars instead of 1) and a ring with a minuscule stone. 


Many talk about how Keaton is superior for using the camera in a more integral way to his story and exploring the medium more thoroughly than Chaplin, that's not the kind of thing that draws a young movie-lover to him. As a young one, it was all about Keaton's character, particularly, his interactions with girls. 

You can see it in this scene, how he is stone-faced about the whole situation, timid and yet charming. Not unlike how I felt about myself (the timid part) and how I hoped I would be (the charming part, duh). I have always been delighted and sympathized with Chaplin's little tramp, but I could only identify as much as I did with this projectionist. Chaplin felt to me like a little puppy that wants you to love him too much, his movies are too sentimental. Keaton, is like a cat, that goes after what he wants and gives you just the right amount of charming comedy as he does in this scene. 

You see? Not even I, who begrudges it so much, could escape the debate of the silent clowns. For what it's worth, I do have another favorite shot of the movie. The projectionist sleeps, and in a dream, watches his lover with another man in the movie he's projecting. Look at it and tell me it doesn't tell you just too much about the life of a cinephile. 


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