Saturday, January 12, 2013

TOO BIG AND TOO LITTLE: Wanted to talk a little bit about two Best Picture nominees and how their problems are mirror images of each other.  The first is Life of Pi, which I saw tonight (had wanted to see Zero Dark Thirty, but the showtime I wanted was sold out even though I got there an hour early).  Without spoiling anything, it's safe to say that well over half of the movie takes place on a lifeboat with one human character, and is ultimately a pretty small story.  That's not inherently a bad thing--indeed, Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks did pretty well with a similarly constrained storytelling tool for Cast Away.  However, what Lee (partially in a desire to be faithful to the source material) tries to do is make this story have gigantic cosmological implications, with massive CGI fantasy sequences.  He's not exactly helped along by Suraj Sharma, the unknown playing Pi, who isn't really a commanding screen presence.  A lot of the imagery in the film is gorgeous (and having seen it in 3D, I can see why several critics said to see it that way), but it left me feeling like it tried too hard.

On the other hand, there's Les MisLes Mis is a pretty damn epic story, spanning almost 20 years of major French historical events, massive casualties, sweeping love stories, and the like.  However, for the vast majority of the film, the decision's been made to present things in a series of close-ups rather than a broader, more epic standpoint.  I'll be the first to admit that there are times this approach pays dividends--Anne Hathaway is going to win an Oscar off a rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream" that was only possible through the decision to focus in on Fantine's personal pain in that moment rather than the more epic scope that song has traditionally been given.  However, moments that should have more sweep--"One Day More" and "Red and Black" in particular--wind up becoming so intimate that we don't get the broader importance.  Admittedly, the choice to hold back on something sweeping until the finale does help give the finale a little more punch, but I wonder if the film would have been stronger with more evenness in scope and emotion.

FWIW, my current best picture rankings are probably Argo>Lincoln>Silver Linings Playbook>Les Mis>Life of Pi, with 4 left to see (Zero Dark Thirty will definitely be seen, Django and Beasts of the Southern Wild probably will be, but I'm not sure I can manage Amour)--though I'd go Day-Lewis/Lawrence/Arkin/Hathaway on the acting ballot as of now.

Friday, January 11, 2013

THE ADMINISTRATION DOES NOT SUPPORT BLOWING UP PLANETS:  The White House has responded to the citizen petition asking the administration to begin the construction of a Death Star by 2016. In part: "Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?"

related: was the destruction of the first Death Star an inside job?what's up with the trash compactor?; Ewok Holocaust.
BOLD AND BALLSY AND FEARLESS: From Chicago to NYC, from stage to little screen to big screen to little screen, Vulture documents the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler friendship in text, image, and video. Golden Globes are Sunday, and even though the awards themselves are meaningless, I expect I'll be watching just for the hosts.
I'M KNOWN FOR BEING BAD AT CHALLENGES, NOT GOOD AT CAMP LIFE, AND, YOU KNOW, A TRAITOR, AND POSSIBLY EVEN ANNOYING, SO I BRING NOTHING TO THE TABLE:  CBS has released a four-minute video unveiling the cast of Survivor 26: Fans vs. Favorites II, and it includes some beloved nerds and crazy-folk of seasons past, but especially from The Season With Ozzy & Coach and The One Boston Rob Won. Full list is here; February 13 debut.
ALL HE EVER DOES IS NOT GET INDUCTED:  The fifteen finalists for induction for the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, up to five of whom will be selected, are RB Jerome Bettis; WRs Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed; OLs Larry Allen (1st-time eligible), Jonathan Ogden (ditto), and Will Shields; DEs Charles Haley and Michael Strahan (first-timer); DT Warren Sapp (ditto); LB Kevin Greene; CB Aeneas Williams; and Bill Parcells, Ed DeBartolo, Jr., and Art Modell. Semifinalists missing the cut include Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis, Steve Tasker, and Paul Tagliabue.

[My ballot, I guess: Brown, Carter, Allen, Williams, Parcells. But there's a lot of good choices.]
TERROR-DUCKTYL:  Scientists, the NYT's Nick Kristof, and the White House debate whether it would be better to fight a hundred duck-sized horses or a single horse-sized duck.

Related, same author: the ethics of centaur medical care.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

WHAT IS #%%@*%#*!: As part of IBM's continuing quest to ensure that Watson is our new electronic overlord, they uploaded the Urban Dictionary to Watson's database.  Unfortunately, there were side effects.
LINDSAY LOHAN, PAUL SCHRADER, AND BRET EASTON ELLIS WALK ONTO A MOVIE SET... And it sounds like a joke, and it kinda is, but it's mostly sad, which is also why I haven't had anything to say about the much-discussed-elsewhere, equal parts enlightening and frustrating Elizabeth Wurtzel essay in New York magazine on the state of her world. Watching troubled people in free-fall is difficult, and Wurtzel's self-awareness only goes about 80% to where she needs to be.
LET'S GO TO THE MOVIES:Your Oscar nominees have arrived--a few preliminary thoughts:
  • The nine nominees for best picture were pretty much what you would have expected, though Beasts of the Southern Wild and Amour are mild surprises.  No big huge blockbuster made it in--no Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, or Avengers.
  • Not that it matters, since Daniel Day-Lewis is going to win, but John Hawkes lost his slot to Joaquin Phoenix in the Best Actor race.
  • Actress is the most competitive race, right?  The only one that would shock me as a winner there is Wallis, more because of youth than anything else.
  • Much better day for Silver Linings Playbook than many had anticipated, with nominations in all acting categories (Jacki Weaver is the surprise there), as well as picture, director, and screenplay nominations.
  • Not so good a day for Les Mis, which gets an Actor/Supporting Actress/Picture/Song nod, as well as several technical nods, but no Director or Screenplay nod.
  • Director is the big surprise--no love for Affleck, Hooper, Tarantino, or Kathryn Bigelow, which makes it look like Spielberg's shot at another Oscar is pretty clear.
  • Favorite weird pairing?  Costume design, where the year's two Snow White films will face off.  (Both had serious problems, but the costume design was not among them.)
  • Based on the overall nominations, sure looks like Lincoln is in for a big night.
Talk amongst yourself below.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

FROM THE SANCTIMONIOUS PRIG DESK:  The members of the Baseball Writers Association of America have elected no one to the National Baseball Hall of Fame for 2013. Topping the ballot were Craig Biggio (68.2%), Jack Morris (67.7%), Jeff Bagwell (59.6%), Mike Piazza (57.8%) and Tim Raines (52.2%), with Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds at 37.6% and 36.2%, respectively.  Our readers, on the other hand, would have inducted Bagwell, Clemens, Biggio, Piazza, Bonds and Raines.

Bernie Williams, David Wells, Sandy Alomar Jr, and Kenny Lofton are among those who failed to clear the 5% hurdle and have been dropped from future consideration by the writers; meanwhile, next year's logjam will be ridiculous -- in addition to the names above, plus Schilling, E Martinez, McGwire, and Trammell, you also will have Tom Glavine, Jeff Kent, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, and Frank Thomas as first-time eligibles -- and with the writers (under present rules) limited to voting for ten names.

So who is going to Cooperstown this year? I see dead people -- three Pre-Integration Committee electees will be inducted – umpire Hank O’Day, New York Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert and 19th-century player Deacon White, and "the Hall of Fame will recognize 12 individuals previously counted among its roster of members who never had a formal induction due to wartime restrictions. They are BBWAA electees Lou Gehrig (1939) and Rogers Hornsby (1942), along with the entire class of 1945 selected by the Committee on Old Timers: Roger Bresnahan, Dan Brouthers, Fred Clarke, Jimmy Collins, Ed Delahanty, Hugh Duffy, Hughie Jennings, King Kelly, Jim O’Rourke and Wilbert Robinson."
I WANT TO GO TO THERE: Tina Fey is apparently in talks to make her next project after 30 Rock the female lead in the next Muppet movie.  I think Muppet Liz Lemon would definitely approve.
PROTECT THE THIMBLE:  In a vote being conducted on Facebook, Parker Brothers will be eliminating one of the original Monopoly tokens and replacing it with a robot, ring, cat, helicopter, or guitar.
CHRIST, YOU'D THINK I'M PUTTING RAY LEWIS OUT TO PASTURE:  "Son," said Proposition Joe Stewart to Marlo Stanfield, "you need to focus a bit more on what can be gained by working with people."

This week's episode of The Wire, "Transitions" (Sepinwall, AVClub), is one of those hours where everything's running in parallel -- Carcetti and Marlo planning their coups, lining up all the necessary players so that Burrell and Joe can be moved off stage with a minimum of disruption. For Carcetti, it's about buying support and assuaging Nerese Campbell; for Marlo, it's about using the connections Joe provided him in a father-son, mentor-mentee way to render Joe unnecessary, because Marlo wasn't made to play the son and there's no civilizing some people.

The McNulty stuff and the Sun stuff, meh.  But at least there was less of it.

Returning this week: Michael's mom, the Greek, Johnny 50, Marlo's taunting Herc about the surveillance camera, the funeral florist.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


(Episode 5.4, "Transitions," is our Wire Wednesday tomorrow, and we'll announce a schedule for the Breaking Bad catch-up after we figure one out.)
KRAKEN!  First-ever photo of a giant motherfucking squid in its natural environment, one kilometer below the surface of the north Pacific Ocean.
IT'S A TECH WORLD, AFTER ALL:  Walt Disney World is seeking to enhance the visitor experience with RFID-equipped bracelets to better track and market to each individual's preferences (including allowing the Princesses to know your daughter's name without having to ask), plus innovations like booking FastPasses and VIP seating at parades before heading to Orlando.  (Y'know what I'd like? An official, reliable smartphone app tracking wait times for all the rides.)
RICHARD BEN CRAMER (1950-2013):  Cancer fucking sucks. If you've never read Cramer's What It Takes, buckle down for 1000+ pages (and that's why we have e-readers) of the most masterful, insightful writing about politics you'll ever have the joy of reading—and it regards a presidential campaign (1988) which you wouldn't think merited such attention. But Cramer uses old-school research and access, combined with New Journalism vividness, to reveal the character of six men who seek the Presidency (Bush, Dole, Dukakis, Gephart, Hart, Biden) in such a compelling way as to make the tactics and daily tick-tock of the campaign almost secondary. Dole the recovering war hero; Dukakis the insufferable prig; Biden the exuberant climber devastated by tragedy and then undermined by his own actions ... it's all there. I only wish there were some suitable excerpts online, but I'm finding them hard to locate.

Cramer was also heralded as a sports writer, and for that we do have excerpts, below the fold:

Monday, January 7, 2013

CHEF ETTORE BOIARDI WANTS TO KNOW AS WELL:  Commenter Jordan has a question for the ALOTT5MA Language Expansion Desk:
I just saw on Facebook that Huell Howser had died, and I had this weird feeling because, well, I didn't know he was a real person. I had assumed he was just some wacky character James Adomian had made up for Comedy Bang! Bang! Now I don't know how to describe how I feel; it's not premorse, although it has the same surprise that the person in question was living and regret that now they are not. Any suggestions?
FLAT IRON STEGOSAURUS: Someone took the time to try to figure out what cut of dinosaur meat would be tastiest.
HIPPING AND THE HOPPING WITH THE BIPPING AND THE BOPPING:  I happened to be flipping around the tv late Friday when Bill Cosby showed up on Jimmy Fallon's show and ended up talking to The Roots and reviving some North Philly/South Philly tensions. Cosby's cadence and timing, even now at the age of 75, remains a national treasure.

Sunday, January 6, 2013