Sunday, February 22, 2009

Visual Effects

If you are giving an award for visual effects, it seems to me that the movie with the most amazing visual effects, shouldn't a movie like Dark Knight win? Or Iron Man be nominated? And Dark Knight wins for Sound.

A movie that is shot partially in I-Max, shown on these massive screens, contains the details that it does, probably deserves the award.

Ugh. I can't stand it. I'm just going to quit.

The Idiotic Musical Number

Why? WHY? WHY? WHY? If they wanted to do musical numbers, why couldn't they have done the real musical numbers, maybe nominated Bruce, maybe let Peter Gabriel sing his whole number from Wall-E. I'm trying not to curse.

Kate just commented they haven't done a number like that in a long time. Maybe they won't again! I never need to hear another note from High School Musical ever again. They do that crap, and no awards? Then later, mark my words, they will be cutting peoples speeches shorts and trying to play them out.

And then the funniest thing I've seen all night was a preview for the new Ryan Reynolds/Sandra bullock movie. With Betty White. Looked funny. Ryan Reynolds is in one of my favorite comedies of all time- Just Friends. He is just freakin' amazing!

I love Alan Arkin. Was there a better role than his in Little Miss Sunshine? What a great performance? And I think I have a man-crush on Josh Brolin! Two great roles, two years in a row. What luck. His performance in No Country was fantastic!

Tropic Thunder and Robert Downey! See the extras on the DVD. Christopher Walken and the speech in Pulp Fiction, with the watch, was one of the funniest movie moments of all time.

And if Heath Ledger does not win,..... waiting. And Heath wins, what an incredibly bittersweet moment for all of Hollywood. I think I will turn the sarcasm off and appreciate the fact that the voters got the vote correct this time. Great nominees, tough category.

The Change-up

What was the deal with SJP? Is she not the most awkward person in Hollywood? Why does she keep getting work? Who hires her? And why?

And do they think we are stupid with this whole telling us the process of how the film is made!

Finally, a highlight- Ben Stiller breathing some life into this dreadful production! They didn't want Jon Stewart as host, for what reason?

Obviously, the Academy is going to award everything to Button and Slumdog. The voters have no imagination. Certainly a lovely film, but how can Dark Knight not be awarded? Ridiculous. I may just go to bed.

Now we have the fine actress Jessica Biel. She's done what? And why are there so many commercials? Another 30 minutes gone by and what, 1 meaningful award?

Academy Awards, the first 45 minutes

I missed the opening monologue, saw Penelope get Best Supporting Actress, saw the Best Adapted Work for Screen go to Milk, and decided I was going to publish a scree every time Milk won. The only thing I liked about that category was Steve Martin and Tina Fey. Martin was funnier in that 5 minutes than he was the whole Saturday Night Live he was on. And Tina is just one smart, funny, beautiful woman.

The next category was Animation, and it annoys me to no end that Wall-E was not nominated for Best Picture. Really? Really? And later, you will hear me rant about Dark Knight. And thus far the winners are so unsurprising it is not even funny.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Something New!

Last night, the wife and I ventured up the Front Range to Boulder to see Boulder Ballet's latest offering, Momentum. Many of you who know me know that I am not a fan of the dance. Any dance. As a member of the Board of Directors of The Dairy Center for the Arts, one of my responsibilities is to attend performances of the Resident Organizations and the companies that are renting the theaters. I'm glad I did.

For those of you who don't know, The Dairy is a multi-disciplinary arts center, with a number of resident orgs., plus companies that rent space on a regular basis. There is also gallery space with rotating exhibits. Last night, there were three performances, and three new exhibits opening. It was quite an artful evening!

To the Ballet. The theater is an intimate space, seating 150 max, I think I have been told, and it was full. I'm not going to write a critique or review of the program; it's not my job and that's not the point. I'm just going to tell you about what I really liked, and why. And encourage you, if you are in the Denver Metroplex, to go see this.

There were three Interludes, performed by Peter Davison, that were very funny, very unusual. Peter moves very well, creates incredibly unique characters, and made for nice transitions between the pieces.

The second major work on the program was titled Infernal Suite, choreographed by Ben Goodman. It consisted of three pieces, Monkeys, Hindus and Lovers, all very different stylistically, showing Mr. Goodman's range as a choreographer. Of the three, Hindus was a beautiful piece, in tone, color, tempo, music, about a woman who is ill, sick, near death's door, what have you, and is revived by these three other women. The two female principals in this piece, Jennifer Aiken and Jamie Johnson, are just beautiful in this work. Ms. Johnson, especially, has this incredibly focused energy that mesmerizes the audience in this work.

Ms. Johnson was also the focus of the other number that I believe was a highlight of the evening, Versus. Ms. Johnson and Lance Hardin were the principals in this back-and-forth struggle that was deeply textured. The troupe interacted with the two until all ended on the floor in a massed pile, as one living, breathing mass. It was an indelible image. The folks I was sitting with all were talking about it at the intermission.

These were the works that really stuck out. The whole evening was quite enjoyable. I am not slighting any of the other works, only choosing to point out what my favorites are/were. The work runs through the rest of February, into March. Check out their website,, to learn more and to find dates of future performances.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Revisionist History

And I quote: "If we tried to suppress the expansion of the subprime market, do you think that would have gone over very well with the Congress? When it looked as though we were dealing with a major increase in home ownership, which is of unquestioned value to this society -- would we have been able to do that? I doubt it...We could have basically clamped down on the American economy, generated a 10 percent unemployment rate. And I will guarantee we would not have had a housing boom, a stock market boom or indeed a particularly good economy either," - Alan Greenspan, Former Federal Reserve chairman.- Thanks to Andrew Sullivan and The Daily Dish.

What a load of crap.

Since when is the Fed Chief supposed to worry about whether or not the Congress likes what he is doing to control the markets? This revisionist history crap annoys the hell out of me. This is Greenspan trying to protect his legacy, t place blame for his lack of institutional control over the Fed, the markets and what was going on to create this idiotic crisis we find ourselves in.

Certainly not all of the blame goes to Greenspan. But, in my part-time job as an economic analyst (that's a joke for those of you who are too dense to get it), and after the reading I have done, which isn't a joke, there is a clear line between GBII and his "NO HOUSE LEFT BEHIND" policy and the housing crisis, credit bubble we find ourselves in.

When did it become wrong to rent? And what exactly is wrong with renting? For years, people saved their money and renting a house, an apartment, whatever, and were happy. Yes, yes, we all have this 1950's-era dream of a white house, with a white picket fence, 2.2 children and a wife in the kitchen with our scotch and soda ready when we come through the door. But that BS died in the 1970's, didn't it? Or did it?

Certainly there were policy makers prior to GBII who decided that there needed to be more home ownership. But the policy of the Chimp-in Chief, pushing for lower interest rates, led to Countrywide, led to credit default swaps, led to the greed in the market that has created this huge bubble that burst so delightfully and is now leading to 500,000 jobs lost month, increased inflation, and God knows what else.

There is a reason they are called the SEVEN DEADLY SINS, people. Greed is one of them. Everyone looking to make a quick buck, everyone looking to have one more thing, another car, a bigger house, a jet ski, you name. "The more people I get into some sort of sub-prime mortgage, the bigger my BONUS! YIPPEEEEE!"

And Greenspan wants us to believe that holding to stricter lending practices would have created 10% unemployment? What is this, some sort of Seinfeldian Opposite World, where he is George Constanza and he is doing the opposite of what he has always done? What does he think he has created with what he did? His stupid policies have created a stock market bubble, a housing bubble and unemployment that will go well beyond 10%. The man should probably go to jail for malfeasance. I'm trying to keep this G-rated for all of my readers out there, but this annoys the crap out of me. There are people suffering across every sector of the economy because of bad policy decisions. And those are his reasons? As my friend Peter Clogg used to say, "Good night nurse!"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Great American Novel

I have just finished

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

by David Wroblewski, and began to think about the incessant talk in the book media about the next, or first, if you will, GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. In my mind, we have seen a number of GAN, if you will allow it, over the course of American literature, each defining the time in which it was written. Certainly I do not intend this to be a comprehensive list, by any means; it is only a list of what I believe to be GAN's. Argue at your leisure, or not. Make your own list. I don't really care one way or another.

While I am sure there was great writing being done prior to 1850, I believe Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter probably qualifies as the first GAN. Although the subject matter concerns events that took place years before, in 17th-century Boston, Hawthorne is recognizably the first of the great fiction writers in America. Consider that Hawthorne was 46 when he wrote this.

Second, we need to consider Melville's Moby Dick, written just one year later, in 1851. Melville was only 32 years old when he published his great story of the White Whale and Captain Ahab. It's length was problematic for the reading public of the day, and probably for some of the reading public of today, as well, with our 10-minute attention spans, but it has come to be recognized as one of the great novels of all time. If you want to read the true account for the Melville novel, I recommend In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick. It will give you more nightmares than a Stephen King novel.

In 1876, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, to be followed by Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1884. Huckleberry Finn was not a prescient look at the run for President by Mike Huckabee! A very strong argument could be made, and I guess I am making it, that these two novels are the GAN of the last quarter of the 19th-century. Throw Poe in there somewhere, although horror fiction always seems to be short-changed when it comes to talking about great writing.

As we turn to early part of the 20th-century, things begin to get very difficult to define. Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald all have had a lasting impact on the literary definition of America. I would argue that ALL have written a GAN. Ot two, as the case may be.

Dreiser, An American Tragedy. It even says American in the title. Sinclair wrote The Jungle, responsible for making the meat packing industry somewhat safer in the early part of the century. Where is today's Upton Sinclair? Lewis creates a toss-up for me between Babbit and Elmer Gantry. Both books are great in their own special way. Gantry, by the way, was recently adapted into an opera. Hopefully I will see it someday.

Finally, Fitzgerald. How do these novels- This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby, or Tender is the Night- not qualify as the GAN? I remember being in college, probably '87, '88, and being on a Fitzgerald kick, and reading everything. It was beauty and tragedy at its finest. I think I stayed up late for many nights in a row, just reading everything I could.

We must consider Hemingway and Steinbeck. Personally, my favorite Hemingway is A Moveable Feast, but we are talking fiction. I think the argument for H. either drops into A Farewell to Arms or For Whom the Bell Tolls. Neither really float my boat, so if you have a different opinion,....

Steinbeck, I think is easier, although there may be plenty of argument about this choice, as well. Hands down, The Grapes of Wrath. What story is more quintessentially American than this one. It is all about the American Experience, at a pivotal time in American history. You can't argue with a novel that was made into a film starring Henry Fonda, directed by John Ford. And, later, in 1995 was the subject of a song by Bruce Springsteen.

In 1940, Richard Wright wrote a book that I found to be incredibly amazing- Native Son. The story of a young black man who killed a white woman and his girlfriend, Wright's novel, and I'm quoting here because it has been a long time since I read this one, is about the "racial inequality and social injustices so deep that it becomes nearly impossible to determine where societal expectations/conditioning end and free will begins." I remember being stunned by Wright's writing when I read this. I don't know why I picked it up. I'm glad I did. I different kind if GAN, but one nonetheless. Ralph Ellison later wrote Invisible Man, distinctly different about being a black man in American society, won awards in 1953, and addressed racism in a completely different manner. It must have made people incredibly uncomfortable.

In 1951, we must not forget the book that made us all into rebels, J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. So many authors have been influenced by this work, and so many of us, as well, it would be a mistake to not consider it as one of the GAN's. Who knows what happened to Salinger. I like to believe that the character in W. P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe, Terrance Mann, was maybe close to the truth.

I'm ignoring the Beat poets and writers, because I don't like the literature and/or the writing. Maybe Kerouac and Burroughs wrote some great things, that truly expressed and exposed some part of the American experience, but I have a hard time believing that there are universal truths in that writing. Again, this is my opinion. If you don't like it, BITE ME! Or Howl, of the mood suits you. Maybe we can make a stupid Facebook application!

In 1960, Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Hard to believe a short novella, and really it is not much more than that, has had such an impact on literary society. I have not met a single person who has not been moved by this book. The movie starred Gregory Peck, who won the Best Actor Oscar. A British literary society has listed it as the number one book all adults should read, ahead of the Bible! I don't know about that, but pretty amazing.

In 1973, Thomas Pynchon wrote Gravity's Rainbow. I have read most of this book. Don't ask me what it is about. Don't ask me if I remember any of it, or part of it. It was one of the strangest things I have ever read. Or will ever read. I know what the basic "plot" was supposed to be, but I spent a summer at Chautauqua trying to plow my way through this thing. It belongs on the list.

I know Updike belongs on this list. Many people would pick one of the Rabbit books. Maybe because of my age, these are not my favorites. I prefer his later work. My two favorites, well, three, I guess, are, In the Beauty of the Lilies, Toward the End of Time, and Terrorist. The first two were published in 1996-97, respectively, the last in 2006. Great writing toward the end of the career of one of the greatest people of American letters. I also really like Gertrude and Claudius, but it is more of a novella.

Jane Smiley belongs on this list. She has captured what it means to live in the Heartland, like no other writer. And I don't want this to be too male-centric. Her novels Moo and 1,000 Acres are two of my favorite books. 1,000 Acres probably ranks up there on the All-Time List, because of the eternal subject matter. If you love Shakespeare, you will love this one.

The authors of the modern age are too numerous to name. Stephen King, Dave Eggers, Michal Chabon, Bret Easton Ellis, John Cheever, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, all are worthy for consideration of having written the GAN at some point. And, like I said, this list is not comprehensive, just my idea, what I like.

For me, Edgar Sawtelle is the first GAN of the 21st century.