Notes from Stonesthrow

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Oscar February 27, 2011

Filed under: Entertainment — Greg @ 1:13 pm

Winter’s Bone is on our coffee table and High Noon is out of mind; otherwise, the ten best picture nominees have been viewed.

My personal final ranking:

  1. 127 Hours (listen, Danny Boyle makes movies I like, OK? It was fascinating, taut, harrowing, creative; I liked it)
  2. Black Swan (I’m torn about this, in part because we just saw it yesterday, and because I think it might think it’s deeper than it actually is, but I love me some Natalie, and I think it was a fresh take on madness)
  3. The Fighter
  4. The King’s Speech
  5. The Social Network
  6. The Kids Are All Right
  7. Toy Story 3
  8. Inception

Here’s the thing. I’m not sure that I’ve loved a best picture nominee since There Will Be Blood (in which year I also really liked Michael Clayton). Everyone’s been saying it, but I’ll repeat: the Oscars have become boring. We already know who will win in pretty much everything, except there’s a chance for a Bening/Portman deliberation (and I’d be happy with either).

So, what’s you’re ranking?


The Fighter January 16, 2011

Filed under: Entertainment — Greg @ 12:43 pm

The march toward first the Golden Globes and then the Oscars moves on, as we saw The Fighter today.

When I saw the trailer for this film, I have to admit that I wasn’t all that interested. Boxing? Meh. New England accents? Meh. However, Mark Wahlberg doesn’t annoy me, Christian Bale astonishes me, and Amy Adams charms me, so I could potentially be on board. And then, David O. Russell. Despite his I Heart Huckabees melodrama, I had long enjoyed him, with Three Kings, Flirting with Disaster, and Spanking the Monkey all first-rate. Then, there were inklings from reviewers and laypeople that there was more here than met the eye.

So, we went. It has some interesting parallels with The King’s Speech: good man on a mission with family drama holding him back. What was interesting for me was how much more emotionally invested I was in this film versus the other. I cried at the end, which surprised me, since I didn’t really think that I was or was going to get swept up in the story or the characters.

Russell has a light hand with directing here: other than a great panning back at the beginning of the film and the masterful realism of television coverage of the fights, one didn’t have a feeling (as with Inception as the extreme example) that the film was being directed. However, the gritty reality of the setting and the characters is obviously Russell’s vision, and it’s compelling and all-encompassing.

Certainly Leo, Whalberg, and Adams all put up very fine performances, but Bale is extraordinary. First, he’s really this generations DeNiro when it comes to physical transformation. Second, he brings a sad cockiness and helplessness to the role that, while certainly in the script, is affecting.

My qualm with The King’s Speech was that it didn’t really give me anything new, and one could make the same criticism of this film, but somehow The Fighter was better for some reason for me: it is richer and deeper emotionally. It’s a good film, and certainly worthy of consideration.


The King’s Speech January 15, 2011

Filed under: Entertainment — Greg @ 1:19 am

In our effort to get to the prospective Oscar nominees (see EW for their list), we’ve so far seen Inception, The Social Network, and Toy Story 3. On the docket are The Fighter, with Black Swan and True Grit down the line once they come to The Colonial. We’ll catch The Kids Are All Right and Winter’s Bone on DVD, and we’ll see what else makes it.

But tonight was The King’s Speech. And, in many ways, the film is flawless.

First, the story is sweet as all get out. The film is much funnier than I expected, and the film light with its drama. The film is intimate in a nice way for a historical drama about royalty, in some ways like The Queen. The fog of London reflects the fog Bertie finds himself in as a stutterer who doesn’t know why he stutters, and the personal life of the family is sweet.

The acting is spot-on (save perhaps for the slightly ridiculous Churchill). We just saw Colin in A Single Man on DVD, and the contrast is interesting: though two roles of British stiff-upper-lip-ishness, they are also obviously dissimilar in interesting ways, but with both he does great work. Certainly the mannerisms of a stutterer must have been difficult to pull off convincingly, and he does so, without them every being cartoonish. I’ve not really been a fan of Rush, but here he is just ridiculous enough, though strong and entertaining. Finally, though, can I just say how lovely it is to see Helena out of the clutches of Tim Burton? It was the charming, only slightly quirky Helena, not the complete whackjob. She was effortlessly funny and touching and a pure delight.

All of that being said, the film felt a little slight on reflection. There is nothing new about this film, other than insights into an interesting bit of history. It is all done well, but there is no great emotional payoff here: we’re glad that he overcomes, and feel satisfied by almost everything in the film, but there is little tension in a way (we know how this will turn out), and there are no great dramas because of that.

We also of course know how The Social Network will turn out plot-wise, but we get a much more complex insight into its protagonist: we don’t know exactly why Zuckerberg is such an asshole (the jilted lover thing feels like more a excuse than an explanation), but we come to find that Bertie stutters because his family life sucked. Well, then.

It’s a very good movie, but I don’t think it’s great. At this point, I don’t know what I’d say should win the Oscar of the four we’ve seen. Inception was overlong and convoluted, but ultimately fascinating; The Social Network was interesting and entertaining, though ultimately a little slight; Toy Story 3 had some real emotional heft it turns out, but also dragged in spots for me. Hrmmm. We’ll wait and see.


My Favorite Podcasts January 11, 2011

Filed under: Entertainment,Media — Greg @ 6:22 pm

Not that anyone cares, but I thought I’d share some of my favorite podcasts. It’s sort of a best of 2010 list in a way, and since I wasn’t around for the end of the year, well, here you go.

Pop Culture Happy Hour: an NPR podcast hosted by a Television Without Pity alumnus that is fun, irreverent, and provides some good discussion on hot topics of the day. Not to be missed. Oh, and very gay.

Extra Hot Great: Some more alumni from Television Without Pity (and I found about this podcast from PCHH) mixed in with a great helping of pop culture and regular bits (The Canon, wherein they induct television episodes for a hall of fame of sorts, and Game Time). Very funny and some very good analysis.

Five Hundy by Midnight: A long-time favorite, this is really only for those who love Vegas, but it’s produced by a lovely couple from Minnesota who dish on all things Vegas with wit and wisdom. Listen and you might hear me call in sometime!

Radiolab: This is not really a podcast, but it’s the only way I listen to this NPR show. Each episode deals with a particular science-y topic in a very interesting way — a way in which this humanist can understand and be interested.

NPR Story of the Day: OK, I realize I’m a little NPR obsessed, but this is a great way to hear the best story on NPR since I don’t get a chance to listen everyday to the radio.


Books and Films June 5, 2010

Filed under: Books,Entertainment — Greg @ 12:18 am

There was an interesting argument posted at The Atlantic about how, by and large, great books cannot become great films because great books are great because they are books, not films. As the author notes, this is something of a truism, but not one looked at more closely: tons of great movies have been made out of books, and likely surpass the quality of the books on which they are based (see: The Godfather). As the author puts it, what often makes a book great — psychologizing, rich description, interior monologues — don’t translate to film well.

I always get excited when films are made of my favorite books, but I’m often disappointed. Mrs. Dalloway is fine for what it is, but it doesn’t reach the despair and sad beauty of the novel. The treatment of Tristram Shandy is clever, and likely the only direction a film could take, but it can’t be the novel at all. I’m a sucker for the Austen adaptations, and they are often entertaining (probably my favorite being Persuasion), but they always have to cut something, and the wry narrative observations most often must be lost (Can “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” be rendered in film?).

Perhaps my most intriguing adaptation favorite is the film Orlando, based on Woolf’s novel. The novel is a mess of time, space, and gender, and it should be impossible to film. However, the director does something smart: she doesn’t so much attempt for adherence to the novel’s plot, as she adheres to the spirit of the novel. It seems to me, that’s what films should try to do when tackling a great book: get the spirit and the love of the book as much as possible and you might just have a great film.

Am I missing exceptions? And, no, I’m not counting plays here because it’s much easier to do.


More Lists December 7, 2009

Filed under: Entertainment,Music — Greg @ 6:40 pm

Now it’s the Billboard top One-Hit Wonders of the Aughts, and I have to say I’m flummoxed. First, I’m going to say that Gnarls Barkley should not be considered with these other no-talent hacks, because their second CD was great (but then I suppose someone could argue the same thing about any of the others, so I guess I will shut up. Second, this list is at least as much a testimony to bad songs as it is to my apparent inattention to pop radio for the last decade, because I only recognize maybe one-fifth of the songs on this list. I don’t necessarily feel bad about ignorance, though it definitely pokes some holes in my theory that I am some sort of pop culture maven.



Movies I/You Aught to See December 3, 2009

Filed under: Entertainment — Greg @ 5:45 am

Oh, puns.

The Onion AV Club has posted their top 50 movies of the Aughts, and, as I love lists, I was enthralled. First, I had sort of forgotten that we’re at decade’s end; it seems like just yesterday when everyone was hoarding canned goods and convinced their PCs would explode. Good times.

Anywho, go read the whole thing.

Movies I have seen: Moulin Rouge! (47, natch; loved it), Adaptation (46; liked it), Brokeback Mountain (43; loved it), The Dark Knight (41; liked it), Punch-Drunk Love (33; loved it), WALL-E (30; loved it); Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (29; loved it), The Incredibles (26; loved it), United 93 (22; liked it), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (19; OK), Mulholland Dr. (18; loved it), The Royal Tenenbaums (17; loved it), Almost Famous (16; liked it), Y Tu Mama Tambien (15; loved it), Talk to Her (14; loved it), Children of Men (10; loved it), Capturing the Friedmans (8; liked it), Kill Bill Vol. I (7; loved it), Memento (5; loved it), There Will Be Blood (3; loved it), Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (1; loved it)

Movies I want to see: Gerry (49), City of God (40), A History of Violence (37), Pan’s Labyrinth (36), Waking Life (35), American Psycho (34), Morvern Callar (28; has anyone even heard of this movie? It’s the second time I’ve seen it on a top of the decade list), Zodiac (21), The Squid and the Whale (20; and I can’t believe I haven’t seen this movie), No Country for Old Men (4; and how haven’t I seen this?), The 25th Hour (2; again, this pops up for the second time on a decade list)

So, here’s my list starting with ones from above:

Moulin Rouge!, Brokeback Mountain, Punch-Drunk Love, Mulholland Dr., Children of Men, Memento, There Will Be Blood

If you haven’t seen them all, it’s a crime: tragic love and music!, tragic love, strange love, strange mind messing, dystopic perfection, strange mind messing, and sort of all of the rest put together.

To that, I would add:

Rachel Getting Married, 28 Days Later, V for Vendetta

Family drama, dystopic perfection, dystopic perfection.

I sense some themes.

Some close ones: Kill Bill, The Royal Tenenbaums, Casino Royale and The Bourne Ultimatum

What are yours?