Monday, February 29, 2016

2016 Academy Awards Part 2

...This is a continuation from yesterday's first blog to cover the 2016 Oscars, which you can find here. It covered everything from Chris Rock's opening to Stallone's loss. Now, on with the show...

Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio, during his Oscar acceptance speech, from Us Magazine at this website. Picture courtesy of Mark Ralston, AFP.

--Louis C.K.'s intro was the best speech of the night so far. And he's right: Makers of Documentary Shorts tell very important, very depressing stuff, and they don't get rich doing so. Because who wants to pay to see such terror, horror and heartbreak? (Besides people like me, that is.) But someone's got to record this stuff, right? To prove his point, two of the nominees were about concentration camps, and women under oppressive regimes who get their faces burned and scarred.

--Chris Rock's performance turned awkward when he shamed celebrities into buying Girl Scout cookies.

--I met Kate Capshaw in the summer of 1995 or '96, when I was an extra in Amistad, directed by her husband, Steven Spielberg. She came on the set to chew him out about something. Even angry, she'd been beautiful--just as much in person as she'd been in Temple of Doom. Now, due to a botched plastic surgery or two, she looks like a female Joker. Shocking. She would've become a beautiful middle-aged and then older lady if she'd let herself. She'd already retired from acting (just one film in the last 10-12 years or so) to raise their family, so she didn't need the surgery to stay active in the profession, which is what so many of them say. I don't get it. She'd been truly gorgeous.

--A standing ovation for Joe Biden?

--Even more surprising: An impassioned Joe Biden?

--Great performance by Lady Gaga. None of the songs wow me this year, and this one was good, with an important message. Worse songs have won. And I didn't know she could play the piano.

--The director's constant camera movements have befuddled many of the presenters and performers tonight. They often haven't known which camera to look into. Lady Gaga got caught a few times looking up into the crane camera. It's been a little too much tonight.

--An Emmy for American Horror Story: Hotel; the best thing about this year's Super Bowl; and now a great performance tonight, and probably an Oscar for it. Lady Gaga's had a helluva year.

--Okay. Whatever. I didn't even like Spectre's song. And I wasn't thrilled with Spectre, either. I gave my better half a thumb's down when the song played during the movie. Surprising loss here.

--At least two of the nominated songs couldn't be performed. Why? Time constraints? And yet we had to be subjected to a few minutes about Girl Scout cookies? If they're pressed for time, wouldn't you rather hear the nominated songs--just like every year--rather than some of the things we had to sit through? Thumbs down on that!

--Two words: Olivia Wilde.

--I don't know if one director has won for consecutive years, but I doubt it. But Birdman and Revenant were incredibly well-directed. Mad Max was, too, and George Miller has had a lot of well-deserved kudos this year. But a well-directed, scenic movie with plot and great acting will trump a well-directed, scenic movie with great technical mastery and stunts, at least at the Oscars.

--Speaking of one movie trumping another--I said it in the last blog, but here's the spot to say it again:

Note to Mr. Trump: The Oscar for Best Director for the last three consecutive years has gone to a Mexican.

--And, oh yeah: The Oscar for Best Cinematographer for the past three consecutive years has also gone to a Mexican.

--So you might want to re-think the value of that wall, big guy.

--I've nailed every movie music or song played throughout the night, while the presenters are walking, or the show's coming back, or the winners are approaching the stage. I'm just sayin'.

--Most amusing of the night: Joe Biden entering to the theme music of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

--Lots of commercials made specifically for this year's Oscars. I don't remember a year so many were made specifically for this evening.

--Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins. For my money, his best performance is still in What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

--Not surprised by Spotlight's win. It's a more important movie than The Revenant, and I think the full Academy of voters thought so, too. But I'll bet it was a close vote. I really want to see Spotlight now.

--Michael Keaton, who disappeared for a long time, and then made the it-was-so-awful-I-got-angry White Noise--and who then disappeared for a long time again--has been a major actor in the last two consecutive Best Picture winners. Yes, he's back. I hope he wins one sometime before he's done.

2016 Academy Awards Part 1

Photo: Chris Rock, presenting at the 2016 Academy Awards, from Patrick Fallon for the New York Times.

A lot of quick things to say about the 2016 Oscars--so much, it may take a few posts.

--Not to be lost in the controversy is that Chris Rock unequivocally said that Hollywood IS racist.

--The scroll of names the winners want to thank is not working for me. At all.

--The pop-up info about the presenters works for me only if I'm interested in the presenter.

--The producers and directors of this telecast are clearly working hard to improve the ratings. The ticker of names, the pop-ups, the displays, the pictures of the nominees behind the presenters, and the tricky camera angles centering those pictures as the presenter describes that person's performance...lots of changes. Many of them aren't bad, but the presenters aren't enjoying the moving camera in front of them. They just want to read the teleprompter and get the hell offstage.

--Nominated Best Picture films I've seen this year: The Revenant; The Martain; Bridge of Spies; Mad Max: Fury Road. I really wanted to see Spotlight, and I wouldn't have minded seeing The Big Short.

--Ten films can be nominated for Best Picture, but only eight were. Two of the many overlooked: Sicario and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Those two, and The Revenant, were the best ones I saw.

--Anyone see Andrew McCarthy in the many ads for his new TV show, The Family? It's been a long time since Weekend at Bernie's and Pretty in Pink, I guess.

--Lots of good cinematography this year, more than usual, from my movie-going experience. Emmanuel Lubezki's third consecutive win for Best Cinematography is unheard of. Probably the first time ever, in Oscar history. But his work in Gravity, The Birdman, and now The Revenant makes him worthy.

--By the way, Mr. Trump, the past three Best Director Oscar winners--all Mexican. Just sayin'.

--It's been long-predicted that Mad Max: Fury Road would sweep the technical awards. Well-deserved.

--I like the music the Academy chose to play to shut down the winner's over-long speech: The Ride of the Valkyries.

--I also like seeing celebrities taking selfies with their celebrity fans.

--I blogged about Mark Rylance's performance in (the otherwise underwhelming) Bridge of Spies earlier this year, and I've said he deserves the Award for Best Supporting Actor. (Full disclosure: I have not seen Creed.) Rylance had not received a single award from the other places (Screen Actors Guild; New York Film Critics, etc.) and I didn't expect him to get this one. Neither did anyone else--except for all the Academy's actors who didn't vote for Sylvester Stallone here. I thought this award, the Best Actor to Leonardo DiCaprio and the Best Actress to Brie Larson were all locks tonight.

--DiCaprio and Larson are still locks, though.

--And Stallone won't have another chance to win another Oscar.

To be continued...

Saturday, February 27, 2016


A book so well-written, it causes envy and jealousy within me. How could I possibly expect to write as well as this? If all published works had to be this well-written, few authors would stand a chance.

I realized while reading this that most of Geraldine Brooks's sentences were detail-in-action. (And certainly not the other way around, which mars many works of good writers.) Her sentences are doing one of two things: they're either description, or they are action. Too much of either one would be boring, even if it's well-written and boring. Therefore most of her sentences are a combination of the two, detail-in-action.

In this, she takes a mostly-absent character from Alcott's Little Women (which, embarrassingly, I have never read, though I have it around here somewhere) and fills in his gaps. Where did March go when he enlisted? What did he do? Well, he did these things.

This book is a masterpiece (and therefore worthy of its Pulitzer) of its time, and of its rendition of the people of its time. Yet like all good works, it makes the reader understand that the people of its time are also the people of this time, and vice-versa. Here you have racism among the Northerners and the Southerners, and neither is treated like a stereotype. And so it is today. March comes home a bitter soldier who has seen and done too much, and who has brought with him a PTSD and a Blakian Experience that will never be undone. And so it is with returning soldiers today.

This is a book of all times, of all wars, of all soldiers and of all victims. Wars in Iraq, Syria, and anywhere else of any time will be similar to Brooks's Civil War rendition here.

The sudden POV shift jarred a little, and the shift back to March disoriented a little (I had to go back  to be sure that it was his turn again), but the reader will see the necessity of the shifts. Brooks could have superficially prepared the reader, perhaps by placing character names at the beginning of each chapter--a la George R. R. Martin in his Song of Ice and Fire books--but such is not her way. You'll be able to bear it and move on.

She does an interesting thing with Grace, who seems to turn up a little bit more coincidentally than maybe she should--but the reader will see the necessity for this as well. Brooks gets away with these two things that would have torpedoed lesser writers (such as myself).

This was a quick, intelligent and gripping read that sounds all too true, and will perhaps leave you a little emotional throughout, and certainly at its end. But you owe it to yourself to read it, if not for the great writing and experience, then perhaps to better understand a returning soldier you happen to know today.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Quick Jots 2.21.16

Just a few quick things before dinner:

--I saw The Witch today. Excellent movie, not at all as insinuating as Blair Witch, though--like Blair Witch--you'll either really like it, or really not. It is slow-moving, but in a good build-up kind of way. I'll write a review soon, but suffice it to say that it's The Crucible meets The Shining, with a healthy dose of The Village and Blair Witch thrown in. This movie is strangely audacious and in-your-face at the end, and it's got things to say about feminism, out-of-control religious conservatism, and blame. If you've ever been creeped out by a walk in the woods, then see this, but beware that it takes its time and you have to be patient with it to enjoy it--just like a long, pleasant walk in the woods.

--Goodbye, Jeb. We hardly even knew ya--and that's not a bad thing, either.

--Bush lost for two reasons, equally: his last name, and his lousy stage presence as a performer.

--The latter of which says something very potentially dangerous about this year's crop, by the way. A performer performs, and his actions on stage are a performance. Remember that when you vote.

--People I trust--all of whom have seen politics play out far longer than I have--all say that Cruz is far more dangerous than Trump. The reason? Cruz is quiet, and he says and does very offensive things very quietly. Trump is so in-your-face, they say, that he won't be secretive about anything and therefore won't get away with anything.

--But Trump still scares the hell out of me. Mostly because I don't trust my contemporary American society, or the typical voter. Just throwin' it out there. My state votes so Democratic for presidents that Trump won't matter here. But I've been proven wrong before.

--I'm reading that Trump is the Republicans' worst nightmare as well. I don't think November will be as much of a slam dunk for Hillary or for Bernie as I'm reading and hearing it will be. But I've been proven wrong before.

--I like Bernie Sanders, by the way, but I would never vote for him. I'd have a cool drink and conversation with him, but he's too wayyyyyyy out there for me, and too old. This will become an issue when he says who his running mate will be. Whoever it is, that person will be much younger, that's for sure.

--Speaking of the whole political scene, I don't really like anybody out there right now. It looks like I'll again be voting for somebody not because I like that person, but because I feel strongly about voting against somebody else. And it looks like that Somebody Else will be Trump.

--Great Britain, by the way, is currently trying to ban Trump. Permanently.

--Everyone in New England, take heart: Spring Training started this past weekend. Even if you're not a baseball fan, doesn't that just make you feel good?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks

Extremely well-written book by the Pulitzer-prize winning Brooks. Very evocative and very clear, you will get a you-are-there feel while reading it.

Unlike other books that gave me the same feeling, I also got an oddly detached feeling while reading this, even though I was immersed in it and felt like I was there.

The only explanation I had for this--which I felt while reading--is that the book was oddly too well-written, if that's possible. I think it is, because I've felt like that before, while reading James Joyce, who, to be fair, intentionally writes his books with himself in mind. I don't think Brooks purposely does that here, but her book was still so sparsely well-written that it drew attention to itself and lightly loosened my otherwise solid suspension-of-disbelief while reading it. I can only say that this must be a good problem to have. It will not shock you out of the book, and despite the good writing, it'll still land a punch or too, and it covers some grotesque scenes without losing the grossness of it all, as glossed writing sometimes does.

The plot is pretty simple, though a lot happens. In fact, an awful lot happens in this, a book about a small town that quarantines itself during the last Great Plague in England, in 1666. I'd read that plague towns not only quarantined themselves as a town, but as individual dwellings in that town, as well. In other words, not only could people not go in and out of the town, but they couldn't go in and out of individual homes, either. I'd read that homes were shut up--with the sick and not sick of that family together, so that the sick would definitely die, and the well would almost definitely get sick. And if everyone survived the plague, they still might starve--and that guards would be posted outside. Sometimes these people would hang a noose towards an unwary guard and hang him so they could escape. Only certain physicians and healers, and the town carters and gravediggers, and maybe the town's clergy, could still walk around and go in and out of infected homes.

Well, that doesn't happen here at all. The main character is in THE infected home--the one where the London cloth merchant resided, thereby bringing the Plague to Eyam (according to tradition). Then her children die of it as well, so she is definitely in an infected house. Nothing is ever mentioned in the book about homes themselves being quarantined--just that people would naturally stay away from them. That doesn't happen with the narrator's home, either, though she is definitely the town healer after the town's real healers get killed by the townspeople, who feared they were witches. Of course.

I make this sound much more questionable here then the book ever is. Geraldine Brooks, an award-winning reporter and world traveller, who wrote some very important pieces from some very harrowing places, certainly does her research for this historical fiction novel, which is why you'll feel like you're there. And certainly she cannot be blamed for maybe taking a creative license about the home quarantines--after all, how much can happen in a story if the main narrator can't see anything or go anywhere? I'm keeping that in mind, as Eyam plays a part in one of my WIPs, too.

Anyway, this is a deservedly popular novel by an author who I haven't heard too much of since, for some reason. I have March, which I'll read soon, by her, and reading this book has made me want to read Anita Diamant's Last Days of Dogtown again, and maybe start her Red Tent, too. So if historical fiction is your bag, or if you like good writing with believable female narrators, or if the Plague or the time interests you, you should read this book, as a great many have.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day

Let's have a little love and goodness shared out there, from everyone, to everyone.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Quick Jots 2.8.2016

Hey, it's been almost three weeks between posts--a long time for me. So here's what's new this month, in no particular order:

--The Broncos may get the ring, but the real winner of the Super Bowl was Lady Gaga. The other acts fizzled, the ads were bleh, and the game was boring and badly played.

--Speaking of Lady Gaga, she's been pretty good in this season's American Horror Story, too. I'm three episodes behind--the last three--so don't ruin anything for me.  Of course, having said that, I've been seeing a little too much of Lady Gaga lately. If you've seen the show, you know what I mean.

--I'm not sure halftime of the Super Bowl is the place to make political statements, even if they're valid. People watching the Super Bowl are not always going to be the most politically-conscious.

--Trump losing Iowa--and almost finishing in third place--re-establishes. But it's early, so don't let me down, people.

--I've already had a Republican president who didn't quite think things through before he said them. I don't need another one anytime soon.

--Trump blamed the media and Ted Cruz for his poor showing. He strikes me as one of those people who never takes responsibility for anything at all. His advisers need to tell him that he lost because Iowa is a religiously conservative state, and Trump is just conservative. He stumbles at religion questions, and doesn't say the word "God" enough to win there. And they may not be too excited about Big City rich guys from New York, either.

--Having said that, Rick Santorum won Iowa in 2012. The Iowa Caucus does not a president make.

--Local schools have been blitzed by fake bomb threats that have disrupted things greatly. Newport had three such hoaxes--in the same week. And then a snow day Friday and today.

--News reports today say RI police have traced the sources of the hoaxes to Russia. I could've told them that: According to Google Analytics, Russians read my blog more than Americans do. But I suspect there's just a bot or two coming from there and playing games with my numbers.

--Of course, if you're a solid Russian reader of this blog, I apologize...