The Empty Bookshelf Guide to the 2010 Oscars

This won’t be a guide to all of the awards, but we’ll get through all of the important ones. I’m structuring this as an “Empty Bookshelf Guide” and selectively using the royal “we,” though I’ve not consulted with the Junior Staff for their opinions.

The format will be listing the ten Best Picture nominees, and being that the majority of the nominees for the “big” awards are culled from the Best Picture list, we’ll weave through the other categories and touch on those where appropriate.

In no particular order…

Toy Story 3
I saw this after hearing many peers (mid to late 20s) breathlessly explain how this was “the most emotional movie in the history of ever.” It wasn’t, and it’s not. I’ll award it points for being ostensibly a kids movie which presented a moment where the characters are resigned to their fates and have lots of time to realize that it’s going to happen, but points are deducted because the movie doesn’t follow through with it. That’s manipulative, not emotional, fellow 20-somethings.

The Kids are All Right
This movie is perfectly….fine, but it had no business being nominated and serves to show why so many people outside of California hate California. No, not because of the same-sex parents (which, by the way, is completely not what the movie is about and has little to do with the plot other than it enabling the “kids meet their sperm donor father” plot), but because of the darn “localvore,” organic-this, organic-that California silliness. Think the tone of American Beauty, but less fun. Also, what the heck is going on with the title? The Who song is “The Kids are Alright” which makes some sense and would fit movie (in terms of a title). Spelling it “all right” implies something like, “The Kids are All Correct” – I don’t think that makes sense. There are two kids in the movie, so that would mean, “both of the kids are correct.” Hmm, that still doesn’t really jibe with the movie. Both Mark Ruffalo and Annette Bening were nominated, but try to describe these characters in more than three words, and you’ll find that there wasn’t much material for them to work with and make memorable characters.

Inception
Remember when everyone was like, “The Dark Knight should have been nominated – I mean, it would never win, but it should’ve been nominated?” Inception. Great movie. Nominated. Won’t win. (for such a “smart” story, it was slightly reliant on guns in the third act – blech, I hate using lingo). Also, for you folks arguing/discussing the ending of the movie and whether it’s “real.” Just stop. The whole point of the ending was that it was ambiguous. Speaking of which, Inception had, far and away, the Best Original Screenplay.

The King’s Speech
See? The title’s a double-entendre! Seriously, though, this is a tough one. The movie made speech therapy interesting (sorry for any speech therapists who are reading), and sent me to Wikipedia to read more about that odd time in the British Monarchy, BUT….but, there were better movies that came out in 2010. Honestly, there’s not one thing I’d change in the movie (other than maybe having Guy Pearce play his character from Ravenous instead of a prince, but I digress), but it was just too staid, too safe, and didn’t surprise me (other than the “making the development of modern speech therapy more interesting” thing). In terms of acting for accolades, speech impediments and British Royalty both seem like low-hanging fruit, but darn it, Colin Firth should win for Best Actor.

The Fighter
I generally avoid boxing movies – there’s just something about the false romanticism applied to boxing that grates on my nerves, so this one of the ten movies I was least looking forward to seeing. So, it was a pleasant surprise that it almost avoided any sort of the phony, down-on-his-luck BS that accompanies stories like this. Christian Bale should win Best Supporting Actor. In principle, he’s a bit too much of a capital-A “Actor” for my tastes, but darn it, if you told me he wasn’t the same person who plays Bruce Wayne, I’d believe you (of course I’m ignoring the significant physical change and just going by cadence, body language, and tics). Now, Wikipedia says he stayed in character even when the cameras weren’t rolling, and that’s enough to make me want to slap someone. In terms of the movie, unfortunately it relied too much on the main character being a complete dolt about how much his family was holding him back, so even though it was (closely) based on a true story, that took me out of it. “Bartender with a heart of gold” is bit tougher to pull off than “prostitute with a heart of gold,” but both are in the realm of “awards-bait,” but Amy Adams should win best supporting actress (and they didn’t “uglify” her to really pull on the award strings, so that counts for something).

Black Swan
This is the best movie of 2010 and maybe the best movie of the decade (whether the 2000s or the 2010s). There, I said it. See my comments above about “the development of modern speech therapy” and replace that with “ballet.” The screenplay and direction combine to hit notes of hard drama, suspense, sexy thriller, sports-drama (underdogs and all that), psychological horror, stuff-jumping-out-at-you horror, as well as the risky “movie within the movie.” Visually unique, maybe it’s not for everyone; here’s a negative review where I’d actually agree with him about pretty much every point, EXCEPT that my conclusion would be that it all worked. The last few shots (when she’s at the top of the “mountain” on the stage then jumps as the music hits the false crescendo until the fade to white) are perfect filmmaking. Every detail is perfect. The music (seriously the song has two finale crescendos which strike wildly disparate moods, yet are both…perfect. Those crazy Russians), the disconcerting push-pull as she appears to float onto the waiting mattress, her eyes, the audience which can’t contain its cheers which continue through to the end titles. Natalie Portman (who the Internet has apparently always thought can’t act?) should and will win the Best Actress award, but I see the Best Picture trophy going to a safer pick. Darren Aronofsky should be a shoe-in for Best Director, and Black Swan should also win for editing. Also, give it the Best Cinematography award, too. Sure, you’re thinking True Grit (“ooh, sweeping vistas!” says my dad) or The Social Network (“they shot so much in low light – think of the types of lenses they needed to use!” says the movie nerd [note: “nerd,” not “geek”]), but this is an artistic award, not a technical one, and the only truly unique “sweeping vistas” I’ve seen were in The Fall. It’s easy to make a sunset look artistic.

Soapbox warning: for you internet folks out there complaining that Clint Mansell was not eligible for the Soundtrack award, listen to his “arrangement” of the most dramatic and compelling scene of the movie with the most complementary music (the final scene), then compare it to Tchaikovsky’s original. Go on. I’ll wait. Yeah, adding two measures of glorified vamping to give the director room for another shot before the big finish doesn’t mean that the Academy’s rules are old-fashioned, and it was a travesty he was not DQ’d. Sorry, internet.

True Grit
Along with The Fighter, I wasn’t looking forward to watching this, but it was a pleasant surprise. It kept its “Coen Brothers-ish” tone under control for the most part which kept me happy, but they couldn’t let a few of their beloved “American Eccentrics” stop the movie dead in its tracks (specifically
the “doctor” with the bear skin); “hey character actor – how about you stare at the main characters and say things in a weird syntax with an even weirder, non-placeable but eminently ‘American’ accent while we roll the cameras until we get a take we like.” Also, what’s more Coen-ish than a precocious 14 year old girl with a passion for lawyering (and revenge)? BUT, my main concern was that Jeff Bridges was going to turn his role into a vanity project with the huge leeway afforded by the character’s accent (and wanting to separate the role from John Wayne’s original take on it) and tear up the scenery. I was pleasantly surprised that once I accepted his growling accent after five minutes of it, I was on-board and for such a broadly drawn character, and I actually enjoyed watching him. Hailee Steinfeld didn’t so much act as successfully spit out the typically Coens-ish dialogue (that’s not a knock on her), and enjoyable to watch or not, she wasn’t a supporting actress, she was the whole F’N show, so out of principle I won’t even consider her for that award.

The Social Network
Keeping up the theme of “making something not-interesting interesting for two hours,” The Social Network worked. I was less enamored than many others (Mark goes to California, his best friend is royally screwed, the movie abruptly ends). Aaron Sorkin avoids his typical speechifying, and provides the Best Adapted Screenplay, which is why the movie is so enjoyable, and actually could be the reason that Jesse Eisenberg won’t be stuck playing “think ‘Michael Cera,’ but with darker hair” roles until he’s 35. Like other David Fincher movies, there’s a lot of crazy special effects/camera tricks going on which don’t call attention to themselves (the crew race was filmed with no one in the stands, and famously quoted by people who have the internet, the twin jerks were played by one guy.) Speaking of the twin jerks, the fact that they’re entitled jerks but that you still get a sense that they were unceremoniously screwed by Zuckerberg hints at the strength of the screenplay, actors, and director. Also, because True Grit was not eligible for Best Soundtrack (and TRON Legacy wasn’t nominated to provide some competition), Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross should get an Oscar to match their Golden Globe. (special note: I’m still undecided about the TRON Legacy soundtrack. I agree with this review more than I disagree with it. The album is a little too “safe” and doesn’t stand out as anything other than a post-Batman Begins soundtrack.)

Winter’s Bone
I knew nothing about this movie when I saw it other than its poster. Naturally, I assumed it was about kids hunting for treasure while it was cold outside. With a canoe. Wow, that was not what the movie was about. At all. Unless a deadbeat dad is considered “treasure” in the sadder parts of Arkansas! Ha! Poverty Humor! Speaking of poverty, the movie was more enjoyable than this critic implies [special note: he uses the awesome and awesomely made-up word “yokelocracy” (and if you saw the movie you’d understand how precisely appropriate his word is)], but I agree with his point that the movie is glorified “poverty porn.” Maybe it was written/based on some intensely researched and nuanced perspective of the greater Ozarks, but if I were to be tasked with “write a three paragraph description of the meth-addled South,” I don’t think it’d be too different from what we see up on the screen. Like “The Kids are All Right,” [alternatively titled: “Both Children are Correct”] it won’t win and has no business winning, but they needed ten nominees to make up for not nominating “The Dark Knight” two years ago.

127 Hours
Coming off of “Slumdog Millionaire,” and one of my top 5 movies, “Sunshine” (well, the first two-thirds and the final 3 minutes of it), Danny Boyle had an opportunity to establish himself, but he didn’t trust his sound team enough. Let me explain. This movie should really be titled, “he cuts his own damn arm off with a dull blade,” so, of course, that’s the critical moment. It makes the movie. Sound people in Hollywood were drooling for this contract; what exactly is the sound of a dull blade cutting through ligament, tendon, flesh, muscle, bone, and marrow? Well, they came up with it (did they ever), and instead of letting the sounds speak for themselves (hmm – I guess that’s an oddly literal figurative expression in this case) Boyle kept the camera in a series of tight shots of the cutting process, when the risky move would have been to re-establish the precariousness of the situation with a shot showing the entire canyon, then letting that sickly sound establish that the cut had been successful. Risk = reward, and Boyle didn’t trust his sound team with that risk. It needed only to be visually OR aurally shocking; both were too much.

So, some wrap-up to cover all of my bases…

Other than Natalie Portman, I don’t think Black Swan will win anything, so generally, where I circled Black Swan, transfer it to The King’s Speech.

Best Picture Nominee I liked and appreciated as a “good” movie, but would actively avoid watching in the future (also called the Schindler’s List award): Winter’s Bone.

Safe pick for the Best Picture Nominee I would recommend to my mom (who doesn’t like violence, excessive swearing, excessive sex, excessive volume, and is a constant risk for falling asleep any time after 9:00PM): The King’s Speech.

Risky pick for the Best Picture Nominee I would recommend to my mom (but wouldn’t want to be in the same room or reachable by telephone after): Black Swan.

Best Picture Nominee I would not want to watch with my mom in the same room: Black Swan.

Best Picture Nominee I’d flip past on TBS during another show’s commercial break, then watch until well after the original commercial break ended, causing me to miss my show: True Grit

Best Picture Nominee I’ll watch out-of-order in 5 minute chunks on FX over the course of two months: The Fighter.

Best Picture Nominee which needs a sequel or spin-off (degree of difficulty, low): Toy Story 3.

Best Picture Nominee which needs a sequel or spin-off (degree of difficulty, cash-in): The King’s Speech.

Best Picture Nominee which needs a sequel or spin-off (degree of difficulty, high): True Grit (maybe about Matt Damon’s character?)

Movie which could easily get a spin-off or sequel but shouldn’t: Inception.

Movie which should’ve taken the place of either “Both Children are Correct” or Winter’s Bone: Blue Valentine.

Best Picture Nominee about which I wrongly underestimated before I saw it: The Fighter.

Best Picture Nominee to recommend to people who don’t usually like ‘Best Picture Nominee-type movies’ (degree of difficulty, The Departed): The Social Network.

Best Picture Nominee to recommend to people who don’t usually like ‘Best Picture Nominee-type movies’ (degree of difficulty, The English Patient): Winter’s Bone.

****½

Four-and-a-half stars – It was a pretty good year for movies.

2010 Eagles UniDictions – Week 3 – Jaguars

Main
OK.  Let me first apologize for all of you saw  my successful week 1 Unidiction and took the week 2 numbers to Vegas.  I told you my system only went to 28 — and was based on nothing other than uniforms.  If anything would be the sign that you have a problem, betting based solely on uniforms is definitely it.

Speaking of problems… Andy Reid totally destroyed my witty intro to this week’s column.  I even had an epic, dog-based pun.

On to the uniforms… according to Uniwatch (as well as my keen eye for research), the Jaguars generally eschew the tradition of “warm weather” teams wearing white at home during September/October, and go right for the teal jerseys.  So, the Eagles are in White over Midnight Green for the second week in a row.

As you’ll see below, I’m no fan of the current Jaguars uniforms, but a big, big fan of their previous (pre-2009) look.  Specifically, the alternate combination of Teal Jersey over Black Pants was one of the best looks seen in the NFL.  Unexpected color combination (teal and gold), no superfluous details, a unique, but reasonable typeface for the numbers…you name it, it had everything.  The full story of the unveiling of the current uniform can be found at the Uni Watch Blog, but what’s notable is that the new uniforms are meant to establish a firmer brand identity than the (admittedly bordering on excessive) numerous previous options.  Of course, when a team doesn’t have an “identity of winning” (and the fanbase which grows around that winning…unless you’re the Tampa Bay Rays), deciding that the uniforms are the reason for the “identity” issues is much easier than developing a team  which is successful on the field.

A quick note about all those combinations: I’m generally pretty tolerant of the “monochrome” football look (Redskins, Seahawks, Texans, etc…by the way, this is a great page about the Seahawks uniforms), but I will admit I take issue with the black/black combination because black is in practically every team’s color scheme to some degree, so it shouldn’t/can’t be the only color worn on a given Sunday (sort of serving as the opposite of a unique identifier).  I’d like to think I have a pretty keen eye for this stuff, but I even almost linked to a picture of a Ravens player wearing black over black until I saw that his helmet did not have a jaguar on it.

The UniDiction

Either 2, 3, 6, or 7 points awarded for each category (safety, field goal, touchdown, touchdown+point after, of course)

Helmet

Eagles: 7 — Same as always.  Definitely one of the best helmet designs in the league.

Jaguars: 1 — The concept of the logo works, but did you ever notice that the spots on the jaguar are actually kind of life-like, and not just plain dots?  Did anyone ever notice?  Nope.  The detail is too small.  There’s something to be said for designing something so people who care see the “little things,” but, that’s taking the expression too literally.  If someone from the Jaguars PR department were reading this, he or she would recommend I mention the fact that there’s flip paint on the helmet, showing green in some light and black in other light, but looking through game pictures online, it always looks black (in fairness, the bright spot in the main picture above looks greenish) .  Maybe I’ll update this after watching the game in HD on Sunday.  The odd black+white stroke along the torso of the players is an odd framing device.  I guess it’s to add shape to the players…. because, obviously, football players are like obscure professional wrestlers from the early 90’s who had muscles drawn their clothing

Jersey

Eagles: 6 — Again, same as last week.  This jersey doesn’t say “Eagles” the same way that the green jerseys do, but they have all the details right.

Jaguars: 2 — It’s like they took the old color and turned down the saturation slider.   Of all the questionable changes, why modify the shade of teal?  It looks like “Honolulu Blue,” another lost between two other shades.

Pants + Socks

Eagles: 3 — I like them less this week, I’m not sure why.  For some reason, I’m thinking the white over white would be a better look.

Jaguars: 2 — I am no fan of those weird, partial swoops/stripes on the side of the pants.  It’s not that they’re ugly, it’s that they make the pants look unfinished.  Another broken detail compared to their previous uniforms.  Like the Eagles, the socks are a simple black over white; no harm, no foul.

 Intangibles

Eagles: 3 — Like I mentioned in the Pants section above, the White over Green combination didn’t do much for me last week.  Maybe it was just due to the way the colors contrasted with the Lions’ uniforms… I’m not sure.

Jaguars: 1 — They took something good and broke it.  End of story.  The current White over Black is an improvement, but they’re not wearing them this week.

Final Score

Eagles 19

Jaguars 6

In terms of trivia, here’s a look at the original design for the Jaguars uniforms in the 90s which did not survive a lawsuit from Jaguar, the car company.  (and, unique as the jersey was, was kind of ugly)

*½

It’s the Eagles’ weaker uniform combination vs. a just plain old sad uniform; this won’t be a good week for Eagles aesthetics.

2010 Academy Awards


Alec and Steve were the only friends left at “Oscar’s” birthday party after mom kicked Kratos out after “the incident.”

Some quick thoughts opinions:

The “interpretive” dancing to accompany the Best Music (Original Score) nominees was tacky and plain-old ridiculous. Being that the music was written for a movie, why not show either a) a montage/custom trailer showcasing the music against the images or b) show a specific scene from the movie as-is which highlights the connection between composer and the visual material. The eventual winner, UP, has a sequence which would have lent itself perfectly for, you know, showing the effect of the music instead of a bunch of people spinning on their heads or doing the robot. If they want to show break-ish dancing, America’s Best Dance Crew does it better (and without the false pretense of it being “fine art.”)

Aside from the fact that a movie which would be more properly described as “rendered” (or raytraced, or something or another) rather than “filmed,” won for Best Cinematography, why did they show no clips, again, showcasing the recognized, excellent cinematography? I believe only the title cards were shown. Sure, most of the movies (except, Harry Potter, I believe) were shown in other awards’ intro sections, but movies are a visual medium, show it if it’s awards-worthy! Or maybe you could get the interpretive dancers to movieoke the scenes in question.

The Best Actor/Actress “wedding toasts” are still awkward and unnecessarily long. BUT, watching the obligatory “Oscar-bait” scenes are usually just as cringe-worthy. Of course, this year we got to see what happens when a “who’s that guy?” actor without a compelling story (acting debut and [celebrated for some odd reason] morbid obesity, for example) gets nominated…Colin Farrell is left to relate stories from their time off set during the filming of SWAT because there is no body of work to reference (yet?). Consider it a tie between the old “bait” and new “toasts” methods. [Jeremy Renner absolutely deserved to be nominated and would not have been a surprise winner, and unrelatedly, SWAT wasn’t all that bad of a movie, either].

In terms of Best Picture and Best Director (considering them interrelated here)… eh, The Hurt Locker was good, but felt a bit incomplete. Imagine a collection of seven interrelated short stories, any of which could be swapped for the climax of the movie. Unique, yes, but District 9 took another unique presentation method and did it better. The Hurt Locker would be somewhere below Up in the Air, District 9, An Education, and even Avatar on my list.

P.S. The Blind Side is an awful, awful movie. Meryl Streep did “I get what I want,” bad-ass chick better in The Devil Wears Prada, though Sandra Bullock was definitely the best part of the movie (which is notable because there was anything in it that could be considered “best”).

**½

Best Song Ever? The 1812 Overture (Tchaikovsky)

Maybe the most in-depth “best song ever?” review…ever

Only in the US could a song written by a gay Russian guy to celebrate a Russian military victory become a cornerstone of its patriotic celebrations. Sure, the whole “1812” in the title makes it sound like it could’ve been written in relation to the little discussed War of 1812 (USA! USA! USA!). Sure the whole name, Festival Overture “The Year 1812” has exactly no ring to it, and the French Ouverture solennelle 1812 is, well, French, but had it been named something like “Glorious Song Celebrating Russian Victory,” maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t be a staple of barbecues, Budweiser, and bottlerockets. In lieu of the anti-septic “yes, no, conclusion” form of previous “Best Song Ever?” reviews, I’m going to really tear this one up. Like most everything, Wikipedia has a detailed, thorough write-up of it, so here’s a quick background: 1) commissioned to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat at Moscow in (wait for it) 1812 2) actually from the “Romantic” time period, what with the aggressive dynamic range and being written in a patriotic state of mind (see Finlandia, and the Moldau, both from about the same time period).

I’ll assume that everyone knows the end of the 1812 Overture (du-duh-du-duh-duh-duh-duh-du-duh-duh-CANNON EXPLOSION!! du-duh … [repeat]), so I’ll be focusing more on the rest of the ~15-17 minutes of wretched Slavic excess.

First things first, there are a number of orchestral variations that exist: some have a choir at the beginning singing the opening hymn, others have it played by the strings, some even have the choir sing at the end as well, some versions have cannon, some versions don’t. (I prefer sans cannon – the reverberations tend to lose the finer details of the conclusion, that being said, points are earned for incorporating firearms into music. I don’t think Creedence ever had the guts to do that.) Also, there are a number of sonically inferior recordings of the 1812 Overture. The blaring trumpets of the “best part” (see below) will overwhelm low-quality mixes, leaving it painful to listen to, much less “appreciate.” Likewise, in the interest of not clipping during recording, if the opening choir is included, they’re frequently gained way, way down, creating one of those wonderful experiences where your speakers (and ears) are left in pieces when the cannon shots start. After both of these almost technical aspects are taken care of, we’re left at the whims of the conductor – should the opening be minor key Christmas Carol slow or old lady playing the organ slow? (answer: minor key Christmas Carol slow) – should the high end of the orchestra bring it back a few notches when the low end completes the final run? (answer: absolutely) Should the ringing trumpets of “the good part” be included in the arrangement? (answer: yes, but Mr. Conductor had best keep them from blowing the notes out of tune).

Let’s call the “definitive” arrangement the recording by the Tchaikovsky Large Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev (1995).

From 0:00 – 01:08 we hear the opening hymn – sung in this version, frequently played by the string section in other recordings. The hymn is actually “God Save the Tsar,” not a new creation of Tchaikovsky’s. Let’s call this the first good part.

01:08 – 03:12 Lots of building – starting small, getting large at 02:50. Look out for the tubas to rock your world, speakers, and sense of decency at 2:32. Maybe some “mystery” with the forgotten member of the strings, the double bass being played with a bow, creating “uncertainty and dread.” Maybe.

03:12 – 03:40 Section played by the upper and middle brass (French horns, the upper range of the trombones). What with the whole “celebrating victory over the French” thing, this is actually a play on La Marseillaise, the French National Anthem. Finally, “musical allusions” I agree with. Remember this ditty for later.

03:41 – The strings rock out before the brass comes back in at 4:40 playing more variations on La Marseillaise as the strings add flourishes – notice that the flourishes aren’t all by the violins and violas, the cellos and double basses add just as much. The melody is thrown all around the brass department: french horns and trombones, then trumpets, back to trombones, then trumpets again as at 05:03 – the violins flourish with an upwards run, the cellos and basses match it, but in reverse (for you music people out there, that’s called “inversion” …. or “retrograde.”) At 5:07 the string section’s cat and mouse game ends as they’re given the melody for a time as the section begins to wind down at 05:40.

05:57 – The section begins – woodwinds and strings are left alone to introduce this middle theme. At 6:40 the oboe and English horn get a slight countermelody which at 7:00 is picked up by the flutes who begin their take on the theme at 07:06. Notice the continual tambourine and the bassoon player’s mom standing up during the concert and saying “THAT’S MY SON!!!” because he’s the featured instrument from 7:21 until 7:26. Heck, it might be only 5 seconds, but to a bassoon player, that’s like being TIME’s person of the year. The French national anthem continues to be played with like a cat with a gimpy mouse until the brass add exclamation marks at 08:05, with the tubas even getting in on the French-bashing at 08:45. Uh-oh, I smell segue (08:50 – 09:02).

Same file as above, to avoid excess scrolling.

09:02 – 10:17 – I think this is the part where pretentious war movies start and they talk about the “beauty of combat, the man on man, the country vs. country.” At 9:42 the double bass proves why it Le Stinks compared to the tuba, with it barely being able to be heard (9:48 specifically). 09:49 – French Horn Solo! Well, two measures at a time, at least. 10:05 building to what will be the second good part.

10:18 – 11:10 The second good part. Timpani is played in place of cannon (good move), the trumpets take guff from no man. I assume this is supposed to be the whole “cannonballs wrecking stuff” section as we get blaring, blaring, blaring, then it’s the long, long (long, long) run down the orchestra starting with violins, viola, cello, then double-bass, then (to the chagrin of double-bass players everywhere), the tubas join in around 10:58 and totally drown them out. As it should be.

11:10 – 12:23 The third good part – also called, “the best part” I’ll be honest, the conductor takes it a bit fast for more liking, but it’s made up for in the fact that this version includes the chorus. This section’s all top-quality; generally the structure is “choir and brass play the role of cannon” then the strings play the part of “stuff blown up and floating through the air after explosion.” Remember the opening hymn, well, this is it all over again. Notice the “ringing” trumpets accenting the melody 1 and 2 octaves up, playing in unison but a 5th above the melody in the low brass. Wait a minute…isn’t root-5th the same thing as a power chord? Indeed it is. Take that rock and roll. 11:42 rocks my world (and makes purple acceptable to wear), so turn your speakers up. Notice the tuba player almost duff the first note of his mini-feature at 11:49, then redeem himself until he takes a slightly too long breath at 11:53/11:54. The chorus and brass do their thing, as the strings begin to wrap up the section at 12:16. Oh yeah, and the bells that start at ~11:06 and don’t stop until the whole song’s over? Someone needs to tell them not to overdo it. Supposedly, the original score calls for “carillon,” but most versions use tubular bells in place of the carillon. Notice the MP3 compression have a major coronary as it tries to compress this section with the bells, the brass, chorus, cymbals, and the strings all playing at FF. What’s a carillon you may ask? Well, if you’ve been to Musikfest, this guy plays a carillon.

Same file as above, to avoid excess scrolling.

12:23 – END – You know it, you may love it, you may hate it, but no matter what you think of it, to most people, this is the 1812 Overture. It’s the fourth good part if only by popular vote. It’s actually kind of ho-hum when you listen to it: the drums go bum-bum over and over again, the cymbal player is phoning it in, the cannoneers are waiting for their cue, the violin players are developing carpal tunnel, Clarinet 2 is wondering to himself, “I spent how much money on a music degree, and all I’m doing is playing second Clarinet in this commercial waste of time?!,” but its one saving grace is that the brass is about to get back in and bring it home. This version even includes the closing chorus, so if you ever see it performed live or even on TV (almost never with the chorus), remember this, so you realize what you’re missing. 12:32 The tubas double the chorus, the trumpets assist the violins and woodwinds, the cannon do their thing, and the double-bass and bassoon are apparently in absentia (as it should be). On your second listen-through, notice the trumpet players triple-tonguing the opening of each phrase (listen at 12:36, that’s not one note, that’s 3 super-quick ones, in a row). 12:49 This is a tricky section for most recordings. Frequently, the chromatic run of triplets, which begins at the top of the orchestra’s range with the flutes and violins, gets lost in the soundfield when it gets handed to the low brass (at 12:52) but not in this version. In this one, the notes are even accented on the way down and the tempo is slowed ever so slightly, drawing it out. Making this version even more definitive is that (pay attention), normally, when the chorus sits this section out as the low brass is doing the triplet run, the higher instruments ascend the major scale on each downbeat two octaves above the low brass. In this version, the men’s chorus is singing one octave above the brass, drawing more tension between the simultaneous ascending and descending lines compared to having two whole octaves between each.

After that, it’s just bombast – nothing extraordinary, though there’s something to be said for throwing the final melody down each member of the brass section, the high trumpets at 13:04, the lower trumpets at 13:05, the french horns and baritone at 13:06 (listen for the sour note during their turn around 13:07), then finally the trombones and tuba bring up the rear. All that’s left now is to wait for the darn thing to end for the next 18 seconds. It’s kind of like watching a dog after it’s let out to go to the bathroom. It runs around the whole yard waiting for a nice spot to take care of its business. It takes a while, but it does eventually end.

An alternate version (USSR State Symphony Orchestra – Evgeny Svetlanov – 1974):
No choir (beginning, middle, or end)
The strings are played in place of the chorus – eh, it’s okay, but he takes them a bit too slowly. At this tempo, they come off more as “emotive” than “expressive.” I’m not sure what that means, but feel free to quote me. It does sound like the instruments are about to cry. Also, I think you can hear the musician’s breath between musical phrases. I’d assume this was someone’s artsy-fartsy idea to “make the instruments sound more like people.”
Listen (opening only – turn it up a bit):

More notably, this version includes an alternate ending. Apparently the change has to do with Soviet Russia not liking things praising the Tsar (for some reason). More here.
Listen:

At 0:12 – right when you expect the brass entrance, you get…whuh?! Actually, it’s another hymn, but at least you get back in time (0:35) for the epic final run (which is drawn out and even accented by the tubas).

Here’s the whole thing – it’s pretty much the typical performance. The sound quality is a bit lacking, but it’s certainly passable:
Listen:

Another Sample
Not sure the pedigree of this one, but it shows why that final run (0:04) needs to be recorded and mixed carefully. The bottom half gets completely lost in the explosions and strings.
Listen:

One Last Example
Finally, this is what happens when the end is played too fast. Not only are the trumpets out of sync, they’re blowing the notes out of tune. Also, one of the trumpet players seems to left the building from 0:23-0:27.
Listen:

I have a few more renditions if anyone’s interested, but I covered the good ones and the notable differences between variations….and, I’m sure most of you stopped reading after the title.

****½

The 1812 Overture gets four-and-half stars for longevity, effect, and who-cares-if-it’s-“popular” awesomeness. It makes fun of the French, incorporates military equipment, and has been co-opted by the US; really, what else is there? Half-a-star is deducted for that middle section. It’s good, but unfortunately doesn’t compare. It is not the best song ever, but it’s definitely breathing rarefied air.

The Concept of Eleni’s Oscar Cookies


You can’t even tell which direction Cookie Forest Whittaker is looking in, but man is he still compelling as a pastry.

A few weeks ago, I happened upon this article on EW, briefly discussing the merits of cookies designed with illustrations of the best actor and best actress nominees for this year’s Academy Awards. I found it a little peculiar, but didn’t really think too much about it, until the next day when I walked past the cupcake and cookies store on the main floor of the building I work at. In the window I happened to see the images of the actors, and remembered seeing them on the EW website. I went in to check out the cookies (they’ve done the same sugar screening thing on the top of the cupcake icing too, which i think is creepier), and found that you could buy them in a sixteen pack box set for a mere 56 dollars. For those of you who aren’t hip to the mathematics, that’s 3.50 a cookie. You can check out images of the packs here
Now I don’t know about you all, but unless it’s giant, or some combination of lobster, truffles, filet mignon, and gold, i’m not paying $3.50 for a single cookie. Especially one that’s about the same size and type as the Girlscout shortbread cookies (“trefoils” for those of you pagans out there). But then again, I’ve never eaten cookies that taste like Will Smith.

I get that there are people out there who make a lot more money than I do (especially in NYC), and can afford to purchase extravagant items like this for their Oscar party. I would even argue collectibility, except for the fact that the cookies would totally deteriorate in a not-so-long amount of time. Here’s what I don’t get: At what point does somebody have so much money that his/her sense of worth gets skewed so that they don’t have an issue with buying 16 small cookies for 56 dollars? What makes this whole thing all the more preposterous is that on the Saturday before the awards, they were being sold at half price. Of course, the people there were talking up the “You can buy both sets” deal, but that just goes to show how much the price was jacked up to begin with. And are people really THAT into the Academy Awards? Do people have parties for a five-hour-long, and not particularly entertaining show that lasts until 1 in the a.m? On a Sunday? Is there some prestige earned by purchasing these cookies for your elaborate party? Maybe, but I think that if you went and bought some cheap but vastly more delicious cookies and gift wrapped them yourself, that you’d probably have more. “Ah”, you say. “But they wouldn’t have Peter O’Toole’s mouthwatering face on them”. And to this I say, “I think I’ve just proven my point”.

*

I’ll give them one star for the work that went into creating images of people to put on their cookies, and the fact that anything cookie-related can’t be all bad. Hey, if they were free, I’d totally eat them. But they wouldn’t last long… especially 56 dollars worth of time. That and I don’t find it particularly appetizing to eat a cookie with Helen Mirren on it. Now if they were Razzie awards cookies, filled with raspberry jam…. that might be different.

Empty Bookshelf’s First 100 Reviews


Oh, those kids. Always at it. You guys really shouldn’t’ve.

So here we are at the first of what may be a few reviews of our first milestone, 100 reviews. Not only is this the first review of this milestone, but of what could be very many milestones. We here at the Bookshelf like the word “milestone“, and don’t believe in Thesauruses. So here we go, our first hundred in a nutshell.

The first actual review happened way back in October of 2005… remember that time before the Steelers won the superbowl, before “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” movie, before Dick Cheny accidentally shot his friend while hunting, and before Bristol, United Kingdom celebrated the 200th birthday of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (actually April 9) by relighting the Clifton Suspension Bridge?

Dan’s first review was aimed at complaining about post-game hype surrounding an extremely long baseball game. Of course our readers probably care about boring Astros-Braves baseball games as much as they seemed to care about my terrible review of the dictionary. Even though that picture was good, it was nowhere near the five star quality of this image. I too tried my hand at reviewing food, but it was an utter failure. On the plus side, my review of the letter to the editor is one of my favorites, and my first review actually got eight comments, including this link. The few following that grilled chese review focused mostly on music, my opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”, a particular episode of Trading Spouses, and Dan’s opinion of My opinion of “Good Night, and Good Luck”. Dan also said that the Colbert report wouldn’t last, which seems to have been proven false.

October seemed to be us finding our footing.
***

November saw Dan’s Cleveland Trifecta, a diatribe against horses, a road that he liked, an episode of “Coach“, and his complaints about how much he aches, now that he’s an old man. I started the month strong with the Beth review, but struggled through the rest of it, with lame reviews like Thursday, a type of tooth”paste” that doesn’t work for me, and an insightful, yet completely unnecessary complaint about my nosebleeds. My FAO Schwarz review kinda made up for them, but the highlight of the month involved Dan and I sparring about how Christmas is coming earlier every year, and something about me being a time-traveling sheep.

November didn’t see much improvement over October, but the Christmas stuff was entertaining.
***½

December got a bit better, even with a few less reviews. I busted out the old NES games, for a few reviews that I swear are not trying to copy off of XE, another personal favorite, Christmas Cards, Adam’s first review, Dan throwing the hate down on Pitchfork media, and a suprising amount of people commenting on Roger Ebert’s take on video games. The biggest advance in December was the pop-ins, that added added some clarity to our parentheses-obsessed-writing.

December was a highly engaging and entertaining month, even with only nine reviews.
****½

2006 rolled around, and January saw Dan get political, review half of a book, not like warm winters a lot. I only contributed three of ten reviews that month, but all three of them were relatively alright, mostly because “Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego“, and “The Simpsons” after season 9 is so easy to complain about.

January’s topics fell off a little.
***½

February, while being the shortest month, was also a monster for us, as far as number goes. A whopping twenty-one reviews. To be fair, 17 of them came in our envelope-pushing live superbowl reviews, the biggest stunt pulled in the history of reviewing anything and everything on a five star scale. The only other reviews of any substance were my Gauntlet Review of the Beatles albums, and Dan’s digging up of our one-issue underground high-school newspaper.

Despite the big stunt, and two good reviews, February was kinda lacking.
**½

March just plain sucked. Four reviews total. One by me. Three megareviews by Dan.

½

April was slightly better, with another of my top five of my reviews, Legacy of the Wizard. The other four I would give an average of 3 stars to, but since there were only four during the month, that’s going to cancel out the Legacy of the Wizard bonus and take it down a half star.

**½

For my money, May was our best month yet. Dan’s contribution was the lengthy three-part TV landscape review. I threw out quality stuff with my Songs for Silverman, and Degree Navigator reviews. The shorter American Dreamz and Davinci Code video game reviews were serviceable, but my immense LOST season 2 review tops everything.

*****

June fell off a bit. Four reviews total. Split two and two. Mine were based on a ridiculous news story, and anger at other people for coincidentally coming up with the same ideas as me. Dan tried to put everything into perspective by seeing how well the entire history of human ingenuity and artistry stacked up in the interstellar community, and complained a little about how the national geography of roadways isn’t designed to suit his needs.

**

July was filled with the (I gotta admit my ignorance as to the relevance of this phrase… and wikipedia does nothing to help) Navel Gazing set. I was had for a few minutes by a Jimmy Kimmel hoax, and I thought the critics were a little too harsh on Shayamalan. Despite the mediocre numbers for the month, I’d give it a 3.5

***½

This gives us a per-month average of 3 stars, which isn’t too shabby.

In my first ever review, I reviewed the concept of this website. I claimed that we wouldn’t be able to keep it fresh, that we’d run out of ideas, and that we wouldn’t be able to stay somewhat funny at least. I believe my exact quote was “It has the potential to provide hours of entertainment for readers, and shape their lives for years to come. However, the downside is that it could get old real soon, and provide us with nothing but an excuse not to get real jobs.”

Well, I think we’ve significantly proven wrong every single point that I just brought up. We have 29 categories, 19 subcategories, and even two sub-sub categories. We’re still writing about reasonably different things, and while we may have slacked on the funny in recent months, we still bring the ‘A’ game on occasion. As far as my quote goes, I’d be willing to bet that we’ve provided maybe a few hours of entertainment for a handful of people, which probably did nothing to shape their lives for even the near fututre. On the upside, it hasn’t gotten old, and we have gotten real-ish jobs.

For all of these reasons, I’m willing to up our star rating by half a star, over the average rating of 3. I’ve also realized that my method of calculating the rating might not be the best, so I’m gonna throw in another half star for a final rating of 4 stars out of five.

****

And for those of you playing along at home, yes, this technically is the 100th review and so therefore should be included. This review receives 3 stars for not having much to offer in the way of witty musings, and for having a faulty overall rating method, but for packing so many subjects and links into one review.

***

The Last 200 Years of Human Creative Output

I hope that I’ll be able to post with some more frequency in the next coming while. Look for some smaller reviews in the next couple days.

Humanity, I’m calling you out.

I was doing some thinking the other day about what we’d do if aliens showed up. Obviously, the first course of action would probably be to make sure they’re not going to kill us and eat the delicious delicacy between our ears, but all things considered, these aliens had the means to make the trip from their home planet one (or two) bazillion miles away to Earth, so I’m not sure we’d be able to do too much to stop whatever their plan for us would be, evil or friendly. So, assuming their first step of their visit isn’t “killing them humans good”, they’d probably want to see the pinnacle of what we’ve accomplished as a planet during our shared, human history.

voyager
If part of your skimming of our reviews involves looking at the picture and reading the caption, hoping it will be funny, you’re all out of luck this time.

They wouldn’t be impressed with our technology, so anything we’d mention about that would go as such:
Us: And here’s a bridge that spans a whole mile!
Them: A bridge… as in it spans, uh, water?
Us: Yeah, isn’t it a great testament to our ingenuity?
Them: Oh yeah, that’s really great. We just flew millions of light years to get here, and you’re trying to impress us with something that’s designed to keep your ground-based transportation from getting wet.

As an aside, I could see Apple running a TV ad where aliens are given the tour and they’re not impressed by anything, then they use an Apple and are transfixed. The Apple logo is shown, then we see the aliens replacing the computers on their spaceship (running Windows, of course) with Apples. You heard it here first.

With our comparitively puny technology, we’d be left to show them our artistic achievements. We sort of did this already on a much more limited scale with the golden records sent on the Voyager probes, but odds are, those aliens probably aren’t going to figure out how to make them work. Not because they’re not smart enough, but for the same reason that if cave men would have thought to leave a message for the future, we’d struggle decoding it. I hesitate to sound unnecessarily profound, but there’s something to be said about technological context. In 200 years, the concept of an optical disc will be foreign to us; imagine 2,000 years or 200,000 years. Now imagine that we’re aliens whose definition of “visible light” might be completely different than ours.

Anyway, we’re giving a tour of humanity to these apparently friendly aliens. Technology’s out, human history has just become insignificant (and not just because the aliens won’t care), as from the moment the ship is seen for the first time, everything will be measured as being either “before” or “after” that moment. This all means that the only thing left for us to show off and be proud of would be our art. First things first, we’ll investigate what we’ll consider “art.”

  • Paintings? – Sure. Let’s just remember how easy it is to create absolutely awful paintings though
  • Music? – That, too
  • Sculpture? – Eh, paintings do the same in a more portable medium. Sorry.
  • Architecture? – Hmm. Tough call. I’ll take the easy way out and say that it’s more of an engineering discipline than anything else, that it doesn’t count. Besides, aliens would have different ergonomic needs than we do. If the aliens rolling on the ground and slept hovering in mid-air, our architecture wouldn’t do too much for them.
  • Photography – Too new of an artform, and most successful “photos as art” are more “neat” than transcendent unless they’re pictures of landscapes. Hmm… maybe we’ll use those photos to convince the aliens not to raze our planet and turn it into some sort of intergalactic parking lot. The biggest thing against photography is the fact that its most affecting imagery is usually more journalistic than artistic.
  • Literature – Sorry, you’re cut: aliens don’t know Earth languages, and reading requires too much of a time commitment
  • Movies/TV/Video – eh, too much context in those media (discussed later)
  • Food/Culinary? – Nope. Aliens wouldn’t appreciate the same tastes. Heck, our food might even kill them.
  • Video Games? – HA!
  • Performance Art” – Hey aliens, I’ve heard they have delicious brains!

So that leaves painting and music. Thinking on both of those forms, what would we include? For music, we have any one of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (among countless other things of his that could be included – one of the Brandenburg Concertos was included on the Voyager records, so let’s consider it the example for Bach), we have a selections of “Beethovens”: Fur Elise, the Moonlight Sonata, and excerpts from the 5th, 9th, and even 7th symphonies to choose from. Handel has Music for the Royal Fireworks, but after that, the remaining selections get a bit thin. The 1812 Overture is quite an achievement, but remembering what I had said before about context and how aliens wouldn’t care about history, it’s not detached from its context (the Napoleonic wars — As Americans we don’t care about them, and aliens would care even less); when someone listens to it, they invariably say it sounds like fighting music. So it (and most any other event/history-inspired piece of music-think Finlandia, The Ring Cycle, etc.) is out of contention because it doesn’t transcend its context. The Brandenburg Concerto has the name of a place in it, yet as music, it’s completely detached from its namesake. Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks also has a very context-heavy title, but what in it evokes a fireworks display without talking in artsy-fartsy “painting with music” terms or even explicitly calls out the “royal” aspect of it?

I’ve just looked into baroque, classical, and romantic music, and anything made before those three was made primitive by Bach’s baroque – and for music of the 20th century, well, let’s take a look. Aaron Copland wrote some nice music, unfortunately, it’s not alien-worthy. There’s some sort of experimental or even reactionary sense to it, purposefully having instruments out of tune for effect and having some intangible “American” sound, sometimes taking existing folk songs and incorporating them into some larger work. That’s great and all, but aliens don’t deserve experimental music in any capacity. We should be proud of what we’ve figured out, not the steps it took to get there.

Looking at less academic music, there’s jazz, blues, swing, etc., etc. of the pre-Rock times, and all of those are out — if the music has little significance today, it’ll have even less in the future. Now, the Beatles are probably the most significant popular music artifact of the 20th century, but as Nate implicitly said, the music didn’t get very interesting until they started with the drugs. Nothing against the Beatles, but I’m not sure drug users make the best musical ambassadors. (Yeah, Bach, etc. probably used snuff or whatever was popular, but no one says, “Wow, he must’ve been high when he wrote this.” John Lennon, I’m looking through at you.) Also, the Beatles music has words, and as much as I’d like English to be Earth’s language there are two issues: 1) I don’t want the Queen‘s English to be the official one and probably more importantly 2) aliens don’t know English, the Queen’s or otherwise, much less any Earth language.

The other musical heavy hitters of the 20th century? Led Zeppelin – drugs; Pink Floyd – more drugs; Michael Jackson – yeah, that’d be a good idea; (I hate to admit it) Garth Brooks – I don’t even need to provide a reason. Yanni’s quite popular in his own weird way, and he has the language thing taken care of, but his music is too generic for representing human-kind. Yeah, there’s the non-Western World’s music, but let’s be honest: they’re all wishing that they were us by enjoying our pop music scraps we give to them years after their popularity here. It’s the Western way or the highway.

Conclusion: Nothing musical that’s alien-worthy after Beethoven. He died in 1827. Way to go humanity.

On to artwork: Well, the most well-regarded of today’s artists (by art-critics/snobs) is Matthew Barney. Take a look around at that link, and you’ll see that not only is his “work” not alien-worthy, it’s barely human-worthy. Like music, a lot of the more notable recent-ish artists had drug problems (Picasso) which directly influenced their art, “great” or not. Van Gogh wasn’t the most stable (cutting his ear off and all), and Dali – well, his stuff is interesting only because we view it as humans and react to it because of what we expect or don’t expect of what we consider “art.” Aliens have no reason to react in that same way. Also, Mary Cassatt did the whole impressionism thing in an Georgia O’Keefe did for “precludes its inclusion.

Just like with the music, we end up looking back to the “masters:” Rembrandt, the Ninja Turtles (whose work doesn’t really need introduction – except for maybe Donatello, that underachieving I-talian),

The Last 200 Years of Human Creative Output is given one disappointing star due to its absolute lack of providing anything we’d give to alien ambassadors as the pinnacle of human achievement. Beyond that, because there have undoubtedly been enjoyable snippets since then, we, as fans and humans, can only be distressed once we realize that it/they can’t hold a candle to the previous work. Now, let me prefend (come on people, it means defending yourself before someone has put you in a defensive position) myself here: I am a loud opponent of the “it was first, so it’s absolutely significant and ‘good'” mentality. Beowulf, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Elvis, Sputnik, The Wright Flyer, and on and on – all overrated in any sense other than “first ~.” None of my picks were real “firsts” (except for Bosch and Bach – and Bach only sort of – but he was not the only game in town for that time of music when he was around), so I’m good to go, principles intact. Please, leave suggestions for the alien art and music presentation below.