The Big Bang Theory

Quick TV Review…

If you don’t watch “The Big Bang Theory,” give it a chance. CBS Mondays at 8:00 and online. Sure, the premise is ridiculous (two super-nerds move next door to the proverbial sitcom “hot babe” and hilarious antics ensue — See, they don’t know how to relate! She likes shopping, they like Star Trek! Haha.) Well then, the show gets decent ratings (in the 8 million viewers range, compared to the Office’s ~6 million), but it gets no respect. TV Squad doesn’t provide weekly recaps (though they do write-up each episode of Big Brother). The stereotypical fan of The Office is too cool for “three camera sitcoms,” and this one thrives on the “mismatched neighbors” and “nerd” constructs.

Four Geeks ± Babe (math humor!)
Four Geeks ± Babe (Math Humor!)

All that said, it’s actually really funny, and one of the “support” geeks (meaning there are two physicist roommates and two equally geeky friends providing plot “support”) is made fun of for being an engineer. I can’t remember the joke exactly, but it involved something about calling engineers “the oompa-loompas of science.” I haven’t felt that way in a while, but in academic circles, I’ll give them points for accuracy.

I have noticed that the show has actually moved away from the relationship the “babe” has with her neighbors. She has had little development – she basically sits there and makes simple jokes about her neighbors’ lack of social skills or just how far over head their discussion is. I guess at some point the sort-of “head” geek needs to act on his crush he first showed in the pilot (but the show has left it sort of unaddressed since then), but I think that’s the lazy way out for the writers. Family Matters did it years ago. I would guess that the writers felt like they needed a girl to be their “normal” foil for the four scientists, but as the show has gone on, they’ve realized the “geeks” personalities and competitiveness have been able to carry the show.

Now, the show takes an odd line between “same as every other sitcom” and “something new.” If they ever fall back on “dorky nice guy chases after girl completely out of his league,” we’ll know that the writers have given up. The writers have stumbled onto four entertaining, dynamic characters who are unlike their TV geek forebears; they’re the center of the show, not just one-note jokes on the periphery of a normal sitcom cast.

****

CBS has a good thing going. Unlike The Office, there’s more potential upside for this show. The Office won’t get significantly higher ratings – there’s simply a finite number of people into sarcastic, dry humor (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’ve elaborated on The Office previously, and everything that was true then is still true now, the viewership numbers aren’t improved, but they are more vocal (oddly enough, crossing into standard “geek” territory like having a convention). The Big Bang Theory is more straight-forward and, yes, “easier,” but those aren’t bad things. Tune In.

Cloverfield

Pirated video that shows clearly what the monster really is.

It’s been a while since we’ve posted… I know.

To put it simply, Cloverfield is effin’ scary. I would venture as far as to say that it was the most viscerally affecting movie I’ve seen since Children of Men. This isn’t just a monster movie; it’s a movie, that, like The Mist and I Am Legend before it, plays on our greatest unthought-of fear, that something so disastrous could happen that all manner of government protection would be rendered moot. Mass chaos with no way out, and nothing to keep you alive but your own strength of will in circumstances that you’d never imagine yourself in. Cloverfield is so effective at what it sets out to do, reminding us that our modern “civilized” society is one catastrophic event away from being reduced to nothing more than bickering people who’ve been taken over by primitive “fight or flight” survival instincts.

The way the reviewers have talked about it, I’m sure you’ve all heard complaints ad nauseum about the “lack of story”, the “unlikeablility” of characters, the illogical choices made by certain people, and that it didn’t make sense for someone to keep recording through the whole thing. Honestly, I didn’t care about any of those things at all, and it’s a testament to how involving the movie is that I only once stopped to think about the fact that a camera battery wouldn’t last as long it does, and only one other time to think about how long it would take them to walk in a subway tunnel the distance that they said they did. Despite the rich, hipster vibe that the characters exuded, I didn’t really find them all that grating, even though it was basically as if Godzilla interrupted an episode of Felicity (with good reason; both the executive producer and the director were co-creators of that show). If they indeed go ahead with a sequel to be shot in the same style, telling a different story from the same night, I would love to see people from the opposite end of the spectrum and how they managed, how different their priorities were, and just how they would differ in their actions in general.

More often than not though, I found myself sitting in my chair, with my mouth wide open, totally enraptured by what was going on. Would I too be able to climb across a roof of a forty-story building that was leaning at a sixty degree angle from the ground, only being held up by the building next to it? Would I have gone back to save someone from a giant killer spider-crab in a pitch black subway tunnel? Why was this monster movie the first one that ever made me question the lengths I would go to survive? As intense as it was, The Mist, never made me feel this way, despite the fact that the subject material was quite similar. In my opinion, it goes to media theorist Marshall McLuhan‘s statement from his book “Understanding Media:Extensions of Man“, that “The Medium is the Message”. To put a very long and convoluted series of the oftentimes contradictory thoughts by a raving Canadian lunatic into a simplistic summary, the method by which a message is sent from one person to another is oftentimes more important to the delivery than the message itself. The best example of this is the famed Nixon-Kennedy debate where the majority of radio listeners seemed to think that Nixon had won, while the television viewers, able to see Nixon’s body language, sweating, and poor make-up job, were convinced that Kennedy won. On a side note, I always wondered if the people who did that study took into account the differences in politics between the people who listened and people who watched, and if that played into their answers to the question.

How this idea of medium applies to Cloverfield is that we’ve been programmed with the language of film over the past one-hundred years. Even if we aren’t aware of it, we’ve come to expect a certain syntax. We don’t notice it though, until a reverse angle of a shot doesn’t match, or an edit isn’t smooth. The Mist lives by these rules, and the whole time it tries to invoke this question of “what happens when the world goes to hell?”, while also playing it like a 1950s B-horror movie creature feature. Issues with the unfocused nature of the plot set aside, it’s the fact that the movie’s presented in the language of Film that makes you step back and realize how preposterous the story really is.

Ironically, it’s the movie inspired by the crude and incredibly repetitive Godzilla series that has effectively transcended this medium and broken out of the box, leaving genuine lasting emotion. The same way that we’ve been trained to understand that movies aren’t real and that we shouldn’t feel anguish when Jason Vorhees, “an unstoppable killing machine“, hacks someone up with a machete, we’ve been trained to recognize video as infallible. Which affects you more: watching an alien pop out of someone’s chest killing them in a movie, or watching a video of a skateboarder falling fifty feet to a hard wooden surface and seeing his shoes explode, but then being able to walk off, relatively unharmed? We haven’t yet learned to apply the same reality filters to video that we currently do to film, and this is what Cloverfield exploits.

No matter how many times you try to tell yourself this movie isn’t real, the medium that the message is delivered in contradicts your thoughts and plays to your instincts. What would happen if you took this movie over to undeveloped parts of Africa (as McLuhan puts it, a place where people have not been “immunized” to this medium) or if someone years down the line saw this without the context to put it in? It’s very likely that they might think it actually happened, especially if they’ve seen the 2001 attack footage. Critics (used literally, not film critics) of the movie have been saying that it exploits September 11th imagery, but I would argue that it successfully uses those scenes we have committed to memory to scare us in a very real way, much more than any slasher flick or monster movie has done before. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been spending a large amount of time in the area that was directly affected in the movie. It’s more likely that I was less able to discern the difference between the two because when the twin towers fell I was watching it on a movie screen in a film auditorium. Watching Cloverfield, it was hard not to think back to this moment and relate the two, drawing all that emotion out.

One of the most harrowing scenes in the whole thing is the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which I’ve walked over a few times. It may very well be the most frightening destruction of a major landmark ever to be created in a movie, far scarier than anything in the modern classic Independence Day or its red-headed step-brother The Day After Tomorrow, completely because of its realism and the point of view of the person delivering the message.

Here’s where the debate rages though. Should a movie be judged on how effective it is at making you feel a certain way, or on the quality of story and characters? If it uses the story and characters as well as technically impressive work to achieve this emotional effect (such as in I Am Legend), then it’s obvious that it’s a good movie. What happens though, when the two aren’t mutually exclusive, when character development and a tight story take second chair to exceptional method and incredibly well-realized scenes? Is it still a good movie? This isn’t to say that Cloverfield offered no cohesive story or successful characterizations (the realism in the actors’ portrayals ” not so much film acting, but moreso being in the situation with a natural intensity that you would expect of someone living out this unthinkable scenario””certainly drives the moments and carries the film as much as the technique), but it’s a chase movie in the most basic sense. Something’s attacking, nobody knows what it is, but we’re running from it. There’s really nothing more to it than that, and I would be hard-pressed to say the movie had an effective story to tell, instead opting to give you a few character dynamics and letting them provide the motivation for an hour’s worth of recorded events. I’ve heard completely mixed reviews from friends and film critics in regards to this movie, and it seems as though this question of how to judge is where the basic disagreement lies. For me, the movie was incredibly effective at what it set out to do, and was plenty enjoyable from start to finish (and I loved the epic “Cloverfield Theme” that scored the credits) and that’s all I can ask for in a threatrical experience.

One last thing. If in my diatribe about the presentation of the movie I left out the success of The Blair Witch Project, which this movie couldn’t have come about without, it was because that was not a successful movie. Where the difference between the two films lies is that while The Blair Witch created a very real found-footage aura, it was overly-long and for the most part, boring and whiny. Think about it. The bulk of the movie was about kids wandering around the woods and arguing with each other. It took on the found-footage medium and while it succeeded at creating a realistic portrayal of what one might look like (as in “normal people are generally boring and spend a lot of time fighting and talking about nothing at all”), it completely failed as entertainment for all but about 15 minutes. It had a few interesting story elements, but needed to pad out its runtime with lame characterizations and nothing really happening. It was also completely visually uninteresting, giving you nothing to fall back on when you got tired of all the complaining going on onscreen. Cloverfield takes a look at the mistakes of this film and basically imports action movie beats into the style in order to fix its problems, never stopping to let us take a breath or think about all the implausibilities. The people behind this movie have brilliantly created a hybrid “found-footage/blockbuster action movie” medium, and by doing this, it skews our perception of its events, leaving our common sense to duke it out with our basic media instincts, and that is why it truly succeeds.

****½

Cloverfield is not only a genre-redefining movie, but a medium redefining movie that uses the language of video and film together to confuse our perception of events. You know it isn’t real, but once it wraps you up in its swift pace, that notion leaves your mind, making the horror of the scenario all the more genuine. The entire group of people involved were committed to making you believe that this had really happened, and they succeeded admirably at doing it. Now next time, give us some better characters and a more plausible story arc for them.

While I’m at it….

The Mist
*½
I really wanted to love it, but it completely tears itself in two directions, trying to be a giant killer insect horror movie, and a bold statement on how far our civility falls when we’re presented with dire circumstances. Not only that but characters are either underused (Andre Braugher) or completely over-the-top crazy (Marcia Gay Harden), and though Tom Jane gives a strong performance (before he brings it on a little too strong at the end) he can’t keep down all my hatred for the main antagonist, the crazy religious nut-job who wants everyone to repent or die. If it’s supposed to be allegory, it takes a very ham-fisted approach that really turned me off. Subtlety isn’t this movie’s strong point. Visually, it’s spectacular, but unfortunately a great premise is undermined by story issues, probably stemming from the source material. Much like most of the movie, the end sort of rips off of “Night of the Living Dead” in its painful irony, though it may have one of the best “downer” endings I’ve seen in a long time.

I Am Legend
****
Visually, the most realistically drastic transformation of any actual location that I’ve ever seen put to film, I Am Legend decides to “show” us, and not “tell” us about the collapse of humanity, unlike The Mist . By that I mean that while the previous movie spends its time preaching to you about how everyone will turn on one another to survive, this movie shows the result of that, in a devastatingly real fashion. You are left to create your own account of how it all went down, only giving us brief glimpses into society’s fall in flashbacks that serve more to develop Will Smith’s character’s personal story. It was completely refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t give you every detail and leaves some things open to the imagination. Will Smith’s character and portrayal are perfectly subtle in the ways that his past, his loneliness, and his obsession with curing the sick have taken its toll on his sanity, but the critics are correct that unfortunately all of this strong set-up seems to devolve with about twenty-five minutes left into some more action-oriented, less suspenseful version of Signs, right down to the “oh, it all makes sense now, God has a plan for me” revelation. I Am Legend is a completely haunting vision of what life would be like if you were the last person on earth, Zombie storylines aside.

“Heroes” – Four Months Later

Every Tuesday, I’ll be blogging about the show “Heroes”, for the TV site Magnetic Media Fed. Here’s my review of last week’s season premiere.

heroes_promo.jpg
Sometimes, I wish this was a show called “Her Es” about a girl and her magical adventures with her favorite letter of the alphabet.

For as weak and underwhelming as last year’s finale was, this episode was everything a season premiere should be. It took nearly all of the incredibly good-looking characters from last year and put them into new and intriguing storylines, with mostly success, and it introduced a bunch of new faces into the mix as well. It effectively created plenty of new mysteries and raised lots of questions, but as we’ve learned in the past, how well they pay off is anyone’s guess.

The main problem with this show (besides cramming an insane amount of story into one season) is that it relies too much on setup. Everything is plot setup for a future payoff. Think back to last season. You had about a thousand characters, with the unspoken promise that all these characters would come together in some sort of pre-determined climax, and a battle of immense proportions would ensue. Interestingly enough, the real climax of the season didn’t come in the season finale, but in an episode three weeks before it, with events that technically aren’t even going to actually happen since the present was changed to fix the future (GREAT SCOTT!). This is not to say that tremendous amounts of setup aren’t worth it. Personally, I don’t have a problem with being strung along, even if the end is weak, because I enjoy the ride, the guessing at where the plot is going to go, or what the answers all are. You look at LOST, and even though they didn’t really start giving much payoff to any storylines until halfway through this past season, I enjoy being thrown all these curveballs, all these mysteries to ponder.

That being said, I do and have always thought that this show throws way too many at one time, and therefore has a hard time hitting a home run with any of them (how’s that for a baseball metaphor?). This episode alone had eight storylines running “” nine if you count the Dr. Manhattan-like reformation of previously exploded Peter Petrelli “” and we still haven’t even seen the Sanderses, Sylar, and newbies Veronica Mars and Dana Davis yet, not to mention this Bogeyman guy. That’s possibly fourteen different ongoing plots running at the same time. In addition, there were also a ton of small mysteries and such that were briefly touched upon that are presumably going to become bigger as they go along. Is it safe to assume that all of these mysteries will get solved in a neat and orderly fashion? Now that all the Heroes, at least the ones from season one, have each other on speed-dial, is it safe to assume that they’ll all congregate at the Hall of Justice and figure it all out? As Kensei would probably say, “Not bloody likely”. Does it mean that a bit of a letdown at the payoff isn’t worth the months of awesome exposition? We’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.

For now, I liked more about this episode than I disliked. To clarify, the only thing I didn’t really care for at all was the Honduras duo, but I’ll get to that later. Even with my criticisms, I think that overall, they’ve done a great job in moving the characters on from last season, and organically segued them into new storylines with some growth. The only one that didn’t really feel natural was the Parkman divorce thing, because of where the two characters were at the end of last year, but I can see how his sense of duty to this girl might be more important. With that in mind, onto what I liked and didn’t like.

I really enjoyed the Parkman/Molly stuff. The two are good together onscreen, and are given some of the best material from the episode to work with, especially their dinner scene. In a show as plot-driven as this is, it’s good to see some character moments, and I could watch Greg Grunberg all day. His fellow Alias alum, and the second best part of that show, NPH-lookalike David Anders is going to be great in Hiro’s “TMNT3”-meets-“The Last Samurai” storyline, even though it’s very tough to tell why this story is even being told in the first place and why Hiro can use his powers in old Japan, but can’t teleport out of there, or back to when he got in the middle of that fight. Maybe it was because of the eclipse, which lasted all of one minute and served no purpose besides looking cool. It’s no big deal, though, because I think this dynamic between the characters/actors could work, and I’m willing to see where it goes, even if it’s just some character growth for Hiro. The best “little thing” about the episode was when Hiro took his glasses off when Kensei asked if he was a scientist and then put them back on to make sure he wasn’t seeing things when the mask came off. I think I might like the Mohinder storyline this year, as he’s basically playing go-between for HRG and Stephen “Werner Brandis. My voice is my passport; verify me.” Tobolowsky. It really is a perfect fit for where he should be, and a natural progression from what happened at the end of last season, not to mention that the two more interesting characters/actors will be driving the story. I liked the mystery of the deaths of the elder heroes, even though I question how George Takei knew who hoodie-guy was, even though we never saw who he was. Although, we never knew what Takei’s superpower was anyway (seems like a waste), so maybe it was some sort of people identification power. It’ll be interesting to see whether this plotline is a tie-in to the Bogeyman story, the Sylar story (probably not), or the “Company” story.

What didn’t I like? Claire’s re-introduction to high school/HRG’s Office Depot job. I get that they’re trying to start a new life and be boring and low-key, but could they do it with some more realistic characterizations? I understand that I’m saying this about a superhero show, but it always seems like the normal people who are always the side characters, are the most unrealistic, ironically. Take HRG’s porn-star-mustachioed boss; I can’t imagine a guy working at a place like that taking his job so seriously. Not only that, but the whole story was kinda a waste of time, really, other than to have something for HRG to do for the episode. There’s no reason why it couldn’t just be casually mentioned that he has a job somewhere, if that’s even necessary. I didn’t buy Claire at school either. Maybe it’s just because I’ve always hated the completely unrealistic Hollywood portrayal of high school as this place where there’s only 40 people, and the cheerleaders always wear their uniforms to school for some reason and have practice during their gym class that only has one guy in it. Actually, was there more than one guy at the school in total? The only one I saw was the ridiculously-named “West” whose superpowers seem to be showing up at exactly the most convenient time, plot-wise, and super-stalking. I liked the robot vs. alien convo the first time, but thought the call-back was unnecessary. Also, while I’m at it, my high school was on the state “empowerment” (read:worst of the worst, academically) list, and even we knew who Darwin was. The kids at this school must not have watched season one of Heroes, because that’s all the narration ever talks about. Another issue about this show is that I can’t remember one side character, who has been focused on, even minorly, and who doesn’t have a power of some sort. It’s getting incredibly easy to guess that someone is going to be superpowered, and that totally blows the reveal, in this case, when he flew at the end. Maybe the twist is that he actually is an alien, and those questions were totally literal. Lastly, that dinner scene was probably the most bizarre, out-of-place segment I’ve ever seen on the show. It was like someone hired Terry Gilliam to do it, what with the strange tension, weird close-ups, and the mom bringing the dog to the table and talking to it.

The Honduras story I found to be kinda boring and one-note, and considering I just saw that superpower on The 4400 last week, it didn’t shock me as much as it was probably supposed to. This is another wait-and-see story.

Nathan’s story wasn’t really fleshed (HA! I KILL ME) out at all, but one presumes that his perpetual drunkenness, and playoff/get-over-my-breakup beard, along with the Man Without a Face vision will play into future episodes, so I don’t really have any opinion on this.

Lastly, the little things that are going to be important in the future: I think they’re overextending themselves with this symbology. That insignia is in every freaking shot now, it seems like. Even when Peter shows up at the end, he’s wearing a necklace with it on for some reason. It’s in Japan; it’s on Molly’s papers; it’s on the pictures of the Elders. This is the sort of plot point (much like Hurley’s numbers on LOST) which has never been given a specific meaning, and can just be thrown in in random places to make things seem mysterious, and in doing that, they run the risk never being able to answer it, leaving the audience completely unfulfilled. I already mentioned the Nathan’s mirror/scarring shot. Obviously, they keep mentioning this Bogeyman, and it, along with Mohinder’s taking down The Company, the Elders’ murder mystery, and the Virus story seem to be what will comprise the main drive of the season, much like last year’s was to stop someone setting us up the bomb. Hopefully, much like Teri Bauer, Peter’s amnesia will go away after three hours time.

***½

Despite all of these criticisms, the show is still easily one of the easiest to watch on TV, as it’s generally well-shot, well-paced, well-acted, and has a host of diverse and mostly likeable characters. And thankfully, they gave time to the interesting ones this week and left Nikki and that “My Wife and Kids” kid off. We’ll see how long they can walk the fourteen-plotline tightrope for.

Guest Review: Madden 2008 (XBox 360)

Guest Review! Kyle from notthegame.com weighs in on Madden 2008.

Madden 2008 is a bit of an enigma. In the last few years, on the new systems, Madden has been a sub par football game. This is typical for sports games on a new system as it takes game developers a few years to revamp the game engine, as well as improve graphics and features. The third year is typically the year when progress starts to be made. Take the PS2 versions, for example, in 2002 and 2003 the game redefined the way football games look but they didn’t play that well, in 2004 the game took on a life of its own, and by year four in 2005, Madden reached its pinnacle. That lines the 360 version up for 2009 as the pinnacle of its success on the new systems.

Madden 2008, however, is a serious step in the right direction. This year, Madden has perfected the game play, improved already stellar animations, and added the features and options we have come to expect from the Madden franchise. If by next year, EA Sports can improve the presentation, get rid of the god awful radio announcer, and add some innovation to franchise mode, the game will reach a level never before seen.

That being said, here is a break down of this years game.

Graphics:

Madden has never really been known for its graphics and animation, but this year that is starting to change. Animations are now much more natural, as players will reach for balls and drag their feet on the sideline. EA Sports uses what it calls a “branching” system. Essentially, this allows the movements to transfer from one to another seamlessly. In 60 frames per second, the game runs beautifully, but since everything is so smooth, the occasional jump in animation between say, standing and falling, seems very out of place. All in all the graphics are very good, next year EA Sports needs to add some more presentation elements.

Sound:

The radio announcer sucks. It sounded like a good idea, but really he is just annoying and makes the game feel outdated (think Joe Montana Sports Talk Football), there is no reason why the biggest selling sports game of all time shouldn’t have real announcers. The hits and the players yelling make the on field experience great, but the crowd is just “ok”.

Gameplay:

Extremely fun and fast. The game plays with a ferocity that Madden hasn’t seen in years. The hits, running, and catches are truly fun to accomplish, and the realism is outstanding. It is one of the few games where neither the defense or the offense dominates. Some games are commanded by defense, while others are controlled by electric offensive players.

The new superstar abilities is well implemented and really gives stars individuality on the field. If you try to tackle Lindell White high, forget about it. For big backs, you need to hit them low utilizing the new Hit-Stick 2.0. It is these little idiosyncrasies that really make the game shine. The gameplay is tight, but it does feel a little tired, as the plays have been the same for years now.

Features:

Franchise mode has some added options, most specifically the ability to relocate your team. Superstar mode has playable camera angles, but during the season there is not much to do other than play games, practice, and bitch to your agent. Its fun, but its not a fulfilling experience as you only get to play the plays with your player, so you don’t development an emotional connection to your team.

Overall:

Madden plays great, looks good, and sounds horrible. In all, it is a good game, but there are times where I feel like I’m left wanting more. This years game is shaping up to be the penultimate game, with a little tweaking, next years will reign supreme.

8 K’s out of 10. A Brett Myers.

KKKKKKKK

Dan: Uh, 8 “K’s” out of 10? A “Brett Myers?” These aren’t star ratings! How are we supposed to make sense of this? Let me do some math…

****

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.

2006-07 Academy Awards Nominations


This year, the movie that I chose to not see, but still complain about is “Dreamgirls”, a movie that wasn’t even nominated for best picture… and I’m not really even complaining about it… which makes me feel real strange.

The academy awards nominations came out this morning. And for some reason I decided that I don’t really care this year. It’s weird because I don’t know why. In fact, I wrote most of this review on Sunday, before they were even announced. I’ve become jaded to the whole celebrity scene this year, and I’ve stopped seeing this show as an affirmation that the movies that I enjoyed over the past year are good, and more as a means of keeping up the guise of celebrity importance. (review of the near future: celebrity feuds)

Maybe it was seeing people argue about which movies deserved which awards the way I used to, and thinking, “Wow, do these guys see how completely stupid they look, rooting for something that they think they have partial ownership in, just because they kinda liked it? Did I look that stupid, phony, and in over my head when I was complaining about how undervalued “The Man who Wasn’t There” was, or how that ridiculous “THEY MAKE THE RAIN AND SAY IT’S RAINING!!!” rant from Cold Mountain won good ole squinty-eyed Renee Zellweger her academy award? Well, chances are I did for the last one, because I totally used to do an impression of that was intentionally unintentionally hi-larious, and which has since failed the test of time, seeing as how nobody even remembers the movie a mere two years later. This also goes to show the unimportance of these awards, because I highly doubt that all the people that argue about these sort of things could even tell me without looking it up, who hosted the 2001 awards (held in 2002), let alone who won best actor and actress. Whoopi Goldberg hosted by the by, and I don’t even think I could tell you what movie won best picture ( Chicago maybe?) let alone the acting awards. The only reason I remember Whoopi is because my friends and I were watching in a TV lounge filled with people who actually thought she was funny. We couldn’t take it and ended up leaving in a huff. That’s beside the point.

All this is not to say that I’m not going to look and see who’s nominated or who wins. I’ll probably even watch the show. But at this moment, writing this review, do I think it’s worth having an Oscar “party” or doing an awards pool (in which I have participated numerous times)? Not really. Do I find that a little disheartening? Of course I do. Three years ago at this time, I was in the center of celebrity culture. I was in the bleachers for the Screen Actor’s Guild red carpet. I stood by the limo security checkpoint at the Golden Globes to get a glimpse of anybody relatively famous. I can’t say for sure if I would do it again. Maybe just to say I did it. Then again, I never really got “star-struck” to begin with. Most of the pictures I took of people were either for bragging rights, or because I knew friends might want them. But still, even the following year I went in on an Oscar pool.

What’s my point in all this? I’m not quite sure. All I know is that at this specific minute of this specific day, I’m thinking to myself “Don’t we have enough other things to be interested in or worry about than awards for millionaires (I know that the tech award winners are mostly non-millionaires, and the people who make the shorts and documentaries are probably even less well-off) we’ve never met and mostly think they’re better than us anyway?” I suppose you could argue the same of sports, but to me the difference is that football and baseball are designed to be competitions, and film isn’t, or at least shouldn’t. Why should it matter to us if a movie we like wins an award? Shouldn’t liking it be enough? Maybe it’s the validation that comes with being behind something that is regarded by professionals to be the best. Maybe it’s the ability to say to our friends “I totally knew Marcia Gay Harden was gonna win for Pollack, even though I’ve never even heard of the movie because it sounds boring and was only playing in 8 cities”, thereby coming off as knowledgeable, even though you just got lucky or read a newspaper article. Maybe it’s just that feeling that you know a lot about a subject, even if you really don’t, but just know a little bit more than your friends. Besides, ten years from now, “Saving Private Ryan” will be remembered even though it lost to the completely forgettable “Shakespeare in Love”, which was lauded by the pretentious set.

This pretentiousness is something that the Oscars and other awards do spur on, and I guess this is where my whole complaint starts. Soon enough, the debates will rage over which arthouse movie that nobody was able to see was more overrated, which one deserves more attention etc. And all these people will be arguing over the fact that we love a movie that we haven’t even seen, just because of the talent attached to it. And that “you’re” (the royal “you”) stupid and less important because you’ve never even heard of it. And that’s just wrong. I really don’t want to do that again. (Update: I was flipping through the morning shows today to see if anyone was talking about the noms, just to prove my case, and the new FOX morning show had on their two Oscar Experts… two women who looked to be a mere few years older than I am. Of course there were raving about how great Helen Mirren was in “The Queen”… and to make matters worse, the audience erupted in applause. Now, you have to be sure that in this situation, maybe 25 percent of the audience at most has seen this movie, and the rest are either being egged on by the stage manager/audience warm-up guy, or just don’t want to seem like they don’t know anything about anything. Strangely enough, I’m looking at the box-office tallies for this weekend, and “The Queen” is actually playing in more theaters than “Children of Men”, “Alpha Dog”, and “The Good Shepherd”.)

And maybe I’m upset that somehow I’ve grown to see something that I used to see as the Holy Grail of Film-making achievement now as a way to sell movies that otherwise wouldn’t have an audience. I mean, would anyone have gone to see “The Last King of Scotland” otherwise? It’s all part of the self-promoting hype machine, and I don’t know if I’m still down with that. Maybe in a case like this, yes, but that silly red carpet image stuff always seems to undermine the gravitas of the “talent-based” awards.

As for the specific nominations themselves, they seem generally fine across the board, as far as the movies that I’ve gone to see, and those are really all that I can discuss.

**

The 2006-07 Academy Awards Nominations get two stars for being a way to generally promote smaller, higher-quality movies. As far as awards competition goes, I’m not really a fan of how devisive it makes people, including myself, about movies we like, versus ones we aren’t planning on seeing, but dislike just for the sake of it . As far as this year’s specific award nominees go, I’ve got no major complaints, other than the lack of “Children of Men”, but I can live without it, knowing how the voting process, and awards campaigning go. Oh… and the fact that THREE freakin songs from Dreamgirls are nominated…. now that’s something genuine to dislike… but still, does it really matter?

The Promotion of ‘Borat:Cultural Learnings of Ame’rica for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’


Maybe this ridiculous outfit is what I need to get the womens. High Five!

This guy is everywhere! I mean it. I mean it. Not just the ubiquitous ads for the movie, either. He may very well be the first person I’ve seen promoting one thing on Letterman, Leno, Conan, and The Daily Show, and a half-hour appearance in Opie and Anthony, in less than two weeks. And not only has the actor, Sacha Baron Cohen, been on all of them, he’s been on all of the as Borat, and done so in multiple segments on at least two of them. On Leno, he made a bed with Martha Stewart, and on Conan, he chased Conan around the stage with a pair of scissors, followed by one of the most bizarre musical performances I’ve seen on his show. In all four appearances the interview topics were different and fresh. Here’s a compendium of all of the media appearances. The guy even had a “float” in the NY Halloween parade, which is basically just a costume showcase and giant party. The “float” consisted of about 20 Borat impersonators. Completely ludicrous. I’m sure he’s got a myspace thing going as well. I have never seen an ad campaign for a film that was so in your face. The thing is, the movie was so inexpensive that it made up its cost in the first week. They can throw all kinds of money into the advertising, and it’ll still come out on top. And it’s an hilarious movie to boot. Congrats on getting everyone in the country’s attention.

*****

There isn’t a person in the country who doesn’t know about this movie. I’m nearly certain. Five stars.

The Cinemax Star Wars Promo

quick intro: Cinemax will be showing all six Star Wars movies in high definition starting in November. Being that this is the first time all six movies have been shown in HD, they’re making a big deal about it, and have a page setup with various promotional videos. The video in question is entitled, “Original Trilogy.” For lower quality, but faster viewing, watch it on YouTube. The video is also embedded in this page. As will become significant later in this review, the song in the video is Fix You by Coldplay. Note: the audio level is very, very low in this file, so turn your speakers up.

9 Bulleted Reasons Why This is Probably the Best Star Wars Promo Video Ever (and one reason why I say ‘probably’)

Turn your speakers up, this is a quiet one.
  • Slow-motion makes everyone a good actor. Star Wars movies (old and new) were never known for their quality of their acting, but in slow motion, these are all Oscar-worthy performances. Notice at 0:41 when Natalie Portman’s character is about to cry: when I saw this in the theatre, there was laughing. And this was the buy-tickets-in-advance very first in the zip code midnight showing of the movie – in other words, people that drink the George Lucas Kool-Aid. But in slow motion… it gets ya.
  • It doesn’t use the all-too familiar Star Wars music for once. We know the “Star Wars opening crawl song”, Darth Vader’s music, and those that truly believe can pick out Yoda’s and Leia’s themes as well as the sort of singles from the prequels. As long as I can remember, Star Wars promos have used this music – it’s common brand recognition, people. But these Cinemax folks, they did something blatantly obvious, yet something that no one had thought of. Just choose the most-overused trailer and commercial band ever, Coldplay!
  • Surprisingly, Coldplay is not a bad choice. I’ve long held that Coldplay is more about the “sound” than the “song.” Of their random recordings and three major albums, they have about five really good songs among an unremarkable but perfectly solid collection of songs. The Cinemax people picked a good one, maybe the best one. Sure, picking this particular song isn’t exactly cutting edge for setting to video, but when was the last time Coldplay was set to non-contemporary images? We see new movie trailers, commercials, wrestling hype videos, and sports highlight packages out the wazoo (it doesn’t seem like people archive these type of videos, so no links), but already familiar images set to the music? — it works because as familiar as Coldplay is, this is a new way to present their style.
  • The video takes advantage of the fact that everyone already knows what happens in the movies to focus on some of the smaller moments. For example: they show the targeting computer footage from the original movie (in slow motion, of course), then Luke is shown reacting immediately after he shoots the torpedoes into the Death Star (using the force as guidance instead of the computer). We all know what he did, what it looked like, and instead of focusing on the destruction, we see the moment of relief when he realized he just really did it. A quick, quiet moment in a movie seemingly lacking nuance like that. Then we see the real big explosion, but we don’t hear the sound effects.
  • Finally, a Star Wars commercial that doesn’t focus on fight scenes and “THEN IT GOES BOOM” moments. It’s nice to see other aspects and moments of the movies highlighted…even if it takes slow motion to make them resonate. (disclaimer: I think I remember some love-ish related commercials to try to get women-folk interested in episodes 2 and 3, but those were as subtle in their appeals for women’s attention as the explosion-heavy commercials went after guys)
  • Again, the scene selection is top quality. The fact that they show Luke coming across the dead bodies of his adoptive parents says a lot about the shot selection. Considering that their death is probably the second most forgotten plot point in all six movies (the first being all of episode 1), and it’s the reason that Luke left his home planet to inadvertently join the Rebellion, it’s nice to see it given proper treatment. And the slow motion certainly helps. Also, instead of showing Luke fighting Vader, or the more famous scene where Vader’s mask is removed, they’ve selected the shot of Luke struggling to drag a dying Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker at this point, I guess) to his shuttle to save him. This isn’t exactly what a beginner would pick from that sequence.
  • Attention to detail: To movie enthusiasts, the Star Wars movies are known for their attention to detail in sets, sound design, and art direction . The video showcases one of the finer details that’s wholly unnecessary in The Empire Strikes Back, but adds something to the “cold, hard, computers” motif seen on the Imperial warships. At 1:28, we see Darth Vader kneel down as he is about to begin his long-distance conversation with the Emperor (who, I’ll point out, is not seen at all in this video, prequels or original movies). It’s a significant moment in the original movies because, after seeing Darth Vader as the ultimate bad guy in the first movie, he’s shown bowing down to someone who really must be bad (as you can imagine, there’s more significance there if you’ve never seen the prequels). This plot point actually isn’t the detail in question though; it’s the fact that the set designer chose to progressively illuminate a four-segment ring of light on Vader’s platform after he knelt down. All of this a considerable amount of work for the carpenters what with the fact that the lit platform was shown in all of two shots. Now, whether the people that worked on this video read that much into it, I don’t know, but at the minimum, it’s an interesting shot from one of the less prominent sequences in any of the movies.
  • It makes the prequels look like movies that mesh with the originals. The fact that the old and new movies have almost completely different “looks” has been beaten to death, but the video merges the two styles into one organic universe (as it’s supposed to be between the trilogies). The Millenium Falcon taking off from the original movie followed by a ship from the prequels doing the same provides a connection to the big picture similarities between the movies. (Yes, I know the Millenium Falcon shot was from the Special Edition, but I’ve never heard of anyone complaining about that replacement.) Shots from the prequels are sparse, but well selected; there’s nothing there to remind you of the bad parts.
  • The music of the song really matches the video well [note: I’m talking about the music, not the lyrics (see below)]. To be honest, this isn’t a challenging song to mesh with images; it starts slow and simply with vocals and an organ, then builds as layers are added to the soundscape with guitars, bass, drums, echo, reverb and other studio magic. The key is that the song has energy, even with a slow vocal part. Simply, good trailer music is too slow to regular dance to, and too fast to slow dance to. Like many Coldplay songs, this sits at that neither-here-nor-there perfect-for-trailers tempo.
  • The lyrics are matched to shot selection too well. Someone at Cinemax said, “wouldn’t it be cute if when the lyrics say ‘I will fix you’, we show Chewbacca fixing C-3PO?” Unfortunately, no one said, “it would be, but that’s a stupid idea.” Though not exactly a metaphorical song, the lyrics can safely be called “evocative,” especially the “lights will guide you home” part. Pairing “when you try your best, but you don’t succeed” with Luke failing to lift his ship out of the swamp, again, is cute, but is ultimately an annoying choice. I’m not believer in the “power of lyrics,” but matching a video of someone trying and failing so literally with that phrase implies that the song is about a specific time when someone tried and failed, and without any sense of generality, that little phrase loses any poetic meaning. It would be like if a greeting card company began printing cards that said, “You’ll be my best friend until the end of time” because a gigantic meteor was on its way towards Earth in one week with a 100% chance of total destruction. The phrase loses any rhetorical weight it might have had because it’s addressing a very literal situation [I’ll pause here to let that one sink in…]. This also goes for “stuck in reverse” while showing R2-D2 rolling away with his back to the camera. BUT, the shot of Obi-Wan smiling (in slow motion) when he’s decided to sacrifice himself to Vader to allow Luke to escape during the first “lights will guide you home” line (1:07) works perfectly, as does the focus on the targeting computer as the song reaches that point a second time (2:09). *Special gross comment: Being that the song does include the “and ignite your bones” lyric, I’ll say that with the movies offering three four different instances of burned bones (the Owen and Beru Lars invitation-only BBQ of the original movie, Anakin totally forgetting that Obi-Wan had the high ground in Episode 3, and Luke getting his hand ginsu’d off in The Empire Strikes Back and Vader Flambee at the end of Return of the Jedi)), I’m surprised they didn’t have thrown a few frames of those shots in the video at the (overly) appropriate times.

*****
Too literal video to lyrics issues aside, this is the video which shows why people like these movies. Coincidentally, there’s no dialog, but there’s also very little action; it’s the characters and how they deal with their sneakers-too-large-for-their-feet problems and come out on top that pulls the people in, it’s the effortless attention to detail, it’s the entirely unreal yet very real world and characters created in the movies. Enough of my soapbox. It’s also really cool when the video shows the starfighter from the prequels (2:04) breaking off to blow stuff up, then immediately follows it with the point-of-view shot of the Luke entering the trench of the first Death Star with that same organic, rolling motion. Highest recommendation.

That new U2/Green Day Song

I guess I just don’t understand the point. U2 needed a single for their approximately fifth greatest hits collection. Rather than come up with a really good song themselves, they enlisted the help of a band that while good, just doesn’t seem like the right fit with U2: Green Day. Not that Green Day can’t play, but the two bands’ styles are just a little too different to mesh collectively, not unlike that time where about 16 different musicians got up onstage at the Grammys and butchered Lennon/McCartney’s “Across the Universe”. Paul’s probably rolling in his grave. “route involving thoughtful lyrics about the condition of the area, or people’s struggles, they decided that the second half of the song should consist of the phrase “The Saints are Coming”, repteated over and over and over again, in a musical phrase that has definitely been taken from somewhere that I can’t quite place. They chose to debut this song at the reopening of the Superdome, for the Saints-Falcons Monday night game a few weeks ago, and it works perfectly as an opening theme song for the football team during games. I can’t imagine, however, that this song is going to be remembered at all in even one year’s time, and that’s a shame considering that this is all that two of the most prolific bands of the last 15 years could come up with. It’s almost like they weren’t trying.

They could very well have been trying something new though. This could be the start of product placement within the music industry. Well, I guess that’s not new” but maybe actually using the songs on the radio to promote something. It would be like the Eagles writing a song about how great the Philadelphia Eagles are, to get them pumped up, or AC DC writing a song for the Chargers (HA!), or Bad Company writing a song called “Bad Company” and using it at Enron meetings (BA-ZING).

And isn’t Bono’s thing Africa , anyway? Why didn’t they use the power of song to put together a group to raise funds for Africa “. Oh waitI forgot” Well, why didn’t they do it again? A world-renowned, self-appointed ambassador to a far-off and underprivileged continent can’t be taking time away from that to help another cause, especially one that’s been nigh on forgotten by most of the world ( You know you’re lost in your own logic when you can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not). I mean, you don’t see Brangelina Polie out there helping America ‘s homeless people, or fighting drug abuse, or all the millions of issues people here face every day. And that’s because they have character. They know that if they multi-task, not only do run the risk of reducing the importance of their cause, but they also reduce the importance of other, more useless celebrities. By doing double duty (I said Doody!… I guess that doesn’t work as well when typed out) when it comes to activism, you’re the one putting Rob Scheider out of a job. It’s on your head Bono.

What was I talking about? Oh, this dumb song. Like I said, it may be good for the football team, but call me cold; I don’t really care about the Saints. It was nice to see them play well, but not nice enough for me to listen to an awful song that could’ve been better.

*

One star for trying to bring some attention back to New Orleans , and making a song that they’ll be playing forever at Saints games. Minus four stars for making the rest of us listen to it, and possibly starting a trend of individually-made rock songs for a specific sports team. The last thing we need is a re-made version of “Benny and the Jets” about New York’s lesser football squad. We already have to deal with that annoying J-E-T-S cheer. That should be enough.

The Current Gas Prices

Lest The Bookshelf® return to its former rant-happy ways, here’s one with some general positivity.

What with gas prices getting higher than friend of The Bookshelf® and noted ginger ale enthusiast J Calloway at a ginger ale festival, it looks like we’re back to more reasonable numbers on the boards. The $2.399 low price in the good old 19063 is enough for me say, “hey, gas prices aren’t awful anymore.”

gas
The last time the Oil Industry Puts 14 Year Old Girls in Charge of Anything.

Um, there really isn’t much more to it than that. I’m just spreading the positive word. Well, actually, I guess that being that I’m able to remember the days (well, I think it was a couple of months) that gas actually less than $1 when I was 14 or so, but after dealing with it around $3, the current price seems A-ok. Me=Consumer Whore.

****

The Current Gas Prices receive four stars due to the fact that people are quick to complain about how much it costs when the price is high but forget to appreciate the moments when its back to more sane levels.

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