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.

The LOST Finale as a Meta-Metaphor for the Death of a Series

I wonder if the “Man of Science/Man of Faith” argument could be extrapolated to refer to the skeptics vs. those who had faith in the writers.

“Lost” (pun intended) in the hubbub of last night’s “polar”-izing finale, buried beneath the mystical corks, and cliffhanger fights; airplane escapes and journeys into the afterlife together, is a metaphor that I have yet to see in any of today’s recaps, though I have purposely waited to read Jeff “Doc” Jensen’s EW column for fear of it being the only one to taint my idea with his. Most of the disagreement over whether it was a satisfactory conclusion stands between the two camps of fans: people who wanted more “answers” to mysteries of the island (Jacob’s Cabin, The Hurley Bird, Walt and Aaron being ‘Special’, or even why there’s a giant cork in the island to begin with), and the ones who were more interested in where characters’ stories ended. There are those people (NY Times and NY Post, I’m looking at you) who didn’t understand things that were plainly spoken (“What happened was REAL”), but I tend to throw them out, because they obviously haven’t put enough thought into it.

In case there’s confusion, a brief recap of the important points. The entire season we’ve been given what the show’s writers endearingly call the “flash-sideways”. Instead of mixing in the main narrative with flashes of what has happened (flashback), or what will happen in the future (flash-forward) like they’ve done throughout the series (though the term “future” is relative, and makes my brain hurt), they’ve shown us the same characters we’ve known, in a time that we’ve already seen, now in a world whose relationship to the island universe is unknown. Now, the characters are different though, taking us back to the mindsets and issues they were dealing with in the first season, before all of the crazy island adventures changed, and in most cases, killed them. The characters, while having the same hearts and basic characteristics as the ones we’ve come to know, are altered a little bit, but dealing, in essence, with the same baggage as they did in the real world. Much of the enjoyment of this sixth and final season, just as in the first, lies in discovering who these people are in this world and realizing just how much different they are than the characters we grew to know. The only complication of this narrative device is that since we, the viewer, are incapable of coming to an understanding that both of these universes can simultaneously exist, we have to find a way in our own minds to reconcile the two together. “Which one isn’t real?”, or “Which one will become real?” we ask, because we can’t imagine how both of them can exist and still have meaning. My guess early in the season was that each one of them carried the same amount of weight and that the finale would create duel endings (not reconciling these universes), one happy, and one where everyone died. This would leave the viewer to have to decide for himself which one was real or if both were. I was wrong.

The way they were reconciled was by having each character in this “sideways” universe realize that it wasn’t real; that everyone there had died and that it was a holding place for them to move on to “what comes after death”. Everything on the island had happened. Some people died in the course of the show’s run; some lived full lives After Jack Shepherd (A.J.S.). But there they all were, waiting to move on as one group, changing Jack’s “Live together or die alone” mantra to one of “Live together AND DIE TOGETHER”. Their hurdle to enlightenment and realization of where they were in this universe was letting go of petty issues, guilt, fear, atonement, and instead, embracing the love of others. The Island, and the time spent on it were the most important parts of these people’s lives, and all that came before it was just a prelude and backstory. The relationships forged lasted beyond the characters lifetimes and stayed in the collective unconscious until they were ready to “let go”. Once this was understood, they could all go together towards that slightly cheesy white light, to whatever lay beyond. It was a mostly beautiful, and, at the time, slightly sappy ending, that I ate up wholly, reuniting characters but not compromising by bringing them back to life. Dead is Dead. And it seems as though they successfully put to bed the themes of death and love that hearken all the way back to when the first character, Boone, bit the dust as John Locke’s sacrifice to the hatch.

Before the finale, someone at my place remarked about how more than eighty percent of the characters ever introduced on the show have been killed off, and after last night’s episode, I realized that these deaths weren’t merely part of ratings boosting, or shock value, or plot progression, but they were there to bring about discussion on the theme of death. Anyone can go at any time. That’s a phrase I’ve heard the writers say they’ve wanted to impart on our minds for the entire run of the show. They were going to go so far as to potentially kill Jack in the first episode, originally. If you think about it, there’s probably a whole section that I could write about how the smoke monster/man in black was the antagonist because he couldn’t come to terms with his own anger at his death. Sure he wanted to move on (get off the island), but he couldn’t let go of the pain of the past, and parental issues and learn to accept his life for what it was and love. Jacob, as well, stayed around the island, in spirit form, until he was able to let go of his island protector-ship spurned by his guilt over his brother’s death. Michael was trapped as a spirit on the island forever because he couldn’t get past his misdeeds. But this is all discussion for some other time.

What I’m interested in here is the idea of how the show deals with the topic of death, as it relates to the actual death of the show itself. Wow! THAT IS META! Let me clarify that sentence: In the episode, characters are struggling to deal with the idea that their lives are actually over, and they must move on to the next phase together by letting go and embracing a community of love. Hell, the first scene is a coffin coming out of an airplane and the last is a wake/funeral; if that’s not metaphor material, nothing is. In fact, I’d venture to say double metaphor: death of the characters themselves (aside from the specific Christian Shepherd, as the surface example) AND death of the show. Imagine, if you will, that instead of Christian, inside of this casket is a show that has grown with us over the past six years, one that has become our friend, safe haven, source of philosophical debate and stability in a constantly changing world. Imagine that the fan community for the show, one that brings people together in discussion and love, and one that fills living rooms with ten people or more (or less) per week to share in this joint experience is the crowd of characters in pews embracing each other, joyful, weeping, and filled with human emotions. Last night’s episode wasn’t just about characters accepting death and letting the minutiae go, it was about us as fans of the show learning to do the same. But with this show, unlike most, we had to go together. We had to let go of all the unresolved plot points from four years ago and accept that it had ended. And fill the world with love for it and each other. And last night, and this morning, the internet pretty much exploded, with people who loved it, who will remember the good times and cherish it forever in the “what comes after”, and with those who felt burned, angry about the small things, and may never be able to find peace in the resolution. They’ll be haters, but they’ll be stuck in their “waiting room”, ready to be enlightened when they let their cynicism go.

The more I think about it, the more I realize they been trying to prepare us for this the entire season. Obviously, they knew the show was going to die. The entire flash sideways as a denouement not only works in the context of the characters dying, but for the show itself. While the characters were all set up with different life scenarios and what-ifs, many of them better versions of themselves dealing with the same problems, so was the ENTIRE PREMISE of the show itself. “What would happen if Hurley became a successful businessman, or Sayid could protect Nadia, or Sawyer could actually put away criminals instead of being one?” becomes “What if this horrific plane crash never happened?” What would a self-actualized, but slightly askew version of the first season flashback storytelling look like? How would it mirror (oh snap!) the beloved first season that served as the birth of these characters? In the exact same way as the characters went through this season’s sideways stories, not knowing what their place was, we ventured along the same way, only to be enlightened at the end, and able to see these stories for what they were: a waiting room, there to bring us back together with our deceased friends and help us move on to the place after as a group, a “fandom” if that doesn’t sound too nerdy. Bless you LOST, for the friendships you’ve helped create and strengthen over the past six years will surely be enough to carry us over to whatever comes next. I’ve let go.

****½
I think this metaphor pretty much works, but I’m sure there are a few holes you can punch here and there, and I didn’t mean to come off as preachy in more than an “it’s okay to move on” way.

As for the finale itself…
****½
Learning to let go of the minor things, the mysteries, and go back to my first season mindset, where all I cared about were the characters, this was a total success for me. Sure there weren’t “answers”, but that’s life. I’m dealing. The foam rocks falling seemed a little cheesy though, for the -.5 star. Seeya in another life, Brotha.

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

Nate’s Review of Cloverfield

Before I get started, be sure to check out Nate’s review of Cloverfield. Make a point to check out the comments – they get to the crux of the argument and Ken Matthews (yes, that Ken Matthews) even weighs in. No, we don’t take celebrity lightly here at The Bookshelf.

Nate, Nate, Nate. So many words. The movie didn’t “work” because of the medium on which it was delivered. It worked (and worked quite well) because of typical disaster movie conventions (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). The “found footage” created a new way to present those conventions; it didn’t make them “new,” but it serves to create a “wall” in the viewer’s mind when he sees the “character presented as initially important dies abruptly and shockingly” so he doesn’t say, “wow, this is like every other disaster movie ever.” Likewise, the whole “cast in the darkness struggles to find a flashlight, then once they find it, they immediately illuminate something that jumps up and wants to kill/maim/eat them” is perfectly fine – it’s been done before. “Found footage” doesn’t change the presentation of that event – it’s always a point-of-view shot and someone either dies immediately or is injured to the degree of eventually becoming a nuisance (or worse) to the group. I didn’t feel any closer to the characters on the screen than with any other well made action/disaster movie. Was it better than “The Day after Tomorrow?” – absolutely, but the difference isn’t in the “medium,” it’s in the competence of the director and the writer to make it compelling. “Found footage” isn’t a smokescreen which obfuscates the director’s lack of talent or the scenarist’s lack of imagination – he’s either a good director or not, the script is either good or it isn’t.

cloverfield
As I’ve said, the monster was looking for delicious human brains. Imagine how disappointed it must’ve been when it realized the meal outside the restaurant wasn’t real or life-size. Kind of like a pedophile outside a Bob’s Big Boy…yikes. I think that one crossed a line.

Why Cloverfield worked was because of the little decisions made in the screenplay and the directing. There’s not “cheese” in the story or the presentation. The “lovey-dovey” story is restrained and as realistic as it could be in a movie about a gigantic lizard making a buffet out of New York. The love story (effectively the pulse of the movie), has as satisfying conclusion as one could hope for, maintaining a reasonable suspension of disbelief inherent is going to the movies. And, no, the “found footage” doesn’t assist in building up the suspension of disbelief. Know what? I sat in a movie theater at the beginning of Cloverfield, and I left that same movie theater. I wasn’t transported (to a dream world of magic). During the movie, I was still in that same theater. I didn’t forget that. I could get “lost” in the movie, but it’s happened in plenty of other movies which were not “found footage”-based.

The success of Cloverfield is due to the director and writer not taking any easy ways out (other than the camera battery, walking distances, and other shortcuts necessary for the mechanics of the story – not the story itself, mind you). A less engaging version of this movie would have the disaster “following” the characters instead of the characters more-or-less being in the middle of it. They try to take direction, but in the end, they’re at the mercy of the situation, not the screenwriter’s goal of killing of some number of characters in 10 minute intervals. It’s not an Indiana Jones movie where there is literally nothing that the hero can do without it backfiring. The characters never got guns, but you know that the writer wouldn’t have stooped to one of them getting killed because his or her gun got jammed. The writer realized that the story was larger than that. The audience doesn’t need manufactured drama in a world in which it has been established that a 60 story, seemingly bulletproof monster with a taste for mammal blood, much less human brains is on the loose. There’s plenty there already without resorting to cheese. In fact, it’s not until the lead-in to the climax of the movie (it involves a helicopter) that the “bad guy” seemingly singles out the heroes. Previously, Smashy McWrecksALot sort of did his own thing, getting mad at the military for shooting at him and causing people to make allusions to September 11, 2001. Suddenly, something very bad and very focused towards the main characters happens. It takes two-thirds of the movie to finally cave in to the demand that the bad guy single out the heroes. And, all things considered, it’s fine by me. The story went that far without something disgustingly coincidental happening, and given the unexpected nature of the actual event, I’m all for it. And, there were B-2 bombers in the sequence, so that’s practically a get out of jail card for the writer as far as I’m concerned (though, it wasn’t even needed in this case). And none of that required first person “found footage” to work.

“Found footage” adds nothing to the final presentation other than “it was a good movie and the video camera part was cool.” I know, that goes against paragraphs and paragraphs of Nate’s review, but in the end, it’s no different than a movie shot in one take, a movie presented as four simultaneous one-take shots, or a movie presented as a documentary which is definitely not a true documentary. Any adds a touch of “clever” to a movie, but the “traditionals” – directing, writing, acting – are what make it watchable. The Blair Witch Project made it so people were ok with a movie being presented as if footage were found after some event, but it lacked the “traditionals”, and ended up being all schtick and no substance. Cloverfield should’ve been the first “found footage” movie, if only for it to get thought of more highly than The Blair Witch Project for the academic accomplishment of making the concept work.

**

Nate’s Review of Cloverfield gets two stars. Basically, the message is the message. The “medium” may add something to it, but in the end, people are attracted to story and emotion, not technique and the ephemera of film production. In fact, I’ve always interpreted “the medium is the message” as the medium says more about “where we are” than the message itself. For example, the fact that someone can be in the supermarket, see someone trip over a cracked egg and knock over a ceiling-tall paper towel display, open his telephone, video record the event, then instantly send it to any number of other people to view on their phones, computers, TV’s, etc. says more about “our situation” than the fact that a movie was made about a monster using New York City for tackle drills and it was presented as if someone found a video camera. Of course, I’ve not taken any media theory classes, much less read that guy’s book, but that’s what I take from his famous quote. And no, when the first mainstream movie presented as if it were “found” cell phone video footage comes out, that’s not saying any more about our current state than the fact that Cloverfield just gave the “disaster movie” genre a big F-U middle finger and said “beat that.” Cloverfield just realized that the key to connecting to audiences is by turning a huge event (monsters attacking a city) on its ear by focusing on a tiny group who aren’t in a position to fix the problem and showing how they handle it and each other. It’s always been assumed that a “bigger picture” perspective with a secondary focus on a small group of charismatic characters was needed for a disaster movie, but Cloverfield is proof otherwise, focusing on that small group and barely even addressing the “bigger picture.”

****½

Cloverfield itself gets four-and-a-half big stars. As I was walking out of the theater I thought to myself that the story and its presentation completely precluded a sequel (wondering about a sequel is a good sign that the movie was well received) – then re-reading Nate’s review, he pointed out that there is plenty of material to be mined from other groups of characters – specifically, not yuppies – affected by the event. As I said above, the movie worked so well by taking a huge event and focusing on a tiny slice of it. This contrasts with Juno, which left me slightly disappointed as it delivered a relatively small event and focused on a small group of characters. (At the risk of digressing, Juno was very good, not great. Witty dialog that writers in their 20’s put on the page because they like to think they were that sharp in high school [they weren’t] aside, it just seemed like a small story presented on a small scale. The big “drama” event wasn’t quite “big” enough. Granted, it wasn’t overwrought, but it seemed to play it slightly too safe.)

Pitchfork Media’s Review of “Shine On” and “Get Born” by Jet

My review of “Step One” by Steps. Wow, that was easy. I didn’t even have to sit through the CD!

When you read a review, you expect certain things. You want to hear some insightful positives and negatives regarding the thing being reviewed. You don’t want to be talked down to. You hope to have an overall idea of whether said object is worth seeing/listening to/buying/reading/visiting/eating/doing/throwing things at. And after you’ve done any of those things, you want to come back and read that review again to determine whether you agree or think the reviewer is out of his mind. Basically, you expect reviews like this and this. Then you go to a website whose supposed specialty is reviews, and you see something like this. This “review” only manages to fit one of those criteria, that being the last one” that this reviewer is totally out of his mind.

A long time ago, when the second Franklin movie was being planned, our discussion took a long detour, with us arguing over the definition of the phrase “cop out”. There were numerous e-mails sent back and forth trying to determine if an idea that I came up with was something that constituted this. You can read highlights here. This argument was never really solved, but I stand here today telling you once and for all, that this “review” is the definition of “cop out”.

I can gather by the video clip shown here that the “reviewer” doesn’t like Shine On, but I was interested in hearing some actual insight into what makes it good or bad. Granted, the CD wasn’t that great (there were three songs on it that I thought were really good, but the rest was kinda mediocre), but it doesn’t deserve to have its review have nothing interesting or meaningful to say at all. I don’t know how a high-fallutin’ website like pitchforkmedia decided that that was representative of their organization, but recently, they even put up a similar video, claiming it was a JET music video. Obviously, the pretentious music-lovers have a thing against the Aussies rockers, but I really can’t figure out what it is.

The review of their first album, Get Born, gives us a little more understanding, but I use the word “little” literally. It’s presented in the form of a discussion between the band and the owner of a venue where they’re supposed to be putting on a concert. Things go wrong at the concert and the fans turn on the band. Sure there are opinions presented about the band, but I’m sure they’re all completely over-the-top exaggerations from someone who’s never seen them live or met them. I can’t imagine a band (aside from the Flaming Lips or Ozzy Osbourne) actually demanding [thirty f%$&in’ angry alligators with top hats on, Iggy Pop shooting out of that cannon, and midway through sending in the kid from the iPod commercial.] It may work as a review of the band, but as a review of the album it fails miserably.

It only mentions three songs from the CD (very briefly) and it only has two points that I gleaned from the whole thing. The first is that all their songs sound like other bands (citing AC/DC, Iggy Pop, Wallflowers, Oasis, Bon Jovi and the Rolling Stones). The second is that they have “insipid love songs that sound like wedding band covers” and “insipid lyrics, we say ‘Come On!’ and ‘Oh Yeah!’ every five seconds”. So basically the guy only knows one insulting adjective. You know, there’s a thesaurus feature in MS word, and I’d assume there’s also one on the trendy Mac you also probably use. Insipid: dull, bland, wishy-washy, characterless, colorless, trite, tame, unexciting, uninteresting, boring. Maybe none of those words sounded smart/insulting to readers enough, though I’m partial to the word “trite

Here’s the thing that the review is missing. The music is fun. It’s not meant to be high art. It’s not meant to be genre-pushing. It’s meant to be music with easy-to-learn lyrics and melodies that you can put in your car CD player, turn the volume way up on, roll down your windows and shout at the top of your lungs and have a good time. And it completely succeeds at that, something that this reviewer was competent enough to pick up on. There’s a good mix of fast and slow songs (so the whole CD doesn’t sound the same, a huge pet peeve of mine), and I like most of the slower songs. I understand that a lot of the faster songs sound similar, but they’re catchy enough that it doesn’t bother me (a problem that the second CD had), much like with critically lauded Franz Ferdinand. As far as the words go, I’m not expecting poetic lyrics, so why should I complain that they’re not there? Did people who went to see Pirates of the Caribbean complain that there wasn’t a deeper meaning in the dialogue, or that it wasn’t a British period piece about some queen from the 17th century? I would hope not. They should be expecting to have fun. That’s all I expect out of it. That’s not to say that I shouldn’t hold the band accountable for bad music, I just don’t think that criticizing lyrics for this kind of music is really the way to go. Do critics complain about the lyrics to “SHOUT” or “MONY MONY”? Some of the songs on that Fountains of Wayne CD, Welcome Interstate Managers had TERRIBLE lyrics, but critics dismissed them because of how fun the melodies were.

Now some of you who are familiar with Aaron Copland’s book, “What to Listen for in Music“, would say that I’m only listening to this album on a “sensuous”, or maybe an “expressive” level, and that to fully understand why music is good or bad, I have to be listening to it on a “sheerly musical” level as well, combining the three. Well, in response to that I would claim that there isn’t too much to it on a musical level, but my musical knowledge is limited. I’m learning to increase what I hear when I listen, but I want to understand what makes this a musically good or bad album. That’s why I went to a site where I knew I would find a harsh but intelligent criticism of the CD. But there was none of that there. Instead, all I got was a poorly-written, profanity-laced diatribe against the band for mimicking other bands. Personally, since there really isn’t any truly popular band playing right now that sounds like them, I don’t have too much of a problem with it, but I’m reviewing the review, and not the band or CD, so that doesn’t really matter.


Zero stars for the cop-out Shine On so-called review.

½
½ star for the creativity to write a review for Get Born as a dialogue. Minus four and a half for not having any substance to it at all, not talking about the songs, and basically complaining because Jet has songs that sound like bands that lots of people like.

13 Months of Empty Bookshelf Reviews

Though this was meant to correspond with Nate’s review of the first 100 reviews, schedules and, uh, not-feeling-like-it-at-the-moment-because-it’s-a-bit-daunting-of-a-task-itis, has delayed this “One Year Anniversary” review and pushed it into 13/14 months, but that’s fine by me.

WARNING: Intense self-congratulation ahead.

Nate’s recap covered things in a time-based manner, in fact you could almost call it a “temporal” recap. (HA!), so I’ll look at things a step back or so.

stats
Basically, this chart says that aside from people that randomly come across the site via search engines, a large portion of our readership seems to check back pretty regularly.

When I had run the idea of a website by Nate, it was presented simply in a “wouldn’t it be funny if we reviewed anything-and-everything.” How often do people assign star rankings to things that aren’t arts or consumables? (Consumer Reports gives star ratings to lots of stuff, though it’s always physical items available for purchase). We never officially decided on what constitutes “reviewable”, but being that we’ve reviewed Pluto’s demotion (those bastards) and thrown an ambitious amount of words towards reviewing the hype surrounding various media properties, we’re definitely keeping our options open.

From the beginning, we’ve dreaded the dirty “B” word. Our site looks like many, many sites associated with the “movement” associated with the B word; our site runs the same software that is one of the most popular B word platforms, and the fact that we usually indignantly explain “it’s a website, not one of those” when people refer to it as our “BLOG” just serves to establish how much like a blog it is. Well, though we’re wont to admit it, at the end of the day, we’re really not too far removed from the “blogosphere” – we just avoid the “I feel bad today because” style rampant in most blogs. Likewise, it’s rare that we read a random article online then say, “I think I’m going to review that” the way that many people who have blogs write snippets of “I read this article and I think this about it.”

Nate did a good job wrapping up the first batch of reviews we did. Though the writing in those first reviews had “voice”, the big picture aspects of the site were still up in the air. My first review (about a really long baseball game) didn’t really accomplish much, though it did help to establish the implicit theme of our reviews and how we think we’d like aim to separate from the “blogosphere”: as everyone who writes anything on the internet, we think that we offer something new and interesting that is unique to our site. You could find people talking about how long that baseball game was and how great it was, but no one saying “well, actually, the game wasn’t any good.” This led into our future reviews, where we’re pretty much the only people writing about the topics (verbally harassing horses, recaps of great football injuries, the myth of the Christmas season coming earlier every year [as opposed to the complaint that it does or doesn’t come earlier every year] etc.) That’s not to say we didn’t write about things that were more straight-forward as needed. When I had bad luck with Vonage and when Nate’s long distance provider didn’t see that anything was out of the ordinary when his long distance bill went up somewhere in the 900%+ range, reviews were written. There, the goal was to try to make our bad experiences in consumerism known and hopefully somewhat entertaining.

After we had established the criteria for whether or not something was considered reviewable, we looked toward more “touchy-feely” sort of goals. Well, at least I did. I’m not sure what Nate’s goals have been. The shear size of the internet makes it so any schmuck can make any website about any thing. That’s widely understood, and that’s fine, but it also gives space for incredibly, well, passionate (for better or for worse) defenses or critiques of topics that go (rightly) ignored in the mainstream print media. Heck, even a devoted sneaker magazine such as Sole Collector probably wouldn’t devote 1600 words to the Oakley Twitch. Likewise, Entertainment Weekly would never run 3500 words about Scrubs (and rightly so). One of the first websites that took advantage of this freedom afforded by the internet was the movie news/rumors site Ain’t It Cool News; it didn’t create the mold, but it had a lot to do with shaping what people expect from the internet. Ain’t It Cool News still “works” as a website almost 10 years after its creation, but it would never work as a traditional magazine or even newspaper. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe in the community “power” of the internet, but I will stand behind the sense of community that it can create. Ain’t It Cool News is famous for its rumors and news, but what sets it apart from, say, Variety or Entertainment Weekly are the actual movie reviews. Needless to say, read Harry Knowles’ review of Clerks 2, then read the Variety review. They’re both positive, but the limitations of “traditional journalism” are evident. Sure, Knowles’ review is a bit fanboy-ish, but there’s something to be said about liking a movie, then seeing someone else on the internet go out of his way explaining how and why it is that good. Oddly, it’s re-affirming in some way to see that someone is as over-the-top positive for a movie (or CD, or pair of sneakers, or a Star Wars promo video).

What brings it all back is that my goal has been to write reviews that people who already like something end up liking it more after they’ve read it. I guess that’s sort of a pretentious if not presumptuous opinion of my own work, but that’s my goal. As always, there have been humorous reviews sprinkled in within the more serious (the Chinese basketball game, verbally harassing horses, etc.), but by-and-large I yearn to educate. So, here’s a recap.

I like how every single review (well except Nate’s U2/Green Day one) has a picture and funny caption. Nate’s Saving Silverman review has a good one, and I’m still fond of my “Nate Hates Christmas” when we were feuding over whether Christmas comes early every year or earlier every year. I like how pop-ins created an entirely new dynamic within the articles, allowing for jokes that are completely removed from the review itself (such as “HE HAD THE HIGH GROUND” in my Star Wars review. In terms of stuff liked enough to call out…

Of my reviews, I think the “When Your Reach Exceeds Your Grasp” is probably the strongest: it doesn’t meander, it includes that self-deprecating humor found in all of the emptybookshelf reviews that the ladies claim to love. Of course, here we (I) are (am) writing about how great we are, but still… Anyway, I’d stand behind Verbally Harassing Horses, Oakley Twitch, Outsourcing Phone Support to India, The Last 200 Years of Human Creative Output, the 3 part Current TV Landscape (meandering as the reviews do), and the Roger Ebert’s Take on Video Games.

I’ve enjoyed how I very infrequently actually follow-up on things I claim I will review in the future: my Pirates Magazine series ended up being just one review, and as you read that review, you can sense my feeling of having any point in reviewing further aspects of it go out the window. I’ve never reviewed the Daily Show, and heck, of the original topics I listed in the first review, well, let’s take a look.

  • electricity – nope
  • Columbus Day – nope
  • sandwiches – hmm…Nate reviewed something from Quizno’s and I reviewed Super Bowl food
  • Adam’s Smug Sense of Self-Worth – actually, I think I ended up covering this in “Knocking the Wind Out of Adam
  • Arby’s – MIA
  • Dell 2005FPW monitor – Yes
  • scissors – Nope
  • Verizon Online DSL – Uhh, That’d be exciting
  • The Streets’ A Grand Don’t Come for Free – Yep

Facts:
4,851 visitors (this actually isn’t very many considering that we’re indexed by Google and these are not necessarily unique visitors. For example, every time I turn my cable modem off then back on, I’m tallied as a “new visitor”)

The most visited reviews since October 12 of 2005 are the following:

  1. Nate’s LOST Season 2 review
  2. My review of “the internet
  3. The Cinemax/Star Wars promo review (this has been the third most read review and has been up only about a month so far)
  4. Roger Ebert’s Take on Video Games
  5. Nate’s Other People Stealing Your Ideas Without Having Met You or Even Knowing They Stole Something
  6. My assault on the underaged and pantsless in the review of the Cure4Cole “Ad” campaign

****½

13 Months of Empty Bookshelf gets four-and-a-half big stars due to the fact that, as Nate had covered in his 100 Review review, we managed to keep everything going even though we thought we had a good chance of running out of steam after only a few months. It’s a side project/hobby-type thing, but we’ve both moved into “grown up” type jobs and manage to provide (arguably) quality content on a regular basis. Of course “regular basis” has become much less regular as sometimes after spending all day in front of a computer does not leave one wanting to spend more time in there at home, so that somewhat lack of productivity is responsible for that minus half a star. We’re going to be pretty busy in the coming weeks leading into the movie premiere on December 23, but I’m sure we’ll still have stuff to post.

Once Again Being One Up on the Mass Media Or The Critical Reception to Jackass: Number Two

It’s well known that aside from some misinformed old-cootedness about video games, we hold Roger Ebert in pretty high esteem around these parts. His cancer-surgery-turned-surgical-complications has taken him out of the reviewing game since mid-summer, and though no announcements have been made, I’m guessing he won’t be back until “Oscar season” starts in mid-November. Regardless, I’ve taken issue with very few of his reviews, though his “thing” for Angelina Jolie’s lips awarded both of the Tomb Raider movies three undeserved stars, even looking at those movies in the “brainless action” genre. That tick of his aside (a soft spot for threatening-looking women), the only other time I’ve not taken his side was when he decided the original Jackass wasn’t worth reviewing. Unfortunately, I can’t find the actual article that includes the quote that I think I remember, but it went something like this (notice the single-quotes – journalistic integrity is listed as a category for this review) ‘I am a movie critic. I review movies. As funny as Jackass is, it’s not a movie.’ In short(er), just being a collection of skits, none of which tells any sort of traditional story, it’s more accurately a “video” as opposed to a movie. I couldn’t find that quote, but I could find him answering a reader’s question about why he didn’t review it. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Ebert said, “If I laugh, I have to tell you it’s funny. I went to see ‘Jackass,’ a shameful movie. I laughed all the way through it. I mean, I have to tell you that.” At the end of day, instead of giving Jackass a positive review (what with it being a successful movie, one where the audience is entertained) and being on the record as having condoned something like that, he chose to not review it at all.

jackass
I don’t get it.

Now, speaking as a principled person myself, I perfectly recognize the need to occasionally throw all principles out the window if there are extenuating circumstances. Ebert simply didn’t want to be someone associated with a movie like Jackass. Luckily, his on-screen partner in reviewing all things cinematical, Richard Roeper gave probably the best critical quote about it: “Jackass: The Movie is a disgusting, repulsive, grotesque spectacle, but it’s also hilarious and provocative. God help me, thumbs up.” Hallelujah. That’s even more positive than my review would’ve been. (for the record, having seen both of the movies, I’d say that I could do without the poop and the pain for the sake of pain stunts)

I’m not one to find profundity for the sake of profundity, but my stance on the movies is this: they’re not profound, but there’s something to be said about the sociological aspects of what a bunch of suburban-ish white guys found to entertain themselves and the business acumen it took to make what they were doing marketable outside of the skater community.

The issue I do take with Ebert’s (lack of a) stance is that his book of “The Great Movies” (quotes because that’s the actual title of the book) includes the 1929 short film, Un Chien Andalou, notable for its lack of coherent structure and (more so) co-creation by one Salvador Dalí. I won’t compare work by Salvador Dalí to the content of Jackass, nor will I insinuate that Jackass somehow deserves to among “the great movies,” but I will say that for someone who is very quick to condemn the supposedly increasing closed-mindedness of the American movie going public, not giving a movie you liked the critical time of day because it was “different” isn’t the strongest philosophical ground to be standing upon. (I know, it’s sort of lazy of me to not include links to examples of “very quick to condemn…” but, in short, look up any of his Adam Sandler reviews other than Punch Drunk Love.)

The loose thread between the “Once Again Being One Up on the Mass Media…” and the movie itself is the fact that in the AP review, the writer actually invokes a comparison between Jackass: Number 2 a scene from Un Chien Andalou. There’s not much more to it than the fact that I said the same thing in 2002. And, I was reasonable enough to give the comparison with a bunch of qualifiers instead of trying for some sort of faux-intellectual comment.

****½

Once Again Being One Up on the Mass Media Or The Critical Reception to Jackass: Number Two receives four-and-a-half stars due to my thinkin’ brain and its whooping of the critics by four good years. In actuality, the whole mess with Ebert’s take on the first movie is sort of unrelated to this, but it does serve as backstory as to why I had done any thinking on the subject. If you’re thinking about seeing the movie, it’s as simple as this: if you think you’ll like it, you will. If you think you won’t like it, you won’t. If you’re not sure if you’ll like it, you’ll like it.

Late-breaking, sort of related reviewing: Jim Emerson, the sort of backup on rogerebert.com has his own blog (aside from the corner he gets on the Ebert webpage). On his blog, he has a cute little entry entitled, “Aint-It-Cool-Times” (his emphasis) bemoaning the Los Angeles Times for including a script review section on their website. He’s so put off by it that he says the newspaper has “jumped the shark” (and I thought Emerson was a movie critic! buh-ZING!), becoming yet another head of the hydra that is the modern movie industry (my metaphor, thank you very much). There’s a bunch of resentment of the “traditional” journalists (print, TV, radio) towards the “new” “journalists” on the internet. Sure, any schmuck can run a website and spout off whatever nonsense he wants and claim to be a journalist (note: Nate and I don’t claim to be journalists. Adam? Maybe.) What with journalism degrees being real degrees, the “old guard” doesn’t like the instant credibility that the internet offers. Aintitcoolnews, the target of his sort-of pun of a title is one of the more successful “home made” websites, and in fact, in the years it’s existed, it’s sort of a “real” site, though it does seemingly serve as a mouthpiece for the studios marketing departments sometimes.

He goes on: “No. It’s not. Fernandez [the writer of the script review section of the Los Angeles Times] isn’t a journalist and he isn’t a critic [and this just became a run-on sentence]; he’s a leech, on the level of those self-aggrandizing amateur web trolls who think their premature, uninformed opinions about an unfinished work are ‘news.'” Amateur web trolls? eh. Premature, uninformed opinions? meh. Self-aggrandizing? MR. EMERSON, YOU HAD ME AT ‘HELLO!’ We here at the Bookshelf® … wait, hold on, I like seeing that with the registered mark after it…. wait….yeah. We think you’re wrong and are probably just bitter that you had zero web recognizability until you became Roger Ebert’s second-in-command. Consider yourself called out by the Bookshelf® (you join such luminaries as the New York Times, Humanity, that horse, and Pitchfork Media).

The Unfair Critical Treatment of Former Boy Band Members

Let’s see if I can get out some reviews for once…

I’m not being profound when I say that success is a great way to turn the less successful against you. In the burgeoning field of critical criticism, this fact is no more obvious than with music critics. Movie critics are relatively high profile (notably Roger Ebert), and there is a variety of widely known names in the field (Gene Shallit, Peter Travers, Leonard Maltin, etc.) and almost never write “I could make a better movie than this, I’m just choosing not to” types of reviews. If anything, for a really awful movie, they’ll just say, “Anyone can’t write (successful) music, but think that they can. This isn’t where every music critic comes from, but it’s a heckuva lot easier to say, “I’m going to tour the country, and sell my CDs to all the free-thinking Zydeco-Blues-Jamband-Trip Hop-New Wave-fans out there” and think you really have a chance than saying “I’m going to be a movie star,” and actually believing your own hype.

But the weird thing is that with music (well, like movies, too), one doesn’t necessarily need to be particularly talented to get really far with a career in it, for some amount of time, at least. Obviously, the poppy-est of pop music is the ultimate example of this. We’re sort of in a dry spell for “bubblegum” pop at the moment, but it’ll come back…it always does. Nsync sold (capital “M”) Millions of records, made lots of money, achieved a huge amount of fame, and those people with musical dreams in the previous paragraph? Not so much. See the part above about success and the unsuccessful.

band
In Soviet Russia, band boys you!

See, I have nothing against NSync (or any of those groups). First (and what should be the most obvious), I’m not and I never was their target market. It’s not my money spent on their CDs, merchandise, etc. If I’m that offended by their existence, I can change the channel, the radio station, whatever implement of the mass media on which I’d see them. And second, in interviews, they seemed like perfectly friendly guys who had a lot of fun and realized they were really a product of the current time, and they’d be “done” when they needed to be “done.” (to be fair to the “haters,” the Backstreet Boys didn’t seem to have quite as much perspective/insight into their fleetingness). Second-and-a-half-ly, there’s something to be said for making somewhat listenable music that gets played on Top 40 radio: I can’t stand most of their catalog, but “Bye, bye, bye” is a darn good song, you’re just afraid to admit it.

And third (where the music critic thing comes in), no matter how “unmusical” they might’ve been, it really doesn’t matter. Someone would laugh out loud if anyone in Nsync said he was “living his dream of being a musician,” but if he said, “I’m living my dream of being famous,” well, you really can’t argue with that. Toward the end of their popularity, you could tell that their “handlers” thought they could gain more fans if they were involved (in some nebulous capacity) in the writing of their music (as opposed just the performance of it), but the writing was already on the wall for their genre of “pop” as “real” signer-songwriters like Avril Leveigne took the torch and were equally not the type of music someone like me would in the market for.

But did these boy band members have any talent? Easy answer: of course not, they sold millions of records because of the people pulling their strings. Not-so-easy answer: they sold millions of more than one record, and no matter how smart the people behind the scenes were, there were five guys that needed to keep a rather limited “schtick” interesting.

Justin Timberlake, undoubtedly the most musically successful of the former members, gets the worst rap. He was probably the most popular among the ladies during his days with Nsync and let’s not forget his white-boy-fro: plenty of reasons to hate the guy. Basically, he managed to turn a boy band career into a “leading man in music” type of trajectory with one CD, and his upcoming CD will cement his role even further. Of course, he won’t be able to shake the “boy band” thing, but there’s something to be said for people always being interested in your next CD, if only so they can complain about it loudly, inadvertently helping to promote it.

Which brings us to the actual center of this review, a seemingly innocuous review of one of the new singles on Justin Timberlake’s new CD. Once again, let me call out pitchfork media. Now, I’ve not heard the song in question, but the review of “My Love” is the issue. But wait, you say, “Dan, but the review got five out of five stars, and pitchfork media doesn’t like anything.” I say, “Look more closely.” Sure, it got five big stars, but look to see why. It certainly doesn’t have much to do with Justin Timberlake according to the writer. Timbaland produced the song, which as we know, in hip-hop means he did either a whole lot or a whole little. It would appear that Timbaland, for this song, did “a whole lot.” In fact, according to the review, it’d look like he did the whole darn thing. As if there’s no way that someone who was, *gasp* in a boy band (much less one of the most successful ever) could accomplish anything after that on his own merits after this. Stereotyping and generalizing all people bitter at boy bands’ success to be like pitchfork media, it’s weird that they’d be so invested in seeing him fail, and if no one heeds their (the holier-than-thou’s) warnings, then they need to explain away how the guy got successful (Timbaland supposedly writing the perfect song, etc. without any help from a former boy bander). I’m still not the target market for Justin Timberlake’s music, but that doesn’t mean he deserves to fail.

**

The Unfair Critical Treatment of Former Boy Band Members gets two stars due to the fact that it seems like some people just can’t get past the fact that someone who became successful doing something unfathomable to them (doing a good job lipsynching while dancing, mainly) could go on to something larger and somehow respectable outside of the realm of middle-school girls. Like I said, a lack of success breeds a bitterness towards the successful. The two stars come from the fact that there is plenty of insignificant music churned out by former boy band members that even I (who’s half taking the role of Devil’s Advocate in this) couldn’t defend.

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 Critical To-Do over Lady in the Water


The cast of the movie Miami Vice hard at work

If you keep tabs on the movie world, you’re probably aware that right now, two sort of big deal stories are going on between critics and directors. The first one involves Joel Siegel making a big to-do and walking out on a screening of Clerks 2, and then being called out by Kevin Smith on the Opie and Anthony radio show. Interestingly enough, Smith’s going to be filling in for Roger Ebert on the “Ebert and Roeper” show this weekend. The second one is a little more high-profile, mostly because the movie’s director is a little more mainstream.

M. Night Shayamalan’s new movie “Lady in the Water” was released into the wild this past Friday, and was met with mostly bad reviews. Strike that; terrible reviews. Strike even that: Reviews that not only claimed that the movie was bad, but “a charmless, unscary, fatuous and largely incoherent fairy tale“, or “idiotic, contrived, amateurish or sub-mental… [and] pretentious, paralyzing twaddle” among other things. The movie pretty much received pans across the board, with rottentomatoes counting only 28 “positive” reviews out of 130 total, with nearly all of the major papers/writers, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, and in probably the best-written of all of them, Roger Ebert’s MAMMOTH Mega-Review, completely tearing the movie apart.

Movies get bad reviews all the time though. Just look at the 15 percent that Little Man got on Rottentomatoes, or the 20 percent that You, Me and Dupree got. The difference in these reviews though is that they’re written about the movies themselves. They’re not out there angrily insulting the Wayanses, or whoever was behind the latest Owen Wilson vehicle.

With such terribly scorching reviews claiming that Shayamalan has basically declared himself a god, and that this movie is the “biggest ego-trip” ever devoted to celluloid, I was terribly worried about going to see it. But you know what? I enjoyed it. I didn’t take any of it seriously, because I knew that much of it would involve highly elaborate mythology that was quite silly. I didn’t care though. The movie looked good, was well-acted, and paced well for what was written, which by proxy means that it was directed well. Was it written well? That’s a matter of opinion, and usually that opinion is no. I’d say it’s serviceable while watching it, but the more you think about it, the worse it gets. Ignoring the overelaborate mythology for a second, there’s the way most all of the characters are said to have a specific purpose, and I guess that’s true to an extent, if you count being a red-herring, or standing around watching something as purposes. There are a lot of characters and they are diverse, and so in order to get their personas across in such a short time, he uses some stereotypes, which I don’t mind, but seems to be another cause for the death sentence he’s being handed. To me, the worst part of the writing was the obnoxiously expositional way that the “mythology” was told to the main character and how easily he and the rest of the people in the apartment complex believe it. Yes there are flaws, but while you’re watching it, it’s for the most part an enjoyable film. I’d give it two and a half stars, out of five.

It seems though that the only person who really shares my sentiment is the guy from the Boston Globe. Everyone else seems to be caught up in this M. Night-hating party that’s all the trend. It’s one thing to criticise the movie, but they’re taking aim straight at him for being a complete egomaniac who won’t listen to other people’s ideas and who presents himself as a savior. What’s their basis for these accusations?

Well, first of all, there’s this book that some guy wrote about why Touchstone Pictures (read:Disney) didn’t want to make this movie unless changes were made. Supposedly he refused to make the changes and they walked away, leading him to go to Warner, where they let him have free reign. Secondly, he likes to cast himself in his movies. That’s not a secret. People who thought he was full of it for casting himself in the role he had in Signs will probably be even angrier at this role. It’s not the size of the role that seems to be bothering critics though; it’s the importance of it. He’s cast himself as the person whom the Lady has come to see, whom she’s come to inspire to write a great piece of literature that will cause a great change in the world. Critics have seen this as the ultimate sign of messianic aspirations.

What angers them the most though is the idea that he had the guts to throw in a character who’s a movie critic. He’s cold and unfeeling, snooty, likes to talk about annoying movie conventions, and (this isn’t much of a spoiler because it’s been talked about and the character isn’t important anyway) he dies.

My take on the whole thing is “Why should I care about this book?”. This goes for both the people who put it out, and the reviewers who care to bring it up in every review. They see the book as being a publicity stunt for the movie, and not the possibility that the book people might want to put it out when the movie comes out as a publicity stunt FOR THE BOOK. Even if it was the case, I don’t see why these movie critics chose to review him instead of his film. When “War of the Worlds” came out, critics didn’t say anything about Tom Cruise’s shennanigans. In fact, they all liked the movie, even though the story was terrible and had more plotholes than both Lady in the Water and The Village combined.

As far as casting himself goes, I don’t mind. I find his acting competely fine for the roles he’s cast himself in. He’s usually cast himself in inconsequential parts, and in his most emotional role in Signs, he was perfectly serious and brooding. His delivery seemed natural and all. In this movie, I understand the reasons why they’d think that he was full of himself for putting himself in the role that he was in. But he was perfectly capable in the part. When he wrote it, he knew that he was going to be playing a fictional version of himself, or maybe how he seems himself. But criticizing him for doing this is like complaining about Eminem in 8 Mile, or Woody Allen in that movie with “Humphrey Bogart”. Acting-wise they could do a lot worse, and any no-name actor would’ve been just as good.

As far as the last issue, I actually agree with the critics. The character is useless in serving the story, except to provide some “wink wink”-type moments meant to criticize both the lack of originality in movies, and the pretensiousness of movie critics. At the same time however, the criticisms that the character has of movies seem to all appear in the film. Examples include characters talking aloud to themselves (ironically, this is done by the critic himself, when confronted with an angry creature), “seemingly unimportant” characters actually being “important“, and the climax taking place in a rain storm. He’s simultaneously written himself into a corner AND been brilliant about it. It’s as if halfway through it he realized that plot elements were too convenient, and so he needed a way to say “I know that that these things are too cliche”. While I understand the character’s “purpose” in the story, it would’ve been better off had he decided to either fix the story issues, or get take the character out entirely. The critic is basically the lazy way out.

I guess my thought about the whole thing is that with such bad reviews, I figured I’d be squirming at how terrible it was, or want to walk out on it, or rip my ticket up out of anger. I didn’t, and I think that for critics to go this ballistic is unnecessary, especially attacking the director, and not the movie itself.

For the amount of complaining that everyone does about how there is nothing new and unique that ever gets a big release, or all the gratingly bad horror movies, or Wayans Brothers projects that keep coming out, M. Night is ALWAYS putting out something different and unique. People should at least give him credit for attempting something like this, even if there were majorly unresolved story issues.

*½

The critics’ response to Lady in The Water gets one and a half stars for having a few legitimate issues with the movie to complain about, but instead opting to attack the director for off-screen dealings and the role he’s cast himself in, nevermind about whether he was a capable actor in the role. I think that critics should spend more of their time vocally ripping apart terrible movies instead of mediocre ones.