Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The All Time Best Super Bowl Commercials

The big game is this Sunday, and I am sure you'll watch part of it.  Or you'll at least get together with friends to chomp down on some nachos while the TV is likely playing the game.  For about half of you, you're probably just watching for the commercials.  In my latest Collective Publishing pop culture column, I look at some of the all time best Super Bowl commercials.

The Magic of Morning Time

Emily has returned to part time teaching now that her maternity leave is over.  This means I now get to spend my mornings with Everett.  This was actually something I was dreading, since I feared I would get even more behind in my pay copy.   But Everett used his magic powers to erase those fears rather quickly.  In today's "Dad's Eye View", I reveal how mornings became the most important part of my day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

TV Shows that Almost Inspire Me to Chuck the TV Out the Window

As a pop culture writer, it is pretty important that I love TV.  For the most part, I am able to find thought provoking and engaging TV shows.  There are many high quality series, and I often try to defend them against those that claim TV has gone downhill.  But once and a while, I wander into the TV garbage dump, and start feeling shame I even have this device in my house.  In my latest Collective Publishing article, I look at the very worst TV shows currently on the air. 

Food Fight. . . But Not the Fun Kind

Bragging about my son Everett is like my second job.  Actually, this past year it has been one of my jobs thanks to my parenting column.  There is the occasional time that Everett gets tired of being put on that pedestal and wants me to work for my right to be a parent.  In my latest "Dad's Eye View", I discuss my battle plan to get Everett to actually eat things that aren't cake, banana, and Cherrios. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hey Climbers. Spread the Word About the Coming of the Crag Climbing Gym

I'm not the only entrepreneur in the family.

My gorgeous wife, Emily, has been working on opening a climbing gym for the past three years.  Because I still haven't landed the million dollar client yet, it has taken a significant amount of work to raise the funds for the gym.  But it will come.  It will come much more quickly if it is clear there are climbers eager to support it.

The Crag Climbing Gym will also be the first universally accessible gym in Ontario.  This means that not only will it be a great source of recreation for Brantford and the surrounding area, but it will be a place of fun for absolutely everyone.  Brantford really needs fun places that promote health for our youth, but such a venue is really great for the entire province.

If a place like this excites you, then please check out the Crag's Facebook site.  If this is a place you want to have around, then please give it a "like."  It can happen with the right support, and it will be a huge benefit for the city and province.

Monday, January 21, 2013

2013 Has Played Host to Two Horror Films Topping the Box Office

It is January; the month that movie studio's outcasts finally find a home.  It is the month Oscar Best Picture nominations tend to get a wide release and everything else is usually destined to be forgotten by February 1st.  It isn't the month the champagne corks are popped and the fine cheese consumed by film studio executives over getting top spot in the box office.  The competition isn't usually stiff, the quality of the new films is low, and the audiences come out because their other plans fell through (or already saw the Oscar nominations the first time around).

I'm not even sure if studio executives paid attention to the fact that two horrors movies gained top spots this year.  But I'm also not sure if it really means anything, because as I said before, it's January.  I'm sort of shocked that both these films got top spot, because I expected them to hang around third or fourth, and then drift off to DVD by end of February.

But what does two horror films winning the weekend box office races mean?  Possibly nothing.  Or it could be saying the genre isn't quite dead.

I know what you're saying.  But Paranormal Activity often wins its first weekend, and during a much more competitive month.  But I've already told you what I think about Paranormal Activity.  I've been begging for a sign that money can be made in the horror genre without a bunch of stupid people walking around with their home video camera recording spooky shit in their house rather than running for their lives.  It is a tired genre, but one that keeps being redone, because it makes money.  Hopefully, little January can alert people to the fact that other forms of horror can attract an audience too, even if it is the lowest of low movie months.

The first weekend of the year was won by Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D.   This surprised me and a few actual film experts.  This film screamed "cleaning out the storage closet for more important films" and even though all its competition was older fare, it wasn't expected to be raking in its budget opening weekend.  Now, the film dropped significantly the next weekend, which shows it failed to gain any kind of traction.  But that is due to it being an awful film, but there was a real audience for this.  They might have been positive word of mouth if the film offered anything.  I'm not saying a poorly mashed together almost remake is any better than found footage, but at least it isn't "spooky" and grainy footage in a house.  It shows that if you get a competent writer and director, you could make some money off something other than what has populated the cinemas for the last few years, because the concept of horror still draws people.

The bigger upset happened this weekend when Mama nabbed the top spot.  The competition wasn't fierce, but it was stiffer than the first weekend of this year.  It did have two new films with proven box office stars headlining.  Arnie was making his return to starring in an over-the-top R-rated action extravaganza, and Russell Crowe teamed up with Mark Wahlberg for a political thriller.  Before this weekend, I'd have predicted both to annihilate MamaLast Resort (Arnie) and Broken City (Crowe) were still January cast-offs, but they had more assumed pedigree than a little horror directed by Guillaume del Toro.  Toro is beloved by fantasy and horror fans, but he isn't necessarily proven box office, and he has had a few of his films tank.  I'd have assumed the same here.  Jessica Chastain has momentum right now with the success of Zero Dark Thirty, but I wouldn't have considered her someone a draw all by herself.

Mama easily won the weekend, and now gives horror two victories without "lost footage" being in the tagline of either film.  Mama is about crazy stuff happening in a house, but is not following the "this house is haunted" mold but rather trying its own thing.  This isn't really a film that excited me in anyway, but I'm glad something sliding closer to the fresh side of things actually found an audience.

I want these two victories to mean that the horror genre isn't completely dead.  And that "found footage" spooky house movies aren't the only draw.  People will pay to see something else, and maybe if you even bother to have a good script, it'll do better than just one weekend.  Though horror traditionally skews younger, and the younger crowd tend to herd out opening weekend and then find something else to entertain them after that.  It may be a harder genre to have a long life span but the early part of the year seems to show it can at least be a good opening weekend.

But again, it is January.  It isn't the month of champions.  It is one step up from "straight to video" on the scale of importance.  There is a strong chance that this means absolutely nothing.

I'd say the best test of the viability of horror will come in April when the remake of Evil Dead is released.  April is also a much more competitive month, and this year it has a few appealing genre films lined up.  If it wins or at least does well, maybe we can start believing in horror films again.  In a few years, studios will trot out scary movies that have nothing to do with building a house an old grave site and some dork filming a ghost tossing around his daughter.

Horror may be back as a legit box office draw.  Or it was just a sign that Arnie's reign of terror is officially dead, and no one cared enough to find out what Crowe framed Wahlberg with.

For now, I have hope I could one day go to the cinema and actually be scared again by something other than atrocious acting.

Revenge Review: Breakup Central

Relationships fall apart this week on Revenge.  Sure, relationships always fall apart on this show, but this week it happens a lot.  You can find out everyone who is newly single in my latest review for BuddyTV.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Feeble Attempt at Defining Star Ratings for Film Reviews

After some feedback from readers, I decided to implement star ratings in my film reviews.  I even went back to all the films I reviewed for Collective Publishing in 2012 and added a star rating.  It has been slightly less painful than doing my own dentistry with a rusty screwdriver.  I decided to go that way, because not only am I a kind and generous person willing to do what it take to appease my small pack of readers, but I also realize it is one of the easiest ways to rate a particular creative work.  I don't always feel it is very accurate, since sometimes it nothing more than throwing out a number, but reviews really aren't much more than one's opinion anyway.  It does allow for an easy measuring of a film up against others, and then allows the reader to decide if it is something they want to take a chance on.

I debated for a few weeks over if I even wanted to add star ratings.  I wasn't really sure if I was capable of designating a star rating that would properly convey how I felt about a particular film.  I decided that it really isn't a flawless way to convey my opinion, but it was worth using due to its popularity among readers.

The ratings would not necessarily mean that the film I gave 2 stars to back in October was exactly worse than the film I gave 2.5 stars in December.  It just meant at that moment that I felt that specific film warranted that specific rating.  If that makes you feel less of me as a film critic than I apologize for shattering your hope in me.

My other debate was just how I create a rating system of any value.  Most of the respected critics give a rating out of 4 stars.  I tried it, but felt it causes too many different films to end up with the exact same rating.  I then thought about rating it out of 10, but felt it was far too broad of a rating.  I feared there was more chance of error by such a high rating.  I voted for 5 stars, because I find it easier to rank something with an odd number being the peak and also felt it was about the right scale.

Then I had to decide exactly how I was going to base my ratings.  I felt it was best to take the Roger Ebert style of ratings.  This meant that I would be rating a film based off its particular genre rather than how it fit among all the films in history.  I'd be rating This is 40 against other comedies rather than against Argo.  The 3 out of 5 star rating for that film isn't being compared against a 4.75 star review of Argo but rather against Knocked Up or Uncle Buck.  This also means that I may not feel that This is 40 and Killing Them Softly are the same quality film despite both being rated 3 stars, because they're also in entirely different genres that are going after very different audiences.

A star rating doesn't really tell you anything.  This is also why I decided to include a quick synopsis by my ratings.  I don't think a rating alone gives a reader a proper interpretation of how I view a film.  In an attempt to assist, I'm going to let you know what a rating actually means to me.  Now, this may change over time.  I am still getting a hang of this star rating business.  This also means that I may change my star ratings of a specific film as time goes on.  Hell, my opinion of a film may change over time, because that is my right as a film critic (I just gave it to myself).

Actually, I'd love your feedback on this.  You can let me know if this system totally sucks or give me advice on how to tweak and improve.  For now, this is how I see each star rating.

0 stars:  A completely steaming pile of garbage with absolutely no artistic merit.  This is rating is almost as hard to get as a 5 star movie.

.5-1 star: A dreadful movie, but at least it resembles something we can call cinema.

1.5 - 2 stars: Not a good movie by any means, but usually there is at least one redeemable thing about the film.

2.5-3 stars:  A decent to good movie that either is hampered by being very generic and formulaic (but doing it well) or being an original film that is hampered by a major flaw.

3.5:  A really good film that brings real value to the cinematic landscape.  But it lacks something truly innovative to stand out.

4 stars:  A legitimate contender for the best picture of the year.  It is a memorable and unique film, and something I'll want to rewatch over and over.

5 stars:  A legendary film that creates its very own genre and will be remembered for a lifetime.  I'll try to make this a very rare rating, and rather opt for 4.75 for most truly excellent films.

I realize most film critics rate out of four, and give several films four stars in one year.  I haven't decided if that approach is better or not.  For now, I like having an almost elusive rating that really shows a film is spectacular.

This is my criteria for the ratings at this point.  I'm open for any suggestions and advice on refining them.     

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty Review: The Hunt from Behind the Desk

It is impossible to review or discuss Zero Dark Thirty without addressing the use of torture in interrogation.  This isn't because it is a prevalent part of the film, because during the total 2 and half hours running time, it probably takes up 30 minutes at the very most.  It is the first 30 minutes and so the scenes are what jump out at you and stick inside your brain for a good portion of the viewing experience.  The film isn't actually about torture, but it is those scenes that have caused most of the controversy and debate surrounding this movie.

Does Zero Dark Thirty condone torture?  The quick response from me would be no, but there is a real debate, because there is enough fuel for both sides.

The torture scenes don't resemble something from 24, and there is nothing visceral from the experience.  The torture may be happening to someone involved with the tragedy that was 9/11, but the scenes don't play out like a revenge fantasy.  It is stomach churning and uncomfortable, and you'll find yourself begging for it to stop.  You'll feel there must be some other way to extract the evidence.  But some of the controversy comes from the fact that the film doesn't provide a solid answer on if there is a better way.  Well, it doesn't spell it out, but the story unfolds in a way that you could find some backing that the torture was unnecessary.

Zero Dark Thirty isn't didactic; there now clearly laid out message.  It is still trying to tell you something.  You can still see the detrimental effects of using torture.  The CIA officers are emotionally shaken and left scurrying to the bathroom to "recover" from the events.  The torture takes a physical and emotional toll on every one of the officers, even if they never actually admit to it.  There are scenes of officer shaking, retching, and crying, and you realize torture isn't something they can ever get fully comfortable with.

There is never an outright message that screams torture is wrong.  It doesn't even get much more mention after those opening scenes, except to show the Obama regime won't tolerate those tactics anymore.  This isn't a movie that sends out a clear black and white message.  Instead, it is look into the CIA business of hunting down Osama.  The audience gets to peek into through the crack in the door and see how a secret operation comes together.  Then it is up to the viewer to use the data to cobble together a road that leads to a conclusion on what everything really means.

This isn't to say everything in this film is accurate or historical.  That has been another entirely different controversy with the CIA claiming the opposite.  This may be closer to a work of fiction than fact.  Torture may not have been a part of hunting down Osama Bin Laden.  Despite what may be reality, we do know that torture was something endorsed by Dick Cheney and was used as a form of interrogation.  There really hasn't been a film that has ever address torture in such a matter of fact way, but still hit you so hard in the gut.  It makes you sympathize with a terrorist and knocks you with the realization what a dirty business war can be.

The real profound moment is when you realize this whole search for Osama is a business.  The CIA officers treat it like a job just like an accountant trying to balance the books or a programmer trying to fix all the bugs in the latest software.  Maya (Jessica Chastain) has moments of near emotional breakdown and the job takes its toll, but for the majority of the film, she is focused on the task and not personally connected to the issue.  She may lose close friends or trying to hunt down the man who tore apart the soul of her nation, but her actions are motivated through the need to accomplish her job.

It is almost impossible to make such a personal issue remain as just a job.  This is where Jessica Chastain shows her brilliance as an actor.  She performs a character that is strong and independent and you believe is capable, but also incorporates moments of fragility and brokenness.  There are scenes when her emotion flies and you see the passion of Maya, but for the most part, the characters emotions and feelings are played in a subtle fashion.  Chastain uses the right mannerism, facials, and vocal tone to demonstrate what is boiling inside her character.  This performance is evidence of why Chastain is one of the best actors around.

Her performance is what helps bring forth the tension and drama of the picture.  This is a film full tension, which is impressive since a huge portion of it takes place in offices and conference rooms.  Director Kathryn Bigelow masterly crafts a suspenseful thriller that we all know the end to, and doesn't incorporate the typical big shoot outs and car chases.  It does have moments of action, and the final 30 minutes is one of the most intense and blood pumping scenes in cinematic history, but for the most part, the thrills and suspense come from the characters' reactions and the tension created from the stress overwhelming a group trying to chase down Osama Bin Laden for 10 years.

I wouldn't consider Zero Dark Thirty a pro military film.  Nor would I sad it is anti-military.  Much like the torture issue, it just a film that presents actions that could be deemed good or bad, but leave it to the viewer to come to a conclusion.  It is intriguing seeing the different responses from the troops after a successful mission.  You have the subdued and the emotionally drained, but then you also have some acting just like he scored the winning touchdown.  The varied responses bring a humanity to the film, and shows how each person is affected by events differently.

Zero Dark Thirty is very different than what usually is offered up in Hollywood.  The pacing is slower and it doesn't attempt to get you attached to the characters.  Everything remains in the offices and on the field, and you don't get much of a glimpse into the personal lives.  But you still have moments when you connect with the characters and feel the turmoil they're going through.  Even if the film takes its time to tell the story, you'll still have your adrenaline rocketing to the roof.

The different style of film making left me wondering how I really felt about the movie.  I knew it was well made.  It triggered a lot of discussion.  It did the things I want from a film.  It also dug deep into the world of the CIA and didn't try to explain or guide through the terminology and actions.  Sometimes, I was left wondering if this is how it really was done, or what exactly was happening.  Plus there were times I just wished I could know more about Maya, and get a deeper inspection into the characters I was spending so much time with.

It is a very different kind of war film.  It doesn't glorify war or make it seem exciting.  It won't get you grabbing for a rifle and wanting to shoot down the enemy.  It is a dark and gritty world that doesn't really breed heroes.  It instead breaks people, and forces them to do things they may struggle to comprehend.  It also doesn't outright speak out against military or war or the actions of the United States.  Instead, it offers a message that either side of the debate can get something.  It shows the need for military might, but also the dangers of military involvement.

It is a thought provoking and riveting film.  You may walk out feeling like you got punched in the gut.  You may not be captivated throughout.  You will definitely think and feel something.  Zero Dark Thirty has left a profound mark on current cinema and will likely engage debate for a long time to come.

The Short and Sweet:  Jessica Chastain shines with a brilliant performance in this unconventional and thought provoking war drama from exceptional auteur, Kathryn Bigelow.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Friday, January 18, 2013

Defending Lance Armstrong. . . Kind Of

Lance Armstrong dropped the "bombshell" that he was doping during all seven of his Tour de France wins in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.   The confession has grabbed all sorts of media attention, despite the fact everyone has already was pretty confident that Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs and growth hormones during his competitive years.  Armstrong may have denied he doped back in the summer, but it was rather hard to understand why he then backed out of his fight against the doping charges if he was really innocent.

I wasn't willing to say his backing down was irrefutable proof he was guilty, but I did find it impossible to relate to why an innocent person would allow himself to be stripped of his championships and have his reputation besmirched.  I would never stop a fight to save my hard work if I was innocent, unless I knew this fight was harming the well-being and relationship with my family.  But I still wasn't willing to say he was guilty based off his backing down.  But deep down, I basically saw it as an admission, despite his denial.

Then Armstrong offered up the real proof with his confession several months later in a taped interview that aired on January 17th.  It does seem rather odd that a guy who was still adamant of his innocence a few months ago was suddenly willing to spill the beans.  A cynic may believe it probably had to do with a hefty pay day coming from the world's most famous talk show host who needed huge ratings to help her struggling network.  But I'm not concerned about what finally motivated him.  The fact is he confessed, and there is already an entire storm ready to strike him down.

You have bookstores who want to put Armstrong's autobiography into the fiction section.  There are critics claiming Armstrong has not only shamed America, but has done something worse than boiling a puppy for Sunday dinner.  There is an outrage that makes it sound like Armstrong has been shooting babies out of a cannon while twirling a handlebar mustache and letting out an evil laugh.  But he hasn't done those things.  Or at least, I don't think he has.  I didn't watch the interview.

I didn't watch it, because it was obvious the moment it was announced that it would be a confession.  Sure a confession that looked like it would never come, but the guilt has already been assumed.  The confession definitely taints all those championships and his legacy, but that has already been tarnished for years.  There was likely a few diehard fans that still believed Armstrong was innocent, and they would have freshly broken hearts.  Everyone else should just be saying, "Yeah, I knew that already, Lance.  But I'm glad you finally came clean, unlike your racing career."

I don't think this suddenly makes Lance Armstrong's entire career fiction.  It also doesn't erase all his accomplishments.  He did it with illegal drugs and failed to become a legend the honest way and he definitely cheated, but he was still a remarkable athlete during his run.

It isn't like performance enhancing drugs are Popeye's spinach or some magical elixir that turns you into Superman.  Not any schmo can pop a pill and suddenly win world class sporting competitions.  I can't down a bottle of pills and inject myself up with some drugs, then suddenly become an athletic god.  I'd just be some fat slob who is now drugged up.  To win at the highest level, you still need actual skill and talent and athleticism.  He definitely cheated, but he also was an amazing athlete while cheating too.

He also isn't the first athlete to ever confess to taking performance enhancers and human growth hormones and anabolic steroids.  We've had several from Jose Canseco to Marion Jones to Hulk Hogan to several others.  It might hurt more because Armstrong was considered an American hero and had a great story, but he wasn't the first ever to try to dope to achieve greatness.

This isn't a justification, by the way.  Nor am I trying to condone his actions here.  I'm just saying the backlash is reaching hyperbolic levels, and making him out to be someone just a shade less nasty that Hitler or Stalin.  When it comes to disgraced athletes, I'd consider Armstrong nobler than  O. J. Simpson.

The outrage is probably coming from the fact that Armstrong has now ruined a great feel good story.  The narrative is spoiled and rotten now.  It was the perfect feel good Hollywood tale.  A good old American boy realizes his dream as the best in the world, but then is stricken with cancer and everything seems to fall apart; he is then able to recover from the horrid disease and goes on to prove he is still the best cyclist in the world.  It is inspirational and one of those truly magical tales.  But it just isn't as nice when you add in that he got all those wins by doping.  There is no happy ending with that hook, especially since if there is ever a film on his life, because this entire fiasco has to be the climax now rather than his heroic comeback.

And the comeback is still heroic, by the way.  He took drugs to help him win.  And yes, that is cheating -- we've established that.  But the man kicked fucking cancer in the balls and returned to an ultra-competitive occupation.  He never gave up.  He won the fight.  He still doesn't have cancer.  Just being able to say he is still alive is a major win, but the perseverance and dedication to return to his sport is even more amazing.  It isn't something most athletes could do even with performance enhancing drugs.  Because once again, the drugs aren't like the Sword of Grayskull where one minute your Adam then you become He-man.  Armstrong still needed to train and get back into competitive shape.  He had some assistance, but there was work involved.

He definitely tarnished all that work.  He is now sentenced to a life known as a cheater and doper.  Those seven wins not only have been stripped, but the public will discount them in their eyes.  They don't mean anything to most anymore.  His comeback is likely considered a sham by most.  It shouldn't be, but it will be.  That is the biggest travesty and the real reason the doping is so frustrating.

The dirty little secret of sports is that the athletes that are caught doping aren't the only ones who actually used performance enhancers.  They are simply the ones that got caught, and that is it.  I am not claiming that all athletes us drugs.  I am sure many are clean.  Nowadays, maybe even the majority are clean.  They could be, and I'm not being sarcastic.  I don't know, because I'm not anything more than a guy who enjoys watching sports on TV.  I have no connection to obtain any real hard facts on the matter.

I do know from reading quite a few articles and journals on the subject, that drug testing isn't foolproof.  Every single test can be beat.  The Olympics and other regulations can claim that what they have is unbeatable, but there are several doctors and experts that dispute that fact.  Even the most state of the art tests cannot detect every single drug or at least, there are ways to avoid detection.  This makes me believe that there are likely athletes that have been strong users that have never been caught.  There were likely some Olympic athletes that won medals and fame, but no one knew they had a little help in the form of a needle or pill or whatever.  I am not pointing fingers at anyone.  I don't even know for sure if I am correct.  I'd hope I'm not, but I'm likely right.

Drug use has appeared to have decreased over the past decade.  I don't think Major League Baseball is anywhere near the level of drug use that it was in the late 90s.  I believe even sports like weightlifting and track & field have considerably cleaned up.  But I am not naive enough to believe drugs are totally out, even if no one is failing tests at the same level.

Remember that Armstrong didn't fail a test.  The accusation didn't come from any results.  He wasn't denying hard facts.  It was just strongly believed he was doping, but not from any hard data.  Which means there is a chance there were other cyclist during that time that were also doping but since they didn't win, never were put in the hotseat of needing a confession.  I'm sure Armstrong wasn't the only athlete in the world aware of how to beat tests. 

Armstrong claims many other competitors were doping.  There isn't any way to verify that without the other cyclist coming forward or someone deciding to do a whole investigation of the all the competitors.  It is likely he wasn't the only one enhanced in the race, and this doesn't just include his teammates but the other country's competitors.  There were also likely clean racers too, but there is a good chance Armstrong is right that he was competing against other users.

This doesn't mean Armstrong was in the right or any kind of justification of his actions.  He cheated.  But there were likely other cheaters too.  They just didn't have the talent to use their enhancement to win the championship.  Armstrong was better. 

Lance Armstrong isn't a role model.  I'm not going to tell Everett to follow his lead.  I am not going to claim that you need to use drugs to keep things a level playing field or that it is the best way to ensure victory.  Sports should be done clean.  It is the safe route towards your long term health.  It is the right message for our children.  Armstrong shouldn't have used drugs.  It sucks that he did.

But his drug use isn't why he isn't a role model.  The fact that everyone is flawed is why he shouldn't be a role model.  Anyone you put up on a pedestal is bound to let you down.  Everyone had their faults and demons.  No child should pattern their life entirely after someone else.  They need to follow their own path.

They can still get tips from others.  They can take elements from another person's life, and use it as a guide for their own.  And I still think Armstrong can be an inspiration.  The drug use shouldn't knock out all the good he did.

The man persevered and returned after a fight from cancer.  It is a message of not giving up and instead fighting towards your dreams.  He will always be a man who not only recovered from a horrid disease, but made it back to the top of the mountain.  He didn't do it the perfect way, but most people make a few mistakes on their journey.  Armstrong is flawed.  He still did things that are admirable and worth telling my son about.

I'll just make sure Everett knows there are a few things in the story that need to be avoided.  It isn't the perfect path.  I'll tell him that about everyone he decides to look up to.

I'm not saying Armstrong did the right thing.  But I am saying he did do some great things.  We shouldn't forget that.  He isn't the worst villain of the decade or even this past year.  He was stripped of his titles, and that is the right call.  It doesn't mean we need to forget what he accomplished.  It definitely doesn't make his story fiction or something that must be erased.

Lance Armstrong has an inspiring tale, even if it is flawed and it contains some demons.  

Les Miserables Film Review: Revolutionary Performances in a Royal Classic

Musicals can be an extremely challenging medium to translate into cinema.  I say this while completely realizing countless musicals have been translated into films and a number of them have won Best Picture Oscars.  The magic that can be found on the stage can be very different than the magic contained on the silver screen.  Cinema can often be something very intimate for a viewer, while a large scale musical production resonates in a different way.  The difference between the two worlds is what makes the recent cinematic adaption of Les Miserable an impressive feat, since it showcases live singing performances rather than typical post-production lip synching.

The live vocals were continually mentioned in the marketing.  But one would quickly realize there is likely a reason that almost all films add the vocals after filming.  Sure, vocals are almost always live on the stage, but the performances are also often inside one building and are absent of things like CGI too.  When embracing the world of live theatre, you expect people to break out into song and dance, and you accept that the window lacks glass and the police officer pushes a wall off stage with his exit.  Film often brings a certain type of realism and tackles deeper subjects, and if you see a stage hand removing set pieces then you instantly declare it a B-movie.  Live singing is part of the magic of theatre, but the ability to edit is part of the magic of cinema.

If there is one thing that will cause the 2012 film version of Les Miserables to be remembered, it will be the brilliance of several of the performances.  The performances would have never been able to capture the audience the same way without those live vocals.  There were moments when the performers released their heart and soul into their songs and it sunk deep into the audience's own souls.  It allowed for a connection and resonance that is quite rare in film musicals.

Les Miserables is entirely sung, except for maybe one or two lines.  Now, this is obviously something a theatre fan would already be aware, but cinema is far more mainstream and the grosses seem to show it grabbed a hold of a wider audience.  The fact the performers continually sing cause this musical to stand out from some of the more traditional movie musicals where actors just randomly burst into song at different points.  It also allows the live vocals to be the dictator of success for this picture and it is what makes this film have some monumental moments of pure magic.

Musicals often have scenes that delve into darker material, but usually the majority of the production tends to lean towards merriment and cheer.  Les Miserables has always stood out as a musical that digs deep into the world of poverty and the uprising of the proletariat, while portraying brutality and violence. During a time when the economy is still a major issue and many feel the struggle while corporations remain rich and protected, Les Miserables offers something significant to the modern audience despite being set in the early 1800s.  The story of the fall, redemption, guilt, and sacrifice of Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) contains more depth than your typical large scale musical.  Director Tom Hopper crafts a film that has settings and performances that properly enhance the classic story that was first written in novel form by Victor Hugo.

The advantage of film is the ability to shoot in several locations, have extravagant sets, and have special effects enhance the action sequences.  Les Miserables has some wonderful and beautiful settings.  The opening scene immediately transports you into the world as you see several prisoners pull in the large ship, and the scene holds a magnificence that would never be able to be properly captured on stage.  The special effects are strong throughout most of the film and every setting helps to properly set the mood.  Here is the major problem, despite the grand and marvelous settings, Hopper insists on having super close ups of the performers.  Almost 85% of the film seems to consist of a shot of the face of the singer (I'll admit I randomly chose a high percentage, because it helps make my point).  I'm sure there was a purpose and maybe it was designed to make things seem more intimate, but I usually just found myself wishing I could see more on the screen and not be so aware of who brushed and flossed the best.

In most films, you're used to being able to connect to the protagonists.  This isn't necessarily the same requirement with musicals.  Les Miserables has a large cast, and there were times that characters weren't fully developed.  This is only a minor quibble directed to a few specific characters, such as Enjolras (played by Aaron Tveit) who I felt didn't get a proper climax due to insignificant screen time.

The strength of this film rests on the spectacular performances.  The main characters have such powerful presence that quickly makes up for my small problem with an underdeveloped revolutionary leader.  I've never thought much of Hugh Jackman, but this was his major breakout film that has nothing to do with mutant powers.  He has a history in theatre, and his ability shines with several heart stirring performances.  Anne Hathaway as Fantine nails her big "I Dreamed a Dream", and though her part is small, her character's spirit sticks with you the entire film.  I can understand why both received their Academy Awards nominations, and they were well deserved.

The performance that I really thought was the real gem was Samantha Barks as Eponine, who was making her film debut.  I love the song "On My Own", and Barks sung it with the passion and power that I always imagined it was meant to be performed.  It was riveting.  Barks was magnificent in every scene, which is impressive considering she is new to this medium.  I'd go as far as to claim she deserved the Supporting Actress nomination, but with her obvious talent, her day will come soon.

The great performances were true magic, but there were some weaker showings.  Russell Crowe, playing Javert, did have some great moments, but as a whole, his voice didn't have the strength of his peers.  The weakness was exposed when he was up against a powerhouse like Jackman.  Amanda Seyfried was miscast as Cosette as her emotional moments never really contained the right energy to connect, and her moments of sorrow seemed closer to just having the sniffles.  Seyfried is a great talent, but I felt she may have been better used in a smaller role (maybe holding the boom mic?  I'm just kidding).

I was pleasantly surprised by both Helen Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen who were fantastic as the swindling innkeepers, the Thenardiers.  Both have proven in the past they have excellent comic talents, but I wasn't sure if they would fit in a musical.  They both delivered their fun songs with the right amount of energy and humour.  They offered up the right dose of comic relief at the necessary moments.

I started this review by stating that theatre and cinema are two different worlds.  But the best film musicals are able to make those two worlds converge.  Les Miserables is able to use the big effects and awe inspiring locations allowed in cinema while also capturing the charm and grandeur of theatre.  It is one of the best balances seen in cinema since the golden age of film musicals from so many decades ago.

Les Miserables is an Oscar nominated film, and the reason why I am reviewing it.  The question is if this film deserves its nomination and does it have a real chance at the golden statuette.  I see the success of Les Miserables similar to Life of Pi.  Two pictures that tackled difficult to film source material, and created splendid movies.  I don't think either are the best of 2012, but they both deserve acknowledgement for their major achievements.  Life of Pi is a visual masterpiece that effectively incorporated 3D into the storytelling, and Les Miserables took on the challenge of live vocals to create an inspirational and moving musical experience.  It is their successful accomplishment of great challenges that make them worthy of the nominations.  Les Miserables is a bona fide success.

The Short and Sweet:  A great visual adaption of a classic musical and story that contains some truly unforgettable performances by exceptional talents.

Rating:  3.75 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"The Spoiler Room of Gangster Squad" Podcast

Scott and I have broken down the major aspects of the Gangster Squad.  I've also written a review for the film.  But maybe you're just begging for something more in-depth.  Maybe you're begging for a no-holds-barred look with tons of spoilers that analyzes the major scenes.

If that is what your current itch is, then consider "The Spoiler Room: Gangster Squad" podcast your scratch.

Today is Perfect for an Uplifting and Catchy Folksy Rock Song

For several months I was under the impression the following song was one of the latest releases by Mumford & Sons.

I was completely wrong, because this is "Ho Hey" by The Lumineers.

I must admit that this song is absolutely everything I know about The Lumineers.  I assume their sudden play on the radio and jump into somewhat public recognition has to do with the popularity of Mumford & Sons.  I'm okay with that, because when I actually take the time to listen to this song, it is obvious this isn't an exact clone of a popular band and has a bit of their own sound.  If anything, their music is a bit more uplifting and cheery.

My default setting for music is usually classic heavy rock or grunge/punk rock.  Which this is neither.  But I've been known to waver from that setting, especially in the last decade where I've also taken a liking to some popular rap (usually with some rock influence tossed in).

When I'm using music as a muse and inspiration for storytelling, it tends to be songs with more pessimistic or darker lyrics.  This was destined to happen when my formative years were largely shaped by things like Nirvana (music) and Shirley Jackson (literature).  It doesn't mean I am a cynic or dark person, but my fiction dabbles in that area and the characters I'm most drawn to tend to lean that way.  Though I do like to sprinkle in humour, and I am a sucker for a happy ending.

I have moments where I want to embrace the optimism, and these moments have grown this past year, when I am hungering for some light, happy, and fun music.  "Ho Hey" fits that just fine.  I hear that music and I want to do a jig and maybe shout for joy. Because life is too short to not just have lots of fun and listen to something that gives a warm fuzzy.

This does the job for me, and maybe it will for you too. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gangster Squad Review: Gunning Down an Entire Genre

I love a good gangster film.  I'm talking about a film set several decades ago where the gangsters wear the vintage suits and rat-a-tat-tat with Tommy guns.  The trailer for Gangster Squad look like it can fill that need.  In my recent film review for Collective Publishing, I let you know if the Squad is a success in bringing back the genre.

Play Time!

For Everett, play time is serious business.  He has become an expert in the art.  In today's Dad's Eye View, I look at his favourite games.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

All Will Tremble in the Presence of Green Helmet

He is the long lost brother of the much feared, Dark Helmet.  Except he is much cuter.

Monday, January 14, 2013

"The Breakdown of the Gangster Squad" Podcast

As you now know, my good friend Scott and I have entered into the podcast business.  We've currently offered two podcasts on Django Unchained and one on the Hobbit.  Since they were so much fun for us to do, we decided to do another on a film I'd been anticipating since last summer, Gangster Squad.

We did this podcast slightly different than the previous.  This time we looked at the trailer, critical reception and fan response before seeing the movie.  It also allowed us to throw out some predictions on what to expect.  After seeing the film, we analyze how effective the different marketing aspects were on conveying the actual film, and then we discussed how close our predictions were along with our other thoughts on the film.

"The Breakdown of the Gangster Squad" podcast was a lot of fun to do, and I hope you, my lovely readers, enjoy it.

Revenge Review: Playing Pretend with the Initiative

Being two-faced or pretending to be someone you're not is sort a hobby on Revenge.  You expect lies and deception.  This week there was even more "role playing", and everyone seemed to take a turn pretending to be someone.  It got to the point you just didn't know what to believe.  But you can trust my review of the show, I promise.  You can check it out over at BuddyTV.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Favourite Piece of Fiction You Ignored for a Long Time

My one sentence book reviews article got me thinking about the Harry Potter series.  I absolutely fell in love with the series this year, and think it is a landmark work of fiction.  It deserves all the acclaim and popularity it has won.

I almost missed out on this series entirely, and I'm obviously several years behind on the actual craze.  I was actively avoiding the book and film series for a long time.  I think a large part of the problem was that it was such a popular thing and people kept telling me how much I'd like it.  My experience is that the things people promise me that I'll like often don't turn out positively for me.  I decided it was just better to ignore the series.

I also just wasn't all that intrigued about a boy in the modern world going to a school for wizards.  This was mainly because I didn't realize the world building and depth of fantasy that J. K. Rowling was immersing the reader into.  I thought it was some occasional magic tricks rather than some epic fantasy coming of age adventure.  But deep down, I knew my assumption was off, and it had more to do with being annoyed everyone told me I needed to read the series.

I'm glad I finally had to the read the first installment for a University course.  I'm even happier I finally got around to consuming the entire series.  I gobbled it up in one straight go.  It allowed me to appreciate the scope of the story more, since there wasn't any wait between novels.

Anyway, I'm interested in finding out if there were any novels or movies or TV shows that you avoided or ignored for an extended period of time that you finally read/watched to find out you love it.  So, what is the gem that you almost lost out on?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pictorial Look at How I Spent the Last Weekend in 2012

I was going through my camera, and realized I failed to brag about the awesomeness of my wife.  And what does her awesomeness have to do with how I spent my final weekend of 2012?

Well, she took me to Detroit for a special weekend away (aka Everett had his first sleep over at grandma's house).  We stayed at a historic hotel which not only had history (duh), but is absolutely beautiful.  The place looks just like this.

And why did we choose to stay in Detroit for a weekend?

Well, for this, of course.

Yep, awesome wife.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Thoughts on the Returning Players in Survivor: Caramoan Fans vs. Favourite 2

CBS has officially announced the castaways for the next season of Survivor, Caramoan Fans vs. Favourites 2.  The announcement includes both the returning players and the new competitors.  The fan group seems to be a diverse bunch, and hopefully, we've got some great personalities like last season.  But the fact is that I don't know who they are, and so I can't have much of an opinion until the season starts.

I do know all the returning castaways.  Or "favourites" as the season would have us to believe.  But I think it is best to keep the word "favourites" in quotation marks.  I mean, really CBS, these were the characters you considered "favourites"?  I was always under the impression this word means you really liked something, and that this something usually stands out.  You'd think that the majority of the players would at least have almost won the vote in the player of the season thing they hold.  There are some players that were liked, but for the most part, it is players from only a few seasons and not really too many players that captured the viewers' imagination. 

Despite that, here are my thoughts on each returning player.

Andrea Boehlke (Redemption Island):  She was responsible for sending Matt off to Redemption Island, and the only person on her tribe that even contemplated voting off Rob.  But she failed, and didn't end up doing anything too memorable.  She showed some small moments of strategy and she is a threat in challenges.  If she can join a strong alliance, I am sure she will go deep again.

Brandon Hantz (South Pacific):  I realize we didn't need Russell back for a fourth season.  This really isn't the Hantz we were looking for.  The only plus side of Brandon is the potential for a meltdown again.  There is also a strong chance he'll just keep thinking of great moves, but then feel guilty right before implementing them, over and over again.

Brenda Lowe (Nicaragua):  The best part of her season, and it was a bummer she went out as the third tribal council member.  This is one of the players I'm looking forward to seeing again, because she was incredibly strategic and was willing to play a deceptive game.  Plus she is pretty, or at least will be until about 10 days straight of no bathing.  Hopefully, this time around she will learn that she needs to scramble and fight when her head is on the chopping block.  She is one of the early favourite to go far, and out of the returning players, definitely one of the best all-around players.

Corinne Kaplan (Gabon):  In this case, "favourite" means hated villain that was a bitch to half the cast of her season.  I love villains, but Corinne wasn't really even strategic.  She was just cruel.  She also has the huge downside of not having anyone else from her season, and likely having a personality that will rub people the wrong way.  At least, there is a good chance there will be a few fireworks before she is sent packing.  She'll also be a stronger player than Abi, at least.

Dawn Meehan (South Pacific):  If this was a real "favourites" tribe, there is no way there would ever be more than one player from South Pacific.  It wasn't that great of a season.  I'm guessing they wanted the kind and older lady character, but you could get that from several different seasons.  Dawn has the advantage of actually being really strong at challenges, but I don't remember her really being strategic.  She is likable, and could sneak into a strong alliance, especially since there are a few players from her season.

Erik Reichenbach (Micronesia - Fans vs. Favourites):  Last time, he was a fan.  He also is immortalized as the player that maybe did the stupidest move ever in Survivor history, or at least until JT handed his idol over to Russell.  Hopefully, Erik has learned you don't trust an alliance that is against you, and he'll try to actually make some big moves this time.  He was another person great at challenges, but he also has the disadvantage of being from the earliest season of the group and not having any clear allies right off the bat.

Francesca Hogi (Redemption Island):  How can the first person voted off a season ever be considered a favourite?  We had one episode to get to know anything about her.  The only memorable thing was that Phillip couldn't pronounce her name.

John Cochran (South Pacific):  I really liked Cochran for the first few episodes of his season.  Then he spent most of his remaining time whining about how he didn't want to get voted out and it wasn't fair that people wouldn't keep him around even if he sucks at challenges.  I don't want to fault the guy, because I'm sure my insecurities would jump out in a game like this too.  He then made the biggest play of his season by double crossing his tribe, but then proceeded to do absolutely nothing after that huge move.  He at least understands the game, and as a huge fan himself, I'm sure he really does want to do a memorable blindside or massive play.

Malcolm Freberg (Philippines):  He was one of the highlights from what was an awesome season.  He is fantastic at challenges and is an incredibly strategic player who wants to make big moves.  He also has the advantage of being the only player from his tribe that no one saw play, because this was taped before Philippines aired.  That could also be a detriment, since the same thing happened in Russell's second season, and so players may be more cautious in trusting the unknown player.  He is also far more likable than Russell, and I think he should be able to get into a strong alliance.

Phillip Sheppard (Redemption Island):  The Secret Agent had returned.  You knew he'd be back eventually.  He was one of the best things from his season.  It had nothing to do with the game play, because he was horrible.  The man was a nut job his season.  The only way he has a chance to go deep is if a player decides they want to pull a Boston Rob and drag him alongside for the easy win.  I hope Phillip sticks around, because he is one glorious train wreck.

These are the "favourites".  Probably the most misleading title ever, even if there are a few who are legit beloved players like Malcolm and Brenda.  I do appreciate that all these returning players are only coming back for a second time.  But there are way too many players from the same season, and kind of disappointing they are almost all from relatively recent seasons.  Speaking of recent seasons, why did One World completely get the shaft?  No Troyzan love?  It would have been nice if they picked players from a variety of seasons and a few from a little farther back.  It is an interesting tribe and should create a unique dynamic.  You already have a few players that won't get along like Francesca and Phillip (though they may unite since they could join Andrea as an alliance from their season).

It should be a fun season.  The previous Fans vs. Favourites is one of the best ever, and really only ranks below Heroes vs. Villains for unpredictability and big plays/blindsides.  I hope that repeats here.

What do you think about the returning players?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Practice Makes Pretty Decent: The First Podcast Attempt

The Django Unchained podcasts were not the first we did.   Our first podcast attempt was actually for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  It is pretty clear that it is our first time trying it, and we're sorting through the kinks.  I do think things got a lot better with our Django podcasts.

Just in case the Django podcasts didn't fill your need to hear my voice, here is our first ever attempted podcast, The Breakdown of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Introducing the Debut Episode of "The Spoiler Room" Podcast

I revealed my foray into podcasting with "The Breakdown of Django Unchained."  But Scott and I had so many other things to say about this film.  Spoilery things.  So, the only answer was to create The Spoiler Room, where we take a no holds barred look at Tarantino's latest epic.

We discuss our favourite scenes, the most memorable moments, plot holes, and anything significant about the film.  Though this is best listened to after you've seen the film, since it is loaded with spoilers.  Sort of why we chose that title, actually.

If you're interested in getting analysis that is deeper than your typical review than give The Spoiler Room a listen.

Have You Always Dreamed About Hearing My Voice? Well, Listen to "The Breakdown of Django Unchained" Podcast

You've already read my review for Django Unchained. But you haven't actually heard my thoughts. But now you can. In what will hopefully be a regular feature on the blog, and a fun way to fill your ears with my dulcet tone, I'm debuting a podcast.

Even though I am fully capable of just going on and on for a few hours by myself, I thought the podcast may be slightly more interesting with a fellow movie buff. I've got close friend (and the Best Man at my wedding) Scott Martin to be the moderator and fellow orator.

In this podcast, The Breakdown of Django Unchained we look at all the different aspects of marketing the film such as the trailer, critical reception, and fan response, and then discuss how close these aspects were to our own opinion on the film. We also discuss what we liked and disliked from the film, and basically go all Siskel and Ebert on this thing.

You already know what I think about this movie, but I go a little deeper than I did in the written review and try to discuss some other aspects of the film. Plus you get to hear Scott and his opinion, and trust me, it is delightful.

If you want some background noise while you work today then this podcast could be your ear candy. I hope you enjoy it, because it was a blast to do.

My Thoughts on the Academy Award Nominations

The Academy Award nominations have been announced today. Film geeks are now either chiming in with their predictions or declaring the travesty of specific omissions.  Since I was actually paid to review 20 films this year, I think I can sort of declare myself a film critic.  As a sort of film critic, it is my duty to reveal my predictions and thoughts on the 2013 Academy Award nominations.

The problem is that I've actually only seen three of the films nominated for Best Picture.  My current predictions will largely be based off what other people are saying.  But I also aim to correct this flaw and have all the Best Picture nominees watched before the show.  If I do achieve this goal, then I'll eventually be back here with my predictions.

But despite watching a rather low amount of nominated films, I still have thoughts to share.  Because if you own a blog, then you always have something to ramble on about.  Today, it seems appropriate for it to be about the Academy Award nominees.

Now, the Academy Awards have like a billion categories, and so I don't really feel like analyzing the Best Use of a Ham Sandwich in Catering During Filming.  Instead, I'm just going to look at the major categories for now:  Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

Best Picture:

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Django Unchained

This is a pretty good crop with the biggest omissions being Moonrise Kingdom and The Master.  I also would have liked to see Looper get a nomination since it was one of the best and deepest genre films in a very long time.  If we live in a world that films like The Fugitive and Erin Brockovich can be nominated for Best Picture, then Looper shouldn't be considered a huge long shot.  But there really aren't any problems with this list, and so I don't consider any of the neglected films to be a travesty, especially since none of them would have won anyway.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is this year's underdog nomination since it had a first time feature film director, was screened outside of the "Oscar hunt months", stars a 6 year old girl (when filmed), and contains large prehistoric creatures freed from melting ice caps.  It isn't really the ingredients for the typical Oscar nomination, which is why it is so cool this film snuck in.  It has a huge amount of buzz, and if the Academy desires to stir things up then maybe they'll allow the even bigger upset to happen awards night.  The nomination has also convinced me that I now need to watch this movie very, very, very soon.

If you read my recent movie rankings of 2012, you know that Django Unchained was my favourite film.  I don't really think it has a shot winning here.  The committee that votes on Best Picture is known for being a collection of mostly old, white men, which may not be the best demographic for a slaves get revenge fantasy.  I don't see the Academy being comfortable voting on a film this violent, which is why the nomination is a big enough victory, I think.

Argo is another marvelous film, and I'm bummed that Ben Affleck didn't get a nomination for Best Director.  He was superb.  But this film proved he is a true auteur and really knows how to craft memorable stories.  He has effectively erased his less than glorious past and is now ready for the next stage where he is true heavyweight in Hollywood.  I'd consider this nomination the big victory for Affleck, and I'd love it to win Best Picture, but I'm not sure if the hype on the film has fizzled a little too early.

I did like Argo more than Life of Pi, but I'd guess Pi is the bigger favourite at this point.  Pi still has a fair amount of buzz, and is a favourite among some pretty influential critics (though Roger Ebert's favourite film was Argo).  Even though I didn't love it as much as many other critics, I realize it is a wonderful film and the screening was a spiritual experience.  That isn't something I can say about most films.  It was a unique film, and has the accomplishment of disproving all those that said the novel was unfilmable.  Most of the film is about just a boy and a tiger on a boat, yet it remains engaging right until the end.  It definitely deserves all the recognition it is getting.

I haven't seen the other movies, but once again, I hope to correct that in the coming weeks.  Amour is a French film, and so my guess is it will win the Foreign film category to make up for the loss here.  Silver Linings Playbook is a quirky comedy with drama about troubled people, and that type of film hasn't been winning for a little while now.  Les Miserables is a musical and has done really well in the box office, and both those things have done especially well in past Academy Awards, especially if it is in the '60s.  We may be a few decades away from that period, but I'd say it still has a shot.

Zero Dark Thirty must be considered another strong contender, but I'm not sure if the Academy will think, "We already awarded Kathryn Bigelow's last film, Hurt Locker".  The Academy most definitely thinks like that sometimes, and the next film once again being about war may hurt its chances a bit.  This is stupid, but Academy is never really about awarding the actual best film.

Lincoln is a historical, epic drama about a beloved President that has a veteran director.  So, sort of like the exact opposite of Beasts of the Southern Wild.  If any film has a chance of doing a massive sweep of the Academy Awards, then this would be the film.  Even without seeing this film, I'd say it is the favourite at this point.

I also think this is one of the more unpredictable years.  You look around on sites owned by critics who have actually seen all these films and there is definitely not a consensus among them.  There are several films that could squeak out the win, but based off Academy history, I'm thinking the historical drama has the strongest chances at this point.  We will likely have a better idea as we get closer.

Best Director:

David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Michael Haneke, "Amour"
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

Fun fact, a film with a director not nominated in this category hasn't won Best Picture since Driving Miss Daisy (1989).  This category can often help you figure out the real hopeful in the Best Picture categories.  I'm not sure if that will be the case this year.  The films this year without Best Director nominations are also the highest grossing films and have been highly acclaimed by critics.  I also think Quentin Tarantino and Ben Affleck where probably in the running for this category, but just got nudged out.

My guess, is that Zeitlin will just have to be happy for being nominated with his first film.  He probably is still asking people to pinch him to ensure this isn't all a dream.  He has to be the huge surprise pick in all this, but I'm assuming the party stops here.  Though that all changes if Beasts of the Southern Wild is Best Picture, of course.

Haneke and Russell are both guys who have played this game before, but now are probably ready for a win.  I haven't seen either film, so I'm not entirely aware of their merit at this point.  Since I don't think either film is winning Best Picture, I'm predicting they fall short.  Haneke will likely get his victory in the Foreign Film arena, and Russell will get another shot in the coming years, I'm sure.

Academy loves them some Spielberg, especially when he gets all historical on them.  If we have a Lincoln sweep then Spielberg isn't being left out of the party.  I'd consider him the favourite in this category, but once again, it is a competitive field.

Plus you have Ang Lee, who was responsible for making a masterpiece out of material that was claimed to be unfilmable.  He also is responsible for actually properly using 3D technology and making it a crucial component of the storytelling.  The film is visually stunning, and several scenes are effective in pulling out your emotions.  The key is that Lee didn't play it safe and took on more challenging material and created a magnificent film.

Part of me is leaning towards Lee, but I never bet against Spielberg, especially with the film he has directed this time.

Best Actor:

Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln
Denzel Washington, Flight
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Bradley Cooper deserves tons of props for this nomination, because he doesn't have anything in his collection of work prior to this that would get Best Actor attention.  This is a major shift away from being the A-Team and Hangover star, and this is his chance to be seen as a diverse leading man.  I don't think he has a chance to win here, but the important thing is that he now does in the future.  He needs to be smart with his roles in the next year and hopefully, keep up the buzz as a respected actor.  He probably shouldn't take any roles that resemble a 10 year old boy in the body of a 40 year old.

Denzel Washington was incredible in Flight, and he made that movie.  It was a star making performance, except he has been a star for two decades now.  He is one of the best actors around, and it would be great if he could walk away with a second Best Actor.  He deserves it.  Flight has no buzz besides this performance, and so I'm worried that it might hurt his chances here.  Especially since he is competing against. . .

Daniel Day Lewis.  I haven't seen Lincoln, but everything I had read has been rave reviews over Lewis' portrayal.  I'd consider him a big favourite at this point, especially if Lincoln has a strong night.  But I'll have a better idea of how good Lewis is in this film when I see it.  At this point, I'm still rooting for Denzel, because his performance was nuanced and layered.

Joaquin Phoenix won't win, because he even stated he doesn't want the award.  Now, that may have been reverse psychology, but The Master is another film that fizzled in the home stretch.

I've heard people who are in Hugh Jackman's court.  But again, I haven't seen the performance yet.  Since he did theatre and musicals before becoming a film star, I have a feeling this film played well to his strengths.  I look forward to him impressing me.  I still don't see him unseating Lewis or Washington.

Best Actress:

Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

The fun fact for this category, we have the youngest ever nominee (Wallis), and the oldest ever (Riva).  I would love for Wallis to win, because she is adorable and it would be history making.  I'm guessing they'll decide she has a long future and pass her up until her age gets into double digits.  Riva is a French legend, but likely that won't help her on an American awards show.  But I could be totally showing my ignorance here.

I really like Watts, and I'm happy she finally got some recognition here.  I haven't really heard anything about her performance that makes me think she has a chance.  She is also someone who will likely get a shot again in the future, and will have a stronger performance to ensure victory.  I hope.

Chastain and Lawrence would be the strongest contenders.  They are both actors that Hollywood is banking on being the nest big "It" girls.  Chastain is marvelous in everything she does, and apparently, has a powerful performance here.  Lawrence has the added oomph of having a massive blockbuster hit this year in the Hunger Games, and things like that do matter even if it doesn't make sense.  But both are stars and I don't see either fading.

I've heard way more buzz over Lawrence's performance and everyone wants her to break through to the next level.  I'm pretty sure this should be her year.  This is awesome, because she is still pretty young.  Not Wallis young, but still has many years left.  I'm looking forward to finally seeing her film soon and being able to decide if all the hoopla is justified.

Best Supporting Actor:

Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Alan Arkin, Argo
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln

This categories fun fact?  Everyone here has won before.  There definitely won't be any "it is your turn" wins here.  All these guys can be absolutely awesome, and to some degree, I've heard positive buzz for each guy.

I have to admit I'm bummed Leonardo DiCaprio didn't get a nomination.  I'm guessing they didn't want to hand out nods from the same movie.  DiCaprio was glorious in Django Unchained, and totally played against type.  He was an amazing villain, and no one except jealous boyfriends ever imagined him a villain.  This was a stellar show, and I'm sad he got snubbed.

But Christoph Waltz was brilliant in Django Unchained, and I have no problem with him being recognized here.  His character was so layered, and he really brought a lot to the film.  He was able to make a quirky and prideful character very relatable and likable.  He also had many subtle moments and was able to tell a story with his facials.  At this point, I think Waltz should be a super strong contender, but again, I admit I only have seen one other performance here.

Arkin was fun in Argo.  I love Arkin in almost everything he has been in.  He was more comic relief here rather than someone bringing in a powerful role.  At least compared to Waltz, not a performance that I'd say was award winning, but a lot of that has to do with the role he was cast.  I must admit he did shine in his role, and did amazing with everything he was handed.

I'm also a big fan of De Niro, Hoffman, and Jones.  I've heard a lot of good things about Hoffman's portrayal of the L. Ron Hubbard-like cult leader, but like Denzel, he may be hurt by a film that has lost some sizzle.  Jones may benefit from the strength of the entire Lincoln package.  It would be nice if De Niro won so he realized he doesn't need to do any more Focker movies or be the villain to a cartoon Moose.

Best Supporting Actress:

Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Amy Adams, The Master

Confession time, I had to Google who Jacki Weaver is.  I know who she is now, and I had an idea who she was in the film (Cooper's character's mom), but I must admit IMDb proves I haven't seen much of her work.  My ignorance doesn't mean she won't win.  After I see the film, I may feel awful about my lack of recognition.

Helen Hunt is fantastic, and there is often a winner in a film that otherwise didn't get much recognition from the Academy.  The Session was loved by the critics, so her win could be the big pat on the back for the entire film.

Though, Amy Adams could also be the whole winner from the film not nominated for Best Picture.  She is an actor that is pretty hot right now, and a person most hope will continue to rise.  The win could be a pretty big play for her.  It would probably mean more for her than Hunt who won before.

Speaking of won before, Field has made her mark at the Academy Awards and is an established veteran.  I wouldn't write her off from a win, but Academy like giving it to rising stars when matched up against an already award winning veteran.  Of course, this could be one of those times they make me look like a fool.  Which won't be hard, and I know I will be proven wrong many times in the lead up to the awards.

After saying all that, I think Hathaway will be the winner.  She is a scorching star at the moment, and it is only a matter of time before she wins an Academy Award.  She looks great from what I've seen in the trailers, and I've only heard positive reviews on her performance.  Plus the Academy loves it when a beautiful woman gets all dirty and battered for their role, and Hathaway definitely does that.

Of course, my thoughts only mean so much when I haven't seen most of the films.  It is a lot of mere guessing.  Well, it will always be guessing.  My guesses will be far more informed when I've seen more of the films.  I'll be able to better judge the films I've currently seen when I am able to compare them to the others.  Plus then I also get the fun of complaining about certain nominations if I walk away totally hating a film or performance.  At this point, I have to trust the Academy that there was good reason that stuff I liked was shunned and what is here is better.

This is our major Academy Award nominations.  What do think about them?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Ranking the Films I Saw in 2012

I only saw 20 films in 2012, which is a rather insignificant amount for a film critic.  From that batch, I still was able to see that it was a great year for cinema.  In my latest Collective Publishing column, I rank the films from the lowest to the very best.  I also have finally decided to include a star rating system, and so it debuts with this column. 

Laying Down the Parental Law

In my latest Dad's Eye View, I talk about setting out the rules now that I am a parent. I always knew there would need to be rules and that I would have to learn to enforce them. But I never realized the type of people that I would be dishing out the parental law to. I talk about this shocker in my latest column.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Quentin Tarantino Did Always Seem Better Suited for Sitcoms

I haven't hidden the fact that I absolutely loved Django Unchained. I believe it is Quentin Tarantino's masterpiece, and the proof he is one of the all-time great directors. But haven't you always wondered how he would do running a sitcom? More specifically, a sitcom about a slave turned bounty hunter? When I watched Django Unchained, the first thing that popped into my head was that it would have been so much better if it was a late '80s/early '90s NBC sitcom.
Okay, maybe he should just stick to films. But this intro is still pretty close to the perfect definition of "incredibly awesome".

Monday, January 07, 2013

One Sentence Reviews of Books I Read in 2012

I claim to be a pop culture writer, but it appears I just review movies and TV shows.  But I do listen to music and read books.  In 2012, I read a fair share of books, even if I rarely mentioned them.  But to make up for that, I'll now offer up one sentence reviews of every book I read this past year.

Or at least, I'll give you one sentence reviews of the books I remember reading this year.  That is slightly different, but the books that get left out clearly weren't important enough to be remembered.

Agent to the Stars (John Scalzi):  It's a world populated with overly witty people and aliens, but is strong proof that science fiction can be hilarious even when it isn't written by Douglas Adams. 

Frankenstein (Marry Shelley): The novel that birthed the science fiction genre and introduced the concept that monsters can be conflicted and misunderstood; it is a story that has inspired countless other great works and has incredibly beautiful prose for such a dark tale.

Harry Potter Series (J.K. Rowling):  I am very aware this isn't one book but rather a series of 7, but it combines into one epic fantasy tale that will have a strong legacy comparable to the legendary Lord of the Rings but with far less singing.

Lord of the Flies (William Golding):  One of the greatest stories ever told with a compelling and dark message about society that has inspired several story ideas in my mind. 

Night (Elie Wiesel):  I read this every few years and it hits me hard every time; I consider this mandatory reading for everyone so you can get a glimpse into one of biggest atrocities in history (the Holocaust).

Nightmares & Dreamscapes (Stephen King):  Another incredible short story anthology that displays King's diversity and skill that offers up fantastic tales about burying mobsters, a plane flying vampire, the extreme measures one goes for a gifted child, a pesky finger in the drain, a pair of ghostly shoes, town full of dead rock stars, the evil rituals of a small town, smokers being able to see an alien takeover, a Sherlock Holmes case, a fictional character coming to life, and several other great stories that deserve a full review one day.

The Alexandria Link (Steve Berry):  A Dan Brown style globetrotting thriller even with the requisite controversial message, but with deeper characters and more engaging writing.

The Brethren (John Grisham):  A very different book compared to Grisham's other legal thrillers with darker and more complex characters who the majority walk a tightrope over the chasm of morality.

The House of Mirth:  I couldn't get through it.

The Husband (Dean Koontz):   It is a bubble gum thriller until a dark twist in the middle that makes this story stand out and a bit more engaging than other mainstream suspense novels.

The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett):  I own this book due to my Children's Lit class in university, and finally decided I should read it; it reminded me how much I wanted to reread my other "children" novels like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The Summons (John Grisham):  An intriguing mystery that starts out great and has some engaging characters, but would have been better served as a short story due to the predictable pay off.

The Year of Living Biblically (A.J. Jacobs): It will offend some of the religious far right and it will be deemed too spiritual by the far left atheist, but for everyone else, it is a funny but still powerful look at the most famous tome ever.

What We All Long For (Dionne Brand):  It is a snapshot of life in Toronto for first generation young adult Canadians and the struggles they face while trying to achieve success in a place they don't feel they fully belong; doesn't contain a clear plot, but has a powerful message.

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Tunes into TV:  Yes, I read the whole thing, because how else am I supposed to be loaded with useless trivia?

Sunday, January 06, 2013

My Top 5 2012 Collective Publishing Articles

I already posted the top blog posts of 2012.  I've written in other places than just the International House of Spicer.  One of those places is the small but entertaining Collective Publishing Company.  I love writing for the site.  I really hope that 2013 can be the year it grows a larger audience.  I've also written some articles over there that I am especially proud of.  Since I try to promote Collective Publishing when I can and I am an unabashed spotlight hog, I thought I'd list five of my favourite articles from 2012 that I wrote for Collective Publishing.

Why John Carter was a Box Office Bomb:  How can one of my least read articles be in a Top 5 list?  Well, because I liked this article and I am making the list.  John Carter was one of the highest budget films of all time yet it will mainly be remembered as a massive flop.  It didn't have to be that way, because by most accounts it was a fun sci-fi film, even if the cost to create was excessive.  I think the points I made in this article were important, and something a future film producer should pay attention to based off the current direction of cinema.  Because you know, so many higher powered film industry people cling to every word I write.

The Worst Fictional Places to Live:  An important article for all those people thinking about moving.  You really don't want to be eaten by a dragon on your first day in your new home, do you?

Why Devout Fans are Killing Leaf's Chances for Success:  The hockey season is back, and fans are rushing to get their jerseys out of storage.  This also means the Leaf fans are back for another season of holding on to the hope they ever have a chance of seeing a championship in their lifetime.  From the comments I've read and looking at the last year of Leaf moves, I'd say this article is still very relevant. 

A PG-13 Rant Against the Demise of R-Rated Action Films:  Will we ever see another Commando or Rambo: First Blood Part 2?  I am not talking about remakes or sequels, but rather films that are gloriously violent and completely intended just for adults. For my son's sake, I really hope so.  He deserves the right to tip toe downstairs when it is past his bed time and try to sneak a peek of a guy being blown to bits.  It is his rite of passage.

The Decline of the Modern Horror Film:  We Need the Scary Back in Scary Movies:  The fall was my time to write letters to the film industry that they'd never read.  But it at least gave me a chance to sort out exactly the things that currently annoy me about Hollywood.  On the plus side, there have been a few horror films recently released that don't involve stumbling upon an abandoned video camera.  Maybe this article did make a difference?  Yeah, I believe that.