Friday, February 25, 2011

The Oscar Blog - With Robbie Iobst!

So excited about this post! Joining me for the Oscar prognostications is my fellow blogger and film-enthusiast, devotional author Robbie Iobst.

There are a lot of categories, so we're going to dive right into the Best Actor Category -

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Robbie: Colin Firth. This is a no brainer. He won the Golden Globe and the SAG for The King’s Speech. He is just excellent as the stuttering King George VI. His fear is palpable. I’m a long time Firth fan, since I saw him as the gorgeous Mr. Darcy in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice. I say it’s about time.

Hillary: Hear, hear! I’m in total agreement. Colin’s put out a lot of good work lately; he gets stuck in some thankless roles sometimes (The Accidental Husband comes to mind,) so I’m delighted that he’s gotten the recognition for his more serious work.

He’s a talented man, even when he’s not walking out of a lake.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Hillary: Natalie Portman. End of conversation. It was very shrewd of her to become pregnant and engaged to the choreographer of her film, because her “aww” factor is unbeatable at this point. It doesn’t hurt that she acted her bony little toes off in Black Swan, either – that statuette is hers.

Robbie: I haven’t seen Black Swan, but she’s won for this role at the Golden Globes and the SAGs. My personal favorite is Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole. She was soooooo good!

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Robbie: Christian Bale playing Dicky Eklund in The Fighter is a tour de force performance. I didn’t recognize him at all. He’ll win, but I do have a place in my heart for Geoffrey Rush from The King’s Speech. He is outstanding in it.

Which of these would you choose, Hillary?

Hillary: Christian Bale. But I feel the same way about Geoffrey Rush! It was nice to see him not dressed as a pirate for once :-)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Hillary: I’m going with Hailee Steinfeld on this one. I think Melissa Leo had it pretty much sewn up until she pulled this stunt, which was – weirdy weird? I don’t even know what to say. And frankly, if she doesn’t show up to the Oscars in flow-length fur.

But Hailee, Hailee is young and fresh as a California daisy, with enough spunk and screen presence to hold her own next to Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin. And as far as I know, she’s publicly avoided fur.

Robbie – you’ve seen both True Grit and The Fighter. Thoughts?

Robbie: Melissa Leo will win. I used to love watching her in an old TV show called Homicide. So I’m a fan. And when I saw The Fighter, I didn’t recognize her at all. Total transformation. Hailee was excellent, but I believe Melissa was better. As far as the ad goes, you’re right – weirdy weird! Hope that doesn’t ruin it fur her.

Hillary: Groan!!!

Best Achievement in Directing

Hillary: This one’s tricky! Normally the DGA (Director’s Guild Awards) is the major predictor for this category. Tom Hooper of The King’s Speech won, but all the buzz and predictions is in David Fincher’s favor (The Social Network).

I’m a fan of Fincher – I thought his Zodiac was amazing, and I feel that under his direction, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has a shot at being okay.

But…I’m going with the guild with this one. I may be wrong. But the guild seldom leads me astray.

Robbie, what do you think?

Robbie: I think the Academy Award voters will actually split and give the Best Picture to The King’s Speech and give Best Director to Tom Hooper. I doubt The Social Network will get any other awards besides writing, and this is a wonderful, relevant movie. Hooper will win is my guess.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Robbie: David Seidler will win for The King’s Speech because it will win best movie of the year. Mr. Seidler suffered from a stutter as a child and that tidbit adds to the sentimental factor. But Christopher Nolan SHOULD win for Inception. It is original and written with a rhythm and complexity that makes the audience actually think about the plot. Loved it!

You’re a wonderful writer Hillary, so what do you think?

Hillary: Aw, thanks Robbie :-) Both Inception and The King’s Speech, obviously great screenplays. It’s tricky to compare the two, because they’re so different. Inception is so very plot-oriented, The King’s Speech is all about character.

Of the two, I definitely have a stronger emotional attachment to The King’s Speech. I loved how it was about so many things without being heavy-handed in one direction or another.

The win will definitely go to The King’s Speech, but truly, if Speech and Inception hadn’t released the same year, the award would go to Chris Nolan for Incpetion.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published 

Hillary: Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) has this in the bag. Though I have to say, while the writing was classic Sorkin brilliance most of the time, I found the opening sequence to be a little too “Hey look at me, see how clever my writing is,” and made it difficult to really get into the film at first. If you’re writing is stopping the reader/viewer/partaker of media from becoming involved in the piece as a whole, it’s time to edit.

There’s my Social Network rant.

In my perfect, happy world, I would honestly give the award to the Cohen siblings for True Grit. I loved the dialogue; it was wordy when it needed to be and spare when necessary. But that’s just me.

Back to you, Robbie!

Robbie: You make a great point about the cleverness of Aaron Sorkin, but that’s what I adore about his writing. I think he deserves the trophy. The Cohen brothers based their movie more on the book than the original John Wayne movie and I believe the book is where they got the style of writing from. So, although True Grit’s wording is interesting, I found The Social Network to be more interesting.

Hillary: I can honor that!

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year

Robbie: Toy Story 3 should and will win! My son liked How To Train Your Dragon much more, but the voters are all adults who will award not just this movie but the dynasty of great animation movies that is Toy Story 1,2 and 3.

Hillary: Totally agree. It’s kind of like the Best Picture win for Return of the King, except with Fisher Price toys. Loved HTTYD, though. Note: just looking at this picture makes me teary!

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year

Hillary: I’m going with Incendies, from Canada, but this is always a tricky one to predict. I haven’t seen any of the films, but I’ll definitely catch most of them after they release to DVD.

Dark horse: Suzanne Bier’s In a Better World, mainly because the Academy loves Suzanne Bier. (She directed 2006’s After the Wedding, which showed the softer side of Mads Mikkelsen).

Robbie – have you seen any of the nominees?

Robbie: Nope. But every time I Netflix a foreign movie, I base it on the last year’s nominees. So eventually I’ll see them all. For this category, I vote randomly. Incendies sounds good.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Robbie: I hope Roger Deakins will win for True Grit. He’s been nominated for this award 9 times for films like Fargo and The Shawshank Redemption but he’s never won. True Grit was not my favorite movie this year, but the camera work is excellent and makes you feel as if you are truly in the old west. I love the underdog and for someone to be nominated 9 times and not win, well, that’s sad. I’m hoping number 10 will be a charm.

Hillary: This is another tricky one. Inception won the ASC award, but there are a lot of people who want to see Roger Deakins win. While I think giving him the award is not unlike Martin Scorcese’s Oscar for The Departed, I hope he wins. If he doesn’t, the Oscar will be going home with Wally Pfister for Inception.

Best Achievement in Editing

Hillary: The Social Network won the Eddie Award (how cute is that!), which is the Editor’s Guild award. Though technically Alice in Wonderland won an award as well, the Oscar will go to The Social Network.

My Preference: Well, my heart is with The King. The thing that worries me is that, traditionally, the film that wins Best Editing usually wins Best Pic…

Robbie: My heart, too, is with The King’s Speech. However, I have to tell you I was shocked that Inception was not included in this category. I felt the editing in that movie kept the suspense taut and the action moving. My personal Robbie Award for Best Editing – Inception!

Hillary: Yeah, Inception’s lack of a nom here was strange. Christopher Nolan won a special award at the Eddies, but I’m not sure it makes up for the slight.

Best Achievement in Makeup

Robbie: I haven’t seen any of these movies, but I checked out the character’s make up online from each one. Barney’s Version is aging make up. The Way Back is war time battle make up and The Wolfman is monster make up. My vote is for The Wolfman because they transformed Benicio del Torro from a beautiful man to a hairy creature. That’s craft!

Hillary: I agree! Though I do think Benicio del Toro is kinda funny looking. ..

Robbie: Then I’ll take the funny looking one.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Hillary: Both Alice in Wonderland and The King’s Speech took home Costume Designers Guild Awards, but Colleen Atwood (Alice won fairly recently for both Memoirs of a Geisha and Chicago. Jenny Beavan, on the other hand, hasn’t won since A Room With a View, though she’s costumed films such as Ever After, Possession, Sherlock Holmes, and Sense and Sensibility, all films I really like and thought were very strong costume-wise.

So I’m going with Jenny.

Robbie: Absolutely. The King’s Speech costumes were on the money.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Robbie: “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3 is my pick. The songs from 127 Hours, Country Strong and Tangled are all slow beautiful ballads, but Randy Newman’s “We Belong Together” is fun, cheerful and perfectly fits the friendship theme in Toy Story 3.

Hillary: Agreed! Throw in the Toy Story 3 “aww” factor (up there with Natalie’s baby bump), and it’s definitely Randy Newman for the win :-)

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Hillary: Again, it’s between The Social Network and The King’s Speech. Again, it’s between the hip factor and the conservative but nice.

However, I think the fact that the Academy is…how to put it…aging…the fact that Alexandre Desplat’s score is truly lovely, and the fact that he’s been nominated four times – I’m going with Alex, despite the fact that he has a strange looking upper lip.

Which score did you prefer, Robbie?

Robbie: I disagree with you on this one, Hillary. Although the scores from The Social Network and The King’s Speech were wonderful, the score from Inception was brilliant. It probably won’t win but it should. I think if not Inception’s score, the score from The King’s Speech will win.

Hillary: Interesting choice!

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Robbie: Inception. The sound is dreamy. Yes, that was an intentional pun.

Hillary: Well, if there’s going to be a pun, it may as well be intentional…

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

Hillary: Inception. Because it’s cool and techy.

Robbie: Much better than cold and tacky.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Robbie: The Visual Effects team of Inception should and will win, hands down. The dream scenes with all the paradoxical architecture are absolutely outstanding. A house has a flood within it, a street of buildings collapse slowly and a staircase appears to never end. These are just three of the amazing visual effects this movie has to offer.

Hillary: I’m going to disagree here. My prediction is a win for Iron Man; Academy voters have historically been shown to be easily swayed by men in metal suits.

Just kidding. Starting to get loopy here. If there wasn’t a pun above, it probably wouldn’t have happened. The award will go to Inception.

Robbie: Oh, Hillary-san, you funny when loopy.

Best Achievement in Art Direction

Hillary: This one is tricky too. Alice in Wonderland is favored by many to win, but it didn’t win an Art Director’s Guild award.

But it was big and splash and had Johnny Depp in it.

But The King’s Speech – which did win an ADG award, was really lovely.

Difficult to say. At this point…erg. Will it go to Alice because Alice isn’t likely to win anything else? Or to King’s Speech because voters are caught up in a wave of voting love, as they tend to do?

I’m going to argue with the other predictors and go with Speech. I may be wrong.

OR…voters could go with Inception, which also won a ADG award and looked amazing, and less like a Tim Burton movie. Truly and deeply conflicted. Did the elderly voters stay awake long enough to see Paris fold over on itself? Sticking with Speech for the time being, but I’ll let you know if I change my mind.

Robbie – insight? Help?

Robbie: You bring up a great point about the “seniority” of the Academy Award members. But I am going to be idealistic and say that they saw all of the entries with an open mind. If they did, I believe it would be between Inception (I really liked that movie – can you tell?) and Alice in Wonderland. I’m going to go with my favorite, Inception.

Hillary: Thank you for your calm words of wisdom, Robbie-san.

Best Documentary, Features

Robbie: The only one I’ve seen is Exit Through the Gift Shop and I think it will win. It’s the story of graffiti artists. Doesn’t sound that interesting, but it made me care about these nocturnal lovers of graffiti art.

Hillary: I’ve heard good things about Exit, but all the buzz I’ve read about is saying Inside Job. This may be because a lot of Hollywood celebs lost a lot of money last year.

Best Documentary, Short Subjects

Hillary: Based on the subject material, I’m going for Killing in the Name. Mind you, I haven’t seen any of the shorts.

Robbie: I think I’ll choose Poster Girl although I haven’t seen any of them either. I like the irony of the film – The film’s subject was on the cover of an Army magazine and went to Iraq and then suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. I want to see this one.

Best Short Film, Animated

Robbie: The only one I’ve seen is the one that will win. Not because of me, of course. Day and Night was the short film by Pixar that was shown before Toy Story 3. I thought it was brilliant.

Hillary: I’m leaning towards The Lost Thing myself, but this tends to be a tricky category to predict.

Best Short Film, Live Action

Hillary: Ebert says Na Wewe – I say, sure!

Robbie: Ebert knows.

And finally, the Big Kahuna….

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Robbie: The King’s Speech. It has the Academy Award feel of a Best Picture. It is a great story and wonderfully told, well-acted, and the ending allows the audience to feel wonderfully. There is a slight chance for an upset with The Social Network taking the honor being a movie of our times, completely relevant to what is going on in our technological world. But most of the voters are older, so I’m going to go with The King’s Speech.

Hillary: I agree, for the same reasons. While I think the fact that it has that Best Pic Material sheen seemed to it hurt it earlier on, The Social Network experienced the same backlash that Up in the Air did last year to a certain extent.

That being said, The King’s Speech is a wonderful story with characters that really resonate; the film’s success is an illustration of the way audiences respond to films with well-written characters.

Robbie: Lovely to banter with you Hillary! Here’s to the Oscars!

Hillary: And speaking of the ceremony - what will you be wearing?

Robbie: After weeks of consider all my options, I have narrowed what I will wear down to two lovely gowns. Both are modeled here by Penelope Cruz, an actress with many similarities to me.


Hillary: Both lovely choice - so sweet of Penelope to model them for you! I always hear such good things about her. I had trouble deciding myself -

Elie Saab, from the Spring 2011 collection.

This is from Carolina Herrera's Fall 2011 collection; you can see it move here. The skirt is, like, alive. But I'd probably want to stick a giant sparkly pin on the waistband, so I'm not to be trusted with fashion.

So there you have it, folks! The Oscars, the awards, and the clothes - be sure to check in on Twitter on Sunday during the awards. Barring a snowstorm in Flagstaff (so lame, I know), I'll be live-tweeting through the ceremony.

I mean, live micro-blogging. I forget sometimes that I forget I don't use the word "tweet" unless actual birds are involved.

And be sure to catch posts on Robbie's blog!

Robbie Iobst is a movie aficionado with a love for the Academy Awards. She also is a writer living in Centennial, CO with her husband John, son Noah and puggle Scooby. Check out Robbie’s world here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lemon Tartlets in a Small Kitchen

Isn't it pretty? I used the recipe (both the filling and the crust) from the Smitten Kitchen recipe.  With...well...subtle changes.

I decreased the butter in the filling by one tablespoon, mainly because I had one stick short of a tablespoon in the fridge and decided that would have to be enough (don't think that I'm stingy on butter.  I'm not.  This recipe is not short of butter!).

Also, I don't exactly quite have a food processor.  I have a food processing attachment that goes with our immersion blender, which works great, but only ever holds about a cup or so of anything.  So I processed in smaller portions, mixed, processed some more, at least with the filling.  I did the crust by hand.  I realized that my pastry cutter (among many other things) is in storage, and cutting the butter in with knives wasn't floating my boat, so I rubbed the butter in with my (clean) fingers.  Mary Englebreit got me onto that, and sometimes it's quite handy.

Discovered (belatedly) that it would have been easier to simply press the chilled dough into the tartlet pans, rather than try to roll it out using my can of Baker's Joy.  I was afraid of overworking the dough, but as a result of not whaling on it, the crust was thicker than I intended.

But it tasted good.

The tartlet shells did shrink up just the tiniest but, but it actually made it easier to remove from the pan.

As for the lemon filling, it set up without any problems.  However, I actually think I'll use a regular lemon next time with the zest of a second lemon (as opposed to one Meyer Lemon).  Or maybe one Meyer Lemon and the zest of a regular lemon.

Anyway, not as sit up, hold the phone lemony as I wanted it to  be, so I'll tweak that for next time.  And don't get me wrong - there's definitely going to be a next time!

Cooking in a tiny hotel kitchen-let is not for the faint of heart (or specifically for the faint of heart, the kind who order take out all the time.  It can go either way).  With two burners (and one saucepan), it really forces me to streamline the prep process for anything I'm making.  But its been a good exercise in using things creatively.  Rather than sauté veggies every time, I may roast them in the mini-convection oven (which has proved its worth, btw) so I can use that second burner for something else.  If I'm making a brown-butter sage sauce, I skip the browning and melt the butter with the sage in the microwave.  Is it purist cooking? No, but it works.

Though sometimes, it's easier to order Thai.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Out and About in Tennessee

We had a wonderful weekend in Nashville last week.  Far and away, the highlight was the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art. From the architecture to the gardens, to the sculptures to the Fabergé collection, it was absolutely worth the drive.

My favorite, the Glass Bridge by Siah Armajani, was created with the memory of the bridge designed to span the Grand Canal in Venice, during the heyday of Murano's glass industry. The original collapsed, but this one stands surrounded by oak trees.

This is bamboo in the forest near the Japanese gardens.  Almost makes me want a bamboo forest of my own.

Except I don't, because bamboo is like a tattoo for your yard.  Once it's there, it's not budging.

We also really loved the spider-web patterns formed in the melting ice over the ponds.  At some point, someone must have thrown rocks in, breaking the ice.  As it melted, it left the sheerest traces of patterned ice.

 Moments later, we literally watched as the wind blew over the surface.  When we returned 40 minutes later, most of the patterns were gone.  I shot these two photos with my point-and-shoot; I'm really pleased with how the exposure turned out, since it was entirely guesswork on my part (LCD screens not being wildly reliable).

We'll actually be going back to Nashville to meet up with some college friends of mine.  Since we weren't able to visit every part of the grounds (it's quite extensive), I'm not-so-secretly hoping to go back.

And when we return for a brief time to Memphis in June (most likely; we don't have solid dates yet), I'm hoping for another weekend Nashville trip.

In less sophisticated entertainment, we finally got to see the Peabody Ducks!

There they were! Swimming around and around in the fountain in the center of the lobby.  And after swimming, sometimes one would hop up on the ledge to get a look around...

...and preen.

Which makes sense, because it's not an insignificant audience.  We arrived twenty minutes ahead of the 5pm march out, and the place was packed!  We were able to get a spot on the mezzanine.  This was good, since we got a nice overhead view, but bad, because the flowers happened to block quite a lot of the exit.

Like, pretty much all of it.

After a while, the Duck Master (I'm totally not making this up) starts to prep the area by shoving away small children and preparing the red carpet.

Not an easy task.

After a rousing retelling of the hotel's origins - and how the ducks came to reside inside - the music played, the ducks swam more frantically, and the Duck Master called up!

And as far as I can tell, each duck jumped up.  But it's hard to say, because the flowers were in the way.

Then the Duck Master and the Honorary Duck Master (the elderly lady in the chair on the left, celebrating her 85th birthday, bless her) proceeded to walk the ducks down the red carpet.

At least that's my guess.  It's hard to see ducks when there are two adults walking behind them.  But they waddled (the ducks, not the adults) right into the elevator.

It was an excellent time.  As was dinner at Bhan Thai, which had one of the best Pad Thais I've had.  And very nice people, since I left my navy blue cardigan (the one I wear almost three times a week) and they not only found it but folded it nicely until we picked it up later.

We head back to the West coast on the 26th.  We both miss being near friends, family, and familiarity terribly.  But until then - we're still cramming in as much sight-seeing (and eating) as possible.  We'll meet Danny's cousin and great aunt at the Memphis Zoo tomorrow; Sunday, it's a whirlwind trip to Nashville.

And then...Washington!

Can't wait!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Spring Movies!

I know I'm writing a lot about TV and movies.  But if you were living in an essentially windowless hotel room, you would too.

Trust me.

So. We're about to get to the end of the January to February film Dead Zone, where the Films No One Expects to Do Well are typically dumped.  At best, it's B-Movie land, at worst...films like No Strings Attached and Season of the Witch.

After Valentine's Day, things start to look up.  Now, usually around this time of year, at least one studio releases a date-movie for V-Day (last year it was named "Valentine's Day," just to clear up any confusion).  This year?  The closest thing to a romantic comedy is the Adam Sandler pic Just Go With It, which is as much like a romantic comedy as, say, a Kia Soul and a Bugatti Veyron.  Sure, they're both cars...but there's a kind of palpable difference between them.

So.  That said, here's what else the weeks and months ahead have to offer.

Unknown - 2/18

Based on the casting alone, I'm interested.  Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones, and Frank Langella are all people who are interesting to watch on screen.  I like a good cerebral thriller - the concept looks solid if the somewhat untested writers and director can pull it off.

The Adjustment Bureau - 3/4

I've been looking forward to this movie since before it was bumped from a September to a March release.  Again, great cast.  It's based off of a short story, if I remember right, so here's hoping to translates well to a feature film.

Jane Eyre - 3/11

According to this blog, there are two kinds of people - Wuthering Heights people and Jane Eyre people.  Well, I'm solidly in the Jane Eyre camp (I even enjoyed this recent YA adaptation).  I had my doubts when Mia Wasikowska was cast as Jane, but a mousy dye-job and lots of furrowed eyebrows shows that she can be librarian-ish enough to be the title character.  No matter - it has the Judy Dench seal of approval, which will have to be enough for everyone else.

Red Riding Hood - 3/11

Two girl movies releasing the same weekend?  This is Catherine Hardwicke's first film since Twilight; Little Red Riding Hood reimagined as a werewolf tale.  I like a good dark, gothic romance, so I'm excited about this.  From the trailer, it looks as though this film got the budget Twilight ought to have had, but oh well.  Cast members include Billy Burke and Virginia Madsen; Julie Christie as the grandmother is a classy touch.

Hanna - 4/8

Another movie with an unusual concept (one I wouldn't have expected director Joe Write to helm, at least) and a strong cast.  I'll be curious to see the reviews for this, but until then, it's on my to-watch list.  Oh, and with the red hair - does Cate Blanchett remind anyone else or Nina Sharp?

What I'm waiting to hear more about - Arthur, with Russell Brand, Hellen Mirren, and Jennifer Garner.  I love two out of the three, but with no trailer released yet, I'm wondering how concrete the April release is.  Source Code could be good, or it could be Vantage Point meets Groundhog's Day. Rango just looks weird to me.  Like Water for Elephants could be good, but given the source material (Sara Gruen's bestselling novel and former NaNoWriMo project of the same title) and the stars (Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz), the April release date could mean the studio has something large and not quite cohesive on their hands (a la Robin Hood). Sucker Punch has a lot of fanboy (and girl) love, but I'm not sold on the concept yet.

So we'll see. Even if nothing pans out, there's a lot come May that looks like fun...

...but more about that later.

Odds and Ends

When I put together the Things to Watch on Netflix, I had on my list (but somehow neglected to write about)...

The winner of 2009's Best Foreign Film, it only played at one film festival.  That was enough, though, to get it onto the Oscar ballots.  

Like the best of films, it's both funny and tragic.  Like Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown, it explores death and burial, this time within the context of Japanese culture.  When he is let go from the orchestra - after purchasing a very expensive cello, musician Daigo returns to his hometown where he answers a job ad to make ends meet.  The job is to be an assistant to the town's nakanshi, who prepares the dead for burial (there's a sequence involving the filming of an instructional DVD that's completely hilarious).  Social taboos regarding the handling of the dead, however, threaten Daigo's marriage even as he finds in the nakanshi, Ikuei, the father figure he never had.

2.) We're headed to Nashville this weekend! It's out little Danny's Birthday / Valentine's getaway; we're excited.  It'll only be a short trip, but it'll be fun to get out of town.  The biggest piece of the itinerary is a trip to the REI store in Brentwood; Danny's North Face jacket, after 13 years of honorable service, is going to be ...upgraded.

Not quite replaced.  Just upgraded.  And there aren't a lot of REI stores in the area.

Go figure.

3.) I'll admit, we skipped the Super Bowl.  Neither of us were much interested in the game, and with this newfangled thing they call the "internet," commercial watching has never been easier.  Our favorite?  It is (not surprisingly, the Audi Ad.

I love it all - the Kenny G, the Russian Wolfhounds (gorgeous dogs, actually - I totally want one), the spleen's just glorious.

BUT, you've got to see the BMW commercial too.  Watch it!  The Spartanburg factory?  That's where we were last summer.  Remember the Big Giant Robots I kept going on about?  THOSE ARE THE ROBOTS!!!


4.) The one downside to missing the Super Bowl was that I missed the advertising blitzkrieg revealing the Glee episode afterwards.

I was probably the only American with a TV who didn't know.  But hey, there's hulu.  And it was a good episode.  The season's struggled with consistency; the writing at times just not as sharp and perfect as we know it can be.  This episode?  Sue's taking raccoon hormones?  Of course she is.  And now I totally want to watch 13 Going on 30, if only for the Thriller sequence.  And Katie Couric at the end?  Wow.  So great.

5.) Danny's birthday chocolate is, like, 18 inches away from me, and that's too close.

6.) There's a geeky guy with dark, curly hair in The Social Network in one of the Harvard scenes, and I've totally seen him in something, but for the life of me (and even with the help of I can't figure out where I've seen him.  If you have insight, share please.

7.) Naptime approacheth.

8.) I think I'm going to make the Pecan Pie Muffins again soon...

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Social Network vs. The King's Speech: Some Thoughts

They're two well-made, well-written, well-acted films.  And if you haven't been paying attention, they're the films said to be the top contenders for the Best Picture Oscar on February 27th.

The Social Network released in October when we were too busy with life to make it out to the theater.  We saw The King's Speech on Christmas Day with both of our families.

It's funny, because they're two extraordinarily different films.  The King's Speech has the feel of a comforting British Melodrama in the style of Merchant and Ivory; told in a linear fashion, cast with beloved English actors.

The Social Network is told in flashbacks from multiple perspectives.  The dialogue is rapid-fire, the actors young up-and-comers and former boy-band members.  For instance, Rooney Mara, who plays the fictional girl who inadvertently instigated Facebook, will appear as computer hacker Lisbeth Salander in the American film adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (and if you're familiar with the material, you know that calling Lisbeth a "computer hacker" doesn't even begin to cover it).  British Actor Andrew Garfield, who plays Mark Zuckerberg's former friend, will star as Peter Parker in the Spiderman reboot releasing next Summer (I will be very, very surprised if Garfield, who's also appeared in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Never Let Me Go, and Doctor Who, doesn't become a Big Deal).  There's also Justin Timberlake, who pleasantly surprised the critics by not being terrible.

The world of The Social Network is populated with anti-heroes and people we're overall indifferent to.  Zuckerberg crashes the Harvard servers with a site that allows visitors to compare female students to each other on the basis of their online Harvard Face Book photos.  Twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (you just can't make this stuff up), who fulfill every child-of-privilege cliché available - they're tall, blond, and row crew - approach Zuckerberg to help them with their "Harvard Connect" website.

Zuckerberg agrees, takes the nugget of their concept - a Harvard-only social networking site - and builds "The Facebook."  In his mind, he's done nothing wrong at all; after all, he didn't use any of their programming code.  He points out later that a guy who makes a nice chair doesn't own owe money to everyone else who built a chair. In truth, intellectual property has become increasingly murky ground with the commonality of the internet.

The money for the servers is fronted by Zuckerberg's best and only friend, Eduardo Saverin.  As the popularity of The Facebook grows - and spreads to colleges across the country, two things happen.  First, it enrages the twins, who feel it was their idea and, as gentlemen, that such a thing should not have happened.  Secondly, it garners the attention of Napster founder Sean Parker, played by Justin Timberlake.  The twins try to go through school channels to stop Zuckerberg and are dismissed out of hand.

Zuckerberg shrugs them off, chalking it up to angst over not getting their way, pointing out that their idea wasn't nearly as good as his.

Three-hundred years ago, they would have challenged him to a duel.  It probably wouldn't have worked then, either.  That Zuckerberg is much, much smarter than Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss is obvious.  Not that they're dull, but Zuckerberg is of genius-level intelligence when it comes to the logical analysis of computer programming and human nature.  He could see the nugget of their idea and envision what it had the potential to be; Roger Ebert compared him to chess prodigy Bobby Fisher in this respect.

This does not translate to interpersonal skills; Zuckerberg comes across as having a touch of Asperger's.  Social cues and niceties don't register for him.  Is it because of Asperger's or simply because social niceties don't interest him intellectually?  It's difficult to say.  You can see his boredom when it comes to dealing with ordinary people.  The irony of the film is that the creator of the social networking phenomenon that Facebook became was, in many ways, isolated by his own intelligence.

Zuckerberg managed to isolate himself from his best friend, Saverin, in a series of unfortunate events.  Sean Parker, for not-wholly altruistic reasons, who helped Zuckerberg's The Facebook go global.  He advised dropping the "the," a relocation to the heart of Silicon Valley, lined up big-money investors, and helped Facebook to cross the pond.  Meanwhile, Zuckerberg and Saverin argued about advertising.  Zuckerberg was reluctant, and Parker agreed - while Facebook grew and took hold, maintaining its cool factor was the number one priority.  In fact, the cool factor was probably Parker's most important contribution, and I think Zuckerberg intuitively knew it.

Parker also tried to introduce Zuckerberg to his partying, VIP lifestyle.  But Zuckerberg?  Not interested.  He's all about the coding, all about work.  It's as if he spent his young life searching for a project to let his mind really, truly work, and when he's found it, that's all he needs.

There are lawsuits.  The Winklevoss twins have not given up.  Saverin is forced out of his CFO position largely by Parker, and by no apparent reason other than he can.  Zuckerberg answers the attorney's questions for the depositions, but only because he must.  He'd rather be coding, and the legal proceedings are a waste of his time.  The film circles back around to Erica (Rooney Mara's character) in a very Rosebud, Citizen Kane kind of way.

Text at the end tells us what became of the legal proceedings.  But what does it all mean, in the larger scope of things? We don't yet know how the Mark Zuckerberg story plays out; only this 2003-2011 window.  It is recent history, without the benefit of contextual hindsight.

The King's Speech, in so many ways, couldn't be more different.  Interpersonal relationships take center stage.  We are given the man - and the character - of Bertie, the second son of an elderly king.  The eldest son, Edward, inherited the impressive cheekbones and regal stature, but he's delighted to play footman to a married American socialite.

Bertie, as played by Colin Firth, is a man who would prefer to live in the shadows.  He's had a stammer since childhood, has been the subject of ridicule and disappointment his entire life.  He's reminded of how he doesn't measure up to the royal expectations at every turn.  He loves his wife; she loves him.  They have two young daughters.

It is a difficult thing for a wife to try to help a husband whose spirit has been crushed.  The pedigreed speech therapists only frustrate and shame Bertie more.  Elizabeth, played by a very dialed-down Helena Bonham Carter, seeks out a progressive speech therapist from Australia.  The man is Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, who looks very different when he's not dressed as a pirate.  Lionel agrees to take on Bertie, but only if he meets with him at his own offices, and not at the castle.

From there we have the rest of the movie - a wife doing what she can to give her husband his dignity back, a therapist who needs to earn his patient's trust, friendship between men in two very different stations in life...but maybe aren't so very different.

The politics of the time add drama.  King George V dies; Edward abdicates the throne soon after in favor of marrying the  now-divorced Wallis Simpson.  Bertie inherits the throne - as well as the expectation to be a well-spoken King in the face of troubles on the continent.

It's a lovely film about marriage, about masculinity, about responsibility, about friendship.  It's a character film about character.

So far, The King's Speech has walked away with guild awards from the Producer's Guild, Screen Actor's guild, and Director's Guild.  Tom Hooper won the Best Director DGA award, which essentially guarantees him the Best Director statuette on Oscar night.  Critics have pointed out the historical inaccuracies, but it's a shame to let the truth get in the way of a good story - it wasn't meant to be a documentary, after all.

My favorite of the two? Clearly The King's Speech.  I think it will best The Social Network at the Oscars as well.  There's some speculation that True Grit could edge them both out...but I don't think so.

We want to believe in marriage, in friendship.  We want to believe that the good guys win.  Those are the stories that feed our souls.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Things to Watch on Netflix

We're all about Netflix Instant Watch these days.  With DVD rental being what it is (essentially obsolete), and the fact that mail is tricky when you live in a hotel, we're glad that watching things online has been an option.  And, thankfully, there have been some pretty great things to catch up on.

Doctor Who

The Premise: The Doctor, a 900-year-old Time Lord, travels through time and space to keep universal peace.  He is joined by an assistant; there are adventures.  The show will appeal to viewers ages 13+, particularly ones who enjoy shows by JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon.

My Take: I didn't think much about watching this BBC production until I found out the writers responsible for the new Masterpiece Mystery! Sherlock Holmes series were writers for Doctor Who.  It took me a few episodes to get into it, but once the plot started coming together, both Danny and I were completely hooked.

The writers are great at setting up future plot points and making sure the pay-offs work in the end.  They also have a better sense of sequencing and remembering what happened in earlier episodes than most other sequential shows.  They also are incredibly skilled at writing characters you love, even when you start out thinking this isn't going to go so well.  The Doctor's Assistant Donna in the fourth series? Incredibly annoying.  But...she grows on you.  You get to like her.

One of the trickinesses of the show is that the Doctor is 900 years old; when he is mortally wounded, he regenerates.  This means you've got a different actor playing a different facet of the same character, which is not easy to write when that character is the central character.  The writers pull it off, though.  I was really not sure when Matt Smith took over from David Tennant (to be fair, I wasn't a fan of David Tennant after Christopher Eccleston).  But by the end of the series, I really did think bow-ties had the potential to be "cool."

Unlike American television, the end of a season (or "series") is typically not left as a cliff-hanger.  So at the end of the series, you're not miserable.  I like that.

The other great thing about Doctor Who?  It's one of the few smart, witty shows that's appropriate for family viewing.  Just be aware that though there's no gore, sex, language, drugs, or Rock n' Roll, it can still be genuinely scary.  Scary, but there is always - always - a happy ending.

Top Gear (Series 9-12)

The Premise: Three white, middle-aged British men test and review high-performance sports cars, host celebrities, and perform "challenges" such as turning a Renault Minivan into a convertible (which ends in flames), going on an RV trip (which ends in flames), trying to make an inexpensive car faster with their own impressive lack of engineering skills (which makes Danny giggle).  Oh, and there's The Stig.  Some say..his favorite film of 2010 was Nanny McPhee Returns, and that he washes his hair with liquid nitrogen.  All I know is he's called The Stig.

And if you've watched the show, you know why that's funny.

My Take: This is the best kind of reality TV, because each of the hosts are fantastic characters is their own right.  Series 9-12 are available on Instant Watch.  The highlights include:

9.1: Richard Hammond reviewing his harrowing accident in the Vampire jet-car; Richard, James, and Jeremy try to resurface roads better than the city.  It goes badly.
9.3: Jeremy, Richard, and James try to buy (rather than rent) a car in Miami for $1000. It goes badly.
9.5: The Kristin Scott Thomas episode - one of my favorite "Star in a Reasonably-Price Car" segments.
10.5: The Challenge?  To find out the fastest way to cross London.  The Stig takes public transport (hilarity ensues), Richard Hammond rides a bike (sweat ensues), James May drives a Mercedes-Benz GL500, and Jeremy Clarkson attempts a powerboat down the Thames.
10.8: James Blunt in the Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car - one of my other favorite SIARPC bits.
10.10: The David Tennant episode! I've never seen anyone handle Jeremy Clarkson so gracefully.
11.1: Police cars are built. It doesn't end well.
11.6: Germany vs. Britain (a personal favorite).
12.1: Jeremy, Richard, and James attempt to drive semi-trucks (aka "lorries").
12.6: The Communist Car episode.  One of my very favorites. Also includes extensive testing of the Ford Fiesta.

Not available on Instant Watch but worth mentioning:

8.1: The Renault Espace Convertible Challenge.  You can watch it here.

And, last but not least, episode 13.6, the Mallorca Time Trial Rally, the first part of which can be viewed below.

Or, as I like to refer to the episode, "The Blond, the Spaniard, and the Midget."

It's glorious.

Also available for your viewing pleasure:

Tell No One

On of the best thrillers I've ever seen.  It shares similarities to The Fugitive, but the plot is even more twisty and mind-blowing.  In French with English Subtitles.  If you're not a foreign film watcher, this is one to watch anyway.  The star, François Cluzet, is reminiscent of a dialed-down Dustin Hoffman.  Actor François Berléand (The Choir, The Transporter), also plays a key character, and Kristin Scott Thomas shows off her French.

Bottle Shock

My favorite wine movie.  Stars Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Chris Pine.  You may not have thought that a movie about wine could be suspenseful, but this one will surprise you.  Centered around the wine-tasting competition in 1977, you may consider moving to wine country after viewing.

Or France.  It's a toss-up.


Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart, Jeremy Northam, Jennifer Ehle, a literary mystery and romance based on the A.S. Byatt novel.  It may not measure up to the novel's pedigree, but the film is well-written and acted.  One of my new favorite films.

The September Issue

Basically, it's The Devil Wears Prada: The Documentary.  Though in reality, Anna Wintour is surprisingly less demonic than she's made out to be - watch how she interacts with her daughter.  No joke, she's tough, but if she were a man, I have a hunch she'd be revered for notoriety rather than snickered at.  The woman knows her stuff, there's no denying it.


American employee has to go to India to train the phone team who's replaced his stateside department.  It's a classic fish out of water scenario, but this romantic comedy is surprisingly sweet and occasionally insightful when it comes to analyzing cultures.

There are other great finds, but I'm running out of steam.  What are you watching?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Travels: Part IV - Your Turn Signal, Your Friend

I let Danny take the car to work this morning.  We may or may not get more snow/ice/questionable precipitation, and I didn't feel like dealing with Memphis drivers in weather again.

There are days when I think God moved us to Memphis so that when we moved to Washington, the Washington drivers wouldn't seem so bad.  Because as erratic as Washington Drivers are, Memphis drivers are a whole other brand of nuts.

Why? Well...

1.) Memphis drivers don't like to signal.  I believe the thingy to the left of the steering wheel is colloquially referred to around here as a "sissy stick."

2.) Memphis drivers don't like to stay in their own lanes. Lanes, oftentimes, are merely suggestions. (Mind you, this can apply for both white and yellow lines from time to time).

3.) Memphis drivers don't like to check their mirrors or look over their shoulder before changing lanes.  Often this is lanes, multiple, because hopping over two-three lanes gives them great joy.

4.) Especially at 70-90+ miles per hour.

5.) Also disconcerting, Memphis drivers get lonely.  This is why they like to drive in blind spots.  Now, it's a driving phenomenon that when one driver passes another, he'll unconsciously match the speed to mimic the car he's passing before accelerating past.  Memphis drivers just happen to be more prone to this.  Which is why it's reeeeally important around here to check before shifting lanes, because more often than not, there's someone right there, just hanging,

6.) Even if it's snowing.

7.) Or icy.

8.) Which is why you can get pretty twitchy on the roads.


9.) Memphis drivers tend to view using headlights as optional in the rain or snow.  Or, not infrequently, at night.

10.) The slow lanes are actually in the middle of the freeway, rather than the right. This makes merging a blast.


11.) We watched as a police officer spent five minute trying to parallel park his Dodge Charger downtown.  

12.) Danny stopped laughing eventually.