Monthly archives: October 2006
Tense movies feel more tense to me now. I figure it's my kids doing it to me, making the stakes of tragedy higher and more personal. That's just short of a cliche - my wife and I had a memorable (for us) disagreement years ago with my sister-in-law over Life Is Beautiful, which she said she could not enjoy because she was a parent. At the time, we felt we were being patronized in that "you don't understand, but you will" way - like we were being told we couldn't feel or didn't have fear. It wasn't that movies didn't get to me back then - Shadowlands, just to pick one example out of many, still haunts me in some ways, nearly a decade after I saw it, and I don't know if that film affected that many people so much. But I squirm in my seat a lot now when certain peoples' lives are at stake in movies. So perhaps, in the end, my sister-in-law was right. I guess I need to see Life Is Beautiful to have a better idea.
I also think I have been writing longer paragraphs since my kids were born, but that's something to be examined another day. (In all seriousness, I bet Ken Arneson has the mind to explain it.)
In any case, United 93 isn't proving to be such an aberration for me now. Babel nearly drove me straight to a bar even though I saw it at 10 a.m. on a weekday, Fur had me racing home to hug my family on a Friday evening, and even Cars ... no, just kidding, Cars was fun. But now, you can add Little Children to the list. It's a great title for a film that is so humbling - so many of us, no matter our age or status, are all so young and vulnerable. It's a film that really made me feel nervous for its very real characters, and you know, that's rough when you live in as much fear as I do of what you could lose.
Unlike Babel, which practically suffocates almost tortures, with its grimness, Little Children lets you breathe just enough to keep you hopeful in its midst. Unlike Babel, events in Little Children don't seem quite so contrived - they are the product of human frailties rather than a stringing together of misfortunes around the world.
The third act of Little Children, if I can go all Syd Field for a moment, is structured about as well as you can dream of. In my writing, third acts were often my downfall - I feel I could set up situations but struggled to bring them home. I kept expecting that my characters would take me there naturally, but they just let me down. (Yeah, I know, blame them.) But Little Children has every element converge tautly and seamlessly - conventional thrillers have nothing on this picture. The movie certifies longtime actor Todd Field, who previously helmed In the Bedroom, as an absolute powerhouse director. (Field shared screenplay credit with Tom Perrotta, who wrote both the novels that Little Children and Election were based on. I didn't read those, but my wife says the Little Children movie was better than the book.)
And by the way, wait 'til you see what Kelly Leak's been up to. I don't know that there's anything that would tickle me more at the Oscars than the sight of Jackie Earle Haley getting his name read among Best Supporting Actor candidates. It's a longshot pragmatically, but he has to be considered.
So now my top three is a top four. I'm a little torn about what to put on top still. I can pick tiny things wrong with Little Children, insignificant in the grand scheme of things (and I forgive it for trying to sell me on the idea that Kate Winslet isn't beautiful), but which nevertheless make me want to keep The Last King of Scotland up top. (None of the eight critics charted in Entertainment Weekly give Last King higher than a B+, so again, I need someone to point out to me what the movie's lacking.) But Little Children may stick with me longer as time passes.
For now, it's Last King, United 93 and Little Children in my top three, Little Miss Sunshine fourth, and a spot open for a No. 5. I can imagine seeing two movies before the nomination period is over that I like better than Sunshine, but I have trouble believing the first three will fall out.
I do have several more to see, though. (Next up: a screening of Stranger Than Fiction on Tuesday.) I've had my new job at Variety for a month now, and I have to tell you, it's been something. The people I work with really, really know their stuff - so you really have to bring your A game every day. Those aspirations, those imperatives, combined with a love of movies that had been laid dormant for the past four years, are why I feel like Augustus Gloop in the Chocolate Factory. There's this fervor in me now to taste everything, to stuff myself on all that might be relevant. Thank goodness Oscar season doesn't mix with baseball season, or I might go down the chute.
The Last King of Scotland might be the best movie I've seen this year. I keep thinking about this picture, with a gale-force Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, alongside utterly convicing, multidimensional James McAvoy, and can't find anything wrong with it. Add in the challenge of essentially being the first picture to film in Uganda in forever, with no filmmaking infrastructure to rely on, and it's just an incredibly impressive piece of work.
The film takes me back to The Year of Living Dangerously, one of my all-time favorites. I'll take Dangerously over Last King, but that was then, and this is now. Though there are many more movies for me to see this Oscar season, right now Last King and United 93 are vying for the top of my list, with Little Miss Sunshine third.
What are your favorite movies of 2006 so far?
The Office Blogs
Here's Jenna's explanation of why Pam is not (yet) with Jim:
On another note - my brother-in-law emailed me last night and asked "Why is Pam not with Jim!?" I've been asked this question a lot. Here is how it breaks down:
1. On Casino Night (in May) Jim tells Pam he is in love with her and wants to be more than friends. She says, "I can't." Later, Jim kisses Pam. She responds but then pulls away. Jim says, "So you're really going to marry him?" And Pam nods "Yes." Jim says "Okay" and leaves.
2. Jim transfers to Stamford This is in May. We know he transfers because in his conversation with Jan on Casino Night she asks him if he's told anyone about the fact that he's accepted the new job.
3. Pam reveals that she called off her wedding 6 days before the wedding. Her wedding date was June 10th. So, Jim has been in Stamford for about one month* at this point. They haven't been speaking as Jim made it clear he cannot be "just friends". (I think it would be pretty awkward to assume they've been in contact over this time.)
People want to know why she hasn't called Jim all this time but you have to look at it realistically she just got out of a 10 year relationship with her high school sweetheart. When she called off the wedding, Jim had already been living in Stamford. She has no idea what he is doing there. Maybe he has a girlfriend but even if he doesn't, what are they going to do? Have a long distance romance? I'm sure she's thought of it but it's awkward. She's not the type of person who takes a lot of initiative.
And now, it's been 6 months since she called off the wedding. She's never lived on her own. She's never had the chance to figure out who she is without a man in her life. She went on a date because Kelly set her up. I think we all know that Kelly can be pretty persuasive. She had probably been bugging Pam for a month and Pam finally broke down. But, she hasn't dated since. She's just trying to figure things out.
I hope that helps!
*I used to have this say 2 months but I realized I did my math wrong.
Keyboard, Oh Lord, Why Don't We?
Wayne Brady has been cast to play the brother of Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) on How I Met Your Mother, reports Josef Adalian of Variety:
Harris is white. Brady isn't. So it's safe to assume one of the brothers is adopted, right?
"I feel like the less we say about it, the funnier it will be," said "Mother" exec producer and co-creator Carter Bays. "We wanted to present a different kind of family. (And) we like that 'What the hell?' factor."
Studio 60 on the Kauffman Stadium Mound
This is how I imagine a typical scene would go.
EXT. KAUFFMAN STADIUM -- NIGHT
THE MANAGER, LEO, TROTS OUT TO THE MOUND TO TALK TO BELEAGURED PITCHER, DANNY (THERE'S ALWAYS A DANNY). THE BASES ARE LOADED. THE CROWD IS GOING NUTS. IT'S GAME SEVEN OF THE WORLD SERIES.
Keep reading the rest at Levine's blog.
Some Babble on Babel
Babel is relentless. The message of this movie seems to be that the world is just a crappy place, and the best you can hope for is to hang on. It's enough to make you want to throw yourself under a truck and just get it over with, but then you realize that something good, maybe, will happen before you die.
I think the acting was superb across the board, or more precisely, the ensemble. Brad Pitt's talents get lost among the tabloid headlines, but he commits. I've enjoyed his performances since "Thelma and Louise" and especially "A River Runs Through It"; I tend to skip the schlocky stuff he does, but he rarely disappoints me. (I also appreciate that he's not trying to hide his age in Babel - he absolutely looks like a guy in his 40s, a guy who has lived.) Gael Garcia Bernal also brings his unmistakable screen charisma, and Adriana Barraza (Amelia) gives a noteworthy performance as well.
But you can't talk about Babel without highlighting Rinko Kikuchi, who gives a performance that will fill you with despair. The character absolutely breaks your heart.
The problem with Babel is that it doesn't know when to stop - and there's one scene in particular where the movie really goes off the road. There are some forgivable contrivances in Babel a la Six Degrees, but there are also some that are unforgivable. David Denby of The New Yorker was among those who thinks the film goes too far:
My friend Herbert was rude to his mother last spring, and, some time later, Mt. St. Helens erupted. And three girls I met on the Central Park carrousel were kicked out of school for smoking, and the price of silver dropped by forty thousand rupiah in Indonesia. With these seemingly trivial events from my own life, I illustrate the dramatic principle by which the Mexican-born director Alejandro González Iñárritu makes his movies. Iñárritu, who made "Amores Perros" (2000), is one of the world's most gifted filmmakers. But I had the same reaction to "Babel" that I had to his most recent movie, "21 Grams" (2003): he creates savagely beautiful and heartbreaking images; he gets fearless performances out of his actors; he edits with the sharpest razor in any computer in Hollywood; and he abuses his audience with a humorless fatalism and a piling up of calamities that borders on the ludicrous. ...
Most of the coincidences in the film aren't quite so random as Denby's lead implies, so his straw man doesn't quite stand on its own two feet. Plus, the veracity of the connections isn't, in the end, the foundation of Babel But there's no doubt that the film goes out of its way to take you down a depressing, barely redeeming path. Like Flags of Our Fathers, I have no regrets over seeing Babel and no desire to revisit it.
Early Return for Scrubs
NBC has announced that Scrubs will return to the air Nov. 30, rather than in January, airing at 9 p.m. Thursdays. Struggling 30 Rock will move in behind Scrubs, setting up an old-school comedy block kicked off by My Name Is Earl and The Office.
It's not an enviable time slot for Scrubs, opposite Grey's Anatomy and CSI, but it's doubtful NBC has expectations of knocking off those two shows.
Four on the Floor
Working at Variety full-time has compelled me to see movies at the rate I used to see them, rather than my rate as a parent (which was, you know, one in the theaters every month or two, then catching up on the rest on cable or DVD six months to a year later).
In the past several days alone, I've seen Flags of Our Fathers, Babel, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus and Running with Scissors. I might go into further detail later on some of these, but for now I'll just say that I found the first two not quite as good as the buzz that preceded them and the second two not as bad. All have merit; all have flaws - none is a hands-down winner.
Quick comments on the two that are in public release:
Something to ponder: Does "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" (I only know Johnny Cash's version) accomplish a good deal of what Flags does, in about 3 percent of the time?
I'll tell ya, I'm ready for something lighter, though. I need to get to Stranger Than Fiction as soon as possible.
Tobias To Get Head Examined?
In case you haven't heard, the people at Scrubs are at least informally talking about having characters from Arrested Development as patients - at least according to Zach Braff (via the Ausiello Report at tvguide.com).
Ausiello: What's this I hear about David Cross coming on as his Arrested Development character?
Braff: That's what I'm trying to broker. I'm a huge fan of his and so is Bill, and our idea was that he would play Tobias in an episode. Obviously, we have to get that cleared by a lot of people, like [Arrested creator] Mitch [Hurwitz] and Fox, but that was my pitch. David wants to do it.
Ausiello: Is it your goal to get the entire Arrested Development cast on Scrubs?
Braff: [Laughs] Yeah, one by one. I was such a fan.
Lawrence of What Now?
Tonight at the movies, I saw a preview for Venus that boasted starring Peter O'Toole in "the role of a lifetime."
Thank goodness O'Toole finally got a role he could sink his teeth into.
Ryan Has Issues
First of all, it's clear from Thursday's episode of The Office that a 22-minute conversation between Jim and Pam would be more interesting, entertaining and touching than most of what's on television in a given week.
Kicking the Copycat Conundrum, Continued
One of the biggest problems TV networks can have is to try to achieve success by imitating success. "The copycats never seem to be able to replace the original in a lot of genres," Brad Adgate, senior VP and director of research for Horizon Media, summed up the situation in an interview last year. "Originality does win out."
To its credit, CBS is taking advantage of its solid ratings position to try experimenting, according to Michael Schneider and Josef Adalian of Variety:
Already in the development pipeline: a 1970s period drama from Mike Kelley ("Jericho") about wife swapping and the sexual revolution; a project about the women's movement from Bruce Eric Kaplan ("Six Feet Under"); and a laffer from "Borat" scribe Ant Hines, among others.
With auds still scarfing down the net's procedural-loaded primetime diet in droves, entertainment prexy Nina Tassler said it can now afford to chase projects that wouldn't usually be deemed Eye-friendly.
"We are going to throw out the rule book," said Tassler, who admitted that she's faced an "uphill battle" convincing agents and studios to bring their edgier fare to CBS.
The efforts may fail from show to show, but that doesn't mean they aren't worth pursuing. There isn't much to be gained, financially much less creatively, from ripping off someone else's achievement.
Guns and Groceries
There is almost never, if ever, an episode of Lost that I dislike. And I liked tonight's, although I felt it finished stronger than it started.
The music of In the News, with its computer-like bells of import ringing at the end, the spinning skeleton globe, and the steady voice of unseen newscaster Christopher Glenn are about as permanent a memory of my childhood weekend mornings as "Overture, curb the lights"* and Schoolhouse Rock. It all came back to me today upon hearing the news that Glenn passed away from liver cancer Tuesday, at age 68.
Glenn not only taught me what "impeach" meant, he asked me, at age 6, whether I thought it should happen to Richard Nixon.
I didn't have an answer, but still ...
It all meant something. I imagine Glenn meant a lot to a great many people. Even though I never saw a photograph of him until today, I'll always remember him.
*Those weren't the actual words, but that was the best I could parse it at the time.
Rested, For Once
So instead of watching (or recording) Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip Monday night, I went to sleep at 9:45 p.m. Did I miss anything? Right now, I have no regrets.
Dang, The Office was funny last night. And it was packing all its usual strengths - endaring romance, and an ending that redeemed all for their sins and fears. It is just a work of art.
Pam's story of her aunt's death was clever. Ryan's topper about his cousin Mufasa was nothing short of brilliant.
I could go on and on. I just love the show.
(This deeply thought-out post is just so indicative of how evolved Screen Jam is, isn't it?)
Give Six Degrees a Chance
The show is dying in the ratings, so clearly some people are dissatisfied with it and it may be a lost cause - but I would encourage you to give ABC's Six Degrees a shot tonight. The show has gotten better each week and a nice set of character stories are brewing. If you're watching the show that precedes it, stay tuned and watch something better.
The Carrot and the Stick
The headline above refers to how Lost treats both its characters and its viewers. It entices them with hope, nourishes them even, then whaps them across the skull with reality, only to leave them coming back for more, fighting for more. It's a fairly exquisite pleasure/pain combo (heavy on the pleasure, in my opinion), and Wednesday's episode was a tremendous example.
As is usually the case with Sun-Jin stories, the flashbacks were filled with poignancy and complexity, filled with characters fighting the good vs. bad fight, outside themselves as well as within. And while the whole smashing and hauling of rocks struck me as somewhat peculiar (somehow Blazing Saddles and Take the Money and Run came to mind), the Sawyer-Kate-Jack predicament at the hands of Ben and friends kept peeling back layer upon layer. And the whole thing with the Red Sox tickled me. The fact that Lost has this much contact with the outside world, that the focus has moved to Ben's mission instead the vague Dharma Initiative, has given the show another gear.
* * *
I'm going to offer a counterpoint to Mark Donahue's review of 30 Rock. The show made me laugh more times than I can count - it has an offbeat sensibility that is working for me, that doesn't seem to be trying too hard. The environment is dry but light. Alec Baldwin, I think everyone agrees, is terrific, but I also like what Tina Fey is providing - she's a little flat, yes, but her performance is almost a metaphor - she works for me as someone barely staying on top of her responsibilities. (The genius of 30 Rock, intentional or not, is that the show within a show, The Girlie Show, can truly suck, without affecting the verisimilitude of 30 Rock.) 30 Rock is completely unpretentious and as a result, has the promise of being quite likeable.
I'll just add that I always found Tracy Morgan over the top on Saturday Night Live, so any humor he brings here is unexpected. But he did get me a couple of times with a real enthusiastic effort. That's another thing about 30 Rock: The people seem to like what they're doing, unlike Studio 60, where so many seem like they're performing under duress.
Live-Blogging Veronica Mars
I can't even fathom how it's possible, but I actually seem to have an hour in front of the computer to watch Veronica Mars live:
Right off of Sunset
A show doesn't have to be bad for me to abandon it. It just needs to have enough remarkably frustrating moments to make its redeeming qualities not worth the aggravation.
Studio 60, you can take your feckless comedy, your quizzical, antiseptic love story and your occasionally compelling but far from profound drama and go on without me. You have plenty of friends, so there's no need for tears. You're just not for me.
Grey's Anatomy reascends as the single most annoying, occasionally worthwhile show that I continue to watch. There are guilty pleasure shows, and then there are innocent pain shows. Grey's is an innocent pain.
Trimming the Monday Fat
Over the past few months, I've gotten in the habit of eating Frosted Flakes or Lucky Charms as a post-dinner snack a couple nights a week. No good can come of this, really, except that I suppose it somehow keeps me from doing something worse, like, say, eating rocket fuel.
Much the same can be said about my Monday night television watching: at least it keeps me from stealing cars. I've sat through three episodes of The Class, which is thoroughly mediocre. I was all set to dump it for good last week, when my wife happened to sit down in the living room mid-show with me and laughed, despite herself, at a couple of lines which is two more laughs than she ever gave something like Joey, for example. That probably bought the show another viewing tonight, against my better judgment.
How I Met Your Mother was a show I abandoned early last season. I truly wanted to like it, having been a fan of Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan and Neil Patrick Harris and finding I had nothing against Cobie Smulders or Josh Radnor. But I found the show pretty inane and dumped it, feeling that the material was beneath them. I never really bought Harris in the role of Barney it always felt like a put-on to me, someone forcing Harris into trying to be an upscale Kramer. Wacky neighbor and all that. But truly the worst were the voiceovers by Bob Saget at the show's opening and closing: so tedious and hackneyed, I felt that I couldn't trust the showrunning skills of anyone who thought those came close to being a good idea.
I did catch the end of the season finale this spring, and I was in a romantic mood I guess, because it spurred me to give the show another shot. For the most part, I have felt the show has many of the same problems although Saget seems to be used more sporadically. But the characters are ingratiating themselves with me a bit, the writing seems to have a tad more substance, and I am curious to see how Ted and Robin's romance plays out. Mother is still week-to-week for me, but it has better prospects than Class. (By the way, CBS is flipping the order of the two shows in its lineup, so if you're a fan of one and not the other, make sure you watch for that.)
Tonight could also be a make-or-break night for me with Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. I wouldn't call this a polarizing show, but it does seem to be the case that people are either buying into its formula or not. Studio 60 asks us to be invested in the fate of NBS' Studio 60, its creative talent and its executives. If you feel, as I do, that the people and their output are for the most part deadly dull, it's a tough sell. Each of the first three episodes of NBC's Studio 60 has had moments that have swept me into the show and made me forget about its problems, but I don't know if that's enough.
Now, some people are loving the Matt Albie-influenced writing on NBS' Studio 60, and some people are loving NBC's Studio 60 despite being unimpressed by the NBS portion. But not me. I need the NBS stuff to be credible, to be entertaining. Put it this way: I watch Lost for the character stories more than the island mystery, but if that island mystery was dull and simplistic, I'd find some other characters to get hooked on.
The big surprise on Mondays this season is that with about a tenth of the promotion that Studio 60 got from NBC, Heroes is outperforming it. Based on its positive reviews and groundswell of support, I recorded the pilot after it reran for something like the third time in its first week. By tonight, I will have three episodes backlogged to watch, but at some point I will give it its shot. I just haven't yet. In not that much time, it's possible that Heroes could become my only Monday night show, if I show just a little bit of discipline on some of the others.
Or maybe Monday will become a catch-up-on-other-things night (like stealing cars). It can happen. Having dropped Brothers and Sisters early in its second episode, having avoided ever latching onto Desperate Housewives and having found The Simpsons for the past several years to be occasionally amusing but no longer essential, Sunday already has.
Lost Season Premiere Open Chat
Don't know if anyone will see this ... anyway, you may talk about tonight's episode - I won't read comments until I've seen it. However, please do not talk about teasers for future episodes.
I haven't watched the debuts of Veronica Mars or The Nine yet, either, so hold your thoughts on those.
The Upside: Feel Free To Keep Calling The Office a Cult Hit
More people watched the premiere of Ugly Betty on Thursday than My Name Is Earl and The Office combined. (Survivor scored a narrow victory over Betty in the slot.)
We'll have to see if Betty retains its audience in its second week, and if so, whether NBC will move what has become its bellwether comedies. Even Six Degrees, whose future has had to be defended, outdrew The Office.
* * *
Ten minutes into its second episode, I dropped Brothers and Sisters from my watch list. It seems inescapably tepid. It has lots of plot points, but little drama. It doesn't make me feel anything. Oodles of expository dialogue isn't helping matters. ...
I don't watch Desperate Housewives - have never seen a full episode - but every now and then I'll catch the final couple of minutes. Sunday night, Eva Longoria had a scene about the loss of a baby and seemed particularly wooden. Was that called for in the moment, or is her acting just that bland?
Where Hill Street Blues is kingand Lady Luck is queen
by Jon Weisman
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.