Baseball Toaster Screen Jam
Monthly archives: February 2007


Deleted Scenes from Last Week's The Office
2007-02-27 19:49
by Jon Weisman
Heroes Welcome
2007-02-26 21:14
by Jon Weisman

Fifteen minutes in, this is my favorite episode of Heroes. I'm loving the exchanges between Parkman and Claire.

I have never thought Heroes to be on the level of Lost at its peak - even today, I still look forward to the latter much more - but i have to say that Heroes rarely disappoints, except for that Ali Larter tripe of a plotline.

Boy, does Eric Roberts look like hell, though.

The 2007 Screen Jam Oscar Pool
2007-02-24 19:48
by Jon Weisman

Please join me in participating in the Screen Jam Oscar Pool.

Just to make things more interesting or different, I've decided to give some of the categories extra weight.

4 points: Picture

3 points: Lead and supporting actor and actress, director, adapted and original screenplay, animated feature, documentary feature, foreign language film

2 points: Art direction, cinematography, costume design, film editing, makeup, original score, original song, sound editing, sound mixing, visual effects

1 point: Documentary short, animated and live-action short film

Tiebreaker: Time of day that the telecast ends in Los Angeles.

I'll post my picks before the kudocast, as we say at Variety, begins. The only time I ever won an Oscar pool was shortly after my kids were born and I had seen next to none of the films, so I'm not counting on my recent viewing experience to help me.

Will there be a prize for the winner? If I can think of something appropriate ... otherwise, just enter for the fun of it.

Thursday Night Open Chat
2007-02-22 16:28
by Jon Weisman

Wednesday Night Open Chat
2007-02-21 16:28
by Jon Weisman

Grace Is the Word
2007-02-20 16:15
by Jon Weisman

At dinner the other day, I was telling a friend about a screening of a good movie I had just come from, called Amazing Grace. His response was, "If it's good, why is it coming out now?"

The question was completely valid. Oscar season focuses on movies that come out at the end of the year, and anything that comes out before early fall carries a potential stigma of not being among the best. That doesn't mean a good studio campaign can't make up the difference – see "Crash" or "Little Miss Sunshine" in recent history – but certainly many of us have been conditioned not to expect anything masterful in February.

While it probably won't contend for Best Picture honors, Amazing Grace is good, and its February 23 release has more to do with marking the 200th anniversary of a central plot point in its story, Britain's abolition of the slave trade, than any quality qualms. (Here's a Variety review that essentially dovetails with my feelings about the film.) That being said, it certainly would be nice if there could be more spreading of the film wealth throughout the year, rather than overwhelming us in the winter.

Fine performances are turned in by a cast including Ioan Gruffudd, Benedict Cumberbatch (what a great name), Michael Gambon and Albert Finney, who plays the repentant slave ship captain who penned the words of the renowned spiritual from which the movie takes its name.

Favorite Films of 2006
2007-02-16 20:00
by Jon Weisman

Okay, first, the system:

It has never sat right with me when individuals say they are rating the "best" films. Film evaluation is inherently subjective, and what we're really doing when we call out the best movie is calling out our favorite movie.

So about a decade ago, I came up with a system to rate my favorite films, with the prime goal being to acknowledge that subjectivity. I rate the films in three categories, each of which I think are weighted appropriately:

  • Ambition (1-7): How much the film is taking on, in subject matter and in filming challenges? For example, is it offering both a romantic story and social commentary at once? How difficult was the film to make technically? This allows one to distinguish between two equally well-made films when one is Casablanca and the other is Animal House. Ambition isn't the be-all and end-all, but it allows some extra credit to be given where it is due.

  • Quality (1-10): This is essentially how most films are graded - simply, how good are they. As objective as I can be, how well do I think the film succeeds in achieving its ambitions?

  • Emotional resonance (1-13): How much did the film affect me personally. This category gets the most weight because it's the most important - I'd rather see a flawed film that touches me than a technically perfect but emotionally stultifying picture.

    Just to give you a quick idea of how this works, here are the scores of my favorite films of all time.

    The Misfits: Ambition 5, Quality 9.5, Resonance 13, Total 27.5
    Casablanca: Ambition 6, Quality 10, Resonance 11.5, Total 27.5

    Both are great movies in my mind, with Casablanca being objectively better and The Misfits being the most powerful to me emotionally. Now, there probably aren't 10 people in the world who would consider these films equals, but that's the whole point, isn't it? This system helps us rank our favorites without trying to say that they're definitively the best.

    And, for comparison, down near the bottom of the scale ...

    The Bad News Bears Go To Japan: Ambition 1.5, Quality 2, Resonance 2, Total 5.5.

    During my single days, I rated nearly 600 films using this system before it fell by the wayside. But I decided to hurriedly resurrect it to knock out the films I saw that were released in 2006. You'll see that list below.

    Two last quick points: I wouldn't get caught up in single-point distinctions - those don't amount to a significant difference between films. In fact, each time I look at the list, I feel like tinkering with some of the grades.

    The other thing is that in the past, an average film totaled about 16 points, which means that I did pretty well in what I saw this year. I honestly didn't feel that I saw a truly awful movie from 2006.

    Now, without further ado, here's the list:

    FilmAmbition (7)Quality (10)Resonance (13)Total (30)
    Little Children4101226
    United 9349.51225.5
    The Last King of Scotland5101025
    Letters From Iwo Jima59.51024.5
    The Queen4109.523.5
    Little Miss Sunshine48.51022.5
    Children of Men58.5922.5
    Blood Diamond481022
    The Pursuit of Happyness38.51021.5
    Breaking and Entering47920
    Thank You for Smoking3.58819.5
    The Departed496.519.5
    A Prairie Home Companion37919
    Charlotte's Web47819
    Flags of Our Fathers4.56.5819
    The Devil Wears Prada47819
    Akeelah and the Bee37818
    Stranger Than Fiction45716
    Half Nelson37616
    Notes on a Scandal37616
    The Dead Girl366.515.5
    We Are Marshall36615
    Running With Scissors35614
    The Good Shepherd44614

    Films that I've discussed previously on Screen Jam are linked. For those that aren't, here are some brief comments:

  • The Pursuit of Happyness: I felt like a sap for letting it get to me, but it got to me.

  • Breaking and Entering: As an English Patient detractor, I came to this film with trepidation. I then found myself elated by its nuanced examination of a troubled marriage, only to be disappointed by the film's descent into a more conventional other-woman story. Still, it's been a bit underrated.

  • Thank You for Smoking: Undoubtedly clever in the way it turns the tables on conventional thoughts on smoking and lobbyists, without losing sight of a larger truth.

  • A Prairie Home Companion: Just a rather sweet movie.

  • Cars: Fun ride.

  • Charlotte's Web: This classic story is the launching point for an impressive way to give discuss - if not introduce - the concept of death to young children.

  • The Devil Wears Prada: Certainly as fun as billed, but the Anne Hathaway character's journey is fairly standard. Meryl Streep's performance absolutely reminded me of Brando in The Godfather.

  • Akeelah and the Bee: Fine performances and a story well-executed, if mostly predictable. Saw this on an airplane, which probably isn't fair to it.

  • Half Nelson: It's good, but I didn't think it was as extraordinary as many others have.

  • Notes on a Scandal: You can't diss Cate Blanchett or Judi Dench, but to me the film is high-end soap opera.

  • The Dead Girl: In this film of five connected vignettes, some great peformances, most notably the underrecognized Mary Beth Hurt.

  • We Are Marshall: Starts out strong, but it's a puzzling movie, choosing to tell its story through its most annoying and in some ways least relevant character.

  • The Good Shepherd: Turned an intriguing subject into an almost shockingly flat movie.

  • Hollywoodland: I'm probably being too hard on it, but the story neither moved me nor felt particularly worth telling. For me to feel dispassionate about a Diane Lane movie, something must be wrong. (You could say the same thing about Must Love Dogs.)

  • What Will CNN Say When Don Meredith Passes?
    2007-02-16 17:00
    by Jon Weisman

    The 11th headline down ... I wouldn't have gone that route.

    For that matter, the placement under No. 10 is a little humiliating. And I'm just going to have to give No. 9 the benefit of the doubt.


    Next on Screen Jam: Viewers Who Choose To Watch Commercials
    2007-02-16 10:25
    by Jon Weisman

    " ...even when people watch recorded shows later, many are not fast-forwarding through the ads. On average, Nielsen found, DVR owners watch 40 percent of commercials that they could skip over — perhaps because they like ads, don't mind them or simply can't be bothered."

    - New York Times

    It does make sense to me that people will watch an ad right at the beginning or end of a series of commercials, because you can be captured at the moment you're starting or stopping your fast-forwarding. But I'm surprised many people would actively choose ad-viewing.

    Thursday Night Open Chat
    2007-02-15 17:45
    by Jon Weisman

    Lost in Space(-Time Continuum)
    2007-02-14 23:21
    by Jon Weisman

    I know some people don't like it when Lost spends too much time off the island, but I groove on it.
    Continue reading...

    The Ride of the Season
    2007-02-14 21:41
    by Jon Weisman

    A stunning episode of Friday Night Lights tonight, literally putting me on the edge of the couch. Just some quick thoughts:
    Continue reading...

    College Kids Love Their Stories
    2007-02-14 15:46
    by Jon Weisman

    From Rick Kissell of Variety:

    Nielsen has taken its ratings game to college campuses for the first time, and the early results are good news for young-skewing programs.

    It's not surprising that primetime shows with young auds like "Grey's Anatomy" and "Gilmore Girls" have seen their ratings spike up, but a few daytime soap operas have also been big beneficiaries. ...

    * * *

    Wednesday night TV chat welcome ...

    If He Were British, He Could Be 'Sir Weird Al'
    2007-02-13 08:20
    by Jon Weisman

    I was and am a Weird Al Yankovic fan only in passing, but when people started talking about him in the comments of Dodger Thoughts, it make me smile and think about my two favorite songs of his: "King of Suede" (sung to "King of Pain") and "The Rye or the Kaiser" (sung to "Eye of the Tiger").
    Continue reading...

    Millman Hits Rock Bottom
    2007-02-12 08:16
    by Jon Weisman

    As someone who has been rooting for Andy Millman and sympathetic to his plight, it was sad to learn Sunday night that he has gotten the fate he deserves.

    I had started to come to believe that the Man was keeping Andy down. Turns out, the Man is Andy himself. After becoming willing to surrender himself to play the witless office manager of When the Whistle Blows, which at least was a pragmatic choice, he could not commit to playing a gay man in the play directed by the very literal Ian McKellen. Andy let peer pressure drive him out of character, certifying, at least at his point in his career, that he is not really an actor.

    Emasculating him creatively, Extras has taken Andy to the depths in a sort of fascinating way. He can't just blame the BBC or his moronic agent – it's clearly on him and his lack of backbone. Sure, it'd be nice for Andy if he had just the slightest bit of competent support to rescue him, like Michael Scott does in The Office, but there's work to do on his own.

    As sad as Andy's descent has been, I'm sorry that there is only one episode re-maining in the series this season. I am looking forward to seeing him get back on his feet a little bit, if that's allowed.

    Royal Rivals
    2007-02-11 22:11
    by Jon Weisman

    So, The Last King of Scotland won Best British Film at the British Academy Film Awards over The Queen, but The Queen won best film over The Last King of Scotland. Neat, huh?

    Meanwhile, The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine took film honors at the Writers Guild Awards. On the TV end, The Sopranos and The Office were the big cheeses.

    Night Night
    2007-02-10 22:26
    by Jon Weisman

    Coming out later this year, We Own the Night is the third film by my cousin, writer-director James Gray, following Little Odessa and The Yards to complete a New York-based trilogy of sorts. We Own the Night stars Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall and Eva Mendes.

    James showed a not-quite-polished cut of the movie to friends and family this past week, and I have to say, I'm really excited for him. The film is taut, tense, intense. It might look like a simple genre film at first - one brother's a cop, the other operates on the fringe of the law - but it is sharply plotted with nuanced relationships among the characters and great performances, including some from unknowns.

    And while this wasn't important to me personally, I think this is his most marketable film. Little Odessa, in particular, was a pretty straight tragedy - elegaic in many ways and heartbreaking - but even with Tim Roth in a strong lead performance, not as easy to promote. We Own the Night, I hope, will get more attention.

    In the Writing Groove
    2007-02-09 22:21
    by Jon Weisman

    In a strange confluence of events, four articles I wrote or co-wrote for Variety were posted in the same afternoon:

    Friday Night Lite at ABC

    The network that once publicly thanked a higher power for Fridays almost seems to be dreading the end of the work week now.

    Having joined other nets in retreating from firstrun scripted programming on Saturday nights like the Chicago Bears from a first down, ABC has gone a step further by abandoning first-run fiction during the bloc formerly known as TGIF.

    In this sweeps month of February, the Alphabet web has filled its Friday schedule with a combination of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Brothers and Sisters" encores, newsmag "20/20" and never-say-die "America's Funniest Home Videos." ABC hasn't aired an original scripted program in Friday prime time since Nov. 10, when "Men in Trees" made its final foray before planting itself on Thursdays.

    ABC now goes 70 hours without first-run scripted fare, from the end of "Trees" Thursday to the 9 p.m. start of "Desperate Housewives" on Sunday. ...

    Cast hunt sends out global S.O.S.
    Several Oscar contenders cast their movies in far-flung places, a trend that might lead you to believe Hollywood has developed a go-to blueprint for such challenges.

    No such luck. Mostly, casting the international movie remains a mad scramble.

    "You just call everybody you know," says casting director Victoria Thomas of "Blood Diamond," nominated for five Academy Awards. "You just do whatever you need to do."

    Complicating the process is the desire for local authenticity, which often means that the right person for the job is someone the director has never heard of, as was the case with Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima." ...

    First-times mix it up with vets (Co-written with Alex Belth)

    It's safe to say that Ben Sliney, national operations manager at the Federal Aviation Administration, did not seek out the role of Ben Sliney, national operations manager in "United 93."

    Yoshi Ishii, a Japanese publisher and broadcaster in Los Angeles, had no aspiration to play a sympathetic military postman in "Letters From Iwo Jima."

    Some long-suffering actors might wish it weren't so, but several Oscar-nominated films banked on non-pros who possessed qualities key to their stories. ...

    WGA Screen Laurel honoree: Robert Benton

    Writers are known as wordsmiths, imagined as devourers of literature, but well into his adulthood, WGA Screen Laurel honoree Robert Benton was anything but.

    "I grew up in a small town in Texas, and I was seriously dyslexic before anyone knew what dyslexia was, so it was very difficult for me to read," the 64-year-old Benton recalls. "I always thought of myself as seriously stupid, and most of the people in my town would have agreed with me.

    "My father, unlike anybody else, when he would come home from work, instead of saying, 'Have you done your homework?' would say, 'Do you want to go to the movies?' So I would." ...

    Another Open Chat?
    2007-02-08 18:07
    by Jon Weisman

    I get all these ideas of topics to write about and store them. And then a week goes by and I look back and say, "Wow, that's a lot of ideas that ... I didn't write about."

    Anyway, while I fix the hitch in my get-along, enjoy tonight's viewing.

    Wednesday Open Chat
    2007-02-07 10:19
    by Jon Weisman

    I've already enjoyed tonight's Lost, so for once I'm ahead of the curve. Feel free to chat about that or anything else ...

    Here's Brian Lowry's preview at Variety. (By the way, in case you didn't know Variety has knocked down its pay wall.)

    For those Zeljko Ivanek fans out there, when you watch Lost, tell me if he looks gaunt to you.

    Haley Busts His Move
    2007-02-05 20:00
    by Jon Weisman

    It was just one moment from an Academy Award-nominated performance, shot in a rather pedestrian living-room set, but it was a high-wire act for Jackie Earle Haley.

    Small Spoilers Warning
    Continue reading...

    It's Thursday Night, So That Must Mean ...
    2007-02-01 17:47
    by Jon Weisman

    ... chat time!