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ap·ple·plect·ic (ˈa-pəlˈplek-tik) adj. Marked by excitement, passion, or emotion over events pertaining to visual media arts, specifically film and television; feelings tend to build toward the end of the year in response to various entertainment awards ceremonies and "best of" lists, climaxing annually with the Academy Awards

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hiatus

Seeing as I'm currently here...


...it's been decidedly difficult to get to here...


...or find any spare time to take care of things around, well, HERE!

Blogging will resume in December. For now, I'll be posting uber-short reviews on my TWITTER FEED!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Calm Down, People


It's not Chayevsky.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

2010 Emmy Predictions


DRAMA
Series: Mad Men
Lead Actor: Michael C. Hall, Dexter Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Lead Actress: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer
Supporting Actor: Terry O'Quinn, Lost Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Supporting Actress: Christine Baranski Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
Directing: Lost, "The End" Dexter, "The Getaway"
Writing: Mad Men, "Shut the Door Have a Seat"

Lots of interesting and unexpected picks here. The Lost finale gets snubbed in favor of Dexter's bloody season four send-off in Directing. Neither of Lost's supporting gentlemen grabbed a statuette either. Instead, the excellent Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad receives his due.

Yet for some reason, Emmy keeps dishing out dues to Breaking Bad's leading performer Bryan Cranston (albeit also excellent) while so many other deserving actors go unadorned. I thought Michael C. Hall would finally pick one up after earning nods from SAG and Huffpah (HFPA), and for, you know, battling cancer while doing it. Or how about some props for Hugh Laurie or John Hamm--neither of whom have ever won.

Kyra Sedgwick had never won until tonight either, even after four previous consecutive nominations and arguably setting the mold for strong female-centered cable dramas. The year's Comeback Kid Juliana Margulies then didn't take home the gold, but The Good Wife's Archie Panjabi earned top honors for Supporting Actress. I assumed The Good Wife would prevail here, but I pegged TV and stage vet Chrisinte Baranski (also nominated for Guest Actress in a Comedy this year) to do it.

In any case, Mad Men wins for Writing, which it will always deserve above any other honor. This year, it's for an electric season finale that saw the downfall of one agency and the birth of a new one. Sterling Cooper Draper Price! Another series win for Matthew Weiner to boot, even though Breaking Bad was looking extra strong along the home stretch there.

COMEDY
Series: Modern Family
Lead Actor: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Lead Actress: Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Supporting Actor: Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Supporting Actress: Jane Lynch, Glee
Directing: Modern Family, Pilot Glee, Pilot
Writing: Glee, Pilot Modern Family, Pilot

So Jim Parsons managed the win after all. I thought the older-skewing ATAS would go for the old pro Alec Baldwin, and that they'd want to reward 30 Rock somewhere.

I swapped the Directing and Writing wins, assuming that Emmy would side with DGA and give the other one to Glee by default. Then again, Glee has the far snazzier display and doesn't come close to matching the smarts of Modern Family. That's also why Modern Family nabbed the series prize: it's smarter, sharper, more sophisticated, and much more consistent. In other words, right up Emmy's alley.

MINISERIES/MOVIE
Miniseries: The Pacific
TV Movie: You Don't Know Jack Temple Grandin
Lead Actor: Al Pacino, You Don't Know Jack
Lead Actress: Claire Danes, Temple Grandin
Supporting Actor: David Strathairn, Temple Grandin
Supporting Actress: Susan Sarandon, You Don't Know Jack Julia Ormond, Temple Grandin
Directing: The Pacific, Part Nine Temple Grandin
Writing: The Pacific, Part Ten You Don't Know Jack

The Spielberg-Hanks production The Pacific earned Best Miniseries (it was one of two nominees), but Temple Grandin and You Don't Know Jack (both also under the HBO brand) swept elsewhere. Al Pacino and Claire Danes earned leading trophies as expected, but Temple Grandin's Julia Ormond and David Strathairn were also called to the podium for their supporting turns. Temple somehow edged out The Pacific for Directing honors, while You Don't Know Jack was honored for writing. I assumed the Academy would want to show support for The Pacific wherever it could. But the TV Movie outmatched the ever-fading Miniseries format every time.

OTHER
Variety Series: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Reality Series: The Amazing Race Top Chef!

AT LAST! The Amazing Race is toppled by a truly formidable installment of the Top Chef series. Well-deserved and unexpected. Bravo!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Welcome to Wonderland?


Worries:
  • Chicago + Showgirls retread?
  • Cher can barely move her face. What about the rest of her?
  • Wooden, wooden, wooden line-reading.
  • Christina--can she act? Can you do more than her signature croak?
  • Tucci goes uncredited in the trailer. The shame!
  • "They're all dancing with the stars." (what??) "I can't tell you! Nobody can tell you!" (huh??) "Welcome to Wonderland." (saywhaa??)

But... Christina looks (visually) great: pure, porcelain, and powder. And what's this... oh hello, Kristin Bell as sassy contra-colored rival!

A snazzy, campy delight--or a looming catastrophe? One or the other, it seems.

Armond White, You Are My Hero

The New York Press' chief film critic Armond White is routinely criticized for expressing contrarian opinions solely for generating controversy and site traffic. Most recently, and in the same weekend, he lambasted the universally-acclaimed Toy Story 3 while finding beauty and bravery within the widely-panned Jonah Hex. In his latest publishing, White had this to say about the upcoming Step-Up 3D:

Step Up 3D—the newest of a craven franchise—isn’t really as good as the underrated 1980s diptych, Breakin’ and the superb Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogalo, with its memorable break moves by Shabba-Doo (Adolfo Quiñones) and Boogaloo Shrimp (Michael Chambers) immortalizing an original cultural moment. [emphasis added]

Oh yes, he did just do that:


Keep doing your thing, Armond!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Catching-Up, Part 1: An Auteur in Sheep's Clothing


Hello, good readers! Boy, things have sure been cobwebs and tumbleweeds around here lately, haven't they?

Here's my cool story, bro. I'm still seeing lots of movies, still writing lots of reviews--not so much here on the blog, though. I hope that will change soon, as I am slowly (ever so slowly) working on a new layout that should make things much easier for all of us (me especially!). Life and health (especially that second one) have been getting in the way plenty, too. But the dust is beginning to settle, it would seem, and I should be back up on here in full force within the next few weeks.

I know, I know. I'm like the boy who cried wolf on that one--but I really mean it this time, mmkays? I've got things to say, and I want you to hear them. So don't go anywhere! You got that?!

Anyhoosiers, here's what I've been up to in the meantime. I'll be presenting my recent cinematic observations in four parts.

Part 1: An Auteur in Sheep's Clothing

My last review post featured Sex and the City 2 and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, a one-two punch of sandy stupidity. Yuck! No wonder I lost all will to live post!


Just before then, I laid out why I thought Ridley Scott's Robin Hood was under-appreciated by the critical community due to its right-leaning politics. It's interesting to look at this next to far-left pandering films such as Paul Greengrass' Green Zone and Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer, both of which were generally well-regarded--if only because of their political positions.

I thought Green Zone was a self-contradicting, bloated mess (my review @ The Dagger). Here's how the New York Times' A.O. Scott concluded his appraisal:

All of this suggests that the arguments embedded within the movie’s version of 2003 are still going on seven years later, and are still in need of accessible and honest airing. Which is precisely what “Green Zone,” without forsaking its job of entertainment, attempts. When Mr. Greengrass made “United 93,” his 2006 reconstruction of one of the Sept. 11 hijackings, some people fretted that it was too soon. My own response to “Green Zone” is almost exactly the opposite: it’s about time.

It's about time for a flaccid, fictionalized skewering of US policy in Iraq, eh? I'm sorry, Mr. Scott (the A.O. one). I might be on board if it were actually convincing or, I dunno, coherent in the least. Me, I prefer to be challenged--not to have my blood boiled with pure denouncements and political buzzwords (WMD! WMD! WM-mutha-effin-D!). Green Zone fails as entertainment, and it fails at crafting an intelligent political perspective--but points to it anyway because they all tried? Meanwhile, Robin Hood is far more entertaining and smartly staged (i.e. not shaky-cam overload), but its politics--however successfully stacked--fall on the wrong side of the line... so no points for Ridley.


Lots of points for Roman Polanski, though. His Ghost Writer sits at a favorable 77 on Metacritic and a whopping 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. I just got a chance to see it last week. I thought it was an extremely well-directed luxury thriller, with two top-notch performances (Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams) and one highly unfortunate one (ahem, Kim Cattrall), that promised far greater depth than it was able to deliver. A thinly-veiled conspiracy that posited Tony Blair in the pocket of an unscrupulous, money-hungry Bush White House was ludicrously laid out and induced a good groan or two if you thought about it too much--but the facets of the story itself kept things humming along nicely. The same goes for Polanski's obvious empathy-grubbing via Brosnan's isolated exile on Martha's Vineyard. I chortled, but I didn't dwell.

My favorite working critic Manohla Dargis of the New York Times also chortled, but she didn't mind so much:

Fingers are pointed, though sometimes it seems not only at [Brosnan's] Lang but also at Mr. Polanski, who is under house arrest in Switzerland awaiting word on whether he will be sent back to Los Angeles to face sentencing for having had sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Certainly the shots of Lang’s detractors, with their furiously distorted faces and accusatory placards (“guilty,” “wanted”), gives the film an extra-cinematic tang, though as with so much here, it’s also evident that Mr. Polanski is having his fun.

Unlike Ms. Dargis, I'm much more concerned with my own fun--my own experience--over that of a film's director, no matter how controversial or prestigious a figure he may be. It could be read that Ms. Dargis is giving Polanski a pass because of his unfortunate personal circumstances, which brings me to the far more pressing issue in play here. Like most publicly-aired personal fiascos, Mr. Polanski's fate has become far more a political issue than anything else--with the left likening him to a martyr, and the right thirsty for his blood. And, also like most of these fiascos, the underlying truths get lost in the shuffle.


Polanski (who has since been released by Swiss authorities) was not awaiting sentencing for "having had sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977." He had already been convicted, in 1978, of having unlawful sex with a minor. He pleaded guilty, in fact, to avoid more serious charges, including rape. If the victim, a 13-year-old Samantha Gailey, is to be believed, however, a rape conviction would have been justified. She described the then-43-year-old Polanski forcing himself on her despite her rejections. They shared champagne and quaaludes, and, while both were impaired, he performed oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse on her. If that does not constitute pure rape and sexual abuse of a child, I don't know what does.

The idea that a drugged-up 13-year-old girl could participate in consensual sex with a 43-year-old man is absurd. Let's even pretend for argument's sake that the sex was consensual. It's still a serious crime, and for a reason! The balance of power and levels of physical and psychological maturity involved in such a pairing are dangerously disproportionate. In this particular instance, the imbalance was even worse: Polanski was aiding Gailey in her modeling career.

Polanski was convicted and sentenced to a psychological evaluation, and would have then faced further sentencing. He fled the country when imprisonment became a possibility. Because he fled, he has yet to be sentenced for the underage sex charge to which he plead guilty, on top of which he faces charges for failing to appear in court (to the nth degree).

The Smoking Gun has the full transcript of Gailey's grand jury testimony. They let their opinions known in the article's title, but the official documents speak for themselves (log-in required).

You could argue that if Polanski were an Average Predatory Joe, the police would have shut the books on his case by now. You could also argue that were he an APJ, more would have been done to see to his proper extradition by both foreign and local authorities. You could argue that he emerged from a tragic past (Charles Manson ordered the brutal murder of his wife Sharon Tate and unborn son) and therefore deserves special consideration. You could argue that he is a virtueless pedophile and deserves to be put away.

Whatever your stance, the facts remain: he committed a serious crime, he plead guilty to and was convicted of a serious crime, and he fled the country before he could face appropriate sentencing, which itself is a serious crime. That's why Polanski's sympathy grab in The Ghost Writer feels much more tasteless than clever.

But as I said, I didn't dwell. (I swear, I didn't!)


Ghost Writer pairs well with Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island (my capsule review), in terms of established film directors dabbling in less auspicious fare. A lot of the criticism Scorsese drew was actually re-evaluated with a positive spin in deference to Polanski--that is, overstating genre conventions, relying heavily on score and shot design over story, and using happenstance over natural narrative flow. Polanski's product may be more seductive and sleek, but Scorsese wields his directorial prowess to more provocative and powerful ends.

For the record (and despite their best attempts), neither film was able to attain the crackling, pulpy goodness of Richard Eyre's Notes on a Scandal from 2006. Is there a finer example of contemporary exploitation-intrigue? If there is, I sure haven't seen it yet. (But if there is, DO TELL!)

So Q1 of 2010 featured four prestigious auteurial figures taking a broader stab at audience accessibility. Though neither Ridley Scott nor Paul Greengrass are strangers to commercial success, each cast a heavy intellectual undercurrent through their mainstream-aimed productions Robin Hood and Green Zone, respectively. I (and the box-office) declare Scott's frothy interpolation the victor, though the critical community preferred Greengrass' misdirected blame-game; they prefer the far-left slant of Green Zone over Robin Hood's light evocation of the right (which is really more libertarian and democratic than conservative).

The critical base also preferred Roman Polanski's glittery brain-puzzle of government corruption over Martin Scorsese's artful embrace of B-movie thrills. (I liked both but preferred the firmer grip of the latter.) Is it a coincidence that The Ghost Writer depicted an incorrigible (and somehow, extremely powerful) US political force, while indications of federal conspiracy in Shutter Island turned out to be delusions? In other words, liberal coddling wins out again, emboldened further politically by Polanski's signature.

Just sayin'.

Next Up on Catching-Up: Film moves further into the third dimension, with lots of 3D conversions and computer-animated offerings. Let's Get Digital!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Best Performances of the 2009-2010 TV Season

The 2009-2010 television season has come to a close, and the Emmys will reveal their yearly nominations tomorrow. But who cares what Emmy says? She's drunk most of the time anyway (or definitely on something... see: multiple nods for Two and a Half Men). Here are my picks for the MVPs of the last year in TV, including the 2009 summer season.

First, some names that did not make the list, in case you were wondering what happened to...?


Not Listed: Desperate Housewives

Was anyone able to stay interested this season as the ladies of Wisteria Lane further devolved into empty shells, and insipid soapiness replaced any semblance of plot? It may finally be time to euthanize.


Not Listed: Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock

The fourth season of 30 Rock was carried by its supporting players, as its duo of leads were puzzlingly preoccupied. Baldwin, once infallibly suave as TV exec Jack Donaghy, spent this season always squirming under somebody's thumb: first, squashed by the pressures of a shift in management, then pinned down by the improbably unrelenting guilt of a love triangle. Meanwhile, Liz Lemon lost an awful lot of herself in her quest for an identity (ironic much?), and Tina Fey often seemed asleep on the job--halfheartedly sleepwalking through the part.


Not Listed: Many from True Blood

Let's be honest. True Blood is frisky and fun, but it isn't exactly the pinnacle of television artistry. (I admit, I too was once misled by the hype.) And while the first season offered a handful of cautiously strong performances, including a top-tier turn from Nelson Ellis as Lafayette, season two saw the unraveling of meaning, momentum, and character consistency. One name lands a spot on this list (see below), but the entire cast of leading characters, led astray by a crisis in creativity, couldn't quite make the mark.


Not Listed: Many from Mad Men

The third season of Mad Men is hard to define. It was at times more prolific and poetic than anything that came before, even while all the more cumbersome and frustratingly inert. What emerged from the dips and whirls into various conceptual arcs was the existential journey, the saga, even, of one particular character (unsurprisingly, listed below). And while John Hamm as Don Draper, Elizabeth Moss as Peggy Olson, and Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway (and even the rest of the cast) all gave solid performances, none of them were quite given the opportunity to leave a lasting impression.


Not Listed: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife

Hers may have been the most talked-about performance of the season, and indeed Margulies was effective and affecting. What she lacked, however, was a supportive environment that would allow her character to blossom. The CBS network likes to play it safe when it comes to programming (the understatement of the century), and even The Good Wife, arguably their most dynamic primetime offering, felt constrained by a frantic avoidance of serialization--as did Ms. Margulies.


Not Listed: Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory

Sheldon, played with considerable savvy by Jim Parsons, is the glue that holds Big Bang Theory together, but the show itself is yet another repetitive, unchallenging entry into the sitcom genre by the CBS television network. Parsons is always the most interesting component of the show, but, like Margulies, he works hard to enliven his environment instead of his environment lending any support to him. Get back to me when they give this guy his own show--hopefully on a different network.


Not Listed: In Treatment

The show was on hiatus this year. Season three will be the first to be fully realized without a foundation (the first two seasons drew from the Israeli series BeTipul), and Dianne Wiest has unfortunately declined to return. The always impressive Amy Ryan will join the cast as Paul's new therapist, but will the show achieve the same level of excellence with entirely original content? Stay tuned!

And now, the ones who did make the list...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Zero Swank


On 27 February AD 2011

Fancy actress montage was beginning.

Bening: What happen?

Swinton: Somebody set us up the empty podium.

Kidman: We get shafted.

Bening: What!

Hathaway: Main screen turn on.

Bening: It's you!!

Swank: How are you nominees??

Swank: All your Oscar are belong to us.

Swank: You are on the way to bridesmaid.

Bening: What you say!!

Swank: You have no chance to win make your time.

Swank: HA HA HA HA...

Hathaway: Take off her accent and fug!!

Kidman: She don't know what she doing.

Swinton: Move her to stable now.

Bening: For great justice!

See the video...


For great justice!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Expect Delays

CAUTION!


This blog is currently UNDER CONSTRUCTION.

Thank you for your patience. New layout, new posts, and new content COMING SOON!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Dear Hollywood...

Dear Hollywood...

Please stop making crappy movies!

Exhibit A:


Exhibit B:


Read my take on both... at THE DAGGER!*

*If you comment at the Dagger, I'll give you a cookie!