Music

Music Video Of The Week — 1

I’m not even sure how often I’ll do this, but it seems like as good a time as any to start slowly sharing the gospel accoring to alt-country with the rest of the world. I don’t even know where to begin, so I picked this one at random. Great song, great performer:
“Back to Me,” by Kathleen Edwards.

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Guide To Being A Geek, Pt. 2

Today’s installment: The necessity of quotes.
To borrow my own definition: “A nerd is someone whose intellect has at one point proven a barrier to social interaction; a geek is someone with an unhealthy focus on or obsession over any given band/TV show/created work. The two groups often overlap, but are, indeed, separate groups.” You wanna be a geek? You need to know the quotes.
True geek devotion to a particular area is proven by demonstrating a knowledge of that area’s arcana. It doesn’t matter whether it’s knowing the name of Uncle Tupelo’s drummer1 or what “TIE” stands for in TIE fighter2; you have to know the little details, and often, that means quotes.
Quotes are the key to bonding with strangers. Trotting out your ability to instantly recognize a movie or TV show from the most random or obscure bit of dialogue is like displaying your geek badge: “I know this. I am this much of a geek. Maybe even a loser. I know this.”
I’m not just a geek, but a nerd-geek, meaning that in addition to being a film geek and book geek and music geek, a lot of my obsessions happen to be those related to, well, nerds. (There are other geeks, too, like sports geeks. But since I don’t need to know the name of Ferguson Jenkins unless we’re talking about the career crossovers of Janel Moloney and Aaron Sorkin, I’m happy to leave the sports alone.) This means that I swing a pretty big stick when it comes to nerd-geek quotes. There are at least a dozen Star Wars quotes I say on a regular basis3; I can recite the opening narration to “Quantum Leap”4; I have known since age 8 that you can’t enter warp inside a solar system, though they did it once just for dramatic effect. I’m a geek. Those of you not laughing or crying out of pity should know that I’ve pretty much come to grips with it, though.
So, what can you do about it? Well, if you want to be a geek, you need to know facts and quotes, the more obscure the better. You won’t impress anybody with the hackneyed quotes from Seasons 3-8 of “The Simpsons,” which are now practically imprinted on a newborn’s subconscious. (“You know those guitars that are, like, double guitars?”) It’s not enough to know the characters or places or objects; you need to know if, say, she’ll make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. You can’t just know the name of the main character; you have to know which of the Twelve Colonies he hails from, and the names of his dead son, ex-wife, and father5. You smell that? That smell of pointless knowledge and musty apartment air and free weekends and burned Hot Pockets? Congrats; you’re one step closer to becoming a geek.
I’m a leaf on the wind; watch how I soar.
I’ll leave you with this. It seems appropriate (dialogue NSFW):

1. Mike Heidorn.
2. Twin ion engine. Duh.
3. Favorites: “Didn’t we just leave this party?”, when arriving at the office; “Just like Beggar’s Canyon back home,” when gliding onto the 101 northbound at Cahuenga; “She’ll hold together. … Hear me, baby? Hold together,” when encouraging the car to make it home in one piece.
4. Call me up and I’ll prove it. Anytime.
5. Caprica; Zak; Carolanne; Joseph.

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The Top 10 Striking Similarities Between Supercuts And Strip Clubs

10. No one talks very much.
9. What little conversation takes place is limited to meaningless small talk.
8. Neither party is as interested in the small talk as they pretend to be.
7. The women are vaguely foreign, and older than they appear from a distance.
6. You’re paying a woman to touch you in a way that is at once both highly personal and ultimately impersonal.
5. It’s best to keep your hands at your sides unless otherwise ordered.
4. Bald spots are generally ignored.
3. Tips are never mentioned but always expected.
2. There’s a constant stream of background music meant to put you at ease.
1. No matter how much you might want to, it’s never a good idea to blow it in your pants.

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Things I Will Program My LoveBot To Say

• “A lifetime of naturally unathletic abilities has contributed to your skin’s natural alabaster sheen, which I find intoxicating.”
• “Tell me again about how you played ‘Metal Gear Solid’ on an endless loop when you were a freshman in college.”
• “Wow, you bought bootleg DVDs of the original Star Wars trilogy that were ported over from the remastered laserdiscs. Take me hard.”
• ”Let’s order Chinese. I’ll pay.”
• ”The fact that you pitted out that old shirt merely means you can achieve a high level of focus during stressful situations, and is in no way gross or weird.”
• “I read somewhere that the name Daniel is Hebrew for ‘legendary cocksman.’”
• ”The fact that you read The Hobbit in elementary school makes me extremely hot. Let’s do it and put it on YouTube.”
• ”I made you some cornbread. Just because.”
• ”Who needs ambition when you can grow a nice goatee? Let’s go to the movies.”

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The Utter Pointlessness Of Awards: The Predictions, The Results, And The Joys Of Being Dignam

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Friday, Feb. 23:
I can barely bring myself to come up with another list of Oscar predictions. I did this last year, but this year my heart just isn’t in it. It’s not that I suddenly realized that the correlation between cinematic quality and awards recognition is tenuous at best, and usually outright incompatible; I’ve felt that way for a while now. No, there are several reasons, mainly this: The awards aren’t so much won as bought. Sure, every now and then a dark horse comes along and dominates, as The Silence of the Lambs did in 1991. But for the most part, Oscar recognition is the result of a long and arduous PR campaign meant to sell the Oscar voters (and the public at large) on the worthiness of the film in question. Miramax didn’t just luck out when it came to distributing Oscar winners in the 1990s; the Weinsteins shamelessly sold their films as Oscar winners, and then sat back and watched the self-fulfilling prophecy fall into place. That’s what was so shocking about Crash‘s victory last year over Brokeback Mountain; Paul Haggis’ film wasn’t just the lesser of the two, but Ang Lee’s film had been so flawlessly marketed — with playdates platforming out a week at a time leading up to the Oscars, not to mention its branding as part of a national movement — that it was literally supposed to win.
I’m making two predictions this year, a main one and a “dark horse” selection that’s meant to hedge my bets or just let me be a little hopeful for upsets. Last year I hit 18 of 24 only making one prediction per category, and I’m bound to do at least that well (I hope) by spreading out the guesses. I’m also playing two ballots in the office Oscar pool instead of one, in hopes of taking home some cash. Then again, I live and work in L.A. with some horribly well-informed coworkers competing against me in the pool; if this were Texas, I would clean up, but as it is, I’ll probably have to settle again for a four-way tie for fourth.
Sunday, Feb. 25:
Well, it seems I’m getting my ass kicked in all new ways. Pride goeth before a great loss in the office pool.
This year I went for 19 of 24 categories, only one better than I did last year. I’m a little surprised that I managed a 79% accuracy rate this year even by making two guesses per category, but then again, this is far from an exact science. Sometimes I was happy to proven wrong: I liked seeing Melissa Etheridge win for original song for An Inconvenient Truth over the bloated, melismatic crapfest that is Dreamgirls. And I was happy to see Thelma Schoonmaker win for editing The Departed; she’s worked with Scorsese for years, and his films aren’t the same thing without her skill informing their relationship as director and editor. But I was disappointed with several other outcomes, most notably Alan Arkin’s win for Little Miss Sunshine instead of Mark Wahlberg’s work in The Departed. Sure, Arkin’s performance as the lecherous grandpa (He’s horny! He’s profound! He’s dead!) was entertaining, and the cast still managed to successfully pull off the prefab quirk of the comedy, and Arkin deserves some of that credit. But whereas Little Miss Sunshine was the ready-made indie-that-could — funny, sad, sweet, but still ready-made — Scorsese’s fierce, sweeping crime drama contained the year’s best everything: Story, performances, even the atmosphere. (Who could forget that gorgeous shot of the mobile of mirrors as Leonardo DiCaprio pursued Matt Damon over the wet streets and down that alley?) Wahlberg’s ferocious but loyal cop was an integral part of Scorsese’s film, which is fantastically, beautifully, wonderfully beyond its inspiration, the Hong Kong flick Infernal Affairs. It was fitting that Scorsese was presented his award by Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas, the fellow kings of his era, the first kids to blast out of film school and change the face of American cinema. But Coppola has been phoning it in since Jack, and Lucas is a brilliant set designer and conceptual artist who long ago lost whatever connection he had to human emotion and his ability to write from the heart. Spielberg continues to grow as an artist, yet while he tackles the daddy and Holocaust issues that have colored his work from the beginning, Scorsese has become the most truly American filmmaker of the bunch. The Departed isn’t just an adaptation of another film, or even a crime story, but a film that’s relentlessly American, pulsing with the homegrown hate and love and despair and fratricide of the spacious boroughs and blood-stained waves of grain. A few of my coworkers have alternately referred to Departed as a “guy movie” or “popcorn actioner” (thus casting eternal doubt on their ability to actually discern good films from bad), but they’re missing the point. From Jack Nicholson’s coke-fueled Caligula to DiCaprio’s lonely yearning to find a father in Martin Sheen, The Departed really was the best film of the year.
Anyway, on to my predictions and the winners:
Best Picture
Prediction: The Departed.
Dark Horse: Little Miss Sunshine.
Winner: The Departed.
Best Actor
Prediction: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland.
Dark Horse: Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond.
Winner: Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland.
Best Actress
Prediction: Helen Mirren, The Queen.
Dark Horse: Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada.
Winner: Helen Mirren, The Queen.
Best Supporting Actor
Prediction: Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls.
Dark Horse: Mark Wahlberg, The Departed.
Winner: Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine.
Best Supporting Actress
Prediction: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls.
Dark Horse: Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine.
Winner: Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls.
Best Director
Prediction: Martin Scorsese, The Departed.
Dark Horse: Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima.
Winner: Martin Scorsese, The Departed.
Best Original Screenplay
Prediction: Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine.
Dark Horse: Paul Haggis, Iris Yamashita, Letters From Iwo Jima.
Winner: Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Prediction: William Monahan, The Departed.
Dark Horse: Sacha Baron Cohen et al.,Borat.
Winner: William Monahan, The Departed.
Best Cinematography
Prediction: Emmanuel Lubezki, Children of Men.
Dark Horse: Guillermo Navarro, Pan’s Labyrinth.
Winner: Guillermo Navarro, Pan’s Labyrinth.
Best Film Editing
Prediction: Clare Douglas, Christopher Rouse, Richard Pearson, United 93.
Dark Horse: Stephen Mirrione, Douglas Crise, Babel.
Winner: Thelma Schoonmaker, The Departed.
Best Art Direction
Prediction: Eugenio Caballero, Pilar Revuelta, Pan’s Labyrinth.
Dark Horse: John Myhre, Nancy Haigh, Dreamgirls.
Winner: Eugenio Caballero, Pilar Revuelta, Pan’s Labyrinth.
Best Costume Design
Prediction: Sharen Davis, Dreamgirls.
Dark Horse: Consolata Boyle, The Queen.
Winner: Milena Canonero, Marie Antoinette.
Best Original Score
Prediction: Alexandre Desplat, The Queen.
Dark Horse: Gustavo Santaolalla, Babel.
Winner: Gustavo Santaolalla, Babel.
Best Original Song
Prediction: Henry Krieger, Scott Cutler, Anne Preven, “Listen,” Dreamgirls.
Dark Horse: Henry Krieger, Siedah Garrett, “Love You I Do,” Dreamgirls.
Winner: Melissa Etheridge, “I Need to Wake Up,” An Inconvenient Truth.
Best Makeup
Prediction: David Marti, Montse Ribe, Pan’s Labyrinth.
Dark Horse: Aldo Signoretti, Vittorio Sodano, Apocalypto.
Winner: David Marti, Montse Ribe, Pan’s Labyrinth.
Best Sound Mixing
Prediction: Dreamgirls.
Dark Horse: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
Winner: Dreamgirls.
Best Sound Editing
Prediction: Letters From Iwo Jima.
Dark Horse: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
Winner: Letters From Iwo Jima.
Best Visual Effects
Prediction: Superman Returns.
Dark Horse: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
Winner: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.
Best Animated Feature
Prediction: Cars.
Dark Horse: Happy Feet.
Winner: Happy Feet.
Best Foreign-Language Film
Prediction: Pan’s Labyrinth (Mexico).
Dark Horse: The Lives of Others (Germany).
Winner: The Lives of Others (Germany).
Best Documentary (Feature)
Prediction: An Inconvenient Truth.
Dark Horse: Deliver Us From Evil.
Winner: An Inconvenient Truth.
Best Documentary (Short Subject)
Prediction: Two Hands.
Dark Horse: The Blood of Yingzhou District.
Winner: The Blood of Yingzhou District.
Best Short Film (Animated)
Prediction: The Little Matchgirl.
Dark Horse: Lifted.
Winner: The Danish Poet.
Best Short Film (Live Action)
Prediction: West Bank Story.
Dark Horse: Binta and the Great Idea.
Winner: West Bank Story.

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I’m Talkin’ About Friendship. I’m Talkin’ About Character. I’m Talkin’ About — Hell, Leo, I Ain’t Embarrassed To Use The Word — I’m Talkin’ About Ethics.

This one is dedicated to my friend and traveling companion from my youth through today. He and I grew up together on the names of unknown actors, and that’s what this list is meant to celebrate. (We also saw Croupier on the big screen, meaning we loved Clive Owen way back in the day. So there.) This one’s for you, little brother Collins, and everyone who loves movies. So here it is:
The Man Who Wasn’t There: A Salute to Character Actors.

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Aaron Sorkin, Studio 60

“Studio 60″: Who Needs God When You’ve Got A God Complex?

“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” has by now established itself as perhaps Aaron Sorkin’s weakest work (well, except for Malice). But it’s certainly the weakest of his TV series, falling well behind “Sports Night” and “The West Wing” in terms of character development, creativity, storylines, and everything else. Sorkin is even up to his old tricks when it comes to dropping storylines whenever they begin to bore him; wasn’t the “Studio 60″ set supposed to be redesigned, like, months ago?
But the biggest change is perhaps in Sorkin’s newfound cynicism for his characters that believe in God. Of course, Sorkin’s distaste for zealots is hardly new; the pilot episode of “The West Wing” revolved around Josh almost getting fired for pissing off the religious right, and when the smug representatives of that movement came to the White House, the president smacked them down by quoting the Ten Commandments. This set two important precedents for the show: First, the religious right was going to be a pretty standard whipping boy for Sorkin’s idealistic Bartlet administration. Second, Bartlet would be a man of well-reasoned, compassionate faith.
Sorkin’s diatribes against narrow-minded religious extremists first appeared on “Sports Night,” as in (for one of many instances) Casey McCall’s on-air insults aimed at Jerry Falwell. Attacking the right-wing nutbars that are destroying the public faith of a lot of Americans is fine and dandy, it really is. However, the important thing on “The West Wing” wasn’t just Bartlet’s strong stance against the religious right, but his balancing that with his own yearning, personal faith. In the show’s mythology, Bartlet minored in theology at Notre Dame, and his struggle to reconcile his faith in God with the horrible choices he faces as president added tremendous depth to the first few seasons of “The West Wing.” The first season’s “Take This Sabbath Day” shows Bartlet’s spiritual vulnerability as he debates the commutation of a convict’s death sentence, decides to let the sentence stand, and ultimately talks to his boyhood priest and asks forgiveness for his acts. Bartlet’s spiritual vulnerability came to a head in Season 2′s “Two Cathedrals,” in which Bartlet curses and shouts at God as he reels from the death of Mrs. Landingham. Bartlet’s soliloquy in Latin is heartrending, but he’s not abandoning his faith: He’s reasoning with it. There’s never a sense that Bartlet is turning his back on his beliefs.
Which is what makes Sorkin’s newfound bitterness toward Christianity in general so perplexing. He’s got a track record of respecting characters of honest faith, yet Matt Albie is becoming an increasingly bitter spokesman for what one can only assume is Sorkin’s developing animosity for people who believe in God. Entire episodes have revolved around the fact that Matt doesn’t respect Harriet for having faith. The pilot episode revolved around a sketch called “Crazy Christians.” And yes, both the sketch and Matt’s mockery of Harriet are related to the religious right. But there is no Bartlet on “Studio 60,” no man or woman who seems to represent the non-insane swath of believers out there. Sorkin keeps mounting attacks, but there’s no one to respond with apologetics. I’d thought Sorkin respected people more than that, but I’m starting to think I was wrong.
So I leave you with this:

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