The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

2011 Academy Award Nominees

I know I am a little bit late, but here are my Oscar predictions. Now, I purposely avoided looking at anyone else's predictions. Wanted my thoughts to be fresh and uninfluenced. So, here we go.

Best Picture
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

First off, as much as I personally loved it. It's not going to be "Inception." And I know it won't be "Toy Story 3." If I had to guess, "The Social Network" will easily take this one. But "The King's Speech" may be a Best Picture surprise.

Best Actor
Javier Bardem, Biutiful
Jeff Bridges, True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network
Colin Firth, The King's Speech
James Franco, 127 Hours

You're going to notice a trend here, but I suspect that Colin Firth will take this one. But if not him, then Jesse Eisenberg. Javier Bardem won three years ago, and Jeff Bridges won last year, so they're out.

Best Actress
Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman, Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence, Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine

Natalie Portman is taking this one. Annette Bening might be her competition, but anyone who isn't blind, deaf and dumb can see that this is Natalie's year.

Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, The Fighter
John Hawkes, Winter's Bone
Jeremy Renner, The Town
Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush, The King's Speech

My instincts are definitely saying Geoffrey Rush. Aside from "The Social Network," it is obvious that "The King's Speech" is a favorite. Of course, Geoffrey Rush is incredible, so he'd have earned this one.

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter, The King's Speech
Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom

Hmm, again, for the same reasons as above, I've got to come down on the side of Helena Bonham Carter. Let's face it, she'll never be nominated for Belatrix LeStrange.

Best Director
Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan
Joel and Ethan Coen, True Grit
David Fincher, The Social Network
Tom Hooper, The King's Speech
David O. Russell, The Fighter

This is clearly David Fincher's year. And I like him a lot. I love the Coen Brothers, but this is definitely not their year. Tom Hooper might take this, but my gut tells me that Fincher is taking this.

And yes, Chris Nolan should have been nominated. I have no idea why he wasn't. I don't think he'd have won if he was nominated, but he should have gotten a nomination.

Best Original Screenplay
Another Year
The Fighter
The King's Speech
The Kids Are All Right

As much as I think "The King's Speech" is likely to take this, I also think it's just as likely that they might toss "Inception" this award to placate it.

Best Adapted Screenplay
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

It definitely won't be "Toy Story 3." While "True Grit" might get it, because the Coen Brothers write great scripts, again "The Social Network" is the favorite, and I am confident will take this.

Best Animated Film
How to Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Toy Story 3

"Toy Story 3" has this. It's a lock. Michael Bay will win a Best Director Oscar before "Toy Story 3" loses this one.

Best Cinematography
Black Swan
The King’s Speech
The Social Network
True Grit

Oh... this is a tough one. But, my prediction is "Black Swan." It was gorgeous on the eyes.

Sound Editing
Toy Story 3
Tron: Legacy
True Grit

"Inception" will take this one. Easily. In fact, and sadly, this is the one award it's guaranteed to win.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Drop Zone

After last week's somewhat lackluster episode of "Young Justice," I'm happy to be able to say... NOW THAT'S MORE LIKE IT!

The team seems to have come together, and it was cool to see them handle their first mission. I also loved how they determined who should lead. Usually once the leader is selected, he remains the leader for the duration of the series. But Aqualad as a placeholder until Robin is ready to lead is a pretty inspired take.

The character dynamics were fun. Seeing Miss Martian swoon over Superboy, who was being a jerk to her last episode was sadly quite true to life (seriously, do women like being mistreated?), but it was nice to see that Superboy has lightened up quite a bit, and is treating her much better now. He also seems to be developing a sense of humor. Looks like there is hope for him.

Now, to discuss the villains. I thought the timing of this episode was great, since it was only a few days ago that Bane (played by Tom Hardy) was announced as a villain in "The Dark Knight Rises." I also enjoyed this take on him. Smart, cunning, and utterly ruthless. This is a guy who I can see being as smart as Batman, and it was nice to see that take on him since, outside the comics, Bane has never been depicted as all that bright. I also loved Danny Trejo as his voice, perfect casting there.

I've never heard of Sportsmaster before tonight. His name is beyond hokey, but I liked him as an emissary of the Light. I'm sure we'll see more of him. Speaking of the Light, it was nice to get confirmation that Mr. Twister was working for them last week.

And finally, the Cult of the Kobra, who I have heard of. I liked them in this episode, they were fun. Although they felt like an imitation of Marvel's Hydra, but to be fair, they always felt like that. I suppose I could make a joke about GI Joe's nemesis, Cobra, but I won't. Still, as far as comics go, Hydra was always the original ruthless, terrorist organization determined to rule the world. Oops, guess I did make that joke.

All joking aside, I enjoyed Kobra, and his scheme. Mixing the Venom with the Blockbuster serum produced some pretty creepy results. I was surprised to see that much muscle and tissue ripping through torn skin on a cartoon. But I also enjoyed how understated, and calm Kobra himself was (and that was always how I thought Cobra's Emperor, Serpentor, should have been played, but that's another series and era).

The animation remains gorgeous, and I hope it stays that way.

I give this one a solid A. Loved it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Dream Given Form...

You'll notice that while I am a huge geek, one thing I have not discussed on here are any major science fiction franchises. I love science fiction when it's done right. I adore it. But science fiction is like sushi, unless it's prepared with enough attention and care, it will make you sick.

"Star Trek" and "Star Wars" are the McDonald's and Burger King of science fiction. They can often be quite delicious, but they're never really high quality. Sure "Trek" has its occasional McRibs, and moments of brilliance, but they have been rare. "Star Wars" has only ever had one really good chapter in it's entire franchise, "The Empire Strikes Back." While the first movie is fun, another McRib, the other four movies in the franchise are crap. Well, other five movies if we count that really stupid CGI "Clone Wars" movie. When it comes to science fiction, I have always worshiped at the altar of what I consider to not only be the most brilliant science fiction series ever conceived for television, but one of the most brilliant series ever conceived at all.

Now you can see why I get shut out of a lot of nerd talks. ;)

"Babylon 5" was a brilliant piece of work. It was a true piece of art. The creative brainchild of one man who wanted to tell an epic story. The story of people who live in a tin can out in space in a world where empires rise and fall. A story where one man can make a difference and change the galaxy. A story about armies of light and soldiers of darkness. A story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. A story with a clear narrative where the subtext mattered just as much as the context. A story that was applicable to the times that came before us, the times we live in, and the times that are still to come.

J. Michael Straczynski recognized something that George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry never seemed to grasp. That science fiction is about exploring the human condition. That science fiction is about more than space ships, computers, lasers, and funny looking aliens. Because, well, even anthropology is a science. While Roddenberry was interested only in showing us his Atheistic-Socialist Utopia, and Lucas was interested in funny aliens and selling toys, Straczynski (hereafter referred to as JMS) was telling a story about us.

In "Babylon 5," we went to the stars and we took all of our problems with us. There is still poverty, even on Babylon 5. There is prejudice, fear, ambition, and all of the elements necessary for the rise of a fascist dictatorship to arise on Earth. This isn't the Galactic Empire, with its cackling Emperor and black clad Darth Vader, and officers who look like Nazis. These people are, very sadly, just like us. The everyman. What happens when the enemy is no longer the other, what if it's a former friend or co-worker. What happens when we are so afraid, that we allow our basic freedoms to be eroded because we think it will protect us? That concept scares me more than a Death Star ever could.

In "Star Trek," in less than three hundred years, humans have outgrown religion, prejudice, and even the desire for wealth. We have perfected. We work to better ourselves. It is through not quite as perfected alien races we deal with problems. Most of Trek's aliens exist as allegory for our lesser points. The Klingons representing our warlike behavior; the Romulans, our ambition; the Ferengi, our greed; the Cardassians, our attempts at genocide; and the Vulcans, our capacity to be cold towards one another. They are all very monolithic. The aliens in "Star Wars" are even less developed than that, and usually nothing more than an excuse to show off special effects, or cheap humor.

Religion is also an important theme of "Babylon 5." We as a species have not outgrown it, but at the same time, I have never seen another series handle religion with as much respect and even reverence as "Babylon 5" has. And the series was created and written by an Atheist. Humans still have their religious beliefs, and they are presented with the dignity and respect they deserve. Even the aliens are given respect, and their beliefs taken seriously. I like that.

This is not the case on "Babylon 5" where each species has a fully developed culture, different factions within their culture, even, gasp, different religious beliefs within their own species. They'll speak different languages, and some will work against each other. That's a lot more like real life, don't you think? Yes, the allegory is still there, but they are fleshed out and take on a life beyond that, and they feel as real as any of us.

I have many times sat on the sidelines when other nerds debates who the "best captain" is. Because I will never answer with Kirk or Picard. For me, the more interesting question would be "John Sheridan or Malcolm Reynolds" (FYI, it's Sheridan, but Mal is a close second). Don't get me wrong, Kirk and Picard are both great characters in their own rights, but they were pretty much the same people the last time we saw them as they were the first time we saw them. Kirk remains that adventurous, womanizing, heroic, space cowboy, while Picard already starts out as a wise, and enlightened man. The only actual character development Picard ever received was getting over his dislike of children (which removed his only real character flaw in the process), and his post traumatic stress disorder from his time as Locutus of Borg (TNG's best episode of all time, btw).

John Sheridan, on the other hand, starts out as an everyman being thrust into a job he didn't particularly want. While he seems happy and go-lucky, that is partly to mask his pain as a widower. He was already a war hero, having to deal diplomatically with aliens who hated him for the exact reason why he was a war hero, but I doubt he ever would have conceived of the destiny that lay before him the first time he set foot on Babylon 5.

Sheridan followed Joseph Campbell's hero's journey far better than Luke Skywalker ever did (Of course, Luke wasn't helped when George Lucas defanged the series after "Empire Strikes Back" so who knows what Gary Kurtz originally intended for him?), and truly had to rise to the occasion, and like all heroes, paid some steep, steep prices along the way. What Sheridan endured would break almost anybody, and almost broke him a few times. But, through all of this, even after becoming a larger than life figure, he still maintains his everyman aspect, and we never stop relating to him.

Of course, if I go through every character, this will be less a blog post, and more a novel. Because I've got a lot I can say about Delenn, Ivanova, Garibaldi, G'Kar, Londo Mollari, and everyone else who played a major part in the series.

The series is not perfect. As much as I love it, I re-watch it, and often think some of the actors could have been directed better at times. While I mostly think the casting is great, there have been a few cases of miscasting and bad direction here and there. Also, you can tell the series was made on a low budget, but that never bothered me. The story is powerful enough to make you overlook these few flaws.

It's always been a masterpiece for me, a series that always makes me feel like I'm learning something about the world around me as well as myself when I watch it. It makes me think and consider all possibilities, and does what science fiction has set out to do in its hey day. I never could get into "Farscape," or "Stargate." And, to this day Ron Moore's "Battlestar Galactica" has eluded me, but that will soon be rectified. The only other science fiction series that has even come close is "Firefly." But, overall, nothing has ever topped "Babylon 5" and I often feel as though I've been spoiled, because science fiction has to really impress me to be able to enjoy it.

But, whatever happens, "Babylon 5" has stuck with me for almost two decades now, and it was special. I once wrote a letter to JMS thanking him for the series, and telling him about how he has been one of my biggest inspirations, and he was kind enough to write back. His reply is one of my cherished possessions.

I can't think of a more adequate ending for this entry than the following.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Do we want our cops to be Nazis?

I have been reading a lot of ideas and theories on the ultimate fate of Two-Face at the end of "The Dark Knight." Well, the character was obviously killed at the end of the movie. He took a pretty bad fall, broke his neck, and died. But, while the fall would kill anyone in real life, it was pretty mild by movie standards. Eventually Christopher Nolan had to tell people that Two-Face was dead. This displeased some people.

But what gets me the most are the logistical jumping jacks people are doing to keep Two-Face alive. The most popular being that Commissioner Gordon told the world that Two-Face... Harvey Dent was dead, and secretly locked Dent up in Arkham Asylum, away from the world.

Now, it is time for me to hit these people with a clue-by-four.

These people want to turn Commissioner Gordon into the most corrupt cop in all of Gotham City. Maybe even the entire United States. Let's take a look at the Bill of Rights, shall we?

Here is the Fifth Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Here is the Sixth Amendment:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

And that's just the Bill of Rights. I can check the other Amendments if you want?

But, yes, some fans want to turn Commissioner Gordon, one of the heroes and white knights of Gotham City, into a totalitarian fascist. They want him to violate Harvey Dent's basic civil rights by disappearing him and throwing him into a cell, where no one knows where he is. You know, the kind of behavior that is akin to the KGB in the Soviet Union or the Schutzstaffel in Nazi Germany. And the saddest part is, they don't see what they are asking for here.

Those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it. And if we are reaching a point where we as a society want to see our fiction heroes engaged in this kind of behavior, how long till we condone our government engaging in these types of behaviors.

Friday, January 21, 2011

"Welcome to Happy Harbor"

It's times like this I am grateful to J. Michael Straczynski's "Babylon 5" for conditioning me to be patient with new TV shows. Like the early episodes of "Babylon 5," while this episode was quite enjoyable, it didn't suck me in and hook me. There just seemed to be a disconnect for me and what was happening on screen.

Mr. Twister didn't excite me as an antagonist. His design was great, and the effects of his powers were great, but there was just something there that didn't grab me the way, let's say Electro did in the first non-pilot episode of "Spectacular Spider-Man." But, maybe it's because I've never been a DC reader, and I never heard of Mr. Twister before this episode aired.

The character interaction was perfectly enjoyable, though. Kid Flash has great chemistry with just about everybody, and his line about finding himself hot had be rolling. Superboy continues to be a fascinating character, especially in his search for identity and purpose.

But, the meat here is the newest team member, Miss Martian. At first glance, she appears to be an unfortunate hold out to the early Silver Age of comics where most of the female characters were just girlfriends and damsels in distress, such as Marvel Girl and Invisible Girl back when Stan Lee was writing the books. But, by the end of the episode, she takes charge and proves that she is quite formidable and deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone else on this team. I had a feeling her whole "baking cookies" moment was designed to get us to underestimate her.

And her gambit where she posed as Red Tornado was brilliant. I'll admit, I was fooled.

Not bad. I liked it. I liked the pilot much better, but I appreciate a slow build... especially when I know the payoff is going to be excellent. And trust me, comparing this to "Babylon 5" is about as high a compliment as I can give.

Looking forward to next week's. I'll definitely keep watching.