Thursday, April 10, 2014

Separated At Birth--Make This Happen Edition

Hello, have you met Your Captain America?



Yes, that is Chris Evans. Looking like a younger, but equally soulful Bill Nighy.




Now I want a movie in which they play son and father, or perhaps the same character at different ages.

Somebody make that happen for me, mmmkay? Thankx.







Friday, March 14, 2014

Things I Am Eating Even Though I Am "Not Hungry."


  • The last 6 1/2 Triscuit crackers. The bottom of the box has come unglued, as if it is recycling itself.
  • The last two ounces of fat free pretzel twists.
  • The salt in the bottom of the fat free pretzel twists bag, after I lick my finger so the salt sticks.
  • Quite a few Tostios Hint of Lime chips, because they were probably getting stale.
  • Baby carrots because there are no more SnakCarbs (™) around anymore, because I ate them all.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

True Detective--The Internet Response and What I Wanted

I predicted a lot of disappointed reviews of the finale (like my own), and to be honest, I was surprised by how gentle the disappointment was. In those reviews which were of the "disappointed" variety--there were plenty I found early on that were entirely satisfied by the series.

Even the disappointed reviews were surprisingly shouted down in the comments--Dustin Rowles on Pajiba, Alyssa Rosenberg on the Washington Post and Linda Holmes on Monkey See/NPR have a fair number of commenters calling them wrong, misguided, or fundamentally stupid. 

So--people liked the series. I guess that shouldn't be surprising, because the series was a stylish serving of comfort entertainment. People like Rowles, Rosenberg (who I find to be extremely insightful and intelligent generally) and Holmes (who I want to have as my new best friend) were disappointed, I think because like me, they saw the series promise to be more than it turned out to be.

Here's the thing--there are plenty of entertainment options which revel in the presentation of unspeakable acts perpetrated on women. Naked women, beautiful corpses, exploited children, ritual posing, and sexual objectification are everywhere in our culture. This series did plenty of that--creepy sexual murder scene, nekkid gorgeous females, spooky music, in-bred yokels as the bad guys/monsters that get decisively defeated via gun violence, some buddy repartee and a happy ending where the good guys win. Add in a substantial portion of Rust Cohle intoning pretentious philosophy, and we have a horror-film lite--all the gruesome, none of the gore, with premium cable levels of nudity. It's almost by the numbers.

Becky Banks has a alternative take on this--she posits the Venn Diagram of Southern Gothic cliche: (Too) Close Family Relationships, Weird Sex, and Malicious Rednecks. Check, check, and check!

Which is really too bad, because it could have been so much more, and it kept seeming to gesture to greater ambitions than a stylish retelling of a story we already know. And that's why it was so disappointing. Not because I'm a spoil-sport feminist who can't watch a show without complaining about the lack of substantial female characters, or because I object to nudity, or because I was waiting for the tentacle-faced Cthulu to make an appearance. No, I am disappointed because the show seemed to promise that it was going to really do something new, and then it resolutely refused to.

I offer exhibit Number 1, Your Honor: Marty Hart's video interview.

While being questioned and taped by the investigating cops Papania and Gilbrough, Marty Hart mentions "The Detective's Curse": the occupational hazard of overlooking what is right under your own nose. He's talking about it in the context of his family--that those kids, that family, that life, was what he was looking for and he couldn't see it in front of him. And that would be poignant enough, right on the surface, especially if we ever saw him understanding what he had done to lose that family, and actually regretting it. (Maybe this is the cause of his sobbing in the finale, when his estranged wife and kids come to visit? I'll entertain the motion.) But by this point, in 2012, while talking to Papania and Gilbrough, he doesn't exhibit much regret at all. Nor do we see any recognition that he had anything to do with the breakup of his family.

Furthermore, the creepy staging of that comment is done in voiceover as the camera pans across the deeply disturbing scenario Audrey has set up with her dolls--a naked barbie doll likes on the rug, surrounded by four standing (and clothed) male dolls, while a fifth one kneels between her legs, his/its hand covering near the belt buckle. It loos like a gang rape at best, the murderous aftermath of gang rape possible. Marty's gaze sweeps across the room, fails to stop at this disturbing scene, and he leaves.

Now that is a provocative set up, and we ate it up like dessert: what exactly is Marty looking at and failing to see? Obviously, he looked right at this set up, he looked right at Audrey's drawings of naked people, he looked right at his goth daughter and her sexual adventuring with boys in cars, and all he could see was his own self-righteousness. Thus were born a thousand internet theories: Audrey has been abused; Audrey was a victim of the cult; Audrey is going to be the next victim. 

It turned out--that we gave the show too much credit for being smart. We thought it was smarter than it was. Because rather than being a profound comment, or an indication of a subtext, Marty only meant exactly what he said--he didn't see the value of his family when it was right under his nose. This is basically what Dorothy says at the end of The Wizard of Oz:

If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?

Surely we can be excused for thinking this show was doing something more than this, right? The 2012 edition of Marty regrets the family life that 1995 Marty took for granted and threw away with his tomcatting, and that's what he means by "The Detective's Curse?" How very. . .conventional. How predictable even. How disappointing, really.

Let's go back and talk about the Woman Issue. Again, here was the series telling us that it was doing something admirable, and then resolutely failing to do so. Rust specifically challenges his CO about a systemic failure to account for missing women and children. When it comes to the horrific snuff video, Rust tells us he refuses to look away. The series tells us that he "stands witness" to disappearances and violence that others conveniently refuse to see. Rust Cohle, seeking justice for the disempowered and the disappeared!

Except--then he doesn't. Or more to the point, the show doesn't. Rust keeps working to solve Dora Lange's murder, which is pretty darn heroic. The lengths he goes to--including returning to his undercover narcotics persona--are excessive and risky, and seem to be the show making the point that Dora at least will not be forgotten.

But then the show goes on and marginalizes and objectifies and uses women and children for shock value without making them anything more than props to the "enlightenment" of the two male leads. Nic Pizzolatto even gave interviews insisting "I am not interested in serial killers" and the point of the series is the character study of the two men. To which I say--then why make it a serial killer story? Why sexualize the series to such a degree if there isn't any narrative point to it? Why make the mystery such a huge, showy, lurid, naked, sexualized, ritualistic, and degraded murder if that isn't the point? Because we won't watch otherwise? Because we won't care about Rust and Marty unless they are investigating the most lurid murder imaginable?

Obviously, not true--we all watched Broadchurch.

I won't go over all the appalling ways women are treated by this story, because I don't think I can do better than Emily Nussbaum did for The New Yorker. I will say that, like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you can't have your cake and eat it too--you can't wallow in the objectification of women's bodies and escape criticism for it by proclaiming that your story is "against that!" Because you are using those women's bodies exactly the same way as the objectionable characters do.

Just take a look at the opening credits, for example. Then count how many female characters are represented ("characters" used here to mean "women with names and actual lines of dialogue"). My quick count is--zero. Next, count how many times women's naked body parts are represented, and ask yourself--were those even in this show? The naked buttocks resting lightly against the spiked black high heels? The curve of the naked back and buttocks that visually echoes the slide on the playground it frames? The dark haired topless woman with the neon cross superimposed on her hair? Sure, the woman in the American flag bathing suit does appear in the show, briefly--because she's dancing at a bar where the detectives go to interview someone else entirely.

(I will give props to the writer of the article at that link--Daniel Walters does a very nice job recognizing and articulating how the themes of the series are laid out in the credits. I am particularly fond of the way he describes the images of the detectives: "Most shows could illustrate loneliness with an abandoned landscape containing a solitary man. But here, in these credits, solitary men contain the abandoned landscapes." Well done, sir.) 

Honestly, at this point, I am simply going to take such visuals as warning signs--"This show is not for you." Because Nic Pizzolatto is completely entitled to write what he wants to, and if he wants to write a story that starts off with the sexualized ritual murder of a drugged prostitute and the provocative posing of her naked body, and he wants to further expand on the theme with serial murders and pedophilia snuff porn, he sure can, and I can spare myself and not watch it. It's like how poisonous plants and bugs in the wild are vividly colored, and those colors warn animals not to eat them. Naked female body parts are a good sign I'm not going to want to consume this media.

Shall we talk about the lack of resolution of the mystery here? Sure, technically, it was solved, in that Dora Lange was (probably) murdered by some combination of Errol Childress and his flunkies, Reggie and Dewall LeDoux. Childress was also probably the perpetrator of the 2012 St. Charles murder as well. But those were not ordinary murders. There were elaborate "paraphiliac maps" with signs of "Satanic worship" and "anti-Christian crimes." They were thick with allegorical references--black stars, Carcosa, the King in Yellow. The very reason these murders are interesting is because they invite our curiosity. Why would somebody do this? Why paint those symbols the body? Why build an elaborate altar? What does it all mean? 

These are not the questioning of hyperactive imaginations. These are the questions the show itself asks. The cops in the CID office speculate as to the Satanic nature of the murder. Reggie LeDoux talks about the black stars right before he is killed. Charlie Lang, Dora's ex-husband describes the spiral brand in LeDoux's back. These aren't just details, they are motifs. And then--the script refuses to explain any of it, other than that Childress is one sick mofo. 

So, HBO and Nic Childress (and Cary Fukunaga), why put all that in if you aren't interested in it and you aren't going to address it? This is not an idle question. If the series was only ever going to be a character study of Rust and Marty, why make the murder such a big showy piece of razzle dazzle? Why not just make it one more murdered prostitute, whose body is just found somewhere mundane. Rust could be obsessed with it for no other reason than it was his daughter's birthday and he was already vulnerable because of it. There could be some detail, some oddity that would link a 2012 murder, and cause Rust to re-investigate the case, purely because it was a way of staying connected with his daughter. It could really have shown us a Rust Cohle whose nihilism truly was a mask, a form of armor to mask the pain of her death, rather than Rust Cohle the badass philosopher whose atheistic anti-humanism slips only at the end of the 8th hour. That would have been a character study.

Matt Zoller Seitz talks about how TD is "about" many different things, including good versus evil. Maybe. But who is "good" in this series? To Pizzolatto's credit, there are no truly "good" characters. However, there are Evil ones. So we get complicated humanity versus Evil--and that robs the Evil of it's believability. Even Erroll Childress had to have some story he told himself about why he killed all those people, and why he was justified in torture, or what he intended to achieve, but we aren't ever privy to it. So that shifts the entire balance of the series--Rust and Marty were men who had a lot of demons, but when it turns out the person they were chasing is himself a demon (in that he has no redeeming qualities) the story flattens out into Good v. Evil.

Rust has a transcendent experience, and finds some hope in a feeling of love from his dead daughter and father. Has he really changed? Doesn't this just show us that all his cynical and nihilistic talk was a serious front he was putting up to avoid feeling the loss of his daughter? Also--spending a decade completely drunk in Alaska--same thing.

How serious was Billy Lee Tuttle's effort to get the Lang murder transferred to his hand-picked task force? We didn't see any real pressure on the 1995 CO to turn it over. In fact, the CO seemed to see it as attractive mainly as a way to save his budget. Do we think that Tuttle took one look at the lead detectives and decided that he didn't need to worry about it. "Eddie's going to be real pleased with these detectives" he says, or something close to that, and if you decide he's being sarcastic, then you can understand why the task force never actually took over--there was no need to.

Did we actually get verification that the Sheriff Childress who shut down the Marie Fontenot case ("Reported in Error") was actually Errol Childress's father--and thus was also the corpse kept bound on the bed in the family estate outbuilding? Was that official misconduct the act of a father covering up his son's misconduct, or did they have a more attenuated relationship? I actually find the idea that this was a twisted case of family covering up for each other in the hopes that they could protect their monstrous offspring much more interesting and complicated than a "rape cult" or "pedophile ring." (To say nothing about the nearly unbelievable report Charlie Lang gave of "some real good killing down south" as if this were a Louisiana version of "The Most Dangerous Game.")

If we had even an instance of seeing complicated family relationships among the Tuttle/Childress clan, the whole Audrey mini-plot ("almost plot") would have resonated more powerfully. Children do unfortunate things, are sometimes sexually inappropriate, and not all parents see the situations clearly, nor do they always react appropriately. Marty's overlooking Audrey's creepy doll display--how different is that from "overlooking" Errol's oeuvre? If the show had made the connection that way--Marty is a small-time version of the Tuttle/Childress parents, protecting their children in unhealthy ways--the story would actually have been creepier, because you could see how small the distance is between the psychopaths and the average people.

I've decided to make it head canon that Maggie got her divorce from Marty, and met a lovely doctor at her work. (We saw Marty accosting her at what appeared to be a hospital after she kicked him out following his affair with the court reporter, so I assume she was at least a nurse.) That big house, the Lillian Bluth wardrobe, and the ostentatious wedding rings she had in 2012 were the signs of how her life improved after Marty. She (and the girls) are better off without him financially, and I have decided that they are also better off emotionally. Dr. Sawyer (head canon!) is maybe an anesthesiologist, who keeps regular hours, makes plenty of money, and has been a terrific stepfather to the girls. So much so that he is the reason they are able to forgive Marty and visit him in the hospital in the last episode.

Odd choice--from 1995 to 2012, Rust gets haggard and scraggly, growing untidy hair and mustache. In the same period, Marty goes bald and gains a substantial beer gut, as well as gets far more furrowed. But Maggie Sawyer--looks exactly the same. I felt this actually served to undermine her character--she hadn't matured in any way, which made her seem oddly insubstantial in the 2012 scenes.

Writer's fatigue? Rust's big revelatory soliloquy, in which he finds cosmic meaning in feeling love from his dead daughter and father is the moment toward which the entire series has been driving, according to Nic Pizzolatto. So does that excuse this? "Beneath the darkness, I felt a further darkness, like a substance." Seriously? Like a substance? Umm, sure--like that's a useful description, dude. I'm sure that's exactly the feeling that would cause a hyper-articulate nihilistic synesthete to entirely change his world view. Because, wow--a substance.

I'm waiting for the YouTube recut, where someone turns all this atmospheric angst into the buddy cop romp that it is at heart. Let me know when that happens.

Monday, March 10, 2014

True Detective--How Very Conventional Of You

Atmospheric music, creepy ambiance, masterful acting by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, and non-linear storytelling elevated this serial killer story from the utterly predictable, but it never managed to fully leave the cliches behind.

One of the things I am expecting to see by tomorrow morning is the True Detective backlash--the internet outrage that the story didn't follow through on it's own promises. I never expected this to take a turn into Lovecraftian horror, and I never expected a cameo from the Elder Gods or Cthulu. But I did hope we were going to get a bit more resolution, a bit more explanation of the tropes that were invoked here. I wanted things to pay off more than they did, even as I cynically expected that they wouldn't.

Let's just make a list, shall we? We'll start with the things that just got


  • We never got an explanation for the cats that were nailed on the doors of the African American church from episode 1.
  • What church did Dora start attending, and why did she think she was going to be nun (like she told her friend at the bunny ranch)?
  • What was "The King in Yellow" anyway? Anybody? Bueller?
  • What about the black stars? And the devil catchers--why were they found where they were?
  • The "green ears" on the "Spaghetti Monster" were literally green paint? How green do you suppose those ears actually were? I much prefer the internet conclusion that it was a green noise canceling headset.
  • Maggie's father wasn't implicated at all? 
  • Audrey's precocious sexuality wasn't related? The creepy rapist doll set up, the dirty pictures she drew, the goth phase and the sexual acting out--were just challenges for Marty to handle, and not clues "right under his nose"? That was sure a missed opportunity.
  • Who did Maggie marry after leaving Marty?
  • Who were the five men we saw in the video (and echoed in the photo at Dora Lange's house, and in Audrey's doll diorama, and Rust's tin men cut out of beer cans)? 
  • What caused the scarring on Errol's face anyway? What was the relationship between Errol and everybody else?
  • Why paint antlered figures on the church wall back in episode 2 (IIRC)? Who did that, and why?
  • Why did Errol (and the others?) pose Dora in the cane field in the first place? Then why do it again from the bridge in St. Charles? What was the logic behind their practices anyway?
  • "Death is not the end?" Where did that come from? And why did the old lady domestic servant know about "Carcosa?" What role did she have?
  • What was the point of the spiral tattoo/brand/paint marking? Did it have some meaning--like at all? Or did it just tie things together so the plot seemed to make some sense?
  • The pharmacy shooter who killed himself in prison--who arranged for that whole scenario? I gather that there really was a phone call, from the pay phone out in the middle of nowhere, and that the means he used was provided by the police officer who was also named "Childress," but who was involved?
  • So instead of any kind of explanation of the "paraphiliac map" and the meaning of the murders, we just get some vague handwaving around "Satanic worship" and "voodoo mashup" and unresolved daddy issues? That's just lazy storytelling. 
  • What was the deal with Errol's accents? And why did he keep that woman/half-sister around?
  • If there is no record of Errol (birth records, newspaper birth announcement, etc.) and no evidence of his existence in the business records--how was he getting paid for mowing the cemetery and abandoned school properties?
  • Who's corpse was that in the outbuilding that Errol went and talked to and why wasn't that body ever missed?
  • How did Billy Lee Tuttle--the incredibly successful creepy evangelist with the schools--reconcile all that creepy stuff with his professed religion?
  • Who was drugging the preschool kids and how? Were the teachers involved? Why?
  • Why was Dora's abdomen knifed? Was there some significance to that, that it was limited to that and not more general mutilation?
  • Where did the giant wreath around the hollow in the tree come from? 
  • What the heck did "making flowers" and "can you smell the flowers" even mean--I get that it was a metaphor for sex between Errol and Betty, but why that one?
  • Who shot the dog at the end? Why?
  • Whatever happened to the "Anti-Christian task force?" That was quite a McGuffin--showed up once, referred to a second time, and then disappeared entirely. It was never a threat, and it should have been if the Tuttles were trying to cover up their involvement. 
  • Maybe the Tuttles were just trying to keep their creepy cousins from getting into trouble, but weren't themselves actually involved, so they were only willing to go so far? Then who were the other two men?
  • What was the deal with Rust tasting "aluminum and ash" on the way to Errol's place--he did the same thing in episode 1 (I think). Was this supposed to be synesthesia? The taste of the "psychosphere" he pissed Marty off about early on? Are we supposed to take this seriously as a real thing?

Shall we talk about the cliches?
  • Seriously, Rust has a religious near death experience?
  • The final manhunt in "Carcosa"--they seriously didn't call for back-up? As soon as Rust said "this is the place" and they had no cell phone reception--they didn't just drive away and get backup? That's fundamentally stupid. 
  • The stupidity is compounded by Rust chasing Errol through the woods and aqueduct (seriously, what the hell was that?) without waiting for Marty to provide back-up? Dumb.
  • How did the cops know to show up--when, where, and with that much support? Did Rust's bar owner boss send off all the packets to news outlets and police departments? So Marty and Rust were lying there in Carcosa for two days (minimum)? (Twenty four hours before the boss sent the packets, and another 24 hours estimated for mail delivery, reviewing the packets, and mobilizing.) They didn't even have that location confirmed when Rust made up the packets.
  • Seriously--they shot the perp AGAIN? Seriously? With no blow back, since they aren't even actually cops anymore either?
  • Also--could we load any more Sooper Speshulness onto poor Rust Cohle? He's got mad detective skillz, knows snipers, can headbutt a guy to submission while impaled on a knife, demonstrates, formidable B&E (breaking and entering) talents, suffers from LSD flashbacks, has synesthesia, and articulates "deep" philosophical insights into the insignificance of humanity in the cosmic scheme. Oh wait--he also looks like Jesus in the hospital and even get a wound in the side, and is apparently immortal.
I'm sure there are more things that will turn up, either I will remember, or they will be hashed over on the internet. In the end, the script was fundamentally the same story we have heard many times before--sadistic and flamboyant serial killer with a taste for naked female corpses. Also, a weird predilection for arts and craft projects--the antlered crown, the devil catcher, the paintings on the walls of abandoned churches and his own outbuildings. A lot of nihilistic bloviating about stark cosmic "truths." A cop with an explosive temper and a bad marriage. Vague handwaving at the killer's motive--what was done to him, mixed with "devil worship" references but no real explanation. 

The most interesting thing about the script was the nested time frames. The most watchable part of the series was the acting by Harrelson and McConaughey. The thing that gave it gravitas was the atmospheric music. 

The disappointment I felt in the resolution of the plot came from the piling on of specific details (The King in Yellow, the Black Stars, etc) that meant nothing and went nowhere. Possibly, in the context of a novel, those kind of specific details serve to ground the story in a material world, to give it the patina of plausibility. In a visual medium, however, the "real world" is already present--embodied even, in the locations and the actors. So the details that need to be included in a novel to create that illusion of reality, tend to stand out too obviously in the television version. So the internet goes nuts, taking the inclusion of specific details as more meaningful than they end up being.

And there were some very interesting theories that I saw, posited in the last week. "The Yellow King" was a boat, not a person. The missing women were used to breed the line of Tuttles/Childresses, and then murdered when they either failed to conceive the first time ("He only liked them the once") or after they gave birth. The Munchausen by proxy mother was a victim of the cult. Audrey was exposed to the cult. Maggie's father was connected to the cult. The Wellspring schools project was a feeder of victims to the cult.

None of these ideas were definitively addressed, one way or another, including all the open issues I set out above. I expect we are going to see some very disappointed commenters in the next 24 hours.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

True Detective--It's All About The Man Pain

Look. I get it. Nic Pizzolatto wrote a study of two very different men, thrown together involuntarily, who had to work through their antagonism to solve a mystery. This was really only about the two of them, and the murder case was more or less just the mechanism through which to test their characters against each other.

Knowing that, it's certainly understandable to answer the feminist criticism of the work (so ably articulated by Emily Nussbaum in the New Yorker) with the completely true statement that "other than Rust and Marty, none of the other characters is fleshed out. It's not just the women that are two dimensional."

And I can't argue with that. Pretty much every body else in this series is about as cliched and two dimensional as you can imagine. The religious folk are hypocrites or disillusioned. The women are mostly prostitutes, except for Marty's wife and daughters, and even they exist primarily to illuminate Marty's (lack of) character. Steve Gerasci is a coward and a bully of a cop. The murderer is a seedy hick in a hoarder house with an unsavory sex life and an elaborate lair that he decorates in "Shabby Creep." Nobody has much of a life agenda or interior life outside of the two headliners.

Yet, the show is still virulently, rhizomatically, systematically guilty of erasing women except as they accessorize men. Here's the example that encapsulates this.

In episode seven, Rust shows Marty a horrific video tape of what was done to Marie Fontenot, a girl that had gone missing back in 1990, five years before the start of the True Detective narrative. The audience doesn't see what is on the tape, except for a few seconds of men in masks and a young girl in a white dress and crown made out of antlers (I think?) walking blindfolded through some woods. There is a fractional view down her spread legs as the masked men approach. After that, we only see Marty's face as he watches the rest of the film, and his horrified reaction. And he is horrified, turning and smashing his hands on a table as he howls.

Then, early in episode eight (the final), Rust forces Steve Gerasci to watch the tape. Marty walks out of the room, unwilling to see it again. The shot cuts away, to show the boat the men are on in the middle distance as Gerasci screams.

What do these scenes have in common? They have as their focus the pain of the men forced to watch this scene. In both cases, the camera returns to these now traumatized men, as they struggle to make sense of what they have seen and what they are going to do as a result. It is about their emotional distress, their sense of violation. Or, as the internet has dubbed it, their man pain.

Now, I'm not saying they shouldn't be horrified by what they saw. In fact, I am glad they were. But this is where the storytelling sells women's stories short. No one takes even a second to express their sorrow or pity at what happened to Marie Fontenot. Neither Rust, nor Marty, nor Gerasci express even a cursory regret about what Marie went through. There is no heartfelt "Jesus Christ, that poor girl." The story moves immediately to "what are these men going to do about it?" Marty agrees to help Rust chase down the guilty men. Gerasci immediately shifts blame away from himself. It's a macho display of power--Rust stays in the room, doesn't turn his gaze away. Gerasci abases himself, trying to distance himself from the fall out.

No one acknowledges Marie--her suffering, her death, her humanity. She is merely a plot device to propel the actions of the men.

This is the problem with this series, and what fundamentally pisses me off ( and probably Emily Nussbaum as well). It's not that the women are any less thin than most of the men--it's that the women's experiences are given zero empathetic response, while we linger on the man pain.

There is another example--the boy who disappeared in the bayou, and only his pirogue was found. "They said it was gators" his father says when interviewed by Rust. The father reports that the boy's mother thought she could hear him calling from under the water. Where is this mother? Where is her story? Why did Pizzolatto have this be reported by the man, second hand, rather than first hand by the woman herself? Dramatically, it's not the strongest way to tell the story, but once again, it privileges the man's pain--he lost a son and his wife went mad. Which is more important narratively than the woman who lost her son and herself?

So now, in the final chapter of this story, we finally enter "Carcosa," the lair of the "Spaghetti Monster" man. There are wrapped corpses--presumably the bodies of the missing women and children. (Remember, back in the early episodes, when the CO told Rust that there could be no murder charges without a body? Here are those bodies.) But they aren't treated as the remains of human beings who here murdered--often horrifically. They are just set dressing, the creepy props of a scene that builds to the bad guy literally jumping out at Rust from a dark corner.

I'm not really asking for very much--honestly. I'm not asking for the fleshing out of women't characters. Im' not asking for gender equity in the storytelling. I'm not asking that the story be told from the perspective of women instead of Rust and Marty. All I am asking for is for the victims, the prostitutes, the wives and daughters, be treated--just for a second or two--as people who had their own stories, their own hopes and dreams, their own agency and agendas, who lost those lives in the course of this investigation. The small recognition that these women would have liked to live, would have liked to not be tortured and murdered and posed in a sick display. That they had other dreams, other paths, that they were denied, and that loss was sad in its own right--not just because it furthered the plot for some men.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Oscars--Final Prediction Tally

How did I do? I got these ones right:

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Animated Feature: Frozen 
Best Original Song: "Let It Go" from Frozen
Best Original Screenplay: Her
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave
Hair and Makeup: Dallas Buyers Club
Visual Effects: Gravity
Cinematography: Gravity

What I got wrong:

Costume Design: I predicted 12 Years, it went to The Great Gatsby
Production Design: Again, predicted 12 Years, it went to The Great Gatsby

So, 13 out of 15 predictions were right? Wow, I've never been that accurate before. Or maybe I have, I don't think I ever had the guts to actually write down my predictions before.

Oscars, Part 5

Glenn Close--in another really elegant black tailored dress. These ladies of a certain age know how to dress. And now, it's the In Memoriam, which makes the dress really especially appropriate. And they have silenced the applause--good move.

Bette Midler changed her dress, and I really like this one--elegant and tasteful, and with a subtle use of color so it's not funereal, but it's very appropriate for her role to sing after the In Memoriam segment. "Wind Beneath My Wings" isn't my jam, but I'm sure this is going to get favorable reactions.

(Okay, I'm not gripped by her performance, so now I'm thinking about all those translucent Oscar statue figurines--what happens to them afterwards. I'm sure they were not cheap to produce, and I don't imagine that they have much of an afterlife. So--do they get auctioned off, donated to the AMPAS museum, presented to winners (if they want them), or just melted down?)

(Checking in on time--it's been 2 1/2 hours, there are at least 8 more awards to give out--so we have another hour and a half at least?)

Goldie Hawn is also wearing a dress that shows Julie Delpy how to do it. And she's got to be about 25 years older than Delpy, so maybe the secret is undergarments? And maybe we really would prefer to be French for precisely that reason?

Excuse me, John Travolta--who is singing this song? It didn't sound like "Idina Menzel" or any combination of syllables that could be close. Maybe it was an anagram?

And fashionwise--I much prefer the softer hair, and there is kind of thematic snowiness to the gown. And magpie that I am, I adore the curtains of crystals decorating the stage. "The cold never bothered me anyway"--that was a drop the mike moment, and she kind of mimed that without actually doing that.

Nice acknowledgement of the musicians who are -- offsite I guess?

Original Score
I did not make a prediction.
Winner: Gravity. Which makes sense, because there was so little dialogue, music did a LOT of work in that film.

Original Song.
I predict: "Let It Go."
Winner: "Let It Go" The co-writer has just joined the EGOT ranks. Robert Lopez, congratulations.

That pizza gag just keeps on giving--as does Pharrell's hat.

Penelope Cruz in a lovely pink dress with a black ribbon belt. Is she pregnant again? There is a slightly suspicious wobble to the line of that belt, and a carefulness to the way she is holding that wrap around her left arm.

Adapted Screenplay:
I predicted: 12 Years a Slave
Winner: 12 Years a Slave

Original Screenplay:
I predicted: Her
Winner: Her  (Wow, I am on a roll!)

Angelina Jolie and Sidney Poitier. Interesting mix. Definitely some serious effort to make the Oscars less purely white tonight. She's also wearing one of these silver sequined/skin tone illusion dresses. That is the theme tonight, much more than "Heroes."

(Interestingly, it appears that the winners get to keep their statues for at least the night. Lupita Nyong'l has hers in her lap. Back in the day, they used to have to leave them backstage to be engraved.)

Director.
I predict: Gravity
The winner: Gravity (In so far as Best Director rewards technical achievement, this was really quite an achievement.)

I need to go back to and tally up my predictions, and then go find out if Nate Silver had already made the same predictions that I did.

Best Actress:
I predict: Cate Blanchett
Winner: Cate Blanchett

Best Actor:
I predict: Matthew McConaughey
Winner: Matthew McConaughey (and glad to see he's put a bit a weight back on)

Best Picture
I predict: 12 Years a Slave
Winner: 12 Years a Slave

And that's all, folks!


Oscars, Part 4

And we're back, but people aren't in their seats.

Ellen actually ordered three pizzas, and she's passing them out. At least, she brought them out. Love it. This is so much fun in a generous way!

"I don't have any money--where is Harvey Weinstein?"

Ellen is really giving this such a good vibe.

Bill Murray is being generous and expansive too.

Cinematography
I predict: Gravity
The Winner: Gravity

(I did post my predictions yesterday in a different post--this looks suspicious, but I promise that I'm not cheating.)

(Actually, I'm cheating because I only picked the big awards, and punted on foreign and technical categories. I had entered an Oscar pool, those would be the ones that would separate the winners from the losers, so I'm not actually doing all that well00some of these picks are pretty expected winners.)

Gabourey Sidibe looks awesome in purple. She and Lupita Nyong'o sure know how to rock color!

Does Julia Roberts recognize that Whoopie Goldberg is wearing her horrible--was it Golden Globes look? But I think Roberts didn't add striped stockings and ruby slippers.

Pink singing a tribute to the Wizard of Oz--not a predictable choice, that's for sure. The ruby ball gown, though, is quite on point.

So of course--Ellen comes out as Glinda. Because, of course.

Jennifer Garner has a great fringed dress. And Benedict Cumberbatch!

Production Design:
I Predict: 12 Years a Slave (I was predicting more or less a sweep)
The Winner: The Great Gatsby (That was a beautiful movie!)

Chris Evans introduces the fictions Heroes tribute. Lots of comic books and fantasy movies. Not sure these segments add up to anything in particular, but I guess it's always fun to see a bunch of clips.

Who is Emma Watson sitting with? Does she have a boyfriend? I hope so!

Oscars, Part 3

Kate Hudson is looking fabulous, with the posture that Julie Delpy needed to pull off her dress. It's a perfect mix of satin, sparkle, plunge and perfect fit. She is maturing into very lovely looks--I didn't quite recognize her.

Let's order pizzas, Ellen!

I liked that Ellen called back to the Lotto scratch-off cards she gave to Bradley Cooper (as a consolation prize to losing to Jared Leto) when he comes out to announce documentary awards.

20 Feet From Stardom just won! And it's not about a heavy subject matter! A movie about back up singers just won over a movie about genocide? What universe have we entered? And now Darlene Love is belting at the mike, so there is no way the orchestra can try to play her off--they couldn't possible be heard.

Governor's Awards presented separately? Isn't that a change from past years? I seem to remember some Humanitarian or Lifetime Achievement winners getting about 84 minutes of screen time in the middle of the broadcast. I would watch the heck out of a retrospective of Angela Lansbury's career--can we get that online somewhere?

Viola Davis is here in her great emerald gown, but I hadn't noticed her marcelled hair. Pretty awesome. Ewan MacGregor is looking kind of greasy. And Italy wins for The Great Beauty, which I believe I may need to see.

And here we go, with U2 performing on the Oscars. These have been really excellent performances tonight. We have come so far from the years of Debbie Allen choreographing awkward interpretive dances to the musical nominees. This is what happens when you let the actual performers--people who actually perform music for their (incredibly remunerative) livings.

This group selfie is pretty awesome, Ellen. Totally awesome. And generous, sweet, and a complete tonal shift from last year's host Seth MacFarlane. Who thought "We Saw Your Boobs" was a good idea? Looks even worse an idea after something as cute as this group selfie bit.

"Michael B. Jordan, and Kristin B. Ell. What?"

I don't like Kristin's dress as a whole, but it makes her décolletage look FABULOUS.

Perhaps the best part of giving the Sound awards to Gravity is that so much of the sound was limited to what would actually be transmitted through the vacuum.

Supporting Actress:
I predict: Lupita Nyong'o
The winner: Lupita Nyong'o

Well, now Yale Drama School will have its pick of applicants. And I wrote that before she called it out!
She's holding it together so much better than Halle Berry did, and she is SO YOUNG!




Oscars, Part 2

Is there something ironic about having Samuel L. Jackson present for hair? Well, he talks about it, but the award is actually costume design, which goes to The Great Gatsby. Did I predict that? Nope--I thought it was going to go to 12 Years.

Hair and makeup did go to Dallas Buyers Club, which I did predict!

Wow--we've got an average of one award every 12 minutes. At this rate, the show is going to go nearly FIVE HOURS. Okay, then.

The "conversation" between Kim Novak and Matthew McConaughey is really awkward. He's trying to be gracious, she seems to be careening off-script, he's trying to follow, and it's really really odd. Short animated film--I only saw the one from Disney, which I'm happy to see not win. It was fine, but felt like the kind of gimmicky show that lives in the "shows" at Disney World. It will have a long and productive life there.

Best animated feature film:
I predict: Frozen.
The winner: Frozen!

Interesting factoid: I heard that the envelope and papers, seals, and back-ups that may also be delivered to winners AFAIK--each one cost over $300. The stationery budget for this show is HUGE!

Sally Field has a lovely and sparkly jet dress with short sleeves and full skirt. Very attractive and flattering. Another tribute to "Heroes"--this time they are real people who have had stories made into movies. So--more filler. Because these award shows aren't long enough, and we are expected to recognize all these movies. I happen to, but there are a couple that I can't identify. So I guess they are pretty iconic, because I haven't seen badly any of them.

Emma Watson is wearing the heck out of a modern and fresh classic gown, but I can't sign off on her make-up. She's so lovely, and somebody went heavy-handed on her face, which is really too bad. Visual effects:

I predict: Gravity.
The winner: Gravity.

Karen O performing "The Moon Song" from Her. Nice to have a chance to see how nicely a punk goddess can clean up. Hated the song inside the movie, thought it made the Artificial Intelligence seem cliched and hackneyed as it tried to write a song. I do like the staging of it here, with her shoes off and placed on the stage next to her--that's exactly the kind of moment that song evokes.

Oscars 2014

After about 15 months of Red Carpet blather and a hopelessly low FPM (fashions per minute) rate, we are going to have the actual event.

Why yes, I do sound jaded. Perhaps this is the last year I'll bother live-blogging, rather than recapping. And that retirement may very well happen mid-ceremony tonight as well. There are at least 5 blogs that I read regularly that are live tweeting, and I don't read that many. So I can probably find dozens of them  without needing to create my own. Ceremony recap is similarly well covered. The internet has come a long way from the olden days when you had to wait a week for People Magazine to come out with its fashion coverage.

Now, of course, stuff is posted seconds after it happens, is infinitely searchable and findable, and clips go up within 24 hours. My

So, here we are with the obligatory call out of people who are here tonight routine. But Ellen looks great in her sparkling blue velvet tux, her jokes are gentle but still funny--much kinder than Seth McFarlane. But she still did "The nominees have together made 1400 films, and a total of 6 years of college. Stay in school, kids."

"I'm not going to say, who's the prettiest tonight, but let's be honest, it's Jared Leto."

"Lupita Nyong'o is here. She is from Kenya: she is a Kenyan. Barkhad Abdi is from Somalia, he is a Sommalier, so he knows a lot about wine. Who's the wine captain now?"

Anne Hathaway to present Best Supporting Actor. Her dress is lovely--it's got the vibe that Anna Kendrick's was going for, but does it right. Just the right amount of strap and shape, but massive bling, and looks great on her. Love it. And the Oscar goes to:

I predict: Jared Leto.
Winner is: Jared Leto.

There is an entire blog post about the tipping point we are on right now, between the old way of having "daring" men play transsexual roles, and the growing demand for using actual transsexuals playing these roles, like Orange is the New Black. I'm not quite sure where I fall on this dispute, but it's interesting.

Lovely that Leto is using this time to speak to his mom and brother. He's not putting his foot into his mouth about what it takes to play this role. He's also calling out to the larger world, before he does the list of people he needs to thank. Much the best speech he's given this awards season.

Jim carey looks dapper in a blue shiny tux with a black shirt and I think a bow tie? Hard to see over the facial contortions. He's introducing animated movies? Yes, after an LSD joke and then putting on his Martin Scorsese glasses. But it's not an actual award, it's a tribute to animated heroes? No wonder these shows go on for donkey's years.

Great staging of Pharrell's "Happy"with great dancers of all ages--literally--there's a couple of kids who look to be about eightI Also love the reinterpretation of THAT HAT. That is such a great song--it deserves to win, but I don't think it can possibly beat the juggernaut that is "Let It Go." So I guess he'll just have to be happy being the force behind three of the biggest pop hits of the year--"Happy," "Blurred Lines," and "Up All Night." I mean, it's only fair to ask him to share a little bit.

And we're into a commercial break!

Oscars Red Carpet--Repeats and Filler

We still have over an hour to go before the ceremony starts!

Matthew MeConnaughey in a white jacket over a black waistcoat. White is apparently the trend of the evening for men, and white/skin/blush for women.

ABC has Jennifer Lawrence, who is wearing a great Neil Lane necklace down the back, with a red strapless Dior with hip peplum?  She looks great, but less "major" than last year. It's almost the same color of red as her Calvin Klein swimsuit gown that she wore when nominated for Winter's Bone.

Anne Hathaway spotted in the crowd, wearing something that is a sort of breastplate silver on black dress--much more sophisticated than what she had last year. It works with her dark hair and striking features.

Charlize Theron in balck Dior--her necklace looks like a match to Blanchett's earrings. It's perfectly tailored, fitted amazingly, with a lovely train.

Recap--Amy Adams' dress has pocketflaps on the hips--echoing Jennifer Lawrence's hip peplums, but smaller and tailored.

Kerry Washington in a aubergine sack by Jason Wu--it looks comfortable, but not much to look at. I don't like the hair--it gives her a flat head on top. It's fine, she's pregnant, but she's so much better looking than this.

I'm break to make dinner, and watching pre-taped filler, so I'm posting this, calling it a wrap, and we'll see you inside the Dolby Theater!

Oscar Red Carpet--Before Midnight edition

Julie Delpy is wearing something that is highly age inappropriate. She is a beautiful woman, but she's wearing this thing that looks like something Jennifer Lopez probably already wore. It's deeply plunging, and Delpy's boobs look droopy, her shoulders look sloped and rounded, she just looks generally saggy, and the color is doing nothing for her skin tone. It's Jenny Packham--Delpy doesn't have the body that Catherine Cambridge has--it's just sad.

Lupita Nyong'o with Seacrest. She's carrying the dress in exactly the way Delpy wasn't. This is Lupita's first role out of school--I hadn't actually heard that. Not sure I'm liking the headband and earring combination she's got going on with a complicated hair look--she's doing with her head what Kristin Bell is doing with her dress. The dress is Prada, it's a classic Grecian gown, but she says it reminds her of Nairobi. And they are making her do the ManiCam.

Anna Kendrick in J Mendel. Don't like it.

Naomi Watts  in white Calvin Klein and she's walking on the hem. The clutch is great and geometric and the necklace too, but I think they fight with the more clumpy beading on the dress. Live Schriber is "home with the kids, has an early call in the morning."

June Squibb in a lovely age appropriate green Tadashi Shoji, custom for her. It's nicely constructed, with some lines that give her shape and she looks great. And she's 84! Love her emerald earrings too.

Jared Leto with June Squibb, he's flirting with her and they are playing up as if they are dating. It's very nice. Leto is wearing the white jacket--twins with Seacrest, but a burgundy tie. Then they spend all their time talking about Leto's mom.

And now--checking out the ABC coverage--which traditionally has the same stars, just after E! does, because they are closer to the entrance.

Anna Kendrick again--I like her earrings, little fans with tassels, but still very very busy as a whole look. She's got a cool red clutch. The dress is showing some side-boob, still do not like.

Amy Adams looks better on ABC--the lighting shows her colors better--the blue looks somewhat brighter, but still so seriously understated. She's calling it her "Vertigo homage" as Kim Novak is being honored tonight.

Benedict Cumberbatch on E!. His hair is too well groomed. I like the ruffled Sherlock curls better. He looks dapper, he's delightful, he's gone and Kevin Spacey is here as a producer for Captain Phillips I think?

Jessica Biel in Chanel Couture, alone and ManiCam. Her dress is very close to her skin toneIt's understated, it's fine. Nice row of buttons down the back.

Bette Midler, Rheem Acra in red and white. She looks great.

Sally Hawkins was hovering behind Bette, in a major dress and I didn't recognize her, but that was a dress I wanted to see more of. Lots of encrusted needing and appliqué, in an over the top Valentino that doesn't look like too much.

Sarah Paulson also in a glittery skin-colored dress (skin colored because it is almost exactly her skin color.) Elie Saab--this is giving sort of a Britney Spears vibe she and Sally Hawkins are pushing--and also Cate Blanchett seems to have the same thing going. She's just stepped up--is it Britney Spears, or is it Olympic Skater? Netting, scattered sparkles, her version has paillettes and bugle beads and it's kind of mangy looking really.

Major earrings. I do like those. Giorgio Armani--are the earrings diamond or opals?


Oscars Red Carpet--25 Minutes Left of E!'s Monopoly

About 25 minutes until ABC starts its own Red Carpet coverage, so there will be some switching back and forth.

Olivia Wilde's dress IS Valentino, which is what Julia Roberts' one was back in the day. Jason Sudekis is presenting? Why?  Her makeup--definite cat eye--very Sophia Loren. The earrings feel very 70s. Sudekis is showing us his official cheat sheet for pronouncing foreign language nominees.

Chewtel Ejiofor is here alone? Lovely English accent he's got.

Amy Adams in Gucci couture and Tiffany jewels. Her hair is pulled back and muted as well. She's gorgeously tailored, with a tiny tiny waist, but she looks so boring for a big night. This is the look of someone who doesn't expect to win. Compare her look to Jennifer Lawrence last year, and JLaw was taking up space, while Amy Adams is kind of slipping in unnoticed.

Idina Menzel --nothing else to say than what I already said. She's spending a lot of time dealing with her hair. Vera Wang dress.

Lupia Nyong'o in a Grecian pleated icy blue gown. John Legend performing at the Governor's Ball. Chrissy Teigen in a brown and pink Monique Lhullier, with pockets to hold the iPhone. She's got interesting pink stone earrings.

Anna Kendrick--not great. There's a slit, some black tinted netting, a cut out at the waist with stones, a bunch of straps in the back, Too much.

Pharrell--wearing formal capris, but no hat. Fine. Weird. Musician. Lanvin made the tux shorts.

Getting a full view of Kristin Bell's dress--there's a weird texture thing happening from the knees down. Trend Spotting--overly busy dress tailoring.

Laura Dern with her Dad and Mom, since Bruce is actually nominated. Mom is in a plain black turtleneck jersey with sparkly major earrings and clutch. Laura has a light pink structured dress. It's a little too tight around the top--opposite problem from Chenowith.

June Squibb was caught in the FashionCam nonsense--the light is still terrible, bleaching out the image.

For Red Carpet coverage, there is precious little actual fashion being discussed here. Seacrest is interviewing, which is fine, but you can't see the outfits. The camera that is supposed to capture the fashion is crappy, and the commentary from Ross and Kelly is apparently also experiencing technical problems and they can't see anything. Kelly has pulled out binoculars, and the two of them are punchy and even more unprofessional than usual.

Oscars Red Carpet--Actual Celebrities Arriving!


Chenowith is here because her boyfriend is nominated for producing work. Her dress is gold and very Art Deco. I wish it fit better at the top. 

Anna Kendrick arriving in a complicated black dress that looks worth a few looks.

NO! Chenowith on ManiCam. RETIRE THIS.

Kristin Bell in a single photo--grayish white, corset construction. Not loving it.

Amy Adams in navy blue and boring. 

Olivia Wilde is pregnant, in a dress that it's mix of black and white totally recalls Julia Roberts gown from when she won for Erin Brockovich. It's a nice look for minimizing the bump.

Barkhad Abdi--brand new to Hollywood, and may never ever be in another movie again.

Chrissy Teigen is texting with one hand, pulling up her strapless dress with the other. 

Idina Menzel--deep green draped and strapless, amazing huge collar. I'm not a fan of the lank hair--Sandra Bullock had some of that in past awards too. 

Kristin Bell being interviewed--She looks very tiny and slim, but not able to see it. As she left, it looked a bit overdone on the skirt--some beading, some draping, a train--a lot going on for a tiny person, plus the actual corset lacing in the back. Not a fan.


Oscar Red Carpet--Social Media

There is also E! branded social media. Because of course there is. I will not be checking that out or reporting on that at all.

Ross and Kelly--do not care. Kelly stood in the TSA/Glam cam--and it's predictably terrible. The camera rotates around and picks up lens flare from the shiny metal posts that support the thing. Terrible terrible--but nobody has mentioned ManiCam.

We learn that Jared Leto is 42 years old, and is the oldest of the Supporting Actor nominees. Turns out age really is just a number.

And still--nobody worth talking to. So--more ads!

So, instead of posting this during the ads, I'm holding onto this in case there is anything else worth commenting on.

Retrospective on Sandra Bullock's award season dresses. Won't recap that. They have at least learned that they have too much time, not enough celebrities, so they have all kinds of pre-taped things to fill the time. And filler it is.

Finally! Viola Davis--a real celebrity being interviewed!

Gorgeous deep green asymmetrical Escada she is wearing, claiming that green is her go-to color.

Meanwhile, the main picture is some arriving stars.

Kristin Chenoweth in a pixie cut, and a gold dress that doesn't really fit around the bust.

Liza Minelli has a deep blue streak in her hair to match her shirt/dress.

Olivia Wilde from the back in a black dress with white earrings and a white pleat down the back that makes a train maybe?

Turns out that Ross and Kelly are in a "skybox" which is actually just a tent on the roof of the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum. Not actually glamorous, I'm actually surprised they showed us that, because it totally punctures the image of glamor.

Portia Di Rossi in a dress that looks like a macrame plant holder from 1972. It's apparently Neem Khan, and faux sheer, it's nice, but maybe a bit too doily/gramma's lace tablecloth for my taste.

Liza went past while Seacrest was talking to Di Rossi--that is a Major Miss, isn't it?

Chenowith in the Stupid "Fashion Turn" camera booth. It's all jerky and not at all well lit, so actually hard to see the dress for the lens flares.

Oscars Red Carpet--Cross Promotion

Giuliana is promoting her reality show, Ryan is name dropping "the radio show"--did you know there are other shows on E!?

I did go check out the second screen--I have zero interest in a "Limo Cam," and not very interested in the long long shot down the red carpet, called "LiveStream" so that leaves the "Fashion Cam"--and there's nobody you recognize there yet either.

Really guys? We are playing "Guess the star from the parent/date they brought?" And Giuliana is a poor winner when she properly identifies, she jumps around and is entirely impossible to even watch.

Oscars Red Carpet--Snack Division

Still no celebrities, so they are interviewing Wolfgang Puck about what he's serving at the Governor's Ball. Puck has a very young chef, who looks about 10--are we getting a preview of Grand Budapest Hotel here? Quite a Lobby Boy.

Pre-taped segment on Ellen DeGeneres. Why am I bothering with this?

A second screen experience online? How am I going to keep track--there are so many live blog/couch party opportunities, plus E! online as well? There my be no reason for me to bother with this after this year, it's all over the place.

Oscars Red Carpet--The Empty Carpet

We have Ryan Seacrest in a cream colored jacket, which looks weird to me against the white shirt. What did they wear back in the 1950s, when white dinner jackets were so chic?

The hosts are talking to each other, because there is nobody there. It's the empty carpet segment.

Now there is a new camera being introduced--it looks a lot like the back scatter TSA thing you have to go through. Are we going to see people with their arms up, assuming the position? Taking off their shoes?

Does this also mean that they have retired the much reviled "ManiCam?" One can only hope.

Interesting factoid--Among the Best Actor nominees, only one (Christian Bale) already has an Oscar. Among Best Actress, the opposite--only Amy Adams doesn't already have an Oscar.


Oscars 2014

Okay! Got your snacks and your drinks? Wearing your satin lounging pajamas? Ready to do this?

It's OSCAR™ TIME!

Here's what's going to happen: I will start blogging with fashions on E!, until I simply cannot stand Giuliana any more. (I'm no Seacrest fan, either, but he's practically Walter Cronkite next to Giuliana "Inappropriate Comments About Women's Bodies" Rancic.)

I will post during commercial breaks and then start a new post. Perhaps, if I'm feeling like I want to be thorough, I might go back and find photos to illustrate.

If it's offering enough for commentary, I'll go ahead and continue through the ceremony itself.

But at any point, I absolutely reserve the right to abandon this project entirely and just watch.

Final question--is there any point in E! running a "Countdown to the Red Carpet"--do you think we will actually like Giuliana more if we spend even more time with her? And her dress? Very prom, too much tulle. Beside her, Kelly Osbourne looks sophisticated and elegant--even with her lavender hair. Kelly's got a black tea length thing, with long sleeves, some interesting texture. Who would have called that?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Oscar Predictions, 2014

I chickened out on a couple of the Best Picture Nominees and didn't go see them--12 Years A Slave, Captain Phillips, and Wolf of Wall Street just felt like the ratio of punishment to enjoyment was too far out of whack to do to myself voluntarily. (I saw trailers for Captain Phillips months ago, and was turned off to that right away, and have never really felt I needed to revise that opinion.)

BUT--I think 12 Years a Slave is such a likely winner for Best Picture--it's Meaningful, it's Historic, it Speaks To Important Issues Today (Racism)--that's like catnip so often! Lupita Nyong'o is also getting such love that she seems like a real contender.

So--just so I can go back and see what I thought, here are my Oscar pool picks.

The Biggies

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey for Dallas Buyers Club
Best Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Best Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Best Animated Feature: Frozen (a JUGGERNAUT!)
Best Original Song: "Let It Go" from Frozen. Could lose out narrowly to "Invisible" from Mandela, but I'd prefer "Happy" from Despicable Me 2 over that.
Best Original Screenplay: Her, although I want it to be Nebraska.
Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave

Random Technical Awards:

I would like to see Best Costume Design to go to either The Great Gatsby or  American Hustle, but I'm guessing it will go to 12 Years a Slave. Same for Scenic design, although Her might steal it.

Hair and Makeup should go to American Hustle, since hair is SO MUCH a part of that movie, but it wasn't even nominated. So instead, it should be Dallas Buyers Club, since apparently the entire budget for hair and makeup for the entire movie was literally $250. That's some magic right there.

Gravity will take Best Visual Effects, and probably Best Cinematography too.

Script Doctoring Elementary--"The One Percent Solution"

Honestly, show--can you tie up your loose ends please?

In this episode, a bomb has gone off in a restaurant, killing several people at a table for eight, including a big wheel at the mythical financial corporation and the Department of Labor people he was meeting with. Two survivors of the blast are available to talk, and Gareth Lestrade returns.

Lestrade in this series is a hack, who gained some measure of fame in London working with Sherlock and taking credit for Sherlock's solutions. In an earlier episode, Sherlock calls it an "addiction to fame." Now Lestrade is in New York, serving as the "security czar" for this corporation and swanning about showing off his wealth and prestige. It's obvious this guy is all hat, no cattle, or as Den of Geek calls him, "The Guilderoy Lockhart of Scotland Yard."

He also sets Sherlock's teeth on edge--Johnny Lee Miller is doing such a good job with conveying his physical distaste of Lestrade's grandstanding, it nearly comes out of the television and into the room. The script sets up the antagonism even before they meet up again, as Sherlock objects in principle to anyone calling themselves a "czar" of anything.

So, the mystery is set up, the conflict is set, we only need the B plot, which is also thematically appropriate--Sherlock has broken up a cock fighting ring and brought home two of the roosters to try to train to not fight each other. He names them Romulus and Remus, but they are really named "Sherlock" and "Gareth." (We will also accept "Sherlock" and "Mycroft" as correct.)

So first order of business is to interview the two casualties who can talk. One is an undersecretary of labor who was there with her boss, sitting at the far end of the table. (Her name is "Not Sheryl Sandberg" apparently.) The other is the restaurant manager. Sherlock asks Not Sheryl Sandberg for a seating arrangement, and the restaurant manager says the only unusual thing was that there was a waiter who came in but left early complaining of stomach ache. So--two lines of inquiry--who was the target, and was the waiter involved?

(Meanwhile, Lestrade is doing some hokey stuff, and then he continues to be a jerk, even trying to look suave in front of Sherlock while clumsily fishing for information he can appropriate. There is also a sub-B semi-plot around Lestrade's assistant that isn't worth discussing.)

Waiter is a dead end--he's got some Ayn Rand posturing on the internet, so went to ground. The seating chart shows that the three people closest to the bomb (and who are all conveniently dead now, so no info from them) are two Department of Labor people, and the up and coming shark at Lestrade's firm. Now there's a motive--Lestrade's boss wanted to erase the threat to his own position. A fake name at the hotel next door, evidence that Lestrade checked his boss in, evidence of corporate surveillance ordered on the young shark by Lestrade's boss--

Nope! Boss is a sexual fetishist who uses Lestrade to be his first contact with women. Basically, Lestrade's a corporate pimp.

Someone calls into the police station, claiming responsibility. It's Elementary's version of the Unibomber, named "Aurelius." But this time it's a copycat "Aurelius" because Sherlock and Joan find the real one dead in his bomb making shack--been there for more than a week, so not a suspect.

Then, a demand note comes in to Lestrade's boss, ordering certain trades to happen, spread out so they are untraceable, or Fake Aurelius will disclose Bosses's skeevy sex life. Oh noes! And then, suddenly, Sherlock sees the connection! For these trades to work, somebody needs access to Labor reports before anybody else sees them. So it's Ms. Not Sheryl Sandberg who planted the bomb, so she could kill the two people who were in front of her to see the Labor numbers. Now she gets them first! And she's just about to leave the hospital to go to the airport and fly off to Place with No Extradition Agreements. But she's arrested instead! The end!

Like--assuming that this is the plot--that this undersecretary planted a bomb (a BOMB!!!) to kill her two superiors, so she could get reports before they went public, so she could arrange an arbitrage situation in the financial markets, but that to pull off those trades, she had to blackmail the CEO of a major trading firm to do it. That's the plan. Ooooo-kaaaay.

So, I have questions.


  • First of all--seriously? This woman can figure out market arbitrage, and she thinks she has to blackmail a finance guy to do the trades? Has she not seen Wolf of Wall Street?
  • Where did she get the bomb? The only bomb maker we know about has been dead for a week, and no reason to believe that she knew him. Where did it come from?
  • When did she tape the phone to the table in the restaurant? There was no break in--she just came in and crawled under the table while the restaurant was open?
  • Why did she give Sherlock an accurate seating chart? She's the only living person (apparently?) who could do that--why point out the intended victim?
  • How was she so sure that a bomb was even going to work and take out the right people?
  • Why did she bother with the Aurelius decoy? Why pretend to be someone else, and take "credit" for the bombing? (No, you can't say "because we need an Act 2 complication.") (Unless that was a copycat copycat, but that was not addressed.)
  • How did she plant the faux Aurelius claim, and plot out the arbitrage plan, plus send the demand--all from her hospital bed? Let's recognize that in 2014, insurance doesn't pay for lounging around in a hospital bed if you are actually well enough to be managing Labor Department reports and analyzing financial markets. If she's still in the hospital, she's not managing the mechanics of this plot.
Here's my suggestion, show. I get that as an hour-long procedural, you need a certain number of dead ends, and a certain number of twists and complications to lead into commercials. And, since it's a detective show, the plot is going to be less than straightforward as presented. BUT! You need to go back and reconstruct the plot from the plotter's point of view. That way, it will make sense once it's all revealed. This, though--this is needlessly complicated, and makes very little sense. What kind of financial genius is risk averse enough to work for the government, but willing to SET OFF A BOMB and KEEP SITTING AT THE TABLE HERSELF? Go get a job in the financial industry and risk an insider trading conviction. That way, if you do get caught, you go spend time in a federal penitentiary, minimum security, rather than state prison and possible death penalty. And surely there are ways of sneaking access to report numbers, hacking into the computer system at work, ways to get those Labor numbers without SETTING OFF A BOMB.





The LEGO Movie, a Review

I went into The LEGO Movie hoping for something like Wreck-It Ralph, last year's paean to vintage arcade video games--a movie that uses toys to illuminate something about living in the adult world, while mining the past for jokes. Technically, that is what I got, and yet The LEGO Movie doesn't quite hit the target it is aiming for.

I have a couple of theories about why that is.

1. Expectations.
Expectations are so important in how much one enjoys a movie: too many assurances that "you're going to love this movie" and "this is so funny" inevitably oversell the experience. Even if it is funny, and you do like it, somehow you don't like it  as much as you were promised.

I tried to remain unspoiled about The LEGO Movie, not reading reviews or listening to podcast discussions, because I already knew that I wanted to see it, and I didn't want to risk being oversold on it. Yet somehow, I think that is what happened. Somehow, the very volume of the discussions I wasn't participating managed to signal that this was something worth talking about. The theater showtimes page showed the Rotten Tomatoes score of over 90%, so even when trying to just get the information about when to see it, I got some strong indication that this was going to be a Very Great Movie--possibly even awesome. Even knowing that the signature song was "Everything is Awesome" may have fed into the inflation of my expectations.

And there really isn't anything to be done about that. I was aware of the risk, but it's a tricky proposition: how do you dampen your excitement enough so you aren't disappointed, but not so much that you just don't go at all?

Perhaps I could have gone when the movie first came out, and that was my plan originally, but life (and a nasty head cold) intervened. I went as soon as I feasibly could, and that won't change unless I stop making choices and just go see everything.

In any event, I am willing to concede that my disappointment in this movie might be idiosyncratic.

After seeing this movie, I did go back and read quite a few reviews, many of which started with the traditional Critic's Jaded Skepticism about whether a branded movie could be any good, before swiftly reassuring the reader that this one was. I didn't go into this with that kind of discouragement.

2. Uncanny Valley

Ordinarily, this term is used to describe the place where animation tries to look like live action, but falls just short. Human brains are apparently happy with actual humans on screen, or else exaggerated and stylized versions, but there is a point where the animation approaches looking life-like where the brain can only process the "off"-ness. That's not strictly the problem here.

Instead, there is a sort of blending of stop action animation and CGI that creates its own Uncanny Valley. The brain knows that actual LEGO blocks don't work like that. It's hard to point to specific examples, but some of the environments seem fudged--the water on which the pirate ship sails has an eerie curviness to it that just can't be accomplished with square edges. So at some points, I abandoned the storytelling in favor of trying to decide just how my brain was being fooled. Did they create the wave shape they wanted, and then superimposed LEGO forms digitally? And if "water" is made out of LEGOs, then what is "underwater" made of? And how relationship does the "water" in the "ocean" have to the "water" that came out of the shower at the beginning of the movie?

And then we are off into questioning the world building--how much artistic license am I willing to grant? Am I supposed to believe that everything represented onscreen is an actual, pre-existing LEGO item? Do LEGO sausages actually exist, or were they just created for this movie? If they do exist, why do they exist?

Once you are on that level of critical thinking, it's hard to appreciate the movie. Because the fundamental premise--this is a movie about LEGOs--has been undermined. It isn't a movie about LEGOs, it's about LEGO-like items that have been digitally rendered and deformed. It's inconsistent, which makes the jokes about the oddity of LEGOs no longer work. How do the figures' hands work when they are just claws--it doesn't matter, because other rules have already been broken, so there's no reason to expect this one won't be either. (For the record, I don't know if it was or not.) The limitations of the story are being flouted, and I'm no longer seeing a clever movie about clever things one can do with basic blocks--I'm seeing a simulacrum of LEGO.

I go into a movie willing to suspend my disbelief. In return for buying into the premise of the movie, I want to be told an interesting story about that premise. In this case, I go in willing to accept that LEGOs actually operate the way the things they look like operate. I'm willing to give them facial expressions for purposes of the storytelling. I'm willing to believe that LEGO televisions actually display programming that is filmed using LEGO cameras. I will accept that LEGO food is actually edible by LEGO people, and that LEGO showers dispense LEGO pieces that look like water and that water actually cleans LEGO bodies. But when those rules are randomly violated, then the fragile social contract is broken, and I stop suspending the disbelief and start analyzing the world critically.

3. Further Inconsistencies and Narrative Problems

I'm perfectly willing to accept Will Farrell as the voice of the Big Bad character, President/Lord Business--although, why "Business?" It's not an inherently funny word, it doesn't point out anything about the plot or the nature of the LEGO world, it's not clever wordplay in line with other elements, like the "kragle." I actually like Will Farrell better when he's not actually on-screen. But he's now done so many animated movies that he's bringing jokes from other movies into this one.

Most notably, he's reprising the "mispronunciation of words" schtick he did in MegaMind. There, the plot actually turned on realizing that his character is the only one who pronounced "MetroCity" as if it rhymed with "atrocity." Here, his character does the same thing with Band-Aid ("Ban-Da-Id") and "the blade of Exact Zero"--which doesn't even work, because the thing isn't spelled "Exact-0" but as "X-acto." Funny joke, except for the part where it doesn't work, and takes you out of this movie and into another one.

There's another serious inconsistency in costuming too, which I noticed around Wyldstyle. When she brings Emmett out of the construction world he's used to into the Old West, she gives him a poncho and hat to cover up his construction uniform. Meanwhile, she changes her punk-y leather look for a more period appropriate dress. How does this happen? It's not shown onscreen.

If these were actually LEGO pieces, it would be easy. You'd pop off her head from the one body, and stick it onto another, no biggie. But it has to be a big deal, because that's how Vitruvious was killed--his head was cut off. So the head can't come off the body without killing the character. So how did Wyldstyle change her clothes?

Other critics have noted the inherent contradictions of the story--the plot is set up to celebrate the value of free play, of using the bricks to build imaginatively, while LEGO the corporation continues to promote the boxed sets of bricks, assembled and designed to build a single item. (The market trend continues, as individual items from the movie are now available for purchase at $30 per set.) This is a fundamental disconnect between the branded movie and the brand itself, which is further exacerbated by the practice of selling kits to allow you to re-enact the movie, denying both creativity in building and in role-play.)

There is a further problem with the "imagination is good" message as it plays out it meatspace at the end. The final sequence of the movie takes place after Emmett falls out of the constructed world into the "real" world. He sees that his world is constructed in a basement on a series of tables--elaborate constructions made by "The Man Upstairs" who is, again (of course) Will Farrell.

And here the story turns "heartwarming." Because there is a son named Finn, who has come downstairs to play with the LEGO world. He's moved things around, and it seems like the movie has been the game he has been playing with his father's set-up. The two of them have a small conflict, resolved when Dad sees the error of his ways and the two settle in to play with the figures in the world dad has built.

But there is a threat--if son is allowed to come down and play with the dad's set up, then it's only fair that little sister gets to as well. The movie cuts to some disfigured Duplo characters invading the space, but not before we see the look of horror on the son's face. And this is the problem. He sees no problem with him being allowed to deconstruct and play imaginatively, but not his younger sister? She plays with them "wrong?" So there IS some value in protecting designs and not having them disassembled! There is a "right" and "wrong" way to play creatively?

Final cavil. I wanted to see the LEGO creations more clearly than we were mostly allowed to. Early on, there is a scene where Wyldstyle builds an escape motorcycle. The pieces didn't appear to have come from the surroundings, and the bike itself was never still long enough to have any appreciation for the creativity needed to build it. This problem repeated several times--a mismatched group of figures builds a submarine, and there is really no indication of where they are getting the pieces. Things just appear, and are incorporated into a design.

How much more fun would it be to see them source the materials? There is some hint of that as they are building the submarine: the characters call out which pieces they are looking for. Batman, for example, dibs all the black pieces. "I only work in black. Or very deep gray." But there is no corresponding discussion of where those pieces are coming from, or how they are creatively repurposed. They just appear out of nowhere and disappear later.

The giant mechs pirate Metalbeard, for example, disguises himself by transforming--yes, like a Transformer--into a copy machine to escape detection in President Business's office building. Which was cute, but what? He had far more pieces, and some of the pieces were far too large, for him to credibly make that transformation. Conservation of mass, people--it's not just a good idea, it's a law!

Same thing with Emmett's one invention--the double decker couch. At one point, six characters evade capture by hiding inside it underneath the cushions. But seriously? There is a major scale problem here! Earlier, when he was demonstrating the features, Emmett lifted one of the cushions to show the "cooler" that goes inside. Which was two single cylinder pegs. No way would any of the figures fit inside that structure--again, the limits of the actual bricks is dispensed with, undermining the whole reason for seeing a LEGO movie. If you want to make a movie about people who hide in couches, go ahead and do that. Pretending they are LEGO couches and LEGO people, when they are demonstrably not, is cheating on the rules you set up for yourself.

And that's my opinion about it!