Why ‘The Office’ really needs to close

22 05 2010

The OfficeThree weeks ago Steve Carrell announced that his contract on The Office is up after the 2010-2011 season. With 6 seasons of Michael Scott under his belt, he told BBC radio that it might be time to head home for good, shutting the doors on Dunder Mifflin and our favorite dysfunctional work family.

When I first heard the news I was devastated. We were fast approaching the final curtain of LOST (which is unfortunately now upon us) and I couldn’t fathom losing ANOTHER of my favorite shows. And with rumors that Friday Night Lights could possibly pull the plug -or rather, have the plug pulled on them – after next season, I’m looking at going from 4 must see TV shows down to 1 in very short order.

And then, I watched the past two week’s episodes – and I’ve come to the realization that another season is probably too much for my beloved The Office.

Lately it’s seemed much more contrived than normal. Many blame Carrell’s character – how often can he be an obnoxious boss? How many times can he do things that would have gotten him fired and have HR turn a blind eye? Sure, Michael Scott probably has a bit to do with it, but he’s not the only problem.

All of the actors have gotten complacent in their roles. Jim and Pam are adorable, but they’re Jim and Pam. We know what to expect of them and they deliver. Dwight is no longer shocking when he mentions his beet farm, cousin Mose, his weapons, or Angela. Toby just sort of mosey’s on through and everyone hates him. No one is new, no one is interesting – even the new characters – Erin is very one-dimensional and really annoying.

And in addition to the actors settling into their roles in a detrimental way, the writers don’t seem to be able to deliver a compelling story line. They’re leaving loose ends (radon testing?) and they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. Now that Jim and Pam are married and had the baby we really have to focus on The Office, and there aren’t many more storylines we can get out of that.

Let’s take a closer look at the past two episodes.

The Chump – The Dunder Mifflin-ites find out that Michael hasn’t broken off his relationship with Donna, a married woman. The entire office drops everything to try to convince him that he’s being a horrible person with absolutely zero morals and he’s hurting Donna’s husband even though he doesn’t know him.

Best part of the episode? Ryan asking Erin out and then turning around because even he can’t be that cold. Worst part? Everything else. There was absolutely nothing compelling in this judgemental episode. Angela and Dwight hooking up? Yeah, we’ve been there, done that, it’s nothing new. Jim and Pam being tired parents? True to life, but too drawn out. Andy and Michael going to meet Donna’s husband? Really contrived. No one, not even Michael Scott and Andy Bernard, would do that.

Whistleblower – The story of Sabre’s flammable printers hits the news, so CEO Jo flies in to clean up the mess. Turns out, a number of Dunder Mifflinites leaked the story to members of the press.

Best part of the episode? Nick the IT guy saying goodbye and everyone hating him. Worst part of the episode? Nick the IT guy saying goodbye and everyone hating him. The only cohesive part of this entire episode where we actually saw The Office, Nick the IT guy’s goodbye had the makings of greatness. No one knowing his name was hilarious because it was kind of strange that he was ever introduced. It was as though the writers had a great idea for him but it never came to fruition. At the same time, everyone in The Office was horribly mean to the man. Obviously, he wasn’t important, but in years past the characters had a reason to be stand-offish to those they were stand-offish too. The writers should have just let Nick disappear on his own without making a big deal out of it.

Honestly, if you look at the facts, The Office hasn’t been up to snuff for quite some time. The wedding and birth episodes were cute, adorable, any number of adjectives, but they weren’t completely awesome, they just had awesome parts relating to Dwight and Kevin. Those were this season’s two big episodes and because we all anticipated them, we were happy when everything went right in Jim & Pam’s lives.

If we’re going to suffer through another season, however, I hope that we get back to more of a focus on the Office itself and less time on personal life. The Office was at its best when business took priority and the personal lives of the staff were interspersed with the every day responsibilities (or lack thereof) of a 9 to 5 job.

I still love the characters. I feel like I work with them every day in my own office. I just want to remember them at their best.

It might be time to try to transfer away from them so I can…

We Are N.D. We Are Notre Dame – WTF?!

30 04 2010

A couple of months ago we posted an amazingly awesome OKGo video which they filmed with the Band of the Fighting Irish for the song “This Too Shall Pass.”

Again we repeat. That was awesome.

But, Notre Dame just posted a craptastic video that I assume is meant to pump up the crowds at any sporting event in the near future.

Or maybe they want the student body to come together united behind their sports teams and coaches.

Or maybe they just want the University to be ridiculed. I mean, it’s been almost a year since Obamagate went down when some crazy people thought it would be awesome to throw fake blood on students and harass them with crucifixes while informing them that if they support the President of the United States speaking at graduation then they themselves are abortionists. At least this time the ridicule will be warranted.

Or maybe….I got nothin’ else.

But for some reason they decided it was a good idea to film, edit and publish a video so horrible and kitschy and disturbing and WTF-esque – and did I mention horrible? – that I absolutely have to do my part to make it viral. Especially since I know multiple people in it.

Watch it. Hate it as much as I do. And pass it along. We all know some blogger that hates the Irish (and probably even ESPN) will pick it up and ream us for it.

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Things like this make me proud to be able to say “Oh Notre Dame? No, I didn’t graduate from there…” I may bleed Blue & Gold, but thank God I can disassociate myself from them sometimes. GO IRISH! Beat Boilermakers!

And just to get that horrible, horrible taste of crappiness out of our heads. Let’s look at OKGo and the Band again.

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Post-Oscar 2010 Scorecard

8 03 2010

I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to watch an Oscar telecast as I was last night. It might have something to do with the fact that there was such a wide range of movies nominated this year or it might have been the fact that I had one of the best conversations of my life last year on Oscar day when I had to explain to two of my best friends that the Academy Awards and the Oscars were in fact the same awards show.

Either way, I feel it obligatory to score my predictions from yesterday.

BEST ANIMATED FILM: UP – Thank you Academy! You recognized the only best picture nominee of the group and honored it in the way it should be honored – as an animated film. And the Oscar for Best Original Score was icing on the cake. I forgot how moving that score was and you could feel the emotion in the snippet they played – though the dancers did absolutely nothing for it.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Christoph Waltz – The first non-surprise of many of the night. It was only natural that the Academy would recognize Tarentino’s Inglourious Basterds in some way tonight just because he’s Tarentino. However, with the movie up against a lot of better ones for Best Picture, and there being no way in hell that Kathryn Bigelow or James Cameron wouldn’t win for Best Director they had to give it to Waltz. He did give a damn good performance in the film, which was its only saving grace. It would have been nice for a nod to Christopher Plummer, though.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Mo’Nique – No surprise again. She deserved this award for going to the deepest recesses of her soul to become a monster and managing to come out on the other end of this film a stronger and more empowered woman. Still, she manages to be humble and recognize that her strength in the role was not from her alone but from a collaboration with a strong director, script and co-stars. Loved that she won.

BEST ACTOR: Jeff Bridges – Are you seeing the pattern here? No surprise once again that Bridges finally got recognized for his work. They made a huge show out of continuously saying that he came from one of the great Hollywood acting families and his fun nod to his parents turning him on to “such a groovy profession” was sweet and fitting for an actor who made his name playing “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski.

BEST ACTRESS: Sandra Bullock – Again, no surprise here. Bullock delivered a strong performance in The Blind Side, and it was probably a career-best up to this point. However, she did not deliver the best performance out of all the nominees. We all know where I stand on this category – Mirren was robbed – so I won’t rehash that in depth. The only saving grace in Bullock getting this award was that we got to see another emotional acceptance speech and she’s the only actor to ever win a Razzie (for All About Steve) and an Oscar in the same weekend. And was I the only person who really wished Gabourey Sidibe would win just so we could see her acceptance speech? Her excitement was palpable throughout the telecast and her tears as Oprah gave her performance praise were so sweet.

BEST PICTURE: – The Hurt Locker – Love it. That’s really all I have to say. It came down to Avatar and The Hurt Locker and the film with the stronger story and real feel won. Love it.

BEST DIRECTOR: – Kathryn Bigelow – I thought the Academy was going to split their votes and give one award to Avatar and one to The Hurt Locker, so I was surprised when Bigelow took home both. Still, I was happy. It’s amazing that she’s the first female to take home this award, made better by the fact that today is International Women’s Day. She deserved to win! And I’m glad we didn’t have to listen to another “I’m the King of the World!” speech in Na’vi.

Scorecard: I’m 7 for 7 on Should Wins and 6 of 7 on Will wins.

Other thoughts on the telecast:

  • Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin kind of rocked as hosts. Their opening monologue was light-hearted and witty. They could have been better had they actually pointed out all the nominated actors/actresses so that leaving Maggie Gyllenhaal out of the fun but continuously showing her sitting in the audience wasn’t so glaring.
  • What was the gag between Alec and George Clooney? I enjoyed it, but I feel like their uncomfortable staring had a history that I don’t know about that would make it that much better.
  • I’m glad Ben Stiller figured out that his Na’vi costume was a dud as soon as he stepped on stage. His visible uncomfort was the only thing that made that gag worthwhile. Plus, the fact that Avatar wasn’t even nominated for that award made it even more awkward.
  • The Oscars had their very own Kanye. WTF happened after they announced Roger Ross William’s film Music By Prudence as Best Documentary Short? One minute he’s in the audience hugging his Mom, the next he’s on stage and some lady wearing a purple blanket is wrestling the microphone away from him and spouting random crap about Zimbabwe the second he says Thank you. The interaction was uncomfortable, but Williams handled it with grace and made sure to point out that Prudence was in the audience before following purple blanket-lady backstage to presumably bitch slap her with his award. NOTE: Purple blanket-lady is apparently one of the producers on the film named Elinor Burkett. She and Williams aren’t speaking at the moment due to creative differences, but Williams is the true owner of the award as the movie belongs to him. So, suck it purple blanket lady! Read about it here.
  • Best Original Score. Umm, don’t we normally get performances of the Best Songs instead of the actual scores? And aren’t those normally better? The answer to those questions are yes and hell yes. Why did the Academy decide we needed interprative dances of the original scores? Break dancing can only go so far, people. It can’t capture the innocence and emotion of Up’s score (or many others, actually). And did it have to go on so long?? We get it, they can dance, now please cart another pretty celebrity out before us so we can see their outfit for the evening.
  • Rachel McAdams. Love your dress, girl, but I feel bad that you’re going to wake up today and see the footage of you presenting and realize that you had a random section of hair sticking straight out from the right side of your head.
  • Miley Cyrus. First, why are you at the Oscars? Second, why does your dress not fit? Third, why are you at the Oscars? Stand up straight at your next award show, honey, you look frumpy. Amanda Seyfried, you’re adorable as always. I’m sorry Miley took away from your beauty.
  • Why is Jane Seymour there?
  • Why did Keanu Reeves get chosen to present a Best Picture nominee?
  • Why was Twilight in the horror movie montage? And Young Frankenstein? Why was there even a horror movie montage?
  • Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin in a double snuggie backstage. Awesome.
  • Colin Firth looked kind of sad that Jeff Bridges won. It’s understandable as he’s a great actor and this is the first time he’s been nominated. The puppy dog sadness only made him more attractive as well.

2010 Oscar Predictions

7 03 2010

Well dear readers, the fateful day is finally upon us.

Tonight the 2010 Academy Awards will go down in the annals of Hollywood history.

Who will be best dressed? Worst? Will Avatar and James Cameron have as big of a night as he did in 1997 when Titanic won 11 awards? Will Avatar and The Hurt Locker split the vote on the huge field of Best Picture nominees leading to a dark horse winner?

All of our questions will be answered during the live telecast at 8 pm EST.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the categories and examine who most likely will win as opposed to who should win.

I’m going to fit in one more Best Picture nominee this afternoon – Up in the Air. Can’t wait to see what’s going to happen tonight.

Best Animated Film

Nominated: Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog, The Secret of Kells, UP

Will Win: UP or Coraline.

Should Win: UP

This may seem like a pretty clear cut category. Of course the Academy would recognize one of the most brilliant animated films to be released in a long time, and Pixar seems to have a lock on the category which has only been around since 2001 (Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and WALL-E have all won). However, with UP being nominated for Best Picture as well, it may split the votes. Some academy voters may want to see the second animated film ever nominated for the big award to win and might pick the second best animated film of the year for this category. In that case, Coraline would take the cake. It’s inventive plot and astounding visuals would sway voters to her side. Let’s hope the voters realize UP has no chance in the big dance and recognize it as it deserves – as an animated film.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Nominated: Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), Penelope Cruz (Nine), Mo’Nique (Precious)

Will and Should Win: Mo’Nique (Precious)

Absolutely no question about this one, Mo’Nique will take this award tonight. Even without seeing the entire movie it’s apparent from the clips on the late night shows and at past award shows this season that Mo’Nique delivers an amazing performance as Mary, who physically, mentally and sexually abuses her daughter Precious throughout her life. The subject matter is Oscar gold as the academy loves films that delve into the gritty world of real life without glossing over the truly uncomfortable aspects of the world, and Mo’Nique is said to have delivered the performance of a lifetime. I can’t wait to hear her speech. If the Golden Globes was a warm up of her acceptance tonight, I expect a lot of tears from both her and myself.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominated: Matt Damon (Invictus), Woody Harrelson (The Messenger), Christopher Plummer (The Last Station), Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

Will Win: Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds)

Should Win: Christopher Plummer (The Last Station)

The buzz around this category is leaning strongly towards Christoph Waltz, whose portrayal of a Nazi soldier in Inglourious Basterds is sadistic and cunning. There’s no doubt that he delivers a great performance, especially in the opening scene of the movie as he interrogates a German farmer about his former neighbors, a family of Jewish people. However, the movie drops the ball shortly after that scene and not even Waltz can rescue it. He does a decent job with what he is given, but thinking about what could have been overpowers his performance.

Christopher Plummer on the other hand is being nominated for the first time after a long and storied career. He delivers a masterful performance as Leo Tolstoy in The Last Station, all but disappearing into the character. Unlike Waltz’s character, Plummer’s allows him to explore different emotions and Plummer manages to exude them all with a grace that can only come with age and experience. If Heath Ledger could win this category last year just because he was dead (let’s be honest with ourselves, his performance in The Dark Knight was amazing, but it was made so because he was no longer with us…) then Plummer should take it home based on the breadth of his performance in this particular role, and as a testament to his entire career.

Best Actor

Nominated: Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), George Clooney (Up in the Air), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Morgan Freeman (Invictus), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker)

Will Win: Jeff Bridges

Should Win: Can’t answer – have only seen one of these films

It’s Jeff Bridges year for this category. Bridges has won the Golden Globe, SAG Award, L.A. Film Critics and Broadcast Film Critics awards for his portrayal of the singer Bad Blake. He has the award season momentum to take this performance all the way to the Oscar podium. If anyone can take it from him it will most likely be Morgan Freeman, who will win because the Academy seems to enjoy when actors step into the huge shoes of historical figures like Nelson Mandela.

Best Actress

Nominated: Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), Helen Mirren (The Last Station), Carey Mulligan (An Education), Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Meryl Streep (Julie & Julia)

Will Win: Sandra Bullock or Meryl Streep…with a heavy emphasis on Sandra Bullock

Should Win: Helen Mirren (The Last Station)

You’d think that only two women were nominated for this category if you listen to any sort of pop culture. Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock are supposedly duking it out for the top spot with Bullock stating she doesn’t expect to win at all. Her modesty may net her the award for her portrayal of Leigh Ann Touhy in The Blind Side. Admittedly, Bullock delivered an outstanding performance in the drama, given that she’s mostly known for her romantic comedies, but it’s not that hard when you’re given a strong woman who really exists to portray. What did Bullock truly do in the movie? She wore a blonde wig and spoke with an accent. The great character came through the true story aspect of the film. Meryl Streep’s performance is very much in the same vein. She played Julia Child and she played her well. She had her mannerisms down pat, she captured her voice  (though, I have to say, she seemed to match Dan Aykroyd’s Julia Child more often that the actual woman) and she had fun with the role. But she didn’t deliver the performance of a lifetime.

Helen Mirren on the other hand did the same thing as Streep and Bullock. She played a woman who existed in real life and she played her well. What makes her performance different is the passion conveyed every moment she’s on the screen. It sucks you in and makes you root for her as every emotion possible plays across her face. She became Sofya Tolstoy in all every sense of the word. It will be a sin for her not to win, and that sin will be committed tonight.

Best Picture

Nominated: Up, Avatar, The Blind Side, An Education, The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, District 9, Up in the Air, Precious, Inglourious Basterds

Will Win: Avatar

Should Win: The Hurt Locker

This is the first year that there are 10 nominees for Best Picture, and the extended field is showing it’s weaknesses. Sure, 5 might be too few a number, but 10 is way too many when films that fall short of excellence, like Inglourious Basterds are making the cut. That being said, Avatar will take this one home. Just like Titanic, Cameron is being glorified as a genius this awards season and the fact that he created an entire world with new creatures, flora, a language and characters will sway the votes towards him. There’s no doubt that the visual aspect of Avatar was amazing. It was pure eye candy. But the story falls flat as it’s been seen everywhere from animated films like Fern Gully and Pocahontas to Dances With Wolves. Conversely, The Hurt Locker proved to be a movie heaped in tension. This film has both a plot and depth as it explores a bomb squad in Iraq, both key aspects to a best picture that Avatar lacks. It wouldn’t exactly be an upset if The Hurt Locker wins, though. It’s running a close second as we get closer to show time.

Best Director

Nominees: James Cameron (Avatar), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), Quentin Tarentino (Inglourious Basterds), Lee Daniels (Precious), Jason Reitman (Up in the Air)

Will Win: James Cameron or Kathryn Bigelow

Should Win: Kathryn Bigelow

It’s the battle of the exes in this category as well. Both directed critically acclaimed films and both stand a decent chance of winning tonight. However, Bigelow should take this one, especially if The Hurt Locker loses out on Best Picture. Sure, Cameron directed an epic film, but most of his directing took place on a green screen and everything external to the actors was added digitally after filming. Bigelow, on the other hand, dealt with filming in the desert in Amman, Jordan. No comfy Hollywood sound stages here, Bigelow dealt with all the external forces of directing her actors in the real world.

Pre-Oscar’s Nominee Round Up

4 03 2010

As part of my pre-Oscar night flurry of watching as many movies as possible, I’ve managed to fit in quite a few films that I don’t have the mental stamina to write full-reviews for. And so, to make sure I have all my facts straight come tomorrow when I put together my list of “will win/should win” based upon the movies that I’ve actually had a chance to see. Most of these movies are also relatively old, or have been talked about left and right in the press so this reduces the risk of sounding repetitive. That being said, here we go!


Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Starring: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai
Release Date: May 29, 2009

One of the two 3-D movies I’ve seen in the past year, UP delivers as a feel-good children’s movie that both adults and kids can enjoy together. If I were 15 years younger, I would have enjoyed the story of an old man who tries to escape from the busyness on interruptions of city living by attaching a ton of balloons to his house and floating away with it not realizing he has a stowaway, Russel. The two travel the skies as they try to make their way to Angel Falls, where Carl, the old man, always wanted to travel with his darling wife as they sought to be like their role model, the adventurer Charles Muntz. The physical hijinks Russel and Carl encounter would have been laugh-inducing and the character of Dug, the dog, would have been lovable. Seeing it as a 23 year old (or rather, I was 22 at the time), I loved it even more. Not only did the comedy and hijinks appeal to me, but I was able to enjoy the deeper undertones of love and loss as well. The first five minutes of the film are a magical look at how love blossoms, grows, and endures and are well worth the price of admission. And exploring the visually stunning world Docter and Peterson created around the Angel Falls was a treat alongside the friendship Carl and Russel strike up. Final Verdict: Good

2010 Academy Award Nominations – Writing (Original Screenplay), Music (Original Score), Sound Editing, Animated Feature Film, Best Picture

Inglourious Basterds

Director: Quentin Tarentino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Melanie Laurent, Diane Kruger
Release Date: Aug. 21, 2009

Tarentino is known for his violent, uncomfortable and all-around WTF plotlines and his latest film, Inglourious Basterds, is no exception. The first scene featuring Christoph Waltz as a deliciously devilish Nazi officer conniving his way to getting what he wants during WWII set the stage for a fast-paced thriller that actually makes you think. And then, all too soon, that compelling tale dries up into the pulp medium Tarentino seems most comfortable in. The Basterds, a team of Jewish-Americans bent on raising hell in the Nazi regime, is introduced in a confused sort of way that leads viewers to ask “well, wait, who are they?” And just as they start to figure out just what it is the Basterds do as a group, Tarentino once again shifts the action to only include 5 of them. There are moments in the movie that are delectable, most notably Diane Kruger’s entrance as an actress holding her own among a group of Nazi soldiers as a few Basterds try to infiltrate the ranks as Nazi officers, and any scene with Waltz, but for the most part the movie falls flat. Had Tarentino not attempted to rewrite a huge part of history – namely, Hitler’s death – the movie would have been a darkly comical look at WWII. As it is, Pitt and co. are entertaining – and at times disturbing, as when he shoves his finger into a bullet hole to torture Kruger – but it is Waltz that carries the movie and saves it from being an abysmal failure. His supporting actor nod is well-deserved (if not head-scratching worthy – who did the academy decide was the primary actor? Pitt?), but the Best Picture nomination is sorely lacking and may be a case of the Academy needing to fill out their inflated 10 spots. Final Verdict: Mediocre

2010 Academy Award Nominations – Best Supporting Actor, Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Best Original Screenplay


Director: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel Moore
Release Date: Dec. 18, 2009

Coming in at the tail-end of the Avatar madness there’s no way I was ever going to see the movie without a preconceived notion of what I was walking into. It’s like Pocahontas in Space! It’s Fern Gully on crack!Hell, James Cameron even admitted that it’s Dances with Wolves in space! That said, there’s no way that I could have not seen it prior to the Oscars. And I had to see it in 3-D to get the full effect. Avatar is visually stunning. There is no doubt about that. The world which James Cameron created holds intrigue and wonder and I was constantly looking forward to what creature we would be introduced to next. From the six-legged horses to the scary panther who chases Jake’s Avatar and leads him to the Na’vi to the flying ikran’s and toruk the introduction of each new species was a pleasure to behold and kept things interesting in an otherwise dull story. The scenery was also spectacular. The floating mountains, the home tree, the tree of voices and the tree of souls are gorgeous and each sweeping panorama is almost as breathtaking as the next as Jake and Neytiri run through the forest at night. The plot, though, causes the film to fall a little flat. We get it, humans are bad for destroying Earth, Cameron disagrees with the war in Iraq, humans are too caught up in materialism. Yes, we had a fantastic little movie called Wall-E which reminded us of this all two years ago. Still, the love story, while predictable, was entertaining, and it was pleasant to watch Jake’s interactions with the Na’vi move from ethnocentric to familial. Final Verdict: Mediocre plot, Good Visuals

But the big question is: Did it need to be in 3-D? To an extent, the 3-D helped to capture the immensity and wonder of Pandora, but the entire movie did not need to be in 3-D. While the landscapes and battle scenes were visually compelling, the scenes in the RDA colony containing only human beings were awkward and slightly jarring. I don’t think I’d see it in 3-D again, but it might be interesting to see it in 2-D so as not to be distracted by the extra dimension.

2010 Academy Award Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects (honestly…this is a category? Just hand the award to Avatar now (up against District 9 and Star Trek)…there’s no point in even taking the time to announce it at the show) and Best Picture

Julie & Julia

Director: Nora Ephron
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina
Release Date: Aug. 7, 2009

A light-hearted romp through time, Julie & Julia is probably the fluffiest of the films on this list – and that’s not saying much when you remember this list includes an animated movie. The film, based on a true story, follows Julie Powell (Amy Adams) as she works her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogging about the experience. At the same time, we’re treated to a secondary plot following Ms. Julia Child herself (Meryl Streep) as she moves to France with her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci), and tries to find something to keep her occupied during their stay. She settles on cooking and shortly becomes one of the best cooks in her class regardless of the fact that she was supposed to fail, according to the woman running the cooking school. The two stories touch on highlights of the women’s lives as they parallel each other as Julia tries to write her book, and Julie tries to cook her way through it. Sounds like a fail-proof plot, and yet, it fails. The Julie side of the story is unbecoming of Adams, who has proven herself to be versatile as both a princess (Enchanted) and a lower class woman trying to make ends meet in a gruesome way (Sunshine Cleaning). She’s shrill, she’s whiney and she’s at times downright obnoxious which causes her husband to leave her for a few days. While this may be an excellent character study by Adams, it’s detrimental due to the fact that her character isn’t compelling at all. Who cares if Julie makes it through the cook book? Not I. And certainly not Julia Child, who had a dismissive attitude towards the Julie/Julia blog. The directors should have taken a cue from the master herself. If Julia doesn’t care, the viewer won’t either. Instead, we should have been treated to an all Julia, all the time movie. The glimpses of France are beautiful and the in-depth look at just how a cook book is produced is interesting. But it is the character interactions between Julia and Paul that truly shine. Streep falls in the role of Julia wonderfully. She perfectly captures her mannerisms and her character, and Tucci is the perfect compliment as he offsets Julia’s eccentricities with his loving, yet solid demeanor. And the food looks so appetizing. Julie Child could definitely cook and she (and Streep) proved that much better than Julie Powell ever could. Final verdict: Mediocre

2010 Academy Award Nominations: Best Actress in a Leading Role

Mirren and Plummer Deliver in ‘The Last Station’

2 03 2010

It’s Oscar season, which means that I’m going to try to get to as many nominated films as physically and mentally possible before the March 7 event.

Aside from The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, our look at nominees continues with The Last Station starring Helen Mirren (nominated for Best Actress) and Christopher Plummer (nominated for Best Supporting Actor).

Director: Michael Hoffman

Starring: Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer, James McAvoy and Paul Giamatti,

Release Date: Jan. 15, 2010

Leo Tolstoy (Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy) is arguably one of the greatest writers of all time. War & Peace and Anna Karenina have stood the test of time and proven to be a a vivid representation of Russian life in the 19th century, and his non-fiction works on pacifism are said to have influenced countless historical figures.

He was also the figurehead of a pacifist movement espousing communal property and celibacy, headed by Vladimir Cherktov, and an avid diarist who encouraged everyone around him to write down their life and what they encounter.

This diary movement is one of the most prevalent recurring theme throughout Michael Hoffman’s The Last Station – and one that makes it impossible not to ask why it took 100  years for someone to make a movie of Tolstoy’s last days given the astounding amount of information that must have been written about the time.

But maybe the stars had never aligned in quite so amazing a way in the past 100 years to give us the beauty that Hoffman produced.

Christopher Plummer, he of Captain Von Trapp and (most recently) Dr. Parnassus fame, disappears completely into the role of Tolstoy. Not only does he look spot on like the literary master, but he plays him just as video and writings of Tolstoy say he acted. He hits all the right notes of glee, concern, anger, confusion and love. It’s hard to imagine that this year’s Academy Awards will see him as a nominee for the very first time.

Mirren, on the other hand, has been nominated four times (including her nomination for The Last Station) and won Best Actress in 2002 for her role in The Queen. Still, she deserves every award she’s been up for this season as she’s glorious in her role as Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya. Her performance as a wife living in constant fear that her husband will be corrupted by one of his close friends (Giamatti’s Vladmir Chertkov) into signing the rights to his works over to the Russian people, that her family will reject her due to her rejection of many of the Tolstoyan values, and that her husband would die before she had a chance to see him a final time is both heartbreaking and mesmerizing.

Sofya truly loved Tolstoy, even as she disagreed with his ideals and failed to understand his desire to dispose of all of his private property. And it is apparently that he loved her as well, though towards the end of his life her negativity regarding his need to sign away the family’s rights to his books to keep in line with his thoughts on how to better the world forced him to leave the once-loving home the two shared.

One of the most truly beautiful scenes in the entire film is a love scene between Sofya and Leo. After fighting for some time Sofya just wants the man she married back in her life and the way she coaxes him to the forefront of Leo’s mind – putting aside differences and worries – is pure and tender. The two seem to be at peace, and yet once the moment ends we are all thrown into the jarring reality that things and people change over time and no one is the same person they were years ago.

Along with the love story of Leo and Sofya, the audience is treated to a brief romance between two of Tolstoy’s followers, Valentin Bulgakov (McAvoy) and Masha (Kerry Condon). Masha has been at the Tolstoyan compound for some time when Valentin arrives and she immediately catches his eye even as he tries his best to remain the celibate virgin he thinks Tolstoy would appreciate.

Valentin is given the honorable task of being Tolstoy’s personal secretary, where he learns the true story of his famed hero. Sure, Tolstoy the public figure espouses celibacy and chastity, but Tolstoy the real person had no problems with intimacy in his youth. This central dichotomy not only confuses Valentin, it leads him to strike up a friendship with Sofya as she tells him about Tolstoy the man while asking him to keep an eye on the family’s assets.

She also helps him to realize the love that she and Leo once held for each other and that he must strive for that type of love in his own interactions. Here, Masha enters as the temptress who stripped him of his virginity before he realized just what was happening and ultimately the great love Valentin hopes will mirror that of Sofya and Leo at their best.

McAvoy holds his own amongst two great and classic actors. While not a new-comer in the strictest sense, he has the least acting experience of the four main characters and yet his inexperience is unnoticeable. He plays Valentin with a distinct innocence that slowly shatters as he delves deeper into the lives of the Tolstoy’s and surfaces a new, better man for the experience by the end of the film. One can only hope that just as his character mirrors the growth and development of Plummer and Mirren’s characters so to will his career. He has the capabilities to thrive in the profession for many years to come.

Final verdict: The Last Station is comprised of some Oscar-worthy appearances by veteran actors and new-comers alike. Not only is the story compelling, but the emotion with which the actors lay their parts is palpable. And the heart of any good film is truly the emotions present. It would be a sin for Mirren not to win this year’s Best Actress award, just as it is a sin that The Last Station was not nominated for Best Picture even after they expanded the pool to 10 films. The film may not seem to be everyone’s cup of tea as they may not care for literary figures on their death beds, but this movie is so much more than the death of Leo Tolstoy. It is an altruistic approach to the most basic of every human emotions – love.

Rating: Really Good

‘Imaginarium’ takes viewers on giddy, enjoyable ride

22 02 2010

Photo courtesy of Thescorecardreview.com

Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Starring: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Lily Cole, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Tom Waits, Andrew Garfield & Verne Troyer

Release Date: Jan. 9, 2010 (wide release)

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus never was going to have a chance to be a film released in its own right and judged on its own merits. From the moment the news broke that one of its main characters died from an accidental drug overdose on Jan. 22, 2008 this movie was always going to be known by its one defining factor – it’s the last movie Heath Ledger ever filmed.

And then the main question arose – What happens to a film when your star passes away with only a third of filming completed?

Filming was temporarily suspended as Gilliam quickly worked to reconfigure the script to keep Ledger’s role intact but also complete the movie.

In the end, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped into the role at different points in time during filming and the three, in an act of chivalry, donated their salaries to Ledger’s daughter, Matilda.

Once the cast details were worked out, a second question arose – Just how does four actors portraying the same character work?

And the answer to that question is – quite well.

The movie, quite obviously, surrounds Dr. Parnassus (Plummer), a man said to have seen 1,000 years, and his troupe of actors who travel London trying to entice people to enter a mirror into the world of their imagination. The troupe consists of Percy (Troyer), who has been with Parnassus since the beginning and knows his darkest secret, Anton (Garfield), a sleight of hand expert, and Valentina (Cole), Parnassus’ almost 16-year-old daughter.

And there’s the rub. Parnassus made a deal with the devil, Mr. Nick (Tom Waits) for everlasting life once upon a time, but when he was old and fragile he met the love of his life and returned to Mr. Nick for another shot at youth, which he spent with Valentina’s mother, who died in childbirth at the miraculous age of 60. But that youth came at a price and Mr. Nick was to take possession of any child Parnassus fathered upon their 16th birthday.

As his daughter is very close to this deadline, Parnassus is understandably concerned and jumps at Mr. Nick’s new wager (for they are both ever-betting men) that whoever claims 5 souls first will gain possession of Valentina.

The troupe, however, has fallen on hard times and can hardly induce people to travel into the world of their imagination – in which they are offered a choice between a challenging task which will reap a reward at a later point in time which Parnassus sets up to claim their soul or the instant gratification of offering their soul to Mr. Nick. That is, until they meet Tony (Ledger).

Tony, who eerily enough was found hanging underneath a bridge, but is not dead because he lodged a golden pipe in his trachea to keep the rope from crushing it, completely overhauls Parnassus’ show and leads the troupe to an upscale mall where he woos a wealthy lady through the mirror and follows after her to see what all the fuss is about.

And here the audience is introduced to Gilliam’s solution to Ledger’s death. As the imaginarium transforms the imagination of its first entrant into reality, Ledger’s Tony is no longer necessary. Instead, the woman has transformed Tony into Johnny Depp – who plays the role much like he plays any other slightly comedic role with a mixture of Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka and Edward Scissorhands.

Each time Tony steps into the imaginarium he becomes a different person. His second trip leaves him looking like Jude Law – who effortlessly steps in to fill Ledger’s shoes with the most organic of the “other Tony” performances – while the third presents Colin Farrell in the role – who falls into the role only a little less seamlessly than Law.

With Tony’s help, Parnassus manages to capture 4 souls, but Mr. Nick has kept up with 4 souls of his own.

Parnassus finally decides it is time to tell Valentina about her fate, which causes her to lose faith in her father and reject his side of the imaginarium. After a scuffle, she, Tony and Anton end up in the mirror together living out Tony’s fantasy and dealing with the consequences of his decisions.

The movie is beautifully staged and shot as Gilliam has an eye for design, and the sets and costumes – both of which are up for Academy Awards – add dynamic value to the message of the film.

In addition, Plummer, who’s Parnassus is overshadowed by the Ledger legacy, is wonderful as a man seeking redemption, as are Cole and Garfield in their roles which call for an innocence tinged with disbelief.

The only dull spot in the entire film is Percy, who proves that Verne Troyer might actually do his best work when he’s silent a la Mini Me in the Austin Powers series. It’s unclear whether the glaring interruptions in action each time Troyer speaks is due to his underdeveloped character or a miscast of his role, but either way his lines grate against what is otherwise a good, if not a little trippy, movie.

As a whole, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is an astounding tribute to Heath Ledger and his acting ability. As he came off of an Oscar-winning role as The Joker in The Dark Knight it would have been easy for him to stay on the course of dark and twisted souls as Tony fits the bill as well, but he instead backs off to play Tony with an air of irony and light-heartedness as he is given what he thinks is a second chance with the troupe in the face of dismal circumstances. It is clear that he had not yet realized his full potential as an actor when he left us.

Still, Dr. Parnassus is an appropriate send-off to the man who brought us the Joker, Ennis del Mar (Brokeback Mountain), Gabriel Martin (The Patriot) and Patrick Verona (10 Things I Hate About You). Bits and pieces of each of his performances are seen through Tony and while one could pinpoint the exact moment Patrick Verona burst through in Tony’s skin it does not overpower Ledger’s final bow across the big screen.

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus is a fantastic representation of how to incorporate multiple actors in one role, as well as a giddy jaunt into the off-kilter mind of Gilliam – who began his career as a member of Monty Python. Aside from the lackluster performance by Troyer, the film benefits from strong performances by veteran actors and new comers alike, and the brilliant colors of the imaginarium world offset the bleak and dismal London side of the performance, reminding viewers that an escape is as close as closing your eyes and passing through your own mirror.

Final verdict: Good

Can Jersey Shore Rescue Leno?

4 02 2010

I’m trying not to beat The Good, The Bad and The Really Crappy’s readers over the head with my Jersey Shore love. Much of my JS commentary has moved to another blog, “Hairpoof“, but as my latest post over there is about the late night drama we decided to post it over here.


The Jay Leno Show – Bad

Conan O’Brien on The Tonight Show – Bad

Conan O’Brien on Late Night – REALLY GOOD (unfortunately he’s not there anymore)

Jay Leno’s Tonight Show – Was good, now borders on bad due to politics.

But can Jersey Shore bump Leno’s reclaimed tonight show back to Good?

Were you Team Leno or Team Coco?

For the past month one of the hottest things in pop culture, aside from JS of course, is the drama surrounding NBC’s late night schedule.

For those who have been living under a rock, NBC and Conan O’Brien signed a deal in 2004 that would move O’Brien from Late Night to The Tonight Show once Leno retired in 2008 (as was the plan). In October 2007, Leno reevaluated his retirement plan (potentially in light of the fact that he held the number 1 spot in late night TV) and began to drop hints that he might not want to leave the entertainment world. O’Brien took over Tonight in July 2008 and Leno twiddled his thumbs until December when NBC announced that he would get his own primetime talk-show at 10 p.m. M-F. The Jay Leno Show premiered in Sept. 2009 and immediately begins to tank in ratings which hurts all of NBC’s late night shows (including local news at 11) as they no longer have a strong 10 p.m. lead-in. By Jan. 2010 there were rumors of pulling the plug and the masses reacted to the fact that there was talk of pulling O’Brien from The Tonight Show and giving it to Leno again by creating teams (which is also a hot commodity in pop culture due to Twilight’s Team Jacob or Team Edward, though the idea really originated as a phenomenon in 2005 with Team Aniston and Team Jolie during Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston’s break-up over Angelina Jolie).

And then the inevitable happened, NBC chased ratings and O’Brien was out for good on Jan 21 with the news that Leno would host again once the Winter Olympics ended on March 1.

Team Coco isn’t happy though. And Team Coco is predominantly the golden age for advertisers – 18-49 – with an emphasis on the younger end.

I can’t remember a time when I never heard the dulcet tones of the red-head coming from at least one dorm room in college, and Late Night was a staple of the newsroom at our student newspaper. However, Team Coco didn’t necessarily accept The Tonight Show Conan. Moving O’Brien to 11:30 might have caught a few of the older ages in the demographic but college students have set late night schedules and those schedules more often than not include Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and The Colbert Report at 11 and 11:30.

Coco worked at 12:30 because we always inevitably remembered to change the channel to NBC sometime between Colbert and O’Brien and we enjoyed Coco then. Moving him to 11:30 screwed up the college student late night schedule. But we’re not here to argue that point.

The fact of the matter is that Team Coco is pissed at Team Leno and NBC. They believe NBC didn’t give O’Brien enough time to come into his own as The Tonight Show host and they cut him off at the knees by not providing a strong lead-in at 10 p.m. They also believe that Leno pulled a douche move by even thinking about moving back to Tonight, let alone doing so and forcing O’Brien out. Their overall disgust with how Coco was so unceremoniously thrown aside for Leno has left them with a bad taste in their mouth. A taste that NBC is afraid will cause them to change the channel and catch Letterman on CBS.

So, what can’t the young end of the 18-49 spectrum get enough of?

Jersey Shore, of course.

MTV announced yesterday (and the cast has subsequently tweeted at a near constant rate) that our favorite reality show cast (minus Vinny who isn’t feeling well, according to Zaptoit.com) is headed to LA today to film Leno. They’ll be broadcast on March 3, the third episode of his reclaimed Tonight Show.

Undoubtedly, NBC is trying to woo miffed Team Coco fans back to the Leno/Tonight Show-fold by providing them with glimpses of the cast before they begin filming for Season Two. It’s a move that has the potetial to work, I know I’ll be watching next month, but it also has the potential to be very flawed.

Why film now? The episode won’t air for over a month. Maybe NBC thinks people will forget about Sammi Sweetheart and the others during the Olympics? Not likely. And there’s no way that anything the cast or Leno says today won’t be leaked to the blogosphere by March, so where will the surprise be?

Even with the proliferation of probably everything the JS cast says on Leno to every internet news source out there won’t stop all of the fist pumping fans from tuning in. And that’s exactly what NBC hopes.

So now it’s up to the viewers? Can Jersey Shore save Leno?

Photo credit: Facebook’s “I’m With Coco” group

A Regal Blunt Is Perfect As ‘Young Victoria’

29 01 2010

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee

Starring: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent

Release Date: Dec. 18, 2009 (limited release)

26-year-old Emily Blunt may not seem like the best actress to portray Queen Victoria as a princess and through her first few years of reign from the ages of 18-22 in the 1830s. While not completely out of her age range, the maturity reflected in Blunt’s face could seem out of place on Victoria, who lived a sheltered life under the “Kensington System” devised by her mother, the Duchess of Kent, and Sir John Conroy (her mother’s ever-present companion and supposed lover). However, from the first moment Blunt utters the line reminding us that “even a palace can be a prison” in Jean-Marc Vallee’s The Young Victoria it’s more than apparent that she will do this role justice and make Victoria sparkle.

The film, as the title suggest, follows the life of Victoria as she navigates her way through life towards the throne and love and attempts to leave the rules and regulations placed upon her by the Kensington System behind.

The system, which was supposedly put in place to protect the heir-apparent to the English throne, forbid Victoria from ever being apart from her mother, her governess or her tutor. She was not allowed to walk down steps unless she held one of her keeper’s hands and she was kept isolated from anyone whom the Duchess or Sir John felt could be influencial against their will.

Not surprisingly, when King William died and Victoria ascended to the throne she did away with the Kensington System by requesting an hour to herself and demanding that her bed be removed from her mother’s room. And, upon moving into Buckingham Palace – she was the first royal to live there – she subsequently had Sir John banned from her apartments.

But The Young Victoria is not primarily a story about the rebellion Victoria led against the system,  her mother or Sir John to become her own person. Instead, it is a coming of age story and features a brilliant love story between Victoria and her cousin Albert.

When Victoria first meets Albert, it is apparent that these two are destined for greatness – whether that be solely a part of the movie or how it truly happened in history is an unnecessary question as Hollywood is not known for it’s strictly factual historical pieces but rather for entertaining the audience. And entertaining it is. Rupert Friend looks as though he stepped out of a portrait of Prince Albert and walked on set. He imbues his character with a warmness and strength that beautifully compliments Blunt’s Victoria who is innocent and intellectual. It’s impossible not to smile as the two discuss the microscopic life she leads in terms of chess, especially when Albert suggests that she find a husband who can navigate her life with her instead of for her. They might has well have put a neon sign above his head with an arrow saying “Choose Him!,” but that doesn’t make the scene any less tender.

However, their love wouldn’t be easy as Albert was not easily accessible as he lived in Germany and Victoria needed guidance upon her ascension to Queen so she turned to Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany). Again the writer and director seemed to flash the neon sign of “This guy is bad news!” above Lord M.’s head, but that didn’t stop Victoria’s infatuation and complete dependence on the man for a time. Albert began to feel slighted as Lord M. began to play a large factor in Victoria’s letters causing him to plan a return trip to England. He offered his services to Victoria, but she rebuked him by stating that she wasn’t ready to accept his help in her reign.

Soon after Albert offered his help, Victoria’s court was imbued in a political scandal caused indirectly by Lord M. but furthered through Victoria’s own stubbornness. Melbourne had resigned as Prime Minister and his successor wanted Victoria to dismiss some of her ladies of the bedchamber as they were all wives of Melbourne’s friends. Victoria refused as she believed the ladies to be her friends and confidants more than political advocates. Public opinion turned against her however and found her crying out to Albert for help.

The two married in 1840, three years into her reign, and Albert became her constant companion until his death in 1861.

Blunt’s Victoria and Friend’s Albert are so compelling that their love is touching. The brief glimpse into Victoria’s early life and the life she shared with Albert is frivolous at times, romantic at others and altogether enjoyable to watch for an hour and a half.

Final Grade: Good

Jersey Shore Finale & Reunion Leaves Too Much Left Unanswered

22 01 2010

Photo courtesy of Life & Style

Anyone thinking that the MTV hit reality show Jersey Shore was going to go out with a bang might have been disappointed in its finale last night. Afterall, this is the show that habitually showed the cast partying, creepin, fist pumping and hooking up so what less could the last episode of the season bring? Unfortunately, the hard partying ways were put aside in favor of a more emotional goodbye.

Everyone (except for Pauly D, unfortunately) seemed to get their time to shine during the finale. Vinny finally got The Situation back for the cottage cheese/smelly room incident, albeit not in as nasty a fashion with his “Situation’s best girl” joke; The Situation proved just how big of a man-whore he was by creepin it on a girl who may or may not have been legal; JWoww got to chase her gorillas; Snooki brought the only glimpse of a party by living it up on the boardwalk as she talked to guys; and Sammi and Ronnie dealt with being apart for the first night since they got together due to Ronnie’s stupid actions.

Seeing the aftermath of Ronnie’s arrest at the beginning of the episode was interesting, if not a little out of place. I’ve heard from other viewers that they thought last week’s episode was running long so they changed the channel. It’s understandable that MTV would want to leave Ronnie’s arrest as a cliffhanger, it didn’t make sense to use it as a lead in to the season finale — viewers were going to be watching last night no matter what.

While I’m disappointed that the cast didn’t party it up on their last night, it was nice to see them all together at the house. If they had been at a club they would have been all over the place, but them sitting down and reminiscing about the summer was a good change of pace no matter how staged or scripted it was. Ithelps that I swear the chair Vinny was sitting in was the one I picked up from St. Vincent dePaul for my old dorm room. And here’s to hoping that The Situation’s dreams of a second season,  no matter how stale the material may become over the next few months, becomes a reality.

The cast exit was also a little awkward and stilted. Did anyone else notice that Sammi didn’t actually ever leave the house? Each person was shown hugging everyone else and peacing out, but Sammi hugged Ronnie as viewers were treated to a nauseauting vignette of their short relationship in Seaside and then he leaves, but she was never shown exiting the house, though Snooki was apparently the last one there.

And then, viewers were treated to the reunion show, which begged so many questions. Why was Angelina there? What caused Sammi’s emotional breakdown? Did Ronnie and Sammi really break up?Does the cast really hate each other? They sure seemed to last night.

Angelina left on the third episode of the show. Everyone in the house seemed happy to see her leave, and viewers at home were given a lot of time to forget she even existed. Yet, yesterday she showed up on both Rachel Ray and the reunion show. Get it through your heads MTV, no one wants her at events like that. Please don’t invite her back for a second season.

And thankfully, a quick google search led to the information that Ronnie and Sammi did NOT break up for good last night, Fox411 is reporting that they’re giving it another shot here. The information isn’t suprising as Ronnie and Sammi had a pretty volatile relationship on the shore as well. They seemed to break up more times than any healthy couple should, but as they explained last night, most people don’t start living together before they start dating. Hopefully the fact that they aren’t around each other 24/7 has led to some normalcy in the relationship.

The reunion show provided some great fist pumping memories, and the unseen footage at the end only endeared me to Snooki more. I hope that we can see her Snookin’ for Love, maybe sister-station VH1 can pick that show up….

I guess all that’s left to do is wait and see what happens to our favorite Shore friends next summer, or, if you’re lucky enough to live near a club that is being graced with their presence, to hit up the club and try to get a picture with them. Anything more than a picture would probably scare me…