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oscar run ii: cold mountain

(Shouldn't really have to say this, but just in case, SPOILERS ahead!)

cold mountainContinuing this year's Oscar run, today I saw Cold Mountain, which was nominated for seven Oscars, most of which in retrospect I can barely remember. To get the good stuff out of the way, I expected it to be simply awful and potentially racist, but found it to be average and not racist. Philip Seymour Hoffman is good as always, I love Renée Zellweger whenever she's not a 98-pound stick, and Jude Law is almost as pretty as Nicole Kidman.

That's pretty much it. The narrative kept me attentive, which is no easy feat, since the film is 2 1/2 hours long and I'm one who thinks every movie without the word "godfather" in the title should be 90 minutes, tops. But there was no real payoff, and when, after two hours, Jude and Nicole finally got together again, I waited for my emotions to overflow and they didn't. And it's funny, because like Pauline Kael, I really really hate cheap unearned emotion at the movies, think getting an audience to cry is the easiest thing possible, and Cold Mountain never pulled out those stops, you'd think I'd admire it, and maybe I do, but when I didn't feel anything at the Jude-Nicole reunion, I realized the entire film was emotionally uninvolving, and not in a particularly interesting way.

So you're left with Hoffman and Zellweger and a good war scene near the beginning, and ain't Jude Law pretty. Zellweger deserves her supporting-actress Oscar nod, but Jude Law has been better in other movies ... he's one of the few good things about A.I. and I liked him in The Talented Mr. Ripley. As for the other Oscar nods, two songs are up for Best Original Song, and OK, I used to stick around until all the credits were done, but nowadays credits last so long I can leave the theatre, get in my car, drive home, log onto the Internet Movie Database and read the credits before the people who stuck around in the theatre have finished sitting through the damn things. So as far as I know, I didn't hear either of the two songs, and I don't really give a shit, anyway. The other Oscar noms are for cinematography, editing, and score, and I didn't think the movie was anything special in those areas. So, go Renée, but mostly I don't think this one deserves seven Oscar nominations. Six on a scale of ten.


oscar run i: whale rider

whale rider

We saw Whale Rider the other day. I'd intended to write something about it, but after watching it, I didn't have much to say, so I passed. But now that the Oscar nominations are out, it's time for the third annual Steven Rubio's Online Blog Oscar Run, so I'll start with this film, whose star, Keisha Castle-Hughes, picked up a nomination for Best Actress.

A nomination that was well-deserved, since she was easily the best thing about Whale Rider. Without her, it's a decent melange of fantasy, feminism, and coming-of-age. With her? Well, it's better than decent because she is so excellent. To begin with, Castle-Hughes has the look of a star, the answer to the question "what would Jessica Alba have looked like at 12 if she had Maori ancestry?" Her performance in Whale Rider destroys pretty much all the possible cliches such a role offers: she isn't too precocious, yet she expresses clear intelligence in a believable manner, she runs a realistic gamut from little-girl to budding teen to old-beyond-her-years, she takes what is ultimately a stock character and creates something identifiably grounded in the actual lives of young people. All this while existing within a fable about old values, new worlds, and the power of girls that is pleasant enough but nothing special. Seven on a scale of ten for the movie, much more than that for Keisha Castle-Hughes.

BTW, it's usually a sign of a lesser film when the only nomination it gets is for one of the actors. Whale Rider is a good example of this, a movie that would be inconsequential if not for Castle-Hughes. Think of Unfaithful from last year, where Diane Lane turned glop into something watchable. Hopefully, the other two movies in the category of "Got One Nomination, for Best Actress" will prove me wrong ... I don't have much hope for Something's Gotta Give, but Kim has spoken highly of Monster.

Meanwhile, over at Movielens, a site that predicts how you'll like a movie before you've seen it, I've checked to see how they think I'll rate the movies I'll try to watch over the next month. Here's the list, adjusted for a 1-10 scale ... I'll look on this again after the Oscars to see how accurate Movielens was:

9: Capturing the Friedmans, In America, American Splendor, City of God

8: Monster, Lost in Translation, 21 Grams, Master and Commander, Big Fish, Mystic River, Dirty Pretty Things, Triplets of Belleville, Barbarian Invasions, Cold Mountain, Fog of War, Something's Gotta Give, House of Sand and Fog, Lord of the Rings

7: Pirates of the Caribbean, Seabiscuit, Last Samurai, Mighty Wind, Girl With a Pearl Earring, Pieces of April

6: Brother Bear


performance

If you have the Trio cable network (and, to be honest, I'm the only person I know who does), they're showing Performance again next Monday and Tuesday. I haven't seen it there yet so I don't know if it's edited ... it's listed as widescreen, at least.

Oh, and for those who don't know, there was a time when Performance was my favorite movie. I wouldn't say that any more, but I still love it quite a lot.


kidney stone update

[EDITED TO ADD: THIS IS NOT A MEDICAL WEBSITE! PLEASE CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE A KIDNEY STONE!]

Talked to the urologist today. Since x-rays don't show the stone, lithotripsy is not an option, so he's going to do another cat scan to make sure the stone is still there ... I don't feel pain, but his feeling is it was too big for me to have passed it, so he's guessing it's hibernating somewhere ... and then I'll have outpatient surgery where I go under general anesthesia, he goes in and gets the stone, and I'm fixed. As I type this, no schedule for any of this.


sex, enthusiasm, l word

Sunday night teevee update (SPOILERS ABOUND):

That was one of the best Sex and the City episodes ever. Kim Cattrall was so excellent, it's too bad she had so few substantial plotlines over the years. And when cutie-boy grabbed the hair clippers, I choked up. And when Miranda saw her future and accepted it, I choked up. And whenever Carrie opened her mouth, I threw up, so it wasn't a perfect episode ... as the show winds down, Miranda remains my favorite, Samantha remains underrated, I've learned to put up with Charlotte, but Carrie ... I won't miss that character when the show ends.

Curb Your Enthusiasm had a lot of hilarious moments, although I don't think the payoff was all that hot.

The L Word remained good enough to stick with. Shane is still my fave, and she got more screen time this episode. I think Marina is a creep. Not enough hot sex this time around, though.


golden globes

Can't say I know much about the Golden Globes ... I believe those are the ones where the results are questionable? Anyway, I just saw a news story about them, and noticed that in the teevee category, The Wire won exactly zero Golden Globes. For all I know, it wasn't nominated. But I just thought I'd mention that The Wire is the best show on teevee, even if the Golden Globes doesn't know it.


rhapsody

OK, I've got a few minutes, time to rhapsodize about Rhapsody.

Let me get the bad parts out of the way first, so I can concentrate on the good parts. Rhapsody is a Windows-only service, so the fourteen of you out there who are still fighting the anti-Microsoft battle can quit reading now. Rhapsody is also a pay service ... I'm not certain about the pricing, but I think it's $10/month, $25/3 months. Rhapsody is also a computer/online service ... the only way to listen to it on your stereo is if your computer is connected to that stereo, you can't listen to it in the car or anywhere else non-computerish.

I've just given plenty of reason for many, even most, people to lose interest in Rhapsody.

What are the good parts?

Well, Rhapsody has an enormous catalog of music. Let's take, oh, Van Morrison for an example. They've got 13 of his albums. They have six compilations on whch he appears. They have five other albums that he does guest shots on. You want to hear Astral Weeks? You can. Want to hear just that one song from Astral Weeks? You can.

Let me take someone a bit more contemporary. Like E-40? They have five E-40 albums and one EP. They have five compilations he appears on; they have close to 20 albums on which he makes appearance.

OK, they have a lot of tunes. I think they claim 400,000. Not everyone is available for this "on demand" service, most notably the Beatles. But 400,000 songs is a lot. (There is also a Rhapsody radio thingie that is part of the package, and it's nice, if not quite as good as Musicmatch MX ... and on those stations, you'll hear some of the artists who are missing from the on-demand catalog.) Basically, though, if you say to yourself "I want to hear that song," you can hear it ... I don't have a %, seems to me that I get positive results on about 90% of what I'm looking for.

Then there's the playlists. Anyone who loves making mix CDs will love this. Everyone of those 400,000 songs in the on-demand catalog can be placed in a playlist. You can put them in particular orders, you can put the same song in three different times, you can do a shuffle play, you can save as many playlists as you like. And the playlists are stored online, so if you've got a computer at home, a computer at work, and a laptop, you can install Rhapsody on all your machines and whenever you log on, from whichever computer, all of your info is there, all of your playlists are there, and this is all part of the basic package.

Here's some examples of what you can do with playlists, besides the obvious Mix function. I have a playlist called "Robin." It has about 300 songs so far, and it'll continue to grow. Basically, I'm sticking every song I can think of that Robin likes into that playlist. Then, when she's at home and in the mood for tunes, I put "Robin" on shuffle play and everyone's happy. With standard radio, she's stuck listening to the oldies channel ... that's closest to her taste, but it means she never hears anything from the last few decades, and there's lots of music from that time which she enjoys. With Musicmatch, Robin can create a station based on her taste in music (you can do this to a lesser extent in Rhapsody), but she is then at the mercy of the software, which can be good (it will play a song you don't know but will like) or not so good (it will decide that since you like Bruce Springsteen, you'll also like some piece of obscure garage junk, and you won't like it). With Rhapsody playlists, the surprise factor is missing ... you won't hear something new, you have to look elsewhere for that (listening to a Rhapsody station that appeals to you being an obvious possibility) ... but since the catalog is so huge, you WILL be surprised.

IPod people know what the thrill is ... most of us these days either have an iPod or know someone who does, and they love to explain how they put their entire CD collection on the iPod. And that's a great thing, and it's also portable, which is not the case with Rhapsody. But, given the limitation that you are listening from your computer, Rhapsody has iPod beat in one important area: with an iPod, you can put your entire CD collection in one place, but with Rhapsody, you can put every CD the world in one place.

OK, I've exaggerated as usual ... 400,000 songs is not the same as "every CD in the world." But it's a move in the proper direction. I'd be happy to link to the article in question, but I can't remember where I read it ... but just a couple of weeks ago, I read a piece that said one possible future for music would be one where the consumer paid a flat fee for access to every piece of music that exists. It's basically what radio stations do. Now, the point of the article was that for our flat fee, we should get unlimited rights to that music ... we should be able to listen to it anywhere we want, in any format we desire. Rhapsody is nowhere near that point, being that it is tied to an internet-connected computer. But it's got the right idea. Give 'em their $10/month (about the price of one used CD), and listen to any of 400,000 songs you want.

The playlist possibilities are endless. I have a crushing nostalgia for the "underground" radio of the late-60s ... I've created a playlist with 700 or so songs that got played on underground radio in those days. I've got a playlist of songs my sister Chris likes, which I can listen to when I'm chatting with her online. Neal came over and made me several mix playlists of some of his favorites, so I have Neal-chosen Greatest Hits for E-40, Geto Boys, and Timbaland. I'm building a playlist that contains every song Rhapsody makes available from Dave Marsh's book of the 1001 best singles of all time. I've got a playlist called "Morning" which features music appropriate for reading the Sunday paper.

Also, you can send playlists to others ... obviously, you need the Rhapsody service to listen, which cuts out most people, but I can place a link here on my blog and if you click on it, you can listen to a short set I built for listening to in the car when Robin's driving. (Here's the list, before anyone asks: "Werewolves of London" - Warren Zevon, "You Can Leave Your Hat On" - Randy Newman, "All I Wanna Do" - Sheryl Crow, "St. Teresa" - Joan Osborne, "Who Will Save Your Soul" - Jewel, "One Headlight" - The Wallflowers, "I Need To Know" - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.)

I've ignored the burning capabilities of Rhapsody ... I'm interested in it for the playlists and huge catalog, I don't need to burn the stuff, but they make a large part of the catalog available for burning at I think 79 cents a song ... again, I don't use that function, so I have no idea if it's any good or not.

So, if anyone is actually reading this and actually using Rhapsody, let's see your playlists!