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oscar run xii: cars

You know what to expect by this point. Mindboggling animation, famous voice actors … what else? Some of these movies are good, some are bad, Cars is in between. It goes on far too long (gee, when have I said that?), and its celebration of / nostalgia for the simpler small town ways of the past, while evocative if you like those things, is a bit odd, considering how different Pixar-style animation is from the old school. It might have made more sense to have the jazzed-up racing world in PixarVision, and the small town world in 2D. I don’t know … it just felt funny to see such a modern movie with such a love for the good old days.

The best effect is the Hudson Hornet, which somehow manages to look like a car and like Paul Newman at the same time. Many of the voices are good, although none of them match Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo (she deserved a Best Supporting Actress Oscar). I don’t mean to sound disparaging … I liked this movie well enough. But Miyazaki spoils you … you want every movie to be a great as Princess Mononoke, and that ain’t gonna happen. Cars actually gets two nominations, not just Best Animated Feature but also Best Original Song, for yet another Randy Newman special I can’t remember only hours after I saw the movie. It is possible the Best Song category is the stupidest one of all the Oscars … who really gives a shit? This year, I’ve now seen all of the nominees. Newman’s song is forgettable, Melissa Etheridge’s contribution to the Al Gore documentary is no biggie, and even though Dreamgirls got three of the five nominations, none of them are for the one acknowledged classic, “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going” (which is a classic because of the performance as much as the song) … that song was in the stage play, and the Oscar goes to original tunes, only. I guess my vote out of those five would go to Beyoncé for “Listen,” but I really don’t give a rat’s ass. 6/10

five, er, eight years ago

Five years ago, I posted the following on this blog:

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

what i watch

According to the Google Usenet archives, here's what I was watching on teevee three years ago:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Martial Law, Ally McBeal, Spin City, Sports Night, NYPD Blue, Vengeance Unlimited, and Cupid.

Let’s see … Buffy’s going to have an 8th season in comic book format … Sammo Hung disappeared from America … Calista Flockhart stars on Brothers and Sisters while Peter McNicol is a bad guy on 24 … Michael J. Fox doesn’t act anymore … Sports Night begat West Wing begat Studio 60NYPD Blue finally went off the air, only to live on in endless reruns … Michael Madsen’s sister gets more attention than he does … and Jeremy Piven makes Entourage worth watching.

So … it’s January 30, 2015. I’m 61 years old if I’m still alive. Gore/Obama are finishing up their second term in office. And what will have become of Katee Sackhoff? America Ferrara? Aaron Sorkin? Jeremy Piven? My predictions:

Katee Sackhoff, 2015: The lead actress in a television dramedy that gets mediocre ratings but lasts two seasons.

America Ferrara, 2015: She wins a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as Scarlett Johansson’s best friend in some movie.

Aaron Sorkin, 2015: He comes up with a great idea for a TV series and writes scripts for the first four episodes before he takes it around to the networks. The show ends up being a rare continuing series on PBS.

Jeremy Piven, 2015: He gets nominated for a Tony, after appearing in two failed TV series after Entourage runs its course.

charlie comes to town

Charlie came by for a visit yesterday. As always, he took a bunch of pictures, and I took a couple, too, although mine always look crummy next to his. He’ll hate what I’ve done to his pictures here … he works very hard to compose the frame, and then I chop it up against his wishes. Oh well.

Charlie jillian

That’s the one I took.

Steven starbuck

Charlie loved the kitties … geez, everyone loves the kitties, it’s kinda disgusting.

Boomer and six in condo

And the kitties love Charlie … especially Six, if the next picture is evidence:

Charlie and six


I was surfing around, and came across a website from a professional organizer. It included a quiz designed to measure your “Organizing Quotient.” We are assured before taking the quiz that most people are much more organized than they realize.

There were 20 questions, each of which was worth from 1–4 points, so the most you could score was 80 and the least was 20. If you scored 20–29, they suggested you become a professional organizer, too. 30–45 meant you were reasonably organized. 36–57 was “somewhat disorganized and probably frustrated.”

I got a 65.

Of course, I don’t know how much I can trust this quiz … how organized can they be, when anyone who scored between 36–45 is in two categories?

Here’s what it said about people like me:

Disorganization rules your life and you are likely to be very stressed out. Your job may even be on the line. Your possessions own you instead of you owning them. Your time management is keeping you from enjoying life the way you want to. Seek out a professional organizer who can help you implement systems, teach you basic organizing skills, and keep you on task so you can finish what you begin.

For the record, here are the 11 answers where I got the maximum 4 points for disorganization:

  • My clothes are in piles all over, getting stepped on.
  • My desk is somewhere under that big pile of stuff.
  • The attic and basement in my home are big black holes. Stuff goes in and never comes out.
  • I always get distracted when trying to organize.
  • I always feel overwhelmed by the size of my organizing projects.
  • I never know the logical spots where things in my home should be put away.
  • When I start an organizing project I never finish it. I love the idea of organizing but am often too distracted to see it through to the end.
  • My family never helps keep the home in order and running smoothly.
  • My home never makes me feel happy and comfortable.
  • Being at home and seeing my clutter always makes me feel stressed.
  • On a scale of 1–4 with 4 being the most cluttered, my home feels like a 4.

On the other hand, there was one question where I got the minimum one point … my mail gets read and sorted daily.

oscar run xi: pirates of the caribbean: dead man's chest

Three years ago, I wrote the following:

Let's make this quick. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is as bloated as its title. It's an hour longer than it needs to be, it substitutes explosions and endless stupid sword fights for actual entertainment, and without Johnny Depp is simply wouldn't be worth sitting through. (It was fun to see Gareth from The Office as a zombie pirate, though.) Depp treats the movie the way Laurence Olivier used to treat potboilers, as an excuse to have some fun with acting, and the fun is contagious ... Depp is a delight to watch, the only thing that keeps you from falling asleep. He deserves his Oscar nomination. The other four noms (makeup, sound, sound editing, and visual effects) are the kind of thing you give crap like this to reward the technicians who worked so hard. Five on a scale of ten.

The sequel is more of the same, only worse. It’s as putrid as the breath of Davy Jones’ monster. The first film was too long … the sequel is seven minutes longer. There are more explosions and more endless stupid sword fights, yet the movie manages to make it through 150 minutes without a moment of actual entertainment. Johnny Depp is one of my favorite actors, but most of his movies suck, and this one sucks more than most. Once again, the Oscar nominations give away the movie’s secrets: art direction, sound, sound editing, and visual effects. Nothing human in any of those. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is almost completely worthless. I’ll be kind and give it three on a scale of ten, because I laughed once when a bad guy dropped his head, and because I went “whoa!” once in two and a half hours (the big giant wheel was cool for the first 20 seconds or so, which left another ten minutes of that scene, of course).

my favorites ... ever

Over on his blog, Mick LaSalle is asking people to list their favorites in 28 different categories. You are allowed to add one honorable mention, and you can skip categories. I skipped several, and gave honorable mentions for a few (in parentheses). Here were my choices, as of the moment I filled out the survey:

Movie: The Godfather & The Godfather Part II (The Sorrow and the Pity)
Play: A Streetcar Named Desire
Film Director: Jean Renoir
TV Show: The Wire (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
Album: Born to Run (Astral Weeks)
Novel: The Plague
Novelist: Philip K. Dick
Actor: Marlon Brando
Actress: Helen Mirren
Beatle: John
Non-Fiction Book: Pauline Kael, For Keeps
Painting: Guernica
Singer: Elvis
Pope: Eddie
Philosopher: Camus
Marx Brother: Groucho

Go on over to his blog and add your own choices. List ‘em here, too!

high and low

No, I didn’t watch the Kurosawa movie again, although I did watch one of my favorites from back in the day. A Criterion box set arrived the other day, four movies in all, from the late-50s, and I cracked open the box and watched one of the films this evening. It had an interesting cast … Dick Foran, known as the “Singing Cowboy,” whose dad was a Senator … Bob Steele, a high-school classmate of John Wayne who made his first film in 1920 and appeared in classics like Of Mice and Men, The Big Sleep, and Rio Bravo (the same year he made tonight’s movie) … George Sanders’ brother Tom Conway. The producer was Alex Gordon, who later was an important figure in the restoration of classic movies from 20th Century Fox. The original music, fitting right into the exotica of the day, was by Alexander Lazslo, and was billed as “electro-sonic music.”

I think you can see why Criterion would want to get the rights to this film. And we haven’t even gotten to the dialogue, including one line spoken by the narrator that pretty much sums up the movie: “It was foolish. It was insane. It was fantastic.”

Yes, I’m talking about The Atomic Submarine, a sci-fi movie made for an estimated $135,000 in 1959. I musta watched this movie a dozen times on TV when I was a kid. I was terrified by the alien outerspace monster, an octopus-looking creature with a big giant eye in the middle of its … well, I’m not sure what to call it, it’s like when the monster meets the hero and says “we meet as your people say … face to face,” and the hero replies “That’s a face?” The special effects didn’t seem so bad when I was a kid watching a fuzzy picture on the old TV on a Saturday afternoon, but thanks to the “restored, high-definition digital transfer” Criterion offers, the fx are now more obvious … the title machine looks an awful lot like a toy in the bathtub. That’s not all Criterion gives us. There’s a fifteen-minute interview with the immortal actor Brett Halsey, and let’s not forget the crisp and clear Dolby 1.0 mono soundtrack. Oh, and a nice booklet with an essay about the film.

The entire box set also includes two Boris Karloff movies (The Haunted Strangler and Corridors of Blood) and the “classic sci-fi adventure” First Man into Space. The box is called “Monsters and Madmen,” and the discs can also be purchased separately, I believe. A bargain at any price. It’s not exactly Jean Renoir, but hey, Criterion did two Michael Bay movies, and if they can do that, why not give us some crappy 50s sci-fi, too?

friday random ten, 1959 edition

1. Fats Domino, “I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Some Day.” It’s impossible to listen to Fats without smiling.

2. Dave Brubeck, “Kathy’s Waltz.” I wonder how many American households in the late 50s and early 60s counted Time Out as the only jazz LP in their collection.

3. The Fiestas, “So Fine.” Written by Johnny Otis.

4. John Coltrane, “Naima.” How many of those households that owned Time Out also had a copy of Giant Steps? Ours didn’t.

5. The Detroit Zoological Park, “Soundsouvenir Record.” From the great 365 Days Project.

6. Miles Davis, “All Blues.” This random list makes me think of a few things. There sure are a lot of jazz tunes on here, considering I’m not a big jazz buff. 1959 must have been one king-hell year for jazz. And, oh yeah, how many suburban households in 1959 had copies of Time Out, Giant Steps, and Kind of Blue?

7. The Fleetwoods, “Mr. Blue.” These folks have to be the whitest people ever to go to #3 on the Black Singles charts.

8. Marv Johnson, “You Got What It Takes.” To set my soul on fire.

9. Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, “The Twist.” You hear a lot about white artists ripping off black music with crummy cover versions. But Chubby Checker was black, too, and his version of “The Twist” is to Hank Ballard’s as the Crew Cuts are to the Chords.

10. Dee Clark, “Hey Little Girl.” Gee, but I’d like to know you better.

oscar run intermission: 49 up (michael apted, paul almond, 2005)

Of all the films about which I guessed wrong in assuming they would get an Oscar nomination or two, none ended up taking more of my time than 49 Up. For those who haven’t heard of it, in 1964, a documentary film, 7 Up, was made about a bunch of 7–year-old English kids. Every seven years since then, the film makers return to update their series. Now we’ve got 49 Up. And I figured the latest installment in such a highly-regarded series would surely get nominated for Best Documentary.

I should have done more research. None of the “Up” films has ever been nominated for an Oscar. Too late for me … having always been interested, but never having actually watched, I hunkered down and watched every one of the films, from 7 Up through 42 Up, to prepare for 49 Up. By the time I got around to 49 Up, the Oscar nominations were out and 49 Up was nowhere to be found. But I’ll be damned if I’m gonna waste all of those hours I spent watching the earlier movies, so I watched 49 Up and will say something about it, and the series, here.

Everyone notes what a fascinating idea this is for a continuing series. The impact is perhaps less now, when reality television is everywhere, than it was in 1964, but the cumulative effect of the movies far surpasses whatever pleasures you might get from watching Flavor of Love. Some of the kids turn out as you might expect, others do not … all of them are recognizably human, and over time you go past hoping this one does better than that one … you like them all, want the best for them all.

The films are, or at least were, intended as a critique of British class society, but the films are least successful when they push that point. Far too often, interviewer and director Michael Apted asks leading questions designed to show off his notions about class … just as often, the replies are unexpected, thankfully. In 49 Up, more than in any other of the films, Apted is challenged by the participants. Many of them dislike having their lives interrupted every seven years … some think Apted and the series unfairly portrays their lives. A couple have quit participating over the course of the films, including at least two spouses.

And it’s important to remember, they were seven when the series began. Someone else made the decision to put them in the film. They are the ones who continue to take part, but it must be difficult, being in something you didn’t ask for, knowing the whole world is watching your life go by. The most astute observer of this is John, who in the early films seems almost unlikable. Conservative, privileged, snobbish … there’s not much to like. And then he refused to take part in 28 Up, saying he’d said all that needed to be said. But he returned for 35 Up, because he wanted to get the word out about a Bulgarian charity he worked on, and after another break, he’s back again in 49 Up, just as conservative, just as privileged, but far more likeable, in a noblesse oblige kind of way. He’s the most successful, on the surface, of any of the group … I don’t quite understand the English legal system, but he’s a high-ranking lawyer of some kind. And while others do a better job of conveying their anger at the misrepresentations they feel are inherent in the series, John best articulates the basic problem, as he discusses why he thinks the films are popular. They are like reality shows, only you get to watch people’s hair thin and guts enlarge. “Fascinating, I’m sure,” he says, then adds, “But does it have any value? That’s a different question.”

And that’s the nut of it. Because it’s well-made, because the participants are likeable, because over the course of 42 years we get to know them, or at least get to know their “Up” personas, for all of these reasons, the Up series seems legitimate, even classy, and I think we might see more in them than really exists. Fascinating, for sure. But I don’t have the answer to John’s question about value, and I’ve spent more than a dozen hours recently watching them all.

job description

Constructing a self is my job description. I've always thought of that as the stage machinery of the column, the part you're not supposed to see. Of course, "Jon Carroll" is different from Jon Carroll. "Jon Carroll" is a constructed persona. He's a lot like me in some ways, because it's impossible to create characters out of thin air, but he's still a character. He's more genial than I am, and he doesn't think about sex nearly as much as I do. All the autobiographical "I's" are characters, because art is not life.

-- Jon Carroll (or is that "Jon Carroll"?)