Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Winners & Losers

The Oscars were a mixed bag for me this year. Some well-deserving people finally got awards after years of being overlooked which made me happy, but I was otherwise indifferent to most of the results. It's a little odd for me. Normally I come in with favorites and expectations to be crushed, but perhaps that's just a reflection on the type of movies that were out this year.

Starting at the top, I thought Hugh Jackman did a top notch job as emcee despite his penchant for musical theater. He knows how to work a stage and was at ease with the crowd since he's, you know, an actor, too. The part of the show that really fell flat for me was the direction. I think they give out Emmys for Best Direction of a Variety Program or something like that and the Oscars telecast from the previous year often wins. It shouldn't even be nominated this year. The nail in the coffin was the much awaited "roll call of the dead". Instead of just showing us the video feed of stills, clips, and names, we got this endless series of camera moves and pans making it next to impossible to read who was being honored. Blech.

Anyway, I'm supposed to talk about movies, right? The big winner was Slumdog Millionaire taking home eight trophies in total, among them Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Score, and Best Song. I saw this back in January when we went out for a triple feature. Was it the best movie of the year? Probably not. To be honest, it's a pretty conventional love story with average acting. The story's one gimmick is that it's told through the lens of a TV game show. What it does have going for it is the alien setting (for Americans) of the slums of Mumbai, India. If you were to transplant the criminal aspect into a Mafia or urban youth flick, it would probably be pretty pedestrian.

All that said, it is good to see Danny Boyle finally get some recognition. His 2002 zombie horror flick 28 Days Later... ranks up there as one of the top films of the last ten years. Since it involves zombies though, it was never going to be seriously considered for anything.

After five previous attempts, long time Top 5er Kate Winslet finally brought home the gold for her role in The Reader. I actually thought she was better in Revolutionary Road this year, but she'll probably take what she can get. If you're not very familiar with her body of work, I'd recommend virtually anything that Ms Winslet is in including the two from this year. Just don't be expecting very many feel-good stories. In The Reader, she plays a harsh German ticket taker who seduces a 15-year old boy and Revolutionary Road is about the destruction of an outwardly idyllic marriage in 1950's suburbia.

I haven't seen Milk which took home awards for Best Actor (Sean Penn) and Best Screenplay. I'm usually an unwilling viewer of most biopics, and I generally don't think that they should win awards. Creating something new and original feels more worthy then merely imitating a real life person or writing down their words and calling it a screenplay, but that's probably just me. I would have preferred to see Mickey Rourke or Richard Jenkins win the acting award. Speaking of Richard Jenkins, if you haven't seen The Visitor add it to your queues now. It was a little movie that came and went at the art theaters early in 2008. Jenkins plays a college professor who's just been going through the motions since his wife died. One day, when he finds people living illegally in his NYC apartment something is awakened within him. Very powerful with brilliant performances all around, I was glad to see it recognized with a nomination.

Nominated movies that I still want to see:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Tropic Thunder

Any opinions on those one way or the other, or anything I may have missed? Let me know.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscar Oscar!

As I sit here in dread of the upcoming Movie Maven segment on Midday today (two hours of how "corny" Hugh Jackman was - ), it occurs to me that I should register my weighty opinion on the awards outcome from last night. Look for something on that tomorrow. I haven't seen as many of the nominated movies as I'd have liked to, but I do have some recommendations for your Netflix queues.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bock Fest

Due to the magic of the Internets, I'm pretending to have written this Saturday morning. In actuality, I'm in a car with some friends on my way to the New Ulm Bock Fest. I don't know exactly what to expect as the more I read the more confused I become. Wha? Antlers?

One of the friends is a New Ulm native so hopefully he'll know what the heck is going on when we get there. There's a forecast high of 21, so I'm bringing extra handwarmers along. Brr. Anyway, it will hopefully be a good time and we'll hopefully sample some good beer. I'll report back Monday when I've returned.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Rilo Kiley - More Adventurous

It's probably about time that I use some posts talking about the music that's passing through my CD player these days. Apologies to those of you at work that have already heard portions of this album, I'll come up with something new for next time.

Rilo Kiley is an LA indie pop band most well-known for its female lead Jenny Lewis. She started out in Hollywood as a child actress, most known in nerd circles as Fred Savage's mysterious red-headed companion in the Nintendo film The Wizard, before moving on to a music career.

Their third album, "More Adventurous" came out back in 2004 and landed on a lot of the year's best album lists, crowning them as indie darlings in the process. We've had it for awhile, but it's spent a lot of time languishing on the shelf until now. I'm a fan because a lot of the songs are musically clever without sounding too slick. There's a lot of unique ornamentation that makes choruses and verses distinct, as opposed to the bland repetition you typically hear on the radio. For example, notice how "It's a Hit" has three verses (all different) before ever hitting the main refrain. Yes, the lyrics can get a tidge angsty, but that comes with the territory sometimes.

In total, Rilo Kiley has four albums as well as Jenny Lewis' two solo albums. I'll probably be tracking more down in the future.

Listening Station:
"It's a Hit"
"Portions for Foxes" - just a bit, as seen in the pilot of Grey's Anatomy... who knew?
"More Adventurous"/"Ripchord"/"Portions for Foxes" - from an in-studio performance at our local NPR station. Sorry you have to suffer through the interview portion. Click the "Listen (128k mp3)" link for an iTunes style playlist.

There are a bunch of YouTube concert videos if you look around, but you can hear the crowd better than the band on most of them so I won't bother linking.

Broken Down Pieces of Meat

I'm a fan of Darren Aronofsky. Not only does he have excellent taste in women, he also makes some pretty darn good movies: Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, and now The Wrestler.

Twenty years ago, Randy "The Ram" Robinson was on top of the professional wrestling world after defeating the Ayatollah in the heavyweight match of the century. Today, he's just scuffling to make rent for his double-wide by competing in a small-time circuit. One day, the phone rings with the offer hes been waiting for: a chance to return to his former glory by fighting the Ayatollah in a massive 20th anniversary event. Will he make it all the way back, or will life get in the way?

We saw this back in January while we were passing through Chicago, and I still find myself thinking about it from time to time. Now that it's been released to wider audiences, I can encourage all of you to see it too.

First of all, let me state that you don't need to like wrestling at all to enjoy this movie. It's in fact possible that the more you like wrestling, the less you'll like it. That's not to say that there isn't action in the ring. There's plenty, and a lot of it is brutal and horrific. If you squeam easily, you may want to cover your eyes at parts. However at its center, The Wrestler is a character piece.

It's been said in a lot of places already, but Mickey Rourke is truly fantastic as Randy, bringing nuance and heart to a difficult role. The Ram is a lot of things to a lot of different people: a role model to his fellow small-time wrestlers, a hero to his fans, a perhaps too loyal customer to his favorite stripper (a very naked Marisa Tomei), just another working stiff at his grocery store day job, a playmate to all the kids in his trailer park, and an estranged father. The trick is trying to fit all of the pieces together.

Aronofsky's direction brings a level of gritty realism to the film. If your only exposure to him is through The Fountain and that scares you, chances are you'll find this one to be different. You feel every body blow, cut, and scrape along the way, but still manage to enjoy the light-hearted moments as they happen. It's a movie that will change the way you think about firemen forever and should give you plenty to talk about for months to come. Go see it now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Come Aboard, We're Expecting You

The Loooooooooooove Toooooooooooooour! It was my turn to plan Valentine's Day this year, so I went the relatively easy route in snagging us a reservation at the Minnesota Zoo's (become a member today and I can get free stuff) annual Love Tour. Unbeknownest to me, Meaghan had been trying to get us reservations to this the last couple of years. Who knew I was such a good planner?

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Love Tour is a special after hours tour of the Zoo's Tropics Trail (indoor rainforest) followed by a nice dinner in Discovery Bay. Limited to ~100 couples over two nights, it's billed as a behind the scenes look at the courtship and breeding habits of many of their animals. We didn't really know what to expect, but since we like going to the zoo it seemed a reasonable way to spend an evening.

One issue going into it is that we didn't really know how to dress. On one hand it's the zoo, and on the other it's Valentine's Day. Apparently we weren't the only ones with that problem. When we arrived at the drinks and hors d'oeuvres station, the other couples there were running the gamut from t-shirts and jeans to fancy dresses and high heels. We were sensible enough to shoot the middle ground at the sweater, nice pants, flat shoes level. It is a walking tour after all.

The tour was interesting and informative. Ours was led by a soft-spoken zoo vet who had so much to share about some of the exhibits that the tour behind us started catching up to us. If you ever want to know about the reproductive organs, mating habits, or breeding programs in place for any of these animals, let me know. I'm not going to go into any detail here except to say that attempting to get animals to reproduce is apparently fraught with misery and failure. Maybe it's better out in the wild, but a lot of species seem to really beat each other up before/during/after mating. Humans have it so lucky.

We also didn't know what to expect for dinner. The Minnesota Zoo doesn't have any nice restaurants and we were being served in Discovery Bay. It's the Zoo's aquatic exhibit featuring a large tropical aquarium, dolphin tank, and ray/dogfish petting pond. On a normal day, you can find dozens of screaming kids running around and splashing in the petting pond. It's quite a different experience when you remove all of the kids and add 40 candlelit tables and a live jazz combo. Dinner was a well-prepared surf & turf combo (steak & salmon) followed by a decadent quadruple chocolate cake. It's actually a pretty romantic setting for a meal, if you're into dolphins occasionally gliding by your table.

We had a good time, and it was fun to do something a little on the different side. If you like zoos and are looking for ideas for next year, I'd recommend it. You need not be a member to sign up.

Quantity Not Quality

We'll see where this new philosophy gets me. The goal is to build up some posts so I can schedule them out into the future and keep the dead periods away. Wish me luck!