Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oscar Nomination Round-up Part 3: Actor and Supporting Actor

Actor in a Leading Role
Demian Bichir, A BETTER LIFE
Jean Dujardin, THE ARTIST

Friday, February 24, 2012

Oscar Nomination Round-up Part 2: Actress and Supporting Actress

Let's (a bit belatedly, but still before the Oscars!) take a look at the movies and performances nominated in the two Actress categories.

Actress in a Leading Role
Viola Davis, THE HELP
Meryl Streep, THE IRON LADY
Michelle Williams, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

When we found out that Meryl Streep would be playing Margaret Thatcher, my first reaction was "But of course!"  The first publicity shot of Streep as Thatcher confirmed my hopes: she looks PERFECT.  Unfortunately, THE IRON LADY is an ingenious casting idea in search of a movie.  I shouldn't be too surprised: THE IRON LADY was directed by Phyllida Lloyd, best known for her stage work and for directing Streep in the abysmal movie adaptation of MAMMA MIA.  The direction isn't very sophisticated; but then again neither is the movie.  Streep gets to wear (admittedly terrific) old-lady makeup in the framing device, but the main part of the movie (the flashbacks to Thatcher's rise to power; the war in the Falklands; Thatcher's demise) feels perfunctory, and almost without a point-of-view.  Which is shocking, since there are few figures in western politics in the second half of the 20th century as important and as polarizing as Margaret Thatcher.  And Streep's work is fine, even if it feels like a sketch.  (I was actually far more intrigued by the performance of Alexandra Roach as the younger Thatcher.)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Oscar Nomination Round-up Part 1: Picture and Director

So the first few weeks of 2012 have been a little hectic around here, and I never really had a chance to take a look back at some notable 2011 movies. And now, the Oscar nominations have come out - so this gives me a perfect opportunity to look back at 2011, and to complain about and/or praise certain choices made by the Academy.

Let's start with Best Picture and Best Director, two categories that are most often linked.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Grammy nominations

Adele's coronation; whatever happened to Duffy?

The Grammy nominations were announced last night, and Adele was clearly the big winner.  This surprised absolutely no one: singles "Rolling in the Deep" and "Someone Like You" were ubiquitous in 2011; her album 21 was a huge commercial success; and, not that this necessarily matters, 21 is a pretty terrific album.  Adele was named Best New Artist at the Grammys two years ago, after her promising debut album 19 was released, and her follow-up cemented her reputation as an artist that everyone (teenage girls, grandmothers, critics, music snobs, the gays, the straights: everyone) could like.  I will be very surprised if she does not win the major awards that she's nominated for.

I can't help but compare Adele's career trajectory to Duffy's.  Adele and Duffy are both young British soul singers who achieved fame at about the same time.  Both received comparisons to Amy Winehouse (generally favorable ones, particularly concerning their stability), and both were nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys two years ago.  Both released their follow-up albums in the last year, but there their stories diverge.  Adele's 21 clearly catapulted her into the stratosphere, but Duffy's second album, ENDLESSLY, was greeted with shrugs.

And, quite simply, ENDLESSLY's not a very good record.  It's got some nice moments, but it feels like a significant step backwards from ROCKFERRY, which was a fantastic debut.  I still listen to it all the time (like right now, for example), and there are a handful of classics: the openers "Rockferry" and "Warwick Avenue", the single "Mercy" (whose "Yeah, yeah, yeah" refrain nicely counter-pointed Amy Winehouse's "No, no, no" of "Rehab"), and the breathtaking "Syrup & Honey", a ballad of heart-breaking romantic longing.

Two years ago, it appeared that Adele and Duffy were both at the beginning of long and wonderful careers.  It looks like Adele has made good of that promise; can Duffy rebound, or was she just a one-album wonder?

A few other random Grammy thoughts:

- What the hell is a Skrillex, and why does it sound like a Chemical Brothers b-side from 1997?


- I had hoped PJ Harvey's Mercury-winning LET ENGLAND SHAKE might get a Best Alternative Album nom, but it did not.

- There are, of course, a lot of upturned noses among the hipsters  at Bon Iver appearing in the Best New Artist category, since his first album, FOR EMMA, FOREVER AGO came out in 2008.  They question the "New"; I question the "Best".  Bon Iver (like Death Cab For Cutie, Belle and Sebastian, and so many others) is One Of Those Artists I Just Don't Get.

- The best category is, obviously, Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.  The nominees are: Tony Bennett.  Harry Connick Jr.  Barbra Streisand.  Susan Boyle.  And Seth MacFarlane.

- If Book of Mormon wins Best Musical Theatre Album, Trey Parker and Matt Stone will be an "O" away from EGOT.  In my head, they've already won the "O", since they really should have won for "Blame Canada".  (Phil Collins, seriously?  Yes, I'm still bitter, 12 years later.)

- As bad as BURLESQUE was - and, let's face it, it was pretty bad - "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" was a terrific song, so I'm glad to see it get a Grammy nomination after getting overlooked by the Oscars.  Just like Springsteen's "The Wrestler"!

- Comparing Springsteen to Cher: my work here is done.

Friday, November 25, 2011

THE DESCENDANTS: Heirs to the glimmering world

A few thoughts on THE DESCENDANTS, and ranking Alexander Payne's movies.

Earlier this year, "The Five Album Test" emerged briefly as a meme.  It suggests that one way to determine a musical act's greatness is that they made five great albums in a row.  This was then extended to "The Five Movie Test": which great directors had made five great films in a row?  Personally, I don't think this test is a very good representation of an artist's greatness - a great director, like a great band, introduces a lot of risk in each new project, and risk is a key element of both success and failure.  But now comes THE DESCENDANTS, director Alexander Payne's fifth movie, and he's five for five.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Some thoughts about Davis Guggenheim's fantastic documentary about U2 and the making of ACHTUNG BABY.

There's a common argument among U2 fans over the last 20 years: which is better, 1987's THE JOSHUA TREE or 1991's ACHTUNG BABY?  Depending on a number of factors (my mood; which album I'd most recently listened to; the phase of the moon; etc), my answer changes.  (Occasionally, it even shifts to ZOOROPA.)  What's interesting is that, although the albums were recorded only four years apart, they could not be more different.  Where THE JOSHUA TREE is anthemic, important, sincere, ACHTUNG BABY is groovy, sexy, ironic.  How did this band get from point A to point B?

Look, I Made a Blog

Hi there.  Welcome to my shiny new blog.

When I first joined twitter, I used it mainly as a tool to follow celebrities I like.  I myself rarely tweeted - but as I started tweeting, I became more interested in following local folks, and occasionally joining local conversations.  I've also started reading a bunch of local blogs, and these often leave me thinking: I can write better than they can.  (Not you, of course; your blog is perfection.)  I also had the opportunity to do some blogging for the Calgary International Film Festival as a volunteer, and I really enjoyed that.  So I thought I'd experiment with blogging again.

I've been in Calgary for nearly a decade - I like this city so much that I actually moved here twice.  My main blogging interest is pop culture, particularly movies and television.  I plan on talking about stuff going on in Calgary as well.  I'm not starting this blog with a particular agenda - although I do have lots of ideas - so let's just see where it takes us.  Say hello in the comments, write me an email, insult me on twitter, whatever you want!

(Also, for the next little while, pardon the mess.  I'm still experimenting with the formatting and adding features and all that fun stuff.  It's like moving into a new house!)

First things first: here is a picture of my dog: