Saturday, January 31, 2009

In the West Wing

Other portrayals of the American president:

Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact

James Earl Jones in The Man

Chris Rock in Head of State

Charlton Heston as Andrew Jackson in The President's Lady (1953) and The Buccaneer (1958)

Henry Fonda in Young Mr. Lincoln

Anthony Hopkins in Nixon

Nick Nolte in Jefferson in Paris

Josh Brolin in W.

Anthony Hopkins as John Quincy Adams in Amistad

Jon Voight as Franklin D. Roosevelt in Pearl Harbor

Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt in Night at the Museum

Kevin Kline as Ulysses S. Grant in Wild Wild West

John Travolta in Primary Colors

James Brolin in The Reagans (Showtime)

Paul Giamatti in John Adams (HBO)

Dennis Haysbert in 24

Friday, January 30, 2009


James Cameron's The Terminator headlines movies chosen December 30 for inclusion in the American film archive.

The Library of Congress selected 25 films with cultural significance for addition to the National Film Registry. Other picks were Hallelujah (with a cast all comprised of blacks- in 1929!); Sergeant York (1941); Richard Brooks' In Cold Blood (1967); and Deliverance (1972).

The Library aims to preserve original video and audio recordings. With the passage of time, older films start to deteriorate because they are based on acetate and nitrate. It has been estimated that about half of pre-1950 movies, and about 90% of those before 1920, have been lost in time.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How to Use 'Frak' 2

fraud- I got frakked by my insurance agent.

difficulty- I can't understand this frakking business.

benevolence- Don't do me any frakking favors.

agreement- You're frakking right.

ugliness- You're a dumb-looking frak.

ignorance- He's a frakking jerk.

incompetence- He's a frak-up.

laziness- He's a frak-off.

encouragement- Keep on frakking.

etiquette- Pass the frakking salt.

philosophy- Who gives a frak?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Poisoned; thus, therapy

"Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in a human situation."

- Graham Greene

"Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves- that's the truth. We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives- experiences so great and moving that it doesn't seem at the time that anyone else has been caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before."

- F. Scott Fitzgerald

"I think that in order to write really well and convincingly, one must be somewhat poisoned by emotion. Dislike, displeasure, resentment, fault-finding, imagination, passionate remonstrance, a sense of injustice- they all make the fuel."

- Edna Ferber

Monday, January 26, 2009

Have It Guarded

The Reader had a surprisingly strong showing in the announcement of Academy Award nominations, with bids for best picture, director, and adapted screenplay; they are the same makers of The Hours. Reportedly, the role of the concentration camp guard was first offered to Winslet, but she bowed out because of her commitment to Revolutionary Road. The role was then offered to Nicole Kidman, but she had to back out because she got pregnant while shooting Australia. The role went back to Winslet.

If Winslet wins the Oscar this year, she will be the second winner to be produced by Daldry, Hare, and company. Imagine what would have happened if Kidman got the role and won another Academy Award.

Nicole Kidman needs to have her career revived. Any suggestions? 

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Curious Cases

Nominations for the 81st annual Academy Awards were announced Thursday.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button led the list with 13 nods, including best picture, director, adapted screenplay, and acting honors for Brad Pitt and Taraji P. Henson. It ties the 13  nominations of Gone with the Wind and From Here to Eternity. The record is held by Titanic  and All About Eve at 14 each.

The Dark Knight received eight nominations, including cinematography, editing and visual effects, but failed to get nods for best picture or director. Heath Ledger is in the supporting actor race, as anticipated. 

Slumdog Millionaire is second in the race with 10 nominations, with two of the three nods for best song.

Kate Winslet was tapped for lead actress in The Reader.

Her competition includes Meryl Streep, who earned her 15th nod. She ties Katharine Hepburn's record in most nominations for a lead actress (12). Doubt also saw supporting actor honors go to Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis and Amy Adams. 

The Reader had a surprisingly strong showing, eclipsing Revolutionary Road.

Revolutionary Road seemed headed for Oscar glory: It was adapted from an acclaimed source (Richard Yates's novel). It is the first movie together of Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio since 1997's Titanic. It was directed by Sam Mendes, who had nabbed the directing Oscar for 1999's  American Beauty. But it only got nods for supporting actor (Michael Shannon), and for art  direction and costume design. 

I'm psyched that I got the spots for Melissa Leo (Frozen River) and Richard Jenkins (The  Visitor).

Based on my Oscar predictions in eight key categories January 20, I got a batting average of 70.75%. I got 46 nominees right, out of 30 nominees (Kate Winslet!) and 35 films (The Reader, but not Revolutionary Road). 

Saturday, January 24, 2009


In the announcement of Academy Award nominations Thursday, The Dark Knight received eight nominations, the third-highest total for this year, but it did not get one for best picture. It seemed like it had been gaining steam in the past few weeks, but it did not get a best director nod either.

Kate Winslet got only one nomination; it was in the best actress race, but it was for The Reader.  Now it should be clear that it really is a lead performance.

Michael Shannon is up for best supporting actor, but Michael Sheen got shafted again- this time for Frost/Nixon. Remember The Queen?

Also missing on the list: Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road; Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire; Ralph Fiennes in The Duchess and The Reader; Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan in Happy-Go-Lucky; and Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Loved You So Long.

Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino) seemed a shoo-in for best actor, but he was shut out, even in the directing race.

Bruce Springsteen did not get a nod for the title tune of The Wrestler. We can  be thankful though that Miley Cyrus did not get one for Bolt either. How does this one sound like: Academy Award nominee Miley Cyrus.

On the best picture front, no love for Wall-E, Doubt and Revolutionary Road.

Where is Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona in the screenplay race?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How to Use 'Frak'

aggression- Frak you.

passivity- Frak me.

command- Go frak yourself.

confusion- What the frak.

annoyance- Don't frak with me.

identification- Who the frak are you?

agreement- You're frakking right.

dismay- Oh, frak it!

trouble- I guess I'm frakked now. 

despair- Frakked again.

denial- You ain't frakking me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Great Expectations

There are certain things that we expect of a leader, and he should be nothing less than impossibly ideal.

He should be smart but not too intellectual. He must have a way with words, but also a man of actions. He must be practical, but with a dose of romanticism. He must be hardened in times of war, yet soft in times of grief. He is not us (mythical), but he can be one of us (mortal).

He should be strong and wise, and capable of playing as many parts as possible at the same time. He is our parent, a saint, the messiah , dignified in a suit. In short, spectacularly paradoxical.

We can see how presidents from Marcos to Arroyo can rise to power, and fall far short of the standards.

In the American experience, 220 years of the presidency have been filtered through popular culture. In recent memory, Kevin Kline in Dave and Michael Douglas in The American President come to mind. A prime example is the meeting of an institution (the presidency) and a legendary star: the public wants composure and grace in times of crises, like what Harrison Ford displayed in Air Force One. One of the biggest reasons The West Wing was such an awards juggernaut was that Martin Sheen, as Josiah Bartlet, had fulfilled their dream: an almost-perfect president.

To the list of a president's qualifications, we can add from now on camera-ready, or media-friendly. I'm sorry: media-savvy. In this age of YouTube and the Rebirth of Saturday Night Live, you can bet the road to the White House comes through David Letterman.

Who among our senators and other assorted public officials appearing in advertisements can lure us with their promises and posturings?  

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bright Day for The Dark Knight

On the nominations due out Thursday, here are my predictions:

Best picture: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; The Dark Knight; Frost/Nixon; Milk; Slumdog Millionaire

Best director: Danny Boyle for Slumdog Millionaire; Clint Eastwood for Gran Torino; David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Ron Howard for Frost/Nixon; Christopher Nolan for The Dark Knight

Best lead actor: Leonardo DiCaprio in Revolutionary Road; Richard Jenkins in The Visitor; Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon; Sean Penn in Milk; Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

Best lead actress: Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married; Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky; Melissa Leo in Frozen River; Meryl Streep in Doubt; Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road

Best supporting actor: Josh Brolin in Milk; Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder; Philip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt; Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight; Michael Sheen in Frost/Nixon

Best supporting actress: Amy Adams in Doubt; Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona; Viola Davis in Doubt; Taraji P. Henson in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Kate Winslet in The Reader

Best original screenplay: Milk; Rachel Getting Married; Vicky Cristina Barcelona; The Visitor; The Wrestler

Best adapted screenplay: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Doubt; Frost/Nixon; Revolutionary Road; Slumdog Millionaire

Monday, January 19, 2009

Read, read, then write

"Read, read, read. Read everything- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window."

- William Faulkner

"An incurable itch for scribbling takes possession of many and grows inveterate in their insane hearts."

- Juvenal

"Writing is for the most part a lonely and unsatisfying ocupation. One is tied to a table, a chair, a stack of paper."

- Graham Greene

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dumb and Dumberer

Bad: somebody who cuts in line.

Also bad: the cashier who lets someone cut in line.

Worse: the one who got cut, who allows himself to be treated like a doormat.

Worst: the one who cuts in line. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Way Too Lucky

Last year Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani produced a son, Zuma Nesta. Brangelina had Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline. Pete Wentz and Ashlee Simpson had Bronx Mowgli.

Jennifer Garner last week gave birth to her second daughter.

Like her first, Violet, this time is also a flower: Seraphina Rose Elizabeth.

Apparently, David Thomson did not know what he was saying when he said that Ben Affleck has been criminally lucky getting away with everything so far.

Monday, January 12, 2009

On a Revolutionary Road

What the frrrraaaaaaaakkkkkkkkkkk!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kate Winslet wins a second Golden Globe!!!

Oscar, come hither!

We actually cried!

My goodness, did I actually say that out loud?!

I feel like writing every sentence in exclamation points!!!

Heavenly Creature

It's so good to see Kate Winslet win the Golden Globe.

This boosts her chances of bagging the Academy Award.

When she got a lead actress Oscar nod for Titanic in 1997, she became the youngest person to receive a second nomination. She was 22.

At 26, she was the youngest person to get a third nod (Iris, 2001).

At 29, the youngest for a fourth nomination (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004).

At 31, the youngest for a fifth (Little Children, 2006).

She has a double shot this year for Revolutionary Road and The Reader.

Imagine breaking and setting records every time you get nominated. She's only 33, and it is scary to think of what else she is going to achieve.

Next stop: the Screen Actors Guild Awards.


In Rear Window, James Stewart plays a photographer confined to a wheelchair because of a broken leg. 

Using binoculars, he spies on his neighbors in his Greenwich Village apartment- initially, to relieve his boredom. He suspects a man across (Raymond Burr) has murdered his wife, and he enlists the help of his girlfiend Grace Kelly and his nurse Thelma Ritter to find out what the truth is.

Most of the action takes place in a single room and the rest, in the courtyard and their rear windows, making it one of those exercises in technical showing off.

I'm sorry to report that the movie did not work for me. I know the whole thing was supposed to be an essay in voyeurism, a treatise on marriage even, a Hitchcock classic- but it did not work for me.

I did not look away, and the last few sequences, in which they Kelly and Ritter do the sleuthing for the wheelchair-bound Stewart were riveting. 

But I found myself unable to suspend my disbelief, given the guesses and conclusions he jumps to with little shred of evidence. It looks like the whole enterprise hinges on Jimmy's performance. I did not grow up on Stewart movies, and I know he's one of the biggest movie stars of all time, but the nourishing of his screen image did not unfold before my eyes. 

I hope to like it when I see it again in five years maybe?

The Globe Reader

The Golden Globe awards are being handed out at 9 a.m. today.

The fact that I have not seen any of the nominated films does not prevent me from handicapping and making a wish list.

I'd like to see Meryl Streep win for Doubt and Kate Winslet for The Reader.

Who would win on the TV front:

Mad Men, drama

Anna Paquin, drama actress

Of course, Tina Fey, comedy actress.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Drops of Blood

"Writing is one of the few professions left where you take all the responsibility for what you do. It's really dangerous and ultimately destroys you as a writer if you start thinking about responses to your work or what your audience needs."

- Erica Jong

"Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead."

- Gene Fowler

"... there are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I'm greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed."

- John Kenneth Galbraith


Saturday, January 3, 2009

What the Frak!!!

Men created androids to do labor. The robots rebelled, they lost, and fled away into space.

Forty years later, the Cylons returned in a surprise series of separate, coordinated attacks, managing to annihilate the 12 colonies that included Aerilon, Picon, Geminon, and Caprica.

The military spaceship Battlestar Galactica is being retired, but fortunately it is still operational at the time of the attack. It is up to Commander William Adama (played by Edward James Olmos) and his men to protect the survivors against the enemy.

Whatever you may have heard about the TV series, you have been misinformed: Battlestar Galactica is more than amazing- it is brilliant. The reviews are grossly unfair: it is not simply wonderful- it's nothing short of excellent.

I have only seen the first season, and I'm hooked. It was one of my best discoveries of 2008. I know this makes me a late convert, so I'm making it my mission to convert you.

Galactica deals with scarred relationships, repressed feelings, bouts of insanity, and questions of identity.

Cylons now look human, with sweat and all. In a post-9/11 world, Galactica has particular resonance. Terrorists now look like us; they are one of us. So far we have met four models, and they have many copies and they can regenerate. Pilot Sharon Valerii (Grace Park) is one of them. She does not know that she is a sleeper agent, and she wrestles with mounting evidence that she is. A game is introduced then: Is there a Cylon among these agents that we don't know of?

Survivors numbering 50,298 board cruisers, and their fleet is constantly hounded. Death toll rises, but there is hope.

Comm. Adama tells the public they are going to the 13th tribe that established a colony outside of their own star system. President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) is skeptical; when she confronts Adama privately, he admits they do not have the coordinates of this mythical colony called Earth, simply because it does not exist. He says, "It is not enough that we live; we have to have something to live for."

Survival is not merely a matter of tactical strategies- it is also an existential crisis.

Roslin was 42nd down in succession. The whole cabinet, including President Adar, has been obliterated in Caprica, and she only gets to be president because she is onboard Galactica as secretary of education. Adama initially refuses to cooperate with her, not because she is a woman, but because she is simply a former schoolteacher.

Her rise to power has a sly subtext: The only time a woman will get to be president is at the end of the world, and it is not by election. And after the Obama-Clinton fight for the Democratic nomination, it takes on further credence. Maybe that's why Maya Angelou picked Hillary over Barack for the primary?

Gaius Baltar (James Callis) is a scientist who has had an affair with the model named Number Six (Tricia Helfer), who appears only to him. Does he have a chip in his brain, or is he going mad? In one episode, she surpises us by showing up in the ship and introducing herself to the officers. By episode's end, she convinces him that there is a God, and he is His instrument. A human scientist who does not believe, and Cylons -androids- who do? What- !

Baltar was instrumental in the obliteration of the human race, and as if to appeal to geeks, he gets the towering hot blonde who looks like a runway model. Her skimpy outfits are implicitly excused because we think it's all in his head.

Tricia Helfer is the show's most astounding special effect. She triggers so many discussions about faith, the nature of love, the allure of being human, and others. Never has a blonde bombshell been used more creatively.

Richard Hatch, one of the stars of the original 1978 TV series, has a recurring role as a dissident with considerable following. He is elected into the Council of 12 and runs for vice president, and we are treated to the turns of the political wheels and deals. It shows us how our thinking that we are choosing the lesser of two evils- the devil you know- leads to more dire consequences. How well do you know the devil you know (or thought you knew)?

You may think that now you don't have to watch the series, but you have no idea what riches await you.

The show is science fiction, but do not let words like jump and FTL deter you from watching. These terms are not prohibitive, and the program is positively addictive. Like many outstanding genre shows, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica explores and exploits its limitations, and transcends its form to achieve greatness.

Battlestar Galactica is compelling television at its frakking finest- tense, thrilling, exciting. Nail-biting.