Friday, February 20, 2009

Review: Milk

This is without a doubt the gayest movie I've ever seen, and also one of the best of 2008.  I thought Mickey Rourke was a shoe-in for Best Actor after seeing The Wrestler, but Sean Penn's performance in Milk is without a doubt one of the best performances of the past few years.  He completely immerses himself in the role of Harvey Milk, a gay man living in San Francisco who became the chief advocate for gay rights in America in the 70's.  It's hard to play an openly gay man in that era in San Francisco without pushing the performance over the top, but Penn completely nails just the right tone for Milk.  While flamboyant at times, Penn gives a grounded sense of purpose to Milk and the audience really believes his drive for the cause he champions throughout the movie.  

Gus Van Sant who previously directed a little movie called Good Will Hunting delivers his best film since the 1997 Oscar winner.  He paces the movie very well and mixes in a lot of actual news archive footage.  One scene in particular that stands out is a shot of Milk talking to police officers after a gay man is beaten in the streets.  The entire scene is shot as a reflection in a chrome whistle that lays on the ground.  Gay men in that era used to wear whistles to alert each other of harassing or potentially dangerous situations.  At the end of the scene, Milk picks up the whistle and we see him in front of the camera without a cut.  Van Sant, Danny Boyle and David Fincher gave three amazing turns in the director's chair this past year.  Equally as good as the directing was the casting in the movie.  At the end of the film you see video clips of the actual people who were portrayed by the actors in the movie.  Each one bears a striking resemblance to the actor that played them (especially Josh Brolin and Emile Hirsch).  Spot-on casting like this adds to the overall authenticity of the film.  The only performance I found to be flawed was Diego Luna's portrayal of Jack Lira (Milk's lover during the second half of the movie).  Luna was just a little too annoying and I did not find myself investing any interest in that character.

I now hope that Penn takes home his second golden statue on Sunday for this role.  What makes his performance better than Rourke's is simple.  When I watched the Wrestler, I kept thinking to myself "that's Mickey Rourke on the screen".  During Milk there were frequent long stretches where I completely forgot Sean Penn was in the movie.  He really BECAME Harvey Milk and gave one of the best character actor performances in a long time.  Overall I really enjoyed this movie and it actually ranks very close to Slumdog Millionaire for me (behind Benjamin Button amongst Best Picture films).  I give the movie 4 out of 5 JRs and docked a half-JR rating for FAR too many scenes of guys kissing each other and making out.  I'm all for gay rights and letting each individual do what he or she pleases in society but I can only take so much man on man kissing in a movie.  This film makes Brokeback Mountain look tame by comparison. 

Stay tuned for my review of The Reader which we plan on seeing tomorrow night to round out my viewing of the five Best Picture nominees.   Just in time for the Oscars on Sunday night.

Bubbles = Kiddie Crack

My friend Lara sent me this photo earlier today from her daughter's birthday party last weekend. Lori and the boys attended while I did this. Apparently the kids had a lot of fun as you can see Alex and Josh in mid-joy over the presence of bubbles.

One of the many lessons learned in my short stint at being a dad is this: If you bust out a bottle of bubble solution and start creating bubbles with a wand, you turn any situation into an instant kid-party. I'm not sure what is so utterly amazing about popping soap bubbles but apparently it's all kids need to go totally ape-shit. I actually think you could keep blowing bubbles for hours and the enthusiasm level would not diminish. I have yet to make it past 15 minutes or so.

Google Crib

Slowly following through on their plan to take over the world, Google is launching a line of portable cribs. This is actually my friend's G Galore Collection Pack n Play, but the look struck me as very Googlesque.

Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Open Government Rules!

So in my IGoogle page I have the White House Blog as one of my feeds. I just noticed that one of the White House staffers is live-blogging President Obama's visit to Canada today. How cool is that to have a real-time update on what your President is doing? No chance we would have ever seen detail like that in a Bush administration.

In addition to the frequently updated White House blog, Obama's e-staff launched the other day. We already have a high-level overview of where the stimulus money is headed. Whether you support the stimulus or not, it is encouraging to see the US Government starting this trend of openness of information. Economic woes be damned, I'm still glad Obama is my President.

The Best of the Best

The 81st Academy Awards will be announced on Sunday on a night I look forward to every year. I am somewhat of an Oscar historian and can recite the list of Best Pictures in order from 1985 to today. I probably started watching the awards with my dad in 1986 (Platoon) and have watched each ceremony since. Looking back on the list of Best Picture winners over the past 20 years there are some really great films that have been recognized and a few that had no business winning the award. What follows is my personal list of the 10 best movies that won Best Picture from the last 20 years of Oscar. #1 was easy for me but putting the rest of the top 5 in order was a difficult task.

#1 - Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) - Far and away the best movie of the past two decades (and of all-time). A culmination of an amazing technical achievement in film making as Peter Jackson and company craft the perfect trilogy. The visual effects in this epic will stand the test of time.

#2 - Braveheart (1995) - Probably the best revenge movie ever made. William Wallace's quest for vengeance is glorifying and gory. The film is shot in epic splendor by Mel Gibson (before he want bat-shit crazy). James Horner's powerful score is one of the best movie soundtracks of all-time.

#3 - Titanic (1997) - Take out the sappy love story and you still have one of the best technical achievements in movie making. The record (for its time) budget was put to good use and resulted in an authentic shipwreck that the audience believed. What is impressing is that this is only James Cameron's 3rd best film (Aliens and Terminator 2 were better). Another excellent James Horner score.

#4 - Gladiator (2000) - True story. I actually fell asleep through 80% of this movie in the theatre on first-viewing. The margaritas I had before-hand to celebrate my birthday were to blame. Ridley Scott crafts an excellent biopic of General Maximus Decimus Meridius that features outstanding performances by Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix (before HE went bat-shit crazy).

#5 - The Departed (2006) - Along with Goodfellas, this is Scorcese's best film. Gripping performances all around, especially by Damon and DiCaprio. And old-fashioned cop drama chock-full of well written dialogue.

#6 - Silence of the Lambs (1991) - I wrestled with ranking this one a few spots higher due to the kick-ass acting of Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, but ultimately dropped it to this position due to the slowness in plot at times. Once the action and tensions picks up, this movie is hard to beat. Bonus points for making "It puts the lotion in the basket" one of the best movie lines of all-time.

#7 - Schindler's List (1993) - The most depressing of the Best Picture winners by far, this film gives a sobering take on the Holocaust. One of Steve Spielberg's best (but not THE best - see below) efforts in directing. Ralph Fienes gives his creepiest performance in one of his first major roles.

#8 - Rain Man (1988) - A feel-good road trip movie that features Dustin Hoffman's best work. Tom Cruise is very underrated in his role as Charlie Babbit. Barry Levinson deserves some credit for making the film pace very well, mixing in comedy and genuine drama throughout.

#9 - Million Dollar Baby (2004) - Hilary Swank gives a better performance in Boys Don't Cry, but her role as boxer Maggie Fitzgerald is still head and shoulders above the competition. The boxing scenes are very authentic and I feel that Clint Eastwood delivers one of the best acting turns in his long accomplished career. Some hate the ending, but I thought it worked well and fit with the overall tone of the film.

#10 - Chicago (2002) - Barely beats out American Beauty and Forrest Gump or the final spot. Joins Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd, as the best musical-to-screen transition. Great music and great performances along with Renee Zellweger's legs eek it into the top 10.

#20 - Shakespeare in Love (1998) - This huge steaming turd of a movie somehow managed to beat out Spielberg's best film (Saving Private Ryan) for Best Picture in 1998. I hated this film and it's one of the chief reasons for my distaste of Gwenyth Paltrow. The biggest Academy botch of all-time by far.

For the record, I would probably add either Slumdog Millionaire or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to this list if (when) either film wins on Sunday.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Shammys

It's been a few weeks since the 2009 Grammy winners were announced during the live ceremony and I still have beef over the results, particularly the Album of the Year category. Once again, the old codgers that make up the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences decided that a past-his-prime Robert Plant put out the best album of 2008 in a collaboration with Alison Krauss titled Raising Sand. This folk rock gem apparently is a more accomplished album than Radiohead's In Rainbows, Coldplay's Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends (my pick), or even Lil' Wayne's Tha Carter III.

I challenge any of my readers to download Viva La Vida and Raising Sand. Play both albums back-to-back, listen to all the tracks and I am pretty sure the vast majority of you would agree that Viva La Vida is the more inventive and original piece of work. While the Grammy's don't really mean much in the grand scheme of things, I really wanted Coldplay to be acknowledged for what I consider to be the best album of the millennium thus-far (oh it's true). Unfortunately the weird Album of the Year Grammy trend continues as evidenced by these terrible selections from over the past decade (also listed are the more-deserving albums that the winner beat out).

2008 - Herbie Hancock - River: The Joni Letters (Kanye West, Amy Winehouse, Foo Fighters)

2006 - Ray Charles - Genius Loves Company (Kanye again, Alicia Keys, Green Day - American Idiot)

2002 - Oh Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack (Outkast, U2)

2001 (The WORST one) - Steely Dan - Two Against Nature (Eminem, Radiohead, Beck)

C'mon. Steely fucking Dan produced a better album than the Marshall Mathers LP? I think not. After all of the disastrous choices above, I am becoming convinced that the Grammy Awards really have no merit when it comes to honoring quality music. Perhaps T-Bone Burnett (producer of Raising Sand and Oh Brother) should become the president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He'd be a shoe-in.

Breakfast of Champions

On my recent early-morning treks to Dulles I have noticed a strange occurrence in the B-Gate section of the airport. While most usual breakfast-type food vendors are busy (Starbucks, Cinnabon, etc...), a surprising fast food joint is actually quite populated at 6 in the morning. Five Guys burgers is buzzing each time I pass it. Patrons are not ordering eggs and bacon but indeed are ordering hamburgers for breakfast. I just can't seem to find an AM burger very appealing, but if any burger would tempt me at breakfast time, it would certainly be Five Guys.

Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Best Actresses Without an Oscar

As a companion piece to my earlier post listing the best Actors in Hollywood without an Oscar, I've come up with a list of actresses that fit the same criteria.  I almost included Ellen Page on this list as I feel she will be a frequent nominee over the next 10 to 20 years after her excellent work in Juno.  With the Oscars less than a week a way, I have some scrambling to do in order to see the two remaining Best Picture nominees on my list (Milk and The Reader).  

Here is my list of most-deserving actresses without an Oscar:
  • 10Keira Knightley - 1 Nomination - Hands-down the best looking entry on the list, she really has put together a solid resume at a young age.  Atonement was probably her best role.
  • 9Amy Adams - 2 Nominations - I haven't seen her in many movies, but she was very good in Doubt and has received acclaim for Enchanted and Junebug.
  • 8Mary McDonnell - 2 Nominations - Strong showing in Dances With Wolves but built her career through good mainstream roles in Sneakers (most underrated movie of all-time) and Independence Day.  Bonus points for her role as Laura Roslin in Battlestar Galactica.
  • 7Natalie Portman - 1 Nomination - Broke through as a young actress in The Professional.  She should probably have two more nominations for Garden State and V for Vendetta.
  • 6Uma Thurman - 1 Nomination - In my opinion her best Tarantino role was in Kill Bill and not Pulp Fiction (the film that gave her the nomination). 
  • 5Sigourney Weaver - 3 Nominations - Should have beat Marlie Matlin in 1987 for her role as Ripley in Aliens (my second favorite movie of all-time).  
  • 4Annette Bening - 3 Nominations - Quality resume spanning several decades.  Her best role was in American Beauty (lost out to Hilary Swank).
  • 3Julianne Moore - 4 Nominations - The most versatile actress on this list.  She can play any role and play it very well.  Magnolia and Boogie Nights are her best films.
  • 2Laura Linney - 3 Nominations - I used to hate this actress and still despise her performance in the terrible movie Congo.  Over the years she's grown on me though and I consider her one of the best actresses currently working in Hollywood.  Her turn as Abigail Adams in the John Adams HBO miniseries was astonishing.  
  • 1 - Kate Winslet - 6 Nominations -She's come a long way in the 12 years since Titanic.  If she can swat away Meryl Streep next Sunday she'll get her well-deserved first Academy Award.
I hope to put together my list of the top 10 best pictures of the last 25 years in a future post leading up to Oscar night.  Disagree with anyone on the list?  Let your voice be heard.

Patrons' Show Recap

The Patrons' Show last night was a success for most of our crew. We had about 13 people that we knew sitting together at the Torpedo Factory. Nate and Besse got their #1 and #3 overall choices selected as their two tickets got called before the first break. I had to wait until about 15 picks from the 2nd break to hear my name. Fortunately after more than 300 pieces of art had been selected, our #1 pick (pictured above) was still available! Believe it or not, the picture of the man and the cow (featured in my previous post) was selected a few picks into the 2nd segment and well before I made my selection. When it comes to art there truly are a wide range of personal tastes. My Dad's entry was the only entry amongst the 13 people there that lasted until the 3rd segment. Apparently he got his 15th choice though so all is not lost.

Before the show I went with Nate/Besse to a local sports bar to catch the start of the Daytona 500. I kept tabs on the race during the auction using my phone. Kyle Busch (Josh's favorite driver) and Denny Hamlin (my favorite driver) were running 1-2 for much of the race. Unfortunately, Dale Earnhardt Jr decided to battle with another car even though he was a lap down and cause a large multi-car wreck that ended the night for both Busch and Hamlin. Nate capped off a great night as his driver, #17 Matt Kenseth held on to win the rain-shortened race. Thankfully this is only race one of a long NASCAR season and I'm hoping the #11 car bounces back in California this weekend.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Amazing Rose Brothers

The new season of The Amazing Race gets underway tonight on CBS. Once again I'll be internally judging this season's roster of teams and try to understand why they were picked over Nate and I. My brother and I tried out for Season 5 of the race in 2003, putting together a short video with the help of Doe. While we weren't really Amazing Race experts at the time (I didn't start watching actively until Season 4), I think the video is well done and am still a bit frustrated 6 years later that we never got a casting call. I guarantee we would have made a much more entertaining team than the boring frat boys from last season. Without further ado, enjoy our Amazing Race application:

Feel free to send your complaints to CBS television.