Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Parenthood is the best thing on TV

I am about to make a statement that is going to make a statement that is going to upset some people. Ready? NBC’s “Parenthood” is the best show on television. Why? Well, that’s a little more complex.
The show centers on the Braverman family: parents Zeek and Camille, adult children Sarah, Julia, Crosby and Adam, each with their own families to deal with also. Sarah recently went broke and had to move herself and her two teenage children back in with her parents. Julia is a workaholic, who fears her daughter likes her husband better. Crosby, a commitment-aphobe, recently found out that he has a five year son. And Adam has a teenage daughter and a young son, recently diagnosed with Asperger’s.
In the past decade or two, American television has seen a shift in the portrayal of the American family. While I see that as a good thing (most families aren’t the Cleavers), this shift has almost gone too far.
That’s why “Parenthood” is so good. It’s portraying a real family. They have had their problems, their trials, their differences and their rifts between each other, but at the end of the day, they are still a family and know how to come together and love each other unconditionally when it’s most necessary.
All families are a little dysfunctional. So is this one. All families have their problems. So does this one. There is someone within this family that everyone will be able to see in their own, or a family of someone they know. They don’t gloss over things and they aren’t so dysfunctional they are unbelievable. They present with grace that no one is perfect – that we can all only do the best we can with what we’re given and go from there.
There was a scene in the third episode that is the epitome of what I love. Julia was having trouble teaching her daughter to swim. Adam and his wife were waiting to hear back from a school for their son, who was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s while dealing with the fact that they were missing out on their daughter’s life because of the attention they put on their son. Crosby was still coping with the revelation about his son and Sarah was still picking up the pieces of her former life. To celebrate the little girl learning to swim, however, the entire family came together to celebrate at the pool.
The show is well done, without being overdone. It’s dramatic without being melodramatic. It’s real without being overly heavy. And I think we need more TV like it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

2010 Oscars Recap

If you ask me, last Sunday's Oscar's ceremony fell kinda flat. Well, not all of it. I liked Neil Patrick Harris' opening number. But after that the downcast mood and lighting in the Kodak Theatre seemed to match the fact that host's Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin slowly died during their monologue and never really recovered.

However, I did have some highlights in the night. The first?

A close second was Kathryn Bigelow's historic win, where she beat out ex-husband James Cameron.
Other highlights for me included Ben Stiller coming out dressed as a Na'vi, the John Hughes tribute, and Sandra Bullock winning Best Actress.

A complete list of winners is below. I was about 75% correct, one of my better scores in recent years.
Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Actor in a Leading Role: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Actress in a Leading Role: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
Actor in a Supporting Role: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Actress in a Supporting Role: Mo'Nique, Precious
Original Screenplay: The Hurt Locker, Mark Boal
Adapted Screenplay: Precious, Geoffrey Fletcher
Animated Film: Up
Foreign Language Film: The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos, Argentina)
Original Score: Michael Giacchino, Up
Original Song: "The Weary Kind," Music and Lyrics by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett (Crazy Heart)
Art Direction: Avatar
Cinematography: Avatar, Mauro Fiore
Costume Design: The Young Victoria, Sandy Powell
Makeup: Star Trek
Film Editing: The Hurt Locker, Bob Murawski and Chris Innis
Documentary Feature: The Cove
Documentary Short Subject: Music by Prudence
Animated Short Film: Logorama
Live Action Short Film: The New Tenants
Sound Editing: The Hurt Locker
Sound Mixing: The Hurt Locker
Visual Effects: Avatar
Governors Award: Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman and Gordon Willis

What were your favorite parts of the show???

Saturday, March 6, 2010

2010 Oscar Predictions

Here are my picks for the 83rd Academy Awards, which will be announced Sunday, March 7.

Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
Some may call it wishful thinking, but I truly believe that the Academy won't give this to Avatar.

Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
There's no contest...he's won everything else.

Best Actress: Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side
I haven't actually seen this movie, but I want to really badly. She went against type for herself and the Academy loves to salute range. And Meryl Streep doesn't need another Oscar...especially for impersonating Julia Child. And though I have heard nothing but good things about Carey Mulligan's performance, I worry that no one outside the UK knowing who she is will hurt her chances.

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Waltz, Inglorious Basterds
Like Jeff Bridges, there is no real contest here.

Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
See my Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor comments.

Best Director: James Cameron, Avatar
I didn't like Avatar. And I would love to see the Academy give this one to his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), who is his only real competition, for that reason. But I get the feeling they'll give him this one "above the line" for his dedication to the film and to make up for not giving him the big prize. (Note: "Above the line" refers to the major categories on an Oscar Ballot, which everyone is allowed to vote for)

Best Original Screenplay: Inglorious Basterds
People are calling this one for The Hurt Locker. But I don't see a sweep coming for this quiet contender I didn't hear anything about prior to Award Season.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Up in the Air
This film was too talked about to be shut out completely.

Best Animated Film: Up
There's no contest. It's Best Picture nomination ensures that. Much as I would love to see the "old school" The Princess and the Frog walk away with it, Pixar's animation style has become the norm and 2-D is a thing of the past.

Best Make-Up: Star Trek
Eric Bana was near unrecognizable. And the other creatures in this movie were phenomenal. I'll be shocked if it goes to anyone else.

Best Special Effects: Avatar
I want Star Trek to win. I want it to win so badly because Avatar's special effects were not as ground-breaking as everyone claims (see previous post entitled "Oh, Avatar..."). But Avatar will win. Unfortunately.

That's all I can predict, having not seen all the nominees in the other categories. We'll see if I'm right tomorrow night!

Oh, Avatar...

I may be the last person in America to do so, but this weekend, I finally saw Avatar. While I admit, it was not horrible, if they announce it as Best Picture Sunday, I'll be scratching my head.

For the most part, the movie was very visually dynamic and stunning, but most of the special effect shots made me feel like James Cameron had a new toy he wanted to show off and/or play with. That's evident in the fact that the movie is about an hour too long, a number I got from Disney having told this story 15 years ago in 90 minutes.

This brings me to my problems, the first of which being the lack of original story. Someone in old Hollywood once said that there are only 7 storylines, but at least they usually change enough that I don't blatantly notice I'm watching the same thing (c'mon Mr. Cameron-a tree where you can speak to your ancestors? Just go ahead and name it Grandmother Willow).

The second of my problems is that people are claiming these effects to be ground-breaking, when in reality, WETA and ILM, who collaborated on the effects in the film, simply recycled things they had already used before. Motion-capture animation? WETA debuted that flawlessly 6 years ago in “The Lord of the Rings.” Completely CGI backgrounds and digital worlds? ILM did that for George Lucas 5 years ago in “Star Wars III.”

If Avatar is the wave of the future, which we will be told by whether or not The Academy embraces it Sunday night, Hollywood won’t be happy and I will worry about the movies of the future. I have never heard an actor talk about enjoying working entirely in front of blue/green screens (they actually find it incredibly annoying). If this becomes the norm, you won't have to act, because you'll have an Avatar that can do it for you. I don't literally mean a blue alien, but some sort of corresponding CGI character that looks like an actor and all they have to do is provide a voice.

There will be no more character acting, no more chemistry, no more reality to movies. In reality, you won't even have to act, because a computer will help you out (a reason why animated films never became a norm). As someone who loves movies, that's a scary proposition.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Why Aren't You Singing?

A couple weeks ago, I was watching “The Sound of Music” and a friend of mine told me something that I found startling: Christopher Plummer (Captain Von Trapp) didn’t do his own singing in the movie. Now I know it was the norm in the 1960s (and still is today) to dub people’s voices in movie musicals, but I have often asked the question “Why?”
One of the best known voices of movie-musicals is “The Voice of Hollywood,” Marni Nixon. You’ve undoubtedly heard Nixon, even if you don’t realize it, as she provided the singing voice for Natalie Wood in “West Side Story,” Deborah Kerr in “The King and I,” and Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady,” just to name a few. For years, I wondered why Nixon was always the voice, but never the face in these fine movies. Did she not have the face for cinema? No, it isn’t that. She’s one of the nuns in “The Sound of Music” and she isn’t non-photogenic.
In “West Side Story,” only George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn, along with the ensemble, do their own singing all the time, with Rita Moreno doing her own singing some of the time. In the little seen “The Phantom of the Opera,” Minnie Driver’s voice was dubbed by one of the ensemble singers because she isn’t a soprano. What’s so hard about casting people who can actually sing the part your filling?
I think it boils down to star-power for the most part. In 1961, Natalie Wood, Rita Moreno and Richard Beymer were recognizable names in Hollywood. Marni Nixon, Betty Wand and Jim Bryant, who did all their singing, were not. In 2004, Minnie Driver was a recognizable name in movies, with the rest of the film was full of unknowns (Gerard Butler was not yet a household name).
The funniest thing about all of this is that the big scandal in the 1952 musical comedy “Singin’ in the Rain” is that Debbie Reynolds’ character Kathy is hired to dub all the singing for Jean Hagen’s character Lina. Seen as unthinkable in the 1920s when the film is set, it became the norm in less than 30 years later, when “Rain” was made, no doubt meant as a commentary on the new trend.
I happen to think that you have to be able to do your own singing and dancing in musicals. That’s the way it was in the 30s and 40s, that’s the way it is on stage and that is how it should be.